In a dank, humid room 45 miles west of Manila is a direct line to the office of the Philippine president. The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was to be the first nuclear plant in Southeast Asia. That never happened, and the power plant hasn’t generated a single kilowatt-hour since its completion in 1984. Owners sold off the uranium in 1997. In 2011, it was a reborn as a tourist attraction. The phone to the direct line sits on display, never used.
The Bataan plant has proved popular as a tourist destination, getting booked up months in advance. Especially common are Japanese tourists, who are wary about the safety of nuclear power since the Fukushima disaster. In fact, the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear disasters both pushed Bataan out of favor just when prospects for the nuclear power plant were just looking up. “We don’t need to hire nuclear experts but feng shui masters to get rid of the bad luck,” says Mauro Marcelo, a nuclear engineer who works there.
Joshua trees in the Mojave Desert
Solar energy has been enjoying its day in the sun with massive federal subsidies, but the energy taken from sunlight also has a dark side. Building these plants in the American West destroys large swathes of the desert ecosystem. Cacti must be mowed down and local wildlife displaced to make room for the giant mirrors that will essentially carpet the desert. The LA Times has a great feature on the Ivanpah project in the Mojave that began construction in October 2010.
Far from an empty stretch of sand, the Mojave supports diverse wildlife. No one knows exactly how the new solar power plant will affect the tortoises, eagles, and Joshua trees that currently inhabit the area. Is it okay to sacrifice the desert in the fight against larger climate change? The situation has put environmental groups in a bind, as Times reporter Julie Cart explains:
The national office of the Sierra Club has had to quash local chapters’ opposition to some solar projects, sending out a 42-page directive making it clear that the club’s national policy goals superseded the objections of a local group. Animosity bubbled over after a local Southern California chapter was told to refrain from opposing solar projects.
What’s the News: President Obama gave a major address outlining his plan for U.S. energy security yesterday. His major goal is quite ambitious: to cut American oil imports by one-third by 2025. And towards that goal, he listed a number of initiatives that many news organizations see as a rehashing of old ideas, however good they might be. According to The Economist, “it is hard to see his recycled list of proposals as anything more than a reassurance to the environmentally minded, and to Americans fretting about rising fuel prices, that the president feels their pain.”