March 31, 2011

Nuclear Power and Extreme Floods

Extreme weather disasters, especially floods, are on the rise. 

Nuclear plants demand large sources of water in order to cool and control the core temperatures of the reactors that power them. To meet this inevitable requirement, nuclear plants are situated in low-lying areas near rivers and lakes, and many others are built on the coasts. This proximity leaves these plants vulnerable to floods and other water-related disasters.

Though reactors in the United States are built to strict safety standards, we know that climate change is making floods, droughts, and hurricanes stronger and more frequent, which means we must ask whether our safety standards, even when followed perfectly, are enough to prevent disaster.

The problem is that our nuclear reactors are all old. This makes them vulnerable to problems, like stronger floods caused by climate change, about which we had considerably less knowledge three to four decades ago when the plants were built.

Large and destructive floods once thought likely to happen only once in 100 years on average are now expected to happen every 20 years: a five-fold increase. In response to this growing awareness of disasters that can result from climate change, the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, released a safety guide in 2003 detailing flood-related hazards to nuclear power plants on coastal and river sites.

Should we be reissuing permits to aging reactors that weren't designed to operate in our current environment? 

From bad to worse in Japan

"The number of dead and missing from the earthquake and tsunami had reached 27,652 as of 9 p.m. yesterday, Japan's National Police Agency said."

"The risk to workers might be greater than previously thought because melted fuel in the No. 1 reactor building may be causing isolated, uncontrolled nuclear chain reactions, Denis Flory, nuclear safety director for the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at a press conference in Vienna."

"Radioactive chlorine found March 25 in the Unit 1 turbine building suggests chain reactions continued after the reactor shut down, physicist Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, wrote in a March 28 paper. Radioactive chlorine has a half-life of 37 minutes, according to the report."

"Cesium 137, was measured in one village by the International Atomic Energy Agency at a level exceeding the standard that the Soviet Union used as a gauge to recommend abandoning land surrounding the Chernobyl reactor, and at another location not precisely identified by the agency at more than double the Soviet standard." 

"The international team, using a measure of radioactivity called the becquerel, found as much as 3.7 million becquerels per square meter; the standard used at Chernobyl was 1.48 million."

"Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director general of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said that seawater collected about 300 yards from the Fukushima Daiichi station was found to contain iodine 131 at 3,355 times the safety standard, the highest levels reported so far."

"Tsunehisa Katsumata, chairman of Tokyo Electric, said that "we have no choice but to scrap" Reactors 1, 2, 3 and 4."

"Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano yesterday ruled out the possibility that the two undamaged reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s six-unit Dai-Ichi plant would be salvaged."

"Dismantling the plant and decontaminating the site may take 30 years and cost Tokyo Electric more than 1 trillion yen ($12 billion), engineers and analysts said."
"Tokyo Electric's shareholders may be wiped out by clean-up costs and liabilities stemming from the nuclear accident, the worst since Chernobyl. The company faces claims of as much as 11 trillion yen if the crisis lasts two years and potential takeover by the government, according to a March 29 Bank of America Merrill Lynch report."

Fukushima's is releasing radioactive fallout at a daily rate almost as high as that from Chernobyl during the first 10 days of that disaster. "iodine-131 is being released at daily levels 73 per cent of those seen after the 1986 disaster. The daily amount of caesium-137 released from Fukushima Daiichi is around 60 per cent of the amount released from Chernobyl." 

March 27, 2011

Protect the Clean Air Act

There are several key votes this week regarding the future of the Clean Air Act and the EPA.

Save the EPA and protect our kids.

"The thought of tsunami never crossed my mind"

"We can only work on precedent, and there was no precedent," said Tsuneo Futami, a former Tokyo Electric nuclear engineer who was the director of Fukushima Daiichi in the late 1990s. "When I headed the plant, the thought of a tsunami never crossed my mind."

