Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Big decline in depth of Arctic winter sea ice

Juliette Jowit
The Guardian,
Tuesday October 28 2008

The thickness of sea ice in the Arctic dramatically declined last winter for the first time since records began in the early 1990s. The research by British scientists shows a significant loss in the thickness of the northern ice cap after the record loss of ice in the summer of 2007, although the weather was not abnormally warm.
The findings, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, raise the possibility that the loss of the Arctic sea ice could accelerate, because as the ice recedes the water temperature rises. This summer the sea ice recorded its second-lowest extent after the record low of 2007, again despite relatively cool air temperatures.
However, Katharine Giles of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at University College London, who led the study, said it was too soon to say whether the downward trend would continue and lead to summer sea ice disappearing even faster than forecast. "It's dangerous to extrapolate out because colder weather would mean the ice could recover again," said Giles. "This data will help climate modellers to validate their models and make them more accurate."
The study, part-funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the European Union, found the thickness of sea ice in the Arctic was almost unchanged in the five winters from 2002-6, but then declined 10%, or 26cm, last winter. In parts of the western Arctic, where the greatest loss was recorded the previous summer, the loss was nearly double the average.
But Vicky Pope, the Met Office's leading adviser to the government on climate change, warned: "There's clearly a decline over the last 30 years and we can detect a human signal in that, but the change in the last couple of years could be due to natural fluctuations in the weather."
Other causes of sea ice changes could include ocean currents and wind piling up ice, making it important to measure both thickness and extent to calculate total volume, said Giles.

Emissions from planes included for first time in climate change plans

Emissions from planes are to be included for the first time in ambitious government plans to cut greenhouse gases by 80 per cent after ministers were forced into the change to head off a back bench rebellion.

by Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent Last Updated: 3:23PM GMT 27 Oct 2008

The new amendment agrees to take international aviation into account
Ed Miliband, the new secretary of state for energy and climate change, won environmental plaudits when he declared earlier this month that the UK would be the first country in the world to commit to legally binding cuts in its greenhouse gas emissions.
The Climate Change Bill committed the country to cut greenhouse gases by 80 per cent by 2050.
But the target did not include emissions from international aviation and shipping.
Green campaigners said the omission made the target meaningless - like agreeing to go on a diet but not including chocolate cake - and threatened to oppose the Bill until the law was strengthened.
An amendment including aviation in the target and backed by the Lib Dems, the Tories and enough Labour backbenchers to overthrow the government was put down in Parliament.
However in the face of a possible defeat, the Government has put forward a new amendment strengthening the Bill enough to keep the environmental lobby happy, while retaining enough control over the targets to reassure the business sector.
The new amendment, put down by Labour MP Elliot Morley, agrees to take international aviation into account when setting the five yearly budgets to meet the target.
Because there is not yet an agreed way to allocate emissions from international aviation to different countries, they cannot be included in the target. However by taking emissions from aviation into account it will force a larger cut in overall emissions.
The move is in line with the recommendations of Lord Adair Turner's Committee on Climate Change.
A government spokesman said: "We think we have an agreement which means Bill is workable."
Andy Atkins, executive director of Friends of the Earth, welcomed the move.
He said: "People from right around the UK demanded a strong law. The Government have listened."
Matthew Farrow, head of environment at the CBI, admitted the inclusion of aviation will make the target more challenging for all sectors.
But he said aviation should be included for the targets to really be effective.

The Clean Air Act: Jump-starting climate action

The next president should use the Clean Air Act to control greenhouse gas emissions and establish a national cap-and-trade programme, write Michael Northrop and David Sassoon. From Yale Environment360
Yale Environment360 and Guardian Environmental Network
Monday October 27 2008 15.54 GMT

