News from the energy boom-before-last

March 10, 2009

Excited about the prospects of nuclear power as an alternative to burning fossil fuels?

Comes this story from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Officials are shooting for an April 20 starting date for the long-awaited cleanup of the Moab, Utah, mill-tailings pile.

U.S. Energy Department officials last week opened a 3,800-foot section of rail track they will use as a staging area for shipments of mill tailings from the pile to a disposal site to the north, near Crescent Junction.

A gantry crane capable of lifting 50 tons will pluck tailings-laden containers from trucks and place them on railroad cars on a ledge above the pile, which sits near the entrance to Arches National Park.

Why is this relevant to anything?

This tailings pile has been targeted for cleanup for at least 30 years.  The story doesn’t say precisely, calling it “cold war” — it is partly a remnant of the uranium boom of the 1950s.  It may date back to the 1940s.

And, according to the story:

The Energy Department has a 2028 target date for completion of work moving the pile. The cost is estimated to run as high as $698 million.

2028? Ten years of usefulness for the mine, another 60 years to clean it up. Some boom.  Some bust.

You load 16 million tons [of radioactive and poisonous tailings], and what do you get?  A site cleaner in Moab from uranium milled a half-century ago, and a warning to those who push nuclear power for the future damn-the-cost.  There are costs.

Step carefully.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Utah Policy Daily.


Hydrogen power: Still a gas after all these years

April 20, 2008

There must have been news conferences, press releases and lengthy stories, but I missed them.  It came as a quiet surprise to stumble across GM’s website talking about a fleet of 100 hydrogen fuel-cell cars, on the road now.

Chevy has launched a test fleet of hydrogen-powered fuel cell Equinox SUVs. This fleet hit the streets of New York City, Washington, D.C., and Southern California.

“Project Driveway” is the first large-scale market test of fuel cell vehicles with real drivers in the real world. Why? Because hydrogen fuel cells use zero gasoline and produce zero emissions. They’re a sustainable technology for a better environment. And they ultimately reduce our dependence on petroleum. Equinox Fuel Cell is an electric vehicle powered by the GM fourth-generation fuel cell system, our most advanced fuel cell propulsion system to date. The electric motor traction system will provide the vehicle with instantaneous torque, smooth acceleration, and quiet performance.

The Equinox Fuel Cell will go nearly 150 miles per fill-up, and reach a top speed of 100 mph. Green Car Journal has given the Chevy Equinox Fuel Cell its Green Car Vision Award. The Equinox Fuel Cell won the award over several nominees, including the Honda FCX Clarity and Toyota Prius Plug-In.

If you live in one of those cities, you may be eligible to test drive one of the vehicles.  Were I there, my application to try one would have been in before I started this piece.

It took 20 years longer than it should have to get hybrid fueled vehicles on the road; hydrogen power lags at least as far back.  To those of us who long ago gave up hoping the Detroit Big 3 might see the light on hydrogen in any form, the news GM has a fleet of fuel-cells in pre-Beta testing is most interesting.  We remember GM’s last foray into electric cars.  Hopes do not rise, at least not great hopes, and not high.

It’s been 31 years since Roger Billings drove a hydrogen-powered internal combustion car in Jimmy Carter’s inaugural parade.  Hope abides, but not forever.  Feathers cannot sustain hope that long, Emily.

Fuel cells provide significant advantages, though.  The need for something like fuel cells should drive a market to make the things work.   [More about fuel cells, hydrogen, and Roger Billings, below the fold.]

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