Nuclear boosters and most power utility executives are fond of telling us that renewable power can’t fill the need for reliable electricity and its costs are too high. The graph below is telling because it shows that the path being blazed by Germany is actually representative of the entire European continent. Specifically, newly installed capacity of wind and solar far exceed all other fuels. And that even with record low natural gas prices, over half of the amount of new installed capacity in gas was decommissioned last year. Despite dire warnings of increased coal burning, the amount of decommissioned plants well exceeds new installed capacity. Little new nuclear went on line and a fair amount was pulled from the grid (almost all this year from Germany, but with many more countries likely to close them in the coming years). There are only 4 reactors currently under construction in all of Europe – excluding Russia.
And while it is not as sweeping, there is good news inside the US about California’s progress in supporting local, decentralized solar power for economic classes that are not at the very top of the scale. One of the leading non-profits working to provide lower coast solar installations is Grid Alternatives. Which uses volunteers and local staff to install home based renewable solutions (especially solar) at low rates. They have completed 2,000 home systems in their first 2 years.
State wide programs for single family and multiple family housing units being converted to solar are receiving increased attention and funding. And with a bit of luck we can have our national energy mix shift like our smart friends in Europe have already figuring it out.
It was a state of the art liberal protest. There were no planned arrests at this action, to make it as accessible and low risk as possible. Celebrates had been arrested the week before. There were 34 people who got arrested after this big march of 45K participants.
What made it state of the art were the websites for the planning and the giant TV screens at the base of the Washington Monument.
What made it liberal was the frequent appeals by the speakers to patriotism and American ingenuity. There is nothing particularly American about climate change, this is a global problem.
And while leadership from the US would be great, we could be working on this from a non-nationalistic angle.
And for this protest, they are using all the tools of a classical domestic political campaign. Senators spoke at the event. The big call was for Obama to keep his promises.
Vandana Shiva is a hero of mine. So i was doubly pleased to get an email from her today. It was not personal, we have never met and i have not even seen her speak live. [Tho here is her recent TED talk on the food crisis and solutions.], but i was happy none-the-less to know that some group which she works with has me on their mailing list and thus i am getting stuff from her.
More important than my ego gratification was the content of her message, which said that her group has petitioned the Indian Supreme Court and they have ruled in her favor banning the release of GMOs. This is not forever and for always, but until at least long term studies can be done on rats and there is a regime in place for controlling the releases and selecting the sites which releases are made from by the government. This is a significant win.
What is especially encouraging about this ruling is that it sites the precautionary principal as central to its decision making. The precautionary principal is:
if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.[from wikipedia on precautionary principal]
This of course is not what Monsanto wants. What they prefer is the world continues to be their lab and that they can continue to release things they are convinced are safe (or at least are likely to be profitable) and “let’s not worry too much about the side effects, they will sort themselves out.”
One of the most important conversations of my life was in Kiev at the Chernobyl 10th anniversary which i was helping to organize. American inventor and intellectual Amory Lovins was explaining to German Green Party leader Joschka Fischer the idea of “risk technologies” . That there were a certain class of technologies, including nuclear power, nanotechnology, genetic engineering – where the unknown possibilities of on going and catastrophic dangers were so great that the state had to strictly regulate them or prohibit them altogether. That perusing these new technologies often represents the wrong way of thinking about global problems altogether and instead we should be implementing known proven technologies with well understood impacts.
Fischer was already both the leader of the German Green party and anti-nuclear , later he became the foreign minster and vice Chancellor. He found Lovins presentations on these other technologies compelling. But it is one thing to convince a popular and prominent green of these ideas and quite another to convince a national supreme court that they need to intercede and prevent businesses from doing business as unusual. Shiva and her group have attained this and should be applauded for it.
This ruling is timely, because a recent French study has shown that Monsanto’s genetically modified Roundup Ready corn induces cancer in rats feed this corn. These were rats of the same type Monsanto used to get permission for the release of Roundup Ready corn, but Monsanto tested them for only 90 days. The French study tested them for 2 years.
Significantly, the precautionary principal is part of the 1992 Earth Summit accords, which the US refused to sign, but nearly every other major industrial country agreed to this treaty. We can only hope these other countries will follow India’s lead.
At the one year anniversary the mainstream media will pull out various stories about the triple meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi reactors. But what i am guessing is we will never hear another word in the MSM about two near meltdowns which happened in the US in Nebraska last summer at the Fort Calhoun reactor.
In late June of last year heavy rains flooded the Missouri river and put both the Fort Calhoun and Cooper reactors in danger. The air space over both plants was restricted with no clear reason to my thinking except to minimize the number of pictures like the one above from hitting the airwaves and newspapers.
There are several reasons why Fort Calhoun is more important than Fukushima in my thinking. The first is that the exact same thing could easily happen in Nebraska this year or worse with heavy rains. And climate shifts are increasing the probability of this every year. The second is that Fort Calhoun and Cooper are not some far off country on the other side of the world, where most Americans have never been and many can’t even find on a map. People have relatives in Nebraska, they have driven through it. Fort Calhoun is 20 miles from Omaha. Third is that it did not take a 1 in 10,000 year earthquake and tsunami for this accident to happen.
We got lucky at Fort Calhoun. Fortunately the reactor was down for a fuel change when the flooding started. Fortunately, it did not keep raining the small amount more it would have taken to completely overwhelm the stations after the make shift berms which had been placed around it broke.
And because we are hiding from Fort Calhoun and looking instead at Fukushima, we are pretending that the “lessons learned” from the triple meltdown will enable us to continue to operate dangerous reactors in this country. The real lesson learned is we should be phasing nuclear power out, like Japan, Mexico, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Venezuela, Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands have done or are doing. The world is souring on nuclear power it is time for the US to stop being blind as to why.