Conserve & Pro$per

International Nuclear Cooperation

Last week as well as last year I joined technical cooperation missions to the Middle East. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) sponsored the trips at the request of national governments. Currently, 171 countries participate in the United Nations agency as member states. They pay dues and in return can obtain training and technical assistance from experts worldwide. Both trips I took relate to similar issues of naturally-occurring radioactivity found in groundwater that is used for drinking water and agriculture. Here is a blog from the trip I took last year. We are examining the sources of radium that are present from uranium and thorium, looking at treatment technologies, potential health effects from consuming low levels of radioactive water or for workers at water treatment plants, as well as potential options for what to do with radioactive waste generated by treatment. Therefore, even if a country does have nuclear facilities for producing energy or weapons, the IAEA can still provide assistance for places were radioactive minerals are found naturally and can contaminate water supplies or in buildings from radon found in air indoors. Naturally occurring radioactivity can be found in many places around the world and if unchecked can potentially cause illnesses including cancer.

Other programs involve nuclear medicine and eradication of diseases such as by suppressing mosquitoes through sterilization. Here’s a excerpt:

“Experts in China plan to test the technology in larger urban areas in the near future using sterile male mosquitoes from a mass-rearing facility in Guangzhou, said Zhiyong Xi, Director of Sun Yat-sen University-Michigan State University’s Joint Center of Vector Control for Tropical Diseases and Professor at Michigan State University in the United States.”

I look forward to participating in future IAEA technical cooperation missions on water resources issues as well as learning and sharing positive advances being made.

First Conserve & Pro$per Newsletter Posted

Dear Readers:

The first Conserve & Pro$per newsletter is now available online. Click on the page at:

My goal is to actively engage, clearly inform, and substantially improve our well-being and environmental health. Living in a sustainable world depends on our ability to ask questions, separate fact from fiction, compare scientific certainty with contrasting uncertainty, seek improved technologies, plan for the future, and take positive and meaningful actions now!

Sustainability topics for the blog include animals, automobiles, climate, energy, food, money, people, plants, water, and weather. So far, I’ve written 139 separate blog posts. I challenged myself to post a blog every day during the month of June 2019 with a focus on sharing my experiences with nuclear energy and petroleum production. Many books and news articles have been read and reviewed to support the blogs. I’ve shared personal experiences and other people’s success stories, as well as recommending books, CDs, DVDs and other products available from Amazon and your public library. In the future, I plan to offer posters and other educational products.

So far, the website is commercial free -- devoid of website advertising. The goal of this newsletter is to focus on sustainability topics by highlighting and updating topics mentioned in four years of blog postings. While the news is often filled with depressingly tragic stories, such as disasters, we are all looking for positive changes we can make and solutions we can take. This first newsletter describes positive actions we can all take now, shares a featured project of transforming a nuclear waste site to a city park, shows a chart of sustainability development goals by the United Nations, and reviews a book called The Madhouse Effect,

I hope you find this first newsletter informative and interesting! Please send your comments to me via email at or directly on the website blogs.

Peace and Love, Bill Dam

USA: Uncontrolled Spending Addiction and One Possible Remedy

As a citizen of the United States of America (USA), I’ve grown up in a society leading the world in consumerism resulting in uncontrolled spending addiction! Addiction is defined by MedicalNewsToday as a, “psychological and physical inability to stop consuming a chemical, drug, activity, or substance, even though it is causing psychological and physical harm.”

Addiction is not restricted to one country so the influences of uncontrolled spending addiction are observed everywhere. I’ve been victim to impulsive buying and spending too much money for things to feel gratification. An example of my own spending addiction occurred when I collected music CDs which became obsessive and needed correcting to turn debts into savings.

USA leads the world in debt with over $22.5 trillion! Checkout U.S. Presidential candidate Senator Michael Bennett from Colorado discussing unpaid wars and tax cuts in his speech on “Fiscal Responsibility.

I posted a blog in December 2016 about similar issues. Our goal needs to be finding a balance and reducing overconsumption!

One remedy that I’ve discovered works for me is to take a photo of when I want to buy something to avoid impulsive buying. This really helps when I’m shopping, especially with children, to say we will think about a purchase. It is amazing how quickly the desire can be fulfilled to separate our needs from our wants.