The urgency of the current situation cannot be overemphasized: The latest scientific research tells us that global warming is accelerating at a rate beyond previous expectations, and that the window for a timely response is closing quickly. Despite some political efforts to muddy the waters, there is scientific agreement that greenhouse gas emissions must now be stabilized within seven years or the world will face unpredictable climate-related catastrophes — far beyond the serious impacts already in evidence globally.
Climate action in the United States — at a federal standstill for the last eight years — is expected to finally move forward with the inauguration of a new president in January. What preparations can be made now to assure action within the first 100 days? Congress is expected to try to move cap-and-trade legislation again while also addressing related issues: energy, transportation, economic policy, and conservation. But the key question remains: Is there a leadership strategy that the next president can initiate to strengthen the likelihood of success, particularly during this time of economic crisis?
The latest science demands a strategy that provides a policy pathway that will begin to reduce emissions immediately, and a political pathway that avoids continued gridlock. Relying on a single piece of legislation runs the risk of failing to meet one or both of these nonnegotiable requirements. It could easily take more than seven years to get a federal carbon-trading mechanism to stabilize emissions. It's also possible that congressional compromise will water down cap-and-trade emissions targets and, worse, undermine existing state and regional efforts.
There is, however, a promising alternative strategy increasingly under discussion by a growing number of legal authorities, politicians, and policy experts: Activate the Clean Air Act — arguably the most cost-effective environmental law in the US — and use it to control greenhouse gas emissions. Such a move would not require controversial new legislation and would be on solid legal footing, thanks to the US Supreme Court's landmark 2007 decision, Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which affirmed that carbon dioxide emissions are a pollutant as defined by the Clean Air Act and can therefore be regulated by the EPA.
That ruling is now informing Sen. Barack Obama's thinking. Jason Grumet, his energy adviser, said this month that if elected president, Sen. Obama would declare CO2 a dangerous pollutant under the Clean Air Act and use the act to limit emissions. Experts do not dispute the executive branch's authority to do so.
"EPA has the authority to regulate sources of pollution directly and could set emissions standards for new stationary sources of pollution — such as coal-fired power plants, oil refineries, and steel and concrete plants — in relatively short order," said Lisa Heinzerling, professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, who wrote the petitioners' brief in Massachusetts v EPA.
She and many other legal experts believe that under the Clean Air Act, the EPA can also administer a national cap-and-trade program by writing federal rules to unify independent regional carbon markets. Already, 23 states and four Canadian provinces are forming such markets, with 10 additional states being brought into the process as observers. Experts believe the EPA can promulgate an additional set of regulations that would control transportation emissions — everything from cars and trucks to boats and airplanes.
"The high court essentially said the United States currently has a law for regulating carbon dioxide emissions, and it's called the Clean Air Act," said John Dernbach, a professor at Widener University Law School. Dernbach, who writes extensively on climate change, co-authored a friend-of-the-court brief in the landmark case on behalf of 18 prominent climate scientists.
This means that two branches of government — Congress, which enacted the law, and the Supreme Court, which confirmed its applicability to carbon dioxide — have already set the stage for an executive branch willing to implement the existing law to control greenhouse gas emissions. The next president can step into office and lay out a comprehensive strategy for a national climate plan that uses the Clean Air Act and identifies areas for congressional action. The moment is ripe for such bold executive leadership.
Robert McKinstry, a partner in the environmental group at the law firm of Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll and a co-author of the brief with Dernbach, also believes that the act offers a parallel, lower-cost, and faster avenue for establishing a national carbon market than completely new legislation. He points to existing regional carbon-trading efforts as mechanisms that offer a head start.
Three regional programs are already in development — the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast, the Western Climate Initiative, and the Midwest Governors Greenhouse Gas Accord.
The first already has held its first carbon credit auctions and will begin regulating power plant emissions in January. Taken together, these initiatives to combat global warming now cover areas that include half the US population, and state governments are already considering how to harmonize regional trading systems with each other, as well as with the European Union's emissions-trading scheme. In addition, 39 states — and most Canadian provinces and Mexican states — established a climate registry to measure emissions, a cornerstone of an eventual national U.S. market.
This evolving US carbon marketplace can provide the framework around which a national system can grow from the bottom up, McKinstry maintains. Many experts do not believe the EPA can establish a carbon trading mechanism on its own authority. But they agree that states can do so, and that the EPA can play the role of regulator by writing federal trading rules. Why not allow the best-equipped federal agency to oversee and coordinate the ongoing development of regional carbon markets, which are already way ahead of anything likely to emerge anytime soon from new federal legislation?
It is tricky legal terrain and the debate among experts, who are now submitting recommendations to the EPA about how to apply the Clean Air Act to greenhouse gas emissions, will require the skills of a Talmudic scholar to follow. Some experts — including Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board — believe that the act could be amended to provide a specific global climate focus, perhaps through a new title, as was done for acid rain in 1990. "There is no reason to abandon a legislative framework that has worked well," says Nichols.
California has demonstrated to the nation how the law could be put to work to reduce greenhouse gases. The state asked the EPA for a waiver to impose more stringent auto-emissions standards than the current federal ones. Seventeen other states were ready to adopt the California standards, but the Bush EPA has refused. By instructing the EPA to grant this long-delayed waiver, the next president could significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector with the stroke of a pen. The agency is sitting on eight other petitions that would reduce emissions from other mobile sources, such as trucks, locomotives, boats, and airplanes. This kind of rule-making — not lawmaking — immediately shifts the status quo from argument to action by applying already available regulatory mechanisms.
The Clean Air Act — first passed in 1963, with later amendments — is a mature, flexible, and successful law designed to integrate the work of all economic sectors and all levels of government. By applying the Clean Air Act, the next president can stand on the shoulders of legal and regulatory precedent. He can adopt an executive-branch strategy to complement the next round of legislative efforts. He can lead climate policy development by using existing authority and can ensure that the US has a strong position going into the next round of international climate negotiations. And action in the first 100 days can set the stage for genuine US re-engagement in international climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009.
An energy crisis, a climate crisis, and an economic crisis have joined forces in a perfect storm, which now requires a sound and swift response based on new thinking. Using the Clean Air Act to bring America's runaway greenhouse gas emissions under control could give the next president the tools he needs to respond to this challenge as well as leverage to use with Congress for broader action. There is no time to waste.
Michael Northrop is Program Director for Sustainable Development at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. David Sassoon runs SolveClimate.com, a website dedicated to debating and advancing solutions to global warming. Their last story for Yale Environment 360 examined how states are developing sweeping climate and energy policies in the absence of federal action.

