Tsunami Debris to reach Hawaii

SUBHEAD: Researchers say garbage island of tsunami debris will reach Hawaii beaches in one year.  

By Lori Zimmer on 7 April 2011 for Inhabitat -

Image above: Flaming debris from land and sea is drawn out into the Pacific Ocean. Some will reach Kauai. From (http://www.picdrive.net/Main.asp?Type=BigPic&memid=1&picid=1430).

As if the numerous earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear meltdowns in Japan weren’t bad enough, the resulting debris from the March 11th tsunami is now heading for Hawaii, and eventually to the West Coast of the United States. The conglomerated debris has made up a garbage island of houses, tires, chemicals and trees that researchers estimate will float across the Pacific and hit Hawaii’s shores in just a year.

A research team at the International Pacific Research Center of the University of Hawaii at Manoa has been studying the patterns of debris flow in the Pacific for years using computer models that are fed data from tagged floating buoys. The researchers estimate that after the 2012 touchdown in Hawaii, the debris will make its way to the entire West Coast of North America by 2014. By 2016, it is estimated that the debris will bounce back for a second run at Hawaii, leaving little time for its beaches, reefs and wildlife to recover.

It is unclear how all of this garbage will be dealt with, or the frequency of debris washing up on beaches. Water currents and flow eventually bring ocean debris to an area called the North Pacific Garbage Patch, an indeterminate area (which is an estimated hundreds of miles in diameter) in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Acting like a whirlpool, the world’s plastics, chemical sludge, and trash congregate there. It is estimated that 80% of the Garbage Patch’s contents come from land-based sources, leaving only 20% from ships.

General Electric sees the light?

SUBHEAD: General Electric to build largest solar voltaic panel factory in United States.  

By Associated Press Staff on 7 April 2011 in Huffington Post -  

Image above: A worker in a solar PV factory in Germany. Most solar panels in US are imported from China, Japan or Germany. From (http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2009/02/21/business/economy/21buy_CA0.ready.html).

General Electric says it's going to build the nation's largest solar panel factory, part of a $600 million dollar bet on the future of solar power in the United States.

The new plant will employ 400 people and produce enough solar panels to power 80,000 homes per year, GE said Thursday. The company isn't saying where the plant will be located, but it does say that there are multiple locations being scouted. .

GE says its thin film solar panel has been certified as the most energy efficient of its kind by the National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado. The technology for the panel, called CdTe thin film, lends itself to low-cost, large-scale manufacturing.

GE recently acquired PrimeStar Solar Inc. a maker of thin film solar panels based in Colorado.


Solar Power Cost Rivals Coal

SUBHEAD: Solar power may already rival coal, prompting an installation surge.  

By Erhen Goossens on 7 April 2011 for Bloomberg News - 

Image above: Mashup of coal plant behind solar array by Juan Wilson.

Solar panel installations may surge in the next two years as the cost of generating electricity from the sun rivals coal-fueled plants, industry executives and analysts said. Large photovoltaic projects will cost $1.45 a watt to build by 2020, half the current price, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimated today.

The London-based research company says solar is viable against fossil fuels on the electric grid in the most sunny regions such as the Middle East. “We are already in this phase change and are very close to grid parity,” Shawn Qu, chief executive officer of Canadian Solar Inc., said in an interview. “In many markets, solar is already competitive with peak electricity prices, such as in California and Japan.”

Chinese companies such as JA Solar Holdings Ltd., Canadian Solar and Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. are making panels cheaper, fueled by better cell technology and more streamlined manufacturing processes. That’s making solar economical in more places and will put it in competition with coal, without subsidies, in the coming years, New Energy Finance said.

“The most powerful driver in our industry is the relentless reduction of cost,” Michael Liebreich, chief executive officer of New Energy Finance, said at the company’s annual conference in New York yesterday. “In a decade the cost of solar projects is going to halve again.”  

Installation Boom
Installation of solar PV systems will almost double to 32.6 gigawatts by 2013 from 18.6 gigawatts last year, New Energy Finance estimates. Manufacturing capacity worldwide has almost quadrupled since 2008 to 27.5 gigawatts, and 12 gigawatts of production will be added this year. Canadian Solar has about 1.3 gigawatts of capacity and expects to reach 2 gigawatts next year, Qu said.

“You have to get better at it as well,” said Bill Gallo, CEO of Areva SA’s solar unit. The French company could shave another 20 percent from the cost of making its concentrating solar thermal technology, and the same proportion from building and deploying plants, he said. Electricity from coal costs about 7 cents a kilowatt hour compared with 6 cents for natural gas and 22.3 cents for solar photovoltaic energy in the final quarter of last year, according to New Energy Finance estimates.

Comparisons often overstate the costs of solar because they may take into account the prices paid by consumers and small businesses who install roof-top power systems, instead of the rates utilities charge each other, said Qu of Canadian Solar. “Solar isn’t expensive,” he said “In many areas of the solar industry you’re competing with retail power, not wholesale power.”

 Rooftop solar installations also will become cheaper, the executives said. “System costs have declined 5 percent to 8 percent (a year), and we will continue to see that,” SolarCity Inc. CEO Lyndon Rive said in an interview. The Foster City, California-based company is a closely held installer and owner of rooftop power systems.


Alternatives to Absurdity

SUBHEAD: Obama pretended to be doing something about energy in much the same way a mime pretends to be trapped inside a phone booth.  

By John Michael Greer on 6 April 2011 for ArcDruid Report - 

Image above: Rooftop hot water thermal siphon. From (http://www.presolarnet.com/products/thermosiphon_systems.htm).

 It occurred to me yesterday, while riding the train back from another speaking gig, that this must be a supremely difficult time to be a satirist. Imagine any statement, no matter how preposterous, and it’s a safe bet that somebody in America will be saying it with a straight face before long. The example that came first to mind as the landscape rolled past was Ann Coulter, the Lady Gaga of modern American pseudoconservatism.

Coulter’s claim to public notice is the fact that she’ll say or do quite literally anything to get attention, and her latest stunt was up, or perhaps down, to her usual standards. Commenting on the unfolding nuclear disaster in Japan, Coulter insisted that there’s nothing to worry about, because nuclear radiation is good for you.

 If someone is willing to start a bake sale to send her to the Fukushima Daiichi plant, I’m in a generous mood; put me down for two dozen cookies, and I’ll throw in the cost of a beach towel and a bikini, so she can bathe in the healthful, gently glowing waters streaming out of the No. 2 reactor. Coulter’s utterance was far from the most absurd thing being said about the Fukushima disaster, to be sure. My readers may recall the people who insisted that the best way to respond to last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill was to blow up the leaking pipe with a nuclear warhead.

Yes, the same suggestion is now being directed toward the Fukushima plant. I admit there’s a certain psychotic grandeur in the notion that a nuclear disaster can somehow be fixed by lofting three half-melted reactor cores and thousands of fuel rods into the atmosphere in a single mushroom cloud, so that hundreds of tons of radioactive waste can come drifting down across the Japanese landscape, killing thirty or forty million people and leaving half the island of Honshu uninhabitable for centuries to come.

As a serious proposal, though – and some of the people making it appear to be serious – it’s hard to think of better evidence that a significant fraction of the American people has simply stopped thinking at all. Still, the crowning bit of unintentional satire in recent news came from the White House. It’s a subtle joke, and one that seems to have gone over the heads of most of its listeners, but that’s one of the risks run by truly inspired humor. The comic routine in question, of course, was President Obama’s speech on energy policy last Wednesday.

