Blogs

MoJo Convo: Nuclear Energy

| Sun Apr. 27, 2008 11:22 PM EDT

We asked a futurist, a MoJo writer, a No Nukes activist, and a weapons security expert:

What is nuclear energy's place in the future mix of energy sources?

They'll be checking in on this Blue Marble entry all week to discuss their controversial answers with readers—and each other. Want to talk to Stewart Brand, Judith Lewis, Jonas Siegel, or Harvey Wasserman about their take on nukes? Join the conversation here.

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Music: Coachella Wrapup - Saturday

| Sun Apr. 27, 2008 6:35 AM EDT

mojo-photo-d08-fashion.jpgGreetings from the desert, where Day Two of the Coachella Festival has just come to a close. I know I started yesterday's wrapup with the caveat of "sorry the photographs are terrible"; well, it's now 2:45am, and after spending an hour sitting in parking lot traffic (after walking for 45 minutes) your intrepid reporter is feeling a little scatterbrained. So add that to the list of caveats. For those who just want to get to the meat of the matter: Kraftwerk fantastic, Portishead flawless, Prince amazing. For the details, hit the good old "continues" button.

Music: Coachella Wrapup - Friday

| Sat Apr. 26, 2008 2:59 AM EDT

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Greetings from a rental house in La Quinta, California, where we've just returned after enjoying day one of the 2008 Coachella Festival in Indio. Unfortunately this year's Riff coverage will be a bit of step down from last year's, since we're not only absent intrepid photographer Kristi who got so many great shots last year, but we also couldn't get a photo pass ("why didn't you ask earlier," they said). So unfortunately, we're stuck with what I could capture myself, with my trusty Canon Powershot. Yeah, I know. Hopefully the word pictures painted within will be vivid enough to make up for it.

Geek: The Blog Room at Web 2.0 Expo

| Fri Apr. 25, 2008 8:55 PM EDT

I wandered into the Blogtropol.us blogger lounge at Web 2.0 Expo today and immediately realized that this was not the media war room I'd been searching for. The bloggers had beer, for one thing. And couches. And a Wii and chair massages to go with the electrolounge music and the tasty, tasty snacks. Where were the customary lukewarm Dr. Pepper's? My hoary headed colleagues complaining about the WiFi?

A 23-year-old put a shiny blue star sticker on my press pass and confirmed that indeed, I was looking for the much less entertaining room down the hall, where actual writing might be happening. "That's cool though, you'll be back," he nodded. "We have way more fun over here."

Welcome to the future of new media, people.

Pro-Nuke? Anti-Nuke? Talk About It With the Experts

| Fri Apr. 25, 2008 8:46 PM EDT

We asked a futurist, a MoJo writer, a No Nukes activist, and a weapons security expert:

What is nuclear energy's place in the future mix of energy sources?

They'll be checking in on this Blue Marble entry starting Monday to discuss their controversial answers with readers—and each other. Want to talk to Stewart Brand, Judith Lewis, Jonas Siegel, or Harvey Wasserman about their take on nukes? Now's your chance. Leave a comment below for one of the four guest Blue Marble moderators and they'll respond.

SBOttawaNukes.pngStewart Brand is a futurist with the Global Business Network and founder of the Whole Earth Catalog: I expect that nuclear will grow slowly but steadily in the mix for a couple decades, because it's a mature technology that provides baseload electricity with minimum carbon emissions. Where it goes after that depends on the rapidity of climate change; the rapidity of other high capacity energy technologies such as space solar, massive electrical storage, high-tech microbe farming, etc; and the usefulness of further nuclear technology, such as decentralized nuclear "batteries," cheaper reprocessing, fusion, etc. By mid-century or later, depending on how all those work out, nuclear could be heading toward a majority role, like in France now; or it could be headed toward a phase-out by the end of the century, replaced by better things; or the question could seem irrelevant in the face of drastic climate events forcing huge-scale geo-engineering and/or enormous human dieback in the face of collapsing carrying capacity.

Judith_Lewis_3-08_2_BW.jpgJudith Lewis wrote "The Nuclear Option" for the May/June 2008 issue of Mother Jones: Nuclear energy is far from environmentally benign, but it does have one significant advantage over coal-fired electricity generation: It does not emit carbon dioxide. Even taking into account nuclear's entire lifecycle, from mining to refining to enrichment of uranium, from plant construction to startup to waste, it adds far less carbon to the atmosphere than coal or natural gas do, and sometimes even beats solar generation. If we accept that catastrophic climate change caused by a buildup of carbon in the atmosphere is our most urgent environmental problem, we should at least consider replacing the coal-fired power that provides half the nation's electricity with nuclear energy (which currently provides only a fifth).

But while we consider it, we also have to understand that the nuclear industry also has a lot of problems associated with it, including a compromised federal monitoring agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And then there's the waste: It's becoming ever more clear as the Department of Energy moves ahead with its plans to build a nuclear waste repository in a mountain of porous volcanic rock on earthquake fault that the DOE and Congress made a very bad decision when it chose Yucca Mountain. There needs to be much more public involvement in the process of choosing such sites.

The same goes for just about every part of the nuclear industry's operations. The industry does seemed poised for a renaissance, and it might deserve one. But if the renaissance happens, people in the U.S. need to get as much information as they can handle about nuclear power; only public participation can force industry and government regulators to do their jobs right.

