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BREAKING: Uranium Banned After Centrifuge Crash
"Operators...started the auxiliary standby generator. The operators then made repeated attempts to tie the generator to the faulted EMCC [essential motor control center] but were initially unsuccessful."
No, that's not a description of desperate attempts to restore power at the stricken Daiichi nuclear reactors in Japan, after the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. Rather, it's a just-released description of frantic efforts to restore power at the test nuclear fuel supply project near Piketon, Ohio, three months later to the day, on June 11, 2011. The facility is run by USEC, Inc., the same company that supplied the uranium fuel that melted down inside the reactors at Fukushima.
For years, USEC has touted its whiz-zinger gargantuan uranium centrifuges, while pleading for likewise enormous federal bailouts to save the company from bankruptcy. But now it is documented that the project is more whiz than zing. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has extended a ban on USEC's use of uranium in test machines, following the crash of six centrifuges, with attendant safety violations, last June.
The order comes in a Nov. 15 letter and Nov. 21 report from NRC, following an inspection of mid-September that found three serious uncorrected conditions. NRC had barred USEC from using uranium in its demonstration "Lead Cascade" at the Department of Energy (DOE) site near Piketon as soon as NRC had been formally notified of the safety breaches on July 1.
This was kept exceptionally quiet, since USEC has needed to demonstrate the commercial viability of its technology, to qualify for a $2 billion federal loan guarantee. Running the centrifuges without uranium cannot yield the required data—namely yield, efficiency, cost and reliability. All summer and fall, with no uranium running and without public acknowledgment, USEC has literally been spinning its wheels.
USEC has misled investors and the public by implying that the purpose of its Lead Cascade was only to demonstrate that "the technology works," meaning that the centrifuges spin. My blender spins, the machines at the laundromat spin—spinning is no big whoop. USEC had to prove that its technology can beat the commercial competition, and that effort has now spun to a stop.
U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) belittled the June centrifuge crash as a "hiccup" back in July, when the story broke: "The hiccup at the plant a few weeks ago, I think that has been addressed...We believe all the technology questions about the refinements have been answered. Those should be behind us now."
Not so fast, Senator. According to NRC technical staff four months after your statement, despite the nuclear scare, it's a case of hiccups that hasn't gone away. Portman speaks about USEC using the first-person plural because as congressman from the district and as U.S. Trade Representative, he created the USEC financial mess by temporarily shielding USEC from foreign competition.
[This report is the third in a series on USEC's "American Centrifuge Plant." The first two installments are: Is Privatized Uranium Company Too Rigged to Fail? and Uranium Barter Revealed as USEC Bailout Scam]
Lead, Follow, or Collect $2 Billion
Based on conversations I had with NRC staff last summer, it was expected that the Lead Cascade would be back running hot immediately after a September inspection verified corrective actions. But now USEC has failed that inspection, and the ban on uranium use has been extended at least until after a follow-up review scheduled to begin in mid-January.
This might seem inconvenient for USEC, since Jan. 15 was set by USEC as the alleged final deadline for DOE's award of a "conditional commitment" on a loan guarantee, a deadline which, if not met, could cause withdrawal of the project's two remaining major investors—Toshiba and Babcock & Wilcox.
On the other hand, the January inspection date may have been set precisely with the financial deadline in mind, since NRC's report and findings were not shared with the investors or other interested parties (as is standard practice), and public notice was limited to unadvertised electronic posting on NRC's document system. That is, one had to guess it was there.
According to the NRC letter, it was USEC project manager Dan Rogers who set the "mid-January" date—an awfully long time from the June crash occurrence—even though the new date coincides with USEC's crucial financing deadline. Having been denied a second time for a DOE loan guarantee in mid-October, USEC has been intensely lobbying for both a $300 million bailout package that must be approved by Congress, and also for a "conditional commitment" on a loan guarantee, even if USEC knows it cannot meet the conditions set for an award. Could USEC be postponing its safety compliance, with attendant publicity of the uranium ban, until after hoped-for decisions by Congress, DOE, and investors?
