Christopher Mims

Christopher Mims's dystopian non-fiction is sought after by an ever-growing roster of publications.

Einsteinium on the Beach: Japan’s nuke crisis spreads to ocean

Plutonium* has escaped the fuel rods in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and has now been found on the beach adjacent. Workers are struggling to keep radioactive wastewater from reaching the ocean, where radiation has already begun to spread. Rumor has it that the Japanese government is so frustrated with the performance of TEPCO, the power company responsible, that it's considering temporarily nationalizing it. Meanwhile, workers at the plant have to continuously douse the reactor cores and fuel rods with water, while simultaneously figuring out how to contain and dispose of the cooling water once it’s irradiated. If they …

and neither are biofuels

Batteries are not the future of green cars, says smartest guy in room

Elon Musk is a dizzyingly accomplished badass as well as a quirky workaholic, which makes him kind of like Nikola Tesla minus the full-contact pigeon fancying. And hey, that’s exactly what he named his electric automobile company, Tesla Motors. Musk, who has built Tesla’s entire business on the advanced, computer-controlled battery technology his engineers developed for the Tesla Roadster sports car, thinks that batteries are kaput in the long run. In their place, he’s betting on a technology called ultracapacitors. Capacitors are totally different than batteries — rather than being buckets of wet chemicals, they’re solid state devices already ubiquitous …

it’s haldol for your range anxiety

Plug-in Prius not worth it, economically

Bengt Halvorson of Green Car Reports did the math on whether or not it’s worth it to buy the forthcoming plug-in version of the Toyota Prius, and the math is ugly: The Prius has a small battery that holds only enough charge to take the vehicle 14 miles, but that battery charges relatively quickly — four hours on standard house current. Electricity costs about 11 cents per kwh and the battery holds 3.8 of them. All told, this leads to only a marginal cost savings per mile: Prius Plug-In (100 miles): $6.12 Standard Prius (estimate, 100 mi): $6.98 Difference per …

we had to destroy the village to save it

Only bulldozers and bison can save Detroit now

Aren’t these preferable to a statue of robocop?Photo: Cathleen ShattuckThe latest U.S. census reveals that not even Detroit natives are that into the Motor City anymore. The once-flourishing city saw the biggest population drop in 10 years — 25 percent — of any city ever, except for the special case of post-Katrina New Orleans. Civic-minded organizations have a plan for saving Detroit, however, and it’s got nothing to do with delusional hail-Mary attempts to restart old-style growth. It’s called managed decline, and basically it involves giving up on the city and finding something more useful to do with that space. …

here, shoot this apple off my head

Obama administration can’t wait to sell China all the coal it can burn

Here’s a recipe for climate catastrophe: First, authorize enough new coal production in Wyoming to yield 3.9 billion tons of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Then authorize a new export terminal in northwest Washington to ship that black gold to Asia, where the other half of Chimerica will burn it to power the factories we shipped them in the infinite wisdom of globalization. This process is called carbon offshoring, and it’s the nastiest, planet-killingest scheme of which you’ve probably never heard. China is just the beginning: In a statement on November 12, the chairman of Coal India Ltd., a state-controlled entity and …

a brief tour of america's ticking timebombs

How the U.S. narrowly avoided its own Fukushima-style disaster in 1992

Turkey Point nuclear power plant in Miami-Dade county, Florida.Photo: ShelahDThe U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is refusing to update its worst case scenario models for the flooding of coastal U.S. nuclear power plants. Potentially, this puts the backup safety systems at reactors like the Turkey Point plant in Miami-Dade county, Florida, at risk of damage or destruction by hurricanes. That’s the bombshell buried in a piece by Alyson Kenward of Climate Central: The extent of sea level rise that [utility company Florida Power and Light] has incorporated into their estimates of the maximum possible storm surge has already become a point …

Sears Tower to become giant solar farm

The Sears Tower, lately unceremoniously renamed the Willis tower, is about to pioneer a kind of crazy-innovative window, one that produces power without obstructing the view or letting in appreciably less sunlight. It's way too complicated to explain in mere words, so hopefully this image will help. If it doesn't, feel free to be a troll in the comments, since that's the designated toilet for whatever sublimated rage you're feeling over your crumbling marriage. At first the Willis tower will only replace windows on the south side of the 56th floor; eventually, the whole south face of the building could …

Fishermen find creative ways to get paid more to catch fewer fish

Fishing is ripe for innovation. New catch limits are critical for sustainability — without them, fish stocks would collapse, and then nobody has a job, plus a protein source vital for the planet's expanding population is wiped out. But they force fishermen to catch fewer fish, which means less money. A string of new programs and techniques are addressing the cash issue, allowing fishermen to make more scratch even as they bring in less catch. You've heard of energy audits for your home. Well, now Steve Eayrs, a research scientist at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, is conducting them …

Germany’s solar panels produce more power than Japan’s entire Fukushima complex

Germany is the world leader in installed solar photovoltaic panels — and they also just shut down seven of their oldest nuclear reactors. Coincidence? Maaaaybe… Anyway, it's worth noting that just today, total power output of Germany's installed solar PV panels hit 12.1 GW — greater than the total power output (10 GW) of Japan's entire 6-reactor nuclear power plant. Now before the trolls come out, let me just note that 12.1 GW is max power (the output whose name you'd love to touch). The panels generated that much at one instant in time — when the sun was at …