Last week, I took my son shopping for his birthday to new sporting goods store in town, He identified about 20 “must have” items so after taking photos we determined the best few products to obtain a few days later and he was happy as well as we stayed within our budget.

Announcing Monthly Newsletter Coming in July!

Offering a multi-page newsletter on national and international topics related to sustainability from Agriculture to Zoology. We provide essential information on products creating positive innovations for the environment. We share ideas for all ages including useful reading and educational materials. For example of content, please see blog postings that have been provided free for the past four years!

Climate Change Discussed by Presidential Hopefuls

Of the 20 Democratic Presidential candidates to debate this week, which ones said climate change was their number one issue? How long did they discuss climate change? Who has the best plan? Did anyone mention a carbon tax (or other incentives)? What are the pros and cons for supporting the Green New Deal?

VOX reports that during the 4 hours of debates on two nights (W and Th) this week, the topic of climate change was discussed for only 15 minutes. This is more than in 2016 but really deserves much more time to discuss threats and actions that are needed. Most of the candidates are following a similar script of supporting the Green New Deal “GND”. See my blog from February 2019 Green New Deal: Inserting Realities into Radical Proposals! As you can see from the title of this blog, I support the aspirational concepts of a GND and it will need significant work and debate to form meaningful legislation.

Axios listed candidates in March who support GND in various connotations.

350 Action is keeping a 2020 Climate Test score card on the Presidential candidates including support for the GND. Their name 350 refers to the CO2 ppm level objective of the organization. As explained in the excellent book The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy (page 16), the pre-industrial age CO2 baseline level was 280 ppm.

NASA reports the May 2019 recorded CO2 of 411 ppm. This increase in CO2 resulted in about 1 degree C (1.5 deg. F) temperature increase. So drastic reductions in heat-trapping gases are urgently needed.

Jay Inslee made it his one and only issue for the campaign and future blogs will discuss what he’s been doing as Washington state governor.

Some good things are happening in Colorado and Michael Bennett said this is a top priority issue for his campaign (although his is being cautious in blind support for GND) while former governor John Hickenlooper is more moderate in his approach citing achievements to reduce methane.

According to a Gallup poll in March 2019, “66% believe global warming is caused by human activity, near all-time high.”

I did not hear anyone mention incentives to promote green energy like a carbon tax, did you?

Heat Wave in Europe Sets Record Highs

We are greatly concerned for the people in Europe suffering from record heat causing wildfires and potential for death and destruction.

According to the BBC, “A heatwave affecting much of Europe is expected to intensify further with countries - including France, Spain and Switzerland - expecting temperatures above 40C (104F) later on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic recorded their highest temperatures for June.

Meteorologists say hot air drawn in from northern Africa is responsible.

The heat is expected to rise further in many countries over the next three days, meteorologists warn.”

This year may be even hotter than the previous year of highest temperatures in 2003 when as many as 70,000 people may have died, according to the book The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change by Robert Henson. A combination of heat trapping particles causing air pollution affects people’s health and especially vulnerable are young children and the elderly.

Updated 6/28/19

Here’s the latest from the Washington Post:

“For a third straight day, a ferocious heat wave is baking large parts of Europe, and the exceptionally high temperatures are making history. On Friday, the town of Gallargues-le-Montueux in southern France hit 114.4 degrees (45.8 Celsius), the hottest temperature ever recorded in the country.

The scorching temperature easily surpassed the previous record of 111.4 degrees (44.1 Celsius) set in the southern town of Conqueyrac in France’s historic 2003 heat wave, which was blamed for 15,000 deaths.”

Note that the heat record is the highest ever recorded! The number of people who died from the 2003 heatwave is disputed with 15,000 reported in the current media reports and 70,000 as cited in the book The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change by Robert Henson.

Vitamin D Protects Against Pollution-Induced Asthma

As I blog through the energy sector and related impacts to our health and the environment, I also want to share good news including medical findings. This year, a new study by NIEHS and John Hopkins University School of Medicine, “finds vitamin D has a protective effect among asthmatic obese children who live in urban environments with high indoor air pollution.”

NIEHS also reports that in 2016, “asthma affected 26 million Americans and nearly 340 million people worldwide, according to the Global Burden of Disease study. The disease can profoundly affect quality of life and financial and emotional health and is a major cause of missed time from school and work. Severe asthma attacks may require emergency room visits and hospitalizations, and can be fatal.”

