Posts Tagged ‘earthquake’

The smog-nuclear connection: thicker than you might think

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

As the world waits eagerly for Japan’s quake-ravaged, tsunami-swamped nuclear-power plant to come back under control, it’s worthwhile to take a step back in time to an age when Cold War apprehensions about radioactive fallout intertwined with everyday aggravations about Southern California’s air pollution epidemic.

We detail and highlight some of the many facets about the intersection of cell-mutating isotopes and lung-scarring aerosols in our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.

Among other interesting morsels from the chronicle:

* In the paranoid 1950s, the Eisenhower Administration buffaloed officials at the forerunner of today’s South Coast Air Quality Management District, Los Angeles County’s Air Pollution Control District (APCD), to perform airborne monitoring not just of tailpipe emissions but of radioactive particles drifting from above-ground nuclear weapon tests in the Nevada desert. Ike’s White House was so serious about this new role for West Coast smog police that APCD staffers were required to undergo mandatory training at the U.S. Navy’s “Radiological Defense School” in San Fransisco. Few enjoyed it.

* The sampling ignited a provocative question: how more dangerous would the air be in the event of an ICBM attack on Los Angeles during a particularly smoggy day? Some Navy scientists hypothesized that our hydrocarbon-drenched air might, counterintuitively, be a blessing in atomic war, suggesting that the smog-component ozone might block up to 86 percent of the radiat heat that would otherwise blast the area.

* APCD suits were dragged again into America’s fledgling nuclear debate when Los Angeles City Hall, eying power demand spikes as the city population bulged, proposed construction of a 500,000-kilowatt nuclear power plant near Los Angeles County’s northern boundary. Asked for an analysis of possible dangers, air quality officials said the site was too dangerous. A substantial release of radioactive materials, they concluded, would, as we paraphrase in Smogtown, “burp a stagnant atomic thunderhead lashing Saugus, Newhall and surrounding population centers as far as forty-five miles away from ground zero. No matter the elaborate safety precautions against a runaway reactor or coolant leak, it was just too much of a chance.” Los Angeles, in the end, opted to search for other power sources.

There’s much more in the book about how the Cold War/national security culture and the dawning of ”peaceful” nuclear power coexisted, separated and then reconnected with ever-changing smog in our understanding of aerborne toxics.

A bubbling brew of catch up news, Smogtown-style. Busy time around these parts, working on a new book and reporting, and loving every bit of it.

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

* The law of unintended geology – how the Haitain quake will reverse ecological repair. From the Newsweek story

” … Since the earthquake decimated Haiti’s capital city, much has been said about the country’s dire poverty. But Haiti is not only the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere; it’s also the most environmentally degraded. Less than 1 percent of its original forest cover remains, and 6 percent of the land has virtually no soil left. Both are due to a vicious cycle of overpopulation, poverty, and natural disasters. Each increases susceptibility to the other and as time wears on, it’s evident that to be effective, all problems must be attacked at once. For what some say was the first time, scientists were trying to do just that—Levy and Fischer’s work was among the first steps toward a more integrated development program addressing both economic and environmental concerns. Now that work has been put on hold …”

* Here come the fast-talking men from L.A. again – interesting piece on turning pillaged Owens Valley into a giant solar energy farm. From the L.A. Times story:

“First it was silver ore that streamed to Los Angeles from the rim of the Owens Valley, then the water from the valley floor.

Now, L.A. has come back for the sunshine.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the agency responsible for turning Owens Lake into a dusty salt flat and snatching up nearly every acre from Lone Pine to Bishop, has its sights on transforming the Owens Valley into one of largest sources of solar power in America …”

* Erin, where art thou? An update on the legal career of activist Erin Brockovich. Los Angeles Business Journal story

* Pretty good story from the L.A. Weekly about the health effects of living near freeways. Their toxic, as if we didn’t know that. Some relatively new studies here and a rambling search for City Hall accountability. Link

* Steak AND Smog: the cows of the Central Valley and the greenhouse- methane problem. L.A. Timesstory

* A potential game changing way to produce electricity at home with a fuel cell that combiones air and different fuels without combustion. Think of the countless benefits. L.A. Times link: