Clear The Air Energy Blog Rotating Header Image

Power Generation

Small Scale Tri-Generation System Uses Waste Gasification

German micro power generation technology developer, ENTRADE, has launched a biowaste powered tri-generation high temperature gasification system for providing power, heat and cooling.


German micro power generation technology developer, ENTRADE, has launched a biowaste powered tri-generation high temperature gasification system for providing power, heat and cooling.

The mass produced, sub £200,000 system is claimed to be the world’s smallest combined cooling, heat and power (CCHP) unit fuelled by regional available biomass waste.

The technology is said to be based on a high-temperature, carbon-neutral and highly efficient gasification process.

It uses solid biomass waste to generates up to 30 kW of electricity, 60 kW of heating and/or cooling up to 30 kW of cooling, said to beenough for 22 American single family homes, a small production facility or even a village in developing countries.

ENTRADE said that one E3 unit is a turnkey solution small enough to be easily transportable on a pickup truck.

So far over 100 types of solid waste are certified for use in the system, including nut shells and other regional biomass.

“Here it is: The world’s smallest tri-generation power plant fuelled by waste, that will have a huge impact on the everyday-life of millions of people without any access to clean energy,” said ’ Julien Uhlig, ENTRADE’s CEO.

“The strong demand out of the world market is a hint to be sure that it’s an idea whose time has come,” he continued. “The E3 is ready to go into mass production.”

The company plans to produce up to 45 units per month with a target of 600 units in 2016.

An interview with Julien Uhlig can be viewed below.

A New and Simple Source of Green Power: Water

Professor Jimmy Yu is associate director of the Institute of Environment, Energy and Sustainability at CUHK.

Professor Jimmy Yu is associate director of the Institute of Environment, Energy and Sustainability at CUHK.

Solar power is one of the most promising forms of creating “green” energy. But could we take the process a step further and generate other kinds of energy using the sun’s rays?

CUHK Professor Jimmy Yu Chai-mei believes he has found the answer. By using chemicals such as cadmium sulfide and, separately, simple elements such as red phosphorus, the chemist has produced promising results in generating energy by splitting water molecules using sunlight.

Water splitting does not occur in the absence of catalysts. Professor Yu has been examining ways of expediting that process by adding a photocatalyst that will speed up the decomposition of the water molecules to produce hydrogen, functioning much as chlorophyll in a plant, using sunlight to induce a chemical reaction. The hydrogen can then be stored and used in power plants or as fuel for vehicles.

Red phosphorous acts as a catalyst to speed up the decomposition of water molecules to produce hydrogen, which can then be used in power plants or as fuel for vehicles.

Red phosphorous acts as a catalyst to speed up the decomposition of water molecules to produce hydrogen, which can then be used in power plants or as fuel for vehicles.

Hydrogen power holds plenty of potential because it contains no carbon. On combustion, water molecules are formed, which are harmless to the environment. That makes it preferable to typical fossil fuels, which do contain carbon and so in combustion form greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

There are hundreds if not thousands of materials that can function as photocatalysts. Titanium dioxide can act as a photocatalyst – but it only works when irradiated with ultraviolet light.

Professor Yu has discovered that adding the semiconductor cadmium sulfide, a highly active catalyst, into the equation allows the titanium dioxide to extend its photo-response to the shorter bandwidths of visible light.

Subsequently Professor Yu and his team have also shown that red phosphorus, the most stable and commonly found of three forms of that element, can help break up water. Phosphorous makes up around 0.1 percent of the Earth’s crust, so there are hundreds of billions of tons of it that can be extracted fairly easily and cheaply. “It is always available, that’s the beauty of it. It will never be used up,” says Professor Yu.

Put red phosphorus into water at room temperature and expose it to sunlight, and you will see bubbles of hydrogen forming. “We were the first people to observe that property of red phosphorus,” Professor Yu says.

The chemist sees that as the most elegant method of inducing photocatalysis, using a stand-alone element rather than a compound. “Simple is beautiful,” Professor Yu says. It marks the first time a single element had been used as a photocatalyst. “That’s as simple as you get.”

Thanks to the finding, Professor Yu made the ranks of the “World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds” in 2014, as compiled by Reuters.

Now the challenge is to scale up the process. So the chemist hopes engineers can take those findings and achieve sustainable clean energy production.

