Biden Convenes First White House Hunger Conference in Decades

One in 10 US households is food insecure — and that has been the case for decades. On Wednesday, in the first conference of its kind in 50 years, the White House convened experts to discuss how the world’s largest provider of international food assistance can better feed its own. VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell reports from Washington.

Oregon Town Hosts 1st Wind-Solar-Battery ‘Hybrid’ Plant

A renewable energy plant being commissioned in Oregon on Wednesday that combines solar power, wind power and massive batteries to store the energy generated there is the first utility-scale plant of its kind in North America.

The project, which will generate enough electricity to power a small city at maximum output, addresses a key challenge facing the utility industry as the U.S. transitions away from fossil fuels and increasingly turns to solar and wind farms for power. Wind and solar are clean sources of power, but utilities have been forced to fill in gaps when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining with fossil fuels like coal or natural gas.

At the Oregon plant, massive lithium batteries will store up to 120 megawatt-hours of power generated by the 300-megawatt wind farms and 50-megawatt solar farm so it can be released to the electric grid on demand. At maximum output, the facility will produce more than half of the power that was generated by Oregon’s last coal plant, which was demolished earlier this month.

On-site battery storage isn’t new, and interest in solar-plus-battery projects in particular has soared in the U.S. in recent years due to robust tax credits and incentives and the falling price of batteries. The Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility in Oregon, however, is the first in the U.S. to combine integrated wind, solar and battery storage at such a large scale in one location, giving it even more flexibility to generate continuous output without relying on fossil fuels to fill in the gaps.

The project is “getting closer and closer to having something with a very stable output profile that we traditionally think of being what’s capable with a fuel-based generation power plant,” said Jason Burwen, vice president of energy storage at the American Clean Power Association, an advocacy group for the clean power industry.

“If the solar is chugging along and cloud cover comes over, the battery can kick in and make sure that the output is uninterrupted. As the sun goes down and the wind comes online, the battery can make sure that that’s very smooth so that it doesn’t, to the grid operator, look like anything unusual.”

The plant located in a remote expanse three hours east of Portland is a partnership between NextEra Energy Resources and Portland General Electric, a public utility required to reduce carbon emissions by 100% by 2040 under an Oregon climate law passed last year, one of the most ambitious in the nation.

PGE’s customers are also demanding green power — nearly a quarter-million customers receive only renewable energy — and the Wheatridge project is “key to that decarbonization strategy,” said Kristen Sheeran, PGE’s director of sustainability strategy and resource planning.

Under the partnership, PGE owns one-third of the wind output and purchases all the facility’s power for its renewable energy portfolio. NextEra, which developed the site and operates it, owns two-thirds of the wind output and all of the solar output and storage.

“The mere fact that many other customers are looking at these types of facilities gives you a hint at what we think could be possible,” said David Lawlor, NextEra’s director of business development for the Pacific Northwest. “Definitely customers want firmer generation, starting with the battery storage in the back.”

Large-scale energy storage is critical as the U.S. shifts to more variable power sources like wind and solar, and Americans can expect to see similar projects across the country as that trend accelerates. National Renewable Energy Laboratory models show U.S. storage capacity may rise fivefold by 2050, yet experts say even this won’t be enough to prevent extremely disruptive climate change.

Batteries aren’t the only solution that the clean energy industry is trying out. Pumped storage generates power by sending huge volumes of water downhill through turbines and others are experimenting with forcing water underground and holding it there before releasing it to power turbines.

But interest in batteries for clean energy storage has grown dramatically in recent years at the same time that the cost of batteries is falling and the technology itself is improving, boosting interest in hybrid plants, experts say.

Generating capacity from hybrid plants increased 133% between 2020 and 2021 and by the end of last year, there were nearly 8,000 megawatts of wind or solar generation connected to storage, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which is managed by the University of California.

The vast majority of such projects are solar power with battery storage, largely because of tax credits, but projects in the pipeline include offshore wind-plus-battery, hydroelectric-plus-battery and at least nine facilities like the one in Oregon that will combine solar, wind and storage. Projects in the pipeline between 2023 and 2025 include ones in Washington, California, Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, Illinois and Oregon, according to Berkeley Lab.

Many researchers and pilots are working on alternatives to lithium ion batteries, however, largely because their intrinsic chemistry limits them to around four hours of storage and a longer duration would be more useful.

“There is no silver bullet. There’s no model or prototype that’s going to meet that entire need … but wind and solar will certainly be in the mix,” said PGE’s Sheeran.

“This model can become a tool for decarbonization across the West as the whole country is driving toward very ambitious climate reduction goals.”

Vultures, Nature’s Cleanup Crew, Get New Lease on Life in Cyprus

Cyprus released griffon vultures into the wild on Wednesday in the latest attempt to boost a once thriving population now critically endangered by poisoning. 

