Hiroshima: Making the Sixty-fourth Anniversary Special

by Ivan Oelrich

Today is the sixty-fourth anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, which was one of those rare events that divides human history into a before and an after.  That day was the beginning of the nuclear age.  There is nothing special about sixty-four, not like a fiftieth or a centenary.  But, years from now, the sixty-fourth anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing may be seen as special:  there is a chance that people looking back on today’s anniversary will see this as the beginning of the end of the nuclear age. Continue reading

Thought for the day, courtesy of Fogbank

by Alicia Godsberg

Yesterday’s Washington Post had another article[1] in the ongoing saga of W76 warhead refurbishment Life Extension Program (LEP) and Fogbank – a material that, according to open sources, is an intermediary material between the primary and secondary of a nuclear weapon that is “crucial” to the weapon reaching its designed yield.[2]  The problem for the W76 LEP: the original Fogbank manufacturing facility was closed years ago, at least partly because the material is extremely hazardous.  In addition, due to a lack of record keeping from the original manufacturing process (and the retirement of many knowledgeable scientists involved in that process), the labs found themselves not knowing how to re-manufacture Fogbank or a suitable replacement material for the W76 in a timely manner. The labs tried a three-prong approach to fixing this problem: building a new Fogbank production facility; manufacturing limited quantities at an interim location; and producing a suitable alternative made from less hazardous materials that would not need to undergo nuclear testing.[3]  What we have now is a new $50 million dollar facility at Y-12 to produce Fogbank in either some new form or its older, more hazardous form.[4] 

 That is the brief background – here is the thought of the day, courtesy of many conversations with Ivan Oelrich: there is no longer any justification for retaining complex, extremely high-yield two-stage thermonuclear nuclear weapons in a post-Cold War world.  Our nuclear deterrent would be sufficient with more simple-to-make HEU weapons, even gun-type weapons, the design of which was so scientifically fool-proof that it didn’t need testing before it was dropped on Hiroshima 64 years ago almost to the day.   Continue reading

Cool Roofs: A Big Deal

In the ongoing efforts to reduce our nation’s carbon output by improving the energy efficiency of our built environment, a new old idea is shaping up to be a key player: cool roofs.  Used throughout the Mediterranean and tropical climates worldwide, the solar reflectance value (albedo) of a white or light-colored roof has been long understood—the more sunlight the roof reflects, the less the building absorbs and the easier it is to keep the building cool.

A recent report by Hashem Akbari, Surabi Menon and Art Rosenfeld titled, “Global Cooling: Effect of Urban Albedo on Global Temperature”, quantifies cool roofs’ potential impact on improving energy efficiency and slowing climate change.  The report notes that painting 100 feet2 of black roof a lighter color offsets the extra heating caused by 1 metric ton of CO2 in the atmosphere.  Scaled up to the national level, converting dark-colored roofs and pavements in urban areas around the world to lighter colors would offset the extra heating caused by 44 billion metric tons of CO2in the atmosphere, effectively offsetting over 6 years of the U.S.’s CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas output and saving the country over $1 billion per year in energy costs.

Clearly, cool roofs are a big deal.  But from a building technology perspective, just painting the roof a lighter color isn’t enough, since the lighter color only solves half of the cool roof equation.  Calculating the coolness of a roof requires measuring both solar reflectance (the fraction of solar energy reflected by the roof) and thermal emittance (the measure of a roof’s ability to radiate absorbed heat as infrared light); the most useful method available for calculating roof coolness is the solar reflective index (SRI).  This index utilizes both factors to generate a 1-100 SRI rating, where 100 indicates a roof with perfect solar reflectance and thermal emittance.  The higher the SRI, the cooler a roof will be, even in full sunlight on a hot day.

Much like the HERS index for whole house energy efficiency, this rating index is essential to meeting the goal of retrofitting and constructing new buildings with cool roofs.  Without a scientifically sound method to rate the cooling properties of various roofing materials, consumers cannot make educated decisions and the maximum cooling benefits cannot be harnessed.

And while many current cool roof materials apply the latest and most advanced technologies, from spray polyurethane foam systems to brightly-colored tiles that reflect infrared energy, our historic understanding of the relationship between color and solar reflectance retains its preeminent importance.  Lighter roofing materials keep buildings cooler than darker materials, yielding more energy efficient structures that have a lower carbon footprint and are less expensive to operate.

Resources on Cool Roofs:

Hashem Akbari, Surabi Menon and Arthur Rosenfeld, “Global Cooling: Effect of Urban Albedo on Global Temperature”, 2008.  http://repositories.cdlib.org/lbnl/LBNL-63490/

Energy Information Administration, “Emissions of Greenhouse Gases Report”, December 2008.  http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/1605/ggrpt/

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) Cool Roofing Materials Database. http://eetd.lbl.gov/coolroof/

The Cool Roof Rating Council (CRRC).  http://www.coolroofs.org/

Celeste Allen Novak and Sarah Van Mantgem, “What’s So Cool About Cool Roofs”, GreenSource, March 2009.  http://continuingeducation.construction.com/article.php?L=68&C=488&P=1

The DOE Cool Roof Calculator provides an estimate of cooling and heating savings for small to medium size facilities that purchase electricity with a demand charge and an alternative version for larger facilities. http://www.ornl.gov/sci/roofs%2Bwalls/facts/CoolCalcEnergy.htm

The EPA Cool Roof Calculator allows the designer to input specific details about a building, including heating and cooling systems as well as location and the cost of energy. http://www.roofcalc.com/RoofCalcBuildingInput.aspx

A PDF version of this document is available here.

Energy Efficienct Building Codes in the Waxman-Markey Bill

The FAS Building Technologies program has just released a policy analysis titled “Implementing Energy Efficiency in Building Codes Based on the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009”, written by FAS intern Amit Talapatra.  Link to the full PDF of the paper here.  

The purpose of this analysis is to provide better understanding of the implications of Section 201 of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, also known as the Waxman-Markey Climate Bill. This analysis examines specific provisions of the bill and investigates ways for the Department of Energy and private code-development organizations to implement these policies using existing tools and methods available to them. The topics covered here include: ways to meet new energy efficiency targets, methods for defining cost-effectiveness, procedures to assure state compliance and issues that may arise if private organizations do not meet the requirements of the bill. For each of these topics, this analysis focuses on the relevant language in the bill, determines what questions stakeholders are interested in and answers these by taking both technical and policy factors into consideration.

French Aircraft Carrier Sails Without Nukes

The French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle with air wing on deck.

By Hans M. Kristensen

France no longer deploys nuclear weapons on its aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle under normal circumstances but stores the weapons on land, according to French officials.

President Nicolas Sarkozy declared in March 2008 that France “could and should be more transparent with respect to its nuclear arsenal than anyone ever has been.” But while the other nuclear powers declared long ago that their naval weapons were offloaded or scrapped after the Cold War ended, a similar announcement has – to my knowledge – been lacking from France.

The French acknowledgment marks the end of peacetime deployment of short-range nuclear weapons at sea.

It is not clear when the French offload occurred; it may have been instigated years ago. But it completes a worldwide withdrawal of short-range nuclear weapons from the world’s oceans that 20 years ago included more than 6,500 British, French, Russian, and U.S. cruise missiles, anti-submarine rockets, anti-aircraft missiles, depth bombs, torpedoes and bombs.

Continue reading