“We are hardly at a commercial scale yet,” Professor Yu says. But he hopes his laboratory experiments can inspire others. “We hope to offer some possible solutions.”

by Alex Frew McMillan

Chaotic Motion Device Aims for Scalability, Portability

The world is full of “chaotic motion,” in other words, continuous but non-uniform types of physical excitation that are nevertheless pervasive and commonplace. Ocean waves are a naturally occurring example. So is the movement of people as they walk or run in everyday life. What almost all have in common is that they represent a nearly limitless source of energy if only a means could be found to convert them into a reliable form of electric power generation.

Methods of doing so have long been a focus of engineering research. A UK-based company has come up with something different: a single type of device that could be scaled to provide useful, usable power from a few watts to hundreds of kilowatts depending on the scale of the motion source.


The company is WITT Energy based in Plymouth in South West England and founded by a husband and wife team, Martin and Mairi Wickett. Their aim was to find a means of converting bi-directional movement to rotation. Their initial idea has now been embodied into the design for a device that goes by the name Whatever Input to Torsion Transfer (WITT). It is claimed to be one of the first ever practicable pieces of equipment with the potential to translate multiple degrees of motion – up, down, backwards, forwards and rotation about an axis – into a single output able to drive a generator to produce electricity. (Watch a video of the generator in action.)

The basic principle involves the use of pendulums that react to external movement. These drive a flywheel and gearbox that in turn drive a conventional generator. The potential benefits could be considerable.

The first is its potential scalability from a wearable device to something that could be mounted in a boat to exploit its pitching and rolling motions. Second, all of the essential working parts can be sealed inside a housing pierced only by the wires carrying the electric current, thereby making it resilient to damage from external forces. Another is that it could be able to produce power across a wide range of excitation – a marine device, for example, should continue to operate in storm conditions. It also would be flexible in operation and could be used to charge batteries if there was no immediate need for power or if the source of motion was intermittent.

The company’s commercial director Nicholas Gill says that the device has already won at least one award for innovation – the 2013 Gulfstream Navigator Award worth $100,000 made by the Ocean Exchange organization, an international venture that seeks to recognize environmentally friendly innovation with a potential for global application. He says the device is also attracting interest from the German conglomerate Schaeffler, which Gill says has agreed to work with WITT to help refine the concept. Both the Indian and U.S. defense departments also have expressed interest, he says.

The defense departments’ interest has been stimulated in part by the device’s potential to be built into a soldier’s backpack. Gill says this would enable the device to provide a means of constantly recharging the batteries used to power electronic equipment that military personnel now carry. He says that a WITT device weighing two pounds and capable of generating 10W of power could feasibly be developed and would be sufficient to meet military applications.

A prototype of such a device has been tested and, Gill says, has achieved a “peak power” output of 5W. Further lightweighting of almost all its component parts could help boost power output towards that target figure. Moreover, Gill says that the company could exploit the need for the pendulums to retain some weight by making them incorporate batteries, which would contribute “net zero weight” to the device.

That possible application is likely to be beaten into real use by a larger version of the concept that is capable of generating as much as 200W. WITT Energy is developing that device in cooperation with UK precision engineering operation Gibbs Gears. Gill says that this device is intended for marine use although the company has also recognized that fixed floating objects such as marker buoys present a potential market. A prototype is scheduled to appear by “the third quarter of 2016” with a market launch possibly in 2017, he says.

Gill says that by late 2015 the company will launch a crowdsourcing push that aims to bring in at least $1.1-4.5 million.

Give us a clearer picture, Hong Kong lawmakers urge officials on electricity market study findings

Results described as failing to show a diversity of opinions

Lawmakers are demanding a more precise breakdown of the results of a public consultation on the development of the electricity market as nearly a third of submissions were templates and the rest a mystery.

They said the results of the government’s consultation were simplistic and failed to show a diversity of opinions.

“The results of this consultation, I think, is too simple,” said tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing at a meeting of the Legislative Council’s economic development panel on Monday.

“There are 5,000 templates but we don’t have any breakdown of these other figures. We need to know people’s views and what most of the public is concerned about. Some may have put forward very unique and professional views … such as on renewable energy.”

Panel chairman James Tien Pei-chun agreed, and asked the bureau to provide more detailed analysis. “We want to know the justifications. There are over 10,000 submissions so there must very different views,” he said.