More precisely, Obama’s speech outlined an energy nonpolicy. He seems to have had his speechwriters scrape up every cliché from every speech on energy policy made by every other resident of the White House since Richard Nixon, and the result was very nearly a nonspeech about his nonpolicy: a sort of verbal pantomime, in which Obama pretended to be doing something about energy in much the same way a mime pretends to be trapped inside a phone booth. He proposed, in effect, that the energy policy of the United States should include all the same things it’s included for the last thirty years, under the pretense that this is something new, and in the serene conviction that the same policy choices that backed us into our present corner will somehow succeed in getting us out of it.

What made Obama’s nonpolicy nonspeech such a bravura performance, though, was the easy grace with which it avoided mentioning any of the policy options that might actually do some good. The words “conservation” and “efficiency” appeared in the text only in reference to shiny new products that use up one set of resources to conserve another.

And the only comments about solar energy referred to exactly the sort of complex, centralized approach that’s consistently proven uneconomical since the 1870s. Mature, off-the-shelf technologies such as solar water heating and passive solar space heating, which could slice good-sized dollops off our national energy use in a hurry, were never mentioned. None of the sensible steps that reduced US energy use by 15% between 1975 and 1985 had a place in Obama’s nonplan.

Mind you, Obama was quite right to suggest that America can cut its dependence on foreign oil by 30% by 2025. In fact, America will cut its dependence on foreign oil by at least 30%, and probably quite a bit more, by 2025; it’s just that the cut in question is not going to be made by any choice of ours, much less as a result of any of the fancy technological ventures Obama spent his speech promoting. It will be made because faltering oil production, rising competition for the oil that remains, and the decline of American imperial power compared to its emerging rivals, will slice a shrinking pie in new and, for Americans, distinctly unwelcome ways.

 As that happens, the approaches ignored by Obama – and, to be fair, by the rest of today’s US political establishment, on both sides of the increasingly irrelevant divide between the major parties – are going to be among the very few options open to individuals in America and elsewhere who hope to ride the curve of energy decline to something like a soft landing.

One example, which I’d like to explore in detail here, is the use of passive solar retrofits for domestic space heating. Back in the halcyon days of the 1970s appropriate-tech movement, a great deal of effort went into designing passive solar architecture, and the results were impressive by any standard. In most areas, given a decent southern exposure, a house designed for passive solar heating, and adequately insulated and weatherized to make best use of it, requires little or no heating other than what the sun provides.

The one drawback, and it’s a significant one, is that the house has to be designed and built with passive solar heating in mind. Those of my readers who expect to have the resources to build a house from the ground up, or have one built for them, should certainly look into passive solar designs; the rest of us will be living in existing construction, and the possibilities here are more limited.

The most important limit, of course, is that you can’t do passive solar at all unless a good part of the south or southeast face of your house receives direct sunlight during at least a significant fraction of each winter, spring, and autumn day. Some houses have that option; many others don’t, and if you don’t, you need to do something else. If you do, on the other hand, you have at least three options available, and they can be used alone or together.

The first is a Thermosiphon Air Panel or TAP. Those of my readers who remember how a passive thermosiphon solar water heater works already know most of what they need to know here. A TAP is a wide, flat box with glass on the front, insulation on the sides and back, and a sheet of metal running parallel to the glass, with a couple of inches of air space between metal and glass. Air comes in at the bottom, flows over the metal, and goes out the top into the space that needs to be heated. Position the panel in the sun, and the metal very quickly gets hot; the air passing over the panel picks up the heat, and you very quickly have cold air being sucked into the pipe that leads to the bottom, and hot air being blown out the pipe that leads out of the top.

The TAP is one of the cheapest solar technologies you can make – it costs about as much as a good solar oven – and it produces heat fast: if you live someplace where winters are cold but sunny, and you can place the panel so that it catches rays as soon as the sun comes up, you can have hot air warming your house within a half hour or so of dawn. The downside is that the heat goes away as soon as the sun does, and at night, the thermosiphon effect can work in reverse – hot air gets sucked in the top, flows over the chilly metal, and emerges as an icy breeze at floor level.

Thus a TAP needs valves to cut off the air flow when the sun goes away; it wouldn’t be too hard to work a light or temperature sensor into the system, so that the valves close automatically whenever there isn’t sunlight falling on the panel. If you’ve got a well-insulated and thoroughly weatherstripped house, the heat from a couple of well-placed panels can keep you comfortable well into the night, but the technology does have its limits for round-the-clock heating. To balance the quick but unsteady heat of a TAP system, you need another system that soaks up heat whenever the sun is out, and distributes it to the house in a steadier manner throughout the day and night.

The key to getting this effect is thermal mass. Some substances are good at soaking up heat; when it’s hot, they absorb it, and when it gets cold, they radiate it. Old-fashioned fireplaces used to include plenty of brick or stone precisely because these have plenty of heat storage capacity, and will still be radiating heat via infrared rays long after the fire has been banked down for the night. In the same way, most passive solar systems use plenty of thermal mass to soak up the sun’s heat in the daytime, and radiate it all night.

There are several different gimmicks for retrofitting a house to use thermal mass. One of the standard methods, back in the day, was the trombe wall. What’s a trombe wall? Basically, it’s a wall-sized TAP with thermal mass rather than a metal sheet inside the glass.

One very effective, though rather ugly, way of building a trombe wall back in the day was to take black 55-gallon drums full of water and stack them in a sturdy frame so that their ends faced the sunlight; glass went over the sunward surface, a few inches from the ends of the drums, and the wall on the other side was pierced by vents at top and bottom, which could be opened and closed. Some kind of insulation to cover the glass on a cold night or cloudy days was a common addition that improved the efficiency of the system quite a bit.

 Water is among the very best thermal masses, but brick, stone, or concrete will also do a good job, and the less unsightly trombe walls tended to use these instead of barrels of water. The next step up from the trombe wall, and one of the most widely used and thoroughly tested of the passive solar retrofit technologies, is the attached solar greenhouse.

 You build this onto the south or southeast face of your house, sealing it up tight so that air doesn’t leak in or out, and put a trombe wall between the greenhouse and the rest of the house; the floor of the greenhouse may also be made of heat-absorbing brick, stone, or concrete, to add to the effect. Sunlight streaming in through the glazing warms the air and the trombe wall inside, and heat then radiates from the thermal mass to the rest of the house, regulated by vents that can be opened or closed; the greenhouse should also be vented to the outside on hot days. In addition to a significant heat gain, of course, the greenhouse also allows you to keep fresh vegetables in the diet from early spring into late fall, and right through winter in climates that aren’t too arctic.

Quite a few experiments were made with active solar space heating – that is, systems that collect heat from the sun and then pump it somewhere else. It can be done, but because of the diffuse nature of solar heat, the efficiencies are low, and you very quickly end up using (and losing) more energy in the process than you gain by it.

That’s been a persistent problem all along with attempts to run complex systems on the diffuse and intermittent energy flows that can be gotten from renewable sources. Too many people, faced with that reality, either give up on renewables altogether, or waste their time and resources trying to find some gimmick that will allow a diffuse and intermittent energy source to do the same things as a concentrated and instantly available one.

Given that renewables are the only energy supply we can count on for the long term, the first choice is not very helpful. Given that the laws of nature are under no compulsion to provide humanity with the kind of energy supplies that the fraction of humanity currently living in industrial societies seem to think they are entitled to get, the second one is not much better.

 The viable alternative, of course, is to recognize that renewable energy sources can’t simply be shoved into existing roles as replacements for oil, coal, and natural gas; they require different ways of thinking about energy, and imply an entirely different kind of energy technology. That kind of energy technology – the ecotechnic kind, to use a term I’ve discussed here several times in the past – barely exists as yet.

The thermosiphoning air panels, trombe walls, and attached solar greenhouses that emerged as the best products of a decade of lively experimentation are baby steps in the direction of the ecotechnic energy systems of the far future. Still, just as baby steps are precisely what’s most appropriate when a baby starts learning to walk, these simple, flexible, and inexpensive approaches are good ways to make a start on the task of learning how to live comfortably on the diffuse energy flows nature provides.

