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The Great Lakes and a High-Level Radioactive Nuke Waste Dump Don't Mix
By Kevin Kamps, Beyond Nuclear
As if the Great Lakes didn't have enough nuclear nightmares to deal with, now the Wisconsin state legislature is poised to repeal a 33-year-old ban on new atomic reactor construction. The most likely outcome of overturning the nuclear power plant moratorium is not a boom in construction jobs, nor high-tech riches, as the bill's sponsors tout. Rather, as Al Gedicks of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council warns, the legislation risks returning northern Wisconsin's granite geology to the very top of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) target list for a national high-level radioactive waste dump.
The 14,000-year-old Great Lakes, formed by the melting glaciers of the last Ice Age, serve as the drinking water supply for 40 million people in eight U.S. states, two Canadian provinces and a large number of Native American First Nations. They are the lifeblood of one of the world's largest bi-national, bioregional economies.
And they are but a single radioactive catastrophe removed from ruination forevermore. Here's how Arnie Gundersen, chief engineer of Fairewinds Energy Education, put it in a recent blog post, Downstream:
Imagine the 39-year-old Bruce station on Lake Huron or the 44-year-old Palisades plant in Michigan on Lake Michigan having a meltdown like Fukushima Daiichi did in March 2011. The concentration of radioactive waste in the water would be roughly 30,000 times higher in the Great Lakes than in the Pacific Ocean after the triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi. Think of the devastation that would occur as 40,000,000 people lose their water supply and the crops along these waterways are contaminated with nuclear waste for decades if not hundreds of years as the St. Lawrence River flows right past Montreal and Quebec City. What are the commercial ramifications for cities along the Great Lakes or the St. Lawrence River when ocean freighters choose to no longer travel there for fear of contaminating the vessels?
Indeed, the toxic algae drinking water ban for just a few days in the greater Toledo, Ohio area in summer 2014, and the current national headlines about the severely hazardous lead poisoning of Flint, Michigan's drinking water supply (and its apparently many months-long cover up), show clearly how precious—and fragile—potable water is, even in the heart of the Great Lakes, comprising 84 percent of North America's surface fresh water and 21 percent of the entire planet's.
Gundersen serves as expert witness for an environmental coalition challenging continued operations at Palisades, due to its severe, and worsening, reactor pressure vessel (RPV) embrittlement, due to more than four decades of neutron radiation bombardment. A pressurized thermal shock could, like a hot glass under cold water (and under more than a ton of pressure per square inch!), fracture the RPV. A Loss-of-Coolant-Accident would follow, and then likely a reactor core meltdown, and the potential for a catastrophic release of hazardous radioactivity.
According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (see point #4, on page 5 of 15 of the PDF counter) Palisades is the second worst embrittled RPV in the U.S., after Point Beach Unit 2 in Wisconsin—thus wedging Lake Michigan between two of the most risky, age-degraded atomic reactors in the country.
How foolish it has been for the nuclear power establishment in industry and government to locate a dozen still operating atomic reactors on the U.S. shores of the Great Lakes, and another 18 on the Canada side. In fact, the world's single largest collection of inter-connected freshwater seas most unfortunately hosts facilities representing every single stage of the uranium fuel chain. (See the “Great Lakes Region Nuclear Hotspots" map, by Anna Tilman of International Institute of Concern for Public Health, for an overview).
The “front end" of the uranium monster has already ravaged the Great Lakes. The mines and mills of Elliot Lake, Ontario, which were retired nearly 20 years ago, after a half-century of polluting exploitation, are still the largest source of hazardous radium flow into the Great Lakes. And, whether to fuel domestic reactors or to export to the U.S. and overseas, Canada's “radioactive Love Canal," picturesque but badly contaminated Port Hope, on the Lake Ontario shore east of Toronto, processes every atom of uranium mined in Canada, including from the world's most productive mines in northern Saskatchewan. (See Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility's “Nuclear Map of Canada," by Dr. Gordon Edwards and Robert Del Tredichi).
Now, the dreaded “back end" of the uranium fuel chain is also showing up with a vengeance—proposed radioactive waste dumps on the very shores of the Great Lakes.
In Kincardine, Ontario on Lake Huron, just to the east of the tip of Michigan's “Thumb," Canada's new Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna, will decide by March 1 whether or not Ontario Power Generation (OPG) will be allowed to proceed with dumping the province's so-called “low" and “intermediate" level radioactive wastes, from 20 reactors, within less than a mile from the shoreline.