Deputy secretary for the environment Vincent Liu Ming-kwong said his office would consider if more detailed information could be provided to members.

The findings of the government’s consultation, which drew 15,765 submissions, saw no need to break the monopolies held by the city’s two power suppliers, nor cut the profits they could make.

More than half of respondents favoured keeping return rates at 9.99 per cent to give power companies an incentive to invest.

A third of submissions to the consultation, which ended in June, came at the behest of green groups, which favoured lower fees and more competition. The source of the rest remained a mystery.

Others favoured lower returns but “a relatively small number of respondents” suggested a rate below 6 per cent”. Earlier this year, the government had proposed lowering the rate of return from the 9.99 per cent down to 6 to 8 per cent.

Some lawmakers, including those from the business sector, had reservations on whether the level was appropriate without stricter conditions imposed on the suppliers for more renewable energy generation and the interconnection of their power grids. They also were sceptical about renewing the framework for another 10 or 15 years.

Labour’s Lee Cheuk-yan said the government claimed large-scale renewable energy was not feasible locally but that technology was improving. “If we sign for another 10 years and your grid isn’t opened, no one will be able to tap into it,” he said.

Tien, from the pro-business Liberal Party, said even 6 to 8 per cent was “a bit high” given the economic and low-interest rate environment. “When I joined Legco in 1988, the permitted rate of return was 15 per cent, but no one thought it was high because borrowing costs and inflation were both more than 10 per cent,” he said.

“The yield on 30-year US treasury bonds is now at 3 per cent … so the 6 to 8 per cent really amounts to big earnings for them in this environment.”

He also pointed out that there was no need for such a high guaranteed return or lengthy contract – both CLP Power and HK Electric are eyeing another 15 years – as the two suppliers had already made most of the long-term investments they needed over the last few decades.

In response, Liu said many coal-fired plants would soon have to be retired and replaced, while natural gas generation would involve high costs. “Many new investments are needed,” he said.

Environment chief Wong Kam-sing said while public opinion was clear, its consultant would examine the rate of return and the government would begin official negotiations with the two suppliers next year with the aim of setting a final rate in the next one or two.

Source URL:

As Paris climate conference nears, Hong Kong’s environment chief confident on emissions blueprint

As global conference in Paris approaches, Wong Kam-sing points to city’s blueprint for reaching peak emissions by around 2020

Hong Kong may not be directly involved with state-to-state climate negotiations but Wong Kam-sing, the environment secretary, is heading into next month’s United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris with a degree of confidence.

He said Hong Kong’s total emissions will peak around 2020, when a shake-up in how the city gets its electric power is slated for completion and a cluster of coal-fired plants are retired to make way for relatively cleaner gas-fired ones – roughly a decade earlier than the mainland’s pledge to peak emissions around 2030.

By “around 2020″, Hong Kong will be on track to reduce its carbon intensity – emissions per unit of GDP – by 50 to 60 per cent and energy intensity by up to 40 per cent. By that year, it will have already met its 2010 target of reducing total emissions by 19 to 33 per cent from 2005 levels, he said.

“The road forward is clear but we won’t see immediate reductions daily or even annually. It’s not necessary,” Wong said. “We are nearing peak emissions. It will happen when the coal-fired power plants are retired and when we are using cleaner fuel for electricity generation.”

He was quick to list a basket of measures under his energy-saving blueprint that would help achieve the intensity targets, including cutting energy use in government buildings further and tightening the buildings energy code.

“By 2025, this [tightened code] will help Hong Kong save 5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and 3.5 million tonnes of carbon,” he said.

But the latest government data showed that the city’s greenhouse-gas emissions have been rising since 2000, amounting to some 43 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2012. More than two-thirds of it still comes from electricity generation.

The first coal-fired plant to have been built since the 1980s will be retired only in 2017 and the rest are scheduled to be completely retired by the early 2030s.

Hanging in the balance will also be negotiations with the city’s two power companies on the electricity-supply regulatory framework after 2018.

Wong will brief the legislature’s development panel on the latest results of the public consultation on the future electricity market today and will discuss market readiness and future changes to the regulatory regime with the two suppliers before January.

Greenpeace had calculated that under a “business as usual” approach”, only 31 per cent of emissions could be cut in the next two decades.

