Suspicious radioactive cloud over Europe may have originated in Russia

November 16, 2017 by  
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A radioactive cloud of pollution sounds like a plot point out of a B movie – but that’s what multiple European monitoring stations recently detected. Official monitors in Germany and France detected ruthenium 106, a nuclide, in late September, and some people suggested it originated in Kazakhstan or southern Russia . Multiple European monitoring stations confirmed the presence of ruthenium 106, according to France’s Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety , in the atmosphere of the majority of countries in Europe. The cause for alarm appears to have drifted away for now: the institute said since October 13, they have not detected ruthenium 106 in France. They said in a recent statement , “The concentration levels of ruthenium 106 in the air that have been recorded in Europe and especially in France are of no consequence for human health and for the environment .” Related: UNEP chief: Polluters should pay for environmental destruction, not taxpayers But there is some question over how much ruthenium 106 leaked in the first place. The institute said the amounts at the source would have been significant. If such an accident had occurred in France, authorities would have had to implement measures to protect populations for a few kilometers around the point of release. Where did the ruthenium 106 come from? Germany’s Federal Office for Radiation Protection said on October 11 , “Recent analyses as to the source of the radioactive substance suggest a high probability of a radioactive release in the Southern Ural, although other areas in the South of Russia still cannot be ruled out.” Just a few days earlier, on October 8, they’d said in a statement “Russia must be assumed to be the region of origin” and called on Russian authorities to provide information. The German and French agencies did not think the ruthenium 106 came from a nuclear reactor accident, as other nuclides probably would have been detected in such an event. France’s institute said the source could have been “nuclear fuel-cycle facilities or radioactive source production.” French agency senior official Jean-Christophe Gariel said he talked to counterparts in Russia last week, and “they told us that our results were coherent and correct, but that they were not aware of any event that could have caused that.” Via The New York Times , the Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety , and the Federal Office for Radiation Protection ( 1 , 2 ) Images via Depositphotos and Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety

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Suspicious radioactive cloud over Europe may have originated in Russia

Biggest grid operator in US attacks Perry’s proposal to prop up coal

October 24, 2017 by  
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Energy Secretary Rick Perry is attempting to keep coal alive under the guise of grid resiliency , but the largest grid operator in the United States called on regulators to scrap the plan. PJM Interconnection CEO Andrew Ott called Perry’s pricing proposal unworkable and discriminatory, and even said it’s inconsistent with federal law. Multiple other grid operators have also called for its rejection. Perry has urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to alter how wholesale power markets price electricity – so some nuclear and coal generators can recover costs, according to Bloomberg. Perry’s plan would attempt to reward power plants able to store 90 days of fuel supplies onsite. Ott told reporters, “I don’t know how this proposal could be implemented without a detrimental impact on the market.” Related: Trump administration halts study on health risks of living near coal mining sites Ott said it seems the rule targets PJM – between 2011 and 2016, they retired over 19 gigawatts of coal-fired power, according to Bloomberg. But “the PJM market is more diverse and reliable today than we’ve seen,” Ott said. PJM serves over 65 million people in over a dozen states in the Midwest to Mid-Atlantic. Bloomberg said hundreds of energy companies commented on the proposal, with firms like ExxonMobil , Anadarko Petroleum , and Devon Energy pointing to the low cost and reliability of natural gas . The Solar Energy Industries Association said nuclear and coal plants aren’t invulnerable to outages. FirstEnergy supported Perry’s plan because they said the grid will be at risk if nuclear and coal plants are retired. They operate several coal plants in the PJM market. Grid operators like the New York Independent System Operator , the Midcontinent Independent System Operator , and ISO New England called for FERC to toss out Perry’s plan as part of a coalition that also included organizations the proposal wouldn’t impact, such as the California Independent System Operator , the Electric Reliability Council of Texas , and the Southwest Power Pool . Via Bloomberg Images via Pixabay and U.S. Department of Agriculture on Flickr

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Biggest grid operator in US attacks Perry’s proposal to prop up coal

