97-0930d11_apsAlex Chadwick

I’ve just spent several days in Washington working on energy stories and having conversations at National Geographic.

Here are a couple of observations, with stories in the works for Marketplace.

1. The Department of Defense is the largest energy user in the US. It may also be the most radical energy conservation organization anywhere, because it has to be. Supplying remote Combat Operational Posts in the provinces of Afghanistan – sites for 100-150 US soldiers – is dangerous and expensive. Make the the COPs self-sufficient, and cost and risk go way down. Energy costs turn out to be a very significant factor in achieving combat goals. DOD will begin deploying redesigned systems in Afghanistan this summer – the product of truly innovative thinking with input from high-tech, venture capitol and leading energy researchers. This is not the Army I slogged through long ago. These people are very smart.

2. A tip from inside the Nuclear Regulatory Commission led me to a hearing on venting options for nuclear reactors – a serious issue following the catastrophe at Fukushima two years ago, where gas build up inside the containment vessels led to explosions. I don’t yet fully understand everything I heard. But the part about the consequences for certain US-based reactors (absent venting upgrades) if a catastrophic natural event does occur – ‘high probability of reactor failure’ – that part I got.

Stay tuned.