It’s also important to remember that all these things can be put to use by individuals, families, and local community groups with readily available resources, very much including salvage – old windows, for example, make excellent glazing for all three of the systems just discussed. That’s important, since the political class here in America seems to have decided that our nation’s apparently limitless reserves of absurdity can be used to replace its dwindling supplies of fossil fuels.

 While they’re busy making nonspeeches about nonplans or insisting that death is good for your health, those of us interested in alternatives to absurdity can get to work.

The starting point for this week’s techologies, here again, is the Master Conserver collection at the Cultural Conservers Foundation website; the papers you’ll need are on Passive Solar Heating -- Residential and Solar Greenhouses.
Ed Mazria’s classic The Passive Solar Energy Book has plenty of information on passive solar systems generally,
and The Integral Urban House by Sim van der Ryn, et al., has – among many other useful things – a good chapter on solar systems.
For solar greenhouses, the best books I know are Rick Fisher and Bill Yanda’s classic The Food and Heat Producing Solar Greenhouse
and the predictably massive and detailed Rodale Press book on the subject, James C. McCullagh (ed)., The Solar Greenhouse Book.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Blowing Green Smoke 4/4/11 .

Cease & Desist Order on PacWest

SOURCE: KauaiInfo (halepulekauai@gmail.com)
 SUBHEAD: Undisclosed handling of asbestos, hazmat, & lead at Superfund Site at Kekaha Sugar Mill.  

Press release from Anne Sullivan on 5 April 2011 - 

Image above: The Kekaha Sugar Mill in 2003. Photo bt Christopher Becker. From (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kekaha_sugar_mill.jpg).

 Kekaha leaders file complaint and demand cease and desisit order against PacWest. A diverse group of Kekaha leaders have filed official complaints with several agencies of the Hawaii Department of Health against Pacific West Energy LLC, Pacific West Energy Kauai LLC, and its contractors (“PacWest”) for their activities at the Superfund-designated Kekaha Sugar Mill site.

 According to the complaints, PacWest and the sugar company owners have failed to adequately disclose to the community and to regulators the levels of toxic material within the Superfund site. The complaints also state that PacWest, without adequate public warning or regulatory permissions, has been dismantling, hauling, and disposing hazardous material-laden mill contents and disturbing toxic airborne particulates that threaten the lives of Kekaha residents.

 PacWest may also have excavated at the site despite prior Superfund reports of groundwater contamination directly under the sugar mill. Asbestos and lead are among the many contaminants known to exist at this site, though the extent of their levels remains undisclosed.

Kekaha community leaders are demanding that a more careful and publicly accountable assessment of the levels of toxic and hazardous materials, especially asbestos and lead, be made before any further work is done at the site. The complaint also lists several actions that should be taken by the Department of Health agencies, including an order for a full Environmental Impact Statement and inclusion of community leaders at site inspections, that can ensure PacWest’s accountability and substantive community input.

“We refuse to accept secrecy about toxins in Kekaha and the westside,” said Mary Jean Buza-Sims, President of the Kekaha organization, E Ola Mau Na Leo O Kekaha, and one of the complaint signatories, “How can a project be called 'green' and 'sustainable' if it makes our Hawaiian communities toxic?" Currently workers are not wearing masks or protective gear, and the sugar mill structure is open and unsealed, dispersing toxic matter in this windy westside town.

There are no visible permits or notices posted at the site. Residents and pedestrians have noticed an astringent, metallic smell emanating from all sides of the toxic site, especially during high wind periods. Many residents are experiencing sore throats and coughs at a noticeably higher rate than in the past.

The sugar mill is located in the middle of Kekaha town, across the street from residential homes of young families. The mill sits only blocks away from schools, churches, and a food market, along a main pedestrian and bike thoroughfare. Small children attend Hawaiian dance and music classes less than 100 feet from the site. PacWest’s activity at the Kekaha Sugar Mill is part of its larger plan to create an energy “plantation” according to its published statements.

The mill would serve as a burning and processing plant for local vegetation, though PacWest has not yet obtained any land rights to grow its biomass feedstock. According to its published statements, PacWest and its strategic partners maintain close relationships with major oil companies, including ChevronTexaco and Shell. For more information on the Kekaha leaders’ complaint, please call the numbers listed below.

Mary Jean Buza-Sims, 808-346-2342
Margaret Simola, 808-337-1805
Patrick Perriera, 808-652-4906


Moderate Rain and Democracy

SUBHEAD: People who blame Islam for Mideast trouble ignore the real source - too little rain.

 By Amy Shlaes on 5 April 2011 for Bloomberg News -

Image above: Detail of NASA composite image of Earth. See larger image here (http://im05.thewallpapers.org/desktop/25846/earth-map-world-wallpaper).

Why is Libya exploding? Why are Iraq and Egypt always, even after many millennia, undemocratic? Why was there scarcely any looting or rioting in Japan even after the triple calamity of tsunami, earthquake and nuclear accident? Blame the rain.

Or rather, the lack of it. Egypt and Libya boil over because precipitation levels there are among the lowest in the world. Japan has received enough rain over the centuries to learn how to govern itself. The idea that rainfall amounts might start wars or foster democracy is consistent with new research by Stephen Haber, a professor at Stanford University, and Victor Menaldo, a professor at the University of Washington. In their paper, Haber and Menaldo sort nations into three categories: those that are persistently authoritarian (Egypt) or democratic (the U.K.) and ones that cycle between the two.

Next, the authors ranked nations by annual precipitation. The authors are talking about rainfall, not water from, say, a river. Haber and Menaldo found that countries where rainfall averages between 50 and 100 centimeters (39.4 inches) a year are more likely to be democratic.

In places with less than 50 centimeters annually, dictatorship predominates. What does rain do that rivers don’t? For one thing, politicians can’t control the rain. Their efforts to turn the skies on and off like a faucet -- using cloud seeding or other measures -- were humiliating failures. Middle-Class Values In short, rain meant independence. Countries in the rainy midrange are ones whose inhabitants could grow and store grains, legumes and other crops.

This meant farmers in temperate regions experienced less starvation than those in other places. They could accumulate enough to invest in more property or education. Farmers working in Japan after World War II, in New England during the 18th century or in the Netherlands several centuries ago all fostered what we today consider middle-class values. Long after they abandoned agriculture and moved to the city, the farm-borne respect for the rule of law and property rights sustains a society stable. Of course, crops thrive in high rainfall areas. The sugar of the moist Caribbean is one example. However, what’s grown in tropical climates often can’t be stored long.

This was especially true in the days before refrigeration. Ruling a Swamp Big institutional farmers -- whether colonial governments or wealthy foreign companies -- were the only ones with the resources to make cultivation in such places profitable. Individuals in these regions tended to be laborers, not owners. No middle class arose, and citizens, with less to lose, were more willing to back regime change. That’s why swampy, high- precipitation territories (like the Philippines) tend to change direction -- heading now toward democracy, then toward dictatorship -- like lightning in a rainstorm. Can irrigation create democracy where rainfall is infrequent?

No, because the ruler’s hand is always ready to divert the river or close the dam. All the wealth a farmer has built up is in jeopardy if his water supply can be cut off. There is one example of a heavily irrigated democracy: Israel. However, the authors argue, the immigrants who settled Israel -- whether Germans, Poles or Russians -- came from agricultural countries, and therefore had amassed the human capital necessary for democracy.

In other words, Israel’s democracy was created before Israel itself. Controlling the Flow Here’s a current example of the Haber-Menaldo theory: Ethiopia wants to dam the Nile, diverting water from Egypt and Sudan to the benefit of Ethiopia, Kenya or Uganda, which may provoke yet another round of conflict in Africa.