China pays high environmental and social price for reliance on coal

Pollution, emissions and mining accidents cost £160bn each year, say Greenpeace, WWF and energy campaigners
Tania Branigan, China correspondent
Monday October 27 2008 13.16 GMT

China's main source of power is so destructive that its social and environmental impact costs £160bn annually, warns a new report from green campaigners.
The country is the world's largest producer and consumer of coal, relying on it for more than 70% of energy production, compared with a global average of around 40%.
The True Cost of Coal, published by Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and The Energy Foundation, says by-products ranging from water pollution to mining deaths cost China an additional 1.7 trillion yuan, or more than 7% of annual GDP.
"From extraction to combustion, every step in the process of using coal damages the environment," warns the report.
"To ensure its energy security, environmental protection and healthy economic and societal development, China must reduce its reliance on coal."
The report catalogues the effects of the industry across a wide range of areas. According to official figures, coal is responsible for 70% of soot, 85% of sulphur dioxide, 67% of nitrogen oxides and 80% of carbon dioxide emitted in the country — leading to respiratory diseases and contributes to global warming.
Thousands die annually in the country's mines, despite a safety drive in recent years. Wastewater and solid residue damage water systems and agricultural land.
Land subsidence caused by mining damages road, railway lines and power lines and results in the relocation of 2,000 people for every 10m tonnes of coal produced.
Each tonne of coal consumed in 2007 cost China an extra 150yuan in environmental damage, the study shows.
The authors — from well-regarded research institutes in China — show how the government could ensure those costs are internalised, suggesting the price of coal would rise by 23%.
They accept that would reduce GDP by 0.07%, but argue it would increase China's long-term international competitiveness and increase social wealth by 940bn yuan.
"Environmental and social damages are underestimated while using coal in China, as a result of market failures and weakness in government regulations," said economist Mao Yushi, lead author of the report.The report suggests that imposing environmental taxes, improving compensation schemes and other restructuring the coal industry could all slash coal use.
"Recognising the true cost of coal would create incentives to developing cleaner, sustainable energy sources. The government should introduce an effective price signal for coal, which would ensure a massive improvement in energy efficiency and large-scale implementation of renewable energy.
"This would reduce China's environmental pollution and show its leadership in fighting climate change," urged Yang Ailun, climate and energy campaign manager of Greenpeace China.

Prince Charles arrives in Tokyo to campaign on global warming

Valentine Low, Tokyo

The Prince of Wales flew halfway round the world today for an official tour of Japan in which he will be calling for a drastic reduction in carbon output.
Accompanied by the Duchess of Cornwall, he was greeted in Tokyo by Crown Prince Naruhito, who cut a solitary figure, being unaccompanied, as usual, by Crown Princess Masako, who has not carried out official functions since being diagnosed with depression.
Clarence House officials are already working hard to promote the key messages of the tour: climate change and the destruction of the rainforests. In an advance notice of a speech the Prince is due to give tomorrow at a Tokyo science museum they said he will call for “nothing less than an urgent, full-scale transformation to a low-carbon society”.