It called on the government to stop nuclear imports when the contract with the Daya Bay nuclear plant comes to an end in 2034 and to boost renewables in the fuel mix.

Greenpeace senior campaigner Frances Yeung Hoi-shan said the government needed more aggressive schemes to cut emissions given the city’s high per capita annual generation.

Cheung Chi-wah, WWF Hong Kong’s senior head for climate, said the government urgently needed a climate plan that would go beyond 2020.

Wong said the government would keep an “open attitude” on the nuclear question post-2034, but any post-2020 climate and energy policy would need further discussion.

“Our current targets only go up to 2020. As to how we can set longer-term goals, we will have to come back to Hong Kong [from Paris] and discuss this with the community on how we can undertake this process.”

Hong Kong will arrive at the Paris climate talks empty handed; let’s make sure it leaves with bold ideas to cut the city’s rising emissions

Gavin Edwards says the UN meeting in Paris offers an ideal opportunity for our environment secretary to learn about, and adopt, other cities’ pioneering efforts

Hong Kong’s Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing will travel to Paris at the end of this month for the UN climate negotiations, where world governments will come together to agree a bold new set of targets and actions on climate change. The key outcome will hopefully be a new international agreement on the climate, applicable to all countries, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. In preparation for the meeting, more than 150 countries have already indicated a number of pledges they may be willing to make – their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions – that can form part of the agreement. For example, the European Union pledges to cut its emissions by 40 per cent (from 1990 levels) by 2030, Costa Rica is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2021, and China aims to lower its carbon intensity by 60 to 65 per cent by 2030 (from 2005) and ensure its emissions peak by 2030.

unnamed (1)

As we approach the final weeks in the lead-up to the Paris agreement, a couple of challenges are emerging – one global, one local. The global challenge is that the intended contributions by all countries have been modelled by climate scientists and policy experts at Climate Action Tracker (an independent group of four leading research organisations), and they forecast that the world will see a 2.7 degree rise by late in the century if the Paris agreement succeeds and is implemented.

This falls well short of the 2 degree target governments are aiming for, and is a long way shy of the generally accepted safe temperature rise which our planet can tolerate: 1.5 degrees. And this is not just some academic numbers game. At 2.7 degrees warmer, we could experience significant food shortages globally as crops fail in sub-Saharan Africa, and our own major source of food – the Pearl River Delta – experiences increasing flooding. Even a 2 degree rise – the stated aim of the Paris agreement – spells the end of the world’s coral reefs and a whole host of other impacts driven by increasingly extreme weather patterns.

At 2.7 degrees warmer, we could experience significant food shortages globally as crops fail in sub-Saharan Africa

Second, the local challenge: Hong Kong’s contribution to averting catastrophic climate change. Wong gathered key government, corporate and NGO representatives together on November 6 to launch the Hong Kong Climate Change Report, outlining government efforts. However, instead of articulating a plan of action for the decades ahead, he summarised existing policies and efforts, and is taking a wait-and-see approach to the Paris climate negotiation so the government can then consider its next steps. This is odd, given that China (which reports and commits globally on its greenhouse gas emissions, including those of Hong Kong) has outlined its plan well beyond 2020. On a recent trip to the US, President Xi Jinping (習近平) articulated a range of measures, including greenhouse-gas emissions targets, investments in renewable energy, a national emission trading scheme to regulate large carbon dioxide emitters, and clear targets for green buildings.

unnamed (2)

Here in Hong Kong, the current plan is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 19 to 33 per cent by 2020 (from 2005), but that’s all. With current efforts, we’ll only achieve the low end of this target, and only if the long-promised initiative to reduce the burning of coal for electricity generation is implemented. Contrast this with cities around the world which will come together at a special event during the Paris negotiations, share their ambitious plans, and learn from each other. Greater Taipei will cut its emissions by 20 per cent by 2026 (from 2006), Yokohama will cut by 80 per cent by 2050 (from 2005), London by 60 per cent by 2025 (from 1990) and New York by 40 per cent by 2030 (from 1990). However, Hong Kong’s greenhouse gas emissions have been steadily rising over the past decade, by 23 per cent from 2002 to 2012.

