Infrastructure

  • More stringent climate policies mean hard choices for coal plant operators

    Limiting climate change to 2°C means shutting down coal power plants — an unpopular proposition for coal power companies. A new study shows, however, that delaying climate policies could prove even worse for power plant owners. The reason: new power plants being built now, especially in China and India, are built to run for 30-50 years, paying off only after years of operation. Stringent climate policies, however, could make the cost of emission so high that coal power generation is no longer competitive, leaving new power plants sitting idle and their owners and investors with huge losses — a problem known as stranded capacity.

  • Coalition sounds alarm about possible global EMP disaster

    A coalition that includes former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former CIA director James Woolsey has issued a terse warning regarding apocalyptic effects that could result from a mass EMP (electromagnetic pulse) disaster or attack. Members of the coalition “are convinced that our fragile electrical grid could be wiped out at any moment” from bursts of electrical energy caused by anything from a nuclear explosion to a solar flare from the sun, leading to chaos on a global scale.

  • Los Alamos National Lab resumes transuranic waste shipments

    The waste was received at Waste Control Specialists in Andrews, Texas, where it will be temporarily staged until it can be shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico for final disposal. WIPP has been closed since mid-February as a result of radiation leaks in underground storage tunnels. The shipments keep LANL on track to complete 3,706 Campaign on schedule. The campaign aims to remove 3,706 cubic meters of nuclear waste from LANL by 30 June 2014.

  • Capabilities-based – rather than actuarial -- risk analysis would make businesses safer

    Many businesses and organizations, when applying cost-benefit analysis and a risk-management analysis to measure cyber risk, are relying on the assumption that the likelihood of a future attack depends heavily on how many attacks have occurred in the past. Since there has yet to be a full-scale attack on critical infrastructure in the United States, it is simple to conclude that the risk of a cyberattack on critical infrastructure is low, therefore justifying low investment in additional security initiatives. An actuarial risk analysis may conclude that there is little likelihood of such as attack occurring, but a capabilities-based risk analysis recognizes that since adversaries are capable of such an attack, it is in an organization’s best interest to secure against it.

  • W.Va. residents still wary about their drinking water

    The January 2014 chemical spill in West Virginia, which contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 residents, has changed how residents use public water. Authorities claimed the water was safe for consumption on 13 January, since MCHM levels had dropped below a federal safety threshold of one part per million. Residents remain skeptical, with some collecting rain water, and other relying on clean water distributed by non-profits.

  • New center will work to improve methods to detect, prevent the spread of nuclear weapons

    The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has awarded the University of Michigan $25 million to establish the Center for Verification Technology. A team from thirteen universities will work with eight national labs to analyze nuclear nonproliferation efforts, improve technologies for monitoring weapons-grade materials and detecting secret weapon tests, and train the next generation of nonproliferation experts.

  • Sandia to help cities be better prepared for, emerge stronger from, disasters

    Sandia National Laboratories says it will bring its experience solving problems with practical engineering and modeling complex systems to cities around the world under a new agreement to support the 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation. The challenge, which will help thirty-three cities in its first year, seeks to make communities more resilient by being better prepared to withstand natural or manmade disasters, recover more quickly, and emerge stronger.

  • Roadmap outlines R&D path to reduce storm impacts

    A new measurement science research and development (R&D) roadmap, prepared for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) over the past two years by a private-sector group of hazard mitigation experts, provides a broad strategic approach and R&D objectives to reduce impacts from windstorms and coastal inundations, including storm surge during hurricanes and tsunamis.

  • U.S. corporations aware of current, future water risks

    A new survey shows that nearly 60 percent of responding companies — the majority Fortune 500 and publically traded, representing virtually every industry sector — indicated that water is poised negatively to affect business growth and profitability within five years, while more than 80 percent said it will affect their decision on where to locate facilities. This is a stark increase from only five years ago, when water issues affected business growth and profitability for less than 20 percent of responding companies.

  • Friday L.A. tremor harbinger of quake worse than the Big One

    Seismologists warn that a bigger earthquake along the Puente Hills fault, which produced the 5.1 magnitude tremor in Los Angeles last Friday, could cause more damage to the region than the anticipated “Big One” from the San Andreas Fault located on the outskirts of metropolitan Southern California. A 7.5-magnitude earthquake along the Puente Hills fault could kill 3,000 to 18,000 people and cause up to $250 billion in damages, leaving up to 750,000 people homeless. In contrast, an 8-magnitude earthquake along the San Andreas Fault would result in about 1,800 deaths.

  • Using more wood for construction will reduce reliance on fossil fuels

    A new study has found that using more wood and less steel and concrete in building and bridge construction would substantially reduce global carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel consumption. Despite an established forest conservation theory holding that tree harvesting should be strictly minimized to prevent the loss of biodiversity and to maintain carbon storage capacity, the study shows that sustainable management of wood resources can achieve both goals while also reducing fossil fuel burning.

  • New drone-based system improves safety of dealing with nuclear hazards

    Hazardous nuclear events have the potential to cause widespread damage to individuals and the environment. Getting close enough to these incidents to accurately assess the problem can be extremely dangerous. Following the incident at the Fukushima power plant in Japan in 2011, for example, helicopter pilots assessing the site were exposed to significant amounts of radiation. Researchers have developed a new system for remote and accurate assessment of dangerous nuclear accident sites.

  • Obscure element shows promise for nuclear waste storage

    One of the least known elements of the periodic table, californium, may hold the key to the safe and effective long-term storage of nuclear waste, according to new research. The researchers have demonstrated that californium (Cf) has an “amazing” ability to bond and separate other materials, as well as being extremely resistant to radiation damage.

  • NIST issues final Joplin tornado report

    The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released the final report on its technical investigation into the impacts of the 22 May 2011 tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri. The massive storm was the single deadliest tornado in the United States in the sixty years that official records have been kept. The NIST Joplin tornado study was the first to study scientifically a tornado in terms of four key aspects: storm characteristics, building performance, human behavior, and emergency communication — and then assess the impact of each on preventing injury or death.

  • The costs of using wind energy, natural gas for electricity virtually equal

    The costs of using wind energy and natural gas for electricity are virtually equal when accounting for the full private and social costs of each, making wind a competitive energy source for the United States, according to a new study on the federal tax credit for wind energy. The analysis shows that wind energy comes within .35 cents per kWh when levelized over the 20-year life of a typical wind contract, compared on an equivalent basis to the full costs for natural gas-fired energy.