Singapore is banning all new private vehicles from its roads

October 24, 2017 by  
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The government of Singapore , one of the densest countries in the world, has announced that the number of private cars on its roads will be frozen next year, even as the number of vehicles used for public transit are expected to increase. The rate of growth for all passenger cars and motorcycles will be decreased from the current 0.25 percent per year to effectively zero percent starting in February 2018. In going forward with this move, Singapore, one of the wealthiest countries in Asia , is building on its past successes related to its vehicle growth caps, such as its prevention of monstrous traffic jams that plague other cities in the region. Singapore is already one of the most expensive places to purchase a personal vehicle in part because of a requirement that vehicle owners acquire a “certificate of entitlement,” which is valid for only 10 years and has an average price tag of US$37,000. Even a relatively standard sedan can cost up to four times as much as it would cost in the United States . For this reason, there are only around 600,000 private cars in Singapore, which has a population of over 5.5 million people. Related: Green-roofed desalination plant is world’s first to treat both fresh and saltwater In making the growth cap announcement, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) stated that more than 12 percent of Singapore’s land area (only 277.6 square miles) is already taken up by roads and there is very little room left for the expansion of private vehicle ownership. To compensate for the decrease in private vehicles on the road, the Singapore government will invest Sg$28 billion over the next five years to develop and improve its public transit system . This includes Singapore’s metro rail, which, like many rapid rail systems in major cities , has been suffering from significant delays. Via The Guardian Images via Depositphotos (1)

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Singapore is banning all new private vehicles from its roads

Florida power company scraps nuclear project, will pursue solar power instead

September 1, 2017 by  
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A controversial nuclear project won’t be moving forward in Florida . Power company Duke Energy Florida filed a proposed settlement agreement with the Florida Public Service Commission (FPSC) that would end the Levy Nuclear Project – which customers were paying for before it was even begun – and prioritize grid modernization and solar energy . Part of the settlement includes a four-year plan to install 700 megawatts (MW) of solar in western Florida. Ratepayers have forked over around $800 million for the Levy Nuclear Project, which was first proposed in 2008. In 2013, Duke Energy Florida cancelled construction and engineering agreements, although they said they hoped to return to the project. The Levy plant would have offered 2.2 gigawatts of power. $150 million remained in costs, which the company said they would have recovered via rates, but under the settlement customers won’t have to pay more money for the nuclear project that never got far off the ground. Related: Abandoned nuclear power plant given new life as a solar farm Under the revised settlement, the company would invest in grid modernization efforts like smart meters and as much as 50 MW of battery storage . They’d install over 500 electric vehicle charging stations. They also plan to put in 700 MW of solar power, including the 74.9 MW Hamilton Solar Plant, which they hope to begin building in early 2018. The solar plant, the company’s sixth, could power over 20,000 homes. Residential customers could see their average monthly bill cut by $2.50, according to Tampa Bay Times, although they won’t be reimbursed for the $800 million. 1.8 million customers receive power from Duke Energy Florida, and the settlement means their bills might go up a little bit less than the company recently forecast, according to Tampa Bay Times. Duke filed for a 8.5 percent increase from the present rate last week, which under the new settlement would be a 4.6 percent increase. Duke Energy Florida said in a statement they anticipated a decision from the FPSC by December. Via Ars Technica , Tampa Bay Times , and Duke Energy Florida Images via NASA and Duke Energy Facebook

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Florida power company scraps nuclear project, will pursue solar power instead