You can see this idea at work even in movies: the parched town of Dirt in the animated film “Rango” is held hostage by a corrupt mayor who diverts the precious gallons to Las Vegas, driving Dirt’s townsfolk to pick up their pitchforks. In the Biblical story, Joseph stored grain and created wealth for the pharaoh, but that helped neither Jews nor non- royal Egyptians in the long run because “there came a new king, which knew not Joseph,” and didn’t build on Joseph’s contribution.

Haber says studying the relationship between rainfall and regimes is useful because it reminds us of our (military) limits: “Societies are an outcome of nature’s constraints,” Haber wrote in an e-mail to me. “Iraq is highly unlikely to ever look like Ohio, no matter how much money we pour into it.” Another valuable takeaway:

It is more important for a farmer to own a farm than to get subsidies for it. This paper should spur doubt among those who emphasize radical Islam at the expense of other forces at work in the Mideast. “Egypt was a dictatorship long before Islam even existed,” Haber said. “Overall, rain is a better predictor of stable democracy than the percentage of Muslims in a country.”

See also:
Island Breath: The Dead Zone 2/7/06 .

Fukushima Poisons Fish

SUBHEAD: Fishing halted in Japan’s Ibaraki prefecture as Fukushima nuclear plant contaminates ocean.  

By Aya Takada on 6 April 2011 for Bloomberg News -  

Image above: Local brokers bid for fish at the Hirakata fish market in Kitaibaraki, Ibaraki prefecture earlier this year. From (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33101245/ns/world_news-tokyo?q=Tokyo).

Fishermen in Ibaraki prefecture, Japan’s fifth-largest seafood producer, halted operations after tainted fish were detected south of Fukushima, where radioactive water from a stricken nuclear plant contaminated the sea.

About 96 percent of fishing off the coast of Ibaraki was suspended after sand lance contaminated with higher-than- acceptable levels of cesium were discovered yesterday, said Tomoki Mashiko, assistant director at the fishing policy division of the prefectural government. Fishing in Ibaraki had been suspended since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, restarted as early as March 28, and then suspended again today.

Sushi restaurants and hotels, including Shangri-La Asia’s luxury chain, dropped Japanese seafood from their menus because of radiation fears. Japan exported 565,295 metric tons of marine products worth 195 billion yen ($2.3 billion) last year. A fishing industry group in Fukushima asked Tokyo Electric Power Co. to stop dumping toxic water into the sea as the operator of the damaged nuclear plant struggles to stem radiation leakage.

“The action may be undermining the whole fishing industry in Japan,” Ikuhiro Hattori, chairman for the National Federation of Fisheries Co-Operative Associations, told a vice trade minister today, referring to Tepco dumping water.

Fishermen Compensation
The detection of tainted sand lance dealt a blow to Ibaraki fishermen who were recovering from the natural disaster and were resuming operations, Mashiko said. The prefecture produced 191,010 tons of fish worth 20 billion yen ($234 million) in 2008, representing 3.4 percent of Japan’s output, government data show.

Fishermen from Ibaraki’s southern port of Hasaki weren’t allowed to ship their products to a market in neighboring Chiba prefecture, Mashiko said.

“We expect Tokyo Electric to treat fishermen in the same way as it prepares to compensate farmers for their lost sales because of radioactive contamination,” Mashiko said in an interview today. The prefecture will increase monitoring of marine products for radioactivity and decide which area and what type of fish are safe for commercial operations, he said.

Japan has restricted vegetable and raw-milk shipments from Fukushima and nearby prefectures after discovering contaminated products through random testing.

Tepco, owner of the nuclear plant hit by Japan’s biggest quake on record, slumped as much as 19 percent to a record low today. The utility may make a preliminary compensation payment of 1 million yen ($12,000) to each household near its crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant, Kyodo News reported.

Shifting Demand
The cesium level detected in samples of sand lance caught off the coast of Ibaraki was 526 becquerel per kilogram, higher than Japan’s health ministry standard of 500 becquerel, data from the prefecture showed yesterday.

Testing of sand-lance samples from fishermen’s group in the northern town of Hirakata also showed they contained 4,080 becquerel per kilogram of iodine-131. The government set a radioactive iodine standard for fish at 2,000 becquerel per kilogram yesterday, the same as the limit for vegetables.

“Increased discovery of contaminated foods sapped consumer appetite for products made in Fukushima and surrounding areas,” said Takaki Shigemoto, commodity analyst at JSC Corp. in Tokyo. “Demand is shifting to foods from western Japan and overseas.”

India suspended import of food items from Japan for three months or until “credible information” on the radiation hazard is available, the health ministry said yesterday.

Exports of Japanese seafood were canceled by foreign buyers on concern the products may have been tainted by radiation leaking from the nuclear plant, Hiromi Isa, trade office director at Japan’s Fisheries Agency, said last week.

Japan’s total output of marine products reached 5.43 million tons in 2009. Fishing by Fukushima and nearby Miyagi prefectures remain suspended as they have not recovered from damage caused by the quake and tsunami, according to the agency.


More Meltdown Mania

SUBHEAD: The operators are left with nonsense cures while the radiation loads from all four reactors increases exponentially.  

By Steve Ludlum on 5 April 2011 in Economic Undertow - 

Image above: Heroic workers at Fukushima Dai Nuclear Plant. Note protective footwear inlcudes plastic bags over shoes taped to ankles and calves. From (http://www.news.com.au/world/japan-admits-inadequate-nuke-safeguards-after-quake-disaster-and-fukushima-fallout/story-e6frfkyi-1226030693886).

 It's interesting to watch how pop culture deals with problems like the Fukushima Fiasco: It can't and it doesn't. The establishment soothes while coming up with idiotic 'solutions' such as putting shredded newspapers into a 'crack' in concrete leaking 7 tons of intensely radioactive water per hour onto the highly manicured 'grounds' of the reactor complex and thence into the Pacific.

You know ... 'That' Pacific Ocean, where all those buff dudes go to surf ... "

No more surfing for you!" No walking on the beach either, unless you want to get what is becoming known in Japan as a 'Ground Tan'.

Energy Meanwhile the Fossil Fuel Fiasco takes place under everyone's noses:

BRENT CRUDE 120.23 1.530 1.29%
GAS OIL FUT 1,006.0 9.000 0.90%
HEATING OIL 315.31 1.860 0.59%
NATURAL GAS 4.32 -0.045 -1.03%
GASOLINE ) 314.58 -0.550 -0.17%
WTI CRUDE 108.07 0.130 0.12%
Yowzah! $120 per barrel is a bludgeon to the head of the waste-based economy. How are the precious SUV's and giant pickup trucks going to cope? Here's what's happening with three- month average US gas prices from estimable Gasbuddy:
How about that for a bull market? Gas prices are not the determinant whether our sorry excuse for an economy takes a dump or not but they are a good 'pain indicator'. They measure the level of wishful thinking about how our machines interfere with reality ... Reality sez there are limits, Fantasy sez some wads of newspaper and 'polymers' will make them go away. If not, skip the pesky reactors and welcome 'profits'! Here is the party line from Bloomberg:
S&P 500 earnings are poised to surpass the 2007 peak of $90 a share in the third quarter after surging from $7 in March 2009, the quickest recovery since at least 1900, according to data from S&P and Yale University’s Robert Shiller compiled by Bloomberg. The gap between projected 12-month profits and average earnings over the last 10 years is set to widen the most since 1951, the data show.
PNC Wealth Management, Federated Investors Inc. and ING Investment Management, which together oversee about $1 trillion, say consumer spending will sustain the recovery after government stimulus helped lift profits from the lowest level since the Great Depression. While earnings will slow in the second half, stock purchases by investors who missed the S&P 500’s advance will fuel gains, according to Leuthold Group LLC.
Somehow, all those hapless unemployed on food stamps are going to spend money they don't have in stores that are now boarded up ... If they spend all their cash on gas what is left to push up 'profits'? The best answer is pesky customers and 'salez' are unnecessary. What is required is corporate 'self dealing' and finance 'investments' in other companies just like themselves.

