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Comet Trail May Have Caused Last Ice Age

CARDIFF, Wales, April 2 (UPI) — A thousand-year freeze that began in 11,000 B.C. may have been caused by thousands of atomic-force chunks from a disintegrating comet, a British scientist said.

The fragments, each hitting with the force of a 1-megaton nuclear bomb, triggered fires that covered whole continents and filled the atmosphere with smoke and soot that blotted out the sun, said Bill Napier, a professor at Cardiff University Astrobiology Center.

Napier said Earth may have strayed into a dense trail of fragments being shed by a large comet.

The resulting freeze caused glaciers to advance, disrupted human cultures and wiped out an estimated 35 families of North American mammals, The Daily Telegraph reported Friday.

There is “compelling evidence” the main comet has been breaking apart ever since, leading to meteor streams known as the Taurid Complex, Napier wrote in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Mammals, Nuclear, Other0 Comments

Comet Trail May Have Caused Last Ice Age

CARDIFF, England, April 2 (UPI) — A thousand-year freeze that began in 11,000 B.C. may have been caused by thousands of atomic-force chunks from a disintegrating comet, a British scientist said.

The fragments, each hitting with the force of a 1-megaton nuclear bomb, triggered fires that covered whole continents and filled the atmosphere with smoke and soot that blotted out the sun, said Bill Napier, a professor at Cardiff University Astrobiology Center.

Napier said Earth may have strayed into a dense trail of fragments being shed by a large comet.

The resulting freeze caused glaciers to advance, disrupted human cultures and wiped out an estimated 35 families of North American mammals, The Daily Telegraph reported Friday.

There is “compelling evidence” the main comet has been breaking apart ever since, leading to meteor streams known as the Taurid Complex, Napier wrote in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Mammals, Nuclear, Other0 Comments

Diplomat: China Will Attend Nuclear Summit

WASHINGTON, March 29 (UPI) — China plans to send a delegation to the Nuclear Security Summit to be hosted in Washington next month by U.S. President Barack Obama, a Chinese diplomat said.

“But it’s not decided yet as to who will head the Chinese delegation,” said Wang Baodong, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington.

More than 40 countries were invited to the summit and China has yet to officially let the White House know if it will attend, The Washington Post reported Monday.

U.S. officials had assumed China would not participate because of its opposition to a $6.4 billion weapons sale by the United States to Taiwan that was announced in January. Other policy experts said China may still be deciding how it can take part and who to send.

“China is going to have to weigh its desire to punish the United States with its own desire to send a signal to the world that they are a responsible player that need not be viewed as threatening,” said Christopher Twomey, an analyst at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.

China has an estimated 800 nuclear warheads. The United States has more than 2,000 deployed long-range warheads and about 5,000 working warheads.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Solar Projects Shine in North Africa

RABAT, Morocco, March 24 (UPI) — North Africa is taking a shine to solar power in a big way, with plants slated for Morocco and Tunisia as a German-led consortium pushes ahead with the world’s most ambitious solar project in the Sahara Desert.

The $555.3 billion Desertec project is designed to turn the Sahara’s endless sunlight into carbon-free electricity that will supply 15 percent of energy-hungry Europe’s power and lessen its dependence on natural gas from Russia.

Separately, the Moroccan government hopes to invest $9 billion in a solar energy program over the next decade.

This means big-ticket contracts could be up for grabs from major European, mainly French energy concerns, such as GDF Suez; oil giant Total; Areva, which specializes in building nuclear plants, and St. Gobain which manufactures mirrors and photovoltaic panels.

Paris’s Maghreb Confidential online newsletter says the French were lining up to join the program when Moroccan Energy Minister Amina Benkhadra presented her investment program to her French counterpart, Jean-Louis Borloo, March 8-9 in Paris.

The centerpiece of the Moroccan plan is a Franco-Moroccan solar power plant generating 20-40 megawatts and exporting up to 4 MW to France.

