Archive for September, 2010

Shale Drilling Contaminates Water

Oil and gas are finite resources?  True.  But so is water.  Oil and gas are the source of all life on Earth?  Nope.  Water is more important.  Careful when you start drilling into a shale.  As these residents found out, the result of the drilling is that the methane in their driking water is so high, they can light their water on fire.  Doesn’t that sound good for society? 

Let’s take a closer look at the Marcellus Shale before we start tearing up the Barnett Shale.  Maybe we’re not quite advanced enough to drill this yet.  Maybe we should focus some energy on nuclear fusion and maybe we’d be able to stop drilling.

Fusion Energy as Alternative Energy
Large-scale reactors using neutronic fuels (e.g.
ITER) and thermal power production (turbine based) are most comparable to fission power from an engineering and economics viewpoint. Both fission and fusion power plants involve a relatively compact heat source powering a conventional steam turbine-based power plant, while producing enough neutron radiation to make activation of the plant materials problematic. The main distinction is that fusion power produces no high-level radioactive waste (though activated plant materials still need to be disposed of). There are some power plant ideas which may significantly lower the cost or size of such plants; however, research in these areas is nowhere near as advanced as in tokamaks.

Fusion power commonly proposes the use of deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen, as fuel and in many current designs also use lithium. Assuming a fusion energy output equal to the 1995 global power output of about 100 EJ/yr (= 1 x 1020 J/yr) and that this does not increase in the future, then the known current lithium reserves would last 3000 years, lithium from sea water would last 60 million years, and a more complicated fusion process using only deuterium from sea water would have fuel for 150 billion years.[12] To put this in context, 150 billion years is over ten times the currently measured age of the universe, and is close to 30 times the remaining lifespan of the sun.[13]

Despite being technically non-renewable, fusion power has many of the benefits of long-term renewable energy sources (such as being a sustainable energy supply compared to presently utilized sources and emitting no greenhouse gases). Like these currently dominant alternative energy sources, fusion could provide very high power-generation density and uninterrupted power delivery (due to the fact that it is not dependent on the weather, unlike wind and solar power).

There is no possibility of a catastrophic accident in a fusion reactor resulting in major release of radioactivity to the environment or injury to non-staff, unlike modern fission reactors. The primary reason is that nuclear fusion requires precisely controlled temperature, pressure, and magnetic field parameters to generate net energy. If the reactor were damaged, these parameters would be disrupted and the heat generation in the reactor would rapidly cease. In contrast, the fission products in a fission reactor continue to generate heat through beta-decay for several hours or even days after reactor shut-down, meaning that melting of fuel rods is possible even after the reactor has been stopped due to continued accumulation of heat.

There is also no risk of a runaway reaction in a fusion reactor, since the plasma is normally burnt at optimal conditions, and any significant change will render it unable to produce excess heat. In fusion reactors the reaction process is so delicate that this level of safety is inherent; no elaborate failsafe mechanism is required. Although the plasma in a fusion power plant will have a volume of 1000 cubic meters or more, the density of the plasma is extremely low, and the total amount of fusion fuel in the vessel is very small, typically a few grams. If the fuel supply is closed, the reaction stops within seconds. In comparison, a fission reactor is typically loaded with enough fuel for one or several years, and no additional fuel is necessary to keep the reaction going. 

September 13, 2010 at 6:00 pm Leave a comment

Health Care Coverage

You can’t be denied health coverage!

September 11, 2010 at 3:14 pm Leave a comment

Hybrids cost more

 A new study by that suggests that, increased fuel economy notwithstanding, hybrids don’t deliver good value for the money. In fact, the average hybrid costs 25 percent more to own and operate than its gas-only counterpart. 

It is also notwithstanding the environmental impact of hybrids.  As more people depend more heavily on mobile devices like laptops and phones, we create an increased demand for batteries.  That’s seperate from the current trend of hybrid cars.  How much material does it cost to power a CAR compared to a camera?  These heavy materials are expensive to move.  These hazardous materials are dangerous to dispose of (which comes with a high cost).  Obtaining these materials requires mining and drilling – a practice that always leads to problems.  These materials are only found in a certain few areas.  What good is it to trade dependence on oil-rich countries for dependence on rare earth material-rich countries (China and Russia are the 2 largest sources)? 

Neodymium, terbium, dysprosium, and lanthanum are all considered rare earth metals, and all are being depleted, quickly, by popular hybrids. Anyone who’s considering a Toyota Prius [or other hybrid] might want to remember this quote from Jack Lifton, an independent commodities consultant and strategic metals expert, who calls the Prius “the biggest user of rare earths of any object in the world.” (Source: See ‘Car Gurus’ below)

Alternative power is great.  But are batteries the best option?  The materials used in batteries are so rare that they are called Rare Earth Elements!  Should an alternative energy source use a power source that has the word “rare” in its name?