The island’s largest bird of prey has seen its population fall dramatically to the smallest in Europe in recent decades, either from accidental poisoning or changing farming techniques leaving them short of food. 

Earlier this year, the population suffered a massive loss from poisoning, reducing numbers to just 8, conservationists say. 

They will be joined by eight vultures from Spain, home to Europe’s largest population of griffon vultures, which were released on Wednesday in the mountains north of the coastal city of Limassol. They form a group of 15 brought to the island last year, with seven released in mid-September. 

Another 15 are expected from Spain in November. In the past decade, Cyprus had also brought griffon vultures from Crete. 

“We were only left with eight birds because of the poison baits placed in the countryside mainly to kill foxes and dogs,” said Melpo Apostolidou, project coodinator at BirdLife Cyprus, one of the partners in the part EU-funded Life with Vultures project. 

The birds with names like “Pablo” and “Zenonas” have been fitted with satellite trackers to monitor their movements. 

Big, gangly and smelly, griffon vultures play a vital role as nature’s cleanup crew, feeding off dead carcass and reducing the spread of disease. But the use of banned poisons to kill perceived pests which the scavenging bird will then feed on has a knock-on effect. 

Nicos Kassinis, a senior officer with Cyprus’s Game and Fauna Service, said authorities were operating several feeding stations and had set up dog units trained to detect poison bait. “It is a serious problem,” he said. 

Conservationists say only when the use of poison is effectively addressed can the bird start to thrive again. “Even if we continue to bring vultures from elsewhere, we are just delaying their extinction if we don’t do anything to reduce the frequency of poisoning incidents,” Apostolidou said. 

 

Єврокомісія запропонувала новий пакет санкцій проти РФ через псевдореферендуми

Пакет санкцій закладає правову основу для обмеження цін на нафту та заборонить громадянам ЄС входити до складу органів управління російських держкомпаній

Experimental Alzheimer’s Drug Said to Succeed in Slowing Cognitive Decline

An experimental Alzheimer’s drug developed by Eisai and Biogen significantly slowed cognitive and functional decline in a large trial of patients in the early stages of the disease, the companies said Tuesday. 

The injected drug, lecanemab, slowed progress of the brain-wasting disease by 27% compared with a placebo, meeting the study’s main goal and offering an apparent win for the companies and potentially for patients and their families desperate for an effective treatment. 

Eisai said the results from the 1,800-patient trial prove the longstanding theory that removal of sticky deposits of a protein called amyloid beta from the brains of people with early Alzheimer’s can delay advance of the debilitating disease. 

“It’s not a huge effect, but it’s a positive effect,” said Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in Rochester, Minnesota, adding that the results were extremely important for Alzheimer’s research. 

“This means that treating amyloid is a step in the right direction,” he said. 

Results considered a “win”

Wall Street analysts, such as Salim Syed at Mizuho Securities, have said the results would be considered a “win” if lecanemab slowed the rate of decline by about 25%, and that shares of both companies could jump on the news. 

Shares of Biogen and Eisai were halted, but shares of Eli Lilly, which is also developing an Alzheimer’s drug, were up 6.7% in after-hours trading. 

Lecanemab, like the companies’ previous drug Aduhelm, is an antibody designed to remove those amyloid deposits. Unlike Aduhelm, lecanemab targets forms of amyloid that have not yet clumped together. 

The so-called amyloid hypothesis has been challenged by some scientists, particularly after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s controversial approval of Aduhelm in 2021 based on its plaque-clearing ability rather than proof that it helped slow cognitive decline. The decision came after the FDA’s own panel of outside experts had advised against approval. 

Aduhelm was the first new Alzheimer’s drug approved in 20 years after a long list of high-profile failures for the industry. 

Eisai, leader of the 50-50 partnership’s lecanemab program, is seeking FDA approval under the same accelerated pathway as Aduhelm, with a decision expected in early January. But on Tuesday, the Japanese drugmaker said it would use the new efficacy results to submit lecanemab for traditional FDA review. 

The company said it will also seek authorization in Japan and Europe during its current fiscal year, ending March 31. 

The Phase III trial evaluated the drug’s ability to reduce cognitive and functional decline based on the Clinical Dementia Rating-Sum of Boxes (CDR-SB), a numerical scale used to quantify the severity of dementia in patients in areas such as memory, orientation, judgment and problem-solving and personal care. 

Brain swelling 

The rate of ARIA-E, a brain swelling side effect associated with anti-amyloid treatments, was 12.5% in the lecanemab group, versus 1.7% in the placebo group. 

While the side effect showed up on imaging, many of these cases were not symptomatic, the companies said. Symptomatic brain swelling was seen in 2.8% of those in the lecanemab group and none of the placebo group, they said. 

