Infrastructure

  • Nuclear powerNRC ruling raises questions about future of Diablo Canyon reactors

    In a major victory for those who pointed, post-Fukushima, to the risks involved in having a nuclear power reactor operating too close to a seismic fault, as is the case with the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioners have ruled – in a decision that could mark the beginning of the end of Diablo Canyon — that an Atomic Safety Licensing Board will decide whether Pacific Gas & Electric Co. was allowed illegally to alter the plant’s license. This alteration was made in an effort to hide the risk from powerful earthquake faults discovered since it was designed and built.

  • ResilienceLimiting climate change to 1.5°C

    Limiting temperature rise by 2100 to less than 1.5°C is feasible, at least from a purely technological standpoint, according to a new study. The study examines scenarios for the energy, economy, and environment that are consistent with limiting climate change to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, and compares them to scenarios for limiting climate change to 2°C. Limiting temperature rise to1.5°C over pre-industrial levels is supported by more than 100 countries worldwide, including those most vulnerable to climate change, as a safer goal than the currently agreed international aim of 2°C.

  • WaterHow will California cities meet water-rationing mandates? Universities have some ideas

    By John Cook

    California is in the fourth year of an historic drought. It’s now so bad that state water authorities canceled the last monthly measurement of the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. There wasn’t enough snow to even bother trying. The situation compelled Governor Jerry Brown to impose emergency water-conservation measures that will require a 25 percent cut in urban water use over the next year. The water footprint of the state’s higher education system is substantial: there are ten University of California campuses, twenty-three California State University campuses, and 112 California community colleges. Yet the university system is putting in place a number of measures to conserve water. Municipalities, too, will need to implement similar measures to meet the mandates and adapt to this prolonged drought.

  • Coastal resilienceRethinking coastal planning approaches

    The sound of waves, an ocean view, a beach at your doorstep — these might define the ultimate lifestyle choice. But who will pay for the sea wall to keep those seaside mansions and holiday homes safe as sea levels rise? What about public beach access? And how long would it provide protection anyway? Are there other options we can explore to realize the many benefits of our coasts in an era of climate change? Rising sea levels and other climate change effects are forcing a major re-think of coastal planning approaches, says a natural hazards planning expert.

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  • WaterHow best to adapt to the U.S. water shortage?

    The water crisis in the western United States — most notably in California and Washington — may be the most severe and most publicized, but other threats to the nation’s water supply loom, says a water expert. “We have settled in places and undertaken industrial and agricultural activities largely based on water availability,” he says. “When that availability changes, we must adapt. If the change is rather rapid, we often face a crisis.”

  • Video analyticsSandia Lab helps small security company thwart thieves

    Sandia has a long history, dating back to the 1970s, of testing sensor and video technologies for physical security systems, so in response to the security needs of a New Mexico security company, Sandia and Los Alamos labs researchers worked together to configure and test a reliable, affordable outdoor security system that helped the company more than triple its staff and clientele over five years.

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  • Coastal resilienceAntarctica’s ice shelf disintegrating, accelerating sea level rise

    Ice shelves are the gatekeepers for glaciers flowing from Antarctica toward the ocean. Without them, glacial ice enters the ocean faster and accelerates the pace of global sea level rise. A new NASA study finds the last remaining section of Antarctica’s Larsen B Ice Shelf, which partially collapsed in 2002, is quickly weakening and likely to disintegrate completely before the end of the decade. “Although it’s fascinating scientifically to have a front-row seat to watch the ice shelf becoming unstable and breaking up, it’s bad news for our planet. This ice shelf has existed for at least 10,000 years, and soon it will be gone,” says one scientist.

  • GridU.S. West's power grid must be “climate-proofed” to lessen risks of power disruption

    Electricity generation and distribution infrastructure in the Western United States must be “climate-proofed” to diminish the risk of future power shortages, according to researchers. Expected increases in extreme heat and drought events will bring changes in precipitation, air and water temperatures, air density, and humidity. the changing conditions could significantly constrain the energy-generation capacity of power plants — unless steps are taken to upgrade systems and technologies to withstand the effects of a generally hotter and drier climate.