In the speech, to an audience of business leaders and politicians, the officials said, he will reflect on the joint work already being done by Japanese and British scientists, and emphasise the important steps which the big G8 countries need to take in the fight against climate change.
Clarence House has already attempted to head off criticism that the five-day tour, which will be followed by visits to Brunei and Indonesia, will itself leave a large carbon footprint. The flights will be carbon-offset, and Clarence House has argued that sometimes a message has to be put across in person in order to be most effective.
The tour, which marks the 150th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and the United Kingdom, will also be building on the strong trade links between the two countries. The UK is the number one destination for Japanese investment in Europe and Japan is the UK's largest export market after Europe and the United States.
The British ambassador in Tokyo, David Warren, said: “The relationship between the UK and Japan continues to flourish. In this special year as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, I know that a great many people in Japan are looking forward to welcoming their Royal Highnesses to this country.”
The trip is Prince Charles's third visit to Japan, although the Duchess has never been there before. She will be finishing her tour after Brunei, partly in order to avoid the heat in Indonesia (the Duchess has an uncomfortable time in hot climates) and partly to return to the UK in time to help organise Charles's 60th birthday celebrations.

Britain's environmental heritage at risk, warns CPRE

Britain risks losing its "fabulous inheritance of landscape and wildlife" as the Government allows developments - including its flagship eco-town projects - to spring up across the countryside, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has warned.

By Louise Gray and Stephen Adams Last Updated: 6:09PM GMT 27 Oct 2008
The CPRE has accused ministers of ignoring its own independent advisor, Natural England, on a host of important environmental issues.
Two years after Natural England was set up to "act as a powerful champion for the natural environment", the Government has yet to prove it is serious about protecting the countryside, according to the CPRE.
Tom Oliver, head of rural policy at CPRE, said: "Its approach to eco-towns is part of the malaise in the Government's approach to planning.
"Our view is: good idea, bad way of going about it."
Environmental standards within eco-towns, while higher than elsewhere, will be "nothing like high enough", he said.
Colleague Kate Gordon, the CPRE's senior planner, also questioned why such standards were not being applied across the board.
Ministers want to build three million homes by 2020, she said, but only around five per cent of those will be in eco-towns.
She commented: "At a local or regional scale they will be quite large numbers. Councils are being asked the impossible."
She also queried the Government's insistence on eco-towns containing a minimum of 5,000 homes: "The Government is saying, 'They must be more than 5,000 homes because they won't attract the innovation below that'. But that's rubbish," she said.
The CPRE attack came days after Department for Communities and Local Government officials concluded "only one or two" of the 15 short-listed eco-towns sites were viable.
The CPRE also criticised the Government's wider environmental decisions since Natural England was created in 2006.
"Huge sums of public money" are still being pumped into controversial road-building schemes that will "shatter the tranquillity of the countryside", the group said.
Allowing more flights from Stansted Airport in Essex, "will inflict additional pollution and noise on the surrounding population" including medieval Hatfield Forest, it claimed.
Long term renewable energy solutions like wave and tidal power are being ignored in favour of "a narrow policy or reliance on large amounts of onshore wind energy", it said.
And it criticised the Planning Bill as being "a danger to democracy and the environment", by reducing people's ability to scrutinise major infrastructure projects and taking decisions out of ministers' hands.
Mr Oliver said: "On aviation and airports, road building, renewable energy and the planning process, Government policy appears to be giving little weight to Natural England's advice."
He added: "Unless the Government really listens to Natural England, the nation risks losing its fabulous inheritance of landscape and wildlife through bad decisions.
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) rebuffed the accusations.He said: "Protecting the natural environment is central to the Government's decisions. Along with a number of other bodies Natural England provides valuable advice and is an effective champion of the natural environment.
"However, it is up to government to take the tough decisions that balance the environmental, economic and social needs of modern Britain."

Financial aspect to Google's environmental goals grows

By Miguel Helft
Published: October 28, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO: Google, the Internet search and advertising giant, is increasingly looking to the energy sector as a potential business opportunity.
From its beginning, the company has invested millions of dollars in making its own power-hungry data centers more efficient. Its philanthropic arm has made small investments in clean energy technologies.
But in recent weeks, Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive, has hinted at the company's broad interest in the energy business. He also joined Jeffrey Immelt, General Electric's chief executive, to announce that they would collaborate on policies and technologies aimed at improving the electricity grid. The effort could include offering tools for consumers.
Meanwhile, engineers at Google are hoping to unveil soon tools that could help consumers make better decisions about their energy use.
And while the company's philanthropic unit, Google.org, has invested in clean energy start-ups like one that uses kites to harness wind power, Google is now considering large investments in projects that generate electricity from renewable sources.