The targeted site is Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, with more reactors (nine in total, eight still operable) than any other atomic plant on Earth. For more than 15 years, a U.S./Canadian Native American First Nations grassroots resistance movement has been battling against this insane scheme, and has been joined in recent years by a bipartisan coalition of state legislators and U.S. congress members, extending from Michigan and throughout the Great Lakes states. Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump has collected more than 92,300 petition signatures, and helped generate more than 180 resolutions, representing municipalities from Chicago to Toronto, with a combined population of nearly 23 million, in opposition to the dump. OPG calls the proposal the DGR, short for Deep Geologic Repository. The late David Martin of Greenpeace Canada dubbed it the Deep Underground Dump instead, or, aptly, DUD for short!
Granted, irradiated nuclear fuel has piled up at atomic reactors on the Great Lakes shores for decades. Even at more than a half-dozen permanently closed, and otherwise entirely dismantled, beach-side commercial reactors in Illinois, Michigan, Ontario and Wisconsin, highly radioactive fuel rods, with nowhere else to go, remain stored, either indoors, in “wet" pools, or outdoors, in dry casks, silos of concrete and/or steel. Many thousands of tons of perhaps the most deadly substance humans have ever created, will likely stay right where they are at, for decades or centuries to come, despite the ever-worsening, potentially catastrophic risks of corrosion and leakage.
Neil Young's line “Rust never sleeps" could just as well apply to the forever-deadly byproduct of atomic reactors. And James Raymond's lyrics—about the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nevada high-level radioactive waste dump—nail it too, in the song “Don't Dig Here" performed by David Crosby and Graham Nash: “there's much to fear" and “so much danger" from this radioactive “shit that kills."
DOE, in its 2002 Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Yucca dump proposal, warned that abandonment of irradiated nuclear fuel at reactor sites would eventually lead to catastrophic radioactivity releases into the environment, if dry casks were simply allowed to fail over time.
Nowhere could the consequences be worse than on the edge of the fresh drinking water supplies of our country, including the Great Lakes, as Don't Waste Michigan founder, the late Dr. Mary Sinclair, warned two decades ago.
When confronted by John LaForge of Nukewatch Wisconsin, DUD proponents confirmed that, given the dilution factor of the Great Lakes, all of Ontario's buried radioactive wastes could leak, and doses downstream would still be “acceptable." In words and deeds, the late Dr. Rosalie Bertell of International Institute of Concern for Public Health made clear that “dilution is not the solution to radioactive pollution!" Michael Keegan of Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes has called the notion that “dilution is the solution" a delusion.
(By the way, LaForge penned a cleverly-titled op-ed in the Madison, Wisconsin Cap Times, Nuclear power might be safe or cheap, but never safe and cheap. In it, he quoted at length from hearing testimony presented by Gedicks of Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, a warning entirely ignored by the assembly members who voted unanimously in favor of repealing the reactor construction moratorium).
Which brings us back to Wisconsin. In 2003, 2007 and 2010, nuclear industry lobbyists and their supporters in the state legislature attempted to repeal a ban on new atomic reactors. The moratorium, passed after the Three Mile Island meltdown of 1979, is a common-sense safeguard, requiring that, before new reactors can be built in Wisconsin: (1) a federal high-level radioactive waste repository with room for Wisconsin's irradiated nuclear fuel must exist, and (2) any proposed new reactor cannot be a burden on ratepayers' pocketbooks (in other words, it must be cost-competition compared to other sources of electricity).
In more than three decades, the nuclear power industry has failed those two basic tests. In fact, in 2013, Wisconsin's Kewaunee atomic reactor on Lake Michigan was forced to permanently shutdown when it could not compete with cheaper sources of electricity, despite just having gotten a Nuclear Regulatory Commission rubber-stamp for a 20-year license extension.
Environmental and public interest groups, such as Nukewatch and Wisconsin's Physicians for Social Responsibility chapter, were able to fend off those three previous attempts to repeal the new reactor ban. But the pro-nuclear lobby is back yet again.
As reported by President Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future in its January 2012 final report:
Efforts to establish a formal legal link between the use of nuclear power and solutions for the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle began in California in the mid-1970s when it became clear that the prospects for successfully completing either reprocessing capacity or a waste disposal system were increasingly dim.
At that time, the California legislature adopted a law that allows the state to grant permits for new nuclear power plants only if the California Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission can make a finding that the federal government has identified and approved a demonstrated technology for the disposal of spent fuel/high-level nuclear waste. The California law was challenged on grounds that federal law preempts state statutes concerning nuclear power, but it was upheld by the Supreme Court, which found that California had acted on the basis of an economic rather than a nuclear regulatory rationale.