Earthquake & Tsunami History in Sendai Area

A field survey from Japan's Port and Airport Research Institute put the height of the tsunami wave that struck Japan's Iwate Prefecture on March 11th at 23.5 meters or 77.4 feet high. 

The Fukushima power plants were required by regulators to withstand a certain height of tsunami. At the Daiichi plant the design basis was 5.7 metres and at Daini this was 5.2 metres. 

There has been a history of even larger tsunami waves hitting the Sendai area.  

Japan's domestic record for tsunami wave height was set at 38 meters or 125 feet during the 1896 Meiji Sanriku Earthquake and Tsunami, which killed 22,000 - 27,000 people. Surprisingly the massive tsunami wave was generated by a relatively small 7.2 magnitude earthquake. 

More recently, the 1933 Sanriku earthquake (magnitude 8.4) generated a tsunami wave of 28.7 meters or 94 feet, which killed 1,500 - 3,000 people. 

A much larger tsunami hit the Sendai area in 869AD, with tsunami waves reaching as far as 4 km or 2.5 milles inland.

The quake that triggered the tsunami was 8.6 magnitude, also much larger than the design standards for the nuclear reactors in the area. 

"The 869 Jōgan earthquake and tsunami struck the area around Sendai in the northern part of Honshu on the 13 July. The earthquake had an estimated magnitude of 8.6 on the surface wave magnitude scale. The tsunami caused widespread flooding of the Sendai plain, with sand deposits being found up to 4 km from the coast."

"The tsunami caused extensive flooding of the Sendai plain, destroying the town of Tagajō. Archaeological investigations have identified the remains of 8th and 9th century buildings beneath the town, covered by sediments dated to the middle of the 10th century."

"The estimated magnitude of the earthquake as 8.6 on the surface wave magnitude scale, has been taken from modelling of the tsunami. A source area of 200 km long by 85 km wide with a displacement of 2 m is consistent with the observed distribution and degree of flooding."

"Three tsunami deposits have been identified within the Holocene sequence of the Sendai plain, all formed within the last 3,000 years, suggesting an 800 to 1,100 year recurrence interval for large tsunamigenic earthquakes. In 2001 it was reckoned that there was a high likelihood of a large tsunami hitting the Sendai plain as more than 1,100 years had then elapsed."

"This time 1142 years after the 869 Jōgan earthquake and tsunami the focal zone was some 500 km long and 200 km wide with three simultaneous quakes within the zone."

Battery Backup

The batteries that back up power at most U.S. nuclear plants are required to last about as long as the average cellphone battery -- four hours. Of the country's 104 reactors, 11 are required to have eight hours of battery backup.

NRC says it has adequate safeguards in place for battery backup and spent-fuel pools.

A 1998 tornado knocked out power to the Davis-Besse plant near Toledo, Ohio, for more than a day. An NRC analysis (pdf) of the event said that the outage brought the plant perilously close to meltdown.
Regulators were alarmed by a blackout that hit the northeastern United States in 2003, cutting power to nine reactors and prompting a wide-ranging review (pdf) by NRC.
And in 1992, Hurricane Andrew caused the Turkey Point Nuclear Reactor near Miami to lose access to the grid for more than six days.
A 2005 NRC report (pdf) shows there were 24 "loss of offsite power" events between 1997 and 2004, including the nine in the Northeast blackout.
Some nuclear critics say the situation is even more dangerous with spent fuel -- uranium-bearing rods that no longer produce enough energy to sustain a nuclear reaction in the reactor.
In the United States, most spent fuel remains on site at nuclear plants because the country has not developed a facility to store it.

Our Drinking water - Lessons from Japan

You might remember the front page article in the Globe earlier this week talking about how officials had announced that the drinking water in Tokyo was not safe for pregnant women and infants, followed by assurances the following day that the water is now safe. 

You may have wondered how the drinking water in Tokyo could have been contaminated when Tokyo is 200 miles south of Fukushima. I certainly did. 

