A new study puts as positive spin as you’re likely to see on the nuclear industry’s future.  Nuclear power’s problems don’t come from Jane Fonda, or  hippies carrying signs. They’ve been baked in from the beginning, with unrealistic expectations, poor technology choices, and over eager promotion.


Nuclear power can play a modest, but important, role in avoiding catastrophic global warming — if it can solve its various problems including high construction cost without sacrificing safety.

That is the conclusion of a comprehensive 2015 “Technology Roadmap” from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA). It is also what I’ve been arguing on Climate Progress for a long, long time.

Because it is a low-carbon source of around-the-clock (baseload) power, a number of scientists and others have called for a reexamination of nuclear policy. The Chinese in particular have been building nuclear power plants at a steady pace. Yet very few new plants have been ordered and built in the past two decades in countries with market economies, such as the United States, which derives a fifth of its power from nuclear. That is primarily because new nuclear plants are so costly, but also because dealing with the radioactive nuclear waste remains problematic and the costs of an accident are so enormous.

In particular, the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan slowed the rate of new plant construction starts. In 2014 there were only three new plants put under construction.

I’ve posted before on the continuing problems at Georgia’s Vogtle nuclear facility, the first newly licensed plant to be built in the country in decades. It was a no brainer to predict that cost overruns and construction delays would continue – that’s been industry standard from the beginning – and indeed, that pattern continues.

Associated  Press:

Regulators say there’s a “high probability” a nuclear plant under construction in Georgia will be delayed even longer than the three years already announced by its owners, according to an analysis obtained by The Associated Press.

Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power and its co-owners are building two more nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle in eastern Georgia. A project using the same reactor design, Westinghouse Electric Co.’s AP1000, is underway at the Summer nuclear station in South Carolina, which has seen similar delays.

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Apparently the climate-denying Heartland Institute effort to change the Pope’s mind on climate change did not work.

However, you can expect that sound bite to be turned on them by the Rush Limbaugh “enviros-are-watermelons” crowd.

If I was advising the Vatican on messaging,  I’d say – you can be just as tough in your language as you wish, by all means, use the words “greedy”, “sociopathic”, “lying”, “criminals”. But if you put the word “capitalism” in there, – even if you’re technically correct – a portion of your target audience will turn it off.

Just sayin’.


Pope Francis’ closest cardinal advisor on Tuesday blasted “movements in the United States” hostile to the pontiff’s forthcoming document on the environment, claiming the criticism is fueled by a form of capitalism protecting its own interests.

“The ideology surrounding environmental issues is too tied to a capitalism that doesn’t want to stop ruining the environment because they don’t want to give up their profits,” said Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga.

Rodríguez is the coordinator of a group of nine cardinals that serves as Pope Francis’ informal cabinet.

He said both the church and the wider world are awaiting Francis’ ecological manifesto, known as an encyclical letter, “with hope,” especially in tandem with a U.N.-sponsored agreement on Sustainable Development Goals and a U.N. summit on climate change in Paris later this year.

Rodríguez spoke at a press conference in Rome to mark the beginning of a general assembly of Caritas Internationalis, a global federation of Catholic charitable groups.

“I have already heard criticism over the encyclical,” Rodríguez said at a news conference, referring to reaction in the United States. He called it “absurd” to reject a document that hasn’t even been published yet.

Trying to make lemonade here. Work with me.

Washington Post:

“Wheat is one of the main staple crops in the world and provides 20% of daily protein and calories,” notes the Wheat Initiative, a project launched by G20 agricultural ministers. “With a world population of 9 billion in 2050, wheat demand is expected to increase by 60%. To meet the demand, annual wheat yield increases must grow from the current level of below 1% to at least 1.6%.”

That’s why the punchline of a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is pretty troubling. A warming climate, it suggests, could drive wheat yields in the opposite direction – down — in the United States and, possibly, elsewhere.

“The net effect of warming on yields is negative,” write Jesse Tack of the agricultural economics department of Mississippi State University and two colleagues, “even after accounting for the benefits of reduced exposure to freezing temperatures.”

That’s no small matter, the study notes, in that wheat is “the largest source of vegetable protein in low-income countries.”

The study compared results from nearly 30 years of winter wheat trials across Kansas — a state that produced $2.8 billion worth of wheat crop in 2013 — with data on weather and precipitation. Winter wheat grows from September to May and faces two major temperature-related threats during this cycle — extreme winter cold, and extreme spring heat.

Global warming ought to cut down on the freezing temperatures, but also amp up really hot ones. The study found, however, that on balance, the effect is more negative than positive, with a roughly 15 percent decline in wheat yields under a 2 degrees Celsius warming scenario, rising to around 40 percent with 4 degrees (C) of warming.

And while you’re at it, knock off the caffeine.


In a future in which humans make only modest progress to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the world’s total land area with climates suitable for coffee growing falls by 50%, the scientists report online this month in Climatic Change.

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Above, Cyclone Noul from Space.

