May – June 2021 Commentary

Chernobyl illustration
Illustration by James Yang

Environmental Sustainability – Subatomic Solutions

Every so often, a new technology comes along that changes the world for the better. From Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity to Elon Musk’s advances in electric vehicles and reusable rockets, the human race has benefited mightily from seemingly simple, yet highly sophisticated, innovations.

energy production statisticsOne of the next major discoveries set to benefit humankind — namely in the green energy, agriculture, and heavy equipment industries — comes from Exlterra, a sustainable technological solutions firm in Hazel Park. Inventor
Andrew Niemczyk, chairman and chief technology officer of Exlterra, has developed a revolutionary series of products, one of which makes it possible to clean up polluted sites, including those impacted by nuclear accidents, without the traditional removal of soil or the use of chemicals.

To prove out the technology, and to mark the 35th anniversary of the accidental explosion of the No. 4 reactor at Chernobyl in northern Ukraine on April 26, Exlterra announced that its NSPS system, coupled with its BSTR
network, was successfully deployed at a 2.5-acre test site located a few miles from the nuclear reactor.

Working with Ukraine’s SSE Ecocentre, a world-renowned research institute which evaluated and validated the results, more than 4,800 different polyethylene tubes were installed in the ground. The project was completed in early
September 2020. By harnessing forces and renewable energy sources present in nature, the cylinders accelerate the natural decomposition process of different contaminants in the soil.

Since last fall, according to SSE Ecocentre, the results show more than 50 percent of the radioactivity in the ground at the test site has been eliminated through natural means. Once the technology is installed (each site is unique and requires a specific placement of the tubes), Niemczyk predicts his “de-reactor” system will clean up the contaminated land at Chernobyl and similarly affected areas within five years, meaning the ground will be restored to its natural state.

The system accelerates radioactive decay by harnessing existing energy within the ground. The invention, in short, uses science, physics, and nuclear energy concepts to eliminate radiation contamination naturally. The BSTRs, or boosters, act as a network to collect and redirect the energy of positrons collected in the NSPS tubes toward the surface of the soil.

The path to the CEO’s office should not be through the CFO’s office, and it should not be through the marketing department. It needs to be through engineering and design.

— Elon Musk, Founder and CEO, Tesla and SpaceX

Once all of the energy is harnessed and redirected, an “energy beam of positrons” collides with the nuclei of the radioactive isotope that are attracted by the BSTR tubes and breaks it down into safe forms of uranium and plutonium. The resulting energy is released to rebind with its original form.

With the nuclear energy industry receiving federal support to encourage the next generation of reactors for urban and rural uses — which, if successful, would help the government meet its goal of zero carbon emissions — Michigan has an opportunity to further diversify its clean energy sources. It also could further attract environmental businesses, institutions, and publicly supported research efforts to enhance our natural resources.

Economic Development – Economic Roots

To generate more and varied career opportunities in Detroit, business, education, and civic leaders should support greater access to neighborhood training programs. Given that more than 80 percent of the city’s residents are minorities, based on census data, the ability to launch a business or take on a career that’s sustainable is paramount to increasing economic activity and enhancing quality of life.

Among the main barriers to boosting entrepreneurialism in the city is access to capital — and the fact that a disproportionate share of minority businesses are more prone to be affected by economic shocks like COVID-19, according to an analysis by McKinsey. A 2019 U.S. Census Bureau survey shows the top percentage of minority-owned companies operate in the hospitality, food services, retail trade, health care, and transportation and warehousing sectors.

Wealth creation, which is lower among minority households, also is a concern. It hampers the ability to support and sustain a new enterprise outside traditional lending offerings. Consider Black Americans make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, but represent 3 percent of the startup businesses, while Hispanics of any race represent 18 percent of the population and 7 percent of startup owners.

Another factor holding Detroit back is literacy. The Detroit Public Schools Community District, working with Beyond Basics, a nonprofit literacy center in the city, is providing one-on-one tutoring to raise the reading levels of thousands of students. If more businesses, donors, and foundations support the effort, students would have a much greater chance of being successful in school — and in life.

Logistics – Pony Express

The U.S. Postal Service is in need of a makeover. Hit with a double whammy at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic — a decline in first-class mail that impacted revenue, and growth in the package business that it was ill-prepared to handle due to older equipment — the postal service will need new investments to account for a dynamic shift in the delivery sector.

Most everyone has been impacted by mail delays, especially as the recent election season, unlike any other, saw a huge increase in the use of absentee ballots. As it stands, the postal service is well equipped to handle flat letters, but dealing with varying sizes of boxes has been another issue.

New investments in packaging equipment will help the postal service better compete with Amazon, FedEx, and UPS, while a greater use of trucks, rather than high-cost air transportation, will help reduce costs. According to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, better management of the department’s logistics operations will boost efficiency. He notes the agency’s network of trucks is currently running at 35 percent of capacity.

To further reduce costs and help cut into a $160-billion deficit that’s projected over the next decade, the postal service is asking Congress to integrate its retiree health plans with Medicare and remove a rule that requires the agency to prefund its employee retirement benefits decades into the future. The measures should be approved so the postal service can better compete with its for-profit bretheran.