Daniel Nocera of MIT and his team announced this week the latest development in their quest for the holy grail of solar energy.

PC World has it:

A research team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) led by Dr. Daniel Nocera, Ph.D., claims to have made a drastic discovery in the world of sustainable energy by developing the first “practical” artificial leaf. These leaves are actually advanced solar cells that mimic photosynthesis, the process by which their real-life counterparts convert sunlight and water into energy. According Nocera, the leaves, although small in size, “”could produce enough electricity to supply a house in a developing country with electricity for a day.”

The team introduced their creation this past weekend at the 241st National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, California, but the concept of an artificial leaf is not entirely new. In fact, John Turner of the U.S. Renewable Energy Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado created the first artificial leaf about a decade ago. However, the biggest drawback of Turner’s leaf was that it required rare, expensive metals. Moreover, it was highly unstable, with a lifespan of about one day.

Nocera’s leaf, on the other hand, is about the size of a poker playing card and fashioned from “inexpensive materials that are widely available”, such as silicon, nickel, cobalt, and some electronics. It’ll also require about a gallon of water in the process. Nocera says that the leaf is able to work under “simple conditions” and is highly stable. In laboratory research, he showed that his team’s leaf worked continuously for “at least 45 hours” without a drop in activity.

“Nature is powered by photosynthesis, and I think that the future world will be powered by photosynthesis as well in the form of this artificial leaf,” said Nocera

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Plutonium

BBC story:

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has said his government is in a state of maximum alert over the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

Plutonium has been detected in soil at the facility and highly radioactive water has leaked from a reactor building.

Officials say the priority remains injecting water to cool the fuel rods.

Mr Kan told parliament the situation at the quake-hit plant “continues to be unpredictable”.

The government “will tackle the problem while in a state of maximum alert”, he said, adding that he was seeking advice on whether to extend the evacuation zone around the plant.

Meanwhile National Strategy Minister Koichiro Gemba said the government could consider temporarily nationalising Tepco, the company running the plant.

The terrible dilemma is that the reactors must be continuously flooded with water to avoid much worse melting – yet that water is what is carrying radioactive materials outside the plant, into steam, and groundwater. Plutonium has now been discovered outside the plant boundary.

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Biogas in Vietnam

March 29, 2011

This is human scale technology. Simple, elegant, inexpensive, and applicable throughout the third world, and in agricultural regions here in the first world.

Oh, I forgot, –  carbon mitigation was going to make the third world miserable … got to keep the talking points straight…..

In this interview from Saturday, Candy Crowley makes one mistake, quoting a report, current as of when she stated it, that radiation on site was “10 million times” above normal. That erroneous number has since been lowered to a mere 100,000 times normal.

The rest of the interview is still current, and with todays news, maybe even more urgent.

From Bloomberg:

Radiation levels that can prove fatal were detected outside reactor buildings at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant for the first time, complicating efforts to contain the worst disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Water in an underground trench outside the No. 2 reactor had levels exceeding 1 sievert an hour, a spokesman for plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. told reporters in the capital yesterday. Exposure to that dose for 30 minutes would trigger nausea and four hours might lead to death within two months, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


“There’s not much good news right now,” said Gennady Pshakin, a former IAEA official based in Obninsk, the site ofRussia’s first nuclear power plant. “There’re questions arising on how much fuel will leak out, what isotopes will be carried and how quickly they will settle. It’s becoming less predictable.”

TEPCO is now, apparently, admitting that there may be core breaches at 3 of the afflicted reactors.

This and more important items, especially if you know anyone in China or Korea, below the fold…

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Japan’s location on the Pacific ring of fire obviously carries risks, as we’ve seen. But there’s a blessing as well, which may point the way for clean, reliable power in the future.

Reuters:

Japan is sitting on enough untapped geothermal power to replace all its planned nuclear stations over the next decade.

But, battling to control its crippled Fukushima nuclear complex, and planning to build 13 more nuclear power stations, Japan has no plans to harness its estimated 23.5 gigawatts (GW) in geothermal potential — other than to develop hot springs.

Geothermal energy, which in Asia struggles under limited government and funding support, is likely to attract interest as investors rethink the outlook for nuclear power following the crisis at Fukushima.

Straddled along the Pacific Ring of Fire, an arc of seismic activity, Asia’s geothermal reservoirs are among the world’s largest. Indonesia alone holds 40 percent of the world’s total reserves, but less than 4 percent is being developed, leaving the sector wide open for growth.

The article points out that the cost of geothermal is high.  But when the costs of the current accident are finally tallied, it might look better than more nuclear investment.

