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New Documentary Investigates Nuclear Power from New York to Fukushima

A Conversation with Indian Point Director Ivy Meeropol

Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest that the “past is prologue.” In an irony of history, a filmmaker whose grandparents were so-called “atomic spies, and the only American civilians electrocuted by the US government during the Cold War, is now trying to shutdown a nuclear power plant in New York.

photo of Ivy Meeropol Photo Courtesy of Indian Point Film Production, LLC

Ivy Meeropol is the granddaughter of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed for espionage on June 19, 1953 for allegedly passing A-bomb secrets to the Soviets. She is the daughter of Michael Meeropol, who — after his parents’ death — was adopted by songwriter Abel Meeropol, composer of the 1936 anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit” famously sung by Billie Holiday and the pro-integration song “The House I live In.”

Ivy Meeropol previously directed 2004’s Heir to an Execution, an extremely personal HBO film that examined the case of the Rosenbergs, whose contentious electrocution took place at New York’s Sing Sing prison — only 10 miles from the nuclear Indian Point Energy Center. The Brooklyn-born, Massachusetts-raised Meeropol’s absorbing, incisive, new documentary Indian Point investigates this 1960s-built nuclear power facility, which sits just 35 miles north of New York City and is currently working to relicense two of its reactors. It also probes the 2012 ousting of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s chairman, Gregory Jaczko, who was accused of bullying and intimidating employees, plus the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, triggered by a 2011 earthquake and tidal wave that caused meltdowns and the release of radioactive isotopes at the Japanese nuclear power plant.

The writer/director skillfully interweaves these three strands into a cohesive, comprehensive 94-minute tapestry exploring the controversial nuclear industry. In doing so, she evenhandedly interviews employees and executives of Entergy Corporation, which operates Indian Point, as well as activists opposing it. Her rare access enabled the intrepid filmmaker to enter both the Fukushima and New York facilities, allowing unusual insight into the inner workings, and politics, of the plants.

Like a cinematic sleuth, Meeropol doggedly pursued the different threads of the saga. If Woodward and Bernstein “followed the money” during Watergate, Meeropol followed the radiation, so to speak. In a balanced yet bold, unflinching way, Meeropol proves once again in Indian Point that the personal is political, and reveals that controversies swirling around nuclear power are anything but a tempest in a teapot.

Why did you decide to make a documentary about Indian Point?

Today I live probably 15 miles …more

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A Spot by the Water

How the people of Kyiv are revitalizing the Lybid River, and reclaiming public space in their city

Early in 2016, three young locals kayaked down the small river Lybid. Nothing would be uncommon about this were it not for the fact that long stretches of the water flowed underground. With this action, Maksym Mramonov, Dmytro Nechvolod, and Artem Zavarzin wanted to draw attention to the countless ecological and infrastructural problems of the river.

photo of a kayak in a narrow, urban channel Photo: © Lybid Ye, Creative-Commons-Lizenz BY-NC-ND Once upon a time, the Lybid was navigable: First kayak ride on the Lybid in early 2016

The three young men started their tour in the heart of the city. Their first discoveries were sobering: large sections of the vegetation along the embankment were littered with trash. In some places they found polluted snow, as well as industrial and household waste that had been thrown into the river. The kayakers repeatedly came across tires that had found their final resting place in the Lybid.

The woeful tale of the Lybid

The 17 kilometer-long Lybid is the right tributary of the Dnipro river. The Lybid flows through numerous inner city neighborhoods of Kyiv before emptying into the Dnipro. In the 1930s the marshy embankments of the Lybid were considered breeding grounds for Malaria, which is why the Soviet city government decided to construct a network of underground canals. As a result, the river was soon forgotten.

photo of a kayak in a narrow concrete channelPhoto: © Lybid Ye, Creative-Commons-Lizenz BY-NC-ND Nature in concrete: Second kayak ride in May 2016

Today the Lybid’s main cause of complaint is sewage. Sediment deposits, accumulations of radioactive nuclides and heavy metals, as well as illicitly disposed of household sewage have contributed significantly to the pollution of the river.

This type of littering is a thorn in the side of environmental activists. In the last 15 years, many housing developments sprang up in Kyiv, some of which are not connected to the citywide canalization system. Unfiltered household sewage continues to make its way into the feeders of the Lybid via unauthorized pipes. Although some of these pipes have been dismantled by now, the larger ones — with a diameter of half a meter — are not so easily removed and therefore remain until today.

The Lybid’s drainage basin covers across approximately 40 percent of Kyiv’s surface area to the right of the Dnipro. All the sewage there flows into the subterranean canals and thereby into the river.

Mobilize the community, …more

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The Ironies of Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park

Diverse marine life, rich history, and international relations all come together in one of America’s most isolated parks

graphic depicting a hiker overlooking a valley

We are not staying overnight, but we have packed for a multitude of contingencies. In my backpack I have sunscreen, aspirin, two disposable underwater cameras, lip balm, zinc oxide, crackers, and bottles of water for the boat trip. I have a change of clothes, a bathing suit, a towel, and a cheap, drugstore mask and snorkel combo. This is my first visit to Dry Tortugas National Park. The sun is strong — August in the Florida Keys strong — and unforgiving. It is impossible to imagine living on this far and nearly-forgotten military outpost, much less being imprisoned here. The water surrounding the islands is nearly as cruel as the heat. Hundreds of jellyfish float menacingly in the shallow water along the shore.

