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04 May 2013

Press review 04-05-2013

This week the media has been more attentive to the situation in Syria with both sides hiking the rhetoric. The US has threatened to directly supply warfare material to the Sunni, promptly matched by the Hezbollah with a promise of entering Syria to help the Shia. Meanwhile both sides accuse each other of employing chemical weapons. The good sense seems to be running out and the conflict might be about to unravel. The geography of the Near and Middle East may never be the same.

Something that has been out of the radar but that is far from buried is the Fukushima nuclear site in Japan. More than two years after the tsunami that led meltdowns in several cores, the situation seems to remain far from control. This apparent ineptitude of the managing company may itself explain why the accident took place in the first place.

Leaks, Rats and Radioactivity: Fukushima’s Nuclear Cleanup Is Faltering
Bryan Walsh, 01-05-2013

Honestly, if the consequences weren't potentially so dire, the ongoing struggles to clean up the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northern Japan would be the stuff of comedy. In March, an extended blackout disabled power to a vital cooling system for days. The cause: a rat that had apparently been chewing on cables in a switchboard. As if that's not enough, another dead rat was found in the plant's electrical works just a few weeks ago, which led to another blackout, albeit of a less important system. The dead rats were just the latest screwups in a series of screwups by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the owner of the Fukushima plant, that goes back to the day of March 11, 2011, when an earthquake and the resulting tsunami touched off a nuclear disaster that isn't actually finished yet. I'm not sure things could be much worse if Wile E. Coyote were TEPCO's CEO.

But it's not funny, not really, because the consequences of the meltdown and TEPCO's mismanagement are very real. The latest threat comes from nearby groundwater that is pouring into the damaged reactor buildings. Once the water reaches the reactor it becomes highly contaminated by radioactivity. TEPCO workers have to pump the water out of the reactor to avoid submerging important cooling system -- the plant's melted reactor cores, while less dangerous than they were in the immediate aftermath of the meltdown, still needed to be further cooled down. TEPCO can't simply dump the irradiated groundwater into the nearby sea -- the public outcry would be too great -- so the company has been forced to jury-rig yet another temporary solution, building hundreds of tanks, each able to hold 112 Olympic-sized pools worth of liquid, to hold the groundwater. So TEPCO finds itself in a race: Can its workers build enough tanks and clear enough nearby space to store the irradiated water -- water that keeps pouring into the reactor at the rate of some 75 gallons a minute? More than two years after the tsunami, TEPCO is still racing against time -- and just barely staying ahead.
Shale gas has been consistently in the news and this week is no exception. Sometime last year concerns on the volume of water required by rock fracturation operations had already been aired, but this time a more thorough study points to visible constraints on further exploration in the US. One more reason to think that repeating the shale gas boom in Europe won't be easy.
Yahoo! Finance
A new problem for fracking: Drillers are running out of water
Todd Woody, 02-05-2013

Could severe water shortages short-circuit the US shale gas boom? With 64% of the country in drought, water is looming as the next hot-button issue in the debate over hydrofracturing, also known as fracking, which involves injecting chemical-laden water under high pressure to create fissures in subterranean rock formations so gas and oil can be extracted.

A comprehensive survey of fracking and water availability, due to be released Thursday, found that 47% of oil and gas wells are located in high or extremely high water-stressed areas. The report compiled by Ceres, the Boston-based nonprofit that promotes corporate sustainability, is based on water consumption information from 25,450 wells reported by drillers to a database called FracFocus between January 2011 and September 2012.

When Ceres researchers drilled down into the data by correlating the water consumption data with water stress maps created by the World Resources Institute, they found widespread water shortages in some of the US’s most gas-rich states.
The idea of using electric batteries installed on vehicles to load balance the electrical grid is not new, but its realisation in practice is. Extending the domain of application of electrical batteries is possibly the simplest way of accommodating their present high cost - they can power vehicles, take in excess load from different renewable electricity sources and then act as peak suppliers. Of note is the fact that high demand during the day tends to happen when road traffic is lower (if you're on the road you're not using electrical appliances). In time cheaper storage technologies will make this scheme even more interesting, imagine a car that instead of demanding regular fuel costs actually provides a source of income.
Electric vehicles sell power to the US grid

A technology developed with the University of Delaware has sold power from electric vehicles to the power grid for the first time, the power company NRG Energy Inc said on Friday (26 April).

In a joint statement, the university and NRG said that they began work on the so-called eV2g program in September 2011 to provide a two-way interface between electric vehicles and the power grid, enabling vehicle-owners to sell electricity back to the grid while they are charging their cars.
Shifting now gears to politics I'd like to bring about the latest column by Joschka Fischer. There's nothing really new about it, touching similar points to those I stressed in the Bundes-Europa ober Tod entry, but I enjoy his lucidity. It is clear that the recent speech by George Soros calling for a swift decision by Germany on weather to leave the euro or open the way to further integration has made an impact. It is important to understand, as Fischer points out, that it won't be just for Germany to take such decision.
Project Syndicate
The Erosion of Europe
Joschka Fischer, 30-04-2013

What needs to be done has long been clear. The price of the monetary union’s survival, and thus that of the European project, is more community: a banking union, fiscal union, and political union. Those who oppose this because they fear common accountability, transfers from rich to poor, and a loss of national sovereignty will have to accept Europe’s re-nationalization – and thus its exit from the world stage. No alternative – and certainly not the statusquo – will work.

It has become common knowledge in Europe that the ongoing crisis will either destroy the EU or bring about a political union, and that, without a solidarity-based solution to existing debt and a partial mutualization of new debt, the euro cannot be saved. Such steps will make far-reaching transfers of sovereignty unavoidable. Is Germany – or France – willing to do that?

The real crisis of the EU and the monetary union is not financial but political – or, more precisely, it is a leadership crisis. A lack of vision, courage, and strength of purpose is on display in all European capitals, but especially so in Berlin (and on the part of government and opposition alike).
This time there's also something to note in the Sporting world. Not exactly another European final for a Portuguese football team (the sixth in a decade), rather a rising cycling start that doesn't always gets the acknowledgement he deserves in his home country. Rui Costa will turn 27 later this year, meaning that his best years as a rider are yet to come; still, he is already the most achieved Portuguese cyclist since José Azevedo. He can perform like the best both climbing as against the clock, and consistently throughout the season. But above all, he has shown to be a very intelligent cyclist. If nothing wrong happens he will certainly be a contender in major stage races for years to come, a source of pride for a country in desperate need of self confidence.
Costa on track after Tour de Romandie podium

Movistar's Rui Costa posted his second consecutive third place finish in the Tour de Romandie, showing that he is on track to defend his title in next month's Tour de Suisse.

The Portuguese rider has been racking up consistently strong results in recent years, with a fifth place overall in Volta ao Algarve in February mirroring his 2012 result, and a win in the Klasika Primavera de Amorebieta.

He was then best of the rest behind the Chris Froome/Simon Spilak breakaway on the uphill finish on stage 4 of Tour de Romandie, but it was his defense in the final time trial today which was the biggest morale boost.
Have a great weekend and enjoy the Spring, if it as arrived where you are.

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