• Key Takeaways from the Fukushima Disaster

    In March and April of 2011 the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster resulted in what was the largest ever accidental release of radioactive material into the ocean. “Even though the levels of radiation in the area and in the marine organisms were elevated, they were actually not a threat to the ecosystem or to human consumers in most cases,” says an expert.

  • Can Nuclear Power Be Saved?

    Whither nuclear power? That question has become more important as energy policies evolve to emphasize emissions-free “green” energy and an increased electrification of the U.S. economy. Some environmentalists consider nuclear power to be crucial to reducing carbon emissions; others continue to vehemently oppose nuclear power and believe that our energy must come solely from renewable sources.  The public, encouraged into hysteria by dramatizations of nuclear-plant accidents such as the film The China Syndrome and HBO’s Chernobyl, is split. Meanwhile, the nuclear-power industry itself is in a parlous state for a variety of tangled reasons.

  • A Cyberattack Could Wreak Destruction Comparable to a Nuclear Weapon

    People around the world may be worried about nuclear tensions rising, but I think they’re missing the fact that a major cyberattack could be just as damaging – and hackers are already laying the groundwork. The threat of a new nuclear arms race is serious – but the threat of a cyberattack could be as serious, and is less visible to the public. So far, most of the well-known hacking incidents, even those with foreign government backing, have done little more than steal data. Unfortunately, there are signs that hackers have placed malicious software inside U.S. power and water systems, where it’s lying in wait, ready to be triggered.

  • Whaley Bridge Dam Collapse Is a Wake-up Call: Concrete Infrastructure Will Not Last Forever Without Care

    Torrential rain in the Midlands and North of England that saw half a month’s rain fall in one day caused such volumes of water to pass through the spillway of the Toddbrook Reservoir dam, above the town of Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire, that the protective concrete facing was damaged – badly enough to put the dam at risk of a full collapse. It is clear from data of dam failures in the UK and worldwide that the most common cause is overtopping of the dam due to the spillway’s inadequate capacity to discharge floodwaters, due to damage or design. The lesson from Whaley Bridge dam is that the maintenance of dam spillways cannot be ignored – in any circumstances or at any cost.

  • When the Lights Went Out: On Blackouts and Terrorism

    When the Northeast Blackout of 2003 killed electricity to more than 50 million people in the United States and Canada, the FBI, like many in New York who were still reeling from the September 11, 2001 attacks, shared these concerns. Just the previous year the agency concluded that terrorists were studying weaknesses in power grids. Meanwhile, groups across the country had been preparing for and speculating about doomsday scenarios — scenarios that the first moments of the 2003 blackout mimicked to a disquieting degree.

  • Exploring Options for Microreactors in Alaska

    For cities in the most isolated regions of Alaska, keeping the lights on is often challenging and almost always expensive. There’s no good way to string power lines over the vast expanses of wilderness that separate individual towns, so instead of one consolidated grid spanning the entire state, Alaskans get their power from a disconnected mishmash of more than 200 microgrids. This is why experts have been exploring whether microreactors might help alleviate some of Alaska’s energy challenges.

  • New Ways for Taking Salt Out of Seawater

    As populations boom and chronic droughts persist, coastal cities like Carlsbad in Southern California have increasingly turned to ocean desalination to supplement a dwindling fresh water supply. Promising design rules for cost-effective desalination rely on just a few ingredients: ionic liquids plus low-cost geothermal or solar heat, or waste heat from machines.

  • The World's Aging Dams Are Not Built for Ever More Extreme Weather

    The town of Whaley Bridge in the UK has had to be evacuated after damage to a dam built in 1831. The Toddbrook Reservoir is just one of many ageing dams worldwide not designed for ever more extreme rainfall as the planet warms. Dams are typically designed to cope with a so-called 1-in-100-year flood event. But as the world warms the odds of extreme rainfall are changing, meaning the risk of failure is far greater. Engineers have been warning for years that many old dams around the world are already unsafe and need upgrading or dismantling.

  • Climate Change Has Made Our Stormwater Infrastructure Obsolete

    We are not ready for the extreme rainfall coming with climate change. A quick dramatic thunderstorm in New York on Wednesday flooded Staten Island so badly that brown murky water joined bus riders for their evening ride home. It’s just one in a growing number of examples of infrastructure not being up to the task. Many cities’ water management systems—think stormwater drains or dams—aren’t equipped to handle climate change-influenced weather shifts.

  • Humanity’s Ability to Feed Itself Under Growing Threat

    A new UN report warns that the world’s land and water resources are being exploited at “unprecedented rates,” and that the combination of this increasingly more rapid exploitation with climate change is putting dire – and threatening — pressure on the ability of mankind to feed itself.

  • DoD “Precariously Underprepared” for Security Challenges of Climate Change

    The United States Army War College recently released a report exploring the broad impact climate change will have on national security and U.S. Army operations, and offering what it describes as urgent recommendations. The second sentence of the report captures the report’s tone and argument: “The Department of Defense is precariously underprepared for the national security implications of climate change-induced global security challenges.”

  • U.S. Infrastructure Unprepared for Increasing Frequency of Extreme Storms

    Current design standards for United States hydrologic infrastructure are unprepared for the increasing frequency and severity of extreme rainstorms, meaning structures like retention ponds and dams will face more frequent and severe flooding, according to a new study.

  • Nuclear Power Offers an Abundant Supply of Low-Carbon Energy. But What to Do With the Deadly Radioactive Waste?

    The dilemma of how to manage nuclear waste — radioactive materials routinely produced in large quantities at every stage of nuclear power production, from uranium mining and enrichment to reactor operation and the reprocessing of spent fuel — has taxed the industry, academics and governments for decades. Along with accidents, it has been a major reason for continuing public opposition to the industry’s further expansion despite substantial interest in nuclear power’s status as a low-carbon power source that can help mitigate climate change. The race is on to develop new strategies for permanently storing some of the most dangerous materials on the planet.

  • Predicting Storm Surges, Flooding, and Tides to Help Coastal Communities

    When weather systems threaten the coast, emergency responders rely on high-precision storm modeling systems and real-time data to accurately predict hurricane activity and flooding threats, collaborate with each other, and make critical decisions that will protect the lives and property of millions of U.S. residents. During the 2018 hurricane season, the ADCIRC Prediction System (APS) played an integral role in accurately predicting the storm surges, flooding, wind and wave interactions, and speed of tides and currents associated with both Florence and Michael.

     

  • Faint Foreshocks Foretell California Earthquakes

    New research mining data from a catalog of more than 1.8 million southern California earthquakes found that nearly three-fourths of the time, foreshocks signaled a quake’s readiness to strike from days to weeks before the mainshock hit, a revelation that could advance earthquake forecasting.