The NY Times may have provided a clue this morning in their article discussing radiation and Boston's dependence on the Quabbin Reservoir for our drinking water. I hadn't realized that the Quabbin Reservoir is only 30 to 40 miles downwind from the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor. 

If there were to be an accident at the Yankee nuclear reactor, the probability is high that the Quabbin and Boston's drinking water would be affected. 

What are your thoughts?

From the article - 

"One place to look? The Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts, one of two reservoirs supplying the bulk of demand to the city of Boston.

Located about 30 miles south of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon, Vt., the open-air reservoir is the largest man-made one in the United States and falls within a 50-mile "ingestion pathway zone" that extends around the nuclear plant on all sides.

Vermont Yankee has been under a cloud recently as Vermont lawmakers have voted to close the plant, citing safety concerns, when it reaches the end of its operating life next year. But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission determined this week that it should be given a 20-year extension on operations.

Vermont Yankee is of the same design as the nuclear reactors now failing in Japan..."

Wind Energy Success

Lester Brown reports that between 2000 and 2010, world wind electricity generating capacity has increased from 17,000 megawatts to nearly 200,000 megawatts. 

The United States leads the world with 35,000 megawatts, followed by China and Germany with 26,000 megawatts each. 

Iowa is now producing 20% of its electricity with wind energy. Texas which has long been the leading producer of oil, is now the largest producer of wind energy, with 9,700 megawatts online. It plans to have 38,000 megawatts online by 2025, which would be enough to supply 90% of its electricity needs. 

Since wind turbines occupy only 1 percent of the land covered by a wind farm, farmers and ranchers can continue to grow grain and graze cattle on land devoted to wind farms. In effect, they double-crop their land, simultaneously harvesting electricity and wheat, corn, or cattle. With no investment on their part, farmers and ranchers typically receive $3,000 to $10,000 a year in royalties for each wind turbine on their land. For thousands of ranchers in the U.S. great plains, wind royalties will dwarf their net earnings from cattle sales.
In considering the energy productivity of land, wind turbines are in a class by themselves. For example, an acre of land in northern Iowa planted in corn can yield $1,000 worth of ethanol per year. That same acre used to site a wind turbine can produce $300,000 worth of electricity per year. This helps explain why investors find wind farms so attractive.

March 25, 2011

Japan Repairs Earthquake & Tsunami Damage

In this photo released by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), gray smoke rises from Unit 3 of the tsunami-stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, Monday, March 21, 2011. Official says the TEPCO temporarily evacuated its workers from the site. At left is Unit 2 and at right is Unit 4. (AP Photo/Tokyo Electric Power Co.)

Workers repair the railway tracks damaged by the March 11 earthquake in Hitachinaka, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan, Monday, March 21, 2011. (AP Photo/The Yomiuri Shimbun, Yukie Nomura)

Japan and the thin margin of civilization

Here are some reflections from Bill McKibben regarding what we can learn from Japan. 