The development of renewable energy in the city has barely begun. And CLP Power is proposing new gas-fired power generation instead of using renewable energy. The social cost of fossil fuel has never been mentioned, even in the latest document of the electricity market regulatory regime review. If our electricity market is not going to change, there is no chance for us to stop climate change. Under the Air Pollution Control Ordinance, carbon dioxide is not even considered a pollutant, even though it is widely agreed that ever-escalating carbon dioxide emissions are one of the largest threats to our planet and our city. Our electricity market is not ready to tackle climate change.

So, if the past decade was something of a lost decade for Hong Kong in terms of making a meaningful and commensurate contribution to tackling climate change, what should we do in the next decade, to catch up?

If our electricity market is not going to change, there is no chance for us to stop climate change

First, the Environment Bureau has a huge opportunity to address the lack of renewable energy development by adopting a comprehensive feed-in tariff policy to reward anyone who installs solar panels on rooftops or wind turbines in coastal waters. As the government wraps up its review of the Scheme of Control Agreement which governs our electricity production, it must include a renewable energy support policy, even if we are one of the last cities in Asia to adopt such a policy.

Second, it’s time for our private sector to put funding into renewable energy and energy efficiency development. Globally, there are more new investments in renewable energies such as wind and solar than there are in coal, gas and nuclear combined. They are effectively winning against these dirty energy sources, because governments around the world realise the importance of supporting safe, low-carbon energy. Some US$270 billion is being invested in low carbon development.

unnamed (3)

So instead of supporting CLP’s pitch to build another gas plant, the government should encourage future investment in renewables, and greater investment in energy efficiency. For example, a simple scheme to encourage all grocery and convenience shops to put doors on their display fridges will cut their fridge energy consumption by 50 per cent, according to recent WWF research.

Lastly, we need a plan for Hong Kong that goes beyond 2020. Our environment secretary arrives in Paris empty-handed without a longer-term plan while other cities profile theirs. However, it does not have to be a wasted journey – he will have an incredible opportunity to learn about the pioneering efforts of other cities, and to bring back ideas to adapt to Hong Kong. This can start with a plan to substantially cut our city’s emissions by 2030, and a plan to adopt a new scheme of control to encourage renewable energy development.

The difference between a world that is 2.7 degrees warmer and one that is only 1.5 degrees warmer is the difference between a liveable planet and a planet that is thrown into chaos. It’s time for Hong Kong to step up its efforts by leaving Paris with new ideas and bolder pledges to do much more. And when Hong Kong attends the next big climate conference in a few years’ time, I very much hope that these efforts will earn us international recognition as Asia’s sustainable city.

Gavin Edwards is conservation director at WWF-Hong Kong

Source URL:

Waving good buy? A hitherto-obscure piece of physics may be the secret to ocean power generation

THE idea of extracting energy from ocean waves and turning it into electricity is an alluring one. The first serious attempt to do so dates back to 1974, when Stephen Salter of Edinburgh University came up with the idea of “ducks”: house-sized buoys tethered to the sea floor that would convert the swell into rotational motion to drive generators. It failed, as have many subsequent efforts to perform the trick. But the idea of wave power will not go away, and the latest attempt—the brainchild of researchers at Oscilla Power, a firm based in Seattle—is trying to address head-on the reason why previous efforts have foundered.

This reason, according to Rahul Shendure, the firm’s boss, is that those efforts took technologies developed for landlubbers (often as components of wind turbines) and tried to modify them for marine use. The consequence was kit too complicated and sensitive for the rough-and-tumble of life on the ocean waves, and also too vulnerable to corrosion. Better, he reckons, to start from scratch.

Instead of generators with lots of moving parts, Oscilla is developing ones that barely move at all. These employ a little-explored phenomenon called magnetostriction, in which ferromagnetic materials (things like iron, that can be magnetised strongly) change their shape slightly in the presence of a magnetic field. Like many physical processes, this also works in reverse. Apply stresses or strains to such a material and its magnetic characteristics alter. Do this in the presence of permanent magnets and a coil of wire, such as are found in conventional generators, and it will generate electricity.

The core of Oscilla’s design is a bar made from an alloy of iron and aluminium, a mixture that is strongly ferromagnetic. Such bars need be compressed by only one part in 10,000 to have the desired effect. This means, to all intents and purposes, that the generator has no internal moving parts that can go wrong. But compressing a solid metal bar by even this tiny amount requires the application of a huge force. Fortunately, ocean waves are powerful enough to generate this force. Oscilla’s design, as the firm’s name suggests, does it by oscillation.


