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Technology for slashing nuclear power plant waste wins Swiss backing

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Technology for slashing nuclear power plant waste wins Swiss backing

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Switzerland has endorsed a long sought-after technology known as “nuclear transmutation” to dramatically reduce the amount of radioactive waste from atomic power plants. 

Nagra, the Swiss national body that manages nuclear waste, said it had spent several months exploring the method proposed by Geneva-based start-up Transmutex and had concluded that the technology could cut the volume of highly radioactive waste by 80 per cent.

Storing highly radioactive material for hundreds of thousands of years has always been a huge and expensive problem for the nuclear industry. 

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While more than 20 countries, including the US, France, the UK and South Korea, agreed at the UN COP28 climate negotiations last year to triple nuclear energy capacity by 2050, there is currently no long-term storage site in operation. 

Finland is building the world’s first such facility, which it says will safely guard waste for 100,000 years. 

“Transmutex is trying to solve the problem we have had for a long while in nuclear, which is not safety, actually, but waste,” said Albert Wenger, an investor at Union Square Ventures, which is financing the start-up.  

Nuclear transmutation is the conversion of one element into a different form, known as an isotope, or another element altogether. Transmutation has been a concept of fascination since the days when alchemists tried in vain to turn base metals into gold.

The idea of using the technique for managing nuclear waste has been a subject of interest for decades. Several countries have launched significant programmes to explore transmutation, according to the Nuclear Energy Agency of the intergovernmental OECD. 

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Transmutex proposes to use a particle accelerator coupled to a reactor to combine subatomic neutron particles with thorium, a slightly radioactive metal. This produces a uranium isotope that then fissions, releasing energy. Unlike uranium, thorium does not produce plutonium, or other highly radioactive waste.

“If it can be demonstrated to work, you basically get the best of both worlds,” said Jack Henderson, chair of the nuclear physics group at the UK’s Institute of Physics and a researcher at the University of Surrey. “You are able to reduce the level of radioactivity produced by burning up some of the longer-lived isotopes produced in your reactor — and you get energy out at the same time.”

Franklin Servan-Schreiber, chief executive of Transmutex, said transmutation was the “first technology that has been taken seriously by a nuclear waste agency to reduce the amount of nuclear waste”. 

He said it could be used on 99 per cent of the world’s nuclear waste and would reduce the time it remains radioactive to “less than 500 years”.

“This is very significant because you can guarantee waterproof storage for 1,000 years,” he said. He added that the process also reduced the volume of waste by 80 per cent. 

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Servan-Schreiber said the idea behind the process had been conceived by Carlo Rubbia, the former director-general of the Cern particle physics laboratory. 

A potential obstacle to the viability of transmutation is the cost of set-up. The price of building a reactor coupled with a particle accelerator is unclear, but the Large Hadron Collider at Cern cost about $4.75bn. 

The study undertaken by Nagra and Transmutex found that the technology could “dramatically reduce the volume of high-graded radioactive waste and reduce the lifetime for a very significant part of that waste category tremendously,” said Matthias Braun, head of Nagra. 

Switzerland voted in a 2017 referendum not to replace its existing four nuclear reactors but Servan-Schreiber said the results gave “credence to this technology for other countries”, adding that he was in talks with at least three countries over a possible deal.

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Macron’s party at risk of wipeout, say election projections

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Macron’s party at risk of wipeout, say election projections

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President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance could be facing a wipeout in snap parliamentary elections after France’s leftwing parties struck a unity pact.

New projections suggested only around 40 of Macron’s MPs would qualify for the second round vote on July 7, in run-off races that would predominantly be fought between candidates fielded by the far right or the leftwing bloc for the 589-strong assembly, according to two studies for Le Figaro and BFM TV.

The findings suggest Macron’s gamble to dissolve parliament and hold early elections in the hope of stopping the rise of the far-right Rassemblement National party could backfire badly.

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They also underscore how the outcome of the two-round vote on June 30 and July 7 could be determined by the left.

Four normally fractious left-wing parties on Thursday night struck a deal to run as an alliance, with an agreement on candidates and a joint programme. It was endorsed by former president François Hollande, a socialist.

The accord did not specify who would be their candidate for prime minister. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the far-left France Insoumise (France Unbowed, LFI) party and a deeply polarising figure in French politics, hinted earlier on Thursday that he wanted to the job.

LFI secured the largest proportion of candidates on the joint list with the centre-left, Socialists, Greens, and Communists.

If the left parties had ran multiple candidates for each seat, Macron’s centrist alliance would have had better chances of piercing through to the second round. To qualify for a run-off, a candidate needs to have won the backing of 12.5 per cent of registered voters.