It's hard to think of a US company that is makes something useful other than GE, which brings 'Good Things' like ground tans to light. Those pimping vapor profits have an agenda: anyone willing to take some time and think for themselves can come to the conclusion: what used to be progress is now naked self interest. There are the privileged and there are the damned. At some point you start asking yourself whose side are you going to be on when the shooting starts?

Reactor Number 2 did not provide a visible explosion to analyze. It's primary and secondary pumps failed after the flood and like the others was dependent upon fire engines for cooling injections of seawater.

The reactor 3 blast on Monday the 14th rendered 4 of the 5 fire trucks servicing unit 2 DOA: the survivor ran out of fuel and was then unable to overcome reactor pressures due to a stuck valve. Operators said fuel rods were out of water for an extended period. The consequent blast took place within the suppression pool in the early morning of the 15th.

Image above: Identical Browns Ferry Reactor Number 1 under construction. Click to enlarge. From (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Browns_Ferry_Nuclear_Power_Plant).

 Figure 1
This is the pressure vessel before it is surrounded or clad with reinforced concrete. The central 'flask' or lightbulb- shaped fixture is the inner mold for a ten- foot thick concrete shell that is an integral part of the overall containment structure. Below the lightbulb is the torus- shaped suppression pool which is also within the containment. While everything you can see here is very robust and oversized, this is not nearly so as much as the pressure vessel and containment of a pressurized water reactor (PWR) which operates at pressures approximately 2,000 psi.

The PWR has the familiar dome structure(s) which rise above the rest of the facility. The operating pressure for this kind of reactor when making steam and electricity is approximately 1000 psi. Ordinarily, water and steam are circulated around the core with the reactor 'throttled' or 'accelerated' by inserting or withdrawing control rods along with increasing/decreasing the flow of feedwater.

Excess steam is vented into the suppression pool where it is condensed. The power cycle has steam flowing from the fuel elements through the power turbine to a condenser which is the heat exchanger for the reactor. Condensate is pumped back into the core. Work is a flow of heat from the fuel toward the ocean by way of the turbine and condenser.

Important feedwater pumps along with control rod drive mechanisms are located within the pressure vessel under the core. This core is the metal can that contains the fuel- and control rods. It sits high inside the pressure vessel dry well which is within the throat of the pressure vessel. The core is where the boiling takes place. Vents equalize the pressure so that it is the same within the core as well as within the rest of pressure vessel.

The obvious weak point of the design is where the pressure balance tubes (parts 'e' in Figure 1) connect to the suppression pool. There are eight of these radiating like spokes from the central flask of the pressure vessel. Where the tubes join the suppression pool are elaborate welded and mechanical joints that cannot accept stresses that more regular shapes such as the sphere and torus can.

Other weak areas are where tubular sections of the suppression pool are welded together, where pipes and valves are attached to the suppression pool and where conduits and ducts such as control rod hydraulic lines penetrate the pressure vessel. Most of the non- welded pipe joints are conventional flange fittings with gaskets. The amount of pipe and fittings within the containment is significant. It is likely that much of the piping in all the Fukushima reactors was severely damaged by the earthquake, before cooling problems emerged.

 It is likely that all three reactor explosions originated in the suppression pools and specifically in areas of the pools that were unable to contain an instant increase in steam pressure. Steam pressure would flash when fuel melted and flowed through core fittings and pipes into the bottom of the pressure vessel and from there into the suppression pools.

 Since all the reactors are of more or less identical design, shared identical vulnerabilities and were subject to the same cooling abuses it is likely that all met the same explosive fate in the same place, within the suppression pool area. Severe fuel meltdowns caused powerful steam explosions that damaged the suppression pools and compromised the containments. The simple explanation for the flows of radioactive water and isotopes in the plant area seen today is the multiple explosive failures of reactor containments.

When the fuel rods are exposed above cooling water, the zircalloy cladding oxidizes producing hydrogen and zirconium oxide. There is no free oxygen in the pressure vessels under working conditions as these are charged with nitrogen. When the pressure vessels in the other reactors were vented, the nitrogen and hydrogen flowed into the service areas above the containment buildings.

The nitrogen was of little significance in the service areas' vast spaces. The vented hydrogen mixed with oxygen in the air within the service areas: steam explosions, when they occurred, triggered nearly simultaneous hydrogen blasts in the service areas. In the suppression pool area of unit 2, there was little free oxygen to mix with hydrogen being produced by the zircalloy oxidation. Hydrogen was due to be vented into the service area as was the case with the other reactors but this venting could not take place due to the stuck valve.

As was the case with the other reactors, when the fuel rods within the core were exposed for long enough period, the cladding failed and fuel pellets aggregated within the core. At that point, the cooling water had been pushed by steam pressure into the suppression pool. Enough fuel melted together then flowed from the waterless core into the suppression pool where the melt caused the steam explosion.

This wasn't a total meltdown and the result was not a massive explosion as was the case in unit 3 but it was sufficient to blow a hole in the suppression pool area of the pressure vessel with steam under extraordinary force blasting away internal parts of the containment. Here is reactor 2 with its ominous trail of steam emitting from its bowels:

 After the explosion, all but 50 of the workers at the four-reactor site were removed due to increases in radiation. Further examination showed high levels of radiation in water in buildings connected to Reactor #2 along with many short-lived isotopes indicating ongoing criticality taking place within the destroyed core.

As has been noticed by others, that means the plants' operators have been attempting to stanch the flow of radioactive water out of these reactors has been pathetic. Water flows create a dilemma: water flow is needed to cool what remains of the cores while water acts as a moderator for reactor fuel, triggering chain reactions.

Heat is removed from the cores to the ocean but moderating water causes the ruined cores to emit more heat in a vicious cycle. Newly released TEPCO data provides evidence of periodic chain reaction at Fukushima Unit 1 from Fairewinds Associates.  
Video above: Arnie Gundersen, Chief Nuclear Engineer at Fairewinds Associates . From (http://vimeo.com/21881702).

 The operators are left with nonsense cures while the radiation loads from all four reactors increases exponentially. With all four reactors fatally compromised, the outcome is a reactor complex that is steadily becoming too 'hot' for anyone to approach even with protective gear. Once that point is reached the remaining core structures will fail and even more radiation and radioactive particles will be emitted. The Japanese have to get serious and marshal vast forces to battle these reactors. Every Japanese citizen will need to do his duty, to take lead brick in hand and gain not a Warholian fifteen minutes of fame but a three minute tour of hell. Japan also needs to make a plan to decommission all of its reactors. They are all ticking time bombs, Japan is broke and the 'financial' outcome is more and more meltdowns. The 'mass attack' is rejected is that it is too 'old school'. It defies modernity and the fantasy of mechanical advantage, advertising- directed self- actualization and increasing luxury. Modernity's leverage is to waste fuel and have the illusion of doing something useful by the process. It's that or nothing with the Japanese tempting an avoidable fate. Then again, there is no such thing as leadership, only soothing. .

What Is Adapting in Place?

SUBHEAD: Creating a vision of a life worth having that takes limits into account is a project that is quite literally life or death.  

By Sharon Astyk 5 April 2011 in Casaubon's Book

Image above: A home in Levittown, Long Island, NY built circa 1950, leading the suburban explosion. From (http://www.flickr.com/photos/roarlaura/69728784).

So what is Adapting In Place anyway? I'm writing a book about it (coming out next fall), I talk about it a lot, but what exactly am I getting at? It is partly about preparedness, both individual and community, partly about changing expectations, partly about achieving a kind of balance. It seems pedestrian in a way - lots of questions about how to do the laundry and keep food cool and work with your neighbors - ordinary things. Trivial seeming things. Or perhaps not. In a way this may be the biggest question of all - how do we go on where we are with what we have in this new world?

