Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Reducing US Oil Imports By a Third

Short Note on NYT subscriptions

The New York Times has a new policy in which regular readers will only get 20 free articles per month.  After that, you'll have to get a subscription to keep reading, with the exception that if you are reading based on an inbound link from a blog (like this one) or social media, you can read even if you don't subscribe and have used up your allowance of twenty free articles.

I approve of what the Times is doing.  Although it's not a perfect institution, I do read their website every day and it's struck me as crazy for some time that I can do so for free - there's clearly no future in that.  And since their paywall seems to be well designed such that I can safely link to articles there with the guarantee that all my readers will be able to read what I'm linking to, I intend to continue to do so freely.

If anyone runs into trouble reading Times articles linked here, let me know.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Attributing the Food Price Spike

Radioactive Drinking Water

I imagine politicians will be having even more second thoughts about approving nuclear power plants, after these guys had to go on TV and explain that the water supply of the capital of the country is now radioactive and babies shouldn't drink it:
TOKYO — Radioactive iodine detected in the capital’s water supply spurred a warning for infants on Wednesday as the government issued a stark new estimate about the costs of rebuilding from the earthquake and tsunami that slammed into the northeast of the country this month.

Ei Yoshida, head of water purification for the Tokyo water department, said at a televised news conference that infants in Tokyo and surrounding areas should not drink tap water. He said iodine-131 had been detected in water samples at a level of 210 becquerels per liter. The recommended limit for infants is 100 becquerels per liter.

For adults, the recommended limit is 300 becquerels.

The Health Ministry said in a statement that it was unlikely that there would be negative consequences to infants who did drink the water, but said it should be avoided if possible and that it should not be used to make infant formula.

The warning applies to the 23 wards of Tokyo, as well as the towns of Mitaka, Tama, Musashino, Machida and Inagi to the west of the city.
It probably is true that the health risks are not that great, but the optics are terrible.

The good thing is that Iodine 131 has a half life of only eight days, so when the authorities can bring the reactor under control, the iodine should go away pretty quickly.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Some Considerations in Spent Fuel Pool Fires

This morning, I read the Brookhaven National Labs report Severe Accidents in Spent Fuel Pools in Support of Generic Safety Issue 82 from 1987.  This is an analysis of the risk of large scale radioactivity release from the spent fuel stored onsite in a water pool at a nuclear reactor, in the case that an accident caused a loss of the water in the pool.  This is something that now may have happened (for the first time) in the pool at Fukushima-Daiichi.

The document is long and complex, and there are many very significant uncertainties - to the point where I judge that no-one will be able to reliably predict what may happen in this particular accident.  However, the key points seem to me as follows:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Comment Moderation Turned On

Well, our would-be troll has not taken a hint.  I was initially completely skeptical of the possibility that Ugo raised, that someone might be being paid to disrupt my blog (no doubt amongst many others).  However, kjmclark notes that online astroturf campaigns are definitely happening in some places, and I guess I don't doubt that this is well within the depths of depravity that some vested interests and their PR firms are willing to sink to (though what makes them think that this will persuade anyone, I don't know - certainly that's not the impulse it creates in me).  And clearly the troll in question has no intent of making an effort to follow whatever social norm I might establish here, and is instead being deliberately disruptive.  There is an air of continued determination about the effort which would be consistent with someone being paid - either that or a well-entrenched personality disorder.

At any rate, to allow me to head the situation off at the pass, I have now enabled comment moderation on all comments.  This will obviously mean that comments are a little less timely, and I apologize for that.  I think the trade-off is well worth it.  Possibly the situation will blow over.  If not, I may eventually appoint trusted moderators from amongst regular commenters willing to volunteer.  One way or another, I will host a civilized discussion of these issues amongst people of open minds and good intent; everyone in that category (which as far as I can tell includes all recent commenters but one) should continue to comment at will...

Japan Sliding Towards Worst Case

According to the chair of the US nuclear regulator:
The chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave a significantly bleaker appraisal of the threat posed by Japan’s nuclear crisis than the Japanese government, saying on Wednesday that the damage at one crippled reactor was much more serious than Japanese officials had acknowledged and advising to Americans to evacuate a wider area around the plant than the perimeter established by Japan.

The announcement marked a new and ominous chapter in the five-day long effort by Japanese engineers to bring four side-by-side reactors under control after their cooling systems were knocked out by an earthquake and tsunami last Friday. But it also created a split between Washington and Tokyo, after American officials concluded that the Japanese warnings were insufficient, and that, deliberately or not, they had understated the potential threat of what is taking place inside the nuclear facility.

Gregory Jaczko, the chairman of the commission, said in Congressional testimony that the commission believed that all the water in the spent fuel pool at the No. 4 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station had boiled dry, leaving fuel rods stored there exposed and bleeding radiation. As a result, he said, “We believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures.”

If his analysis is accurate and Japanese workers have been unable to keep the spent fuel at that inoperative reactor properly cooled — it needs to remain covered with water at all times — radiation levels could make it difficult not only to fix the problem at reactor No. 4, but to keep workers at the Daiichi complex from servicing any of the other problem reactors at the plant.
Seems like there is a real potential to have several simultaneous not-fully-contained meltdowns here.

Saudi oil production increased in February

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Chernobyl as a Worst Case for Japan

IEA Confirms New Highs of Fuel Production

A very short note on Japan

The New York Times has been doing an absolutely stirling job on reporting on the disaster in Japan, both the aftermath of the tsunami itself, and the evolving crises at the stricken nuclear plants.  The situation seems increasingly ominous:
Japan’s nuclear crisis verged toward catastrophe on Tuesday after an explosion damaged the vessel containing the nuclear core at one reactor and a fire at another spewed large amounts of radioactive material into the air, according to statements from Japanese government and industry officials.