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By extrapolating results from last week’s European parliamentary election to the upcoming first round in the French legislative poll, RN would come first in 362 seats and the left would come top in 211, according to Le Figaro’s calculations.

Some analysts cautioned against extrapolating from European parliament elections, which take place in a single round according to proportional representation. They often have low turnout and are used as a protest vote against the government.

Mathieu Gallard, a pollster at Ipsos, said predicting seat share at this stage was “just a matter of intuition”. Candidates have not yet been selected and incumbent MPs often command considerable local loyalty. Margins of error for voting intentions across two rounds, the close contests in many constituencies and doubts over turnout made the “outcome highly uncertain at this stage”.

Still, the forecasts add to a series of gloomy surveys for Macron’s camp this week, suggesting they could lose at least half of their 250 seats in the assembly.

Asked about the difficult poll numbers, an adviser to Macron’s alliance said: “There is a narrow path forward, and we’ll see how dynamics shift in the coming days. It is hard but not impossible.”

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An Elabe poll for BFM and La Tribune Dimanche put the RN on 31 per cent (with 4 for the rival far-right party Reconquête), the leftwing alliance on 28 per cent, Macron’s centrist alliance on 18 per cent and the centre-right Les Républicains on 6.5 per cent.

The adviser said the 18 per cent for Macron’s alliance suggested it had new momentum after Sunday’s European vote, when it scored 15 per cent. The adviser pointed to polling showing that almost two-thirds of the French public supported Macron’s decision to dissolve parliament.

Elabe projects the RN winning between 220 and 270 seats, the left 150-190 and Macron’s alliance 90-130. The centre right would take 30-40.

The opinion polls this week suggest the mostly likely scenario is a hung parliament, but if the RN wins by a big margin, it will have a claim on the office of prime minister and the right to form a government.

Video: Why the far right is surging in Europe | FT Film
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Phoenix police have a pattern of violating civil rights, Justice Dept. report says

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Phoenix police have a pattern of violating civil rights, Justice Dept. report says

Darrell Kriplean, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, which represents about 2,200 Phoenix officers, stands at a lectern with microphones to take a question during a news conference Thursday in Phoenix. A Justice Department report said Phoenix police discriminate against Black, Hispanic and Native American people, unlawfully detain homeless people and use excessive force, including unjustified deadly force.

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PHOENIX — Phoenix police discriminate against Black, Hispanic and Native American people, unlawfully detain homeless people and use excessive force, including unjustified deadly force, according to a sweeping federal civil rights investigation of law enforcement in the nation’s fifth-largest city.

The U.S. Justice Department report released Thursday says investigators found stark racial disparities in how officers in the Phoenix Police Department enforce certain laws, including low-level drug and traffic offenses. Investigators found that Phoenix officers shoot at people who do not pose an imminent threat, fire their weapons after any threat has been eliminated, and routinely delay medical care for people injured in encounters with officers.

The report does not mention whether the federal government is pursuing a court-enforced reform plan known as a consent decree — an often costly and lengthy process — but a Justice Department official told reporters that in similar cases that method has been used to carry out reforms.

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Phoenix police didn’t immediately comment on the report, referring questions to the city. But a top police union official called the Justice Department investigation a “farce,” and warned that a consent decree would hurt officer morale.

“The Department of Justice is not interested in making local police departments and the communities they serve better,” said Darrell Kriplean, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, which represents about 2,200 officers. “This action demonstrates that they are only interested in removing control of local police from the communities that they serve through consent decrees.”

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said in a statement that city officials would meet June 25 to get legal advice and discuss next steps.

“I will carefully and thoroughly review the findings before making further comment,” she said.

Attorney General Merrick Garland called the report “an important step toward accountability and transparency.” He said in an email that it underscores the department’s commitment to “meaningful reform that protects the civil rights and safety of Phoenix residents and strengthens police-community trust.”

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‘Overwhelming statistical evidence’ of disparities due to discrimination

The Justice Department said Phoenix officers enforce certain laws — such as low-level drug and traffic offenses, loitering and trespassing — more harshly against Black, Hispanic and Native American people than against white people who engage in the same conduct.

Black people in the city are over 3.5 times more likely than white people, for example, to be cited or arrested for not signaling before turning, the report says. Hispanic drivers are more than 50% more likely than white drivers to be cited or arrested for speeding near school zone cameras. And Native American people are more than 44 times more likely than white people — on a per capita basis — to be cited or arrested for possessing and consuming alcohol.

