See, this is what happens when pizza lovers follow their dreams. It probably started innocently enough for [phammy57]—he got a pizza stone, then maybe one of those big rocking pizza cutters. Maybe he even learned how to toss the dough high in the air. But every time [phammy57] slid one of those homemade pies into the electric oven, the nagging feeling grew a little stronger. Eventually, he gave in to making pizza the way it’s supposed to be made, and built a wood-fired oven.
The most intriguing thing about this build is also the most important: this pizza preparer pivots on a gym ball, which served as the base for forming the oven. To do this, [phammy57] pushed the ball halfway through a hole in a big piece of plywood, effectively creating the world’s largest Pogo Bal (remember those?). Then he applied plastic wrap to the ball as a mold release, and laid down a thick mixture of vermiculite, cement, and water.
[phammy57] built the base from lightweight blocks, sculpting a nice arch for the top of the wood storage area. Once the dome was fastened to the base with the opening cut and outlined with brick, he cut a vent hole and built the chimney. Finally, it was time to add insulating blanket material, chicken wire, more vermiculite, and coat of plaster to finish. Take a brief look inside after the break.
It’s a long process of building, curing, and burning in, but the end result looks fantastic. We bet it pizzas like a champ, too. Probably gives this 45-second pizza oven a run for its money.
[Ed Note: If you’re still having trouble parsing the title, try it out with “build” as a noun and “exercises” as a verb.]
Gurgel was a fascinating Brazilian company that, in the late 1960s, began building its own dune bugg
Gurgel was a fascinating Brazilian company that, in the late 1960s, began building its own dune buggy-like cars based on the Volkswagen Beetle platform and powertrain. Later, things got more exciting when Gurgel built machines with bold-looking bodies made of a material called Plasteel, which was a blend of fiberglass and steel. The 1979 X-12 Tocantins shown above is one of those machines. My coworker Jason Torchinsky wrote all about Gurgel and its fascinating ventures back in 2013, so check out his story.
Researchers want to pave their own path. But the growing industry is still dependent on tech giants like Google and Microsoft.
In late August, under the shade of an arching pepper tree in Nairobi, Kenya, hundreds of A.I. researchers gossiped about their algorithms. Some stood in front of posters, which wound around the tree’s sprawling roots, depicting machine learning systems that promised to predict everything from soil nutrition, to whether a small-scale farmer would repay a loan, to how a self-driving car might navigate the bustling streets of Cairo.
Over the last three years, academics and industry researchers from around the African continent have begun sketching the future of their own A.I. industry at a conference called Deep Learning Indaba. The conference brings together hundreds of researchers from more than 40 African countries to present their work, and discuss everything from natural language processing to A.I. ethics.
Founded in 2017, Indaba is a direct response to Western academic conferences, which are often difficult for researchers from distant parts of the world to access. Take, for instance, the Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, the most well-known meeting dedicated to artificial neural networks. NeurIPS — originally referred to as NIPS until the community overwhelmingly asked for a less nipple-oriented acronym — has previously been held in distant and expensive resorts. It doubles as a kind of vacation for researchers who can afford it. In 2006 and 2007, it was at the Westin Resort and Spa, and Hilton Resort and Spa in Whistler, B.C, to allow for “informal discussions, skiing, and other winter sports.”
For researchers from Africa, NeurIPS is often just out of reach. In 2016, no papers from African countries were accepted into the conference. In 2018, more than 100 researchers were denied visas to enter Canada for NeurIPS.
We need to find a way to build African machine learning in our image.
So in 2017, former classmates from South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand and a few close colleagues came together to found Indaba, which they named after a Zulu word meaning “an important conference or gathering.”
“How many accepted papers have at least one of its authors from a research institution in Africa? The answer: zero,” Indaba organizers wrote in a blog post. “Two entire continents are missing from the contemporary machine learning landscape.”
Organizers expected about 50 people to come to the first Indaba, but nearly 750 applied, and 300 were invited to attend. In its second year, Indaba invited 400 people and expanded into 13 IndabaX conferences. This year the conference nearly doubled in size again, with 700 attendees and 27 IndabaX events.
Deep Learning Indaba has become connective tissue for the African A.I. community — not only the space for the community to meet, but a part of the community itself. The conference forges relationships between researchers on the continent with a clear agenda: to build a vibrant, pan-African tech community — not through reinventing existing technologies, but by creating solutions tailored to the challenges facing the region: sprawling traffic, insurance claim payments, and drought patterns.
Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and other tech companies underwrite Indaba to a ballpark figure of $300,000, but organizers are still adamant about creating a new, distinct field of research — an industry free from the grip of Silicon Valley.
As Vukosi Marivate, an Indaba organizer and chair of data science at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, told me, “We need to find a way to build African machine learning in our image.”
This year’s Deep Learning Indaba was held over the course of six days in Kenyatta University, which sits just off Nairobi’s Thika Road, a bustling 8-lane highway full of boda boda motorcycle taxis and busses shuttling crowds to and from the city center.
Students make up a large portion of Indaba attendees — a chief reason why the conference focuses so intensely on education. The first day of the conference was dedicated to A.I. refreshers and introductory courses, such as statistics and the basics of building neural networks. Over the course of the week, the courses ramped up to more advanced topics. Attendees went to specialized courses on natural language processing, computer vision, deep reinforcement learning, and ethics. Some participated in a hackathon, where they built A.I. that could automatically identify African wildlife to better study and protect endangered species, while others worked with health data to predict and control the spread of malaria.
Establishing a presence in Africa now means building valuable relationships with users from the very start of their digital lives
Days typically started with a keynote: IBM researcher Aisha Walcott-Bryant spoke about data gathering in partnership with the Kenyan government; Princeton University’s Ruha Benjamin gave a course on the inequity encoded into algorithmic systems; and Salesforce’s chief scientist Richard Socher spoke about his team’s research on building more general A.I. systems.
As the preeminent A.I. conference in Africa, Indaba attracts significant attention from tech’s biggest players. American companies, including Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, and Netflix, make up 11 of Indaba’s 34 sponsors.
It’s part of a trend in Silicon Valley firms making significant investments across the continent. Google sponsors organizations like Data Science Africa and the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences. In 2018, the company announced its first African research center in Accra, Ghana. Meanwhile, Microsoft and the Bill Gates Foundation have donated nearly $100,000 to Data Science Nigeria, which hopes to train one million Nigerian engineers in the next 10 years.
