China Gropes for Energy Security

China’s Energy Security: Prospects, Challenges, and Opportunities – Jian Zhang – Brookings Institution.

Former Brookings Visiting Fellow Zhang Jian believes that the biggest obstacle between China and its energy security is Beijing’s implicit belief that energy security is a domestic policy question. Zhang disagrees, pointing out that when you are on track to import 60-70% of your petroleum from abroad by 2015, it is time for a rethink.

As a major consumer of a high-demand global resource in an integrated world, Zhang suggests, China can no longer approach energy security on a unilateral basis. Doing so not only puts China and other nations of the world on a collision course, it also threatens a rift in the government.

Zhang is right, of course, but I suspect his imprecations will fall upon unhearing ears. China s not yet at the point where it is ready to trust other countries to have a say in its energy future, and you could make an argument that it should not have to. The challenge is how the world will deal with a China that will be increasingly assertive – if not aggressive – about acquiring the petroleum that it needs.

In truth, this makes China’s energy security our problem as well as China’s. If you approach it from that angle, Zhang’s book is especially valuable.

Why BP Minimized the Environmental Threat of Deepwater Horizon

Cover of "Oil in the Sea: Inputs, Fates, ...

Cover via Amazon

Because the world has depended upon petroleum to drive the infrastructure of the global economy for nearly a century, it is surprising to learn that there is as yet no scientific consensus on the long-term effects of crude oil spills into the oceans. Now, I would wager that there is a general consensus that oil spills are bad for the ocean, but there is some evidence to suggest that some players in the petroleum industry are allegedly not above calling research results into question.

Recognizing the extant uncertainty and doubt around the question, the National Research Council published Oil in the Sea III, the third iteration of a report originally issued in 1985, surveyed the data and research available as of 2003, and determined that there is still no comprehensive data on the long-term effects of petroleum release on the seas, calling for the government to undertake a unified, consistent, long-term and independent study.

While the issue went quiet during the Bush Administration, it has yet to be revived significantly with Obama in the White House. Thus while the report was something of a victim of bad timing, it deserves to be read, if only to understand how BP, in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill, can continue to cast doubt on whether the oceans are permanently damaged by spills, or whether Mother Nature finds a way to compensate for man’s accidents.

Alternative Fuels for Military Applications

US Navy 040609-N-0684R-016 Airman Chase Anders...

Image via Wikipedia

The organization that arguably has the most to gain from viable alternative fuels is the U.S. military. To many strategists, the armed forces’ dependence on foreign sources of oil remain its greatest vulnerability. In Alternative Fuels for Military Applications, the RAND Corporation examines the alternatives to diesel, gasoline, and jet fuel and names the best possibilities for each.

The importance of this book reaches beyond the military. Once the national defense establishment places a bet on a given fuel technology, the cost to bring that technology to civilian applications drops. The Pentagon, in essence, subsidizes the costly development of the fuel, and civil society reaps the benefits.

As such, this book offers insights into the future of alternative fuels that are overlooked by the public and by those making global energy policy. If for no other reason, this book belongs on the shelves of anyone interested in the future of energy.

How the U.S. Military Avoids and Deals With Nuclear Contamination

Back in the bad old days of the Cold War, a major concern was operating in and around a battlefield that had been contaminated with nuclear detonations. As a result, the U.S. military has built a considerable expertise on dealing with widespread contamination that it is now beginning to apply to civilian assistance programs.

These three manuals lay out the tactics, techniques, and procedures for the avoidance of, protection from, and decontamination from nuclear and radiological (as well as chemical and biological) contamination. Three worthy reads and references as the story in Japan grows.

U.S. Army Nuclear Accident Response Manual

Continuing our Atomic Cafe theme in deference to events in Japan, the U.S. Army has published the operational procedures that it follows when providing assistance after a nuclear accident or incident. My bet would be that the Japanese Self Defense Forces are working from a playbook not too dissimilar from this one.

Pamphlet 50-5 Nuclear Accident or Incident Response and Assistance (NAIRA) Operations (Free PDF book)

Nuclear Energy: Balancing Benefits and Risks

In 2007 Council on Foreign Relations fellow Charles Ferguson published this erudite and compact report on the global expansion of nuclear energy. As with the Carnegie report, Ferguson looks closely at the proliferation question, but also delves into some of the wider issues that would accompany a sudden spurt in global reactor construction. Given some of the operational challenges faced by the Japanese power companies that are coming to new light in the wake of the Fukushima crisis, Ferguson looks like he was right on.

To get a free copy of a report for which the CFR otherwise would charge you $10, simply click on the “DOWNLOAD THE FULL TEXT OF THE REPORT” link below the purchase button. The download is free.