NUCLEAR PROJECT COULD SOLVE ENERGY WOES--SCIENTIST
By Patricia Reaney
LONDON (Reuters) - If scientists succeed in building an experimental nuclear
fusion reactor and making it work it could solve the world's energy problems
for the next 1,000 years or more, a leading scientist said on Tuesday.
After months of wrangling, France defeated a bid from Japan and signed a
deal to build the 10-billion-euro ($12 billion) experimental reactor at
Cadarache in the south of the country.
Ian Fells, of the Royal Academy of Engineering in Britain and an expert on
energy conversion, described the ITER (International Thermonuclear
Experimental Reactor) project backed by China, the EU, Japan, Russia,
South Korea and the United States as a huge physics experiment.
It is one which has enormous potential and could lead to the building of a
prototype power station in about 30 years time.
"If we can really make this work, there will be enough electricity to last
the world for the next 1,000 to 2,000 years. So it is really quite important
but quite difficult to do it," Fells said in an interview.
In terms of the scientific and engineering difficulty involved, he compared
it to landing a man on the moon.
"I give it a 50-50 chance of success but the engineering is very difficult,"
ITER would have an advantage over current nuclear reactors because it would
be cleaner. It would not rely on enriched uranium fuel and it would not
produce plutonium, which is a concern from a terrorism point of view.
"The technology of this is the science of the hydrogen bomb," Fells
said. "You take a couple of hydrogen atoms and you squeeze them together,
you fuse them together, and they turn into an atom of helium and produce a
great burp of energy."
"This is turning mass into energy as with Einstein's celebrated equation
E=MC2 (energy = mass times the speed of light squared)."
Scientists know it could work because they know the hydrogen bomb works. But
the problem they face is trying to do it in a controlled manner so the heat
can be used to generate electricity.
ITER seeks to mimic the way the sun produces energy, potentially providing
an inexhaustible source of low-cost energy using seawater as fuel.
The hydrogen atom used is deuterium which is a stable isotope of hydrogen.
"The oceans are absolutely stuffed full of it," said Fells.
Although ITER would be cleaner than current nuclear reactors it does pose
"In the course of the reaction it produces a lot of neutrons and they get
into the actual fabric of the machine and over years it becomes radioactive,
so there is still a problem of decommissioning," said Fells.
But he added that the potential for the technology, if it can be made to
work, is so great it is really worthwhile putting in a large effort to see
if it can succeed.
WIND TURBINES TAKING TOLL ON BIRDS OF PREY
By John Ritter, USA TODAY
The big turbines that stretch for miles along these rolling, grassy hills
have churned out clean, renewable electricity for two decades in one of the
nation's first big wind-power projects.
But for just as long, massive fiberglass blades on the more than 4,000
windmills have been chopping up tens of thousands of birds that fly into
them, including golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, burrowing owls and other
After years of study but little progress reducing bird kills,
environmentalists have sued to force turbine owners to take tough corrective
measures. The companies, at risk of federal prosecution, say they see the
need to protect birds. "Once we finally realized that this issue was really
serious, that we had to solve it to move forward, we got religion," says
George Hardie, president of G3 Energy.
The size of the annual body count - conservatively put at 4,700 birds - is
unique to this sprawling, 50-square-mile site in the Diablo Mountains
between San Francisco and the agricultural Central Valley because it spans
an international migratory bird route regulated by the federal government.
The low mountains are home to the world's highest density of nesting golden
Scientists don't know whether the kills reduce overall bird populations but
worry that turbines, added to other factors, could tip a species into
decline. "They didn't realize it at the time, but it was just a really bad
place to build a wind farm," says Grainger Hunt, an ecologist with the
Peregrine Fund who has studied eagles at Altamont.
Across the USA - from Cape Cod to the Southern California desert - new wind
projects, touted as emission-free options to oil- and gas-fueled power
plants, face resistance over wildlife, noise and vistas. The clashes come as
wind-energy demand is growing, in part because 17 states have passed laws
requiring that some of their future energy - 20% in California by 2010 -
come from renewable sources.
Environmental groups, fans in principle of "green" power, are caught in the
middle. "We've been really clear all along, we absolutely support wind
energy as long as facilities are appropriately sited," says Jeff Miller, Bay
Area wildlands coordinator for the Center for Biological Diversity, which
took 12 companies to court.
Wind energy is a tiny but fast-growing share of U.S. energy - 0.4%, up from
less than 0.1% five years ago. Since November, when Congress reinstated a
key tax credit for wind producers, the industry is poised to expand by as
much as a third this year, the American Wind Energy Association says.
In 2004, wind generated enough electricity to power 1.6 million households,
the association says. Altamont's turbines are the nation's No. 2 producer.
Few energy experts think environmental concerns will discourage wind
development long-term because the tradeoff is too appealing.