If so, it would fit USEC's consistent delay pattern for the "Lead Cascade." On paper, the Lead Cascade, licensed by NRC in early 2004, was supposed to be a demonstration array of 240 centrifuges, data from which would justify full-scale commercialization of the so-called "American Centrifuge Plant" or ACP. That idea, however, remained only on paper, as USEC endlessly postponed the project, with the claim it had to "tweak" its machines for optimality. Indications now are that USEC intentionally put off the demonstration because it would reveal the technology as unworthy of pursuit, while the company continued to lobby for bailouts and collect government fees for contract services.
Crony Capitalism or Baloney State Socialism
By August of 2004, USEC had already submitted the license application for a commercial-scale plant of 11,000 centrifuges. NRC granted a commercial scale license for ACP in the spring of 2007, before the Lead Cascade even was initiated, over vocal protest on the point in question by yours truly.
I argued in a petition of intervention to NRC filed in 2005 that if NRC licensed a commercial plant before completion of the demonstration project, it would be a formula for project collapse, leaving the site contaminated and unavailable for alternative use. The "Lead Cascade" would have to be renamed "the Follow Cascade," as its purpose would be rendered moot.
That logic evaded the sharp minds of U.S. government regulators. By 2009, when USEC was demanding a DOE decision on a $2 billion loan guarantee, the Lead Cascade had a total of ten centrifuges running. That's ten, as in you could count them on your fingers.
Lead Cascade was "demobilized" (shut down) in August of 2009 for financial reasons, and its "remobilization" two months later was, again, only on paper. By 2011, when USEC was back demanding reconsideration of the loan guarantee, the number of centrifuges had been raised to a whopping 38, 16 percent of the required 240. Six of those 38 machines crashed (and will never again operate) in the loss-of-power incident on June 11, 2011. If such an incident were to affect a completed commercial-scale plant, it could mean the crash of more than 1,700 large centrifuges, with breaches of their housings, an eventuality never contemplated in 2007, when NRC granted USEC a 30-year construction and operation license.
Meanwhile, USEC has adamantly refused to disclose the reliability and efficiency data gleaned so far from its Lead Cascade, even though it asserts with no evidence that performance merits at least $2,300,000,000.00 in public assistance. Twice so far, DOE reviewers with access to the data have disagreed. Originally, USEC was contractually committed to complete the 240-machine test cascade by October, 2005. Six years later, the company is not close to completion, acknowledged by a proposed deal with DOE to initiate now a "Research, Development and Demonstration" (RD&D) project with $300 million of federal money.
RD&D was the precise definition of what the Lead Cascade was supposed to have accomplished six years ago, using company funds derived from many years of substantial federal subsidy. In the highly competitive business of uranium enrichment, with three domestic enrichment projects that all use newer more-efficient technology, no logical case for continued USEC support has been made.
The USEC Crash
As to what occurred on June 11, 2011, the belated NRC inspection report has disturbing echoes of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, all rolled into one, albeit on a miniature scale.
As in the Fukushima disaster, a power outage precipitated a cascading sequence of adverse consequences, with standby generators not available on demand. As at Chernobyl, workers intentionally disabled safety systems as an emergency bypass. And as with Three Mile Island, control instrumentation had been poorly designed, confusing the operators and making them commit grave errors and second-guess the instruments. Though the nuclear industry likes to tout "lessons learned" from major accidents, the USEC Crash demonstrates that some nuclear operators, at least, are very poor learners.
One line from the inspection report eerily recapitulates descriptions of what precipitated the meltdowns at Fukushima:
"Operators...started the auxiliary standby generator. The operators then made repeated attempts to tie the generator to the faulted EMCC [essential motor control center] but were initially unsuccessful."
Likewise, at Fukushima, backup generators were successfully delivered by truck, but they could not be connected to the reactor complex system. Typically for nuclear disaster scenarios, one unforeseen circumstance led to others, worsened by insufficient or improper training of personnel:
"During the efforts to re-energize the EMCC, the shift supervisor at the scene responded to the UPS [uninterrupted power supply] panel to acknowledge a general trouble alarm. However, instead of acknowledging the alarm, the individual mistakenly;y opened a protective cover and actuated the UPS shutdown pushbutton."
