Thursday, June 26, 2008

My Bay

Mount Hope Bay is my bay. I don't mean that I actually own the whole freaking bay, of course. But it's the water I see when I wake up in the morning and look out of the bedroom window, it's the bay I see while I sit here typing away at my keyboard, it's the foreground for the spectacular sunsets I enjoy sitting on the deck with Tillerwoman sipping a cocktail or three, and it's that body of water once referred to by my granddaughter as "Grandad's Pool". Yes, Mount Hope Bay is my bay.

For the geographically challenged, Mount Hope Bay is the north-eastern arm of Narragansett Bay, bounded by the towns of Bristol and Warren on the west, Tiverton and Fall River on the east, Somerset and Swansea in the north, and the northernmost tip of Aquidneck Island in the south. It's a relatively quiet corner of Rhode Island waters. The busiest time is Wednesday evenings when Tiverton Yacht Club holds some races in Mount Hope Bay. At other times we see a few recreational boaters, the occasional commercial fishing boat, and a few times a week a freighter, usually I assume carrying coal to the Brayton Point power station at the head of the bay.

I don't often sail my Laser on Mount Hope Bay. The most convenient launching sites (especially for a solo sailor) around here are actually into other nearby parts of the Narragansett Bay system. Which is a shame. Because Mount Hope Bay is my bay. However, on a Wednesday afternoon a couple of week ago I did launch my Laser at high tide from Independence Park in Bristol, sail out of Bristol Harbor, past Hog Island, under Mount Hope Bridge, at one time the longest suspension bridge in New England (didn't know that did you?), and into my bay.

I sailed the three or four miles from the bridge over to the water in front of our house. If I squinted I could just see a dot on the deck that might have been Tillerwoman. Later I discovered that she had been taking some photos of the crazy Laser sailor of Mount Hope Bay. I look like a white dot in the photos. Some of the best one have all of seven pixels representing my Laser. Distances can be deceptive.

And then I sailed upwind back through the bridge and to where I had launched. Sailing back is always good. Beats the alternative.

My bay has been in the news this week. There has been a proposal bouncing around for some time from an outfit known as Weaver's Cove to build a terminal for Liquefied Natural Gas tankers in Fall River which would involve supertankers traversing my bay to reach the terminal. There was much local opposition to the idea, and this particular scheme was eventually killed when the US Coast Guard announced that they didn't believe LNG tankers could safely navigate the constricted waterways and bridges in the town of Fall River.

So then those clever LNG chappies came up with a new scheme. Build an offshore berth and floating natural gas terminal for the tankers in Mount Hope Bay and have an underwater pipeline from the offshore berth up the Taunton River into the re-gasification plant at the northern end of Fall River. Suck on that one US Coast Guard.

There have been some meetings this week to allow "input" from the public on this clever idea. Of course all the local politicians and environmentalists are against it. As one of our local state representatives said, "What angers me, what incenses me … is that these people have the audacity to construct this facility in our bay. Mount Hope Bay belongs to the people, not Weaver’s Cove." Hmmm. It belongs to us does it? Maybe it really is my bay.

Anyway I haven't made up my mind yet how I feel about this issue.

The concerns of the environmentalists no doubt have some validity but they are often stated in somewhat hysterical terms. One of the scariest prospects raised is that LNG tankers and terminals are a target for terrorist attacks and that if one ever did blow up it would incinerate every living being within a mile radius. Interestingly the proposed offshore berth is a mile offshore. Hmmm.

On the other hand we do need fuel for our power stations. Apparently most of the power stations around here use natural gas, and of course demand is rising. If we don't use gas then what? Shall we build a nuclear power station on my bay instead? And I don't want to be a knee-jerk NIMBay (Not In My Bay). The power stations to generate the electricity for all of those electric cars touted by John McCain have to be built somewhere, and the fuel for them has to be shipped in somehow. Who am I to say that they can't use my bay?

11 comments:

Carol Anne said...

Quite frankly, I'd much rather have a nuclear power plant in my back yard than a coal or natural-gas fired plant. Nuclear power has a much better safety record, and coal-fired plants actually put out more radiation than nuclear plants -- there's carbon-14 in the emissions.

Yeah, nuclear plants have some problems, primarily finding a good way to take care of the spent fuel, and protecting the safety and health of uranium miners. But coal has similar problems: the huge quantities of greenhouse gases emitted, and the safety and health of coal miners.

An interesting thought ... has anybody crunched the numbers to figure out the ratio of miners' lives lost to kilowatt-hours produced for both types of energy?

Yeah, nuclear power can be scary, both because it's unfamiliar and because, even a half-century later, we still have visions of Hiroshima in our heads. But, provided there are good safeguards, I would have no problem whatsoever with a nuclear power plant right next door.

John said...

I'm with carol anne on this one. Nuclear plant technology has come a long way since Three Mile Island.
If we (the U.S.) were smart, we would support the design and construction of small, inherently safe, standardized modular plants and the fuel to fuel them with. The new plants would burn their fuel much more efficiently, easing the disposal problems. Besides, the new plants operate at high enough temperatures that their waste heat can crack water into hydrogen to fuel our vehicles.

