Skip to content Skip to site navigation

John Upton's Posts


U.S. nuclear companies fight new safety measures

Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station in New York could use a couple radiation filters
Constellation Energy Group
Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station in New York could use a couple radiation filters.

How much should a nuclear power plant operator spend to prevent radiation from spewing into the air during an accident, à la Fukushima and Chernobyl?

The answer, according to staff of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is $20 million per reactor. That's the price tag for a filter that could be fitted to a reactor's vent to capture radiation during an accident.


Enviros slam Keystone findings, threatened species stay silent

Whooping cranes could be killed by the Keystone XL Pipeline, yet they have remained silent on the threat
Kenneth Cole Schneider
Whooping cranes: just one of the species threatened by the Keystone XL pipeline.

Environmentalists lined up over the weekend to condemn a draft State Department report that found no compelling environmental reason not to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

The stretch of pipeline in question would bring tar-sands oil from Alberta, Canada, across the U.S. border and down through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska. The southern stretch of the pipeline, which will carry the oil to Gulf Coast refineries, is already more than halfway built.

The draft environmental impact statement concluded [PDF] that the proposed project would damage more than 100 acres of wetlands, increase temperatures in wildlife-rich streams, and threaten vulnerable species. If there are spills from the pipeline, they could dump oil into lakes, aquifers, and rivers.

The project would also lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, but the department determined that if the pipeline is not built, that could trigger more global warming because the industry might then ship its oil via less efficient methods like rail and oil tanker. That claim drew widespread condemnation from activists and scientists.


As BP battles in court over Deepwater Horizon, oil spills are happening all over the place

A "small" spray of crude gushes into the Gulf after a boat crashed into a wellhead
U.S. Coast Guard
A "small" spray of crude gushes into the Gulf after a boat crashed into a wellhead.

BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill was notable because of the huge number of barrels leaked, the economic and environmental devastation wrought, and the number of people directly affected. But oil spills are not an aberration. Spills are a constant and poisonous cost of the world's dependence upon fossil fuels.

Little attention is paid to this steady stream of spills. That's in part because company and government officials often labor to convince us that each single spill is minor, unimportant, and environmentally benign.

This week, while BP was defending itself in court against claims and potential fines stemming from the 2010 disaster, emergency responders were kept busy dealing with new oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and around the world.


Energy-efficiency program killed in Louisiana

This guy just killed an energy efficiency program.
This guy just killed an energy-efficiency program.

Ooh, so close. Louisiana was about to become the 47th state to help electricity customers buy efficient appliances and make other energy-saving investments.

The Louisiana Public Service Commission had voted 3-2 to in December to approve an energy-efficiency program. Money raised from a new fee on electricity sales would be funneled back to customers in the form of energy-saving subsidies. But then longtime board member Jimmy Field, a supporter of the program, retired from the commission. He was replaced by Scott Angelle, Gov. Bobby Jindal's former natural resources secretary.

And then commission chairman Eric Skrmetta, who opposed the energy-efficiency program, decided it was time for the commission to cast new votes.


Calories make you fat, but sugary calories make you fat and diabetic

Pick your poison
Valerie Everett
Pick your poison.

The more readily available sugar is your country's food system, the more likely you are to get diabetes.

That's the conclusion an exhaustive worldwide study of diets, obesity rates, and Type 2 diabetes. It found that for every 150 calories of sugar that could be drunk or eaten daily by a resident of each of the countries studied, whether that sugar was squeezed out of sugar cane, beets, or corn, each resident became on average 1.1 percent more likely to develop the disease. (The researchers didn't analyze how many calories individuals actually eat and drink, but rather how many calories are available to people through their national food supply chains. Some of those calories are wasted without being consumed.)

A 12-ounce can of soda typically harbors about 150 sugary calories (which scientists, including the authors of the new study, confusingly call kilocalories). Many candy bars contain more calories than that, though not all from sugar.

Read more: Food, Living


ExxonMobil wins and regular folks lose in $1 billion pollution ruling

Guess who wins.
Thomas Hawk
Guess who wins.

Susan and Robert Lazzaro buy bottled water for cooking and drinking. Their jacuzzi sits empty and baths are out of the question. They limit their showers to two minutes or less.

And like many other homeowners in Jacksonville, Md., the Lazarros fear that the savings they invested in their home were wiped out when a local ExxonMobil gas station leaked for more than a month in 2006, poisoning the groundwater upon which they depended.


Sequestration would be bad news for clean energy and a clean environment

"sequester ahead" sign

If the environment could be likened to a punching bag, beaten up by pollution, climate change deniers, and rampant deforestation, then a colossal political impasse that the U.S. is facing this week could be likened to a redwood log connected to a battering ram being swung at Mother Earth's punched-up face.

Sequestration would help polluters escape probing government eyes. It would slow down renewable energy and energy conservation projects. And it would keep Americans out of national parks.


Piranha cover-up in South Carolina

South Carolina officials didn't want residents to know that they could soon be bitten by teeth like these
South Carolina officials didn't want residents to know that they could soon be bitten by teeth like these.

Piranhas could be poised to invade South Carolina.

Scarier than the possibility of being eaten alive while taking a dip in Palmetto State waters is the fact that government officials tried to keep the danger a secret from the state's people.

An onslaught of piranhas is one of many hazards South Carolina faces as the climate changes, according to a 102-page report drafted in 2011 by scientists working for the state Department of Natural Resources. The draft was shelved by department board members, despite earlier plans to distribute it for public review, meaning the scientists' warnings could have been kept from the public had The State newspaper not recently obtained a copy.


Can we afford to give a $40 billion gift to oil companies?

One of America's gifts to oil and gas companies: Billions of dollars worth of royalty-free drilling.
One of America's many gifts to oil and gas companies: billions of dollars worth of royalty-free drilling.

What present do you give to the corporation that already has everything?

In the case of Chevron, the U.S. has provided a gift of $1.5 billion in royalty-free drilling in the Gulf of Mexico since the 1990s.

That's according to a new analysis [PDF] of Interior Department figures by the office of Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee. He is calling on his colleagues in Congress to end the handouts.


BP testifies: We knew about ‘big risk’ of explosion

BP knew this could happen before it happened
U.S. Coast Guard
BP knew this could happen before it happened.

BP knew. BP didn't care.

The company was aware that there was a "big risk" of an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig before that very disaster unfolded, an executive acknowledged Tuesday in court.

"There was a risk identified for a blowout," Lamar McKay, who was president of BP America at the time of the 2010 explosion, said Tuesday during a civil trial that could see the company forced to fork over tens of billions of dollars in fines and damages to the U.S. government and victims of the oil spill. "The blowout was an identified risk, and it was a big risk, yes."