Air Pollution Control Equipment Services, Renewables

Town says ‘yes’ to waste

Issue 5 and Volume 113.

Longtime Carlsbad Mayor Bob Forrest remembers when no one wanted the federal government’s radioactive waste, except his southern New Mexico town.

Now the mayor thinks those same 250-million-year-old New Mexico salt beds 2,150 feet below ground could store high-level nuclear waste, which once seemed headed for Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, known as WIPP and located near Carlsbad, remains the government’s only radioactive waste site.

For two decades, Yucca Mountain was the focus of plans for long-term nuclear waste storage. But in March, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the project in the desert northwest of Las Vegas is no longer an option.

That was good news for Forrest, who said he hopes to make the Carlsbad area “the next Yucca Mountain” and will lobby for a project to hold the country’s high-level radioactive waste. “The community’s ready, the timing couldn’t be better. … I think the stage is right to move forward,” Forrest told the Associated Press.

Not everyone seems on board, however. Gov. Bill Richardson ordered the state environment department to modify WIPP’s permit to make sure high-level reactor waste can’t be stored at the site.

Cloudy outlook for Desert Solar

NIMDO (Not in My Desert Oasis) might be a new rallying cry for renewable energy opponents in—of all places—California.

The Los Angeles Times reported Sen. Diane Feinstein is working to close off as much as 800,000 acres of Southern California desert to solar and wind energy projects by pushing to create a new national monument.

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The area in question includes an inactive volcanic crater where parts of the 1959 movie “Journey to the Center of the Earth” were filmed (see photo).

“It’s frustrating. We really do have competing national priorities here,” the paper quotes Paul Whitworth as saying. His San Diego-based LightSource Renewables hopes to put in a solar project on about 6,000 acres near the area. “We spent a lot of time researching the desert, and consulting with the Bureau of Land Management to make sure we didn’t apply on top of an area of critical environmental concern, or area with other issues. . . . Now, there’s uncertainty on whether these projects will go ahead.”

Feinstein told the paper she is not engaged in a not-in-my-backyard campaign. “I’m a strong supporter of renewable energy and clean technology—but it is critical that these projects are built on suitable lands,” she said.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a speech last year at a climate-change conference: “If we cannot put solar power plants in the Mojave Desert, I don’t know where the hell we can put it.”

Carbon Capture’s fizzy Future

For millions of years carbon dioxide has been stored—safely and naturally—in underground water found in geologic formations saturated with the gas. Findings recently published in the journal Nature use this idea as one way to help bring carbon capture and storage a step closer to reality.

One risk around long-term CO2 storage in depleted gas and oil fields has been the possibility of a leak. Researchers previosuly couldn’t be sure how the gas would remain underground.

But an international team of researchers noted that naturally-occurring carbon dioxide can be trapped in two ways. First, the gas can dissolve in underground water, like bottled sparkling water. Second, it can react with minerals in rock to form new carbonate minerals, essentially locking away the carbon dioxide underground.

To find out how carbon dioxide is stored in natural gas fields, the researchers combined two techniques. They measured the ratios of stable isotopes of carbon dioxide and noble gases like helium and neon in gas fields in North America, China and Europe. These sites first filled with carbon dioxide millions of years ago.

The researchers’ analysis showed underground water is the major carbon dioxide sink in these gas fields and has been for millions of years.

Stuart Gilfillan, the lead project researcher at the University of Edinburgh said: “We already know that oil and gas have been stored safely in oil and gas fields over millions of years. Our study clearly shows that the carbon dioxide has been stored naturally and safely in underground water in these fields.”