Bill Gates: Boost federal funds for energy research to fight climate change

There’s an urgent need – recognized by leaders of such venerable corporate giants as Xerox, GE and Lockheed Martin – for the American government to inject a lot of cash in a big hurry into alternative energy research, Microsoft founder Bill Gates told 1,200 climate activists and business people in Seattle on Tuesday.

To head off climate catastrophe, “the innovation piece is so important,” Gates said at a fundraising breakfast for the Seattle-based non-profit Climate Solutions. “The lip service that has been paid to energy innovation over the last few decades is disappointing.”

Gates and others from the upper echelons of the corporate world banded together as the American Energy Innovation Council and pushed hard for a boost in federal energy research spending from $5 billion to $16 billion annually.

“President Obama did see us. He said nice things, and I think he meant them,” Gates joked during an on-stage interview by Jabe Blumenthal, a former Microsoft executive who is co-president of Climate Solutions.

Nevertheless, the CEOs’ bid ultimately was shot down. Gates said that at a less dire time financially, it’s likely the group would have succeeded, and that the executives must keep trying.

Gates advocated research into many different energy sources, including nuclear, solar and wind power, that do not produce the gases scientists say are unnaturally heating the earth’s atmosphere, chiefly carbon dioxide. Many research projects won’t get very far but lots of them should be tried, said Gates, who is known widely for his philanthropy as well as his success at Redmond-based Microsoft.


State breezes past beryllium risks in stimulus rush to hire for Hanford cleanup

Fellow nonprofit journalism center ProPublica produced this insightful report about how the state of Washington is brushing past the insidious and sometimes lethal risks of beryllium contamination during its stimulus-funded stampede to hire workers to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

The report by David Epstein and Krista Kjellman Schmidt shows that the effects are more than just workplace statistics.  They have a human face.

Previously unknown fault line under nuke lab could trigger release of lethal material

During an earthquake, a fault line under the Los Alamos National Laboratory could yaw open and topple buildings filled with plutonium, which could burst into flames and release lethal amounts of radioactive material into the surrounding air.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory's safety and response analysis relied on inadequate safety measures not yet implemented, found the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, which sent a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu urging "immediate and long-term actions" to contain and mitigate the plume of toxic smoke and vaporized plutonium that could arise during an earthquake.

The "offsite consequences" exceed the Energy Department's guidelines by "two orders of magnitude," the federal safety experts wrote.  They described the buildings' physical structure as the  only containment barrier to a fire.

In the worst-case fire scenario, someone standing at the edge of the lab's boundaries would die within weeks from the exposure.  It is unknown to the general public how much plutonium is contained at Los Alamos, though the Los Angeles Times reports that lab engineers are considering moving  some of the plutonium elsewhere in a costly process.

Thirty six miles from Santa Fe,  Los Alamos National Laboratory is surrounded by Indian reservations such as the San Idelfonso Pueblo, which is famous for its black-on-black pottery.

Feds looking to dump thousands of tons of mercury

More than half the sites being considered for long-term storage of thousands of tons of toxic mercury are in the West. A story by Annette Carey in Washington’s Tri City Herald naturally focused on the site closest to her readers: Hanford Nuclear Reservation, already a candidate for the worst-polluted piece of ground in the nation. (Did you realize that Hanford’s annual cleanup budget is larger than that of the entire Superfund program?) Carey’s story says up to 11,000 tons of the toxic metal need to be stored for up to 40 years because of the Mercury Export Ban of 2008. It turns out mercury is a commodity, traded worldwide, and Congress wants to reduce its availability. (Which will, of course, enrich further whoever is still selling it on the open market, but that’s another story.)  The other six sites under consideration by the Department of Energy are the Grand Junction Disposal Site in Colorado; the Idaho National Laboratory; Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada; Kansas City Plant in Missouri; the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and Waste Control Specialists in Andrews, Texas.