"When you opt for wind turbines, you don't opt for pollution that harms
children and crops from fossil-fuel power plants," says Dan Kammen, an
energy professor at the University of California-Berkeley.
But windmills - derisively dubbed by some "toilet brushes in the sky" - draw
fire when they're planned in areas prized for their pristine landscapes:
Cape Cod groups are fighting what they call visual pollution from 130
turbines, each taller than the Statue of Liberty, sought for Nantucket
Sound. Fishermen fear loss of prime fishing grounds from the USA's first
Rep. Nick Rahall (news, bio, voting record), D-W.Va., asked the Government
Accountability Office to study the effects more windmills would have in the
Appalachians. Research found that existing turbines killed up to 4,000 bats
on Backbone Mountain last year.
In the Flint Hills of Kansas, the Audubon Society worries that windmills
could despoil views in one of America's few remaining stands of native
tallgrass prairie and harm habitats of migrating prairie birds.
Acting Gov. Richard Codey last month ordered a 15-month wind-power
moratorium on the New Jersey shore, where the desire to preserve Atlantic
views has collided with plans for offshore turbines near Ocean City and
Altamont Pass bird kills have been known for years, but turbine owners and
federal regulators ignored them except to urge more research, says Miller of
the Center for Biological Diversity. But a California Energy Commission
study in August found bird fatalities much higher than had been thought and
laid out steps to limit them.
At the same time, 20-year-old county permits were up for renewal, and the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to crack down. "Twenty years has just
been too long to resolve this problem," says Scott Heard, the agency's chief
Northern California enforcement agent.
Fish and Wildlife can prosecute those responsible for kills under federal
laws that protect eagles and migratory birds.
The center's lawsuit was withdrawn but filed again in November because the
wind companies' bird-protection plan was "not a serious attempt," Miller
says. The center is appealing Alameda County's approval of new permits.
The state study's key recommendation would be costly for companies: replace
old turbines with fewer, larger-capacity modern ones, relocate them away
from favorite bird haunts and build them more than twice as high so blades
rotate above the birds' flight paths.
Environmentalists want 3-year permits that can be renewed only if companies
show progress. The companies, citing financial pressures, have proposed at
least 13-year permits and want their own timetable for installing new
Alameda County is trying to broker a deal. "We can't put them out of
business by telling them to take out all their old turbines," says assistant
planning director Steven Buckley.
Turbine owners say Altamont's 4,000-plus windmills are outdated and
eventually will be replaced by 1,000 or fewer new ones. G3 Energy, a small
Altamont operator, is replacing 180 obsolete turbines with 38 larger ones.
Others are more cautious. FPL Energy, Altamont's biggest operator with 2,000
turbines, wants the study's findings tested. "Certainly the turbine owners
hope fewer, taller turbines reduce collisions," says FPL spokesman Steve
Stengel. "But there has not been research done to verify that."
ARIZONA SCHOOLS TO GET SOLAR ENERGY SYSTEMS
Mon Dec 6,12:50 PM ET Science - AP
TUCSON, Ariz. - Six local schools will have solar energy systems installed
over the next year. The systems are expected to lower utility bills and
teach students about renewable energy.
Tucson Unified School District's Hohokam Middle School started using its new
system Wednesday. The 28 silver-colored solar panels sit on a canopy
covering the exterior walkway to the science wing.
"Many students don't know what solar panels look like, which is a travesty
given we live in an area where the sun shines year-round," said Hohokam
science teacher Ariana Wilder. "We can discuss directly how they'll benefit
us in the school."
The $30,000 systems installed and maintained by Tucson Electric Power are
expected to save the school about $60 a month in electricity costs.
The system was funded by TEP's Green Watts program, which allows ratepayers
to donate money toward solar facility construction in Tucson.
A similar solar setup has been installed at Civano School in Vail. Other
ones will be installed at Safford Middle School and Pueblo High School. In
downtown, Project More and the new Davidson Elementary School will also have
SMITHSONIAN TO OPEN SHUTTLE DISPLAY
By CANDACE SMITH, Associated Press Writer
CHANTILLY, Va. - The Smithsonian is about to take the wraps off a new hangar
where visitors can get close to a space shuttle.
Come Nov. 1, visitors to the National Air and Space Museum's northern
Virginia branch will be able to see the space shuttle Enterprise, the
museum's second-largest artifact after the Concorde. Curators added more
than 600 other space finds to the new wing, including rockets, satellites
and 1960s space capsules used by astronauts.
"I get excited about this because to me it shows that if you really put your
mind to something you can accomplish things that seem to be outrageous."
Paul E. Ceruzzi, space history curator, said at a media preview of the
Since opening in December, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center some 25 miles
west of Washington, D.C. has attracted 1.6 million visitors. The exhibits
include the Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. But they
couldn't walk through the 53,000 square foot hangar because workers were
scrubbing the grimy shuttle that had been in storage for nearly two decades.