It's scary to watch the video from Japan, and not just because of the frightening explosions at the Fukushima plant or the unstoppable surge of tsunami-wash through the streets. It's almost as unnerving to see the aftermath – the square miles of rubble, with boats piled on cars; the completely bare supermarket shelves. Because the one thing we've never really imagined is going to the supermarket and finding it empty.
What the events reveal is the thinness of the margin on which modernity lives. There's not a country in the world more modern and civilised than Japan; its building codes and engineering prowess kept its great buildings from collapsing when the much milder quake in Haiti last year flattened everything. But clearly it's not enough. That thin edge on which we live, and which at most moments we barely notice, provided nowhere near enough buffer against the power of the natural world.
We're steadily narrowing the margin. Global warming didn't cause the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Miyagi coast, but global warming daily is shrinking the leeway on which civilisation everywhere depends. Consider: sea levels have begun to rise. We're seeing record temperatures that depress harvests – the amount of grain per capita on the planet has been falling for years. Because warm air holds more water vapour than cold, the chance of severe flooding keeps going up and in the last year countries from Pakistan to Australia have recently ended up on the wrong side of those odds.
Those changes steadily eat away at that safety margin. With less food stored in our warehouses, each harvest becomes critical. With each massive flood, we have to spend more money rebuilding what was there before: there are still as many as 4 million homeless from Pakistan's floods, which means "development" has given way to "getting a tarp over your head". Even rich countries face this trouble: Australia cut much of its budget for renewable energy to help pay the recovery bill for soggy Queensland. Warmer temperatures are helping dengue fever spread; treating one case can use up the annual health budget for a dozen people in some Asian nation, meaning that much less for immunisations or nutrition. Just the increasing cost of insurance can be a big drag on economies: a study by Harvard and Swiss Re found that even in rich nations such as the US, larger and more frequent storms could "overwhelm adaptive capacities", rendering "large areas and sectors uninsurable". The bottom line was that, "in effect, parts of developed countries would experience developing nation conditions for prolonged periods".
There have always been natural disasters, and there always will be. For 10,000 years the planet has been by and large benign; you could tell where the safe margin for civilisation was because that's, by definition, where civilisation was built. But if the sea level rises a metre, that margin shrinks considerably: on a beach that slopes in at 1 degree, the sea is now nearly 90 metres nearer. And it's not just a literal shrinkage – the insecurity that comes with smaller food stocks or more frequent floods also takes a psychological toll: the world seems more cramped because it is more cramped.
Imagine, for instance, a nation that got most of its power from rooftop solar panels knitted together in a vast distributed grid. It would take investment to get there – we'd have to divert money from other tasks, slowing some kinds of growth, because solar power is currently more expensive than coal power. We might not have constant access to unlimited power at every second of every day. In the end, though, you'd have not only less carbon in the atmosphere, but also a country far less failure-prone. The solar panels on my roof could break tonight – and I'd have a problem if they did – but it wouldn't ramify into rolling blackouts across the continent (and no one would need to stand in my driveway with a Geiger counter).

Predicting earthquakes - humbling

On a map of Japan that shows seismic hazards, the area around the prefecture of Fukushima is colored in green, signifying a fairly low risk, and yellow, denoting a fairly high one.

Most scientists expected the next whopper to strike the higher-risk areas southwest of Fukushima, which are marked in orange and red.

"Compared to the rest of Japan, it looks pretty safe," said Christopher H. Scholz, a seismologist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, referring to the area hit worst by the quake on March 11. "If you were going to site a nuclear reactor, you would base it on a map like this." 
Sometimes, scientists are blindsided by earthquakes because they occur along undiscovered faults. The deadly earthquakes in New Zealand this year; in Haiti last year; in Northridge, Calif., in 1994; and in Santa Cruz, Calif., in 1989 all happened along faults that scientists were unaware of until the ground shook.
"It's shameful, but we've barely scratched the surface," said Ross Stein, a geophysicist with the United States Geological Survey. In California, for instance, scientists have cataloged 1,400 faults, yet for smaller earthquakes — magnitude 6.7 or less — about one in three still occur on previously unknown faults.
"Humbling," Dr. Stein said.
That raises a worrisome question: How many major quakes are lurking in underestimated or unknown faults?

Pesky Regulations

March 23, 2011

Radiation Reports from Japan

Here's a map showing radiation from the Fukushima reactor on March 20th.
This data comes from a Japanese government website that is reporting the amount of airborne radiation in the areas surrounding the Fukushima reactor. Please take a look at the data and then consider whether the 10 mile evacuation zones the US Government has put in place for our reactors are sufficient to protect our population.

This page shows a map of the area surrounding the Fukushima reactor and overlays the radiation readings that are being measured on the map. The numbers on the map are measured radiation in microSieverts per hour. 

1000 microSieverts = 1 milliSievert (mSv) which is the annual radiation limit set by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission for individual exposure above and beyond background radiation levels. 

50,000 microSieverts = 50 mSv which is the annual radiation limit set by the US NRC for nuclear plant workers. 

Here's a map showing radiation from the Fukushima reactor on March 23rd. 
What it shows is that there is still significant radiation of between 7 and 12 microSieverts / hour reaching the town of Fukushima, which is actually 60 km or 37 miles northwest of the reactor. If you convert the radiation that the people in Fukushima have received over the last two weeks, it is approximately 4 mSv or 4 times the annual limit - and this is only two weeks worth of radiation. 

Even more concerning is that the maps show a hot spot of radiation about 30 km or 18 miles northwest of the plant. At that location, they are reporting between 40 and 105 microSieverts per hour. The people at this location have received approximately 14 and 35 mSv over the last two weeks. That is 14 to 35 times the legal annual limit for an individual and between 35% and 70% the legal annual limit for a US nuclear plant employee in just the last two weeks. 

The government data also shows .5 microSieverts per hour in Miyagi which is over 100 miles south of the reactor.  0.5 microSieverts per hour is about 2.5 times the normal background radiation in Japan and works out to about 4.4 mSv per year. 

Does this data indicate that a 10 mile evacuation will be sufficient to protect our citizens in the event of a nuclear accident in our country? 

No Wind Facility Damage in Japan

Battle-proof Wind Farms Survive Japan's Trial by Fire

As the world collectively holds its breath to see how the Fukushima crisis plays out there's a positive story which is not yet being reported.

Despite assertions by its detractors that wind energy would not survive an earthquake or tsunami - the Japanese wind industry is still functioning and helping to keep the lights on during the Fuksuhima crisis.

Colleagues have been directly corresponding with Yoshinori Ueda leader of the International Committee of the Japan Wind Power Association & Japan Wind Energy Association, and according to Ueda there has been no wind facility damage reported by any association members, from either the earthquake or the tsunami. Even the Kamisu semi-offshore wind farm, located about 300km from the epicenter of the quake, survived. Its anti-earthquake "battle proof design" came through with flying colors.
Mr. Ueda confirms that most Japanese wind turbines are fully operational. Indeed, he says that electric companies have asked wind farm owners to step up operations as much as possible in order to make up for shortages in the eastern part of the country:
Eurus Energy Japan says that 174.9MW with eight wind farms (64% of their total capacity with 11 wind farms in eastern part of Japan) are in operation now. The residual three wind farms (Kamaishi 42.9MW, Takinekoshirai 46MW, Satomi 10.02MW) are stopped due to the grid failure caused by the earthquake and Tsunami. Satomi is to re-start operations in a few days. Kamaishi is notorious for tsunami disaster, but this wind farm is safe because it is locate in the mountains about 900m high from sea level.
The largest wind farm operator in Japan, Eurus Energy with about 22% of all wind turbines in Japan, is a subsidiary of Tokyo Electric Company (TEPCO) which operates the Fukushima nuclear facility. Right now, it is likely the company is very happy about its diversified portfolio:
While shares in the Tokyo stock market have fallen during the crisis, the stock price of Japan Wind Development Co. Ltd. has risen from 31,500 yen on 11 March to 47,800 yen on 16 March.
The Little Engine That Could has proven itself once again. What are your thoughts on the Fukushima crisis and do you think it will impact future energy policy around the world?