Moreover, how do we create a model of a life worth aspiring to that isn't destructive, that honestly takes a look at where we're going? This is not trivial, and it isn't purely personal - in fact, you could argue that this is the world's single most central question, because for the last 70 years, the US and other Global North nations have exported a vision of a life that has penetrated across the globe.

With policy and with military might and with money and with Hollywood and with everything we have, we have modeled consumption, we have modeled cheap energy, and we have set up almost 7 billion people to want something that 7 billion people cannot have.

We can't have it because the earth can't sustain it - it lacks the resources. It lacks the capacity to absorb the pollution and outputs. And the longer we keep up the lie that some people don't mind that you have 5, 10, 20, 1000 times more than they do, the harder the adaptive process will be, and the more fighting and the more dying it will cause.

Most of us will die or kill for a dream we hold strongly enough. Re-creating the dream, creating a vision of a life worth having that takes limits into account is a project that is quite literally life or death. It starts with staying. The world cannot handle more people who pick up and leave for new territory after they've raped the place they live in.

And while we know that there will be many relocations and radical changes, most people are going to make the best of the infrastructure we've created over the last years, simply because we have no choice. I personally think that there is insufficient time to remake our world dramatically. Now there are people who would argue with me about this - and they may even have a case.

But I think there are compelling reasons to believe that we may not have enough time to take a world created for cheap energy and transform it into one that can handle expensive energy and replace much of that with renewable power. The idea that we will be able to make a massive societal retrofit occur rapidly depends in large part on, I think, the idea that the current economic crisis is just an unpleasant coincidence that happens to be occurring just as peak oil and climate change are really hitting us.

This, I think is a radical error in reasoning - in fact, as nearly every serious analyst who really grasps peak oil gets, the economic limitations are part and parcel of our present crisis. That is, our ability to do new things is going to be more and more constrained over time. Which means that most of us aren't going to be living in new urbanist walkable communities or in perfect ecovillages driving electric cars - we're going to be living where we are.

Some projects will be done - but the idea that we're going to do a full-scale overhaul of our society seems deeply wrong - we did a radical build out to get ourselves here, and we used up the easy, cheap segment of our resources. Which means that most of us are going to be limited to what we can accomplish ourselves, using our personal resources, what resources are available through family, friends, community and governments of various levels.

Much of our way of life may have been, as Kunstler refers to suburbia, "the greatest-misallocation of resources in history", but is how we allocated the resources - we've done this build out, and we're going to be living with the results. While the current situation has created mobility for some people - those who have already lost jobs and homes, those who know they are in a situation that can't possibly improve - on the other hand, for many people, the current situation works to keep them in place.

Nothing is selling in their area - so they can't sell their house and move to another. Or they are afraid to change jobs, because the loss of seniority would lead to making them easy targets for layoffs in this economy. It may not be possible any longer to get back what they owe on their house - but it may still make sense to keep paying the mortgage, because they expect extended family to move in, or because they can grow food on the land.

They may be tied down by elderly or disabled family members who can't be easily moved, by a shared custody agreement, or by need to access to certain kinds of medical care. Family - biological or chosen - may tie them to an area, as may familiarity with the climate and region. We may decide that strong community ties make an imperfect area (and all areas are imperfect) enough to keep us there.

Or we may lack the resources to move. Staying in place isn't always the best of a bad lot of options - sometimes it is simply the best option. There's been a tendency to rhetorically abandon areas we don't know what to do with - inner cities, exurbs, suburbia - all of these are dismissed sometimes, as though this will magically vacate them.

The fact is that 300 million people in the US or 60 million in Britain cannot simply all go out to the countryside to their own bunkers, unless we wish to create a new suburbia, with barbed-wire, each ticky-tacky bunker lined up in the countryside next to its neighbors . Nor can we move everyone into cities - there aren't jobs enough, nor room enough to grow food. Food alone will mean that the countryside and suburbs (near the city markets, often built on good farmland) will have to be populated - and the cities were usually cities for reasons long before oil - those reasons won't go away.

More and more, I am advising people to stay put, or at most move to a place fairly near and like the one they live in now. I don't think there's enough time to adapt to new climates and environmental conditions, to retrofit new homes and build communities - now that doesn't mean some people won't have to move. But if you can stay put, I think there are some real advantages for most people - it takes time to build community, to build soil, to learn the bus lines, to get into the carpools, to find the cheap produce, to learn about pests and diseases and how to keep cool or warm.

We need a model of a new life now - not ten years from now when we've found the perfect place. The nuts and bolts of adapting in place are ordinary, so ordinary they seem small.

Should I insulate? How do I collect rainwater? How little electricity can I do with? What do I do if the power goes out entirely? What is the right thing to eat for dinner? How shall I preserve it for later? What do we teach the kids? What do we tell Grandma about what we're doing?

 I don't live in the perfect place, and these ordinary trivial seeming things are the bread and butter of my life too. They become almost invisible, and we learn to miss their enormous impact - the aggregate of 300 million Americans or 1 billion developed world dwellers eating and pooping and keeping warm and cool and getting around.

 I don't live the perfect life in the perfect place, but I remake it in the image of my dream a little more each year. I once read that people who build their dream houses spend 2 years building them - and then live in them for an average of 7 years. Because dreams change.

Because sometimes what we dream about is the thing we can't have, not the thing we do. And yet most of us in the developed world have more possessions, more comforts than the kings of old, than the richest people of our great-great grandparent's time.

We have more ease than the slave owners of the past, with fossil-fueled slaves to do our bidding. If we can't come to embrace what we do have, and a fair share, who can? If we can't do with less, will you ask someone who lives a harder life with less to do it? If we who made the dream and sold it to the rest of the world can't change our dream when it doesn't fit us anymore, what hope is there?


KIUC, Stop FERCing Kauai Update

SOURCE: Ken Taylor (taylorj021@hawaii.rr.com)
SUBHEAD: As member you can stop Federal FERC process from using eminent domain on Kauai water rights.  

[Author's note: This article has been updated 4/13/11 with places to sign petition and contact names.]  

By Juan Wilson on 6 April 2011 for Island Breath - (http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2011/04/stop-kiuc-fercing-kauai.html)

Image above: The Norris Dam on the Clinch River in Tennessee being built by the federal government for the TVA in 1933. From (http://www.tva.gov/75th/timeline.htm).  

250 names and addresses with KIUC account numbers on a petition.  

Current KIUC members only for this petition. Anyone can collect signatures.  

Download petition. Sign it with your name and account number. Ask others to sign.  

(updated deadline) Deadline Noon, Monday, April 29th 2011 for submission.  

Compel KIUC to re-call the request for FERC application. SUBMISSION: Contact Coordinator or Adam Asquith for submitting hard copy. See below.  

Download Background Sheet (with this Background Information) (http://www.islandbreath.org/2011Year/04/110405fercinfo.pdf) Download No FERC Petition Sheet (to sigh and distribute) (http://www.islandbreath.org/2011Year/04/110405fercpetition.pdf)  
Coordinator: Adam Asquith 4654 Hauaala Road Kapaa HI 96746 (808) 635-8290 adam_asquith@yahoo.com  

Signature sheets at the below locations so you can sign up at the location or you can drop off a sheet you have filled out. The signature sheets will be picked up Saturday April 16
Hanapepe Cafe

Happy Mango

Living Foods,
Kukuilua Shopping Village, Poipu V

im 'N Viger Health Food,

Children of the Land, Kapaa
(next door to Papayas)

Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizza,

Island Wide - 
Diana Labedz
PO Box 808 Waimea HI 96796 
 (808) 337-9977  

Westside -
Linda Harmon
PO Box 257 Hanapepe HI 96716
(808) 335-2737

 Eastside - Ken Taylor
1720a Makaleha Place Kapaa HI 96746
(808) 823-8527

Tip to those collecting signatures. If signer does not have account number with them get phone number. You can call them for account number and fill it in later.  

