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Tag archives: US energy

Littered with errors

By Michael Banks

Photograph of Swheat Scoop cat litter (CC-BY-SA Ryan Forsythe)Cat litter and radioactive waste – not a combination you would normally expect to come across (although some cat owners may disagree).

But a report by the US Department of Energy has squarely blamed kitty litter for the explosion of a single drum of nuclear waste – dubbed “68660” – that burst open at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico in February 2014.

A year-long investigation by a nine-member panel – led by David Wilson of the Savannah River National Laboratory – has concluded that the incident was caused by the use of the wrong brand of feline litter.

As cat litter is highly absorbent, for years it has been used to help keep nuclear waste contained. Indeed, each barrel of waste at the WIPP is filled with about 26 kg of the stuff.


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Burning the midnight gas

Satellite image showing dots of light from flared natural gas in North Dakota

The light from natural gas flares burning in North Dakota’s Bakken oil field can be seen from space. (Courtesy: NASA Earth Observatory)

By Margaret Harris in Chicago

The environmental risks of shale-gas production are real, but the things people worry about most aren’t necessarily the ones that cause the most damage. That was the message of this morning’s AAAS symposium on “Hydraulic Fracturing: Science, Technology, Myths and Challenges”, which featured talks on the social implications of hydraulic fracturing as well as the risks of water and air contamination.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, involves drilling a well and filling it with a high-pressure mixture of water and other chemicals. These high pressures cause nearby rock formations to fracture, releasing trapped oil and gas.  According to the first speaker, energy consultant David Alleman, fracking and horizontal drilling have “revolutionized the energy picture in the US”:  a few years ago, the country imported 60% of the oil it consumed, but today the figure is just 30%.


Posted in AAAS Annual Meeting 2014 | Tagged , , | 1 Comment | Permalink
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The designated survivor

By Michael Banks

Ernest Moniz

Ernest Moniz: the designated survivor.

It is not unusual for physicists to find themselves leading a country. Angela Merkel, who studied physics at the University of Leipzig from 1973 to 1978, has been Germany’s chancellor since 2005, while in 2010 Japan elected former physicist Naoto Kan as its prime minister – a position he held for just over a year.

Yet while the nuclear physicist and current US energy secretary Ernest Moniz may be 14th in the US presidential line of succession, if something really terrible had happened yesterday, he may have found himself leading the world’s biggest economy.

That is because he was appointed “designated survivor” while US president Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address.


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The joke’s on Chu

Steven Chu

Caught on camera. (Courtesy: The Onion)

By Michael Banks

With Steven Chu nearing towards his final days in office as US energy secretary we couldn’t help but highlight a recent spoof of the Nobel laureate in the satirical The Onion magazine.

The Onion may have recently duped China’s People’s Daily newspaper into thinking that North Korea’s leader had been voted the sexiest man alive in 2012, but the magazine failed to fool people that the spoof of Chu was true.


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Five of the best

By Margaret Harris at the APS March Meeting in Baltimore

With so many sessions taking place at the APS March Meeting, finding time to write about them is almost impossible. However, now that I’m waiting for my flight from Baltimore back to the UK, I’ve got all the time in the world – so here’s my list of five conference highlights.


Posted in APS March Meeting 2013 | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments | Permalink
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Has Steven Chu been a good US energy secretary?

By James Dacey

Photo of Steven Chu

Nobel laureate Steven Chu. (Courtesy: DOE)

The Nobel laureate Steven Chu has recently announced that he is to resign from the role of US energy secretary. He will step down from the post at the end of February having served throughout the entire four years of Barack Obama’s first presidential term. During his reign, Chu has received strong plaudits from many Democrats and environmentalists. Obama has credited Chu for increasing the nation’s use of renewable energy while reducing its dependence on oil imports.

Others, however, have been critical of Chu. He is accused of specific failures such as the initiatives that led to the downfall of Solyndra – a solar-cell manufacturer that went bankrupt after receiving $535m in Department of Energy loan guarantees. A more general criticism when Chu was appointed was that he had very little political experience to carry out such a critical role in the governance of the US.


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