With Nuclear - "No Acts of God can be permitted"

With Nuclear Power - "No Acts of God can be permitted" by Amory Lovins

As heroic workers and soldiers strive to save stricken Japan from a new horror--radioactive fallout--some truths known for 40 years bear repeating.
An earthquake-and-tsunami zone crowded with 127 million people is an un-wise place for 54 reactors. The 1960s design of five Fukushima-I reactors has the smallest safety margin and probably can't contain 90% of melt-downs. The U.S. has 6 identical and 17 very similar plants.
Every currently operating light-water reactor, if deprived of power and cooling water, can melt down. Fukushima had 8-hour battery reserves, but fuel has melted in three reactors. Most U.S. reactors get in trouble after 4 hours. Some have had shorter blackouts. Much longer ones could happen.
Overheated fuel risks hydrogen or steam explosions that damage equipment and contaminate the whole site--so clustering many reactors together (to save money) can make failure at one reactor cascade to the rest.
Nuclear power is uniquely unforgiving: as Swedish Nobel physicist Hannes Alfvén said, "No acts of God can be permitted." Fallible people have created its half-century history of a few calamities, a steady stream of worrying incidents, and many near-misses. America has been lucky so far. Had Three Mile Island's containment dome not been built double-strength because it was under an airport landing path, it may not have withstood the 1979 accident's hydrogen explosion. In 2002, Ohio's Davis-Besse reactor was luckily caught just before its massive pressure-vessel lid rusted through.
Regulators haven't resolved these or other key safety issues, such as terrorist threats to reactors, lest they disrupt a powerful industry. U.S. regulation is not clearly better than Japanese regulation, nor more transparent: industry-friendly rules bar the American public from meaningful participation. Many Presidents' nuclear boosterism also discourages inquiry and dissent.
Nuclear-promoting regulators inspire even less confidence. The International Atomic Energy Agency's2005 estimate of about 4,000 Chernobyl deaths contrasts with a rigorous 2009 review of 5,000 mainly Slavic-language scientific papers the IAEA overlooked. It found deaths approaching a million through 2004, nearly 170,000 of them in North America. The total toll now exceeds a million, plus a half-trillion dollars' economic damage. The fallout reached four continents, just as the jet stream could swiftly carry Fukushima fallout.
Fukushima I-4's spent fuel alone, while in the reactor, had produced (over years, not in an instant) more than a hundred times more fission energy and hence radioactivity than both 1945 atomic bombs. If that already-damaged fuel keeps overheating, it may melt or burn, releasing into the air things like cesium-137 and strontium-90, which take several centuries to decay a millionfold. Unit 3's fuel is spiked with plutonium, which takes 482,000 years.
Nuclear power is the only energy source where mishap or malice can kill so many people so far away; the only one whose ingredients can help make and hide nuclear bombs; the only climate solution that substitutes proliferation, accident, and high-level radioactive waste dangers. Indeed, nuclear plants are so slow and costly to build that they reduce and retard climate protection.
Here's how. Each dollar spent on a new reactor buys about 2-10 times less carbon savings, 20-40 times slower, than spending that dollar on the cheaper, faster, safer solutions that make nuclear power unnecessary and uneconomic: efficient use of electricity, making heat and power together in factories or buildings ("cogeneration"), and renewable energy. The last two made 18% of the world's 2009 electricity, nuclear 13%, reversing their 2000 shares--and made over 90% of the world's additional electricity in 2008.
Those smarter choices are sweeping the global energy market. Half the world's new generating capacity in 2008 and 2009 was renewable. In 2010, renewables except big hydro dams won $151 billion of private investment and added over 50 billion watts (70% the total capacity of all 23 Fukushima-style U.S. reactors) while nuclear got zero private investment and kept losing capacity. Supposedly unreliable windpower made 43-52% of four German states' total 2010 electricity. Non-nuclear Denmark, 21% wind-powered, plans to get entirely off fossil fuels. Hawai'i plans 70% renewables by 2025.
In contrast, of the 66 nuclear units worldwide officially listed as "under construction" at the end of 2010, 12 had been so listed for over 20 years, 45 had no official startup date, half were late, all 66 were in centrally planned power systems--50 of those in just four (China, India, Russia, South Korea)--and zero were free-market purchases. Since 2007, nuclear growth has added less annual output than just the costliest renewable--solar power --and will probably never catch up. While inherently safe renewable competitors are walloping both nuclear and coal plants in the marketplace and keep getting dramatically cheaper, nuclear costs keep soaring, and with greater safety precautions would go even higher. Tokyo Electric Co., just recovering from $10-20 billion in 2007 earthquake costs at its other big nuclear complex, now faces an even more ruinous Fukushima bill.
Since 2005, new U.S. reactors (if any) have been 100+% subsidized--yet they couldn't raise a cent of private capital, because they have no business case. They cost 2-3 times as much as new windpower, and by the time you could build a reactor, it couldn't even beat solar power. Competitive renewables, cogeneration, and efficient use can displace all U.S. coal power more than 23 times over--leaving ample room to replace nuclear power's half-as-big-as-coal contribution too--but we need to do it just once. Yet the nuclear industry demands ever more lavish subsidies, and its lobbyists hold all other energy efforts hostage for tens of billions in added ransom, with no limit.
Japan, for its size, is even richer than America in benign, ample, but long-neglected energy choices. Perhaps this tragedy will call Japan to global leadership into a post-nuclear world. And before America suffers its own Fukushima, it too should ask, not whether unfinanceably costly new reactors are safe, but why build any more, and why keep running unsafe ones. China has suspended reactor approvals. Germany just shut down the oldest 41% of its nuclear capacity for study. America's nuclear lobby says it can't happen here, so pile on lavish new subsidies. 

