Problems at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station - Arnie Gundersen

Date 1 May 2012

The turbines that spin the generators at Southern California Edison’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station need steam. But the reactors at SONGS are pressurized – at roughly a ton per square inch – so the water cannot boil. Instead, hot water from the reactor is pumped through thousands of tubes. Cold water flows around those tubes, absorbs the heat of the reactor water, and boils, generating steam for the turbines. The vessels in which this takes place – the steam generators – are huge, each over twenty feet across, over 600 tons.

SCE replaced the steam generators at SONGS in 2009. The new SGs were supposed to last decades. Instead, the SGs are already wearing out. A small amount of radiation escaped the plant as a result. Both SONGS reactors are presently shut down.

In this podcast, nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen (Fairewinds Associates) describes the SG switch-out, and how the problems may have stemmed from changes to the original design. He ends with an intriguing hypothesis as to why the design might have been changed.

 Get MP3 (5 MB | 21:28 min)

Curiosity - Mars Science Lab

Date 6 March 2012

Having successfully completed a major (and planned) mid-course correction, Curiosity – the Mars Science Laboratory – is now on-course for her August arrival on Mars. I spoke recently with Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada, JPL.

 Get MP3 (5 MB | 20:02 min)

Fukushima, One Year After - Arnie Gundersen, Nuclear Engineer

Date 6 March 2012

Given the paucity of information coming from Tokyo Electric (TEPCO), those curious about what happened … what’s still happening … at Fukushima have had to look at the evidence themselves. I spoke with nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen.

Aired on Soundings, 6 March 2012

 Get MP3 (7 MB | 32:18 min)

Death and Oil

Date 20 November 2011

The Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf was only one of many offshore oil accidents. The destruction of Piper Alpha in the North Sea was another. I spoke with Brad Matsen, author of Death and Oil, on Soundings.

 Get MP3 (6 MB | 23:53 min)

Tar Sands

Date 15 November 2011

In the Canadian province of Alberta are rocks soaked with bitumen. It’s not crude, but more like tar. With lots of energy and water and work, bitumen can be turned into synthetic petroleum … with horrendous environmental consequences. I spoke with Andrew Nikiforuk, author of Tar Sands, on Soundings.

 Get MP3 (5 MB | 20:51 min)

Clouds and climate - Norman Loeb

Date 1 November 2011

The most powerful – and least understood – effectors of climate are clouds.

To better understand these objects – how they both reduce and magnify the energy we get from the sun – CERES (Clouds and Earth’s Radiant Energy System) instruments now fly aboard several spacecraft, looking down on the sky.

Another CERES instrument has just launched, aboard another spacecraft. A few days before launch, I spoke with CERES PI (principle investigator), Dr. Norman Loeb, of NASA’s Langley Research Center. The conversation broadcast on Soundings, a few days after launch.

 Get MP3 (3 MB | 13:37 min)

What does it mean to KNOW something?

Date 17 October 2011

Putting a number on something gives it an aura of precision … but begs the question, “Where did that number come from?” Listeners to “Soundings” have heard me struggle to find out the origins of some of the numbers bandied about in the climate change debates. This is a short explanation for my discomfort. Aired on Steve Baker’s morning show.

 Get MP3 (1 MB | 5:16 min)

Mapping the sea's salt

Date 26 September 2011


Aquarius PI Gary Lagerloef explains some of the electromagnetic properties of saltwater for me. (Photograph: Kathleen Leonard)

All the sea is salt, but some parts are saltier than others. Rainfall dilutes the ocean’s waters, making them less salty. Salinity patterns thus hold clues to rainfall – key data for anyone trying to understand how rainfall patterns might be changing.


First global map of the salinity, or saltiness, of Earth’s ocean surface produced by NASA’s new Aquarius instrument

Salt affects the electromagnetic properties of water. An instrument to measure how those properties vary from place to place – and, therefore, the salinity of the ocean varies from place-to-place – was launched last June aboard the Argentine Satélite de Aplicaciones Cientificas.

The first salinity map based on Aquarius data, released in late September. I recently spoke with Aquarius Principle Investigator (PI) Gary Lagerloef about it by phone.

 Get MP3 (1 MB | 5:51 min)

Modeling Earth's Climate - Gabrielle Hegerl

Date 23 August 2011

Earth’ atmosphere is huge – it weighs trillions of tons … and it interacts with the sun, and with the sea and the rocks of the planet, making the Earth system even larger. To try to get a handle on the atmosphere, and on climate, scientists often use computer models. I spoke with Prof. Gabrielle Hegerl of the University of Edinburgh, about some of the intricacies of climate modeling. Aired on Soundings, Aug 23, 2011.