The appeal of investing in Africa is obvious. 75% of the continent still has no internet access. That’s a challenge for local populations, but also an investment opportunity for international tech firms. Establishing a presence in Africa now means building valuable relationships with users from the very start of their digital lives. A recent investor report indicates Facebook stands to make $2.13 for every user per year in the developing world — up from $.90 in 2015.
Chinese firms have spent years investing heavily in Africa’s tech infrastructure. Huawei installed surveillance cameras around Nairobi on behalf of the Kenyan government, and the company is currently working on large-scale facial recognition surveillance systems around Zimbabwe.
All this foreign investment and data collection raises red flags on a continent scarred by exploitation. Observers like PhD candidate Abeba Birhane argue that these efforts recall previous colonization efforts. “This discourse of ‘mining’ people for data is reminiscent of the colonizer attitude that declares humans as raw material free for the taking,” she wrote in a recent paper titled The Algorithmic Colonization of Africa.
Indaba organizers are well aware of the tension inherent in running an Africa-focused conference funded by American companies.
“A large part of the Indaba’s funding came from international organizations, and many of our international speakers came from international technology companies,” founders wrote after the first conference. “This risks leaving the impression that the best work is happening in the large tech companies, and in countries outside the continent, and that one must leave the continent to have an impactful career in the field.”
That’s why organizers try to balance international sponsors with local ones, and highlight opportunities at African universities and tech companies.
This year’s Indaba conference presented the Maathai Impact award to Bayo Adekanmbi, chief transformation officer of South African telecom MTN, and the founder of Data Science Nigeria (DSN), an organization that has trained tens of thousands of Nigerians to bolster the country’s IT sector.
“A large part of the Indaba’s funding came from international organizations, and many of our international speakers came from international technology companies.”
Adekanmbi arrived at the conference wearing a crisp, white short-sleeve button-up shirt tucked into jeans. He’s tall and broad and walks with a briefcase in one hand, looking ready to evangelize the gospel of data science. He’s revered by his students.
Adekanmbi wants to train a million Nigerian data scientists in the next 10 years, and as such, he takes the threat of a brain drain very seriously. “It’s a big concern. Talent always moves to the area of highest concentration,” he says. “If we do not build another community here, talent will continue to disperse.”
One way of keeping talent at home is remote work. Adekanmbi started a program called Data Scientists on Demand, which facilitates engineers in Nigeria to work remotely for companies around the world.
But that’s not enough. Adekanmbi says that corporations that want to reap the benefits of doing work with Africa should have a physical presence on the continent, and show commitment by investing in local tech communities.
“If you really want inclusion, fairness, and the distribution of knowledge for local relevance, then corporations should be willing to set up centers of excellence and create centers of knowledge around the world,” he said.
Karim Beguir, cofounder of Tunisian A.I. company InstaDeep, built his company after moving back to Africa from a finance career in London. It’s the prototypical startup story: leaving a cushy career with dreams of starting a new company with only two people and two laptops. He taught one of the introductory mathematics courses at Indaba, and ran a two-session seminar on building a start-up: how to find a cofounder, how to get the best tax advantages, and the basics of courting investors. Beguir says he isn’t worried about an African brain drain — he sees own trajectory as a model for cross-continental collaboration.
For many in Africa, partnerships with international tech giants are critical to conducting their work. Indaba attendee Tejumade Afonja, an engineer from Nigeria who cofounded a 16-week A.I. coding workshop affiliated with the global A.I. Saturdays organization, says her Intel sponsorship keeps the entire effort afloat. Intel asks that the organizers and instructors give students the option of using Intel software and hardware, but doesn’t make demands in return for the money, Afonja says.
Teki Akuetteh Falconer, former executive director of the Ghanaian Data Protection Commission and founder of Africa Digital Rights Hub, says that U.S. tech companies are some of the only organizations with aligned interest in expanding internet infrastructure and studying technological ecosystems. “You honestly can’t run away from it. I’m running an NGO, and I have to fund it,” Falconer says. “My resources cannot reach very far. And the strange thing is that the only ones who get me are these [internet] companies.”
Deep Learning Indaba is still looking to expand. A phrase that’s heard over and over from those interested in building the future of African artificial intelligence is “capacity.” To bring more people into the field on the continent means a greater legacy of researchers, with the capacity to teach the next generation. It’s also about Deep Learning Indaba as a name in the global deep learning community.
Part of that process is creating Indaba chapters in individual countries. Between countries like South Africa, Senegal, and Somalia, there are now 27 IndabaX events, which borrow the “X” terminology from the TED conferences.They range in size from just a few people to dozens, with competitions for “effort and excellence,” according to the competition outline.
Competition winners and IndabaX organizers are then invited to the main Indaba conference. Once there, two winners of the Deep Learning Indaba continent-wide poster session get sponsored to go to NeurIPS, the top industry event. The goal is to eventually place A.I. researchers in Africa on equal footing as those in the West.
“Right now we’re telegraphing the movement. Now you’ll see at NeurIPS an [Indaba] delegation that comes that is there on an equal footing,” says Marivate. “They are not getting there on ‘Oh, these Africans, we should bring them,’ but at the table as an equal.”
Update: A previous version of this article misidentified the cofounder of InstaDeep. His last name is Beguir.
RUSSIA – An explosion has caused a fire at a Russian biological research facility that’s one of only two centers in the world known for housing samples of the smallpox virus.
The blast occurred Monday during repair work of a sanitary inspection room at the Russian State Centre for Research on Virology and Biotechnology, known as Vector, near the Russian city of Novosibirsk in Siberia, the center said in a statement.
One worker was injured in the incident and is being treated in intensive care for burns, Russia’s TASS news agency reported.
In its statement, Vector said that no biohazard material was being stored in the room where the explosion took place. The city’s mayor also insisted that the incident does not pose any biological or any other threat to the local population, according to TASS.
The fire broke out when a gas cylinder exploded on the fifth floor of the six-story laboratory building in the city of Koltsovo. The blast caused windows to smash but there was no structural damage to the building, TASS reported.
Founded in 1974, the Center for Virology and Biotechnology was once known for developing biological weapons research during the Cold War Soviet era. It is now one of the world’s largest research centers developing vaccines and tools for diagnosing and treating infectious diseases.
The head of the Koltsovo science city, where Vector is located, told Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti that there was no biological threat.
Scientists at the center are developing vaccines for swine flu, HIV, and Ebola. In February, scientists there wrapped up clinical trials of an Ebola vaccine, according to TASS.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the only other center in the world approved and known to have live samples of the deadly smallpox virus.
Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration announced its approval of the first drug to treat smallpox. The contagious disease was eradicated in 1980 thanks to vaccination efforts, but there are concerns that it could be used in a bioterror attack.
Could viruses survive a blast?
Dr. Joseph Kam, Honorary Clinical Associate Professor at the Stanley Ho Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases (CEID) told CNN that rules for storing viruses are very strict and highly dangerous diseases such as Ebola and smallpox would be stored in the highest “Level 4” laboratory.
Access to the samples would be limited, special containers are used and the storage mechanism is different from other laboratories, Kam said.
He added that while fire would be hot enough to destroy viruses, an explosion could risk spreading the virus and there would be a danger of infecting those in the room or contaminating the immediate area.
“Viruses are fragile and more than 100 degrees or more will kill them,” Kam said. He added that under certain circumstances, an explosion could spread the virus. “Part of the wave of the force of the explosion would carry it away from the site when it was first stored,” he said. That contamination zone could be 10 to a few hundred meters depending on the size of the blast and other factors such as wind speed and direction, and whether it was an airborne virus.
The incident comes just weeks after an explosion near the site of a suspected failed missile test in northern Russia that killed at least five nuclear specialists and caused radiation levels to spike. Conflicting official accounts regarding the incident heightened concerns of a potential cover-up.
BIG BOSS Cement Inc., a firm that uses a different kind of technology to produce its products, is investing with its sister firm some P10 billion for its new plant lines in Pampanga and Zamboanga as the companies ride on the huge demand.
Company President Gilbert S. Cruz told reporters the firms are building a total of four cement lines in Pampanga, while their sister company, Petra Cement Inc., is building two lines in Zamboanga del Norte.
Both firms have the same shareholders led by Cruz and company Chairman Henry Sy Jr., who has investments in the firms in his personal capacity and not with the SM Group, where he is one of the directors.
Cruz said they will spend a total of P7 billion for the Pampanga plant and P3 billion for the Zamboanga plant, or an average of about P1.5 billion per line.
The Pampanga plant is more expensive because it includes prototypes as the firm perfects its technology, which Cruz said they may export to other countries when the right time comes.
He said each line has a capacity of 1 million bags of cement a month and Big Boss has already completed two lines in Pampanga, with two more lines to be finished by the first quarter next year for a total capacity of 4 million bags a month.
There are about 25 bags of cement for every metric ton.
Meanwhile, the company will complete the first production line in Zamboanga in November and will soon be investing for the next line. There is no cement manufacturing plant in Zamboanga, he noted.
Cruz said they also plan to put up more plants in areas, such as General Santos, Negros and Iloilo, with the aim of reaching a total capacity of between 10 million and 12 million bags a month in five years, and, in the process, pull down its own cement prices to just P100 per bag, or half of the current prices. The company claims it has the cheapest cement price at P150 to P160 per 40 kilogram bag.
With the completion of the second line in Pampanga, Cruz said it now allows them to sell bulk cement, being used by ready mix concrete makers and precast firms, usually used in infrastructure projects such as bridges.
“We see a lot of potential in the market for bulk cement that is environment-friendly and guarantees a minimum strength of 40 MPa [megapascal],” he said.
“Highly industrialized countries like the United States and most countries in Europe use cement which are 40 MPa and above. allowing for more sturdy and durable buildings, houses, bridges and roads,” he said.
The company claims it is using cement manufacturing process called G-ASH (Grinded Activated Sand by Heating), which enables it to produce a binding material for concrete that does not use imported clinker, one of the main ingredients on all of the cement manufacturers.
“We are trying to change the rules of the game and we are confident that our product is a game changer. During a recent global cement conference I attended, we were able to establish that no other company in the world is doing what we are doing, which says a lot about Filipino ingenuity,” Cruz said.
So this instructables is all about building a chef knife. I have done a lot of welding projects regarding stainless steel on to my channel and during that work, I got an idea to build the knife with stick welding using stainless steel electrodes. This build definitely costs a lot and there is no guarantee that it’s going to be successful, and that the reason it took me so much time to take a decision over building this project. The main problem with making such things with just only welding is that these things need a lot more clean work than you usually not taking care during knife making because if slag trapped between the two layers it’s going to affect the overall result. To proceed with this work there are two methods which think the first one is this which I showed in the video and the second one is much resemble with the 3d printing technique. In which I bend a thick electrode in a curved shape and start laying the material over it repeatedly and ended up with a billet formation. What the problem with that technique is there at every time I lay one layer of weld bead for next bead I need to clean up that entire bead and this will definitely consume a lot of time and effort. Although that I think makes much consolidate billet and you have no need of forging later on. That’s why I decided to leave that technique and build a knife with the electrode stacking technique. So this journey is all about the building of this chef knife completely out of stick welding. If you have some suggestions then definitely leave them in the comment section below.
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Step 1: Removing the Flux and Electrode Cleanup
So to start this build the first thing you need to do is remove the outer flux from the electrodes so that you can stack them together to form a basic knife shape. For the removal of the flux you can either dip them in the water for a couple of hours and then it will come off easily but I I use chipping hammer to remove that flux. Although it’s not that difficult to remove it with the hammering process. Once the flux is completely removed I start the cleaning process and for that, I attach Scotch Brite wheel on to my angle grinder and then remove the remaining flux from that electrode to make it nice clean and shiny.
Step 2: Designing the Basic Shape and Bending the Electrodes
So once the cleanup process completed I draw the basic shape of a chef’s knife onto the bench. Usually, the length of a chef’s knife is around 8-9 inches so I go with 9″ length and the tang varied according to the grip. So after that, I bend the electrodes by following the knife shape until I fill my entire Design with electrodes. Then by taking them little by little I start making tack weld. During this work, one thing needs to be taking care of that for the edge you need a carbon rod because otherwise, you are not able to get a hardened edge.
Step 3: Welding to Form Basic Knife Billet
Once the basic tack welding is done and basic knife shape seems to be visible I start the cleaning process first. For that, I use pickling agent which is used to remove the black oxides and slag from the stainless steel and brightens the welds. So before starting the welding I clean up all the tacks and make sure no slag remains inside during the welding. Once it’s been completely cleaned I start the welding and during welding few things need to take care of is that make sure to clean up your weld with a wire brush and chipping hammer make sure no slag left behind otherwise it’s going to be trapped between weld layers. Once the welding from one side is complete I didn’t start the weld onto another side because there is a lot of burn scales appears onto the opposite side and there are few areas still left where slag get trapped so I again clean up the entire billet with pickling agent and the trapped slag is removed with the help of foredom. I use diamond burs and carbide burrs to knock off the slag so that I can fill it with the weld material. Once everything again cleaned I start the weld on the other side. Once these two welds completed I have a nice thick billet with which I can make my chef’s knife.