That resulted in a direct interruption of power, which caused "multiple casing breaches" on the centrifuges, and "loss of all process indications, and operator controls in the main control room." Manual bypass of some safety systems in order to restore power then had the effect of disabling certain vital mechanisms, including the ventilation fan that disperses hydrogen gas from the battery room, which could have led to an explosion.
Throughout the "incident," employees displayed inadequate training and lack of familiarity with instruments and equipment. In discussions with NRC, USEC management showed a profound lack of appreciation for the severity of the problems, and for the steps necessary to correct them. That is why NRC has extended the ban on USEC's use of uranium in the Lead Cascade.
If the USEC Crash was a "hiccup" then Bhopal was a burp. And the gas release most conspicuous is Senator Rob Portman's unregulated emission of July, by which he claimed that USEC merits a federal loan guarantee, because its "technology questions...have been answered."
As damning as the NRC inspection report may be, the Commission failed to investigate or address the three most important questions raised by the USEC Crash:
1. Did USEC have foreknowledge of the shortcomings of its centrifuge technology, and was that foreknowledge the reason that USEC postponed deployment of the Lead Cascade, until DOE loan application reviewers forced a token deployment?
2. Has USEC's financial condition degenerated to the point where the company cannot afford adequate safety measures, and cannot be entrusted to handle nuclear materials or deploy sensitive nuclear technology? (USEC has had negative earnings throughout 2011, a debt-to-earnings ratio of a whopping 51.5, and a total market capitalization of $155 million, only 3 percent of the estimated total cost of a commercial-scale plant.)
3. Has USEC delayed reporting and investigation of the June crash in order to dupe government officials, investors, and the public into the award of a federal loan guarantee or other forms of financial bailout?
The seriousness of June 11, 2011 categorized it as a "24-hour event" under NRC regulations, requiring formal notification of the Commission within 24 hours, notification that would result in public posting. Indeed, USEC did immediately inform its chief political backers on Capitol Hill—Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Yet USEC waited 19 days, until July 1, before sending formal written notification to NRC, thus postponing any public posting of the event, scheduling of an inspection or restrictions on continued testing.
The notification of July 1, which was posted on July 6, was extraordinarily deficient. It failed to make any mention of the crash of six centrifuges, involving casing breach or even that the centrifuges were running uranium hexafluoride gas at the time.
The timing delay was critical, because USEC had set June 30 as the widely-publicized deadline for DOE to award a conditional commitment on a loan guarantee. It appears that USEC hoped that DOE would meet the deadline and grant an award, before the facts of the centrifuge crash became known.
On the deadline day, June 30, USEC issued a news release announcing a postponement of financing arrangements with investors and DOE, but giving no hint of the extraordinary occurrences earlier that month. And both U.S. Senators kept USEC's silence, maintaining their public support for a loan guarantee, while failing to inform their constituents of the accident sequence that had occurred on Piketon's public land.
Public knowledge of the USEC crash did not come until a news release was issued by the watchdog Southern Ohio Neighbors Group on July 7. The severity of the incident remained unreported at that time.
Throughout the summer and fall, USEC continued to press for a $2 billion loan guarantee and other forms of public and private investment, all the while withholding the details of what had happened in Piketon in June, and even while meeting with NRC inspectors to schedule follow-up that coincides with the next USEC-set financing deadline. USEC's last scheduled conference call with investors was canceled with no explanation. News that the Lead Cascade has been running, or not, with no uranium, and that the uranium ban has been extended indefinitely, has not made it into local or national media, and that information has not been part of the public debate about whether USEC should be given a federal loan guarantee.
I am reminded of the dictionary definition of chutzpah as the quality possessed by one who murders both his parents, then pleads for mercy from the court on grounds that he is an orphan. USEC's request for a $300 million federal grant for completion of its Lead Cascade now rests with the leaders of the U.S. Congress as they haggle over appropriations for 2012. Central to the decision-making is Speaker of the House John Boehner, whose congressional district neighbors that of Piketon.
The inestimable Jean Schmidt (D-OH), whose district includes Piketon, summarized the USEC situation by saying: "It's a duh." The word is dud, Ms. Schmidt, with a 'd.'