Docs Want Climate Action

I grew up with asthma which gets worst living in cities and much better living in smaller towns. Environmental pollution from vehicle exhaust and burning wood or coal are the primary culprits. Burning fossil fuels is affecting our health and the climate.

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, “Lung disease is the third leading killer in the United States, responsible for one in seven deaths, and is the leading cause of death among infants under the age of one. Some lung diseases, like asthma and emphysema, involve a narrowing or blockage of the airways resulting in poor air flow. Others, including pulmonary fibrosis, pneumonia and lung cancer, are caused by a loss of elasticity in the lungs that produces a decrease in the total volume of air that the lungs are able to hold. Research has shown that long-term exposure to air pollutants can reduce lung growth and development and increase the risk of developing asthma, emphysema, and other respiratory diseases. Results from the NIEHS-supported Harvard Six Cities Study, the largest available database on the health effects of outdoor and indoor air pollution, show a strong association between exposure to ozone, fine particles and sulfur dioxide, and an increase in respiratory symptoms, reduced lung capacity, and risk of early death.”

Over 70 medical associations are advocating that climate change is a public health crisis. Here is the Climate Health Action call to action and list of supporting groups:

Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine

Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments

American Academy of Family Physicians

American Academy of Pediatrics

American Association of Community Psychiatrists

American College of Emergency Physicians, California chapter

American College of Lifestyle Medicine

American College of Physicians

American Heart Association

American Lung Association

American Medical Association

American Medical Women's Association

American Public Health Association

Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health

Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative

Berkeley Media Studies Group

Boonshoft School of Medicine Wright State University

California Conference of Local Health Officers

California Environmental Health Association

California Public Health Association-North

Callifornia Conference of Directors of Environmental Health

Center for Climate Change and Health

Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

ChangeLab Solutions

Citizens Climate Health Team

Climate 911

Climate for Health, ecoAmerica

Climate Psychiatry Alliance

Colorado Public Health Association

Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Florida Clinicians for Climate Action

Florida State Medical Association

George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication

Health Care Climate Council

Health Care Without Harm

Human Impact Partners

Infectious Diseases Society of America

International Transformational Resilience Coalition (ITRC)

Maine Public Health Association

Medical Advocates for Healthy Air

Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health

Montana Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate

Multnomah County Health Department

National Association of Social Workers

National Environmental Health Association

National Medical Association

New York State Public Health Association

Ohio Clinicians for Climate Action

Oklahoma Public Health Association

Physicians for Social Responsibility

Physicians for Social Responsibility Maine Chapter

Physicians for Social Responsibility Wisconsin

Physicians for Social Responsibility, Arizona Chapter

Prevention Institute

PSR New Mexico Chapter

PSR-San Francisco Bay Area

PSR/Colorado Working Group


Public Health - Seattle & King County

Public Health Advocates

Public Health Alliance of Southern California

Public Health Institute

Regional Asthma Management and Prevention (RAMP)

Rutgers Global Health Institute

San Mateo County Health

Student Section of the Maryland Public Health Association

Temple University College of Public Health

Texas Physicians for Social Responsibility

University of Colorado Consortium on Climate & Health

University of Maryland School of Public Health

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment

Vermont Climate and Health Alliance

Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action

Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility

Western North Carolina Physicians for Social Responsibility

Wisconsin Environmental Health Network

Oil and Gas Wells in Colorado with Increasing Oversight

Colorado contains abundant oil and natural gas reserves. According to EIA, crude oil production increased by four times since 2010. The state is in the top five natural gas producing states in the U.S. The photo showing well field locations is from a GIS map provided by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, COGCC.

Despite vigorous attempts by industry to block new regulations, on April 16, 2019, Governor Polis signed into law SB 19-181 to increase regulatory oversight to of oil and gas development. According to the COGCC:

“One of the primary changes associated with Colorado’s new oil and gas law is that the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) changes from “fostering” the oil and gas industry to “regulating” the industry, prioritizing public health, safety and environmental concerns. It also enables local governments to have increased oversight of land use related oil and gas activities in their communities.”

Hopefully, this is good news for the state and citizens to make oil and gas development safer for people and the environment. We need to be aware and concerned about the multiple chemicals produced including carbon dioxide, methane, formaldehyde, benzene and many other substances!