Step 4: Forging the Billet
To make sure that every part fused together nicely I decided to do the forging part although I am completely new to this work but I manage to do it properly. Few things onto which I wanted to pay much attention is the bolster piece and tip of the knife. I heat the billet until it gets at a fusion temperature and then starts hammering the billet. I am sure that by doing this there is no delamination or crack inside the billet and everything would be nice and solid.
Step 5: Grinding the Bevels
Once the billet has been forged out I started the bevelling process. I don’t have a belt grinder so I do always with an angle grinder. For this, I use a thick grinding wheel to hog of much material as I can. For grinding this I use the eyeballing method. Once the basic grinding has been done I use files to flatten the entire knife because grinder never grinds straight but for a knife, you need a straight piece and to achieve that I use files to accomplish that straightness.
Step 6: Quenching
So this part goes slightly wrong although the end result is acceptable. So I wanted to do the case hardening and the reason is that I wanted to use stainless steel 304 for knife making so I decided why not to give that a shot. So for the case hardening, I used charred leather mixed with salt and plain flour in a ratio of 6:4:3 by its weight respectively. Then mixed with water and kneaded thoroughly so that I am able to wrap it around the knife. Once the coating is hard I made a case and put it inside the case so that it will not able to get oxygen. I saw click spring channel in which he did case hardening but I didn’t have clay for the case so I made it with sheet metal and I find out that I have to put the knife for around 50 minutes to induce the carbon in the billet. But when I check after 15 minutes I saw that the case is completely gone and the coating is also burnt off so I decided to leave that part and quench it in water because even though case hardening didn’t succeed the electrodes used for the edges have enough carbon around .50% that it’s able to provide a good cutting edge. Due to that case Hardening, the tip is also melted but a little reshaping makes the job done. After quenching I didn’t temper the blade because I thought something different about that.
Step 7: Grinding and Polishing to the Final Shape.
Once the quenching has been completed I start the grinding work. First removes the scale with an angle grinder and then attached a grinding drum stone to my drill press and then flatten the entire knife evenly. I also use a diamond file to flatten the knife because after the quenching metal files skates from the edge area. Once I get even grind finish with the stones and files I start the polishing process and its required a lot of elbow grease. I start at 150 grit and goes up to 1500 grit and able to get a nice clean finish.
Step 8: Handle
So the handle part is made out of resin and a few years back I made a knife and I wanted to make a resin handle for that. For that, I pour polyester resin mixed with 3 different pearls and poured into the mould to get that handle block. After having that handle block I mark the hole location for the handle Tang and then drilled out the holes and make them precise fit with the help of rasp needle files. Then I start shaping the handle. First I draw the layout roughly onto the handle block and then grind the material onto my drill press. For this, I use a different technique in which I insert the drill bit into a PVC pipe and then wrap the sandpaper around that and remove the material. If I start doing that with the help of files then it will take a lot of time. Once the rough shape is achieved I insert the handle into the knife and then make a precise shape with files and the drum sander. I insert that into the knife because a knife has a bolster and that bolster needs to make a smooth transition with the handle and the only way to get that is by attaching the handle with the knife. That’s why tight-fitting of handle is required. Then I finish the handle up to 1000 grit with sandpaper and make it completely smooth.
Step 9: Buffing
Once the sanding work is finished up to the required grit I buff the entire knife. Here one thing is to make sure that using buffing with a knife I use speed regulator and reduced the speed very low to make it safer. I rub the blade with buffing wheel and it slightly heats up the surface then rub the buffing compound over it. This process melts the compound over the surface and then you can effectively buff the surface. With same buffing compound, I also buff the handle as well to mirror polish like state.
Step 10: Colouring and Sharpening
Then I decided to give this some rainbow colour and as you know at certain temperature metal changes its colour. So I kept an eye onto the edge because overheating the blade also ruins the hardness. So I heat until I get a straw colour at the edges. Make sure to do it without handle otherwise it ruins the handle completely. Then I sharpened the edge and it’s fairly simple for me to do. I turn down the speed of the grinder very slow speed and then sharpen the edge. I start with 400 grit and then finish it with 2000 grit. A paper cutting test confirms its sharpness.
Step 11: Assembling
The last and most important thing is to assemble both the pieces together. Since I am not going to add pins for locking the handle that’s why I created some teeth into the tang of the knife so that when I pour the epoxy it stuck in that area and that will jam the handle to its place and make it impossible to remove until you break the handle apart. Then I mixed two part epoxy and then mixed some pigment to match the front piece of the handle and then allow it to cure and the final result is in front of you.
Step 12: Finished Product
So that’s all about the journey of making a knife from stick welding and using electrodes as a material for the knife. Definitely not the easiest one but definitely teach a lot about knife making.
Burying radioactive waste is widely seen as the safest way to dispose of it. Researchers are exploring how we tell future generations about the decisions we make today.
In January 1997, the crew of a fishing vessel in the Baltic Sea found something unusual in their nets: a greasy yellowish-brown lump of clay-like material. They pulled it out, placed it on deck and returned to processing their catch. The next day, the crew fell ill with serious skin burns. Four were hospitalised. The greasy lump was a substance called yperite, better known as sulfur mustard or mustard gas, solidified by the temperature on the sea bed.
At the end of the World War II, the US, British, French and Soviet authorities faced a big problem – how to get rid of some 300,000 tonnes of chemical munitions recovered from occupied Germany. Often, they opted for what seemed the safest, cheapest and easiest method: dumping the stuff out at sea.
Estimates are that at least 40,000 tonnes of chemical munitions were disposed of in the Baltic Sea, not all of it in designated dumping areas. Some of these locations are marked on shipping charts but comprehensive records of exactly what was dumped and where do not exist. This increases the likelihood of trawler crews, and others, coming into contact with this dangerous waste.
The problem isn’t going to go away, especially with increased use of the sea floor for economic purposes, including pipelines, sea cables and offshore windfarms.
The story of those unlucky fishermen illustrates two points. First, it is difficult to predict how future generations will behave, what they will value and where they will want to go. Second, creating, maintaining and transmitting records of where waste is dumped will be essential in helping future generations protect themselves from the decisions we make today. Decisions that include how to dispose of some of today’s most hazardous material: high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power plants.
