Chernobyl

Berlin, Germany—For years, environmentalists in America have looked longingly to Germany. There, across the Atlantic, lay a small, cold, gray country whose solar energy production dwarfed big, sunny America’s, a nation that last year pledged to get 80 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by mid-century while Americans proved unable to agree on energy legislation even a fraction as ambitious.

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Core Curriculum

In the fall of 2008, EnergySolutions Foundation, the charitable arm of one of the world’s largest nuclear-waste processors, began approaching nuclear utilities with an offer. Guided by a team of science teachers and industry p.r. staffers, the organization had developed a trove of materials on nuclear power for use in sixth-through-twelfth-grade classes.

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Atomic Anxiety

It’s hardly a mystery why the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan is so horrifying—and so riveting. A country already savaged by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and 24-foot-high tsunamis is now facing the prospect of meltdowns at multiple reactors, with a handful of technicians risking their lives to avert further radiation leaks. But the crisis is attention-grabbing for another reason, too: The fear of nuclear disaster has long claimed a special hold on our collective psyche. Pro-nuclear advocates love to grumble that people are disproportionately, even irrationally, afraid of nuclear power.

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On the main site today, Steve LeVine has a good piece about how BP's handling of the Gulf spill has the entire oil industry panicked: Executives, not just at BP, but throughout the oil industry, are concerned that the disaster will have the effect of restricting or closing off their continued ability to drill in the Gulf, one of the few remaining places on the planet where oil producers are permitted a relatively free hand.

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Tanking Hard

Early on Monday, BP’s boyish CEO, Tony Hayward, sat in an open-collared white dress shirt and, rocking back and forth in a studio chair, submitted to a series of four network interviews about his company’s catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The questions from NBC, CBS, ABC, and the BBC differed slightly, but to all the anchors, Hayward delivered a similar line: “This is not our accident.” In other words, it's not BP's fault.

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Lots of people expect that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will spur Congress to pass some sort of new environmental regulations in the months ahead. After all, that's what happened after the Exxon Valdez disaster, the Three Mile Island nuclear scare, and so forth. But here's a twist: Matthew Kahn links to a 2007 paper he wrote on this subject, which finds that, while oil-spill-type disasters do force new regulations onto the legislative agenda, they don't make lawmakers any more likely to vote for them: Unexpected events such as environmental catastrophes capture wide public attention.

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Has any element on the periodic table gotten better press lately than thorium? (Okay, maybe lithium, what with all the fuss over electric-car batteries.) The December issue of Wired has a long feature by Richard Martin on why good old Th could be a miracle fuel for nuclear power. Here's why it beats uranium, for starters: Uranium is currently the actinide of choice for the [nuclear] industry, used (sometimes with a little plutonium) in 100 percent of the world’s commercial reactors. But it’s a problematic fuel.

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The Case for Fear

Overblown: How Politicians And The Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, And Why We Believe Them By John Mueller (Free Press, 259 pp., $25) What's Wrong With Terrorism? By Robert E. Goodin (Polity, 246 pp., $59.95) In 1995, the political scientist Aaron Wildavsky published a provocative book under the title But Is It True? Wildavsky's central claim was that many environmental risks are ridiculously exaggerated. In his view, governments often devote substantial resources to trivial or even nonexistent problems.

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The Child Monarch

President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime by Lou Cannon (Simon and Schuster, 948 pp., $24.95) An American Life by Ronald Reagan (Simon and Schuster, 748 pp., $24.95) I. Maybe the local time just seems slower because the current occupant of the White House is a hyperactive gland case. Anyhow, it's hard to believe that only a couple of years have passed since the Reagans went away. It was a touching moment, we now learn.

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Red Forest

Chernobyl – The workers here called it the Red forest, an ironic political joke and an accurate description. In the months after the explosion at Chernobyl hundreds of acres of pine trees surrounding the power plant reacted to the intense radiation that had showered the area by turning red and slowly dying. All of the trees have been removed now except for one surrounded by red flags. The Nazis to hang Soviet partisans during the war, so it is a shrine and scientists have tried to keep it alive. Nearby that tree workers in huge machines continue to cart away radioactive topsoil.

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