Subsequently, eight other states—Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, West Virginia and Wisconsin—adopted statutes that tied approval of new reactors to (at a minimum) progress on the issue of waste disposal. Recent years have seen efforts to repeal those laws in some states, although none have succeeded so far.
The Wisconsin repeal legislation, Assembly Bill (AB) 384, and its companion, Senate Bill (SB) 288, could start a domino effect, if the nuclear lobbyists get their way. The bills were introduced last October. Lead sponsor Rep. Kevin Petersen has been joined by 32 fellow Wisconsin State Assembly Republican Representatives as co-sponsors. Republicans Lasee and Wanggaard are leading the charge in the State Senate.
On Dec. 14, the State Assembly Committee on Energy and Utilities passed AB384 by a vote of 13 Ayes to 0 Noes. The unanimous support included five Democrats.
The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign points out that "banning new nuke plants has generally been a Democratic cause for decades."
But in its analysis, The Money Behind Dem Support to Dump the Nuke Plant Moratorium, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reports:
The measure ... is backed by utilities, labor unions, the business community and the rightwing ideological group, Americans for Prosperity. The bill is opposed by environmentalists and a utility watchdog.
The opponents, who deserve our thanks, encouragement and support, include Citizens Utility Board, Clean Wisconsin, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Sierra Club John Muir Chapter and Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.
In addition to pro-nuclear unions like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Koch Brothers, the federally taxpayer funded University of Wisconsin-Madison Nuclear Engineering Department should also be mentioned. Illusory “Small Modular Reactors" (SMRs), also seeking massive public subsidies, appear to be the nuclear will-o'-the- wisp du jour.
(Dr. Michael Corradini, a UW-Madison nuclear engineering professor, and also a member of the largely rubber-stamp advisory committee on Reactor Safeguards at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has long been an ambitious, high profile nuclear industry proponent. But he was forced to summarily resign his appointment by George W. Bush as chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board a decade ago, when it was revealed he had written a number of biased op-eds promoting the Yucca Mountain dump, that had little to do with sound science, and everything to do with raw politics.)
Wisconsin Utility Investors, Inc., beating the drum against the new reactor ban and for SMRs in Wisconsin, quoted a Wall Street Journal article, saying:
“The first [SMR] units likely would be built adjacent to existing nuclear plants, many of which were originally permitted to have two to four units but usually have only one or two. Down the road, utilities could replace existing coal-fired power plants with small reactors in order to take advantage of sites already served by transmission lines and, in some cases, needed for grid support. Like any other power plants, these small reactors could be easily hooked up to the power grid."
The incorrigible current and former nuclear utilities behind Wisconsin Utility Investors, Inc., such as Xcel Energy and WEC Energy Group, neglected to mention that some of these “existing nuclear plants" in Wisconsin, with which they are or have been closely associated, have been permanently shut down due to the inability to compete in electricity markets, including Dairyland's Genoa reactor in LaCrosse and Kewaunee on Lake Michigan.
Groups like Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) and PSR showed, more than five years ago, that SMRs are no solution for the cost, safety, and waste problems of nuclear power.
Explaining the five Democratic votes of support on the State Assembly Committee on Energy and Utilities, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported:
Contributions to current Democratic lawmakers from the utility industry, and from the electrical, carpentry, plumbing and other trades whose unions support the bill, totaled about $510,000 between January 2011 and June 2015, including about $31,000 to the five Democrats on the Assembly committee who voted for the bill.
Those Democrats and their contributions were:
• Rep. Robb Kahl of Monona: about $11,900, including nearly $6,200 from trades unions and about $5,700 from utilities
• Rep. Josh Zepnick of Milwaukee: $7,400, including $4,100 from trades unions and $3,300 from utilities
• Rep. Eric Genrich of Green Bay: $5,550, including $4,750 from trades unions and $800 from utilities
• Rep. Melissa Sargent of Madison: $3,200, including $2,450 from trades unions and $750 from utilities
• Rep. Amanda Stuck of Appleton: $3,000, all from trades unions
To investigative journalist and long-time nuclear power watchdog Greg Palast's line “the best democracy money can buy," could be added: “boy, do they sell out cheap!"
The nuclear power lobby exercises huge, corrupting influence not only at the state level, but also at the federal level.
This despite efforts to out the industry's PR campaigns, as by Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy SourceWatch exposés on the nuclear industry front group Clean and Safe Energy Coalition. And efforts going back decades, by the likes of Nukewatch, Beyond Nuclear, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Nuclear Energy Information Service and others to provide anti-nuclear information tables and workshops at the annual Midwest Renewable Energy Association fair, the largest grassroots renewable energy festival in the country.
