Energy Topics

The benefits of biomass fuel, the safety of nuclear waste dumps, and federal support for alcohol fuel production were among the energy topics that made news in 1980.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
May/June 1980
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Nuclear waste storage was one of several an energy topics of ongoing concern in 1980.

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The following were a few of the energy topics and energy-related topics garnering attention in 1980. 

DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY CONSUMPTION? The U.S. Department of Defense gobbles up over 80% of all the energy used by the federal government. In fact, our military alone "eats" enough power to rank 22nd in the world, among nations, in total energy consumed, using more per year than does industrialized Sweden.

IT'S BEEN CALCULATED, therefore, that even if the Middle East oil fields could be captured intact — which is unlikely — more oil might well be consumed in such a war than would be gained through the conquest.

MAN-ON-THE-SPOT: The Michigan Sheriffs' Association reports that, when patrol cars were parked for 10 or 16 minutes of each hour at hazardous places — with the parking spots changed from hour to hour and day to day — there was a drop of 3.4% in personal injuries, a 9.4% reduction in property damages, an 89.1 % increase in violation citations, and fuel savings of 97.9 gallons per car over a two-month period!

PRETTY CONVINCING: A central-Kansas farmer reported finding a balloon on his property with a tag which said it had been released about 20 hours earlier near California's Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Plant (more than 1,600 miles away) as a demonstration of how rapidly wind currents could carry radioactive substances.

PIT PERFORMANCE: In 1979 this column reported on the Tri-Valley Growers of Modesto, California ... who use pulverized fruit pits and almond shells to generate steam for cooking, cleaning cans, etc. Now, the area's county pollution control board adds that — partly as a result of the switch to burning biomass fuel — regional emissions of sulfur oxides have been reduced, particulate matter is down by a factor of two, hydrocarbons are lower by a factor of 10, and carbon monoxide has been cut by a factor of 40.

WOODBURNERS COOPERATIVES OF AMERICA has been formed to "stabilize the cost of wood on a local level, lobby for legislation that would treat wood fuel as a valuable natural national resource, and further the economic benefit to its members in the common cause of energy self-sufficiency." 

UNSAFE AT ANY SPEED: It has been reported that a former accounts receivable clerk at Chem Nuclear in Barnwell, South Carolina — the nation's largest commercial low-level nuclear waste dump — testified at a nuclear protesters' trespassing trial that she had paid many speeding tickets earned by truckers who were hauling the waste, and once paid a fine for a nuke-hauling truck jockey who — while drunk — jackknifed his rig on I-40.

TOO HOT TO HANDLE: The same clerk also testified that the "low-level" waste dump received at least one shipment so radioactive that the trucker (who died a year later from cancer) had to drive the load of liquid waste directly into a ditch, where it was immediately buried!

THE WORLD'S NUCLEAR SEWER? Barnwell, besides hosting Chem Nuclear, is also home of the Savannah River Plant, one of the two U.S. facilities producing plutonium ... and the only plant making tritium for nuclear weapons. That site contains 21 million gallons of high-level waste, three operating reactors, and two separation facilities. But if Barnwell's Allied General Nuclear Services (a nuke-fuel reprocessing plant) is ever allowed to operate, it will emit more radiation than does SRP.

FOOTNOTE TO THE ABOVE: The Barnwell protesters were found guilty of "entering a man's pasture after notice" and sentenced to five days in jail. "Even though Chem Nuclear doesn't possess any hogs or cows," says a member of Carolinians for Safe Energy, Inc., "the unfenced, grassy area we were on could be called a pasture."

TMI FALLOUT: In the three-month period before the Three-Mile Island accident, a Harrisburg hospital recorded only one birth defect, but the number rose to seven in the three months following the crisis. In a more recent study, 13 babies with thyroid nodules were found in three counties east of TMI... a number that's more than four times the expected frequency of the pre-malignant condition that is often associated with contamination from radioactive iodine-131.

CATTAILS are the latest possible alternative fuel, because — while they burn too quickly if used "straight" — they can be compressed into fuel pellets or their starch converted into alcohol. Researchers also think the wild edibles may be an ideal crop to plant on sites where peat has been harvested for energy.

DAMNED IF YOU DO: Conservation efforts — and a mild winter — caused such a drop in sales of home heating oil that many fuel dealers in New York and Long Island increased their prices to offset their sales losses.... Amana Refrigeration, Inc., by using a new design and extra insulation, has come out with the "2-plus-2 1/2" model, which it calls AMERICA'S FIRST ENERGY·EFFICIENT REFRIGERATOR.... Denmark converts 60% of its garbage into usable energy... Switzerland, 40%... Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands, 30%... AND THE U.S., 1%! ...The United States Department of Agriculture's Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) will provide up to $100 million of its current year's business-industrial load budget to ALCOHOL FUEL PRODUCTION FACILITIES AND OPERATIONS.

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