Bob Henson in WeatherUnderground:

After making landfall at 6:15 am EDT Sunday on the coast of South Carolina just south of the North Carolina border as the strongest tropical storm ever recorded to hit the U.S. so early in the year, Tropical Storm Ana dissipated on Sunday evening over North Carolina. The storm brought a number of wind gusts of 50 – 60 mph to the coast, but no significant flooding or damage was reported. Before Ana, only six tropical cyclones tracked over the Gulf Coast or East Coast before June 1. Ana was the earliest. (Tropical cyclones include tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes.)

Jeff Masters recently reminded me that “Hurricanes are like bananas, they come in bunches”.
We haven’t seen a bunch in a while, but history tells us they are coming.

Orlando Sentinel:

The last time a hurricane barreled into Florida — Wilma in late 2005 — a Bush was governor and space shuttles could still fly into orbit.

It’s somewhat rare to go so long without a cyclone, and experts fear Floridians are catching “hurricane amnesia.”

Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will present research that ties climate change to fewer small or average-sized storms and an uptick in the number of the most powerful storms.

“The very high intensity events should go up in number and that’s important because a disproportionate amount of damage is done by these high category storms even though they are relatively rare,” Emanuel said.

“The Andrews, Katrinas and Hugos do a whole lot more damage than all the weak storms put together,” he said.

Emanuel’s research also points to a likelihood that hurricanes are going to rain a lot more in the future — a worry because of the flooding and deaths that can result.

University of Georgia professor Marshall Shepherd, past president of the American Metrological Society and host of the Weather Channel’s “WxGeeks” show, will moderate the climate-change discussion to include an emerging concern that lesser hurricanes may not smash cities but still pose a serious threat.

“One of the things that people are missing when we talk about hurricanes is that it doesn’t take an Andrew, it doesn’t take a Katrina, it doesn’t take a big category 4 or 5 storm to cause havoc,” Shepherd said.

“When we have a category 1 or 2 or 3 storm, or even a tropical storm, they can still be hazardous because we are seeing so much sea-level rise and even nuisance flooding in South Florida on a regular basis,” he said.

Higher sea levels can contribute to higher storm surges, threatening more people and property.

Below, my interview with Dr. Emanuel following Hurricane Sandy.

Above, my video from a year ago on accelerating mass loss in West Antarctica.  Below, evidence that that melt is showing up in sea level rise.

Washington Post:

The new research published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that the rate of sea-level rise appears to have accelerated over the past 15 years, a period in which scientists elsewhere documented a surprisingly rapidly retreat of some of Earth’s great ice masses, from Greenland to West Antarctica.

The findings appear to contradict earlier studies suggesting that the rate of sea-level rise had actually slowed slightly in recent years.

Australian scientists detected the increase in a study that analyzed decades of records from tidal gauges around the world, together with satellite data that show changes in water levels as well as subtle shifts in land formations.

Using these more precise measurements, the researchers discovered that scientists had slightly overstated sea-level rise that occurred in the 1990s, and underestimated the rate of increase since 1999, said Christopher Watson, a University of Tasmania geodesist who co-authored the study along with colleagues from the university and from Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.


In the past, researchers have used tide gauges to keep tabs on the performance of satellite altimeters, which use radar to measure the height of the sea surface. The comparison allowed them to sniff out and cope with any issues that cropped up with the satellite sensors. Tide gauges themselves are not immune to problems, however; the land on which they rest can shift during earthquakes, or subside because of groundwater withdrawal or sediment settling. These processes can produce apparent changes in sea level that have nothing to do with the oceans.

So Watson’s team tried to correct for the rise and fall of tide gauge sites by using nearby global positioning satellite (GPS) stations, which measure land motions. If no GPS stations were present, they used computer models to estimate known changes, such as how some regions continue to rebound from the last glaciation, when heavy ice sheets caused land to sink. Read the rest of this entry »

Ed Schultz produced a very well done, aggressive series on climate and sea level rise last week. Here’s part of it – recommended.

Associated Press:

America’s oldest city is slowly drowning.

St. Augustine’s centuries-old Spanish fortress sits feet from the encroaching Atlantic, whose waters already flood the city’s narrow streets about 10 times a year — a problem worsening as sea levels rise. The city relies on tourism, but visitors might someday have to wear waders at high tide.

“If you want to benefit from the fact we’ve been here for 450 years, you have the responsibility to look forward to the next 450,” said Bill Hamilton, whose family has lived in the city since the 1950s. “Is St. Augustine even going to be here? We owe it to the people coming after us to leave the city in good shape.”

St. Augustine is one of many chronically flooded communities along Florida’s coast, and officials in these diverse places share a concern: They’re afraid their buildings and economies will be further inundated by rising seas in just a couple of decades. The effects are a daily reality in much of Florida. Drinking water wells are fouled by seawater. Higher tides and storm surges make for more frequent road flooding from Jacksonville to Key West, and they’re overburdening aging flood-control systems.