"We want to make money, and we want to have impact," said Dan Reicher, director for climate change and energy initiatives at Google.org.
The timing could be off. With a recession looming and oil prices dropping, investors might pressure Google to curtail its clean energy ambitions.
Google's shares have lost more than half their value in the last year, and some analysts complain that the company has a long history of dabbling in new initiatives with mixed results. It still relies on one business — small text ads that appear next to search results and on other sites — for the bulk of its earnings.
And Google's online success does not guarantee success in the energy business.
But none of this has deterred Google from going deeper into the alternative energy business. To support its efforts, it has hired a growing number of engineers who are conducting research in renewable energy, former government energy officials, scientists and even a former NASA astronaut, whose hands-on experience with all sorts of electronic gadgets is being put to use to develop energy tools for consumers.
"They are a high-profile actor in the energy field," said Daniel Kammen, a professor in the energy and resources group at the University of California, Berkeley, and an adviser on energy to the Obama campaign. "Google is in the lead in terms of human resources as well as money."
Last year, Google unveiled an ambitious initiative called RE < C, denoting its goal to develop renewable energy that is cheaper than coal. Since then, much of the public focus on the initiative has been in the approximately $45 million in investments that Google.org has made in wind, solar and geothermal energy start-ups.
That effort now also includes a small but growing group of engineers at Google who are conducting their own research and development in those technologies, which Google said it might commercialize in the future.
Google.org also announced a project last year to develop plug-in hybrids. To make them widely available, the electrical grid would have to be upgraded so that cars could be plugged in at multiple locations, where they could be recharged and consumers billed.
Google now says it is interested in developing technologies to support some of those upgrades, as well as other tools at the intersection of energy and information technology, like "smart" electrical meters. The partnership with GE is aimed in part at exploring some of those opportunities.
Google has also increased its lobbying in Washington on energy issues. And the company is looking at larger investments in renewable energy projects that would be primarily motivated by their profit potential, not their environmental promise.
How far Google plans to go with its energy efforts, the company does not yet know, or at least is not willing to say.
"We have been debating, 'What are the business opportunities for Google in this area,' " Schmidt, Google's chief executive, said recently. "And I think right now, we would answer the question that our primary mission is one of information."
Schmidt said that Google would be active in "information businesses or communications businesses" related to energy. Speaking more broadly about the energy sector, he added, "As to whether we will be in these other businesses, we will see."
Google is known for stealth. The search engine company kept its advertising ambitions under wraps for years, a strategy that helped it become the dominant tech company in Silicon Valley. And with $14.5 billion in cash in the company's coffers, it has plenty of resources to keep making further investments in new energy ventures.
Google's efforts in the energy area remain relatively modest. The company has long said it assigns 70 percent of its resources to its core search and advertising business, another 20 percent to related business, like various Internet applications, and 10 percent to long-term, strategic projects. Its energy work falls in the last group.
But even that may be too much for some investors.
"With the stock cut in half and shareholders becoming increasingly frustrated, a lot of these initiatives are going to be called into question," said Ross Sandler, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets. "Google is a search and advertising company. We are in a belt-tightening period. They should focus on the core business."
And others still are raising questions about some of the company's goals.
"The Silicon Valley guys have this idea that we are going to make solar cheaper than coal," said John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies. "To me that's the wrong idea. I don't think it needs to be cheaper than coal to be successful. The focus needs to be on the investment and deployment of the technology."
Google's commercial and philanthropic interest in energy emerged, in large part, from the intersection of its idealism and its business goals.
"The issue globally, and particularly in the U.S., is that renewable energy is hard to come by and is expensive," said William E. Weihl, Google's green energy director. "But as a competitive business, we can't afford, anymore than anyone else, to say we are going to pay more."
Google has gone to great lengths to conceal how much electricity it uses in its data centers. For instance, Google agreed to build a $600 million data center in Oklahoma only after the State Legislature passed a law exempting public utilities from disclosing the energy use of their largest customers. Google has also vowed to be carbon neutral, but unlike its rival Yahoo, for instance, it has refused to reveal its overall carbon emissions.
Google said that its power use was information that could be used by rivals to learn secrets of its operations, which it considered a competitive advantage.
Still, a picture of the scale of its data center operations has emerged through various reports. The company is believed to have about two dozen data centers around the world of various sizes. Some, like the one it built in The Dalles, Oregon, which is largely powered by hydroelectricity, are among the largest in the industry. Two people familiar with that facility, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that it was operating at about 50 megawatts — enough to power 37,500 homes — but was built to handle even more capacity.
Google's desire to better align its idealism and business interests helped motivate the RE < C project.
"For us to clean our energy supply, we need renewable energy available more broadly and more cheaply than it is today," Weihl said.
Google does not maintain a strict divide between the energy work of the corporation and Google.org. A recent status meeting included employees from both sides. Google.org was set up not as a traditional philanthropy, but rather as a Google unit that could profit from its investments and that, unlike traditional nonprofit organizations and foundations, was allowed to lobby.
Google's business development executives, as well as some company engineers specializing in energy, work with Google.org to make investment decisions. Reicher, a former assistant secretary of energy for conservation and renewable energy in the Clinton administration, said that Google.org investments were primarily aimed at pushing an environmental agenda. But Google itself is eyeing more capital-intensive projects, including some to generate renewable energy on a commercial scale.
"If we make those investments," Reicher said, "it would be largely from a profit motive rather than an impact motive."