Middle East Oil Supply, Demand and Conflicts

The U.S. continues to develop independent sources of petroleum and alternatives but still depends on significant imports brought through the Strait of Hormuz (photo by NASA). Asia consumes about three-fourths of Persian Gulf oil. This week Iran attacked two tankers and an American drone. Last month four tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman. Will a new war be fought over oil or can war be avoided such as by us becoming less dependent on hydrocarbons?

The International Energy Agency states, “The United States will lead oil-supply growth over the next six years, thanks to the incredible strength of its shale industry, triggering a rapid transformation of global oil markets. By 2024, the United States will export more oil than Russia and will close in on Saudi Arabia – a pivotal milestone that will bring greater diversity of supply in markets.”

The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) provides weekly, monthly, and annual updates on petroleum supply and demand. EIA reported that the Strait of Hormuz, “located between Oman and Iran, connects the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. The Strait of Hormuz is the world's most important oil chokepoint because of the large volumes of oil that flow through the strait. In 2018, its daily oil flow averaged 21 million barrels per day (b/d), or the equivalent of about 21% of global petroleum liquids consumption. Flows through the Strait of Hormuz in 2018 made up about one-third of total global seaborne traded oil. More than one-quarter of global liquefied natural gas trade also transited the Strait of Hormuz in 2018. EIA estimates that 76% of the crude oil and condensate that moved through the Strait of Hormuz went to Asian markets in 2018…the United States imported about 1.4 million b/d of crude oil and condensate from Persian Gulf countries through the Strait of Hormuz, accounting for about 18% of total U.S. crude oil and condensate imports and 7% of total U.S. petroleum liquids consumption.”

Capping the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon Well

According to EPA, “On April 20, 2010, the oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, operating in the Macondo Prospect in the Gulf of Mexico, exploded and sank resulting in the death of 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon and the largest spill of oil in the history of marine oil drilling operations. 4 million barrels of oil flowed from the damaged Macondo well over an 87-day period, before it was finally capped on July 15, 2010. On December 15, 2010, the United States filed a complaint in District Court against BP Exploration & Production and several other defendants alleged to be responsible for the spill.”

Working for the USGS, I got the honor to meet Dr. Paul Hsieh, the scientist who determined that the capped well would hold and not blowout causing significantly more damage. He served on a government task force and one of the biggest issues was obtaining the critical data to determine if capping the well could withstand the pressures. Here are two stories from the Daily Mail and NASA describing his heroic efforts! Luckily his scientific analysis and presentation prevailed over typical risk-adverse government politics.

In 2016, BP paid $20 billion in a global settlement according to the Department of Interior and NOAA is leading the restoration response.

Trump Tax Cut Opens Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to Petroleum Companies

After about 40 years of protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) from petroleum exploration and development, in December 2017, the Republican controlled Congress and Trump Administration hid within the tax cut legislation allowing oil leasing. According to the The Hill article, Mr. Trump boasted, “We’re going to start drilling in ANWR, one of the largest oil reserves in the world, that for 40 years this country was unable to touch. That by itself would be a massive bill…They’ve been trying to get that, the Bushes, everybody. All the way back to Reagan, Reagan tried to get it. Bush tried to get it. Everybody tried to get it,” he said. “They couldn’t get it passed. That just happens to be here.”

According to the Energy Information Agency EIA, In December 2017, “the passage of Public Law 115-97 required the Secretary of the Interior to establish and administer a competitive oil and natural gas program for the leasing, development, production, and transportation of oil and natural gas in and from the coastal plain (1002 Area) of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Previously, ANWR was effectively under a drilling moratorium.”

I still recall as a college student in 1980 the great excitement when President Carter announced protecting ANWR. Despite the Iranian oil embargo causing massive fuel shortages, he valued preserving wildlife and the environment leading to Mr. Carter’s announcement for energy independence using alternative sources and to restore American confidence. Protecting ANWR in 1980 is described by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

“President Jimmy Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). The Act re-designated the Range as part of the larger, approximately 18 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, designated eight million acres as Wilderness, and designated three rivers as Wild. It also called for wildlife studies and an oil and gas assessment of 1.5 million acres of the Refuge coastal plain. In addition, ANILCA allowed KIC to relinquish their selected lands outside the Refuge and instead to select the remainder of their Corporation lands within the Arctic Refuge. Section 1003 of ANILCA states that the "production of oil and gas from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is prohibited and no leasing or other development leading to production of oil and gas from the [Refuge] shall be undertaken until authorized by an act of Congress." The FWS website for ANWR describes the, “Arctic Refuge contains the largest area of designated Wilderness within the National Wildlife Refuge System, "where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man." [The Wilderness Act, 1964].”

