Infrastructure

  • Nuclear accidentsNew light shed on reactor fuel behavior during severe nuclear reactor accidents

    UO2 is the primary fuel component in the majority of existing nuclear reactors, but little is known about the molten state because of its extremely high melting point. Until now, the extremely high temperature and chemical reactivity of the melt have hindered studies of molten UO2. This lack of fundamental information has made it difficult to evaluate issues associated with the interaction of molten UO2 with a reactor’s zirconium cladding and steel containment vessel. A new discovery about the atomic structure of uranium dioxide will help scientists select the best computational model to simulate severe nuclear reactor accidents.

  • Critical infrastructureNSA director: China and “one or two” other nations can damage U.S. critical infrastructure

    Adm. Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and head of U.S. Cyber Command, told lawmakers yesterday that China and “one or two” other countries are capable of mounting cyberattacks which would paralyze the U.S electric grid and other critical infrastructure systems across the country. A cyberattacks of such scope has been discussed in the past – it was even dubbed a “cyber Pearl Harbor” – but Rogers was the first high official to confirm that such a crippling attack on the United States was not a mere speculation. Rogers said U.S. adversaries are conducting electronic “reconnaissance” on a regular basis so that they will be well-positioned to damage and disrupt the industrial control systems which run chemical facilities, nuclear power plants, water treatment facilities, dams, and much more.

  • Coastal infrastructureChina’s second “great wall” is not so great

    China’s coastal regions are only 13 percent of the country’s land area, but contribute 60 percent of its gross domestic product. With that come layers of incentives to turn lush wetlands into engines of development and industry. A new study finds that China’s second great wall, a vast seawall covering more than half of the country’s mainland coastline, is a foundation for financial gain - and also a dyke holding a swelling rush of ecological woes.

  • WaterSelling and buying water rights

    Trying to sell or buy water rights can be a complicated exercise. First, it takes time and effort for buyers and sellers to find each other, a process that often relies on word-of-mouth, local bulletin boards, even calling friends and neighbors to get the word out. Then they must deal with the maze of rules and regulations involved. Finally, they must reach a fair price. It would be much easier if a computer could do it. Now, one can. Scientists have developed an algorithm that can match potential buyers and sellers, sift through the complexity of local physical and regulatory systems, and reach a fair deal designed especially for them.

  • LandslidesNew technology increases awareness of landslide risks

    Engineers have created a new way to use lidar technology to identify and classify landslides on a landscape scale, which may revolutionize the understanding of landslides in the United States and reveal them to be far more common and hazardous than often understood. The new, non-subjective technology can analyze and classify the landslide risk in an area of fifty or more square miles in about thirty minutes — a task that previously might have taken an expert several weeks to months. It can also identify risks common to a broad area rather than just an individual site.

  • CybersecurityU.S. spends about $10 billion a year to protect the nation's digital infrastructure

    U.S. intelligence agencies have designated cyberattacks as the most alarming threat to national security. The federal government is spending roughly $10 billion a year to protect the nation’s digital infrastructure, but hackers, some sponsored by nation-states, are successfully infiltrating civilian and military networks.Professionals from DHS, the Pentagon, and private contractors all work together in U.S. cyber centers to detect, prevent, respond, and mitigate incoming and existing cyberattacks. Several of the U.S. top cybersecurity labs are housed in nondescript office buildings with no government seals or signs.

  • Earthquakes"Slow slip events" could help in predicting magnitude of earthquakes, tsunamis

    Earthquakes and tsunamis can be giant disasters no one sees coming, but now an international team of scientists has found that subtle shifts in the earth’s offshore plates can be a harbinger of the size of the disaster. The team reports that a geological phenomenon called “slow slip events,” identified just fifteen years, ago is a useful tool in identifying the precursors to major earthquakes and the resulting tsunamis. The scientists used high precision GPS to measure the slight shifts on a fault line in Costa Rica, and say better monitoring of these small events can lead to better understanding of maximum earthquake size and tsunami risk.