Car Gurus: Toyota Prius: King of Green, or Earth Killer?
Reuters: As hybrid cars gobble rare metals, shortage looms
Live Science: Shortage of Rare Earth Elements Could Thwart Innovation
Popular Mechanics: 4 Rare Earth Elements That Will Only Get More Important
Popular Science: Shortage of Rare Earth Minerals May Cripple U.S. High-Tech, Scientists Warn Congress

September 11, 2010 at 1:47 am Leave a comment

Gainesville Rejects Koran Burning

 In a city where there’s really no longer a place for the kind of religious intolerance promoted by Jones’ shrinking congregation, which has fewer than 50 members and whose website recently decried Gainesville’s prevailing credo of “coexistence,” Jones is simply lashing out for attention in the only way delusional bigots know how.

He’s also endorsed the anti-gay crusade of Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, whose members stage protests at the funerals of U.S. service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.,8599,2016804,00.htm

Not that Islam is some great religion, either.  Christians should be better than that, though. As for Islam, religious law allows for death by stoning when a woman commits adultery.  European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called the stoning sentence against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani “barbaric beyond words.” 

After global protest (that did not involve koran-burning), the Islamic leaders have suspended the execution.

Those sentenced to stoning, or “lapidation” as it is also called, are buried in a hole and covered with soil (men up to their waists; women to a line above their breasts), according to Article 102 of the Islamic Penal Code. A selected group then executes the alleged adulterers using rocks and sticks. Those able to escape the hole during stoning can be freed, according to Islamic law, a feat that is much more difficult for women than for men because so much more of their body is covered during lapidation.

They don’t want the torture to end to soon – so you can’t use big rocks.  They want to pummel the person for a little while.  Article 104  states, referring to the penalty for adultery, that the stones used should “not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes; nor should they be so small that they could not be defined as stones (pebbles).”

A lack of seperation of church & state can lead to all sorts of wild-ass outdated laws.  The use of stoning actually has roots in Judeo-Christian writings.  But as the western world moved away from theocracy, idiotic religous laws like this were abandoned.

September 9, 2010 at 12:16 am Leave a comment

Ocean toxins bad for humans

Report: Pollutants taint whales even in remote regions, could threaten humans’ seafood supply

And ocean toxins are bad for humans??  I’m not sure I see how 70% of the surface of the planet is important. 

A report released Thursday noted high levels of cadmium, aluminum, chromium, lead, silver, mercury and titanium in tissue samples taken by dart gun from nearly 1,000 whales over five years. From polar areas to equatorial waters, the whales ingested pollutants that may have been produced by humans thousands of miles away, the researchers said.

So…wait a minute.  Americans are studying the whales for years – without killing them and selling the meat?  But the Japanese said that wasn’t possible.  If Japan is doing so much “Reasearch” on the whales, why didn’t they already publish this?  (Stay on ’em Sea Sheperds!). 

Roger Payne, founder and president of Ocean Alliance on the research project:

Ultimately, he said, the contaminants could jeopardize seafood, a primary source of animal protein for 1 billion people.

“You could make a fairly tight argument to say that it is the single greatest health threat that has ever faced the human species. I suspect this will shorten lives, if it turns out that this is what’s going on,” he said.

September 2, 2010 at 2:36 pm Leave a comment

Wine, Red Bull, Reality

Wine in a box is much cheaper.  I don’t meant is “cheaper-wine”, just…cheaper.  And the box is easier on the planet. Consider a wine company that packages their product in both bottle and boxes – the box version would be much cheaper than the glass version.  Same wine…lower price and Earth-friendlier. 

But the exciting part of this story is not the box vs glass.  It’s how important the perception of reality is to us.  From the article featuring box wines from Whole Foods Market (italics are mine):

Imagine this scenario: You’re given two identical bottles of wine, but are told that one cost $5 and the other cost $45. If you were asked to perform a taste test, do you think you’d prefer the pricier bottle?
When researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the California Institute of Technology
performed this test, they found that people said the “more expensive” wine tasted better — even though it was exactly the same as the “cheaper” bottle.

Baba Shiv, one of the study’s authors, previously found that people who paid full price for Red Bull energy drinks were able to solve more brain teasers than those who paid less for the same product.
In other words, how much you pay for something can affect how you perceive it.

And in OTHER other words: Reality IS what you perceive it to be

September 1, 2010 at 5:14 pm Leave a comment

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