This year, when Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, they and a few Republicans introduced the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act. However, like most of the multitude of other bills passed by the House, this bill is stuck in the Republican-led Senate.

Update: On Thursday, June 20th, I caught C-SPAN when full House voted to block oil drilling and seismic exploration for one year as part of the Department of Interior’s spending bill for 2020.

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Alaska

On my blog yesterday regarding Mitigating Petroleum Hazards - Part 1, I mentioned a great book to read about the many activities of the oil and gas industry written by Steve Coll, Private Empire: Exxon-Mobil and American Power published in 2013.

The book begins discussing the Exxon Valdez oil spill ten years after the event. In 1989, the oil tanker ran into a reef along the coast of Alaska and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil. There were many causes for the accident, including the crew, company and even the U.S. Coast Guard was found to be negligent.

Here is what NOAA learned from mitigating the oil spill based on a twenty-five year review:

“In the case of the Exxon Valdez spill, after two years we understood that aggressive shoreline treatment caused more harm than the oil itself; after three to four years, we saw those differences diminish as biological productivity at the most impacted places compensated; after four to six years, shoreline communities had mostly recovered from spill activities; and over five to ten years, we discerned that changes occurring on the shoreline appeared to be linked to subtle, much larger-scale processes that we would not have noted had we not had the long-term record.”

While natural processes may be more effective than human intervention in cleaning up oil spills, the death toll on wildlife can be devastating as reported by NOAA: “How many animals died outright from the oil spill? No one knows. The carcasses of more than 35,000 birds and 1,000 sea otters were found after the spill, but since most carcasses sink, this is considered to be a small fraction of the actual death toll. The best estimates are: 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, up to 22 killer whales, and billions of salmon and herring eggs.”

The ‘Private Empire’ book describes NOAA and other government scientists try to do their job conducting investigations of the oil spill assessment but running into confrontations with industry officials. Feds got fed up with the company’s intimidation tactics to suppress their work and many quit their jobs. I had no idea how powerful Exxon Mobil Corporation became until reading this book that mentions U.S. President George W. Bush, a former oil man himself, saying “no one tells them what to do!”

Another book I look forward to reading is Rachel Maddow’s Blowout, available on October 1st. Here’s a summary:

“Rachel Maddow’s Blowout offers a dark, serpentine, riveting tour of the unimaginably lucrative and corrupt oil-and-gas industry. With her trademark black humor, Maddow takes us on a switchback journey around the globe—from Oklahoma City to Siberia to Equatorial Guinea—exposing the greed and incompetence of Big Oil and Gas. She shows how Russia’s rich reserves of crude have, paradoxically, stunted its growth, forcing Putin to maintain his power by spreading Russia's rot into its rivals, its neighbors, the United States, and the West’s most important alliances. Chevron, BP, and a host of other industry players get their star turn, but ExxonMobil and the deceptively well-behaved Rex Tillerson emerge as two of the past century's most consequential corporate villains. The oil-and-gas industry has weakened democracies in developed and developing countries, fouled oceans and rivers, and propped up authoritarian thieves and killers. But being outraged at it is, according to Maddow, “like being indignant when a lion takes down and eats a gazelle. You can't really blame the lion. It's in her nature.”

This book is a clarion call to contain the lion: to stop subsidizing the wealthiest industry on earth, to fight for transparency, and to check the influence of predatory oil executives and their enablers. The stakes have never been higher. As Maddow writes, “Democracy either wins this one or disappears.”

Oil Spills and Mudlogging

In 1974, during a high school summer vacation, my parents took me on a cross-country drive from D.C. area to California. I fell in love with driving the car and scenery, especially when we visited Grand Tetons -Yellowstone National Parks. I got an early interest in geology by reading Geology of the National Park System. But my joy turned to sorrow when we visited Santa Barbara, California by finding the beaches were still covered by the black tar oil spill that occurred five years earlier.