In a brief morning address to the nation Tokyo time, Prime Minister Naoto Kan pleaded for calm, but warned that radiation had already spread from the crippled reactors and there was “a very high risk” of further leakage.

The sudden turn of events, after an explosion Monday at one reactor and then an early-morning explosion Tuesday at yet another — the third in four days at the plant — already made the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl reactor disaster a quarter century ago.

Engineers at the plant, working at tremendous personal risk, on Tuesday continued efforts to cool down the most heavily damaged unit, reactor No. 2, by pumping in seawater. According to government statements, most of the 800 workers at the plant had been withdrawn, leaving 50 or so workers in a desperate effort to keep the cores of three stricken reactors cooled with seawater pumped by firefighting equipment, while crews battled to put out the fire at the No. 4 reactor, which they claimed to have done just after noon on Tuesday.

But late Tuesday, Japan’s nuclear watchdog said a pool storing spent fuel rods at that fourth reactor had overheated and reached boiling point and had become unapproachable by workers at the plant. The fire earlier Tuesday morning was sparked by a hydrogen explosion generated by rising temperatures at the fuel pool, which released radioactivity directly into the atmosphere.
I don't have much value to add at present.  However, I have been deeply impressed at the ability of nuclear facilities to act as a multiplier of other kinds of disasters.  A tsunami destroying a sizeable chunk of a country's coast is enough of a disaster, and yet here it's almost overshadowed by the potential for this nuclear power plant to start irradiating much of Japan, and indeed the western Pacific.

So one lesson I've taken away is that I want to understand nuclear hazards much better than I do at present. In particular, the way in which nuclear plants are dependent on the correct functioning of other infrastructure just to stay intact at all is not something I appreciated prior to this incident.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Latest Ice Sheet Mass Balance Stats (Take 2)

Japanese Tsunami

There was an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and devastating tsumani in Japan overnight.  This video is from al-Jazeera and has just incredible footage of the disaster (not for the faint of heart - I found it quite upsetting to watch).  The loss of life must be staggering, and many people will have had their lives turned upside down.



I imagine the economic damage to Japan will be significant too, but it will take a while until the situation becomes clear.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Climate Denialist Comments

I have found it necessary to begun deleting comments of a particular commenter who appears to be a climate change sceptic/denier.  On reflection, it seems worth saying a little more about that.

I certainly don't want to impose a litmus test on commenters broadly.  If I get the feeling that people are looking at my posts, or other comments, genuinely curious about the issues, thinking for themselves, and making whatever points about the issues occur to them in good faith, or asking questions, I have no problem with that.  There have been occasions when I thought a particular climate paper was overblown, and I've said so.

However, there is clearly a large climate denialist movement that is a) heavily funded by moneyed interests, and b) also supported by a bunch of people who don't have have a direct current pecuniary interest but are unable to admit even to themselves that (for example) their career in fossil fuel extraction was contributing to major harm to the climate, or are very ideologically rigid and cannot admit that maybe sometimes free markets and large businesses commit significant harm as well as causing much good.

I think the climate denialist movement is almost 100% in bad faith, and if I get the feeling that someone is basically parroting the standard talking points from it, bringing up all the bogus non-issues that it manufactures (eg Climategate) I just have zero interest in providing a forum for that.  It's my blog, I read all the comments, and I don't want to read ones like that (or the inevitable equally partisan backlash from the other side).  Find a different forum (there are plenty of both persuasions who will be happy to indulge you in endlessly rehashing that stuff).  There's clearly tremendous potential for comment threads here to devolve into yet one more long trollfest on those issues, and I will not allow that to happen.

My interest is to understand and evaluate the actual climate science - what is it saying, how much reliance on it can we safely place, what does it tell us about our future?  Anyone who, in my judgement, shares a genuine desire to do the same, and a commitment that finding out the truth is more important than promoting a particular ideology, is more than welcome to comment here.

Latest Ice Sheet Mass Balance Stats

This following post is incorrect because I misread the main graph (h/t to Mike Aucott for pointing this out). I have left it here for the historical record, but you should read this one instead.

Saudi Day of Rage Tomorrow

The Guardian has a good backgrounder:
Saudi Arabia shares many problems common to the Arab world – a youth "bulge," lack of opportunities for graduates, precious few political freedoms, plus an absence of transparency and accountability by an absolute monarchy that includes 8,000 princes. Restrictions on women – who are not allowed to drive and cannot travel abroad without the permission of a male relative – are another big negative. The notorious religious police are another. Torture is frequently used on detainees. Unemployment between the ages of 14 and 24 is 40% – in a country where almost 70% of the population is under 20.

Demands for change are relatively modest. Of three reform petitions circulating on the internet, one has gathered signatures from 1,500 prominent liberal and Islamist Saudis calling for a constitutional monarchy, an elected parliament and an accountable executive. Entitled Towards a Country with Rights and Institutions, it is couched in polite and formal language and starts by wishing the king good health. It is a far cry from the slogans heard in Tunis, Cairo and Tripoli. But online access was still quickly blocked.

A "youth petition" signed by 60 journalists and cyber-activists calls for political liberalisation and lowering the average age of ministers to 40 and of shura council members to 45. "There is a new generation of people who are more liberal," says a senior Saudi journalist, "but they still respect the old red lines."

Many Saudi liberals insist the king is a well-intentioned reformist, if one limited by his age and experience. Khaled al-Maeena, editor of the Jeddah-based Arab News, is one of them. "People are adamant that the day of rage will not be about throwing stones and shouting slogans, so there shouldn't be an over-reaction."
I don't feel like I have any insight here, as to whether tomorrow will be a total fizzle, or the first crack in the regime.  There's a great deal at stake.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tuesday, March 1, 2011