  • China syndromeMassive cyberattack by Chinese government hackers on Penn State College of Engineering

    The Penn State College of Engineering has been the target of two sophisticated cyberattacks conducted by so-called “advanced persistent threat” actors. The FireEye cybersecurity forensic unit Mandiant, which was hired by Penn State after the breach was discovered, has confirmed that at least one of the two attacks was carried out by a threat actor based in China, using advanced malware to attack systems in the college. In a coordinated response by Penn State, the College of Engineering’s computer network has been disconnected from the Internet and a large-scale operation to securely recover all systems has been launched. On 21 November 2014 Penn State was alerted by the FBI to a cyberattack of unknown origin and scope on the school’s College of Engineering.

  • Food securityBiofuel policies affect food prices

    U.S. biofuel mandates require a percentage of gasoline consumed in the U.S. to contain ethanol. Since ethanol prices are dependent on crude oil and gas prices, oil and food prices have become increasingly intertwined. As the prices of gasoline and crude oil rise, prices of world grains and oilseeds markets follow. Researchers found that 80 percent of price increases of grain since 2007-8 are due to biofuel policies, thereby having a huge impact on value-added agricultural producers and food consumers worldwide.

  • Water75 percent of L.A. County water systems vulnerable to drought, other challenges

    Despite the importance of potable water to the quality of life, economy, and ecosystems in Los Angeles County, surprisingly little is known about the 228 government and private entities which deliver water, and how vulnerable or resilient they are to withstanding pressures from droughts and climate change. Innovative maps in a Water Atlas compiled by UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation show which areas are most threatened. The Water Atlas finds that 75 percent of community drinking water systems in Los Angeles County exhibit at least one indicator of supply vulnerability due either to dependency on a single type of water source, local groundwater contamination, small size, or a projected increase in extreme heat days over the coming decades.

  • Crude-by-railNew oil trains safety rules short on preparedness, training regs: Critics

    New federal safety measures for oil trains announced earlier this month are being criticized by emergency responders who say the measures fail to address the issue of preparedness.The new rules, which go into effect next year, do not require railroads to notify state officials of Bakken crude oil shipments, and fire departments seeking that information will have to contact the railroads directly. Firefighter groups say 65 percent of fire departments involved in responding to hazardous materials incidents still have no formal training in that area.

  • Coastal resilienceSouth Africa must start managing its retreat from the coast

    By Phoebe Barnard

    In 2015 there may remain some small uncertainties about the pace and intensity of climate change, but the inevitability of storm surges and sea level rise is not one of them. Due to the warming ocean’s thermal mass, thermal expansion, melting ice, and other complex interactions between air, land, and water, the sea level will rise significantly over the next few centuries. Even if we stopped using fossil fuels today, this is inevitable. African cities and coastlines, like the rest of the world, absolutely need natural coastal defenses: dunes, estuaries, mangroves, reefs, and coastal plains – but in many areas these defense would not be sufficient. In those areas, another approach should be considered: A managed retreat from the coast. In many places along the African coast such retreat is essential to minimize risk to coastal societies and maximize social and economic stability. And if planned properly, it can generate significant economic growth rather than chaos. The alternative is a grim scenario of treacherous coastline littered with rusting hulks of drowned and broken buildings, displaced coastal communities, and attendant impacts on health, food security, disaster risk management, and social and economic stability.

  • Oil spillsMore assessment of dispersants used in response to oil spills needed

    Chemical dispersants are widely used in emergency responses to oil spills in marine environments as a means of stimulating microbial degradation of oil. After the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, dispersants were applied to the sea surface and deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the latter of which was unprecedented. S new study argues for further in-depth assessments of the impacts of dispersants on microorganisms to guide their use in response to future oil spills.

  • Nuclear risksMore proof needed that PG&E’s Diablo Canyon nuclear plant is safe from earthquakes: NRC

    Despite repeated assertions by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. that the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant is safe from earthquakes, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has ordered PG&E to provide more proof. Critics of the plant’s continuing operation say the order confirms concerns that faults surrounding Diablo Canyon are capable of more ground motion than the reactors were built to withstand and that the plant is in violation of its operating license and should be closed immediately.