Its oscillating generators consist of two large objects connected by cables (see diagram). At one end of these cables, floating on the surface, is a buoy that contains the generating apparatus of alloy bars, magnets and coils, together with sets of hydraulic rams which can squeeze the bars as desired. At the cables’ other ends hangs a structure called a heave plate, which is kept stationary by a combination of inertia and the drag of the surrounding water. This arrangement means that, as the buoy rises and falls with the waves at the surface while the heave plate stays more or less put, the tension on the cables increases and decreases. That changing tension drives the rams. The whole system is kept in place by a second set of cables that moor it to the seabed.

A full-scale device, which Oscilla hopes to build by 2018, will be a foam-filled steel buoy 27 metres in diameter, six metres high and weighing 1,000 tonnes, tethered to a toroidal concrete heave plate 70 metres below the surface. It will carry 12 magnetostrictive generators within. Mr Shendure says that a single such buoy, placed a few kilometres offshore, should deliver an average of 600 kilowatts—about the same as an onshore wind turbine. A prototype four metres in diameter underwent a brief but successful open-ocean trial off the Atlantic coast of America last year.

Oscilla’s generators will, Dr Shendure acknowledges, be expensive to build and install. But their simple design, he says, should allow them to operate for decades with no more maintenance than an occasional scrub to remove accumulated barnacles. He calculates that the cost of producing electricity from them will be around ten cents a kilowatt hour. That compares with 16 cents a kilowatt hour for offshore wind farms and six cents for the onshore variety. A grid-connected fossil-fuel power station would be cheaper still—five cents or less. But ten cents represents a decent start for such a novel way of generating electricity.

Advanced Plasma Power

Download (PDF, 3.61MB)

SCMP: Loh defends Hong Kong over downgrade in UN ranking

The World Energy Council, the UN-accredited global energy body, published the 2013 edition of its Energy Sustainability Index, for which Hong Kong fared poorly. Cheung Chi-fai of the SCMP reports the response from Christine Loh, undersecretary for the environment in Hong Kong:

The environment undersecretary has defended Hong Kong following its downgrading in an energy index compiled by a United Nations-accredited body, saying the score does not fully take into account the city’s unique situation.

The annual World Energy Council index ranked Hong Kong 40th among 129 nations and regions, two places lower than last year, based on its ability to balance the “energy trilemma” of security, equity and environmental sustainability.

Hong Kong’s ranking was dragged down by concerns over the security of its energy supply – given its heavy reliance on fossil fuels – and its economic stability.

But Christine Loh Kung-wai said the compilers had failed to note that Hong Kong obtained nuclear power and gas from the nation it was part of, making its supply “very secure”. She also disputed the assessment of the local economy.


RSN: Atomic Energy – Unnecessary, Uneconomic, Uninsurable, Unevacuable and Unsafe

The ongoing disaster from the Fukushima nuclear plant, about to reach the 3-year mark in four months time, demonstrates the potential magnitude of devastation if a problematic nuclear plant, located just 30 miles from New York City and currently operating without a permit, was to suffer a similar mishap.

By Ralph Nader, Reader Supported News

It has been over two years since the earthquake and tsunami that brought about the nuclear reactor crisis in Fukushima — the largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986. The situation at the six plants is still grim. Four of the reactors are damaged. Hundreds of tons of contaminated groundwater are reportedly seeping into the ocean every day. Nearly 83,000 people were displaced from their homes in the approximately 310 square mile exclusion zones. On Wednesday October 9, an accident resulted in six workers being doused in radioactive water. Accidents and mishaps at the Fukushima site are regular occurrences. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has now asked the world community for help in containing the ongoing Fukushima disaster, as it continues to spiral out of control.

Earlier this week, I participated in a panel discussion in New York City called “The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident: Ongoing Lessons.” The event featured notable long-time experts on nuclear technology discussing the crisis in Fukushima and the current state of the heavily subsidized nuclear industry in the United States. The panel participants were former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Commissioner and later Chairman Peter Bradford, former NRC Chairman Dr. Gregory Jaczko, former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, and nuclear engineer, Arnie Gundersen.