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Samantha Hepburn
In the expansion of its iron ore mine in Western Pilbara, Rio Tinto blasted the Juukan Gorge 1 and 2 — Aboriginal rock shelters dating back 46,000 years. These sites had deep historical and cultural significance.
The destruction of a significant Aboriginal site is not an isolated incident. Puutu Kunti Kurrama And Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation
Not an Isolated Incident<p>The history of large developments destroying Indigenous heritage sites is, tragically, long.</p><p>A $2.1 billion light rail line in Sydney, completed last year, <a href="https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/this-is-a-tragic-loss-sydney-light-rail-construction-destroyed-heritage-site-20190322-p516qk.html" target="_blank">destroyed a site</a> of considerable significance.</p><p>More than 2,400 stone artifacts were unearthed in a small excavated area. It indicated Aboriginal people had used the area between 1788 and 1830 to manufacture tools and implements from flint brought over to Australia on British ships.</p><p>Similarly, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/27/the-rocks-remember-the-fight-to-protect-burrup-peninsulas-rock-art" target="_blank">ancient rock art</a> on the Burrup Peninsula in north-western Australia is under increasing threat from a gas project. The site contains more than one million rock carvings (petroglyphs) across 36,857 hectares.</p><p>This area is under the custodianship of Ngarluma people and four other traditional owners groups: the Mardudhunera, the Yaburara, the Yindjibarndi and the Wong-Goo-Tt-Oo.</p><p>But a <a href="https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environment_and_Communications/BurrupPeninusla/Report" target="_blank">Senate inquiry</a> revealed emissions from adjacent industrial activity may significantly damage it.</p><p><span></span>The West Australian government is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/jan/29/australia-lodges-world-heritage-submission-for-50000-year-old-burrup-peninsula-rock-art" target="_blank">seeking world heritage listing</a> to try to increase protection, as the regulatory frameworks at the national and state level aren't strong enough. Let's explore why.</p>
What Do the Laws Say?<p>The recently renamed federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is responsible for listing new national heritage places, and regulating development actions in these areas.</p><p>At the federal level, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (<a href="http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/cth/consol_act/epabca1999588/" target="_blank">EPBC Act</a>) provides a legal framework for their management and protection. It is an offence to impact an area that has national heritage listing.</p><p>But many ancient Aboriginal sites have no national heritage listing. For the recently destroyed Juurkan gorge, the true archaeological significance was uncovered <em>after</em> consent had been issued and there were no provisions to reverse or amend the decision once this new information was discovered.</p><p>Where a site has no national heritage listing, and federal legislation has no application, state laws apply.</p><p>For the rock shelters in the Western Pilbara, Rio Tinto was abiding by Western Australia's <a href="http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/wa/consol_act/aha1972164/" target="_blank">Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972</a> — which is now nearly 50 years old.</p>
No Consultation With Traditional Owners<p>The biggest concern with this act is there's no statutory requirement ensuring traditional owners be consulted.</p><p>This means traditional owners are left out of vital decisions regarding the management and protection of their cultural heritage. And it confers authority upon a committee that, in the words of a <a href="https://www.dplh.wa.gov.au/getmedia/11dd5b41-fcf9-4216-a1ac-06ece672c087/AH-Review-Position-Comparison-for-Aboriginal-People" target="_blank">discussion paper</a>, "lacks cultural authority."</p>
Weak in Other Jurisdictions<p>The WA Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 is <a href="https://www.dplh.wa.gov.au/aha-review" target="_blank">under review</a>. The proposed reforms seek to abolish the committee, ensuring future decisions on Aboriginal cultural heritage give appropriate regard to the views of the traditional Aboriginal owners.</p><p><span></span>NSW is the only state with no stand-alone Aboriginal heritage legislation. However, a <a href="https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/researchpapers/Documents/aborigines-land-and-national-parks-in-nsw/02-97.pdf" target="_blank">similar regulatory framework</a> to WA applies in NSW under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.</p><p>There, if a developer is likely to impact cultural heritage, they must apply for an Aboriginal Heritage Impact Permit. The law requires "regard" to be given to the interests of Aboriginal owners of the land, but this vague provision does not mandate consultation.</p><p>What's more, the burden of proving the significance of an Aboriginal object depends upon external statements of significance. But Aboriginal people, not others, should be responsible for determining the cultural significance of an object or area.</p><p>As in WA, the NSW regulatory framework is weak, opening up the risk for economic interests to be prioritized over damage to cultural heritage.</p>