We could create a vibrant, profitable new industrial base around nuclear technology which the rest of the world desperately needs. A perfect complement to distributed solar energy.

New, high tech jobs, exports, clean energy for tranportation, viable replacements for our dirty coal and gas-fired power plants.

What's not to like? I wouldn't mind on or two of these new plants on my bay (the Chesapeake)

Tom said...

Nuke, schmuke. What about the lobsters? The local newspaper quoted a state environmental department scientist as saying there was no evidence that the mosquito larvicide affects lobster larvae. Is that verifiably true? If so, why don't the opponents buzz off and stay buzzed off?

JP said...

I'm with carol anne too. Nukes are low CO2 and help with energy security - and work on those cold windless nights!

I have a similar issue re. Heathrow which is threatening to build another runway and the planes would go directly overhead. Of course I've complained!

And I have "my bit of the Thames" as Tillerman has "his bay" :)

tillerman said...

Interesting. Based on this highly representative sample it appears that public opinion about nuclear power is now much more open to idea than it used to be.

My question about a nuclear plant on "my bay" was somewhat rhetorical. In the year before I went to university I worked in a nuclear research laboratory right next door to a nuclear power station and lived only a couple of miles up the road. So I have long been a supporter of nuclear power and have always felt that the fears about the nuclear option were overblown.

PeconicPuffin said...

Fears of nuclear power plants are always well deserved (ask them in Chernobyl)...the challenge is to have rigorous safeguards and redundant safety systems and the right people operating them 24/7/365/40 years.

Years ago, when asked if he though nuclear power was viable for civilian use, the "father of the nuclear navy" Admiral Rickover said he did not. He said that military reactors could be run safely because they could be ordered shut down on a moment's notice, and because he could jail (throw in the brig) an operator for lax performance on a moments notice. He didn't think that employees with civil rights could be adequately managed.

There are other issues as well (nuclear waste, security against terrorist attack, the cost of decommissioning a reactor once it reaches the end of its lifespan...) which need to be included in any assessment of nuclear power.

BTW there were plenty of people years ago who, when Dick Cheney got into office, predicted that his entire energy policy had as its end game the reviving of the nuclear power industry in the U.S.

Polyphony said...

Another environmental post... I take pride, Tillerman.

John said...

If all of us believed like PeconicPuffin, we would never do anything. The nuclear plants we would build today bear no resembance to Chernoble or to the plants used in Rickover's submarines. Nuclear power done correctly far outpaces competing technologies. If we (the U.S.) doesn't do it and China or even little South Africa beats us to the market, we will have lost a golden opportunity to be a world leader in the peaceful uses of a technology that we (with the help of some courageous Germans) basically invented.

PeconicPuffin said...

People who think "rigorous safeguards and redundant safety systems and the right people operating" nuclear power plants, and who feel the other issues need to be addressed, equals "we would never do anything"?

I don't advocate "no" as an answer anywhere in my post. I am enthusiastic about sorting out those pesky details, however.

In the United States we've just have 7 years of "shoot first, ask questions later." How are we doing?

Pat said...

Hmmmm, here's an idea that might stir up the pot a bit. Safety engineers may be familiar with a concept known as something like, "cost per life saved". Essentially, the idea is to try to estimate the cost of a safety measure and the number of the number of lives it is likely to save, before deciding whether the measure should be implemented.

Some people will of course object to such a cold-hearted calculation and say that no expense is too great to save lives.

But, of course that's not quite true in the real world, because resources are limited. And, if massive resources are directed at making one thing safe, that means they aren't available for making something else safe.

Here's a very hypothetical example: suppose that instituting some new safety requirements and controls for nuclear power plants would save one life per $100 000 000 (hundred million dollars) spent. Suppose also that one life would be saved, on average, per $1 000 (thousand dollars) spent on immunizations in less developed countries. Where should the money be spent?

Of course, money can't always be transfered freely, and too often the neediest people have the smallest voice and the least chance of getting resources.

And, issues can be politicized, so that research on cures for "popular" diseases or social ills with vocal constituencies gets funded much better than solutions for problems that lack strong advocacy groups or celebrities.

We could even ask whether it's moral for celebrities to advocate diverting resources away from more pressing needs of society.

But then we have to ask ... what does this have to do with sailing? Even though we, as sailors, have to make guesses and compromises and take action based on incomplete information and knowing that there can be negative consequences no matter which choice we make.

"A ship is safe in the harbor...."
sometimes.

PeconicPuffin said...

I think you'd find no support for spending 100 million make nuclear power plants spare a single life. That number is over the top, of course...none of the major safety scenarios concerns itself with the safety of small groups of people...it's more like "what if 200 people were exposed to levels of radiation" in a small but bad release. Would it take 20 billion dollars (by your example) to prevent that? The answer is no.


I am enthusiastic about the idea of nuclear power being operated safely and seriously. If I was to look to an industry and a company standard of safety and security that I think is the way to go, I'd look at the airline industry and point at El Al.

What does this have to do with sailing is a fine question. The distinction I'd make is that one of the exhilirating things about sailing is how utterly self-reliant we must be. Any mistake I make, I will face the consequences. Any unforeseen conditions...the same. But I'm only risking my own life.

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