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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Fukushima Daiichi is undead

zombie warning

Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was killed in early 2011 and has not produced power since. But it's turned into a radioactive zombie, wreaking havoc long after its pulse flatlined.

Nuclear rods at the disabled plant must be kept cool to prevent them from triggering another nuclear meltdown. But the building that houses them has been wrecked by explosions and compromised by a rodent. Even pits that hold radioactive water at the site are failing.


Judge blocks oil fracking on federal land in California

"frack you" sign
Shutterstock / Michael G. McKinne

David Roberts recently listed 10 reasons why fracking for oil in California is a stupid idea. A federal judge has now added one more: It would be stupid to allow fracking on federal lands in the state without first adequately studying the potential environmental impacts.

That's exactly what the Bureau of Land Management tried to do. And now the bureau has been admonished in court for its environmentally unfriendly rush to allow energy companies to pump California full of chemicals and sand as they suck out oil from the vast Monterey Shale reserve.


ExxonMobil wins safety award from corporate-backed group

ExxonMobil logo and award
We at Grist would like to apologize to the folks at ExxonMobil for going on and on about their dismal safety record. About the recent tar-sands oil spill in Mayflower, Ark. About the heavy-handed way the company is trying to control information about the spill. About a chemical spill at an ExxonMobil refinery last week that stunk up New Orleans. About how the company in 2011 waited 46 minutes to shut off a pipeline that was dumping oil into the Yellowstone River. About that old Exxon Valdez thing.

We apologize because last week a group controlled by executives from ExxonMobil and similarly dangerous corporations bestowed upon ExxonMobil an award recognizing its stellar emphasis on safety. Yes, the nonprofit National Safety Council -- whose board of directors includes ExxonMobil Safety VP Jeffrey Woodbury and former ExxonMobil exec Michael Henderek -- awarded ExxonMobil the Green Cross for Safety medal.

I guess that shows us!

From the National Safety Council’s press release:


Italy seizes wind and solar trove from Mafia


Congratulations are in order for Italy, which last week acquired 43 wind and solar energy companies.

But this was not the result of a public scheme designed to rein in carbon emissions or put Italians in control of their energy future. It was the court-ordered consequence of an organized crime investigation -- the biggest ever seizure of Mafia-linked assets.


Climate changes for wine regions could mean hangovers for wildlife

red-wine-glass-green-istock.jpgWine grapes are about as sensitive as your head the morning after you've tied one on with a bottle of Bordeaux: They need just the right climate to thrive. And that climate, of course, is changing.

A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicts the rapid decline of wine-growing regions from California to Australia -- quite the headache for the $290-billion-a-year global wine industry.

The Guardian reports:

Researchers predict a two-thirds fall in production in the world's premier wine regions because of climate change. ...

The scientists used 17 different climate models to gauge the effects on nine major wine-producing areas. They used two different climate futures for 2050, one assuming a worst-case scenario with a 4.7C (8.5F) warming, the other a 2.5C increase.

Both forecast a radical re-ordering of the wine world. The most drastic decline was expected in Europe, where the scientists found a 85% decrease in production in Bordeaux, Rhone and Tuscany.

The future was also bleak for wine growing areas of Australia, with a 74% drop, and California, with a 70% fall


Why tar-sands pipelines are just too risky

Shutterstock / Oleinik Dmitri

ExxonMobil’s oil spill in Mayflower, Ark., was just the latest in a string of leaks from pipelines that proved physically incapable of safely carrying toxic tar-sands oil.

With the Obama administration poised to decide whether to build the Keystone XL pipeline to carry Canadian tar-sands oil south to the Gulf Coast, you might well wonder whether that pipeline would be about as safe as a balloon filled with bleach.

Tar-sands oil extraction and transportation is a relatively recent development, but the material already seems to be bursting out of pipelines and into the environment at a frighteningly disproportionate rate. From a Natural Resources Defense Council analysis of federal transportation data:


Climate skeptic could run Down Under

Tony Abbott
Shutterstock / Phillip Minnis
Tony Abbott.

Australians endured devastating bushfires, floods, and record-breaking heat waves during this year's Southern Hemisphere summer. Per capita, Australia is one of the world's biggest contributors to global warming -- and it has also been among those hardest hit by its effects. But in recent years, the country has been doing more than most to rein in emissions and brace for climate change disaster.

Australians head to the polls this year, and unfortunately for them (and everyone), the main opposition candidate vying to defeat Julia Gillard in the race for prime minister happens to be a mug who reckons all this climate change talk is just a bunch of bull dust and whingeing.


Obama talks green with California donors, says environmental stuff is tough

President Barack Obama addressed wealthy donors in San Francisco this week, including at one event held in the lavish home of a super-wealthy opponent of the proposed Keystone XL tar-sands oil pipeline.

Protestors at an Obama fundraiser in the exclusive San Francisco neighborhood of Pacific Heights
Rebecca Bowe / San Francisco Bay Guardian
Protestors at an Obama fundraiser in the exclusive San Francisco neighborhood of Pacific Heights.

He didn't tell the donors whether his administration planned to approve the pipeline, which if it leaks will spew the same sticky bitumen that's coating Mayflower, Ark. But he did talk about the environment. And he wants his wealthy, environment-appreciating donors to know that environmental causes are a tough sell.


This year, amber waves of grain to be replaced by CORN

Shutterstock / Jorge Moro

Ride a train through swaths of the Midwest in the summer and it's hard to imagine how the country could ever produce more corn. Well, imagine it: Farmers will cover 97.3 million acres of land with the monoculture crop this year.

That's more than in any other year since 1936, when, like now, the drought-plagued nation's corn reserves had run low. But unlike the 1930s, corn prices are high now in part because of demand for exports, biofuels, corn-syrup-flavored candy, and feed for factory farming.

Read more: Food


James Hansen says natural gas is worse than nuclear


If forced to decide between living in a world powered by natural gas or a world powered by nuclear energy, which would you choose?

Seems a little like trying to decide whether to chop off an arm or a leg.

Evacuees of Fukushima or residents of San Luis Obispo (a coastal Californian county where a nuclear power plant sits near poorly understood earthquake faults) may opt for natural gas. Then again, residents of nearby Contra Costa County, Calif. (where the air is poisoned by natural-gas-burning power plants), or of Pavilion, Wyo. (where the water was poisoned by natural gas fracking), may prefer nuclear.

Leave it to NASA scientist-turned-climate activist James Hansen to bring a little clarity. He crunched the numbers to determine which of the two options is less deadly to humanity. The result isn't even close: Despite the horrific threats posed by nuclear fission, Hansen and NASA colleague Pushker Kharecha found nuclear power to be far safer than natural gas.

From their paper in the journal Environmental Science and Technology: