EarthTalk: Some time ago there were issues
with Native American tribes storing nuclear waste on their
land, something that was both unhealthy to the communities
and caused considerable controversy among tribal leaders.
Where is this issue today?
-- M. Spenser, via e-mail
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation says that the government
and private companies have been taking advantage of
the overwhelming poverty on Native American reservations
by offering tribes millions of dollars to host nuclear
waste storage sites.
© U.S. Department of Energy
tribes across the American West have been and continue to
be subjected to significant amounts of radioactive and otherwise
hazardous waste as a result of living near nuclear test
sites, uranium mines, power plants and toxic waste dumps.
in some cases tribes are actually hosting hazardous waste
on their sovereign reservations—which are not subject
to the same environmental and health standards as U.S. land—in
order to generate revenues. Native American advocates argue
that siting such waste on or near reservations is an “environmental
justice” problem, given that twice as many Native
families live below the poverty line than other sectors
of U.S. society and often have few if any options for generating
the quest to dispose of nuclear waste, the government and
private companies have disregarded and broken treaties,
blurred the definition of Native American sovereignty, and
directly engaged in a form of economic racism akin to bribery,”
says Bayley Lopez of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He
cites example after example of the government and private
companies taking advantage of the “overwhelming poverty
on native reservations by offering them millions of dollars
to host nuclear waste storage sites.”
issue came to a head—and Native advocates hope a turning
point—in 2007 when public pressure forced the Skull
Valley band of Utah’s Goshute tribe to forego plans
to offer their land, which is already tucked between a military
test site, a chemical weapons depot and a toxic magnesium
production facility, for storing spent nuclear fuel above
ground. The facility would have been a key link in the chain
of getting nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, the U.S. government’s
proposed permanent storage facility.
February 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced
intentions to scale back efforts to make Yucca Mountain
the nation’s sole repository of radioactive nuclear
waste and to look into alternative long-term strategies
for dealing with its spent nuclear fuel. The National Congress
of American Indians, in representing the various tribes
around the region, no doubt breathed a sigh of relief.
issue essentially goes much deeper: As long as we continue
to make use of nuclear energy—and many in Congress
are looking to expand its role to get away from fossil fuels—the
waste and spent nuclear fuel will keep coming and need to
be stored somewhere. Groups like Honor the Earth, founded
by author and activist Winona LaDuke to promote cooperation
between Native Americans and environmentalists, are trying
to persuade tribes that availing their land to nuclear power
and other toxic industries isn’t worth the potential
long-term damage to the health of their citizens. Honor
the Earth helped convince the Goshutes to turn down a lucrative
deal to store waste on their land, and is working with dozens
of other tribes to try to do the same.
Tribes of the Goshute Reservation; National
Congress of American Indians; Honor
EarthTalk: What is the potential for carbon
“nanotubes” in battery technology? I heard them
referred to as the biggest battery breakthrough to come
along in years. And what else can we expect to see in terms
of new battery technology in coming years?
-- R.M. Koncan, via e-mail
rechargeable lithium-ion batteries common in everything
from iPods to cell phones to laptops can store twice
the energy of similarly sized nickel-metal hydride
batteries and up to six times as much as their lead-acid
progenitors. But these advances are only a small evolutionary
step from the world‚s first battery designed
by Alessandro Volta in 1800.
© Hector E. Balcazar, courtesy Flickr
lithium-ion batteries now so common in everything from iPods
to hybrid cars can store twice the energy of similarly sized
nickel-metal hydride batteries and up to six times as much
as their lead-acid progenitors. But these advances are only
a small evolutionary step from the world’s first battery
designed by Alessandro Volta in 1800 using layers of metal
and blotting paper soaked in salt water.
technology advances long overdue, researchers are racing
to develop more efficient ways to store power. One hopeful
option is in the use of carbon nanotubes, which can store
much more electricity by weight than lithium-ion batteries
while keeping their charge and remain durable for far longer.
But what are
carbon nanotubes, and how can they be used to store energy?
Technicians skilled in working with matter at the molecular
(nano) level can arrange pure carbon molecules in cylindrical
structures that are both strong and flexible. They have
significantly higher energy density and can store more electricity
than any currently available technology. These tubes, each
only billionths of a meter wide, essentially become highly
efficient, electrically conductive pipes for storing and
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have
formed carbon molecules into tiny springs that store as
much electricity as same sized lithium-ion batteries but
can maintain a charge while dormant for years and work well
in temperature extremes. Stanford University researchers
have created ink made from carbon nanotubes that can be
drawn onto paper where it serves as a high-capacity rechargeable
energy storage medium. And University of Maryland scientists
have created nanostructures able to store and transport
power at 10 times the energy density of lithium-ion batteries.
in development include batteries using zinc-air, lithium-air
and other combinations of elements to provide longer run-times
between recharges. Others still are working on prototype
nuclear batteries, the trick being to make them small enough
to be practical, let alone safe.
Of course, the
accelerating growth of nanotechnology itself, which has
not yet been thoroughly tested to evaluate potential down
sides, has some health advocates worried. Animal studies
have shown that some nanoparticles, if inhaled or ingested,
can harm the lungs and also cross the blood-brain barrier,
which protects the brain from toxins in the bloodstream.
And then there
are fuel cells, created in 1839 but only recently commercialized.
Not batteries per se, fuel cells generate, store and dispense
power by forcing a reaction between a fuel (hydrogen from
water, methanol) and oxygen, creating usable non-polluting
electricity. One major hurdle for fuel cell makers is making
them small enough to be able to work in laptops and other
small personal electronics.
fired up over new battery,” MIT News;
Nanotubes Turn Office Paper into Batteries,” Scientific