Sink That Slow Boat to China

I don’t like to predict things because I can’t really see into the future, but last year in one of my posts I predicted in passing:

My guess is that the first bill in Congress to make wind farms illegal will come from Democratic sponsors in the name of conservation.

Well looks like I was half right. The first opposition to a big ($1.5B) wind farm in Texas is by a Democrat, Chuck Schumer, who was ironically also the topic of that same post. Chuck didn’t, however, poo-poo the power plant because of conservation. He doesn’t like the fact that the turbines are going to be made in China. Believe it or not, I agree.

Buying toasters, toys, TVs, and telephones made in China is bad enough, but contracting major industrial projects to Chinese products and labor shows us only that we have lost leadership in almost all  things critical to a successful country. The useless “stimulus” spending the Feds are undertaking should at least help us build back our own industries, our own capabilities, our own future, not those of China.

This last week a piece of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge broke and fell onto traffic. The piece was a fix to a broken eye-span, critical to keeping the bridge from falling into the bay. This span of the old bridge is being replaced with a brand new bridge span that is supposed to look spiffy. I listened on the radio to a civil engineering professor from U.C. Berkeley who has been studying the bridge in detail since the earthquake of 1989 that shook lose a non-critical but still lethal section of the bridge deck. He said that the current fix to the bridge is not safe, it is just a C-clamp to keep the the eye-span from further deterioration. It is a race now, will they get the new bridge done before the old one collapses? Will Caltrans fix the old bridge properly? What does this have to do with China?

Turns out most of the steel in the new bridge is made in, you guessed it, China. I guess they were the low bidder. I hope this new bridge is going to hold up better than the current one.  According to the professor, chinese steel is known for being defective, subject to cracking, and he said that they have already found a couple of cracks in critical decking before it made it out of the factory, some 12,000 miles from California.

The professor mentioned another interesting characteristic of the new bridge design: the bridge deck is a critical element keeping the entire bridge structure together (unlike all the other bridges where the bridge deck is held up by the bridge structure). While the structure is built to withstand a really big earthquake (assuming the steel infrastructure doesn’t crack), it is not built to withstand a simple bomb. One bomb causing one big hole in the new bridge deck and the whole thing will collapse. The old bridge doesn’t suffer that problem. Caltrans answer to why this flaw exists? Terrorism was not an issue when the bridge was designed.

I hope Caltrans hires some good engineers from California to fix the old bridge properly so that it can be used just in case the new one gets hit.

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