On Jan. 13, AB384 was passed by the full Wisconsin State Assembly, by voice vote. Although the assembly is controlled by a 63 to 36 margin by Republicans, and certain Democrats spoke out strongly and opposed the measure, a recorded vote was not taken. Thus, there is no clear record regarding how individual Assembly members voted. This lack of transparency and accountability is another example of the nuclear power industry lobbyists' stranglehold on our democracy.
The action now moves to the Wisconsin State Senate. It was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources and Energy on Jan. 15.
But even if passed into state law, the repeal of the new reactor ban in Wisconsin will most likely not lead to new nuclear construction projects—unless massive taxpayer and ratepayer subsidies are deployed, as has built past generations of reactors. And the Union of Concerned Scientists agrees with IEER and PSR, above, that “Small Isn't Always Beautiful," and that even SMRs still have safety, security, and cost concerns.
Blinded by nuclear dollar signs, Wisconsin state legislators supporting AB384 and SB288 appear oblivious to how it all could easily backfire. In the 1980s, northern Wisconsin's granite geology was at the very top of DOE's “eastern site search" for a national high-level radioactive waste dump. Geologic formations like the Wolf River Batholith and Puritan Pluton were specifically targeted. Now that the Obama administration has wisely cancelled the dangerous Yucca dump proposal, DOE can be expected to return to places like Wisconsin, in search of a dump, as made clear in a 2008 report (see Figure 3, on page 12, or 16 of 20 on the PDF counter).
In fact, DOE currently has a stealth experiment in deep borehole disposal for highly radioactive waste, targeted at granite geology.
Perhaps the only thing more crazy than proposing to dump radioactive waste in granite formations in the Great Lakes Basin, is OPG's proposal to dump radioactive waste in a water-soluble limestone formation on the edge of Lake Huron. A bi-national environmental coalition has called on the Canadian federal and Ontario provincial governments to block the insanely risky scheme.
Well, okay, the nuclear establishment can come up with some real doozeys. As reported by President Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, in its Final Report in January 2012. In 1957, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) issued a report, The Disposal of Radioactive Waste on Land, that looked specifically at the question of nuclear waste disposal. That report reached several conclusions, among them that “radioactive waste can be disposed of safely in a variety of ways and at a large number of sites in the United States" and that geologic disposal in salt deposits represents “the most promising method of disposal." (pages 19-20 or 41-42 of 180 on PDF counter. Internal citations omitted).
Dusting off that 59-year-old report (written the same year the first “civilian"—it was built by Admiral Hyman Rickover's nuclear Navy—reactor was fired up, at Shippingport, Pennsylvania, on the Beaver River near the Ohio line) reveals that the high-level radioactive waste form being discussed was not solid irradiated fuel rods, but rather even more difficult to contain, post-reprocessing (plutonium and/or uranium extraction and “recycling") liquids. And salt formations under Detroit, in the heart of the Great Lakes, were being considered.
Keegan of Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes confirms that Walter J. McCarthy, CEO and Chairman of Detroit Edison, was pushing high-level radioactive waste disposal under Detroit as late as the mid-1980s. This, from the company that brought us the “We Almost Lost Detroit" Fermi 1 meltdown 50 years ago Oct. 6, 2016, as well as the ongoing Fermi 2 fiasco (a super-sized General Electric Mark I boiling water reactor, as big as Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 and 2 put together).
Good thing NAS and McCarthy didn't prevail. Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president of IEER, unearthed recent NRC admissions that the thermal heat of commercial irradiated nuclear fuel makes salt disposal inappropriate. It could even cause collapse of engineered disposal caverns. The Valentine's Day, 2014 transuranic contamination atmospheric release, due to a burial barrel burst, at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, shows how serious the risks are.
Although used for “low" level radioactive waste disposal in Germany, the Morsleben salt dome is at risk of collapse; Asse II has so flooded with corrosive brine, that the radioactive wastes must now be removed, at huge risk and expense, lest they escape into the environment.
What can you do?
Take action against these radioactive risks to the Great Lakes. Email the Canadian Prime Minister <Justin.Trudeau@parl.gc.ca> and Environment Minister <Catherine.McKenna@parl.gc.ca>, and urge rejection of OPG's DUD. Contact your own U.S. Representative and Senators, urging support for the bipartisan, bicameral “Stop Nuclear Waste by Our Lakes Act." Contact President Obama and urge he activate the U.S.-Canadian International Joint Commission to undertake a comprehensive review of the DGR proposal.
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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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By Richard Connor
The University of Southern Denmark on Wednesday announced that its researchers have developed the world's first fully automatic robot capable of carrying out throat swabs for COVID-19.