Irony hangs heavy in the air, just like the ever-present humidity, at Dry Tortugas. The name alone — “Dry Turtles” in English — speaks to the duality of the place, pointing to the lack of naturally occurring fresh water on the park’s seven sandy keys. In addition to the keys, the 100-square mile park includes a large marine preserve, and many of Dry Tortugas’s treasures are submerged: two centuries of shipwrecks and miles of coral at the end of the reef formation that makes up the Florida Keys. Above ground, thousands of nesting pairs of birds call the Tortugas home, along with an American crocodile, swept in during a hurricane. Five species of sea turtle, all listed as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, swim in the waters of Dry Tortugas, and the park is the most active turtle nesting site in the Florida keys.

photo of dry tortugas national parkPhoto by Jenni KonradDry Tortugas National Park encompasses seven sandy keys and a large marine reserve.

Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most remote of all the national parks. Seventy miles off the coast of Key West, it is accessible to visitors either by ferryboat or seaplane, options that offer a tradeoff between cost and speed. The boat trip is an hour and a half journey. Passage on the Yankee Freedom II is $175 for an adult, round-trip. The seaplane trip is almost twice the price, but takes just forty-minutes. No one ends up at the Dry Tortugas by accident.

The Tortugas have long been an important spot along the shipping channel that bisects …more

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Saving the Sri Lankan Elephant

Elephants are revered in this island nation, but that doesn’t prevent them from being abused

Since the times of kings and kingdoms, elephants have been a mark of prestige and nobility in Sri Lanka. As far back as 600 BCE, wars were waged and won and kingdoms reclaimed, seated upon elephants. Over the centuries, elephants have inherited a place of reverence in the collective mindset of Sri Lankans and the prestige that comes with owning an elephant has trickled down to the present day. Elephants continue to be featured in religious and cultural festivals in Sri Lanka today. But this traditional reverence of elephants doesn’t prevent the endangered species from being abused.

elephants dressed up in bright costumes in a processionPhoto by Amila TennakoonSri Lankan Elephants continue to be featured in religious and cultural festivals like the Buddhist cultural pageant perahera. Ironically, it is the regard bestowed upon them that has in part resulted in the elephant’s lifelong distress in captivity.

Ironically, it is the regard bestowed upon the elephant that has in part resulted in the animal’s lifelong distress in captivity.

The Sri Lankan elephant (Elephas maximus maximus) is the largest of three Asian elephant sub species. Its dark skin and patches of depigmentation on its ears, face, trunk and belly, sets it apart from its two Asian relatives. Once found throughout the island nation that lies below the Indian peninsula, these elephants are now being confined to increasingly smaller areas as development activities clear forests and disrupt their ancient migratory routes.  The island’s elephant population has dropped by almost 65 percent since the turn of the nineteenth century.

However, Sri Lanka still has a relatively healthy population of wild elephants. The latest census in 2011 recorded 6,000 elephants in the wild and approximately 120 in captivity. Wild elephants are protected under the country’s Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, and killing one carries the death penalty. The capture of wild elephants was banned in the late 1970s and in order to deter this practice, all existing captive elephants must be registered with the Department of Wildlife Conservation and their owners are required to have a license to hold them in their keep.

Despite these measures, elephants in Sri Lanka, both in the wild and in captivity are subject to abuse due to a variety of reasons including sketchy adherence to laws and regulations, and the continuance of old traditions.

The highlight of the Sri Lankan Buddhist cultural pageant called perahera that pays homage to  the Buddha, is the sight of a magnificent tusker draped in …more

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Caribbean Island’s Last Two Rare Frogs Are Reunited

Male and female mountain chicken frogs that were sole survivors of deadly disease are hoped to begin breeding on Montserrat for the first time since 2009

The last two remaining wild mountain chicken frogs living on Montserrat have been reunited, and are hoped to begin breeding on the Caribbean island for the first time since 2009.

Mountain Chicken FrogPhoto by Nigel Swales There are less than 100 mountain chicken frogs left in the wild on the two Caribbean islands of Montserrat and Dominica.

Last month, a project took the last female and relocated her into the territory of the remaining male as part of a 20-year recovery plan for the species, one of the world’s largest and rarest frogs that exists on just two Caribbean islands, Montserrat and Dominica.

The two frogs are the island’s only known survivors of an outbreak of the deadly chytrid fungus disease, a pandemic ravaging amphibian populations worldwide. There are less than 100 left in the wild.

The frogs were living 700m apart among the boulders of a steep, fast-flowing stream in the rainforest at a site known as Fairy Walk. The male had been heard calling for several weeks but after 10 nights of hour-long hikes to the site, the team of conservationists was getting worried that they hadn’t found the female.