Outdated Laws<p>The federal minister has discretion to assess whether state or territory laws are already effective.</p><p>If they decide state and territory laws are ineffective and a cultural place or object is under threat, then the federal <a href="http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/cth/consol_act/aatsihpa1984549/" target="_blank">Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984</a> can be used.</p><p>But this act is also weak. It was first implemented as an interim measure, intended to operate for two years. It has now been in operation for 36 years.</p><p>In fact, <a href="http://ymac.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Extracts-from-Evatt-Review-of-the-Aboriginal-and-Torres-Strait-Islander-Heritage-Protection-Act-1984.pdf" target="_blank">a 1995 report</a> assessed the shortcomings of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act.</p><p>It recommended minimum standards be put in place. This included ensuring any assessment of Aboriginal cultural significance be made by a properly qualified body, with relevant experience.</p><p>It said the role of Aboriginal people should be appropriately recognized and statutorily endorsed. Whether an area or site had particular significance according to Aboriginal tradition should be regarded as a subjective issue, determined by an assessment of the degree of intensity of belief and feeling of Aboriginal people.</p><p><span></span>Twenty-five years later, this is yet to happen.</p>
By Tara Lohan
The first official tallies are in: Coronavirus-related shutdowns helped slash daily global emissions of carbon dioxide by 14 percent in April. But the drop won't last, and experts estimate that annual emissions of the greenhouse gas are likely to fall only about 7 percent this year.
What lessons can we learn from your research to guide us right now, in what seems like a really critical time in the fight to halt climate change?<p>What a lot of people don't understand is that to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we actually have to reduce emissions by around 7-8 percent <em>every single year</em> from now until 2030, which is what the emissions drop is likely to be this year because of the COVID-19 crisis.</p><p>So think about what it took to reduce emissions by that much and think about how we have to do that <em>every single year</em>.</p><p>It doesn't mean that it's going to be some big sacrifice, but it does mean that we need government policy, particularly at the federal level, because state policy can only go so far. We've been living off state policy for more than three decades now and we need our federal government to act.</p>
Where are we now, in terms of our progress on renewable energy and how far we need to go?<p>A lot of people think renewable energy is growing "so fast" and it's "so amazing." But first of all, during the coronavirus pandemic, the renewable energy industry is actually doing very poorly. It's losing a lot of jobs. And secondly, we were not moving fast enough even before the coronavirus crisis, because renewable energy in the<em> best </em>year grew by only 1.3 percent.</p><p>Right now we're at around 36-37 percent clean energy. That includes nuclear, hydropower and new renewables like wind, solar and geothermal. But hydropower and nuclear aren't growing. Nuclear supplies about 20 percent of the grid and hydro about 5 percent depending on the year. And then the rest is renewable. So we're at about 10 percent renewables, and in the best year, we're only adding 1 percent to that.</p><p>Generally, we need to be moving about eight times faster than we've been moving in our best years. (To visualize this idea, I came up with the <a href="https://grist.org/fix/how-quickly-do-we-need-to-ramp-up-renewables-look-to-the-narwhal/" target="_blank">narwhal curve</a>.)</p>
How do we overcome these fundamental issues of speed and scale?<p>We need actual government policy that supports it. We have never had a clean electricity standard or renewable portfolio standard at the federal level. That's the main law that I write all about at the state level. Where those policies are in place, a lot of progress has been made — places like California and even, to a limited extent, Texas.</p><p>We need our federal government to be focusing on this crisis. Even the really small, piecemeal clean-energy policies we have at the federal level are going away. In December Congress didn't extend the investment tax credit and the production tax credit, just like they didn't extend or improve the electric vehicle tax credit.</p><p>And now during the COVID-19 crisis, a lot of the money going toward the energy sector in the CARES Act is going toward propping up <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-15/-stealth-bailout-shovels-millions-of-dollars-to-oil-companies" target="_blank">dying fossil fuel companies</a> and not toward supporting the renewable energy industry.</p><p>So we are moving in the wrong direction.</p>