A durable myth claims Three Mile Island halted U.S. nuclear orders. Actually they stopped over a year before--dead of an incurable attack of market forces. No doubt when nuclear power's collapse in the global marketplace, already years old, is finally acknowledged, it will be blamed on Fukushima. While we pray for the best in Japan today, let us hope its people's sacrifice will help speed the world to a safer, more competitive energy future.

Physicist Amory Lovins consults on energy to business and government leaders worldwide. He's written 31 books and over 450 papers, and received the Blue Planet, Volvo, Onassis, Nissan, Shingo, Zayed, and Mitchell Prizes, MacArthur and Ashoka Fellowships, 11 honorary doctorates, and the Heinz, Lindbergh, Right Livelihood, National Design, and World Technology Awards. He's an honorary U.S. architect, a Swedish engineering academician, and a former Oxford don, and has taught at nine universities, most recently Stanford. His RMI team's autumn 2011 book Reinventing Fire describes business-led pathways for a vibrant U.S. economy that by 2050 needs no oil, coal, or nuclear power to provide clean and resilient energy with superior economics.

EPA Releases Clean Air Rules

In response to a court deadline, today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the first-ever national standards for mercury, arsenic and other toxic air pollution from power plants. The new power plant mercury and air toxics standards – which eliminate 20 years of uncertainty across industry – would require many power plants to install widely available, proven pollution control technologies to cut harmful emissions of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases, while preventing as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks a year. The new proposed standards would also provide particular health benefits for children, preventing 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 11,000 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year. The proposed standards would also avert more than 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions and 850,000 fewer days of work missed due to illness. 

Toxic air pollutants like mercury from coal- and oil-fired power plants have been shown to cause neurological damage, including lower IQ, in children exposed in the womb and during early development. The standards also address emissions of other toxic metals linked with cancer such as arsenic, chromium and nickel. Mercury and many of the other toxic pollutants also damage the environment and pollute our nation's lakes, streams, and fish. In addition, cutting these toxic pollutants also reduces fine particle pollution, which causes premature death, heart disease, workdays lost to illness and asthma. 

Power plants are the largest remaining source of several toxic air pollutants – responsible for half of mercury and more than half of acid gas emissions in the United States. In the power sector alone, coal-fired power plants are responsible for 99 percent of mercury emissions. 

The proposed standards also ensure that public health and economic benefits far outweigh costs of implementation. EPA estimates that for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants, the American public and American businesses will see up to $13 in health and economic benefits. The total health and economic benefits of this standard are estimated to be as much as $140 billion annually.