The red metal lift takes seven juddering minutes to travel nearly 500 metres down. Down, down through creamy limestone to reach a 160-million-year-old layer of clay. Here, deep beneath the sleepy fields and quiet woods along the border of the Meuse and Haute-Marne departments in north-east France, the French National Radioactive Waste Management Agency (Andra) has built its underground research laboratory.
The laboratory’s tunnels are brightly lit but mostly deserted, the air dry and dusty and filled with the hum of a ventilation unit. Blue and grey metal boxes house a series of ongoing experiments – measuring, for example, the corrosion rates of steel, the durability of concrete in contact with the clay. Using this information, Andra wants to build an immense network of tunnels here.
It plans to call this place Cigéo, and to fill it with dangerous radioactive waste. It is designed to be able to hold 80,000 cubic metres of waste.
We are exposed to radiation every day. Public Health England estimates that in a typical year someone in the UK might receive an average dose of 2.7 millisieverts (mSv) from natural and artificial radiation sources. A transatlantic flight, for example, exposes you to 0.08 mSv; a dental X-ray to 0.005 mSv; 100 grams of Brazil nuts to 0.01 mSv.
High-level radioactive waste is different. It is, primarily, spent fuel from nuclear reactors or the residues resulting from reprocessing that fuel. This waste is so potent that it must be isolated from humans until its levels of radiation, which decrease over time, are no longer hazardous. The timescale Andra is looking at is up to one million years. (To put this into some sort of context, it’s just 4,500 years ago that Stonehenge was constructed. Around 40,000 years ago, modern humans arrived in northern Europe. A million years ago, the continent was in the middle of an Ice Age. Mammoths roamed the frozen landscape.)
Some scientists call this long-lived waste “the Achilles heel of nuclear power”, and it’s a problem for all of us – whatever our stance on nuclear. Even if all the world’s nuclear plants were to cease operating tomorrow, we would still have more than 240,000 tonnes of dangerously radioactive material to deal with.
Currently, nuclear waste is stored above ground or near the surface, but within the industry this is not considered an acceptable long-term solution. This kind of storage facility requires active monitoring. As well as regular refurbishment it must be protected from all kinds of hazards, including earthquakes, fires, floods and deliberate attacks by terrorists or enemy powers.
This not only places an unfair financial burden on our descendants, who may no longer even use nuclear power, but also assumes that in the future there will always be people with the knowledge and will to monitor the waste. On a million-year timescale this cannot be guaranteed.
So, after considering a range of options, governments and the nuclear industry have come to the view that deep, geological repositories are the best long-term approach. Building one of these is an enormous task that comes with host of complex safety concerns.
Finland has already begun construction of a geological repository (called Onkalo), and Sweden has begun the licensing process for its site. Andra expects to apply for its construction licence within the next two years.
If Cigéo goes into operation it will house both the high-level waste and what is known as intermediate-level long-lived waste – such as reactor components. Once the repository has reached capacity, in perhaps 150 years’ time, the access tunnels will be backfilled and sealed up. If all goes according to plan, no one will ever enter the repository again.
Stand in front of an unshielded source of radiation and you won’t see or feel anything. However, some of that radiation will be passing into your body. Nuclear waste is dangerous because it emits ionising radiation in the form of alpha and beta particles and gamma rays. While alpha particles are too weak to penetrate the skin, beta particles can cause burns. If ingested, both can damage internal tissues and organs.
It’s gamma rays, however, that have the greatest penetrating range, and therefore the potential to cause the most widespread damage to the DNA of your cells. This damage may lead to an increased risk of cancer later in life, and it is largely responsible for the set of symptoms known as radiation sickness.
Some experts estimate that a dose of over 1 sievert is enough to cause radiation sickness. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, blisters and ulcers; these may begin within minutes of exposure or be delayed for days. Recovery is possible, but the higher the radiation dose, the less likely it is. Typically, death comes from infections and internal bleeding brought about by the destruction of the bone marrow.
For waste buried deep underground, the major threat to public health comes from water contamination. If radioactive material from the waste were to mix with flowing water, it would be able to move relatively swiftly through the bedrock and into the soil and large bodies of water such as lakes and rivers, finally entering the food chain via plants, fish and other animals.
To prevent this, an underground repository such as Cigéo will take great care to shield the waste it stores. Within its walls there will be metal or concrete containers to block the radiation, and liquid waste can be mixed into a molten glass paste that will harden around it to stop leakage.
Beyond those barriers, the planners choose their sites carefully, so they can exploit the properties of the surrounding rock. At Cigéo, press officer Mathieu Saint-Louis tells me, the clay is stable and has very low permeability, making it hard for any radioactive material reach the surface. After around 100,000 years a few very mobile substances with a long half-life, such as iodine-129, might manage to migrate upwards in extremely small quantities, but at that point, Saint-Louis says, the “potential impact on humans and the environment is much lower than that of radioactivity that is naturally present in the environment”.
Deep geological repositories are designed as passive systems, meaning that once Cigéo is closed, no further maintenance or monitoring is required. Much more difficult to plan for is the risk of human intrusion, whether inadvertent or deliberate.
In 1980, the US Department of Energy created the Human Interference Task Force to investigate the problem of human intrusion into waste repositories. What was the best way to prevent people many thousands of years in the future from entering a repository and either coming into direct contact with the waste or damaging the repository, leading to environmental contamination?
Over the next 15 years a wide variety of experts were involved in this and subsequent projects, including materials scientists, anthropologists, architects, archaeologists, philosophers and semioticians – social scientists who study signs, symbols and their use or interpretation.
Science fiction author Stanislaw Lem suggested growing plants with warning messages about the repository encoded in their DNA. Biologist Françoise Bastide and semiotician Paolo Fabbri developed what they called the “ray cat solution” – cats genetically altered to glow when in the presence of radiation.
Quite apart from the technological challenges and ethical issues these solutions present, both have one major drawback: to be successful they rely on external, uncontrollable factors. How could the knowledge required to interpret these things be guaranteed to last?
Semiotician Thomas Sebeok recommended the creation of a so-called Atomic Priesthood. Members of the priesthood would preserve information about the waste repositories and hand it on to newly initiated members, ensuring a transfer of knowledge through the generations.
Considered one way, this is not too different from our current system of atomic science, where a senior scientist passes on their knowledge to a PhD candidate. But still, putting such knowledge, and therefore power, into the hands of one small, elite group of people is a high-risk strategy easily open to abuse.