  • WaterWater sector ready for investment, technological innovation

    Investors looking for promising growth markets would do well to consider their water bill. Water’s artificially low price in most of the United States is one factor holding back innovative new water technologies, according to the report – but the time is right for change. Across the West, drought has left wide swaths of agricultural land brown, with massive wildfires raging through tinder-dry forests, residential wells tapped out and unemployed farm workers crowding food pantries. The drought is projected to cost the agricultural sector about $2.2 billion in 2014. The social and ecological damage is also profound. Technological innovation in the water sector could bring a raft of benefits ranging from the conservation of scarce water supplies to the expansion of water supplies through technologies that recycle or desalinate, for example.

  • Coastal infrastructureLow-lying island nations say rising seas levels spell doom

    The president of the Seychelles on last week urged the Earth’s small island nations to unite for a campaign against climate change — or else drown. The call came at the start of a two-day summit of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a coalition of small islands and low-lying coastal countries, ahead of global climate talks which will take place in Lima, Peru, in December. Low-lying island nations, some of which are little more than one meter (three feet) above sea level, are regarded as among the most vulnerable to rising sea levels, which is one of the manifestations of global warming.

  • ClimatePorous molecules bind greenhouse gases

    While carbon dioxide presents the biggest greenhouse problem, several other compounds are hundreds or thousands of times more potent in their greenhouse effect per unit of mass. These compounds include Freons, used as common refrigerants, and fluorocarbons, highly stable organic compounds in which one or more hydrogen atoms have been replaced with fluorine. Chemistry researchers have developed a molecule that assembles spontaneously into a lightweight structure with microscopic pores capable of binding large quantities of several potent greenhouse gases.

  • WaterU.S. water-use at lowest levels since before 1970

    Water use across the United States reached its lowest recorded level in nearly forty-five years. According to a new USGS report, about 355 billion gallons of water per day (Bgal/d) were withdrawn for use in the entire United States during 2010. This represents a 13 percent reduction of water use from 2005 when about 410 Bgal/d were withdrawn and the lowest level since before 1970.

  • EarthquakesNew app turns smartphones into sensors for an earthquake early-warning system

    The MyShake app, still in test mode, uses smartphone accelerometers and locators to augment the data on incoming quakes issued by the 400 seismometers which are part of California’s ShakeAlert program.Registered phones act as additional earthquake sensors, as the app runs an algorithm which detects when the phone is still or shaking. Should several registered phones in the same area begin to shake at the same time, an earthquake alert is issued.

  • EarthquakesCourt overturns manslaughter conviction of seismologists over 2009 L'Aquila quake

    An appeals court in Italy on Monday overturned manslaughter convictions of six of the seven natural disaster experts and seismologists who faced prison sentences for what a lower court described as having falsely reassured residents ahead of a 2009 earthquake which killed 309 people in the central Italy city of L’Aquila. The 2012 ruling was met with outrage and dismay by the scientific community, which argued that the convictions were based on a complete misunderstanding of the science used to calculate the probability of an earthquake. Leasing scientists warned that the case could prevent scientists from offering potentially life-saving advice on natural disasters in the future.

  • EnergyEconomists analyze Obama administration's Clean Power Plan

    The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, released in June 2014 and seeking public comments until 1 December, aims to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent (below 2005 levels) by 2030. An analysis of the Obama administration’s plan suggests that while the plan improves flexibility, allowing emissions to be reduced in cost-effective ways, additional reforms could permit further emissions reduction for the least cost.

  • CybersecuritySecurity experts worry BlackEnergy technology could soon be available to bad non-state actors

    DHS a few days ago has issued a cyberthreat alert to critical infrastructure firms warning of the malicious software called BlackEnergy, a variant of a Trojan horse believed to have originated from Russian government-sponsored hackers. BlackEnergy is similar to another Russian issued malware called Sandworm, which was used in a 2013 Russian cyber-espionage campaign against NATO, the European Union, and overseas telecommunication and energy assets. DHS believes the attack on U.S. critical systems is “part of a broader campaign by the same threat actor.”