Mr. Bradford presented a detailed power point that showed how competing forms of energy already are leading to the decline of the nuclear industry.

The panel discussed safety concerns regarding the Indian Point nuclear power plant located about 30 miles from New York City. Indian Point has long been rife with safety problems and its location near an earthquake fault is a source of great concern for many New York residents. You can view Tuesday’s event, in its entirety, here.

The Indian Point nuclear power plant is currently operating without a license after its previous license expired on 28 Sep 2013 (The Examiner News)

In the 1960s, The Atomic Energy Commission determined that a class-nine nuclear power plant accident could contaminate an area the size of Pennsylvania and render much of it uninhabitable. A nuclear disaster at Indian Point would threaten the entire population of New York City and its outlying metropolitan area. The continued existence and operation of Indian Point is like playing a game of Russian Roulette with the lives and homes of the nearly 20 million people who live within a 50 mile radius of the plant. Consider the difficulty New Yorkers have simply commuting to and from their workplaces during rush hour and imagine the horror of a mandatory evacuation due to a nuclear emergency at Indian Point. The NRDC estimates that a serious accident could, in addition to massive casualties, “cost ten to 100 times more than Fukushima’s disaster” which would be in the trillions of dollars.

Indian Point, located dangerously close to New York City itself. (Z Magazine)

If Indian Point were closed today, there is enough surplus energy capacity to last the state until 2020 as alternative energy sources are developed and deployed. Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for the shutdown of Indian Point, as did Hillary Clinton during her time in the Senate. A main reason is that an emergency evacuation of the population up to 50 miles around these two nukes is impossible.

So what’s the delay? Mainly resistance from the nuclear industry and a compliant regulatory agency. The NRC has faltered in its watchdog role by acting to protect and even bolster the dangerous, expensive and unnecessary nuclear industry. The industry’s last claim is that it avoids greenhouse gases. But as physicist Amory Lovins says, if the investment in nuclear plants was shifted to renewables and energy conservation, it will produce less demand and more environmentally benign BTUs by far, and with more jobs.

Anti-nuclear advocates have warned against potential dangers such as earthquakes for decades. Although a new nuclear power plant has not been ordered and built in the United States since 1974, there are currently 65 nuclear plants operating 100 reactors in the United States — many of them aging, many of them near earthquake faults, many of them still not in compliance with NRC fire prevention regulations, all of them significant national security risks. Under President Obama, the first two nuclear reactors since 1978, were authorized to be built at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in Georgia. (Panel participant Dr. Gregory Jaczko was the lone dissenter in the 4-1 NRC approval vote.)

To truly understand the cost of nuclear energy, one must consider the absurdity of the nuclear fuel cycle itself. It begins with uranium mines and their deadly tailings, then the fabrication and refinement of the fuel rods, the risky transport of these rods to the multi-shielded dome-like plant where they are installed, and then firing up the plant so it goes critical with a huge amount of radioactivity. Dealing with volatile nuclear reactions requires flawless operation. And then there is the storage and guarding of hot radioactive wastes and contaminated materials that persist for 250,000 years. No permanent site has been located and licensed for that lengthy containment.

What is the end purpose of this complex and expensive chain of events? Simply to boil water — to generate steam to turn turbines to produce electricity.

With all the technological advancements in energy efficiency, solar, wind and other renewable energy sources, surely there are better and more efficient ways to meet our electricity needs without burdening future generations with deadly waste products and risking the radioactive contamination of entire regions should anything go wrong.

It is telling that Wall Street, which rarely considers the consequences of gambling on a risk, will not finance the construction of a nuclear plant without a full loan guarantee from the U.S. government. Nuclear power is also uninsurable in the private insurance market. The Price-Anderson Act of 1957 requires taxpayers to cover almost all the cost if a meltdown should occur.

No other industry that produces electricity poses such a great national security risk should sabotage or malfunction occur. No other means of generating power can produce such long-lasting catastrophic damage and mayhem from one unpredictable accident. No other form of energy is so loaded with the silent violence of radioactivity.

Nuclear energy is unnecessary, uninsurable, uneconomic, unevacuable and most importantly, unsafe. The fact that it continues to exist at all is a result of a ferocious lobby, enlisting the autocratic power of government, that will not admit that its product is unfit for use in the modern world. Let us not allow the lessons of Fukushima to be ignored.

12 Oct 2013