Perhaps a better way to warn our descendants about the waste is to talk to them directly, in the form of a message.
At Andra’s headquarters outside of Paris, Jean-Noël Dumont, head of Andra’s memory programme, shows me a box. Inside, fixed in plastic cases, are two transparent discs, each around 20 centimetres in diameter. “These are the sapphire discs,” he says. The brainchild of Dumont’s predecessor, Patrick Charton, each disc is made of transparent industrial sapphire, inside which information is engraved using platinum.
Costing around 25,000 euros per disc, the sapphire (chosen for its durability and resistance to weathering and scratching) could last for nearly 2 million years – though one disc already has a crack in it, the result of a clumsy visitor on one of Andra’s open days.
In the very long term, though, these plans also have a major drawback: how can we know that anyone living one million years in the future will understand any of the languages spoken today?
Think of the differences between modern and Old English. Who of us can understand “Ðunor cymð of hætan & of wætan”? (Thunder comes from heat and from moisture.) That – meaning “Thunder comes from heat and from moisture” – is a mere thousand years old.
Languages also have a habit of disappearing. Around 4,000 years ago in the Indus Valley in what is now Pakistan and north-west India, for example, people were writing in a script that remains completely indecipherable to modern researchers. In one million years it is unlikely that any language spoken today will still exist.
In the early 1990s, architectural theorist Michael Brill sought a way to side-step the issue of language. He imagined deterrent landscapes, “non-natural, ominous, and repulsive”, constructed of giant, menacing earthworks in the shape of jagged lightning bolts or other shapes that “suggest danger to the body… wounding forms, like thorns and spikes”.
Anyone venturing further into the complex would then discover a series of standing stones with warning information about the radioactive waste written in seven different languages – but even if these proved unreadable, the landscape itself should act as a warning. To help convey a sense of danger there would be carvings of human faces expressing horror and terror. One idea was to base them on Edvard Munch’s The Scream.
The drawback is that such a landscape – a strange, disturbing wonder – would probably attract rather than repel visitors. “We are adventurers. We are drawn to conquer forbidding environments,” says Florian Blanquer, a semiotician hired by Andra. “Think about Antarctica, Mount Everest.”
Or think about the 20th-century European archaeologists, people not noticeably hesitant when it came to opening up the tombs of Egyptian kings, despite the warnings and curses inscribed on their walls.
As Dumont sees it, a memory programme is necessary for three main reasons. First, to avoid the risk of human intrusion by informing future generations about the existence and contents of Cigéo.
Second, to give future generations as much information as possible to allow them to make their own decisions about the waste. They might, for example, want to retrieve the waste because new uses or solutions have arisen. Gerry Thomas, chair in molecular pathology at Imperial College London, believes that much of the waste destined for repositories may one day provide an important new non-carbon fuel source.
Third, cultural heritage: a properly documented geological repository would provide a wealth of information for a future archaeologist. “I have no knowledge of other places or systems where you have at the same time objects from the past and very large, concrete descriptions of how these products were manufactured, where they come from, how we considered them and so on,” says Dumont.
One way that memory is transmitted is orally, from generation to generation. To study this, Dumont asked researchers to consider historical examples of oral transmission, using as a case study the 17th-century Canal du Midi between the Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean. Here, for 300 years, the same families have worked on maintaining the canal, passing down know-how from father to son.
Dumont also talks about the need to ensure that as many people as possible hear about Cigéo. As part of this strategy, Andra has held a series of annual competitions asking artists to suggest ways to mark the site. For example, Les Nouveaux Voisins, winners of the 2016 prize, imagined constructing 80 concrete pillars, 30 metres high, each with an oak tree planted at the top. As the years passed, the pillars would slowly sink and the oak trees replace them, leaving tangible traces both above and below the repository.
Leaving Andra’s visitors’ centre, I drive through a landscape patchworked with colours, from the russet of the woods to the bright limey green of a wheat field, towards Bure, a tiny village of around 90 inhabitants. The population is ageing.
“Young people can’t stay here if they want to study and find jobs,” Benoît Jaquet tells me. A village that once supported around ten farmers is now home to only two or three. Although not a resident of Bure, Jaquet is the general secretary of CLIS, an organisation of local elected officials, representatives from trade unions and professional bodies, and environmental associations. Its purpose is to provide the local community with information about Cigéo, host public meetings, and monitor the work of Andra by, for example, commissioning independent experts to review the agency’s work.
If the repository is built, Jaquet says, French law requires that CLIS be transformed into a local commission that will last as long as the repository. “So it’s also a way to pass the baton,” he says. “If there is a local commission there is a memory – not Andra’s memory but an external memory.”
At the same time, Andra has set up three regional memory groups, each composed of around 20 interested locals. They meet every six months and make their own suggestions for passing on the memory of the repository. Ideas so far include collecting and preserving oral witness accounts and developing an annual remembrance ceremony to take place on the site, organised by and for the local people. A nuclear beating the bounds, a radioactive summer solstice, an atomic maypole.
This last idea resonates with the work of Claudio Pescatore and Claire Mays, former employees of the Nuclear Energy Agency, a Paris-based body that supports intergovernmental cooperation on nuclear issues. They wrote in a research paper: “Do not hide these facilities; do not keep them apart, but make them A PART of the community… something that belongs to the local, social fabric.” They went on to suggest that a monument celebrating the repository could be created, and argued that if it had “a distinctiveness and aesthetic quality, would this not be one reason for communities to proudly own the site and maintain it?”
Could the repository, I ask Jaquet, one day become a tourist destination? On the contrary, he says, some members of the CLIS say that “every person living here will quit the district because of the risk, because of the image of the repository as a rubbish bin. Of course some also think the repository will create employment and that this will become a new Silicon Valley. Maybe the reality will be somewhere between the two – but a tourist attraction? I’m not sure about that.”
Across the road from CLIS and the town hall is a large, ramshackle stone house decorated with a banner. It translates: “Free zone of Bure: house of resistance against nuclear waste”. Since 2004, this has been home to a rotating group of international anti-nuclear, anti-repository protesters. By continually campaigning against Cigéo – and, presumably, by passing their beliefs on to future generations – the protesters would necessarily keep the memory of the repository alive and in the public eye, the ramshackle stone house becoming its own sort of monument for Cigéo.
“So in fact the pro-repository groups need the anti-repository groups to stay alive in order to provide a good memory,” says Florian Blanquer. “Fortunately, we are in France – in France there are always opponents to something!”