Clean energy hasn’t always been such a partisan issue. Why did it become so polarizing?<p>What I argue in my book, with evidence, is that electric utilities and fossil fuel companies have been intentionally driving polarization. And they've done this in part by running challengers in primary elections against Republicans who don't agree with them.</p><p>Basically, fossil fuel companies and electric utilities are telling Republicans that you can't hold office and support climate action. That has really shifted the incentives within the party in a very short time period.</p><p>It's not like the Democrats have moved so far left on climate. The Democrats have stayed in pretty much the same place and the Republicans have moved to the right. And I argue that that's because of electric utilities and fossil fuel companies trying to delay action.</p>
And their reason for doing that is simply about their bottom line and keeping their share of the market?<p>Exactly. You have to remember that delay and denial on climate change is a profitable enterprise for fossil fuel companies and electric utilities. The longer we wait to act on the crisis, the more money they can make because they can extract more fossil fuels from their reserves <em>and</em> they can pay more of their debt at their coal plants and natural gas plants. So delay and denial is a money-making business for fossil fuel companies and electric utilities.</p>
There’s been a lot of research, reporting and even legal action in recent years about the role of fossil fuel companies in discrediting climate science. From reading your book, it seems that electric utilities are just as guilty. Is that right?<p>Yes, far less attention has been paid to electric utilities, which play a really critical role. They preside over legacy investments into coal and natural gas, and some of them continue to propose building new natural gas.</p><p>They were just as involved in promoting climate denial in the 1980s and 90s as fossil fuel companies, as I document in my book. And some of them, like Southern Company, have continued to promote climate denial to basically the present day.</p><p>But that's not the only dark part of their history.</p><p>Electric utilities promoted energy systems that are pretty wasteful. They built these centralized fossil fuel power plants rather than having co-generation plants that were onsite at industrial locations where manufacturing is happening, and where you need both steam heat — which is a waste product from electricity — and the electricity itself. That actually created a lot of waste in the system and we burned a lot more fossil fuels than if we had a decentralized system.</p><p><span></span>The other thing they've done in the more modern period is really resisted the energy transition. They've resisted renewable portfolio standards and net metering laws that allow for more clean energy to come onto the grid. They've tried to roll them back. They've been successful in some cases, and they've blocked new laws from passing when targets were met.</p>
You wrote that, “Partisan polarization on climate is not inevitable — support could shift back to the bipartisanship we saw before 2008.” What would it take to actually make that happen?<p>Well, on the one hand, you need to get the Democratic Party to care more about climate change and to really understand the stakes. And if you want to do that, I think the work of the <a href="https://www.justicedemocrats.com/" target="_blank">Justice Democrats</a> is important. They have primary-challenged incumbent Democrats who don't care enough about climate change. That is how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was elected. She was a primary challenger and she has really championed climate action in the Green New Deal.</p><p>The other thing is that the public supports climate action. Democrats do in huge numbers. Independents do. And to some extent Republicans do, particularly young Republicans.</p><p>So communicating the extent of public concern on these issues is really important because, as I've shown in other research, politicians don't know how much public concern there is on climate change. They dramatically underestimate support for climate action.</p><p>I think the media has a really important role to play because it's very rare that a climate event, like a disaster that is caused by climate change, is actually linked to climate change in media reporting.</p><p>But people might live through a wildfire or a hurricane or a heat wave, but nobody's going to tell them through the media that this is climate change. So we really need our reporters to be doing a better job linking people's lived experiences to climate change.</p>
With economic stimulus efforts ramping up because of the COVD-19 pandemic, are we in danger of missing a chance to help boost a clean energy economy?<p>I think so many people understand that stimulus spending is an opportunity to rebuild our economy in a way that creates good-paying jobs in the clean-energy sector that protects Americans' health.</p><p>We know that <a href="https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200427-how-air-pollution-exacerbates-covid-19" target="_blank">breathing dirty air</a> makes people more likely to die from COVID-19. So this is a big opportunity to create an economy that's more just for all Americans.</p><p>But unfortunately, we really are not pivoting toward creating a clean economy, which is what we need to be doing. This is an opportunity to really focus on the climate crisis because we have delayed for more than 30 years. There is not another decade to waste.</p>
By Adrienne Santos-Longhurst
Plants are awesome. They brighten up your space and give you a living thing you can talk to when there are no humans in sight.