Here are some specifics on the Pacific Ocean oil spill:

  • A blowout on a Union Oil Co. well happened on Jan. 28, 1969.

  • The well was under under Platform A, roughly 5 1/12 miles off the coast.

  • An estimated 3.3 million gallons of oil spilled.

  • The well was capped on Feb. 7, but oil continued to vent from cracks in the sea floor for months.

  • On Jan. 31, the oil slick was reported to be 30 square miles.

  • Oil was spotted onshore from Pismo Beach to the U.S.-Mexico border.

This event contributed to public outrage that resulted in the EPA begin created in 1970 and several new laws including the National Environmental Policy Act, Coastal Zone Management Act, Clean Water Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act, all within a three year period.

My interest in college focused on environmental science issues but there were few prospects for jobs. After graduating with a geology bachelor’s degree in 1980, I found a job from a newspaper advertisement in Denver to work for an oil service company as a “mud logger.” The first day on the job we meet at the office at 8 am and spent the day gathering supplies. It was January, got dark early, and we didn’t leave town until late in the afternoon. I recall driving on Interstate 70 West, up past Eisenhower tunnel, and then heading north to the oil drilling rig site. We arrived around midnight and my “mud logging boss” said I must collect samples in bags off the shaker every 30 minutes and he would show me the next day what to do. He went to bed and I kept working along with the drilling crew that kept going 24/7. So my first day on the job I worked 24 hours straight. But I also learned that first night to drink lots of coffee to stay warm causing me to became wired. I learned the drilling site was an exploratory well to see if economical oil or gas existed by drilling over one mile deep at a cost of over $1 million.

We examined the samples making a descriptive log and checking for natural gas under an ultraviolet light. The primary environmental impacts included road construction and drilling pads, drilling solutions added in the well, diesel exhaust, noise, salt water disposal wells and mud pit wastes, This job lasted about two weeks and then we moved on to the next site. I worked in several Rocky Mountain states, eventually becoming the boss so I could work daytime and sleep nights. Working in the Rangely Basin in northwestern Colorado, I learned that the well field became highly fractured so many new wells would be needed to recovery oil. I also heard stories that earthquakes were caused by oil companies injecting water which USGS confirmed that close to 1000 minor earthquakes occurred in the 1960’s.

I worked “mud logging” for seven months before returning to graduate school at the University of Wyoming and knew that I wanted a career involving water quality more than working in the oil fields.

A great book to read about the many hazards of the oil and gas industry is by Steve Coll, Private Empire: Exxon-Mobil and American Power published in 2013.

I will write more about my direct and indirect experiences in coming blog posts.

Electricity Grid Cyber Insecurity

A cyber attack on the electricity grid is being considered as one possible reason for power lost to tens of millions of people in five South American countries this weekend. When the lights went out, so did train transportation, water supply pumps, food refrigeration, voting machines, and more.

Nearly coincidental is a report from the New York Times that the U.S. is becoming more offensive in cyber attacks of the Russian power grid. DHS and FBI issued an alert last year that Russians have been attacking nuclear power plants, water stations, and other critical infrastructure, “Russian government actions (are) targeting U.S. Government entities as well as organizations in the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors.”

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission takes prime responsibility for grid operations in the U.S. including mandatory cyber security reliability standards. The challenge is developing an interconnected smart grid to improving digital efficiencies while preventing cyber attacks.

The SmartGrid is being developed by Department of Energy to fulfill the promise by President Obama in 2009, "It will make our grid more secure and more reliable, saving us some of the $150 billion we lose each year during power outages. It will allow us to more effectively transport renewable energy generated in remote places to large population centers, so that a wind farm in rural South Dakota can power homes in Chicago. And by facilitating the creation of a clean energy economy, building this 21st-century energy infrastructure will help us lay a foundation for lasting growth and prosperity."

I can still recall the 2003 blackout in the Northeastern U.S. which also affected air travel in many countries. Some trees hit powerlines causing the fault on the grid. When this happens, power plants may need to shut down to stop producing electricity as supply must equal demand. You can read about this event and some of the largest that occurred in India (affecting over 500 million people) and other countries on the Wikipedia page.