Rely only on the transmission of knowledge between generations and you can never guarantee an unbroken line of succession. Rely only on direct communication and you risk leaving behind a message that, even if it survives physically, eventually no one will be able to understand. So Andra asked Blanquer to research how to convey a message without written language.
Many visual signs are, like languages, culturally specific. Furthermore, we know that the meanings of signs are not always stable over time.
Still, Blanquer thought that there was one universal sign: an image of a human figure. “And every human being… apprehends its body through space the same way as well. There is an up and down, a left and right, a front and back,” he wrote in a conference paper. Pictographs (pictorial symbols for a word or phrase) based on an anthropomorphic figure in movement are likely to be recognised universally, he decided.
Now he had the beginnings of an idea, but it wasn’t enough. You might draw a cartoon strip showing a person approaching a piece of radioactive waste, touching it and falling down. But how can you guarantee that the panels will be read in the correct order? Or that touching the waste will be interpreted as a negative action? And how can a pictograph relying on the visual representation of tangible objects convey a message about radioactivity – something that can be neither seen nor touched?
In response to these problems, Blanquer has designed what he calls a “praxeological device”. Independent of any verbal language, it works by teaching the person encountering it a brand-new communication system created specially for this purpose.
Blanquer envisages a series of passages built underground, perhaps in the access tunnels of the repository. On the wall of the first passage is a rectangular pictograph showing a person walking along the passage and a line of footprints indicating the direction of movement.
At the end of the corridor is a hole and a ladder and three more pictographs. A circular pictograph shows a person holding on to the ladder; a triangular pictograph shows a person not holding on and consequently falling off. And so it continues.
In this way you begin to establish patterns: you learn first that the figure drawn on the walls relates to a person’s actions here, and second that you should copy the actions in the circles and avoid the actions in the triangles. “What is really interesting is the idea of people learning by themselves,” Dumont says. “Learning is important in the long term when you cannot just rely on transmission from generation to generation.”
There has been one more radical proposal about how to deal with the threat of human intrusion – hide the repository completely from future generations.
Some argue that because the repositories are passive systems, most likely buried far underground in areas with no deep natural resources, the question of memory preservation is moot.
Currently, no one can conceive of a reason why anyone in the future might want to dig down 490 metres to reach the clay formation that Cigéo is planned for. This reduces the chances of inadvertent intrusion. And after around, say, 100,000 years, almost all surface traces and any complex above-ground markers will have vanished. The only things left behind will be some slight indentations, perhaps a gentle protuberance or two. Things that to the untrained eye may appear to be only the natural shape of the land. Eventually it will be as though no one was ever there, as though there is nothing for anyone to remember.
But Blanquer warns that forgetting is not so easy: “You cannot say to yourself, ‘I will forget about that.’ It’s like trying not to think about pink elephants. If you want to forget about it then first you have to get rid of any information about it. That would mean shutting down the web and destroying a lot of computers, a lot of newspapers, a lot of books.”
In his opinion it is no longer possible that Cigéo could become, as Danish film maker Michael Madsen has said about the Finnish repository, “the place you must always remember to forget”.
Last summer I set out with some friends to walk part of the Ridgeway, an ancient long-distance route through the Chiltern Hills and North Wessex Downs in the south of England. On Whiteleaf Hill, the chalky white path passes near the remains of a Neolithic barrow, around 5,000 years old. You can tell immediately that it’s not natural, the way the earth has been lumped up on the hillside, but today there is little to see except a low grassy mound with a view over the fields and woods of Buckinghamshire and the small town of Princes Risborough.
We don’t know who built the burial chamber or the name of the person interred there, what language they spoke and what they believed the world would be like in 5,000 years. Staring at the barrow, it was not continuity with the past I felt, but distance.
In the 1930s an archaeologist called Lindsay Scott broke open the Whiteleaf Hill barrow and discovered the remains of a human skeleton, around 60 pieces of pottery, flint shards and animal bones. And just as we enter burial chambers in search of answers, so archaeologists of the future may one day find themselves penetrating the concrete passageways and tunnels of the place we call Cigéo.
Peering into the darkness they will ask themselves, who built this place and why? Why did they come here, digging down so far below the surface of the land? What were they running from, or trying to hide?
In the light they carry, the archaeologists will see markings on the passage walls. Moving closer, they make out a series of footprints stretching away in front of them, down the passageway. In the looming darkness, it becomes clear – someone has left them a message.
One of the difficulties in studying our Earth and the Solar System in which it resides is that you’re generally working with a sample size of one. But astronomy is increasingly loosening that restriction with clearer and clearer pictures of worlds around other stars. Within the wild variety of the cosmos, the rest of our galaxy is looking like an experiment in an infinite laboratory, generating exosolar systems with all sorts of odd combinations of planets. When one of those combinations bucks your prediction, there’s a good chance you’re about to learn something.
A diminutive star tagged GJ 3512, about 31 light years from us, seems to present one of those opportunities. A group of researchers participating in the CARMENES survey has discovered a surprising gas giant planet at least half the size of Jupiter orbiting this wee star.
Small star, big planet
The survey scans for planets around small, M-type dwarf stars using Earth-based telescopes. Instead of looking for changes in a star’s brightness as a planet orbits in between, it looks for tiny shifts in the star caused by gravitational tugs from its planets. Just as the familiar Doppler effect causes a siren to rise in pitch as it nears you and lower in pitch after it passes, the star’s movements cause a Doppler shift in the wavelengths of light we receive from it.
Now that we’re a few years into the CARMENES project, some planets have completed enough orbits for their clockwork pattern to be apparent in the data. This particular planet—which gets dubbed “GJ 3512 b”—takes 204 days to orbit the star. The data also reveals that its orbit isn’t perfectly circular, taking a fairly elliptical shape, instead.
The star is estimated to be just 12% the mass of our Sun, and researchers used that value to work out the size of the planet orbiting it and concluded that it must be a gas giant. Despite its gargantuan size, it orbits about as close to its star as Mercury does around the Sun. But because that star is nowhere near as bright as the Sun, planet GJ 3512 b must check in at a numbing -120 degrees Celsius.
By themselves, the figures aren’t that unusual. What makes this exoplanet stand out a bit is that it’s hard to explain how such a large planet could end up orbiting such a small star.
