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Things are looking up for nuclear energy these days – ominously for America in some respects. Remember the Department of Energy’s recent decision to fund research for small nuclear reactors so we may develop a prototype around 2020? Well China already has shovels in the ground. The Middle Kingdom has started construction on a 200-MW SMR – along with the other half-dozen larger reactors under construction. The Chinese are also moving ahead with thorium, a technology that has a huge following in the US but has never gotten off the ground. Meanwhile, the federal government has successfully blocked Private Fuel Storage, a private company from setting up a long-term fuel management site in Utah. Nothing happening in nuclear over here.

Shell’s Alaskan oil rig has been successfully refloated after spending the weekend aground near Kodiak Island. The exhortations for Shell to give up Arctic drilling after the “disaster” may have been premature. China has made an unexpected offer to the Philippines to do a joint venture in looking for oil in the South China Sea. Manila is approaching the issue warily. In Sudan, China is doing a delicate balancing act between the two hostile regions of the country, since the southern portion has oil while the northern half has the pipelines. And while Iran is hurting from oil sanctions, it has decided to invest $25 billion in developing new fields.

The Perils of the Wind Industry has ended yet another episode with the heroine being rescued at the last minute from the railroad tracks. Developers in Texas are already dusting off old projects and preparing to collect their production tax credit. The industry, however, would like something longer than the current one-year reprieve. Meanwhile, a noted academic at the University of Edinburgh has questioned whether wind produces many long-term jobs or reduces carbon emissions.

Biofuels suffered a setback as a Norwegian study warned that burning trees will release isoprene, raising ozone levels and damaging human health and crops. The study said a large-scale conversion to wood would cause 1400 premature deaths in Europe. In another grim report, The New York Times says biofuel production for the US in Guatemala is squeezing out food production and harming peasant diets. The picture with the story (above) shows a family cultivating the median strip on a highway. The U.S. Department of Energy is not discouraged by any of this, however, and handed out another $10 million for biofuels development.

Finally, energy storage is making headway as Apple announced a new design that turns wind power into heat in order to store it for use when the wind dies down. Analysts’ forecasts for both the flywheel and molten salts markets are for 10-20 percent expansion over the next four years. Underwriters’ Laboratory has chosen to review a new home storage system developed by Axion – a big step toward commercial distribution. And researchers at the University of Delaware are talking about supercapacitors that will have the ability to stretch renewable energy over longer periods of time. Progress is being made.

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