Nuclear-powered passenger aircraft 'to transport millions' says expert

Times Online
October 27, 2008
Call for big research programme to help aviation industry convert from fossil fuels to nuclear energy
Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent

Nuclear-powered aircraft may sound like a concept from Thunderbirds, but they will be transporting millions of passengers around the world later this century, the leader of a Government-funded project to reduce environmental damage from aviation believes.
The consolation of sitting a few yards from a nuclear reactor will be non-stop flights from London to Australia or New Zealand, because the aircraft will no longer need to land to refuel. The flights will also produce no carbon emissions and therefore make no contribution to global warming.
Ian Poll, Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Cranfield university, and head of technology for the Government-funded Omega project, is calling for a big research programme to help the aviation industry convert from fossil fuels to nuclear energy.
In a lecture at the Royal Aeronautical Society tonight, Professor Poll will say that experiments conducted during the Cold War have already demonstrated that there are no insurmountable obstacles to developing a nuclear-powered aircraft.

The United States and the Soviet Union both began developing nuclear-powered bombers in the 1950s. The idea was that these bombers would remain airborne, within striking distance of their targets, for very long periods.
The United States tested a nuclear-powered jet engine on the ground and also carried out flight tests with a nuclear reactor on board a B-36 jet with a lead-lined cockpit over West Texas and Southern New Mexico. The reactor “ran hot” during the flights but the engines were powered by kerosene. The purpose of the flights was to prove that the crew could be safely shielded from the reactor.
Each flight was accompanied by an aircraft packed with marines ready to respond to a crash by parachuting down and securing the area.
The test programmes were abandoned in the early 1960s when the superpowers decided that intercontinental ballistic missiles made nuclear-powered planes redundant.
In an interview with The Times, Professor Poll said: “We need to be looking for a solution to aviation emissions which will allow flying to continue in perpetuity with zero impact on the environment.
“We need a design which is not kerosene-powered, and I think nuclear-powered aeroplanes are the answer beyond 2050. The idea was proved 50 years ago, but I accept it would take about 30 years to persuade the public of the need to fly on them.”
Professor Poll said the big challenge would be to demonstrate that passengers and crew could be safely shielded from the reactors.
“It's done on nuclear submarines and could be achieved on aircraft by locating the reactors with the engines out on the wings,” he said.
“The risk of reactors cracking open in a crash could be reduced by jettisoning them before impact and bringing them down with parachutes.”
He said that, in the worst-case scenario, if the armour plating around the reactor was pierced there would be a risk of radioactive contamination over a few square miles.
“If we want to continue to enjoy the benefits of air travel without hindrance from environmental concerns, we need to explore nuclear power. If aviation remains wedded to fossil fuels, it will run into serious trouble,” he said.
“Unfortunately, nuclear power has been demonised but it has the potential to be very beneficial to mankind.”
Professor Poll said an alternative to carrying nuclear reactors on aircraft would be to develop aircraft fuelled by hydrogen extracted from sea water by nuclear power stations.
However, he said that while hydrogen could be suitable for ground-based transport, its energy density was much lower than kerosene and it would be very difficult to design a long-range passenger aircraft capable of carrying enough of the fuel.
Rob Coppinger, technical editor of Flight International magazine, said it was more likely that nuclear reactors would be installed on unmanned air vehicles, used for reconnaissance or in combat, because there would be less need for heavy shielding than on a passenger plane.
Professor Poll will also present research tonight into measures to improve the efficiency over the next decade of short-haul aircraft such as the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320. He will say that the replacements for these aircraft are likely to fly more slowly, adding about 10 minutes to a typical flight within Europe.
They are also likely to have open-rotor engines, which would use 20 per cent less fuel but could be much noisier than existing jet engines.

