Posts Tagged ‘Nuclear energy’

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

Consider the following facts:

1) Gov. Schwarzenegger signed a law requiring that 1/3 of the electricity produced in California by 2020 must be from “renewable sources”; solar and wind energy are the favored options.

2) The best location in CA for wind farms and solar plants (which need a LOT of relatively flat land, by the way)? Answer: The Mojave Desert, ‘cuz it’s, well,… mostly flat, hot, & windy

3) A lot of progress toward the 2020 goal would be reached with a planned 13 large wind farms and solar plants.

I’m not a huge believer in the practicality of solar & wind power, at least not on a large-scale and with the present level of technology. But, at least this seemed like it would be a decent effort on the part of environmentalists, especially those with money and the power to do something.

Wind farm in Germany

Tauernwindpark, a wind farm in Germany

Enter: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, which naturally controls the Interior Department’s budget. Feinstein has introduced a “desert preservation” bill — which will likely pass, given her position — that will, among other things, declare a million acres of prime Mojave acreage permanently off-limits to development, including for solar plants and wind farms. Now, that may only be about 1/16th of the whole desert. But, of course, there are things — like cities and lakes and parks and mountains and tourist areas — that make much of the rest of the area unsuitable for putting up a bunch of big windmills and solar panels.

Feinstein’s legislation blocks the aforementioned plans, which, ironically, puts her at odds with her fellow-environmentalist, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Kennedy’s venture capital firm has invested in a company that would be opening one of those solar plants. “This is arguably the best solar land in the world, and Sen. Feinstein shouldn’t be allowed to take this land off the table without a proper and scientific environmental review,” complained Kennedy. The bill will immediately shut down about a dozen projects, or roughly 10% of those currently under review by the Bureau of Land Management. If the land in question was no better than any other for these projects, I might be more sympathetic. But, apparently, it isn’t.

Solar One power plant

Solar One power plant in the Mojave Desert

Feinstein thinks the sight of the solar plants and wind farms from the freeway will ruin the view. (Ironically again, this was the Kennedy family’s complaint when someone wanted to erect wind turbines off Cape Cod.) The question has been raised: “Why is the view from some freeway sacrosanct, whereas building such plants elsewhere in the state is OK?” Also, consider that the average nuclear plant, which is the size of a football field, can reliably supply the electricity that solar plants and wind farms covering many square miles do unreliably. But, of course, Feinstein and her friends are anti-nuclear energy, too.

As Gary Jason concluded in his “Power Play” article for Liberty Magazine (not available online), apparently some environmentalists aren’t as serious about energy production as they like to claim.

Well, OK, it’s not exactly a sponge, but it is spongelike. And, of course, it didn’t eat Three-Mile Island — but it COULD… maybe… eventually. (Not that it needs it.) What the heck am I talking about?

Researchers from Northwestern University and Claflin University have developed an inorganic solid that is also porous, flexible, and absorbs cesium-137. Better than that, it actually traps the nasty cesium ions, rendering them ineffective. How nasty are they? “Of all the radioactive isotopes left over from nuclear weapons testing and nuclear power plants, cesium-137 is among the most dangerous. The soft, silvery-white metal has a half-life of 30 years, enters the body quickly, and can trigger cancer even decades after exposure.” And it’s notoriously hard to remove from the environment.

But, as reported online last month in Nature Chemistry, there may be a solution. The substance is actually stacked sheets of a framework of mixed gallium, tin, and sulphur, dosed with dimethylammonium (DMA) ions. Originally, the researchers thought the cesium-137, which is swapped with the like-charged DMA ions, would just be flushed out with other charged ions. But, the cesium surprised them by bonding to the sulphur. The result is that the holes in the framework are nudged closed, locking in the cesium.

Because the new material has an affinity for cesium even when similar alkali metals are present, it may eventually be useful at nuclear cleanup sites. One problem, however, is that gallium is rather expensive. So, the search is on to find cheaper components (perhaps the chemically-similar aluminum?) that will give the same results.