 The KIUC Board of Directors has voted to initiate the Federal FERC process to develop hydroelectric systems on several Kauai streams As a KIUC coop member, you have asked for, and will soon be paying for, a mainland company to seize the water rights and develop these projects. You have asked the Federal Government to preside over this action and make decisions.

If a FERC license is granted it conveys the right of Federal eminent domain. The licensee has the full power of the
Federal government to seize land necessary to development the hydro project and transmit the power. Within the FERC process, there is NO law that protects the rights of living or future Hawaiian people.

 The KIUC Board voted to initiate this process without explaining to you how invasive and controlling it is. You asked for the FERC process, only You can stop it. Tell the KIUC Board to Stop FERC and give up the water claims. We have 20 days after the posting of the Draft minutes of the March 29 meeting to: 
• Petition the Board to have the action submitted to all Members for approval.

• Request that a Special Meeting be held to discuss this action. 
This is a very formal request, and all signatures must have the KIUC ACCOUNT number to show that they are a Member. This is going to take some work. We need 250 signatures with Account Numbers. From a comment on article below:
Aloha, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) signed a deal with a Massachusetts company to explore hydroelectric possibilities. There are two major times to intervene and/or make comments. They are steps 2 and 3. We are now only at step 1. (1) They need a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) permit to explore possibilities. The public could make comments, but it does not mean much (2) If they move forward they must file for another FERC application to actually build a hydroelectric facility, non-profit organizations can and should intervene. If FERC approves it, then ... (3) KIUC needs to file the proposed power purchase contract with the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The public can and should intervene in that case also. WHAT WE SHOULD FOCUS ON NOW IS PUBLIC VALUES & PERCEPTIONS Henry
Ea O Ka Aina: KIUC Sells Off Water Rights 4/3/11 .

Radiant City

SUBHEAD: Watch film "Radiant City" - how urban sprawl is eating the planet.  

By Lloyd Alter on 4 April 2011 in Treehugger -  

Image above: Still frame from film "Radiant City". See video below.

Four years ago I reviewed Radiant City, a sort of cross between documentary and drama by Gary Burns and journalist Jim Brown. Spacing describes how "together they demonstrate how urban sprawl is eating the planet. They look at the brutalizing aesthetic of strip malls and listen to fears about the soul-eating suburbs. Making heavy use of cultural references, they riff off sitcoms and reality TV and drop names from Jane Jacobs to The Sopranos while all the while using a wide range of cinematic devices to examine what happens when cities get sick and mutate."

Now it is free and online.

At the time I found it to be a strange mix, combining Jim Kunstler, Ken Greenberg, Andreas Duany and Mark Kingwell with - the Moss family, trying to survive in suburban Calgary. The poor family has a hard time keeping up with Kunstler, gleefully chewing up the scenery.

Definitely worth a watch, courtesy of Canada's National Film Board.

Video above: Trailer for "Radiant City". From (http://www.nfb.ca/film/radiant_city/).


Failing Future Infrastructure

SUBHEAD: Will we be able to maintain & replace our energy & transportation infrastructure in a post-peak oil world?  

By Jeffrey Brown on 4 April 2011 in ASPO

Image above: Bridge over the Mississippi River catastrophically collapses on I-35 at rush hour in Minneapolis in 2007. From (http://www.uaprogressiveaction.com/node/340).

Developed countries worldwide are facing enormous financial costs associated with maintaining and ultimately replacing their aging energy and transportation infrastructure of pipelines, refineries, power plants, electric transmission lines, roads, bridges, tunnels, dams, etc. Given the reality of an energy-constrained global economy, especially in the context of a long-term decline in global net oil exports, it seems inevitable that, at best, our current energy and transportation infrastructure will only be partially replaced in future years.

Given a long-term expectation of partial infrastructure replacement, it seems likely that inevitable natural disasters - like earthquakes/tsunamis such as recently hit Japan, and hurricanes like Katrina and Rita that hit the US Gulf Coast in 2005 - will only aggravate the infrastructure problem. It seems likely that many areas heavily damaged by natural disasters will not be rebuilt, or will only be partially rebuilt. Government officials in Japan are considering exactly this scenario regarding many coastal fishing villages that were damaged by the recent earthquake and tsunami. In the US, civil engineers have been warning about failing infrastructure for years.

In 2009, they gave US infrastructure a “D” ranking, just barely above failing. Executive Director Patrick Natale of the American Society of Civil Engineers told CNN in 2009: “The bottom line is that a failing infrastructure cannot support a thriving economy.”

Unfortunately, when we consider the probability of an ongoing and accelerating rate of decline in global net oil exports, we have to consider the predicament of failing infrastructure combined with a declining economy. Of course, the conventional wisdom is that we can have a virtually infinite rate of increase in our consumption of a finite fossil-fuel resource base.

Most governmental planners in the US are still making plans to cope with a vast increase in US automobile traffic in future decades. The irony of this point of view is that there is already evidence that we can’t fully maintain, let alone consider replacing, the current road system.

Already, many county governments in the US are being forced to stop paving county roads and turn them back to gravel roads. In Texas, in order to help balance the state budget, legislators are debating a proposal to completely eliminate state funding for county road maintenance.

However, when we look at the global economy from the point of view of a long-term decline in global net oil exports, it seems very likely that, to paraphrase a famous quote, what can’t be funded and maintained won’t be funded and maintained; and that the funding and maintenance problem will probably continue to become most apparent in the short term in American suburbia and exurbia (which is very remote housing developments at great distances from job centers).

Jim Kunstler famously called American suburbia the “Greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.” In a number of books and lectures, Jim has described how the US had a pretty good and highly energy-efficient urban system, up until immediately after the Second World War, when the long national nightmare of out-of-control suburban development really began.

I would agree that the Late Forties was the inflection point, for a number of reasons.

First, the Late Forties was really the starting point for the post-war boom in the US. Second, in 1948 the US slipped into net oil-importer status, after serving as a primary source of oil for the Allies in the
Second World War only a few years earlier.

Third, 1948 marked the high water point for many urban electrified-rail mass-transit systems.

For example, in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in the Forties there were up to 250 miles of electrified streetcar lines in 1948, connected by a regional electric interurban rail system, all of which began to be abandoned that very year.

So, how should we address the problem of failing infrastructure in an energy-constrained future?
I have previously argued that we need to look at a triage plan. The simplest triage approach, given a mass casualty event, is to divide survivors into three groups:
(1) Those who are likely to survive, regardless of the care that they receive;
(2) those who are likely to die, regardless of the care that they receive; and
(3) those for whom immediate care might make a difference in outcome.
With that as background, here is what I argued for in a 2006 essay entitled, “Net Oil Exports Revisited“:
A Proposed Triage Plan
I believe that vast expanses of American Suburbia are going to become virtually abandoned in the years ahead. Alan Drake has noted that a good deal of suburbia was so poorly constructed that a lot of it is biodegradable. Alan has outlined how we can go back to what we used to have: electric trolley cars connected to electric light rail lines.

CBS Sunday Morning, on 8/20/06, had a segment on “tiny houses.” They profiled a home designer and builder who specialized in building very small functional homes of about 100 square feet. You can find more information on his website.

What this builder has realized, and what millions of Americans are just beginning to also realize, is that anything over 100 square feet or so per person is not a necessity; it is optional consumption, a want, instead of a need.The US is not Switzerland, but Alan Drake has described how Swiss per capita oil consumption in the Second World War was about 0.15% (later estimate of 0.25%) of current US per capita oil consumption. They did it primarily by electrifying their transportation system.