That’s a relatively modest project. But the Moroccans are hoping that it will lay the groundwork for more ambitious projects that will boost solar power exports to Europe and beyond.

One project being mooted for Morocca’s Solar Plan is a 500MW solar power station and at least nine international companies are bidding. They include Nexant of California and Fichtner Solar of Stuttgart, Germany, which has won contracts to design power plants at Ain beni Mather in Morocco, Hassi R’Mei in Algeria and Kuraymat in Egypt.

In neighboring Tunisia, the government unveiled a solar plan in late 2009 that includes some 40 renewable energy projects, such as thermo-solar photovoltaic power plants, with a cost of $2.67 billion.

Desertec is by far the most complex of all the solar projects currently under way. It is still in the planning stage and construction isn’t expected to begin for another 2-3 years.

It has big-name partners, such as Deutsche Bank and Siemens, and is still attracting new companies, such as First Solar, a U.S. photovoltaic company that has constructed utility-scale solar plants in the deserts of the United States and the United Arab Emirates.

Using a method known as concentrated solar power it would generate inexhaustible and affordable quantities of energy across the Mediterranean — and even on a global scale if necessary.

One of its big attractions is that it would emit no carbon dioxide, making it the world’s biggest green-energy project. If Desertec does get off the ground, it would be the largest green-energy project on the planet.

In theory, a global system of solar thermal power would also eliminate the prospect of resource wars erupting in the years ahead as the planet’s natural resources that currently produce energy — oil, gas, coal, timber and water — disappear.

The idea for this massive project to harness the sun’s energy on a gigantic scale originated with a group of European scientists and politicians called the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation.

The concept of large-scale solar power has been around for some time but was never able to make the breakthrough because of cheap oil.

Desertec’s backers believe it will open the door to a new era of environmentally friendly generated power on a massive scale.

That would keep Europe at the forefront of the struggle against climate change and help North African and European economies to expand within the limits of greenhouse gas emissions.

Its critics caution that there are numerous pitfalls, among them the vagaries of North African politics and the perception that European projects like Desertec is just another form of economic plundering by the old colonial powers.

According to Nature magazine, the solar-cell market has been growing by an average by 31 percent a year for the last decade, and enthusiasts predict a 20-25 percent growth rate in the next few years.

Every year, the sun produces 630,000 terawatt hours — a terawatt equals 1 trillion volts — of energy in North Africa that is untapped. Europe consumes 4,000 terawatt hours of energy a year. That’s only 0.6 percent of the unused energy that falls on the North African desert.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Coal, Electricity, Natural Gas, Nuclear, Other, Solar0 Comments

Nuke Review Underscores Opposing Views

WASHINGTON, March 6 (UPI) — A White House nuclear policy review will likely highlight the opposing views of U.S. President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, officials say.

While the Democratic president has opposed development of new nuclear weapons, his Pentagon chief, a holdover from the Bush administration, has advocated a new generation of warheads, Politico reports.

The administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, more than two months overdue, is to be released before the president plans to host a nuclear safety summit for heads of state next month. The review is conducted by the White House every four years.

“Quite clearly, the secretary has been stating he sees a need for replacement warheads and new designs, and I’m not sure those are the words the president would want to use at this stage in the process,” said Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists.

“This is the big challenge of the Obama administration, that it has to find some common ground for those two relatively, I wouldn’t say contradictory, but what can be distant positions,” Kristensen said.

The review has been perceived as dividing senior officials, with Vice President Joe Biden representing those who favor arms control while Gates is seen as leader of the military and nuclear establishment advocating new weapons programs.

Liberal arms-control activists say Obama ceded too much to Gates’s wishes with funding for nuclear weapons labs in the 2011 budget.

Administration officials said it is too early to discuss differences between the president’s position and that of Gates.

