America’s Nuclear Nightmare
The U.S. has 31 reactors just like Japan’s — but regulators are ignoring the risks and boosting industry profits
Five days after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, triggering the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, America's leading nuclear regulator came before Congress bearing good news: Don't worry, it can't happen here. In the aftermath of the Japanese catastrophe, officials in Germany moved swiftly to shut down old plants for inspection, and China put licensing of new plants on hold. But Gregory Jaczko, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, reassured lawmakers that nothing at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors warranted any immediate changes at U.S. nuclear plants. Indeed, 10 days after the earthquake in Japan, the NRC extended the license of the 40-year-old Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor — a virtual twin of Fukushima — for another two decades. The license renewal was granted even though the reactor's cooling tower had literally fallen down, and the plant had repeatedly leaked radioactive fluid.
By Mark Brown, Wired UK
Speaking at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in California, MIT professor Daniel Nocera claims to have created an artificial leaf, made from stable and inexpensive materials, which mimics nature's photosynthesis process.
The device is an advanced solar cell, no bigger than a typical playing card, which is left floating in a pool of water. Then, much like a natural leaf, it uses sunlight to split the water into its two core components, oxygen and hydrogen, which are stored in a fuel cell to be used when producing electricity.
Nocera's leaf is stable -- operating continuously for at least 45 hours without a drop in activity in preliminary tests -- and made of widely available, inexpensive materials -- like silicon, electronics and chemical catalysts. It's also powerful, as much as ten times more efficient at carrying out photosynthesis than a natural leaf.
With a single gallon of water, Nocera says, the chip could produce enough electricity to power a house in a developing country for an entire day. Provide every house on the planet with an artificial leaf and we could satisfy our 14 terrawatt need with just one gallon of water a day.
Those are impressive claims, but they're also not just pie-in-the-sky, conceptual thoughts. Nocera has already signed a contract with a global megafirm to commercialise his groundbreaking idea. The mammoth Indian conglomerate, Tata Group has forged a deal with the MIT professor to build a small power plant, the size of a refrigerator, in about a year and a half.
This isn't the first ever artificial leaf, of course. The concept of emulating nature's energy-generating process has been around for decades and many scientists have tried to create leaves in that time. The first, built more than ten years ago by John Turner of the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, was efficient at faking photosynthesis but was made of rare and hugely expensive materials. It was also highly unstable, and had a lifespan of barely one day.
For now, Nocera is setting his sights on developing countries. "Our goal is to make each home its own power station," he said. "One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology."
Report: U.S. falls behind China, Germany in clean energy
The United States slipped one spot to third place in clean-energy investment last year despite President Obama's push to promote non-p0lluting sources of power, says a report Tuesday.
Until 2008, the U.S. had held the top spot, but it has since been eclipsed by China, which ranks no. 1, and Germany, which has taken over the no. 2 spot, according to the report "Who's Winning the Clean Energy Race" by the Pew Charitable Trusts, an independent, nonprofit group.
"The United States' position as a leading destination for clean energy investment is declining because its policy framework is weak and uncertain," Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew's Clean Energy Program, said in announcing the findings. She warns the U.S. could fall further behind as competitors adopt renewable energy standard and incentives for investing in solar, wind and other forms of clean energy.