 Get MP3 (8 MB | 32:38 min)

Cool Clouds

Date 9 August 2011

It can be hard to observe motions in the atmosphere, since they’re usually invisible. Clouds, however, reveal some of that motion. Some very cool clouds appeared in the sky not long ago, and they revealed what was happening up there.

 Get MP3 (1 MB | 2:38 min)

The next Martian rover - conversation with geologist Dawn Sumner

Date 9 August 2011

The rovers Spirit and Opportunity have been exploring the surface of Mars, searching for evidence that water – essential to life – was once on or near the surface. This November, a new robot explorer will launch, to make planetfall in August of 2012. The rover Curiosity will look for, among other things, organic molecules – the sorts of molecules of which life is made. I spoke with Dawn Sumner, professor of geology at UC Davis, who was on the team that chose Curiosity’s landing site.

 Get MP3 (8 MB | 35:49 min)

Well before there was Reno, people lived here

Date 29 July 2011

The city of Reno grew up around the transcontinental railroad tracks that traversed the Truckee Meadows. When the tracks were re-routed below street-level, archeologists uncovered a record of five thousand years of human habitation.

Mary Ringhoff and Ed Stoner are archeologists with Western Cultural Resource Management, Inc., and authors of The River and the Railroad: An Archaeological History of Reno (University of Nevada Press), describing the archeological work they did during construction of the trench. Skip Allen Smith and I spoke with them on Dreamwalk, July 28, 2011.

 Get MP3 (5 MB | 20:21 min)

"Tin" cans and cancer - Conversation with Janet Gray

Date 18 July 2011

Tin cans are no longer lined with tin, but with an epoxy made from BP-A – bisphenol-A, a known endocrine disruptor. BP-A leaches into food … even organic food. The Breast Cancer Fund’s “Kick the Can” campaign encourages consumers to avoid buying food in “tin cans” through the end of July. I spoke about cancer, BP-A, and “tin” cans with Dr. Janet Gray of Vassar College. Dr. Gray is co-author of the report “The State of the Evidence 2010: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment.”

 Get MP3 (1 MB | 6:17 min)

Arsenic-Eating Bacteria - Update on a Skeptic's View - Rosie Redfield

Date 12 July 2011

Arsenic is toxic to most life, for a number of reasons. When a NASA-funded scientist announced discovery of bacteria in Mono Lake that not only eat arsenic, but may use it to build their DNA, many scientists were skeptical. I spoke on-air with one skeptic, microbiologist Rosie Redfield, of the University of British Columbia when the announcement was made, and spoke with her again recently, for an update on her work-in-progress, investigating the claim by growing the bugs herself.

 Get MP3 (3 MB | 14:16 min)

Climate Modeling - Reto Knutti - 12 July, 2011

Date 12 July 2011

I spoke with Prof. Reto Knutti, of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science (Zurich), about modeling the climate in a computer, and about a paper he’s just published, in which his model was fed some rather extreme estimates for the planet’s future population and energy use. Aired on Soundings, 11 July 2011.

 Get MP3 (3 MB | 12:44 min)

Animal Tracking - Conversation with Mark Elbroch

Date 28 June 2011

Tracking requires focus and experience. Joined by local trackers Scot Woodland and Rick Berry, I spoke with Mark Elbroch, author of Mammal Tracks and Sign. Program aired on Soundings, Tuesday, June 28, 2011.

 Get MP3 (9 MB | 38:31 min)

California's long, wet spring of 2011 - Dave Reynolds

Date 20 June 2011

What a long, wet spring it’s been! I spoke with Dave Reynolds, Meteorologist-in-charge, NWS Forecast office, Monterrey, about conditions in the atmosphere and in the ocean that have been driving our weather. Aired on the evening news, June 20, 2011.

 Get MP3 (1 MB | 5:14 min)

Black Hole Eats Star

Date 20 June 2011

Every now and then, we (Earth) are in the right place, at the right time, to see something that happens just once in many lifetimes. I talked about this event with Steve Baker on his Monday morning program.

 Get MP3 (1 MB | 5:06 min)

Launch of the Aquarius Mission - June 13, 2011

Date 13 June 2011

I spoke last week (PODCAST: June 6, 2011) about the Aquarius Mission to map the salinity of the surface of the sea (SSS). I observed the launch of the spacecraft the following Friday – this is what I saw. (Broadcast on the Monday morning program, hosted by Michael Young).

 Get MP3 (1 MB | 3:15 min)

Conversation with Dr. Yi Chao, Project Scientist, Aquarius Mission - June 7, 2011

Date 7 June 2011

A week before the launch of the Aquarius Mission, I spoke with oceanographer Dr. Yi Chao, Aquarius project scientist, about how the spacecraft would offer a much-needed check on numerical climate models. Aired on the KVMR Evening News.

 Get MP3 (1 MB | 3:49 min)