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New Scientist has the article (sub required and well worth it)

There is no doubt that temperatures are rising, and basic physics suggests that warmer means wetter, because warmer air can hold more moisture.Observations confirm that the lower atmosphere holds about 5 per cent more water than a century ago, giving it that much more ammunition to unleash in a downpour or blizzard.

So does this explain the recent floods? “I don’t think it is legitimate to assume that climate change played a role in these events until we’ve done the work,” says Myles Allen of the University of Oxford. There are many types of floods, he says, and while climate change is making some extreme events more likely, others – such as floods caused by melting snow – may become less likely.

Others think we can say more. “The pervasive increase in water vapour changes the intensity of precipitation events with no doubt whatsoever,” Kevin Trenberth of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research told a meeting in January. “Yes, all events. Even if temperatures or sea surface temperatures are below normal, they are still higher than they would have been, and so too is the atmospheric water vapour amount and thus the moisture available for storms.”

New Aerial footage from the Japan Self Defense Force, taken Sunday, March 27.

There are a number of  disconcerting images here, including

• vapor continues to be emitted from several of the reactors

• much closer view of the extensive damage to the buildings where explosions have occurred.

• at reactor number 3, the crain used to transport nuclear fuel assemblies appears to have collapsed into the nuclear fuel pool, making fuel rod damage almost certain.

•  at 2:20 in the video, we are shown what appears to be the “lid” of the containment vessel in the number 4 reactor, lying on its side in a pile of debris.

Engineers, weigh in.

More footage, with Japanese narration, below the jump

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When your geiger counter needle nails to the top of the scale, it’s time to pull back.

NYTimes reports:

The concerns began when a worker attempting to measure radiation levels of the water puddles there saw the reading on his dosimeter jump beyond 1,000 millisieverts, the highest reading. The worker left the scene immediately, said Takeo Iwamoto, a spokesman for the Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima plant.

Michiaki Furukawa, a nuclear chemist and board member of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, a Tokyo-based watchdog group, said exposure to 1,000 millisieverts an hour of radiation would induce nausea and vomiting, while levels between 3,000 to 5,000 millisieverts an hour could be lethal.

Such high amounts of radiation would clearly make continued recovery work near the reactor very difficult and could hobble attempts to bring the nuclear crisis under control. Tetsuo Iguchi, a professor in the department of quantum engineering at Nagoya University, said that at the sharply elevated levels of radiation, workers would be able to remain on site for only about 15 minutes before health considerations required them to leave.

The Japanese government’s top spokesman, Yukio Edano, told an afternoon press briefing Sunday that it appeared the radioactive puddles had developed when the No. 2 unit’s fuel rods were exposed to air, but that “we don’t at this time believe they are melting. We’re confident that we are able to keep them cool.”

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The one thing that could destroy civilization more quickly than global environmental disaster, would be a global nuclear conflict. So, I would argue, one of the most important and legitimate functions of government would be that department, and those people, whose job it is to track down, neutralize and destroy loose fissionable materials or weapons.

So guess what the mad haters of the Tea Party  want to do with it?

Rachel Maddow reports.

Kyodo News has this:

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Friday it has begun injecting freshwater into the No. 1 and No. 3 reactor cores at the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to enhance cooling efficiency, but highly radioactive water was later found leaking near all four troubled reactor units at the plant.

A day after three workers were exposed to water containing radioactive materials 10,000 times the normal level at the turbine building connected to the No. 3 reactor building, a water pool with similarly highly concentrated radioactive materials was found in the No. 1 reactor’s turbine building, causing some restoration work to be suspended, it said.

Pools of water that may have seeped from either the reactor cores or spent fuel pools were also found in the turbine buildings of the No. 2 and No. 4 reactors, measuring up to 1 meter and 80 centimeters deep, respectively, while those near the No. 1 and No. 3 reactors were up to 40 cm and 1.5 meters deep.

The latest development in Japan’s worst nuclear crisis raises the risk of more workers being exposed to radioactive substances, hindering their efforts to restore the plant’s crippled cooling functions that are key to overcoming the crisis.

Freshwater is being injected to prevent crystallized salt from seawater already injected forming a crust on the fuel rods and hampering smooth water circulation, thus diminishing the cooling effect, the utility known as TEPCO said, adding it is preparing to inject freshwater into the No. 2 reactor core as well on Saturday.

and in an ironically sad distillation of the overall tone of crisis communication so far..the article notes, “the high-level radiation is suspected to have come from the reactor…”.

In another report, Kyodo News said:

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