Saturday, December 17, 2011

Energy and Wildlife:

A Complicated Relationship

This week has seen more than the usual number of news items about energy and the the animal kingdom, and I thought it would be fun to put them together.

The first and by far most unusual story comes from Japan, where wild monkeys are being outfitted with special collars containing radiation meters, GPS receivers, and data recorders to allow for more detailed data collection on the radiation levels from Fukushima fallout in remote mountainous and forested areas.

Take away message: Wildlife is helping assessing the impact of the Fukushima accident.

The second story is similar to ones I'd heard before. The cooling water from nuclear power plants has been beneficial to a number of species. In the past, most of the stories I'd heard were of species, like shrimp, that are food sources. But in this case, the Turkey Point nuclear power plant in Florida has proved a haven for an endangered crocodile species. In particular, the cooling canals have been adopted by crocodiles as nesting sites, and Florida Power's management of its cooling canals has been credited with a significant rebound in the population of crocodiles in South Florida.

Take away message: Nuclear energy is helping wildlife.

The third story is not as cheerful. Again, it is not a new story. As the idea of wind power has captured the imagination of the public, stories have begun to emerge that wind turbines are detrimental to a lot of the airborne segment of the animal kingdom. While it's not new, the latest article I've read on the dangers of wind power to wildlife points out that new guidelines about to be issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could "create another challenge" for the wind industry.

Take away message: Wind energy and wildlife have a fraught relationship--wind turbines kill birds and bats, and rules to reduce these kills may hamper wind power development.

Perhaps my "take away" messages are an oversimplification. There are cases of fish being sucked up into the intakes of nuclear plant cooling systems and being killed, but there are, as noted, cases where the outlet water has supported aquaculture. I have heard of no such plus-minus for wind turbines. There are said to be some promising ways that wind farm operators can reduce fatalities, but they are still speculative. In the meantime, the role of the monkeys in assisting with radiation monitoring in Japan and the role of Turkey Point in helping rebuild the crocodile population in Florida are real.


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