Abandoned nuclear power plant given new life as a solar farm

July 10, 2017 by  
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Solar farms can pop up in unlikely places – like the site of an old, unfinished nuclear power plant in Tennessee . The Phipps Bend Nuclear Power Plant was abandoned in 1981, but today nearly 3,000 solar panels rest on the site. The new one megawatt (MW) farm provides clean energy for around 100 homes. The Phipps Bend Nuclear Power Plant has scarred the landscape since it was abandoned in 1981. Popular concern over the Three Mile Island incident and increased costs to meet regulations prompted the Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors to stop building the nuclear plant, which was once expected to re-energize the local economy. Phipps Bend was never operational, and for decades was utilized only for safety training exercises. Related: China is building a giant solar plant at Chernobyl That was until Birdseye Renewable Energy and United Renewable Energy came along. Birdseye already boasts over 430 MW of clean energy greenfield projects. They installed solar panels on around four acres on the old nuclear plant site. The panels rotate throughout the day to maximize the energy they absorb from the sun. Holston Electric will purchase the electricity to power homes in eastern Tennessee. The Phipps Bend Nuclear Power Plant would have been large if completed, offering more than 2,400 MW and powering around 1.8 million households. The new solar farm at Phipps Bend won’t be able to meet that, but it will generate around 1,100 to 1,400 megawatt-hours per year, and it will be operational for at least 30 years. United Renewable Energy executive vice president Keith Herbs said in a statement, “Due to its location, this project visibly demonstrates how clean, efficient solar energy matches other forms of power generation to meet our country’s growing energy needs.” The United States has around 100 cancelled nuclear power plants – perhaps some of them could receive new life as solar farms as well. Via PRNewswire and Electrek Images via United Renewable Energy and Wikimedia Commons

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Abandoned nuclear power plant given new life as a solar farm

Finland’s Green Party says humanity must embrace nuclear power

April 17, 2017 by  
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Nuclear energy must be an option as humanity shifts away from fossil fuels , according to a recent article penned by four candidates of Finland’s Green Party , or Green League. The party strictly opposed the controversial fuel source in the past, but these four candidates said we’re running out of time to fight climate change and no longer have the luxury of picking between renewable energy and nuclear power. Humanity should take another look at nuclear power, according to Jakke Mäkelä, Tuomo Liljenbäck, Markus Norrgran, and Heidi Niskanen of the Finnish Greens. They wrote a March 6 blog post, translated by J.M. Korhonen , detailing why Finland should develop nuclear energy. Related: Germany’s massive nuclear fusion reactor is actually working Finland’s temperatures are spiking quicker than any other place in the world due to climate change, according to Forbes contributor James Conca. The country has pledged to end coal use by 2030, but they’re also widely utilizing biomass . The four Greens condemned the government’s burning of wood chips for power since it emits carbon dioxide and will destroy forests . The Greens said renewable energy won’t be able to help us wean completely off fossil fuels yet. They said solar and wind work very well up to a point, but on a large scale require lots of raw materials and land. They pointed to Germany, which shuttered nuclear power plants, but the consequence was renewable energy largely replaced nuclear energy and not fossil fuels. The four Greens said we no longer have the option of choosing between renewables and nuclear. They wrote, “Unless we spend a lot more money in all clean energy sources, we are certain to be doomed.” Korhonen notes their viewpoint is not an official recommendation from the Green Party or of the Viite, the technology and science subgroup of which Mäkelä is vice-chairman and the others are members. It’s simply the opinion of the four candidates, who were up for election in Turku. The Green Party won 12 percent of the total vote in the recent elections, gaining seats and winning the largest share in their history. Via J.M. Korhonen and Forbes Images via Pixabay ( 1 , 2 )

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Finland’s Green Party says humanity must embrace nuclear power