Gates “still believes in the fundamental goals of ensuring warhead safety, security and reliability, and believes we need a modern infrastructure to support that. Those investments are in the budget,” said Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Obama Unveils Home Energy Rebate Program

SAVANNAH, Ga., March 2 (UPI) — U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday unveiled a new program that would offer rebates to U.S. consumers who invest to make their homes energy efficient.

The Home Star energy rebate program will save families several hundred dollars in utility bills, reduce the country’s fossil-fuel dependency and “spur hiring up and down the economy,” Obama said during a White House to Main Street visit to Savannah, Ga.

If consumers want to upgrade the energy efficiency through insulation, duct sealing, windows, roofing or doors, among other things, they could be eligible for rebates of between $1,000 and $1,500 to a combined maximum of $3,000.

Consumers looking for more comprehensive energy retrofitting could receive up to a $3,000 rebate for a whole-house energy audit and retrofits that achieve a 20 percent energy savings.

The program requires congressional approval, Obama said, who added, “Working stuff through Congress is more than a notion.”

“This is not a Democratic or a Republican idea, this is a common-sense approach” to help jump start the economy and make it stronger,” Obama said.

Programs such as Home Star and other energy-focused initiatives will help lay the foundation of economic growth that will boost jobs at decent wages critical to “create lasting opportunities and prosperity.”

He noted the first new nuclear power plant in nearly three decades will be built in Georgia, and praised programs at Savannah Technical College, where he spoke, that teach green trades.

“I’m convinced the country that leads in clean energy will lead the global economy,” Obama said. “I want us to be at first.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Energy Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Nuclear0 Comments

No to Nuclear Power for Australia: Rudd

CANBERRA, Australia, Feb. 18 (UPI) — Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced he has ruled out nuclear power for his country.

“Australia has multiple other energy sources and we will not be heading in the direction of civil nuclear power,” Rudd told reporters in Canberra.

Rudd’s remarks came after U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement Tuesday of federal loan guarantees to build two nuclear reactors.

Australia, however, apparently plans to stay with coal.

“Roll the clock out to 2020, 2050, in terms of the role of coal in total global energy production — it’s huge,” Rudd said.

Coal-fired power stations, known for high carbon dioxide emissions, generate about 80 percent of Australia’s electricity. Australia surpasses the United States as the world’s biggest per capita carbon emitter.

The Australian government has proposed cutting its emissions by 5 percent by 2020 but that target could rise to 25 percent if a global climate protection agreement can be reached.

Rudd said Australia would explore technologies to lower greenhouse gas emissions, including schemes to capture emissions from coal-fired power plants and store them underground. The prime minister noted that Australia is a world leader in carbon capture and storage.

But CCS could create a “time bomb” for future generations, said John Hepburn, a Greenpeace Australia energy campaigner.

“There are concerns over whether it will actually stay underground, basically forever,” Hepburn told Bloomberg News. “You may have to transport the carbon dioxide a long way to a suitable storage site and there are risks associated with that.”

“Australia has probably the most coal-intensive economy on the planet,” Hepburn said to Bloomberg. “The fossil fuel industry, and the coal industry in particular, have a large amount of political influence as a result.”

Hepburn suggests that Australia should aggressively conserve energy and rely more on renewable power to meet the country’s climate goals, rather than depending on either nuclear power or fossil fuels.

Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of coal.

The chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization, Ziggy Switkowski, said he expected Australian public opinion would soon favor nuclear power.

“There will come a time, perhaps in the next electoral cycle, when the national mood will be strongly pro-nuclear and the government will feel more comfortable about endorsing discussion of nuclear power as part of a longer-term national strategy,” Switkowski told The Australian.

World Nuclear Association estimates list Australia as the world’s third-largest producer of uranium.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Coal, Electricity, Nuclear0 Comments

Panel to Study Nuclear Waste Disposal

WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 (UPI) — A blue ribbon commission was named Friday to study managing used radioactive nuclear fuel and waste, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said.

“Nuclear energy provides clean, safe, reliable power and has an important role to play as we build a low-carbon future,” Chu said in a release. “The administration is committed to promoting nuclear power in the United States and developing a safe, long-term solution for the management of used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste.”