But the state has yet to offer a clear plan or coordination to address what local officials across Florida’s coast see as a slow-moving emergency. Republican Gov. Rick Scott is skeptical of man-made climate change and has put aside the task of preparing for sea level rise, an Associated Press review of thousands of emails and documents pertaining to the state’s preparations for rising seas found.

Below, my recent video on Florida Sea Level rise.

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coalwaterArgus Media:

The coal mining sector was hit with another blow yesterday when one of the largest global banks, Bank of America, committed to curb lending to global coal mining companies.

Bank of America has been reducing its credit exposure to coal extraction companies over several years but said it will apply the policy going forward, according to an updated coal policy discussed at the company’s annual shareholder meeting yesterday. The policy was released on the company’s website late last week.

“This commitment applies globally, to companies focused on coal extraction and to divisions of diversified mining companies that are focused on coal,” the policy says.

The company said the policy fits into its corporate social responsibility strategy to conduct business while limiting impact to the environment and surrounding communities. Its policy still permits funding for advanced technologies such as fossil fuel plants with carbon, capture and storage technology.

The policy adds to a global trend to limit the financing of carbon-intensive sectors because of concerns from the investment community about perceived risks.

E&E Reporter:

Employment in the nation’s energy sector is undergoing a major transformation, with double-digit percentage declines in jobs associated with coal-fired power generation and equally strong gains in the natural gas, solar and wind power sectors, according to new findings from Duke University.

Scholars at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, using an economic input-output model, estimated that the coal industry lost more than 49,000 jobs between 2008 and 2012, or 12 percent of its base, while the gas, solar and wind industries gained nearly 175,000 jobs, a 21 percent jump.

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solarflareSolar exploding above the already blistering pace of development.  Tesla’s new Powerwall energy storage device is just one indicator.


Solar plants keep getting bigger: The new Topaz Solar Farm, in a remote part of southern California, sprawls over an area about a third of the size of Manhattan. In February, another solar farm of roughly the same size—with 9 million solar panels—opened in the Mojave Desert. Later this year, an even larger project will open in Antelope Valley.

Together, the three new projects will provide enough power for over half a million homes. But there’s a downside: They’re all in former open spaces that once provided habitat for wildlife, and because they’re in remote areas, some of the energy they produce gets lost along the way to consumers. A new study in Nature Climate Change says that plants like these actually aren’t necessary: We can get more than enough solar power by building in cities instead.

The study looks at California, because the state is aggressively increasing renewable energy, and finds that by using land that’s already developed, like rooftops and parking lots, solar power could provide the state with three to five times as much energy as it uses.


On Tesla’s quarterly earnings call, CEO Elon Musk announced “crazy off the hook” demand for its just-announced Powerwall battery product. He said over 38,000 reservations have been received, which should take up the expected production through mid-2016, and demand is high enough to account for all of the Gigafactory’s production if they devoted it just to stationary batteries. That includes some 2,500 companies that are interested in the commercial-ready Powerpack (with orders averaging around 10 units each), and Musk said he estimates that commercial interest in Tesla Energy will account for 5-10 more megawatt hours than residential.


The numbers are impressive. In the first few days of reservations since the battery announcement on April 30, Tesla took orders worth roughly $800 million in potential revenue, according to figures compiled by Bloomberg Business.

There’s also no way for Tesla to keep up with the level of demand reflected by the early reservations. The company is sold out of storage batteries until mid-2016. Musk claimed the production of storage batteries alone could “easily” take up the entire capacity of Tesla’s $5 billion factory in Nevada, which is scheduled to open next year. The massive facility was originally slated to devote about two-thirds of its output to electric-vehicle batteries.  “We should try to make the factory bigger,” Musk said.

As for profit, Tesla is probably making very little from early battery sales. Musk said the gross margins will initially be “low” but will rise to “somewhere around 20 percent” after production ramps up at the new factory.

And more good news from over the pond.


Engineers in the Netherlands say a novel solar road surface that generates electricity and can be driven over has proved more successful than expected.

Last year they built a 70-metre test track along a bike path near the Dutch town of Krommenie on the outskirts of Amsterdam.

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The past week’s wild weather over the Midwest was instructive about the effects of climate change on “normal” badness.

Eric Holthaus in Slate:

For the first time ever, the National Weather Service issued a “flash flood emergency” for Oklahoma City as the city racked up more than 7 inches of rain—nearly tripling the previous record for the date. At one point, more than 3 inches of rain fell in a single hour.

According to local reports, a woman drowned in a tornado shelter at her southeast Oklahoma City home Wednesday night, a tragic and heartbreaking consequence of the record-breaking rainfall. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of such a death in a tornado shelter—though several children also drowned at a nearby elementary school in 2013 while seeking shelter from a large tornado.

Local police also dispatched dive teams to rescue stranded motorists and responded to a report of a man trapped in a floating mobile home. Roads were washed away. There were also accounts of tornado shelters erupting out of the ground due to the heavy rain:


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