Chernobyl reactor covered by world’s largest-ever moveable metal structure

November 29, 2016 by  
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Dealing with the remnants of a nuclear disaster is no easy task. As a case in point, take a look at the Chernobyl reactor, where the world’s largest moveable metal structure is about to seal the plant’s fourth reactor for decades to come. Seeker reports that Ukrainian authorities are about to unveil an arch nearly as long as two football fields and taller than the Statue of Liberty to cover the crumbling remains of Reactor Number Four’s contaminated structure. The goal is to help keep future generations across Europe safe from the nuclear radiation that continues to emanate from the reactor that melted down over 30 years ago. According to Seeker , Chernobyl remains the world’s worst civil nuclear accident , having spread contamination throughout the Ukraine and 75 percent of Europe after an experimental safety check gone wrong caused an explosion and subsequent meltdown that spewed radiation out into the atmosphere. The death toll from the event ranges from about 4,000 to 100,000 depending on whom you ask – due to a cover-up by Russian authorities after the disaster. Ukrainian authorities now keep a 30-kilometer exclusion zone around the facility, but concerns over the crumbling concrete dome built to contain the reactor after the meltdown have led to $2.2 billion in funding from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development for the massive new protective structure – which is badly needed. Related: China is building a giant solar plant at Chernobyl “Radioactive dust inside the structure is being blown out through the cracks,” said Sergiy Paskevych of Ukraine’s Institute of Nuclear Power Plant Safety Problems. Paskevych also noted that the existing structure could crumble under extreme weather. “This would especially be a potential problem if there was a tornado or an earthquake.” The new covering is designed to hold up to tremors as great as 6.0 on the Richter scale, and tornados stronger than the region is ever likely to see. The arch took three weeks of careful work to put in place, and contains special equipment to help disassemble the structure from inside. But there are no plans yet to deal with the real problem of the leftover nuclear fuel. Via Seeker Images via Tim Porter , Wikimedia Commons and mattsh , Flickr Creative Commons

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Chernobyl reactor covered by world’s largest-ever moveable metal structure