Exosolar systems develop from spinning disks of material, with a star growing in the center. The bigger the disk, the more massive the star and the more material available for building big planets. In our Solar System, we’ve concluded that gas giants like Jupiter formed in a two-step process. First, a rocky core five to ten times the size of the Earth comes together, and then the gravitational pull of that core gathers up enough hydrogen and helium to become truly gigantic.
But in a small stellar system—like star GJ 3512 would have been born in—there isn’t really enough material for this process to play out. By the time a massive rocky core could form in a stellar disk like that, there wouldn’t be any gas left to gather up.
In the late 1990s, one odd-couple pair of dwarf star and gas giant was identified, but no more had turned up in more recent observations. This new discovery seems to show that this wasn’t a fluke and suggests there must be another way to build a gas giant.
The researchers point to an alternative planet formation model called “disk instability.” In this model, the process begins early, when the baby star is still a small fraction of the total mass in the disk. Under the right conditions, where temperature is dropping quickly, pockets of gas in the disk could quickly condense directly into large clumps. That could get the proverbial ball rolling early enough to grab a lot of gas before it’s gone.
This planet’s elliptical orbit, though, also implies something happened after formation. While the researchers could only formally detect one planet, there is a hint in the data of a second one farther from the star that they can’t say much more about. But even beyond that, they posit there could originally have been a third planet in between. If the gravitational dance between the objects in this system led to the middle planet being flung out into interstellar space, the interior planet would be left with a more elliptical orbit in the process.
This is certainly a different story from the one behind our own Solar System—that’s why it pays to look elsewhere in the Universe.
NASA’s Cassini probe plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere in Sept. 2017, but astronomers are still poring over the data it sent back to Earth before its demise. New research shows Cassini picked up “new kinds of organic compounds”, the precursors to amino acids, when it passed through a plume of ice ejected by Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The nitrogen- and oxygen-containing compounds are exciting because they suggest the subsurface ocean of the icy moon has, at the very least, the precursors for life to begin.
The Cassini-Huygens mission, launched in 1997, spent approximately 13 years orbiting Saturn and studying the great ringed planet. It has provided Earthlings with some impeccable views of the planet and its moons — and it has also provided a ton of new science to sift through. Discovering Enceladus spewed up icy particles and vapor into space, and that it has a global subsurface ocean, is a feather in Cassini’s cap.
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The new discovery used data from Cassini’s mass spectrometers, special instruments hooked up to the spacecraft which can separate out the atoms in a sample. By flying through Saturn’s E ring, where some of the ejected ice from Enceladus ended up, the Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) and Cosmic Dust Analyser (CDA) could pick apart the mixture of molecules contained within.
How did the organic compounds get in the ice plumes? Astronomers suspect that huge hydrothermal vents deep in Enceladus’ ocean eject material from the moon’s core. That mixes into the ocean water and eventually gets spewed out of these ice geysers into space.
That means the compounds detected in the new research have their origins in Enceladus’ big ocean. And, scientists think, if the hydrothermal vents on Enceladus work the same way as they do on Earth, then they could spur these compounds into becoming amino acids.
“If the conditions are right, these molecules coming from the deep ocean of Enceladus could be on the same reaction pathway as we see here on Earth,” said Nozair Khawaja, a lead researcher on the project, in a press release. “We don’t yet know if amino acids are needed for life beyond Earth, but finding the molecules that form amino acids is an important piece of the puzzle.”
Scientists have been testing the waters of Enceladus for a number of years now, using the Cassini data to reveal more about the mysterious, frozen moon. Hopefully, we will one day get a chance to dive in.
Even before Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the nation to shun single-use plastics in his Independence Day speech, the state of Meghalaya, its streams and rivers choked with single-use plastics (SUP), knew first-hand the havoc it caused.
Chief Minister Conrad Sangma issued directives to look for solutions and in 2018, the state had a solution — it built its first plastic road in Nongstoin in West Khasi Hills. Now, Meghalaya’s counter against SUPs has taken off with the impetus it got after Modi’s message, and the Swachh Bharat Mission.
After the 2018 success, two more roads were built in Nongstoin in quick succession (each of the three plastic roads are 1 km each), followed up by 5 km of plastic roads in Sangma’s home constituency of Tura in 2019, and 10 more kilometres are currently under construction. And the roads are funded through the Chief Minister’s Rural and Urban Development Funds.
The best part about these projects, according to Sangma, is not just the effective reuse, and the elimination of plastic from Meghalaya’s landscape. He says that the communities that live in villages and towns near the new roads collected and supplied the plastic required to construct them.
The state is now looking at using SUPs to build roads across the state, with one signature road slotted for capital Shillong “to create awareness”.
“We could have just built plastic roads but it would never have had the kind of impact it does now if we had not involved the community. Creating awareness about single-use plastic was equally important,” Sangma told The Indian Express.
With the movement picking up across Meghalaya, the government has already collected 70 metric tonnes of SUPs, says Sangma. For instance, over the past two months, just in Pynursla block, five tonnes of plastic waste was collected. Also, 50,000 cloth bags manufactured by cement companies in the state have been distributed as alternatives to plastic bags.
“Cement companies are some of the highest producers of plastic waste because of the bags they store cement in. The manufacture of cloth bags was a part of their Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). Of course, the entire plastic collected so far will not be used just for plastic roads but for other purposes, and a lot will be sent for recycling,” said Sangma.
“The plastic roads we have constructed have been cheaper than bitumen roads and have also been water-resistant. In a high rainfall state like Meghalaya, this has been effective,” he said.
The man who spearheaded the North East’s first plastic road, Arun Kumar Kembhavi, said plastic roads were an “effective way to eliminate single-use plastic”. He was DC West Khasi Hills when he took on the Nongstoin project. Sangma has since made him Mission Director for Swachh Bharat in Meghalaya.
While the technology for plastic roads has existed for decades, and roads have been built across the country on an experimental basis, it has not received the kind of impetus witnessed in Meghalaya, say officials.
“When I spoke with Solid Liquid Resource Volunteers, who are in charge of collecting waste in the state, they told me that while they could sell SUPs like pet bottles to scrap dealers, there was no resale value of articles like chips packets and confectionery packets because of the aluminium lining. Recycling them was difficult,” said Kembhavi.
“So after research, we decided to use them to build plastic roads. We sent one of our engineers to train under a professor at Tyagaraj College of Engineering in Madurai, who is an expert on plastic roads. He came back and the process started….”
He said that according to known research, plastic heated at this particular temperature has no toxic emissions. “It’s been two years since the Nongstoin road, and the roads are still in good condition. Despite heavy rains, we have not had to repair them even once,” he said.