Turns out, having enough of the right plants can also add moisture (aka humidify) indoor air, which can have a ton of health benefits.
Spider Plant<p>Spider plants are one of the best plants you can buy for increasing indoor humidity, according to <a href="https://krex.k-state.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2097/35195/803.full.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank">research</a> from 2015.</p><p>Even NASA agrees. It did a <a href="https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19930073077.pdf" target="_blank">study</a> in the '80s that found spider plants are able to remove toxins like carbon monoxide and formaldehyde from indoor air.</p><p>Perhaps the coolest part of all? They're super easy to grow.</p><p>Their stems grow long. A hanging container is best so the plant has room to cascade.</p><p>Spider plants grow best in bright, indirect sunlight, so try to keep them near a window that gets a lot of natural light. Aim to keep the soil moist, but not soggy.</p>
Jade Plant<p><a href="https://krex.k-state.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2097/35195/803.full.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank">Research</a> shows that a jade plant can increase the relative humidity in a room. Most of its evapotranspiration happens in the dark, making it a good option for increasing humidity during darker months of the year.</p><p>To help keep a jade plant thriving, keep it in a bright spot, like near a south-facing window. As for watering, how much you give it depends on the time of the year.</p><p>The spring and summer is its active growing time, so you'll want to water it deeply, and wait till the soil is almost dry to water it again.</p><p>In the fall and winter, growing slows or stops, so you can let the soil dry completely before watering again.</p>
Areca Palm<p>Palms tend to be great for adding humidity, and the areca palm — also called the butterfly or yellow palm — is no exception.</p><p>They're relatively low maintenance, but they do require lots of sun and moist soil. Keep them near a window that gets a lot of sunlight. Water them enough to keep their soil moist, especially in the spring and summer.</p><p>They can grow up to 6 or 7 feet tall and don't like crowded roots, so you'll need to repot it every couple of years as it grows.<span></span></p>
English Ivy<p>English ivy (<em>Hedera helix</em>) is easy to care for and gives you a lot of bang for your buck because it grows like crazy.</p><p>It's also been <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11869-018-0618-9" target="_blank">shown</a> to have one of the highest transpiration rates. This makes it a good option for increasing relative humidity AND removing carbon monoxide from indoor air.</p><p>A hanging basket is best for this small-leafed ivy. It'll grow as long and lush as you let it. To keep it controlled, just prune to the size you want.</p><p>English ivy likes bright light and soil that's slightly dry. Check the soil to make sure it's almost dry before watering again.</p>
Lady Palm<p>The lady palm is a dense plant that's low maintenance when it comes to sunlight and water needs.</p><p>It does best in bright light, but is adaptable enough to grow in low-light spots, too, though at a slightly slower pace.</p><p>Lady palms like to be watered thoroughly once the surface is dry to the touch, so always check the soil before watering.</p>
Rubber Plant<p>The rubber plant isn't as finicky as other indoor tropical plants, making it really easy to care for. Rubber plants also have a high transpiration rate and are great for helping clean indoor air.</p><p>Rubber plants like partial sun to partial shade. They can handle cooler temps and drier soil (perfect for people who tend to kill every plant they bring into the home).</p><p>Let the soil dry before watering again. In the fall and winter months, you'll be able to cut watering in half.</p>
Boston Fern<p>The Boston fern has air-purifying properties that add moisture and remove toxins from indoor air. Did we mention they're lush and gorgeous, too?</p><p>To keep a Boston fern healthy and happy, water it often enough so the soil is always moist, and make sure it gets a lot of indirect sunlight by placing it in a bright part of the room.</p><p>Occasionally misting the fern's leaves with a spray bottle of water can help keep it perky when you have the heat blasting or fireplace going.</p>