IKEA’s Lena Pripp-Kovac talks to Inhabitat about their sustainability program

November 29, 2016 by  
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IKEA is working hard to create an environment that can help everyone live a sustainable life. That’s why they say “to change everything, we need everyone.” So far, the company has set aside one billion dollars to move the company toward not just becoming energy positive by 2020, using solar and wind, but also to invest in people and a sustainable supply chain. We sat down with Lena Pripp-Kovack, Sustainability Manager of Range and Supply for IKEA of Sweden in Älmhult, where IKEA’s first store popped up in 1958, to talk all about how IKEA is changing the world for the better—one EKTROP sofa at a time. Inhabitat: Tell us about your role at IKEA Lena Pripp-Kovac : My responsibility is range and supply from a sustainability point of view. Sustainability has two parts. One is building sustainably, which is the materials we use, how they were produced and how they were transported. The other is the function of the product, which means, does this product actually contribute to a more sustainable life at home? The way we think about it is that there is a built-in function and a function that actually provides for a more sustainable life. Are there any exciting projects going on at IKEA that you want to share with us? Lena Pripp-Kovac: A lot of the things we are working on right now have to do with circularity: prolonging the life of products and prolonging the life of materials. We work closely with our suppliers and the whole supply chain, and we spend a lot of time investing in research to determine how to use materials from secondary sources. I don’t want to call it waste because it is actually a resource. That’s why we work today with an increasing number of recycled materials, even using our own waste. So we collect waste from our stores and produce new products. We also look into how to design products today to prolong their lifespan. We think we’ve come far, but we still think we can reduce a lot in terms of material use. Then we have our bigger goals for the company, which is to become fully renewably powered. We have, I think, 700,000 solar panels now, and we are working with our suppliers who also have energy saving goals and renewable energy plans. We are investing 1.5 billion euros in renewable energy; our goal is to be energy positive by 2020. We are also on a journey to transform our cotton to be more sustainable. Last year we reached the goal of ensuring that all of our cotton, no matter where it is sourced, is now more sustainable than previous sources. The next step is to find other alternatives for textiles; we believe that a lot more things will come from wood. The transformation of materials I think is the next big thing for IKEA from here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7ENnyudY6w And then you go over to sustainability at home, which is more about behavior. We just had a meeting with lots of people around what’s an attractive sustainable lifestyle. That I find interesting. What does it mean to have a sustainable life? You hear a lot about the big solar and wind projects at IKEA, but how are you making the more behind-the-scenes things, like textiles, more sustainable? Lena Pripp-Kovac: The textile journey is a big one. The first goal we had was to source all the cotton from more sustainable sources. That required that we consolidate our supply chain, and it changed the way we look at dyeing and water treatment plants. This is very critical. The Better Cotton Initiative is based on working with farmers on the ground to reduce fertilizers, reduce pesticides, change the water irrigation system, and ensure that farmers get better yields and money – the social aspect of things. We started working on this 10 years ago because we knew it would take time to transform things with farmers. If we went out and said we’d only buy organic, we would buy everything on the market and no one else would have the availability, so it didn’t transform conventional cotton. Which is the biggest part of the problem. We actually felt that the biggest change we could make was to transform the conventional cotton to be better than just buying organic cotton. Which means when you go into an IKEA store it is very seldom that you see a collection that says that this “the” sustainable collection. Because we believe in three things: one, we should have the greatest possible impact. We want to make things efficient and innovate, since we have the capacity to do that, and provide greater access to people with thin wallets. The last part is extremely important. If sustainability is expensive and only for people with big wallets, we don’t define it as sustainable. Low prices ensure access to (all) people. You also have to make sure that does not equal disposable. That’s more about the behavior than the product itself. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNvUeb3OoVY How is IKEA working towards making the supply chain and workers’ lives better? Lena Pripp-Kovac: What makes us different is that when you ask someone how many suppliers they think we have, they often think thousands and thousands and thousands. But we have around – last year we calculated about 978 suppliers in furniture – and we work very long term. The average time is 10 or 11 years. We always said when we pick a supplier it should be a strategic fit and we should stay with them for a long time. The first thing we do is work with our IWAY code of conduct , which sets conditions like fair wages and safety and environmental requirements on the factory floor. When that is done we do an audit; we have 90 auditors that are trained – they trace forests, or go into factories to do an audit. We also have a little team of calibration auditors who make sure we all audit the same way. That is our ongoing schedule. We audit usually once a year, always unannounced, but we are also present every month at the supplier in case something comes up very visibly for IKEA people. We also have third party auditors to see that we are true to our own self. Our third party auditor finds the same results. On a third level, we also have unannounced audits, which means that we at IKEA don’t know [when they will happen], nor does the supplier know. The third party just shows up. Then we both get the results and discuss them. It’s of course important that you don’t just see that as police activity – it is a result that we share and go through to improve things. The development programs that we set up are designed to track suppliers biggest supply change. [In] Bangladesh, for example, compared to the garment industry which has maybe 500 suppliers, we have seven suppliers: one is ceramic, one is highly industrial – just a machine weaving – and one is lots of women making carpets. We have also worked a lot with working conditions. But since we’ve been there since the ’90s, we know their journey and we picked a journey together. We see social entrepreneur projects from time to time at IKEA. Is there any plan to expand these types of special collections? Lena Pripp-Kovac: We will expand the number of projects, but what makes these projects strong is that they are small. The fact that we can work with them and have two, three or four stores supporting that project, we learn from them and they learn from us. It is almost a co-creating situation. There is a region in Malmö where there are a lot of migrant people, refugees coming in. There is a fantastic entrepreneur there working with helping women and introducing them into society. So that’s one project connected to one store where they get textiles and they can sew things and just have them in one store. Are you seeing a lot of demand for a sustainable supply? Lena Pripp-Kovac: If you want to be part of a long term solution in society, you have to drive things to that end. It is part of our mission to create a better everyday life for the many people, and sustainability is strong there. It is a request we see, but in certain specifics. Sustainability doesn’t need to be grey and boring, and it is a complex issue, so we are working on making it understandable and attractive. That’s one of our biggest challenges – to communicate – because the biggest way that consumers have been educated over the years is to just put a label on something. But that’s not enough – you need to communicate more. To really crack what is a sustainable lifestyle requires more than a label. How can we get involved with sustainability at IKEA? Lena Pripp-Kovac: The best thing is to share what a sustainable life is for you. Get the conversation going – it is much more than just sorting waste. How can we make it fun and not just a chore? We believe in access for the many. Everybody should be able to live a sustainable life. We need to see things with a different core value. Even if you buy something that is affordable, it should still have a value. Why do you just keep things that are expensive? There should be other values. + IKEA Images via Kristine for Inhabitat and IKEA