Happy Father's Day

Today to celebrate Father’s Day in the U.S., I thought how can I link this occasion with my series on mitigating nuclear hazards? What came to mind is one of many books I just borrowed from the library titled The Pope of Physics: Enrico Fermi and the Birth of the Atomic Age. I’ve not read it yet but will let you know what I learn. Here are the notes from the Amazon book page (see update below):

“Enrico Fermi is unquestionably among the greats of the world's physicists, the most famous Italian scientist since Galileo. Called the Pope by his peers, he was regarded as infallible in his instincts and research. His discoveries changed our world; they led to weapons of mass destruction and conversely to life-saving medical interventions.

This unassuming man struggled with issues relevant today, such as the threat of nuclear annihilation and the relationship of science to politics. Fleeing Fascism and anti-Semitism, Fermi became a leading figure in America's most secret project: building the atomic bomb. The last physicist who mastered all branches of the discipline, Fermi was a rare mixture of theorist and experimentalist. His rich legacy encompasses key advances in fields as diverse as comic rays, nuclear technology, and early computers.

In their revealing book, The Pope of Physics, Gino Segré and Bettina Hoerlin bring this scientific visionary to life. An examination of the human dramas that touched Fermi’s life as well as a thrilling history of scientific innovation in the twentieth century, this is the comprehensive biography that Fermi deserves.”

Have a Safe and Happy Father’s Day where ever you are!

Updated June 24, 2019:

I read and can recommend the interesting book about events leading to the Italian immigrant Enrico Fermi and many other scientists discovering atomic energy and subsequent Manhattan Project that ended WWII and proceeded to the Cold War. The biggest takeaway to me, beyond the interesting scientific discoveries, are the values of freedom that America and our allies fought against fascism and imperialism. Many scientists of Jewish decent or marriage escaped to America as Hitler rose to power in 1932. How different the world would be had Hitler developed atomic weapons? Fermi conducted the first nuclear self-sustaining chain reaction experiment (called Critical Pile-1) that directly created nuclear power and atomic weapons. However, he and other scientists strongly argued against themonuclear weapons (hydrogen bombs called the “Super”) developed in 1950’s by Edward Teller at Los Alamos. As cited by the Atomic Heritage Foundation, Fermi wrote:

"A decision on the proposal that an all-out effort be undertaken for the development of the "Super" cannot in our opinion be separated from considerations of broad national policy...necessarily such a weapon goes far beyond any military objective and enters the range of very great natural catastrophes. By its very nature it cannot be confined to a military objective but becomes a weapon which in practical effect is almost one of genocide..."

More to come in future blogs to share experience about nuclear energy and weapons.

Climate Commitments by BlackRock

Yesterday’s announcement by the Vatican on carbon pricing as a control on climate impacts included BlackRock, Inc., the largest asset management company in the world. They hold over 6.5 trillion dollars in assets for institutions and individual investors. They created iShares exchange-traded funds (ETFs) which holds stocks like an index mutual fund that are traded as stocks with low management fees. They also manage U.S. federal employee retirement pensions in the Thrift Saving Plan.

First for full disclosure, I own stock in BlackRock (NYSE:BLK) but it has not performed well in the past 52 weeks, down 15%. The yield of over 3% is attractive and has a low price to earnings ratio (P/E). They have 70 offices in 30 countries but recently needed layoffs to control costs.

According to the BlackRock history webpage, eight people created BlackRock in 1988 (including the current CEO Larry Fink) “to put clients’ needs and interests first.” They became a public company in 1999 and have tremendous influence on other companies and investors.

In September 2016, BlackRock issued a statement on climate change: “Investors can no longer ignore climate change. Some may question the science, but all are faced with a swelling tide of climate-related regulations and technological disruption. We show how to mitigate climate risks, exploit opportunities or have a positive impact.”

In January 2019 they announced the BlackRock Investment Stewardship’s approach to engagement on climate risk, “As part of its investment process on behalf of its clients, BlackRock assesses a range of factors that might affect the long-term financial sustainability of the companies in which we invest. We have determined that climate change presents significant investment risks and opportunities that have the potential to impact the long-term value of many companies.”

Therefore, BlackRock is taking a leadership role in the climate change debate by showing business sustainability must consider short and long-term risk factors. Climate change poses the greatest risk to humanity so businesses cannot afford to ignore science realities despite the noise and confusion coming from some sectors of government and industry.