Oh, a lion hunter
In the jungle dark,
And a sleeping drunkard
Up in Central Park,
And a Chinese dentist
And a British Queen
All fit together
In the same machine.
Such very different
People in the same device!
Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country.
Finds of Radioactive Steel on the Rise in Germany.
Renewable energy left blowing in the wind
It is the comments on the second article that prompted me to post it - maggots & dinosaurs! Taking their cues from Jim Prentice, Minister of the Environment, when he says, "We will not - and let me be clear on this - we will not aggravate an already weakening economy in the name of environmental progress," meaning,as far as I can see, Tar Sands! Yee Haaa!
Finds of Radioactive Steel on the Rise in Germany, Christian Schwägerl, February 16, 2009.
German authorities in recent months have found a disturbingly large amount of radioactive steel in factories across the country. Much of the contaminated metal is thought to have originated in India.
There was little to distinguish the delivery that stood ready for loading in the Port of Hamburg on Aug. 19 of last year. A container filled with bars of stainless steel from India was to be shipped on to Russia. Just another shipment. There didn't seem to be anything out of place.
But when the customs officers carried out a routine check on the container they were in for quite a surprise. Their radiometers indicated unusually high levels of radiation. They measured a level of 71 microsieverts per hour, a level that in 24 hours would exceed the amount permitted for an entire year.
The officials reacted swiftly. They ordered that the container be put back on the ship immediately and be sent back to India.
This was, however, no isolated case. For months, similar cases have been found across Germany, all involving bits of metal contaminated with radioactive cobalt. And most of them come from the same source: three steelworks in India, in particular a company called Vipras Casting, based in Mumbai. Germany's environmental authorities are alarmed.
On Feb. 2, Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel was informed about four finds: In Lower Saxony officials had discovered contaminated parts and steel bars in two different locations. In Saarland investigators discovered radioactive steel shavings at a junkyard. And in Rhineland-Palatinate they found contaminated valves.
An internal memo in the Environment Ministry that was sent to Germany's states on Feb. 6 listed 15 "incidents of contaminated steel," in 12 states. The list included radioactive bars, steel cables, chippings and valve housings. The list of findings has since risen to 19.
Since last August, a total of 150 tons of contaminated metal has been seized. Some of it has been sent back to India. The rest is being stored by the companies that discovered the radioactivity, pending a decision on how to safely dispose of the material.
The situation is a novelty in Germany. Never before have officials had to deal with so much radioactive material in transit. Last week, Gabriel announced soberly that "radioactive steel products had been found in several federal states." Internally, though, his ministry officials have described the situation as dramatic. The problem is said to have "huge dimensions," according to sources.
Some of the metal had so far exceeded the limit of 10 becquerel per gram that it had to be confiscated immediately. Of the 60 tons of contaminated metal found in December at companies in Rhineland-Palatinate, Bavaria, Baden Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia, five tons had levels of up to 33 becquerel of radiation per gram. They were handed over to the Gesellschaft für Nuklear Service (GNS), a company that organizes the storage of waste from nuclear power stations and its transport.
Radioactive Isotope Cobalt 60
More than 500 elevator buttons, which came to Berlin from France, showed radioactivity levels of 270 becquerel per gram. The buttons have since been replaced. A component found at a company in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and tested on Jan. 19 radiated an astounding 600 becquerel per gram.
Government inspectors initially reached the conclusion that the radiation discovered did not pose "a danger to the population or to the environment." Other experts disagree: "In some of the cases, the levels of radiation would represent a risk if one were to spend a lengthy amount of time near the material," says Mathias Steinhoff, an expert for nuclear safety at the Institute for Applied Ecology in Darmstadt.
An expert at the Federal Office for Radiation Protection, who did not wished to be named, agreed, telling SPIEGEL: "Some of the levels are so high, that one should not stay in contact with these things for long."
Just how the radioactive isotope cobalt 60, which can be found in nuclear power stations or some medical technology, is finding its way into the Indian steel industry isn't completely clear. It may be that sources of radioactivity, from hospitals for example, are being thrown into blast furnaces along with other scrap. The resulting steel is then sold to to companies abroad.
The dangerous import from Asia shows the downside of globalization. Cheaper is not always better. Machine manufacturers and metal-working companies in Germany know that the cheaper the steel coming from a supplier is, the more likely it is that a high proportion of the metal is from India.
In addressing the problem, officials at both the federal and state level, along with representatives of the metallurgy branch, have all struck a reassuring tone. Behind closed doors, however, authorities are deeply unsettled. A crisis meeting is scheduled for this week in Berlin -- the second to focus on the issue. Environment Minister Gabriel is demanding proposals from both his own staff and from industry as to how the import of contaminated metal can be prevented in the future.
An Expensive Prospect
Authorities noted that there is already a European Union directive designed to prevent the import of radioactive materials. Enforcement, however, apparently remains problematic.
Blanket protection can only be achieved with strict controls in Asian steel mills and harbors. Gabriel has already asked for help from India in this regard. In the short term, however, the only thing that can be done is an enormous increase in the number of checks at the borders of the EU. And that is an expensive prospect.
German companies now worry that the contamination could have costly consequences. They are concerned that they might lose customers were they to deliver contaminated stainless steel. In addition, the costs of safe disposal could be as high as thousands of euros per ton of metal.
The true dimensions of the cobalt problem in Germany remain unknown. "I would be surprised were there not a larger number of cases to come," said a radiation expert from the southern German state of Baden Württemberg. The expert says that Gabriel's warning will likely now motivate a number of companies to take radiation measurements -- which will likely result in more unpleasant finds.