£100m road to electric motoring ... police, post office and politicians step off the gas

• Hoon wants government to lead way on emissions• Greenpeace urges free parking for cleaner cars
Alok Jha, green technology correspondent
The Guardian,
Tuesday October 28 2008

Gordon Brown looks at the Tesla Roadster, an electric car, outside Downing Street. Photograph: Lewis Whyld/PA
A new generation of electric public service vehicles, including postal vans, police vehicles and ministerial limousines is to be introduced as part of a government initiative to speed up the introduction of low-emission technology on Britain's roads.
A number of ministers, including Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary, are already chauffeured in petrol-electric hybrid cars, and all of the Department of Transport's official cars are hybrids. But plans unveiled yesterday will put green vehicles at the heart of the government's fleet. Around £20m will be available to provide electric and low-carbon vans to public sector organisations, including Royal Mail, the Metropolitan police, the Environment Agency and the government Car and Despatch Agency as well as councils around the country.
The announcements are part of a £100m proposal by the government to develop the technology and infrastructure needed to make electric and low-carbon cars a practical reality. As part of the plans, motorists will be able to test-drive demonstration models of the latest electric cars in locations around Britain from next year. Each car will need to keep within a maximum emission of 50g CO2/km. Drivers will be asked to report back on their experiences as part of a consultation.
In addition, around £30m will be used to develop research into electric vehicles. This includes work to make car designs more practical and affordable, as well as developments of more general technologies for vehicles that could deliver big carbon reductions in coming decades.
Around 22% of the UK's carbon emissions come from transport, with 13% of these from private cars.
Speaking yesterday at a meeting of international experts in electric car technology, the transport secretary, Geoff Hoon, said: "Electric cars and other low carbon vehicles, like plug-in hybrids, cut fuel costs and reduce harmful emissions. If we can inspire more people to use them, it will help us to make a positive impact on climate change."
The government signalled its intention to develop electric cars as part of its renewable energy strategy, published in July, which outlined how the UK could generate the increased power it needs in the coming decades while reducing overall carbon emissions.
"Van emissions are rising more than any other mode of road transport," said Hoon. "That's why we are committed to this new programme to help kick-start the market. In the public sector there is considerable demand for vans, so we want to use our spending power to lead the way in developing lower carbon options that will appeal across the board."
Greenpeace's senior transport campaigner, Anita Goldsmith, said: "Electrifying our transport network is a vital step in the fight against climate change and will be key to reducing our dependence on foreign oil, so it's very encouraging that the government has recognised this."
Friends of the Earth's senior transport campaigner, Tony Bosworth, said electric cars could be part of the solution to climate change. "To be truly green, electric cars should run on electricity generated through renewable sources of energy. The government's immediate priority must be ensuring the EU sets tough targets for emissions from new cars in the next few weeks. The UK has a pivotal role to play, and it must stand firm against the self-interested lobbying of the car industry."
Goldsmith said the government should introduce immediate practical measures, such as free parking and cheaper road tax, for people who go electric, as well as a renewed focus on improving public transport. "While £100m sounds like a lot, it's the same amount as the government spends on widening a mile and half of motorway. If ministers get this right then Britain's ailing car industry could become a trailblazer in this technology, creating thousands of jobs and exporting zero emission cars to developing countries."
The government said its electric car plan was part of a long-term plan to create up to 10,000 new green jobs in the UK. Officials said opportunities in the wider low carbon economy could see the creation of a million green jobs by 2030.
Electric avenues: Coping with the power surge
• There are several models of electric car already on the market, from the ubiquitous Toyota Prius hybrid to the American all-electric Tesla sports car. The main problem preventing the uptake of electric vehicles in large numbers, however, is not the car technology itself but the power infrastructure required to make them practical.
• Local councils in London, including Westminster, Camden and Islington, have a few charging points for private electric cars and provide free parking. The cars are also exempt from the congestion charge. But the City of London withdrew free-parking privileges for electric cars this year, with the aim of discouraging all car use in the Square Mile, saying that reducing overall congestion was the most important issue.
• One potential solution, thought to be favoured by the government, is Project Better Place, an idea backed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Shai Agassi. His company has raised more than £100m so far to set up a network of charging and battery-exchange stations in Israel by 2010.
Instead of plugging in their cars when out of power, drivers can pull into a recharging station to swap their flat battery for a fully charged one.
The cars, being developed by Renault-Nissan, are expected to have a range of 140 miles on a full charge with a top speed of 68mph.
Project Better Place has already announced plans for networks of electric cars in Denmark and Australia and is bidding to set one up in France.

Families sought for new trial of electric cars

Times Online
October 28, 2008
Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent

Families willing to exchange their petrol or diesel car for one that plugs into the mains are being sought to take part in a Government trial of electric vehicles.
They will have to be prepared to run the risk that the car's battery will run flat during a journey and then take several hours to recharge.
In return, they will enjoy running costs of about 2p a mile, discounts on congestion charges and the satisfaction of knowing that their electric cars will be emitting less than half the carbon dioxide of even the most efficient internal combustion engine.
Lessons from the trial, which will start next year and involve up to 100 electric cars in cities across the country, will inform the Government's strategy for accelerating the take-up of electric vehicles.