Because the administration decided not to proceed with the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, President Barack Obama directed Chu to set up the commission to conduct a comprehensive review of policies for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. The commission also will provide advice and recommendations on issues such as alternatives for the storage, processing, and disposal of civilian and defense spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future is being co-led by former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.

The commission is made up of 15 members with a range of experience and expertise in nuclear issues, including scientists, industry representatives, and respected former elected officials, Chu said.

“Finding an acceptable long-term solution to our used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste storage needs is vital to the economic, environmental and security interests of the United States,” Hamilton said. “This will be a thorough, comprehensive review based on the best available science.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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New Synthetic Material Traps Nuclear Waste

EVANSTON, Ill., Jan. 27 (UPI) — Northwestern University scientists say they’ve created a material that can trap the radioactive ion cesium while ignoring harmless ions such as sodium.

Researchers led by Professor Mercouri Kanatzidis said their synthetic material is made from layers of a gallium, sulfur and antimony compound. They said it has been extremely successful in removing cesium — found in nuclear waste, but very difficult to clean up — from a sodium-heavy solution that consisted of concentrations similar to those found in real liquid nuclear waste.

The scientists said the new material sequestered 100 percent of the cesium ions from the solution, while simultaneously ignoring sodium ions.

“Ideally we want to concentrate the radioactive material so it can be dealt with properly and the non-radioactive water thrown away,” Kanatzidis said, adding the new material could lead to a much-needed breakthrough in nuclear waste remediation.

The study is reported online in the journal Nature Chemistry.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Nuclear, Remediation0 Comments

Antarctica Wind Farm Operational

AUCKLAND, New Zealand, Jan. 20 (UPI) — The world’s southernmost wind farm, in Antarctica, is now operational.

The Ross Island wind farm will supply about 11 percent of the power to New Zealand’s Scott Base and the American McMurdo Station. Previously, the two sites relied on diesel-powered generators for electricity.

The wind farm will cut diesel consumption by about 463,000 liters a year and reduce carbon dioxide output by 1,370 tons annually, according to New Zealand-based Meridian Energy, the project’s developer.

The three turbines, each 37 meters tall and 33 meters wide, are generating 330 kilowatts of power.

The project represents “an opportunity for us to demonstrate our ability to build renewable generating facilities in a very remote and very beautiful location,” Meridian Energy’s Ken Smales told TV New Zealand news.

Scott Base, located on Ross Island 1,500 kilometers from the South Pole, has been New Zealand’s permanent base in Antarctica since 1959, accommodating various research parties and groups visiting Antarctica. McMurdo Station, the American base, is a 3-kilometer walk over the hill.

McMurdo at one time had its own nuclear reactor, which eventually leaked and was decommissioned, TV New Zealand said.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully in commissioning the wind farm on Saturday noted that New Zealand and the United States “share a commitment to increasing the global uptake of renewable energy resources.”

McCully said when he formally met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the first time last year, she responded positively to the prospect of “significant cooperation” between the two countries in providing renewable energy for smaller Pacific Island states.

Since then, he said, “We have been working to give shape and substance to this proposal,” and already there is “significant progress” in projects in both Tonga and the Tokelau islands.

“So it is fitting we have worked so hard together to get this wind farm up and running in Antarctica — one of the world’s most pristine and fragile environments,” McCully said.

Before canceling due to the Haiti crisis, Clinton had been scheduled to inaugurate the wind farm. Instead, McCully led the ceremony via video link 4,000 kilometers away in Auckland.

In accordance with the commissioning plan, the Ross Island wind farm output has been limited to 560 kilowatts as part of the planned monitoring period until mid-January.

The farm is scheduled for “tuning” later in January to achieve optimum efficiency and reliability before the onset of winter.

Copyright 2010 by United Press International

Posted in Consumption, Electricity, Nuclear, Wind0 Comments

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