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IKEA’s Lena Pripp-Kovac talks to Inhabitat about their sustainability program

China opens former secret nuclear plant as ‘world’s largest man-made cave’

November 1, 2016 by  
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China is now inviting international tourists into a secret underground nuclear plant for the first time ever. Billed as ‘the world’s largest man-made cave,’ the former 816 Nuclear Military Plant in the suburban Chongqing district has been remade into a tourist attraction, where visitors descend far underground to learn about Cold War nuclear weapons. With neon lights and spooky echoes from its nuclear past, the underground bunker offers a unique and unforgettable experience for travelers in what is most certainly southwest China’s coolest cave. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24JbDu3TDh8 The nuclear plant was originally designed to manufacture plutonium in the 1960s, part of a military megaproject that lasted 17 years and involved some 60,000 soldiers. The site was a massive secret, encompassing one million square feet of underground structure. The plant halted operations in 1984 and was officially declassified in 2002. The government opened it briefly for local tours in 2010 before shuttering it once more. It had not been open to the public again until early October, when the plant’s winding man-made caves were outfitted with elaborate light displays, a move designed to target foreign tourists for the first time. Related: America’s most polluted nuclear site is now a national park Reportedly, the expansive underground plant includes 18 caves and 130 tunnel roads, but only one-third or so of the total square footage is open to public tours. One part of the former nuclear plant now acts as something of a museum to its former purpose, with a 100-foot-tall hall where images of atomic weapons and plutonium processing are projected onto neon movie screens. Each room of the underground bunker highlights nuclear weapons in some way, with the added creep-factor of eerie blue and red lights that would look more at home in a nightclub than a former military site. Still, the public seems eager to sign up for one of the two-hour tours being led through the once top secret project. Could China’s latest tourist attraction spark a new trend in ‘nuclear spelunking ’? Via CNN Images via China Daily

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China opens former secret nuclear plant as ‘world’s largest man-made cave’

New bionic eye chip allows blind woman to see lines, colors, and spots of light

November 1, 2016 by  
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Researchers are now one step closer to returning sight to the blind with a bionic eye . A University of California, Los Angeles doctor successfully implanted a bionic eye component in a 30-year-old woman, and she was able to see lines, colors, and flashes of light. The ” wireless visual cortical stimulator ” is part of Second Sight ‘s Orion I bionic eye. Second Sight makes the Argus II retinal implant , which can send information to a patient’s brain from a camera and eyeglass system. But it doesn’t restore sight completely and won’t work for some patients, so the company has been working on another device, the Orion I Visual Cortical Prosthesis. A doctor implanted the new wireless system directly on the woman’s visual cortex, and the patient saw light “with no significant adverse side effects,” according to the company. The technology aims to provide sight by bypassing the optic nerve to stimulate the brain’s visual cortex, according to chairman Robert Greenberg. Related: The World’s First Bionic Eye Implant Hits US Market Next Month Second Sight CEO Will McGuire said in a statement, “While we still have much work ahead, this successful human proof of concept study gives us renewed energy to move our Orion I development efforts forward. We believe this technology will ultimately provide a useful form of vision for the nearly six million people worldwide who are blind but not a candidate for an Argus II retinal prosthesis.” He also said the company would continue to develop the Argus II and work to make the prosthesis accessible for more people. UCLA neurosurgeon Nader Pouratian, who implanted the stimulator, seems hopeful about the technology. In a statement he said, “Based on these results, stimulation of the visual cortex has the potential to restore useful vision to the blind, which is important for independence and improving quality of life.” The next hurdle is U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. Second Sight needs the agency’s permission to conduct trials of the entire Orion I system including glasses and a camera. Second Sight will submit their application for the trials in 2017. + Second Sight Via Second Sight and Daily Mail Images via Wikimedia Commons and Second Sight Facebook

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New bionic eye chip allows blind woman to see lines, colors, and spots of light

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