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The Lede, Go North Young Man

The Lede, Monday, May 21, 2018
By David Royse

The LEDE
Portable Power

The Russians have an interesting idea for getting electric power plants up and running in remote areas. The idea is to pre-fabricate small nuclear power plants that can float, and take them to remote towns that need plants – but where it is hard to build because of the difficulty and expense of getting material and workers to such desolate places.

The first one of these floaing nuclear power plants is about to be shipped off to an isolated town on the Bering Sea. It was built in St. Petersburg, and recently docked in Murmansk. From there, it will go to its destination, Pevek, across the Bering Strait from Alaska. It will begin operation next year.

It’s not an all good news story – Greenpeace and other environmentalists have raised concerns about the risk of nuclear accidents in fragile arctic ecosystems (though really, aren’t nuclear accidents bad for any ecosystem?)

But it will replace the small town’s current two power plants – a coal plant, which means reduced carbon emissions, and an aging nuclear plant.

More on the floating pre-built nuclear plant, from Reuters.

The whole idea is to mass produce the floatable power plants. In another interesting story on the idea, from The Drive, we learn that Russia’s nuclear corporation has said China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Algeria, Namibia, Cape Verde, and Argentina have all expressed an interest in the idea.

The FOLLOW
Forget the Silk Road, Pay Attention to the Ice Road

While the floating power plant idea could be used anywhere that’s on a navigable waterway, the fact that the first one will go to a town in the Arctic is a reminder of a way in which the world is changing.

The Arctic is no longer no-man’s land.

While many in the United States spent the last three decades arguing over what was causing global temperatures to rise, a huge – really huge – amount of the ice in the Arctic has melted, no matter what caused it. It’s now possible to sail through it, a northern passage that didn’t exist before, and the wealthy countries of the world are, inevitably, looking toward development in a whole new frontier.

China hasn’t been quiet about its interests in projecting its influence around the world – building roads, power plants and other infrastructure and sending foreign aid to places ranging from Africa to the Caribbean to other parts of Asia. What’s been less noticed is its new interest in the Arctic.

In a very interesting report from the U.S. Naval Institute, experts note that China is investing heavily in infrastructure development in Greenland – in fact, China’s investment there accounts for 12 percent of Greenland’s gross domestic product. (China’s investments also make up 6 percent of Iceland’s gross domestic product.) The Chinese are building airports in Greeland, while also exploring mining there. China is also shipping liquefied natural gas through the Northern Sea route, and is building its first icebreaker ship.

The Russians already have a head start, since their country, unlike China, at least actually juts up into the Arctic. And the Russian state news agency TASS recently had an item about a Russian company looking to launch satellites to provide internet coverage to the Arctic. So that’s good news. Your North Pole cafe could soon have wifi.

If global temperatures keeps rising, and large numbers of people migrate from the equatorial region closer to the poles, the Chinese and Russians may have a head start on our future extreme northern cities.

HEALTHCARE

ALS IS TERRIBLE. STILL NO CURE, AND DRUGS COST TOO MUCH

Someone I know, the wife of a very good friend, died after a grueling four-year battle with ALS last week, so it’s been on my mind. I wish I could update with some hopeful news about ALS, but there just isn’t much. The best I can do is to mention that a very small drug trial in Japan showed potentially promising results in slowing the crippling effects (not stopping, though) of the disesase. But sadly, the news, even around that drug, isn’t all good – patients often can’t afford it.

More from the Boston Globe’s STAT

SEEING BETTER BECAUSE OF GENE THERAPY

There is good news, however, in the world of gene therapy for people with impaired vision from from a gene mutation in retina cells.

More on that, also from STAT

And, from Reuters, the FDA has approved the first drug in a new class of medicines that could prevent migraine headaches in adults.

NOTES FROM THE AGE OF DISRUPTION: 

Netflix
Has a big get: The Obamas. CNBC

Daimler 
Is investing nearly $600 million in a new electric car plant in France. The Drive

Roommates
Are driving startups in the housing industry, where there’s been a lot of investing in shared housing concepts. TechCrunch

China US Trade TalksFinally, this New York Times photo of the China-US trade talks is getting a lot of attention on social media because of the age difference in the two sides.

As always, I welcome your thoughts. @daveroyse on Twitter or dave.royse@ledetree.com

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About David Royse

David Royse
David Royse is the Editor-in-Chief of Ledetree.com. He has been a professional journalist for more than 20 years, including stints with The Associated Press and The News Service of Florida. He enjoys writing about health and medical science, and hopeful stories about scientific breakthroughs and new technology.

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