Peace Lily<p>Peace lilies are tropical evergreens that produce a white flower in the summer. They usually grow up to around 16 inches tall, but can grow longer in the right conditions.</p><p>A peace lily feels most at home in a room that's warm and gets a lot of sunlight. It takes its soil moist.</p><p>No need to stress if you forget to water it on occasion. It'll handle that better than being overwatered.</p><p>If you have cats, you'll want to keep this plant out of reach or avoid it. Lilies are <a href="https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/lily" target="_blank">toxic</a> to our feline friends.</p>
Golden Pothos<p>Golden pothos is also called devil's ivy and devil's vine because it's pretty much impossible to kill. You can forget to water it and even forget to give it light for long periods, and it'll still be green whenever you finally remember.</p><p>That said, it thrives in brighter spaces and does like some water. Let it dry out between watering.</p><p>Its trailing stems grow as long as you want it to, so it's perfect for hanging planters or setting on a higher shelf.</p><p>The higher the better if you have pets, though, since some of its compounds are toxic to dogs and cats… and horses, if you happen to live in a big apartment with really relaxed pet rules.</p>
Dwarf Date Palm<p>Dwarf date palms are also called pygmy date palms. They're perfect as far as plants go. They're basically mini versions of the palm trees you see on tropical postcards.</p><p>They can help keep a room's air clean and increase humidity, and are super easy to maintain.</p><p>They can grow to be anywhere from 6 to 12 feet tall with bright, indirect sunlight and moist — not soaking wet — soil.</p><p>They also prefer a slightly toasty environment, so avoid placing them near a drafty window or source of cold.</p>
Corn Plant<p>The corn plant won't give you an endless supply of corn — just leaves that look like corn leaves and the occasional bloom if you treat it nice. It also helps humidify indoor air and remove toxic vapors.</p><p>Maintenance is easy. Let the top inch or so of soil dry before watering, and keep in a well-lit room where it can get a good amount of indirect sunlight.</p>
Parlor Palm<p>This is another high-transpiration palm that doesn't take any real skill to grow. You're welcome.</p><p>Parlor palms like partial sun, but can manage in full shade, too, as long as you keep the soil consistently moist with a couple of waterings per week.</p><p>To help it grow, make sure it's got enough space in the pot by sizing up every year or two, or whenever it starts to look crowded.</p>
Plants to Avoid<p>Plants are generally good for your environment, but some do have the opposite effect when it comes to humidity.</p><p>These plants tend to draw moisture <em>in</em> instead of letting it out. This doesn't happen instantly, and a couple of plants won't have enough of an effect to really zap the moisture out of your home.</p><p>Still, if you're looking for maximum moisture, you may want to limit these.</p><p>Plants that fall into this category are those that require very little water to survive. Think plants that you find in dry climates, like the desert.</p><p>These include plants like:</p><ul><li>cactuses</li><li>succulents</li><li>aloe vera</li><li>euphorbia, also called "spurge"</li></ul>
Pro Tips<p>If you really want to take advantage of all the moisture and purification these plants offer, here are some tips to consider:</p><ul><li><strong>Size matters.</strong> Plants with bigger leaves typically have a higher transpiration rate, so go bigger to humidify and purify a room.</li><li><strong>The more the merrier.</strong> Have at least two good-sized plants per 100 square feet of space — more is even better.</li><li><strong>Keep 'em close.</strong> Group your plants closer together to increase the humidity in the air and help your plants thrive, too.</li><li><strong>Add pebbles.</strong> If you're dealing with dry indoor air, put your plants on a pebble tray with water to create more humidity for your plants <em>and</em> your room.</li></ul>
The Bottom Line<p>If you're looking to combat dry air in your home and have some space, consider stocking up on some houseplants. Just keep in mind that this is one area where less definitely isn't more.</p><p>For a noticeable impact on the air in your home, try to have at least several plants in each room. If you only have room for a few plants, try to go for larger ones with big leaves.</p>
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