Jonas%20Siegel%20head%20shot.jpgJonas Siegel is editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a media organization that focuses on the intersection of science and security, and has covered nuclear weapons and energy issues for the past five years: Since its inception, nuclear energy has earned legions of supporters. The enormous amount of energy contained in a small amount of nuclear fuel—a pound of uranium 235 has more than 2 million times the energy content of a pound of coal—alone inspired visions of grandeur. Despite its potential, nuclear energy has not overcome a range of risks—safety, nuclear proliferation, and waste—to sustain its growth in the marketplace. If nuclear is going to be a part of the world's future mix of energy sources, it needs to address these risks head on—and compete economically with other sources.


HEADSHOT-glades1.jpgHarvey Wasserman is a No Nukes activist, the author of Solartopia! Our Green Powered Earth, and edits Nukefree.org: Nuclear power has no place in our future mix of energy sources except as a costly and dangerous curse from previous bad decision-making. The Peaceful Atom is humankind's most expensive technological failure. To "revisit" this corporate boondoggle is to ignore 50 years of staggering losses. Economically, there is no reason to believe a "new generation" of reactors will be any less disastrous than the last one. The radioactive fuel chain is a major cause of global warming. The ecological, public health and safety aspects of unsolved problems with terrorism, human design and operator error, "routine" radioactive emissions, impossible spent fuel transport and management, weapons proliferation and much more make atomic energy the "Titanic" of energy generation. A dollar invested in efficiency saves seven times the energy a dollar invested in nukes can produce. Wind and solar are already proven and cheaper. Let's do that instead of re-running the same radioactive horror show.

Congressman Hodes Calls for Investigation of "Independent" Military Analysts

| Fri Apr. 25, 2008 5:54 PM EDT

As Jonathan Stein reported on Wednesday, Sen. Carl Levin has begun putting pressure on Defense Secretary Robert Gates to investigate allegations made in last Sunday's New York Times report regarding the Pentagon's use of "ex"-military officials to shape public perception of the Iraq War.

Yesterday Congressman Paul Hodes of New Hampshire joined in by officially requesting Chairman John Tierney of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs to hold a hearing on the matter. Hodes asserts that "the Department of Defense used these analysts to manipulate public opinion toward supporting the Administration's policy in the War in Iraq."

From Congressman Hodes' letter:

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American Independent Party and Independent: Wait, There's A Difference?

| Fri Apr. 25, 2008 5:33 PM EDT

ist2_4768669_checking.jpgThe American Independent Party isn't doing a very good job broadcasting their party's platform message. If they were, perhaps Gavin Newsom's aspiring actress-first-lady-of-San-Francisco girlfriend Jennifer Siebel wouldn't have registered for it by accident. Just to be clear, the American Independent Party is anti-immigration, anti-abortion, pro-"traditional marriage and family values," and all for keeping "God" in the pledge of allegiance. Which I guess also means they're pro-pledge of allegiance.

San Franciscans shouldn't get their hemp underwear in a bunch too quickly. The mayor's office assures that it's an innocent gaffe and Gav's girlfriend is actually an Independent voter. Independents, typically, have no fidelity to political parties and vote based on candidates and issues. In other words, they do whatever the hell they want. I can see where the confusion lies: There's no "Independent" box to check on California's voter registration ballot; merely "Decline To State." And without predetermined categories, how are Independents ever supposed to know to which group they belong?

—Joyce Tang

The Dust Off: Pointer Sisters

| Fri Apr. 25, 2008 5:09 PM EDT

PointerSisters-200.jpgWelcome to The Dust Off, where MoJo Riffers dig deep into the crates and revisit a song, video, or film that has stood the test of time.

This week I'm shaking dust off of "12," or Pinball Number Count," that funky Sesame Street song with the amazing pinball machine animation. Recently a friend back East emailed me this clip of the full segment, and I was blown away to finally learn that The Pointer Sisters are the ones singing. It's a 1972 funk-jazz track with Hammond-sounding keyboards, hand percussion, and soprano sax, guitar, and steel drum solos.

If you're like me, when you think The Pointer Sisters, you think 80s songs like "Jump (For My Love)," and "I'm So Excited," and you almost lose control because you like it. I already thought the Oakland-based group was awesome, but I had no idea they had helped me learn how to count to 12 when I was a kid. Consider them officially dusted off:

The Problem With Nuclear: No Uranium

| Fri Apr. 25, 2008 5:09 PM EDT

Nuclear foes have long cited environmental damage as a key reason to oppose atomic power. But even pro-nukes folks may have trouble supporting nuclear power in the future, since a new report shows that high-grade uranium ore, the raw material that powers nuclear plants, is steadily declining worldwide. In fact, uranium supplies have been waning for about 50 years and the situation will only get worse as more power plants go online in the near future, requiring more fuel.

Most uranium is now mined in Australia, Niger, Canada, and some former Soviet bloc countries. But as their supplies dwindle, raw uranium deposits will likely be located deeper, of lower quality, and harder to extract. This would, the scientists involved say, make nuclear power more environmentally damaging by increasing the amount of mining, digging, and refining necessary to create enriched uranium.

"Over time, as ore grades decline and more energy is required for uranium production, this will lead to a higher carbon intensity for nuclear power, eventually becoming similar to gas-fired electricity," said Gavin Mudd, the Australian Monash University environmental engineer who conducted the study.

You can read more about nuclear's carbon footprint here. And for an overview of nuclear resurgence in the U.S., check out our current feature article, "The Nuclear Option."

Voters Without Borders

| Fri Apr. 25, 2008 4:18 PM EDT

Neat.

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From Open Left, via Yglesias.