I propose a sort of triage operation: “tiny” homes and multifamily housing along electric mass transit lines. In my opinion, it is the only way that we can preserve some semblance of a civilized society. The suburbs are, by and large, a lost cause.

If we apply “Triage Rules” to infrastructure, we need to focus dwindling resources on areas that can be rehabilitated.

Of course, at least for the time being, the probability of a serious discussion, let alone implementation, of an infrastructure triage plan is somewhere between negligible and none.

On an individual basis, I would suggest that one consider living in an area that was doing well with the infrastructure and energy consumption levels that we had in the Late Forties. Unfortunately, when one considers population growth, total US oil consumption, even at Late Forties per capita levels, would still be quite high. US per capita oil consumption in 1949 was 14.2 BO (barrels of oil) per person per year. In 1978, US consumption had increased to 30.8 BO, before beginning to decline. In 2005, the US consumed 25.6 BO, falling to 22.8 BO in 2009 (EIA & Census Bureau).

In terms of total volume consumed, in 1949 the US consumed 5.8 mbpd (million barrels per day), increasing to 20.8 mbpd in 2005, falling to 19.3 mbpd in 2009.

However, the US population has increased from 149 million people in 1949 to 309 million people in 2010. So, even if, or more likely when, US per capita consumption falls back to 1949 levels, the US would still be the world’s largest oil consuming country, consuming about 12 mbpd.

Interestingly enough, note that France’s per capita annual oil consumption in 2005 (12 BO, Nationmaster) was well below the US per capita annual oil consumption in 1949 (14.2 BO).

Therefore, as low as our per capita oil consumption was in 1949, it seems likely that a 1949 per capita consumption level will only be a milepost along our path to a much lower level of per capita oil consumption.

Obviously, given this outlook, trying to maintain a long commute in a gas guzzling SUV to a large suburban mortgage would not be advisable.

In early 2007, I outlined my advice for a post-Peak Oil environment in my “ELP Plan” essay. ELP stands for Economize, Localize, Produce. An excerpt from that essay follows:
In this article I will further expound on my reasoning behind the ELP plan, otherwise known as “Cut thy spending and get thee to the non-discretionary side of the economy.”
I have been advising for anyone who would listen to voluntarily cut back on their consumption, based on the premise that we were probably headed, in a post-Peak Oil environment, for a prolonged period of deflation in the auto/housing/finance sectors and inflation in food and energy prices.
To put our current rate of worldwide crude oil consumption in perspective, during George W. Bush’s first term, the world used about 10% of all crude oil that has been consumed to date, and based on our mathematical models, the world will use about 10% of our remaining conventional crude oil reserves during George W. Bush’s second term. . .
Recently people who have followed some version of the ELP plan, either because of my recommendations, or based on their own evaluation of the present environment, have had considerable reasons to be glad that they voluntarily downsized. So far, I have not heard any regrets from anyone who downsized.

Or, turn it around. Does anyone now wish that they had bought a large SUV and large suburban McMansion–all with 100% financing–on January 1, 2006?

In the ELP Plan essay, I recommended that readers:
(1) Try to live on half or less of current income;

(2) move to smaller, energy efficient housing, close to where one works, ideally along a mass transit line and

(3) become, work for, and/or invest in providers of essential goods and services. Perhaps something like the ELP Plan is the most sensible approach that one can take, as we begin the second decade of what is going to be a most “interesting” century.
[IB Editor's note: I agree that most people will live in “tiny homes and multifamily housing along electric mass transit lines" as the only way that to preserve some semblance of a civilized society. However, I would add that at one extreme of the mass transit line there will be open country (abandoned suburbs) and at the other a real city (with all buildings requiring elevators pretty much abandoned). In a century or two a new form of "natural" disaster will be the occasional toppling of a Sears or CitiBank tower.]


Learning from Fukushima

SUBHEAD: We should all look at the increasingly sceptical view towards nuclear power in Japan as the disaster unfolds.

By Nirmal Ghosh on 5 April 2011 for The Straights Times - 

Image above: Still frame of destroyed nuclear plant in game "Stalker - Shadow of Chernobyl". About as slose as you can get to the real plant is in a computer simulation like this one that details the entire site including the abandoned city of Pripyat. Fro (http://thehiat.blogspot.com/2010/11/abandonment-in-games-stalker-1.html).

James Lovelock was never far from my mind in Japan last week. The originator of the Gaia hypothesis which maintains that the Earth is a living self-regulating organism a few years ago came to the conclusion that human beings are incapable of or do not want to adapt to mitigate global warming. Therefore, given that we want business as usual, we need energy – and more of it given the growing needs of countries like India and China.

Since we want to continue enjoying life as we know it, we have to build more nuclear plants regardless – because we are all going to fry anyway when the Earth inevitably heats up several degrees. I am putting this in simplistic and even facetious terms, but you get the drift. I highly recommend James Lovelock’s book "The Vanishing Face of Gaia".

It is visionary, realistic - and sobering. At a cafe in Tokyo, as young men and women chatted and laughed around us (belying an undercurrent of concern as the population gets a crash course on the arcane details of radioactivity), I met with Yu Tanaka, one of Japan’s lonely breed of anti-nuclear activists. He spoke of the entrenched nuclear power industry in Japan – a cozy club of big corporations (power utilities and construction), bureaucracy, politicians and the media. Later, I met with Mr Tetsuo Saito, a physicist and PhD holder from Princeton University who has been minister of environment and now sits in the opposition. Even he agreed there was no longer a consensus in Japan about the safety of nuclear power plants.

 Nuclear power debate
 Use Google News and key in "Nuclear, Japan, Fukushima" and you will come up with a mass of articles discussing nuclear power. UN talks on climate change are under way right now in Bangkok, and Fukushima has put a cat among the proverbial pigeons. The nuclear renaissance – over 300 plants are planned around the world – is partly driven by the need to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from coal-burning power plants.

But the critics say if you go back to look at Chernobyl in 1986, and then fast forward to Fukushima 2011 which is still unfolding (there seems to be something inherently wrong about a system that keeps going even if you flip the OFF switch?) it warrants a pause for serious thought. The big question is what we use from our menu of options – from the benign (solar, wind, waves) to the dangerous (coal, nuclear). Somewhere in the middle is hydro power. And at the root of it is our hunger for energy. It is this – the key input that maintains our life as we know it – combined with the big business interests, that leaves us with only dangerous solutions.

Somewhat like how the entrenched interests of the US auto industry delayed the development of fuel-efficient or electric cars, if the resources that go into nuclear power (or indeed the importing of oil) were to be diverted to renewable energy, remarkable achievements are possible. This is especially so in Japan with its long coastline. Will the still-leaking radioactive water from Fukushima force this kind of revolution? The debate rages. See this article for an critique of George Monbiot’s views: http://links.org.au/node/2246

Hugh Gusterson in an article last week for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, wrote "Countries with other energy options, strong democratic structures, and powerful environmental movements will probably de-emphasise, and maybe eventually renounce, nuclear energy. "Switzerland has already suspended plans to build new reactors, and Germany's Angela Merkel, responding to large antinuclear protests, announced plans to close seven reactors pending further evaluation of their safety and to reconsider plans to extend the lives of Germany's oldest reactors.

"In the meantime, countries with weak environmental movements and weak regulatory norms seem to be proceeding as if nothing has happened." As the Fukushima nuclear disaster unfolded, Turkey announced plans to go ahead with two reactors, and we can surely expect China, Russia, and India to do the same.

 It seems supremely ironic to me that Japan – the only country ever to be struck by nuclear bombs, twice – should be facing a nuclear disaster which is the result of its own marriage with nuclear energy. I mentioned this to a friend on Saturday as we left an evacuation centre housing people from the 20 km exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. "Yes" she said. "We are idiots if we still do not learn."