"If you leave something in your garage for 17 years, it's not going to look
that great when you go and pick it up, so it took a lot of cleaning, a lot
of elbow grease," said Gen. John R. Dailey, museum director.
The Enterprise flew five missions but never into space. It was used to test
ideas and designs during the development of NASA (news - web sites)'s
"This is the closest you can ever get to a real space shuttle, and you can
see it from every angle," said Valerie Neal, space shuttle curator, standing
next to the 112 foot long spacecraft.
But visitors cannot go inside the shuttle, which NASA stripped clean. The
space agency also borrowed the front wing panels and the hardware that holds
them for its investigation into the disintegration of space shuttle Columbia
on Feb. 1, 2003 that killed the seven astronauts.
Workers moved about 50 space artifacts already on display into the new wing,
and unpacked hundreds of others that had been sitting in storage for
Among the other items displayed is Gemini VII, where in 1965, astronauts
Frank Borman and James Lovell spent 14 days in space. Lovell later commanded
Apollo 13, and was portrayed by Tom Hanks in the 1995 movie "Apollo 13,"
about the near-fatal mission to the moon. There are also lunar overshoes
worn by astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American to journey into space.
The Smithsonian is trying to raise $83 million to build a restoration
hangar, archives and storage facilities.
On the Net:
National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center:
PREDICTING AN ERUPTION INVOLVES GUESSWORK
By JOSEPH B. VERRENGIA, AP Science Writer
Mount St. Helens' convulsions over the past week have demonstrated all too
clearly that the inner workings of a seething volcano, hidden under miles of
rock, remain one of nature's stubborn secrets.
The volcano is wired up with sensors like a patient on an operating table.
But even with all the high technology, geologists are still like medieval
soothsayers, listening to the mountain's rumbling symptoms and observing its
cloudy coughs with only a vague sense of what is going on inside.
The imprecise nature of the science and the difficulty in predicting an
eruption with any kind of accuracy have been evident since the mountain
began belching steam last Friday.
For nearly a week, geologists were warning of an "imminent eruption" that
could endanger lives and property. But on Wednesday, they lowered their
volcano alert notch, saying the blast will probably come later rather than
sooner or maybe not at all.
"No one is predicting it as a sure thing," said Bill Steele, seismology lab
coordinator at the University of Washington.
With its steep flanks and snow-ringed crater, Mount St. Helens's classic
cone has been built up and demolished with successive eruptions of basalt,
ash and lava for the past 40,000 years. The catastrophic 1980 blast that
killed 57 people was its first eruption since sporadic activity in the 19th
Volcanoes can be traced to weak spots where plates of the Earth's patchwork
crust bump and grind. West of Mount St. Helens, the Juan de Fuca plate is
sliding southeast and underneath the North America continental plate.
As one plate dives beneath the edge of another, the friction and pressure
melt rock along these crumbly edges, called subduction zones. The sticky,
gassy molten material gets superheated to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit and tries
to shoot up through cracks in the crust.
Tremendous internal pressures mount inside the volcano's throat, which is
often plugged with debris. The pent-up pressure is suddenly released like a
champagne cork popping.
Scientists are using several technologies to indirectly measure what is
happening inside Mount St. Helens.
Mount St. Helens is surrounded by at least eight seismometers four on its
flanks and four clustered near its cratered summit. These instruments belong
to a network of hundreds of seismometers located throughout the Pacific
Most measure the simple up-and-down movement of the Earth's crust. But some
of them also monitor the back-and forth movements where the crustal plates
During the 1980 blast, swarms of larger earthquakes extended 12 miles deep.
This week, earthquakes are reaching only about two miles deep.
"This makes us think the magma is moving now," said geologist Jake
Lowenstern of the U.S. Geological Survey. "It's a very slow process inching
its way up to the surface."
Researchers are also briefly visiting the crater by helicopter to attach
Global Positioning System instruments to map growth of the lava dome. This
week, the dome has risen by at least 150 feet, mostly on its south end.
At least twice daily, scientists fly over the volcano in helicopters and
In addition, infrared sensors measure and map heat rising from the volcano.
A day before the first steam blasts last week, a NASA airplane flew over the
volcano at least eight times and saw signs of rising temperatures.
Other airborne sensors capture the volcano's hisses.
Increasingly, Mount St. Helens has been belching superheated water vapor,
carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, among other volatile
But scientists are not certain what to make of the gas readings.
On the one hand, very rapid venting of hot gases is what causes eruptions.
On the other hand, "if the mountain is able to release gas (slowly), the
magma has less explosive power," Lowenstern said.
Back on the ground, researchers are collecting ash spewed from the volcano's
vent. It is made of pulverized rock and natural glass formed by the intense
heat and pressure.
Under a microscope, the exact composition of the ash its chemistry,
crystal structure and other characteristics suggests whether the mountain
might be heating up or cooling down.