Officers investigating drug-related offenses also were 27% more likely to release white people in 30 minutes or less, but Native Americans accused of the same offense were detained longer, the department said. And Native Americans were 14% more likely to be booked for trespass, while officers cited or released white people accused of the same offense.

There is “overwhelming statistical evidence” that the disparities are due to discrimination, the Justice Department said.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who leads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, criticized Phoenix for “over-policing” homeless people, including arrests without reasonable suspicion of a crime. More than a third of the Phoenix Police Department’s misdemeanor arrests and citations were of homeless people, the report says. The DOJ investigation began in August 2021.

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Litigation is an option if the Justice Departments’ efforts to secure a consent decree are unsuccessful.

“We remain very hopeful that we can build on the track record of success that we have had in other jurisdictions across our country and put in place a consent decree that contains the strong medicine necessary to address the severe violations identified,” Clarke said.

Phoenix Police officers in helmets and face shields and holding large body shields labeled

Phoenix Police officers watch protesters rally on June 2, 2020, during demonstrations over the death of George Floyd.

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Similar DOJ investigations in Albuquerque, Baltimore and elsewhere have found systemic problems related to excessive force and civil rights violations, some resulting in costly consent decrees that have lasted for years.

In Phoenix, a 2020 case accusing 15 protesters of being in an anti-police gang was dismissed because there wasn’t credible evidence; in 2017, a “challenge coin” was circulated among officers depicting a gas mask-wearing demonstrator getting shot in the groin with a projectile; and in June 2019, cellphone video emerged showing officers pointing guns when they confronted an unarmed Black couple with two small children they suspected of shoplifting.

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Poder In Action, a Phoenix group that advocates for people of color and workers, said the findings were no surprise.

“We never needed a DOJ investigation to tell us this,” the group said in a statement. “The data and the stories from residents have been telling us this for years.”

The report said some police shootings happened because of officers’ “reckless tactics,” and that police “unreasonably delay” providing aid to people they have shot and use force against those who are unconscious or otherwise incapacitated.

In one instance, police waited more than nine minutes to provide aid to a woman whom officers had shot 10 times, the Justice Department said. The woman died.

The investigation zeroed in on the city’s 911 operations. Even though Phoenix has invested $15 million to send non-police responders to mental health calls, the city hasn’t given the 911 call-takers and dispatchers necessary training.

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Officers assume people with disabilities are dangerous and resort to force rather than de-escalation tactics, leading to force and criminal consequences for those with behavioral health disabilities, rather than finding them care, the Justice Department said.

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Tesla shareholders approve Elon Musk’s $56bn pay deal and Texas move

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Tesla shareholders approve Elon Musk’s $56bn pay deal and Texas move

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Tesla shareholders voted to reapprove chief executive Elon Musk’s $56bn pay and to reincorporate the electric-vehicle maker in Texas, handing him significant victories as he seeks to reassert control over the company.

The preliminary results, announced at Tesla’s annual meeting in Austin on Thursday, will strengthen the company’s hand as it attempts to overturn a January decision by a Delaware court to void the 2018 package of stock options — the largest in US history — due to concerns about its size and the independence of the board.

While the vote does not supersede the court’s decision, the ratification could prove instrumental in persuading the judge to reverse or amend her stance. Musk’s grip on the company would be tightened, boosting the chief executive’s stake to more than 20 per cent from his current 13 per cent.

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Musk and the board have for the past few months led a campaign to rally Tesla’s retail shareholders — who own about 30 per cent of the company — to back the two resolutions in what amounted to a referendum on the mercurial leadership of one of the world’s richest people.

They also lobbied institutional investors to go against the guidance of proxy advisers ISS and Glass Lewis, who opposed the “outsized” and “excessive” pay package.

Two of Musk’s crucial allies on the board were also re-elected despite opposition from proxy advisers: former 21st Century Fox chief executive James Murdoch and Musk’s brother Kimbal.

After the polls closed just after 4pm in Austin, Musk emerged on stage to address a rapturous crowd chanting his name, jumping up and down in front of a blue and pink neon sign in the shape of Texas advertising the “cyber roundup”, as its annual meeting is branded.

“Hot damn I love you guys,” Musk said to the carefully-selected audience of retail investors. “We have the most awesome shareholder base of any public company . . . we are not starting a new chapter, but opening a new book.”

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The victories were not unexpected after Musk posted on X on Wednesday night that both resolutions were “currently passing by wide margins!”

Tesla shares rose 3 per cent on Thursday after his post, but have fallen 27 per cent so far this year.

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