Speaking to The Times, Geoff Hoon, the transport secretary, said electric cars would appeal most to two-car families who used the second vehicle primarily for short journeys around town.
Even the most advanced electric cars currently being developed have a range of less than 40 miles before they need recharging.
Mr Hoon, who owns a Mini and a Ford Galaxy people carrier, said: "A lot of people have a car for long-distance travelling and a small runabout for taking the kids to school. We need to find out whether electric cars are practical."
"They are not going to be racing up and down the M1 but they are going to be used more around cities," he said.
"We also need to consider how people in tower blocks can recharge their cars. It's not so easy when you don't have a driveway."
Mr Hoon said the London congestion charge exemption for hybrid cars had been very effective in encouraging take-up and he hinted that drivers could be given further incentives to switch to electric vehicles.
The cars used in the trial are likely to be a combination of pure electric vehicles, which are powered only by their batteries, and plug-in hybrids which have a petrol engine that starts up when the battery runs low.
A study by Arup, commissioned by the Department for Transport, found that the number of electric cars in Britain could rise from 2,000 at present to more than 1.5 million by 2020 if the Government acted decisively to stimulate demand. To achieve that, it would need to ensure that by 2015, drivers had easy access to recharging points and that the whole life cost of owning an electric car was comparable with conventional cars.
Arup calculated that, if the major manufacturers committed themselves to mass production of electric cars rather than the small-scale trials seen so far, almost half Britain's cars could be running without fossil fuels by 2030.
Manufacturers were yesterday invited to submit bids by January to participate in the £10 million trial. They must submit plans for recruiting volunteers and lend them cars which emit 50g of carbon dioxide per kilometre or less, half the emissions of a Toyota Prius hybrid.
The trial will be part of a £100 million five-year programme to stimulate the design, manufacture and purchase of electric vehicles.
In a second trial costing £20 million, more than 150 electric vans will be tested by local authorities in Liverpool, Newcastle and Gateshead, Coventry, Leeds and Glasgow.
Among the companies shortlisted to bid to supply the vans are Ford, Land Rover, Nissan and Modec.
A further £50 million of public money will be spent on research into improving the technology, especially the range and life of batteries. It is unclear how the remaining £20 million of the £100 million will be spent.
The Arup report found that electric cars were likely to remain prohibitively expensive for most drivers for several more years, mainly because of the high cost of advanced batteries. It said drivers needed to be educated to consider the whole life cost of a car. While the purchase price of an electric car might be several thousand pounds more than a conventional one, it could be cheaper in the long run because of low operating costs.

Electric cars to get £100m aid

By John Reed in London
Published: October 28 2008 02:38

Britain’s hard-pressed car industry on Monday welcomed a £100m ($155m, €125m) pledge from the government to help develop electric and other ultra-low emission cars.
Geoff Hoon, transport secretary, outlined measures to fund the roll-out of plug-in vehicles and announced a shortlist of 10 companies that will compete to supply low-carbon vans to local councils and government bodies. The government will fund up to 100 electric vehicles to test how they operate in real-life driving conditions.

Mr Hoon also announced £20m for research and development in technology to make electric and other green cars more affordable. The high purchase price of electric cars – a function of their batteries – and the problem of recharging mean they are unlikely to find mass acceptance without an initial boost from government.
Global carmaking groups including Renault/Nissan, Daimler, General Motors and Mitsubishi plan to introduce plug-in electric or hybrid passenger cars from 2010-11. Daimler’s Smart brand and Toyota are road-testing prototype plug-in models in London.
Mr Hoon said the government had “committed to removing the barriers that could slow a changeover to greener motoring”.
Ford Motor, Mercedes-Benz, Citroen and Land Rover are among the companies that will compete to supply vans to public-sector bodies, such as the Royal Mail, and city councils including Glasgow, Leeds and Liverpool.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the industry lobby group, hon Monday welcomed the initiatives as “a significant step in supporting [carmakers’] investment in cleaner technology”. However, it urged the government “not to promote one specific technology as the answer”, noting the dramatic cuts in emissions achieved in new diesel cars.
The global economic slowdown has forced carmakers to cut shifts and slow production over the past month. As they adjust to collapsing sales, producers are pleading for government aid to fund development of low-emission cars. In the US, Detroit’s three crisis-ridden carmakers recently secured $25bn (£16bn) in low interest loans to retool their ageing plants to produce lower-emission models such as GM’s Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in car planned to launch in late 2010.
Carmakers are urging the European Union to offer a €40bn (£32bn) package of similar soft loans. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, this month said he would make €400m of public funds available to support the roll-out of electric vehicles.
In Britain, some car companies still think government could move faster to promote electric vehicles, citing more generous incentives in other EU countries such as Switzerland and France.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008