Eventually one of the local field workers spotted her. “She was just sat there at the side of the stream, it was absolutely amazing and such a relief,” said Jeff Dawson, amphibian program manager for the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and coordinator of the mountain chicken recovery program, which also involves ZSL, Chester zoo, Nordens Ark in Sweden and local governments.

The female was then caught, weighed and measured, and checked for general health, before being taken to the male’s location downstream and placed in a “soft release” tent to give her time to get used to the new environment. The male joined her about an hour later, and the sides of the tent were gradually opened to allow them to move out in their own time. “When we left you could hear contact calls which was really encouraging,” Dawson said.

Zoologists and camera traps will continue to monitor the frogs in coming weeks, as one of the fears is that the female will try to return to her former site. But Dawson said the abundance of natural and artificial nest holes, a constant water supply and plenty of food meant they were unlikely to move.

The frogs now have until the end …more

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Cleaning up Fireworks Displays on San Francisco Bay

Advocates push for stronger regulation of Fourth of July shows to protect bay ecosystem

On July 4, all around San Francisco Bay, brightly colored fireworks will light up the night sky. It’s a fun tradition. But how much does the rockets’ red glare pollute the bay?

Photo by Daniel Parks Fireworks displays over the bay are a tradition in San Francisco.

Fireworks are often set off over water, as they are in the shows around San Francisco Bay, because setting them off over land creates a risk of fire. However, fireworks can cause so much pollution, some communities ban them over lakes used as drinking water sources.

Following two fireworks shows over San Francisco Bay earlier this year, held as part of the festivities celebrating the 50th Super Bowl, several reports of fireworks pollution came in to Baykeeper’s Pollution Hotline.

The morning after the first fireworks display, swimmers in the water at San Francisco’s Aquatic Park swam into significant plastic and cardboard debris. That day, National Park Service staff removed charred fuses, plastic, and cardboard pieces from the Aquatic Park beach, filling four 50-gallon trash containers.

Following the second fireworks show a week later on February 5, 30 more pounds of fireworks debris washed up at the Aquatic Park beach. More continued to wash up for weeks. It’s likely that even more remained in the bay, washed up on other shorelines, or washed out into the Pacific Ocean.

Photo by David McGuire, Shark Stewards Fireworks debris that washed up at San Francisco’s Aquatic Park in February.

In addition to the debris that is often left behind following displays, studies have linked fireworks to water contamination, particularly by perchlorate, a chemical used in fireworks to create bright flashes of light. Perchlorate exposure can cause thyroid problems, and is considered a “likely human carcinogen” by the US Environmental Protection Agency. It can also harm wildlife.

This pollution doesn’t have to happen. There are methods of preventing, or at least minimizing, pollution from fireworks. Some cities are already doing this. In San Diego, for example, companies putting on fireworks displays are required to use practices that give maximum protection to the body of water below.

In San Francisco, as in other cities around the country, there are several simple ways to reduce pollution. To start, companies putting on fireworks displays should remove all cardboard, plastic, and other debris from the water and shorelines within 24 hours of the show to minimize impacts on marine life and swimmers in the water. Cities …more

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TransCanada Complains to NAFTA, Sues US for $15 bn Over Keystone XL Rejection

Environmentalists respond by criticizing closed-door trade deals that favor corporations

The other shoe has finally dropped regarding the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, and it’s a big one. TransCanada is suing the United States for $15 billion for rejecting the pipeline project that would have carried crude oil from Canada’s Alberta tar stands to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Photo of Keystone PipelinePhoto by Shannon RamosA Keystone Pipeline pumping station. TransCanada is suing the United States for rejecting the KXL pipeline project.

Last week, the Canadian company filed an arbitration claim under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) over President Obama’s rejection of the pipeline, making good on its January threat to take legal action against the US decision.

According to the official request for arbitration, the $15 billion tab is supposed to help the company recover costs and damages that it suffered “as a result of the US administration’s breach of its NAFTA obligations.” NAFTA is a comprehensive trade agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico that went into effect in January 1, 1994. Under the agreement, businesses can challenge governments over investment disputes.

In addition, the company filed a suit in US Federal Court in Houston, Texas in January asserting that the Obama Administration exceeded the power granted by the US Constitution in denying the project.

Keystone XL is a 1,179-mile pipeline system that, if approved and constructed, would transport up to 830,000 barrels of tar sands crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta across the border into Nebraska eventually travelling down to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. The project saw opposition from a broad range of groups including landowners in Texas and farmers in Nebraska as well as national environmental and indigenous rights groups.

President Obama had rejected the pipeline proposal on November 6, 2015 on the grounds that transporting crude oil from Canada wouldn’t help the US economy or increase the country’s energy security.

In response to this latest salvo from TransCanada, a coalition of environmental groups, including 350.org, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Bold Alliance came out swinging at a press conference on Monday. They not only disputed TransCanada’s claims, but also turned the tables, using the NAFTA challenge as ammunition in the growing fight against the latest international trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“This lawsuit from TransCanada is both absurd and a perfect illustration of why it is people around the world feel that elites are getting out of touch. The rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline …more

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