That, at least, was the experience of one company manager in Baden Württemberg. After he heard about other such incidents of contamination, he took measurements in his own factory. Shortly thereafter, he contacted the inspectors' office. They confirmed his discovery: cobalt 60.
Renewable energy left blowing in the wind, Shawn McCarthy, February 17, 2009.
On the eve of Obama's visit to Canada, green energy advocates say Ottawa's lack of policy support leaves the sector especially vulnerable.
Chicago-based renewable energy company Invenergy LLC has made a concerted push into Canada, last month bagging one of six contracts from the Ontario Power Authority to build a total of 500 megawatts of wind capacity at a cost of $1.3-billion.
But when Invenergy chairman Michael Polsky looks at Canadian renewable energy policy these days, he sees uncertainty that spells problems for a sector already battered by a global recession and credit crunch.
The contrast with the picture in the United States couldn't be starker.
While Canada's federal budget last month offered little for renewable energy, the $787-billion (U.S.) economic stimulus signed on the weekend by U.S. President Barack Obama heaps incentives on the sector.
And Mr. Obama - who is due to visit Ottawa this week - is promising more support for wind, solar and biofuels when he moves forward with a new energy bill this spring.
Four days after Ontario announced its latest wind contracts, Canada's wind energy sector was stunned when the federal government brought down a budget that failed to renew a crucial program subsidy, one that is set to run out in March, 2011, and whose popularity means the money may run out before the end of this year.
Mr. Polsky believes that his project, a 78-megawatt wind farm in Chatham-Kent, will still benefit from the federal EcoEnergy for Renewable Power program. The company is also building a 138-megawatt wind farm in Quebec, for which it expects to get federal assistance.
But the EcoEnergy program's uncertain status will make it more difficult to attract financing from already skittish investors, says Mr. Polsky, whose company raised $700-million late last year for some U.S. projects.
"I personally feel that, especially in light of what is going on in the U.S., it would be a wise idea to continue with that [EcoEnergy] fund to attract more investments in renewable in Canada," the energy executive said in an interview from his home in Chicago.
"The subsidy makes a big difference in the economics [of wind projects], definitely."
Like most industries, the renewable energy sector has been hit hard by the recession and the drop in prices of crude oil and natural gas.
Wind and solar developers across the globe have been starved of credit and scaled back ambitious expansion plans. The ethanol industry - which boomed with the help of subsidies and government mandates - hit the wall in the United States last year and several leading American renewable companies have filed for bankruptcy protection.
But despite setbacks, the U.S. industry remains optimistic that the same factors that led to the previous boom - policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, concerns over energy security, and the debilitating economics of borrowing abroad to pay for high-cost, imported oil - will endure.
"We, like every other industry, are facing access to capital issues and other problems," said James Dineen, president of the American Renewable Fuels Association. "But the political support and the public policy drivers for renewable fuels are stronger today than ever."
Meanwhile, the U.S. stimulus plan extended the federal tax credit for renewable energy for three years, an important measure of stability after years of requiring an annual renewal. It also allows companies that have no taxable income and can't use a credit to take the money as a grant, and provides loan guarantees.
And Mr. Obama is expected to push for a federal "renewable portfolio standard," a benchmark that would require utilities to obtain a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources within a given period of time. He also backs low-carbon fuel standards, which could boost the appetite for biofuels.
In Canada, governments also talk about their commitment to clean energy. But in Ottawa, that often translates into support for nuclear power, natural gas and technologies to scrub greenhouse gases from fossil fuels like coal and oil. The federal government has backed the ethanol industry - as much for its rural development benefits as its environmental gains - but even there, the targets are far less ambitious than those of the Obama administration.
Several provinces are spending considerable money to add renewable power to the grid and to increase the use of biofuels. But the programs are often inconsistent and ad hoc, in contrast to many states that have continuing renewable portfolio standards that provide greater clarity.
Industry analysts say the uncertainty - problematic at the best of times for fledgling industries - is particularly troublesome when credit markets are balky.
"The more vague the road map is, the less inclined people are to invest, because you don't want to go down a certain path and invest and then have the game change on you," said Sara Elford, a clean-tech analyst with Canaccord Capital Inc. "Having a clear understanding of exactly what the rules are going to be is terribly important."
Stewart Pid from Canada writes: At least they managed to use the subsidy word once in the article. These freeloaders don't want policy they want $$$$ for their uneconomical windmills. You gotta love a business that is risk free if you can con the government into letting you suck at the tax payers teat because you are painting your windlills green.
Jeff S from Canada writes: Windmills are unreliable and as electricity is an 'on demand' service this unreliability does not bode well for keeping the lights on at night.
They also kills scores of birds.
They are also an eyesore on the landscape.
Larry Smith from Aurora, writes: Windmills ...SpinMills..
What a boondoggle this is...
An entire waste of money....
Just imagine when the money runs out and the
windmills no longer turn...
More and more money needed to clean up the mess !!
Let the private sector take all of the risks and we'll see how many of these useless machines mar our landscapes.
Sask Resident from Regina, Canada writes: Energy within a province is a provincial responsibility not a federal one. The federal government should be funding scientific and technical research into energy, not subsidizing the supply. Subsidizing energy supply with general tax revenues only hides the real cost and allows people to waste energy.
If Ontario wants wind mills, raise the wholesale and retail unit price of electricity in the province rather that making electricity appear cheaper than it really is. And add and enforce regulations on emissions to improve air quality.