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Japan’s Nuclear Crisis Sparks Conversation on Energy Safety

A couple walks under falling snow amongst the rubble in Yamada, Iwate prefecture, on March 15, 2011. Explosions and a fire at Japan's quake-hit nuclear plant unleashed dangerous radiation in a country already hard hit by a monster earthquake and a tsunami on March11, 2011. Credit: JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images

The ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan as a result of the devastating 9.0 magnitude earthquake and massive tsunami on March 11, has touched off renewed discussions about managing the risks and benefits of nuclear power in the United States. With 104 nuclear reactors currently providing about 20 percent of America's electricity, and a coalition of Republicans and Democrats — including President Obama — pushing for the construction of multiple new facilities, the prospect of a significant change in public support for this renewable form of energy carries with it significant implications for how the U.S. can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to fight global climate change. 

From the perspective of climate change mitigation, nuclear energy offers enormous potential benefits, since aside from the construction and maintenance of nuclear facilities, no climate warming greenhouse gases are released from nuclear energy production. This is the main reason why many environmental organizations that had fought against nuclear power for decades have recently come around to offering support for including nuclear in the nation's energy portfolio. In recent days, however, industry analysts, politicians, environmentalists and others have been offering their views of whether the Japanese nuclear crisis should cause the U.S. to back away from plans to build new plants, part of a "nuclear renaissance" in America and around the world.

One thing is clear — President Obama ha...


New Wind Turbines Coming with No Apparent Home

The U.S. does not yet have any installed offshore wind turbines, like this one off the southeast coast of England. Credit: phault/flickr. 

The components of giant offshore wind turbines will soon be visible in Virginia — though for at least a few years they are more likely to be seen coming out of a production plant than cutting through the wind a few hundred yards offshore.

Last week, Gamesa Technology Corp., a global giant in the design and manufacture of wind turbines, opened a new factory in Norfolk, the first of its kind in the U.S. to produce offshore wind turbines. According to a company press release, the facility will manufacture, in partnership American shipbuilder Northrop Grumman Corp., the first prototype of a new Gamesa offshore turbine model, the 5.0 MW G11X. Offshore wind turbines vary in the structure of their bases, depending on the depth of water in which they are going to be installed. 


Though Gamesa’s press office says it hopes to install turbines off the coast of Virginia and elsewhere in U.S. waters, it’s still unclear where the first products from the facility will be headed. According to a SolveClimate story on the new Gamesa facility, the company won't comment on who their first customers are.

Studies have shown that the Virginia coastline would make an ideal home for offshore wind farms, with an estimated 94 gigawatts of capacity, but there aren’t any set plans for development there (though the right to lease land for offshore wind development may be granted there by the end of this year).

In fact, no offshore wind farms have been built in the U.S. yet....


Climate Central Appears on “EnergyNow”

When the EnergyNow! crew came to our office in Princeton, N.J. to interview me for a story earlier this month, more than a foot of snow remained on the ground, the result of a series of blizzards and weeks of sub-freezing temperatures. No surprise that the reporter asked me to explain how we could be getting all this snow in a world that just recorded its hottest decade ever.
The short answer is, climate change and extreme weather — even the extremely snowy weather we’ve seen this winter in parts of North America and Europe — may be related. Specifically, melting Arctic sea ice may be impacting our winter here in the United States. This is still an active area of research, but as we've reported here at Climate Central, it could be due to something we've dubbed the "Arctic Paradox." That’s where changing atmospheric circulation patterns throughout the Northern Hemisphere may be caused by a combination of warming in the Arctic and the persistent loss of sea ice cover.  
Of course, it's important to emphasize that natural climate variability, specifically a phenomenon like the North Atlantic Oscillation, play a big role in making for a cold, snowy winter here in the Northeast.

Transport Policy for America’s (Environmental) Future



BP’s Energy Outlook Shines Light On Future for Carbon

Global energy and electricity demand is on the rise. Credit: Charles Haynes/flickr

Three things you should know:

1)  Average global energy intensity has been decreasing since the 1970s and the trend is expected to continue — which means the world is using less energy for each dollar of income generated.  

2)  On the other hand, world energy consumption is on the rise and is also projected to grow for the foreseeable future.  

3)  New projections from BP of energy intensity and energy consumption out to the year 2030 suggest that carbon will have to be removed from energy sources at a faster rate than has occurred before if the world is to keep average global temperatures below what most scientists think is a "safe" level.  


The Debrief

A couple of weeks ago, BP released its Energy Outlook for 2030, which is a projection of likely global energy production and consumption trends over the next two decades. The report finds, to no big surprise, that global energy use is expected to increase by about 40 percent in the next twenty years. Most of that increase will come from growing energy demands of the so-called “emerging economies,” including China, India, Russia, and Brazil. The increasing modernization and industrialization of those countries (not to mention their growing populations, with the exception of Russia where population is declining) means that more people are consuming a lot more energy.

On the other hand, other recent reports have shown that energy intensity is decreasing. Energy intensity is defined as the amo...



Transportation is the Biggest Source of U.S. Emissions Transportation recently overtook electricity generation as the biggest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S.

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