The trial also tracked the rate of micro hemorrhages in the brain, which occurred at a rate of 17% in the lecanemab group, and 8.7% in the placebo group. 

The total incidence of both conditions was 21.3% in the lecanemab group and 9.3% in the placebo group, rates that fell within an expected range, the companies said. 

Petersen said the side effect was present, but much less than with Aduhelm, and “certainly tolerable.” 

Aduhelm’s approval was a rare bright spot for Alzheimer’s patients, but critics have called for more evidence that amyloid-targeting drugs are worth the cost. 

The controversy and reluctance by some payers to cover Aduhelm led Biogen to slash the drug’s price to $28,000 per year from an initial $56,000. 

But Medicare, the U.S. government health plan for people 65 and older, this year said it would only pay for Aduhelm if patients were enrolled in a valid clinical trial, which sharply curtailed the medication’s use. Since Alzheimer’s is a disease of aging, an estimated 85% of patients eligible for the drug are covered by the government plan. 

The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s is expected to rise to about 13 million by 2050 from more than 6 million currently, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Globally, that figure could rise to 139 million by 2050 without an effective treatment, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International. 

Атаки військ РФ на Одесу і Кривий Ріг – сили ППО збили три ракети

За даними Генштабу ЗСУ, станом на ранок 27 вересня українські військові знищили понад 240 російських крилатих ракет від початку повномасштабного вторгнення РФ

As Ebola Spreads, Ugandan Medical Interns Strike Over Safety

As Uganda reports more deaths from the latest Ebola outbreak in the country, medical interns at the hospital handling most of the cases have gone on strike. The interns say they are not being provided with adequate personal protective equipment against the deadly virus, which causes a hemorrhagic fever. Uganda’s health ministry has so far confirmed five deaths and 18 probable fatalities out of 36 cases.

Ugandan Health officials say they are holding talks with striking interns at central Mubende district’s hospital, which is handling most of the country’s spreading Ebola outbreak.

President for the Federation for Uganda Medical Interns, Dr. Musa Lumumba, says there is not enough personal protective gear for the interns at the hospital.

Speaking to VOA by phone, he called on Uganda’s Ministry of Health to urgently address the issue to protect doctors-in-training. 

“The issue of not having accommodation, so they stay in communities, which communities have got cases of Ebola,” Lumumba said. Protection of those at the frontline. And those at the frontline are the health care workers.”

Uganda Medical Association President, Dr. Samuel Oledo, told VOA one intern, three staff, and a medical student have been confirmed for exposure to the virus and at least three senior health officers (SHO) are showing symptoms.  

“We have 34 interns in Mubende.  And we have less than 12 doctors employed on the ground,” Oledo said. “If you have interns and they are pulling out at once, it’s catastrophic.  And the justifications are clear, honestly.  Results have come out today and one of the SHOs who actually performed surgeries with one of the interns on one case has become positive of Ebola.”

Oledo said they suspect as many as 104 medical students in Mubende hospital have been exposed to the virus.   

Uganda’s Ministry of Health has yet to confirm the exposures and infections of students and staff at the hospital.   

Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Ainebyoona denied there is a lack of protective equipment there to guard against Ebola.  

“All the protective gear to safeguard their life is available,” Ainebyoona said. “But like [with] any other infectious disease, fear will be expected. But we are working to ensure that we engage and counsel.  And ensure that there are teams to respond.”

Despite the spreading virus, Uganda’s Health Ministry said the situation is under control but acknowledged that three people suspected of being infected with the virus fled Mubende’s isolation unit on Monday.

Officials say security has been beefed up since to avoid a repeat. 

Uganda’s Ebola outbreak was first detected last week in Mubende, a central district, but has since spread to neighboring districts Kyegegwa and Kasanda.  

Some schools in Kyegegwa have shut down for two weeks to protect students.

First reports of a possible Ebola outbreak came from Kyegegwa’s Kyaka 11 refugee camp, raising alarm bells of a possible quick spread in the packed camp.  

But testing ruled out an outbreak in the camp.  

After Mubende’s cases were confirmed, the U.N.’s Refugee Agency UNHCR said it added controlled entry measures at refugee settlements.

“We are stepping up some assistance programs that had been curtailed due to lack of funding since July,” said Matthew Crentsil, the UNHCR Uganda representative. “That is procurement of soap. You would agree with me, this is fundamental in curbing the spread of Ebola.”

Uganda has yet to identify the source of the Ebola outbreak, which is the Sudan strain of the virus.  

The Sudan strain is less common than the Zaire strain and has no current, effective vaccine.

Uganda’s last Ebola outbreak in 2019 was the Zaire strain.  It last reported a Sudan strain outbreak in 2012.

Ebola Cases, Fatalities Rise in Uganda

A highly contagious strain of the deadly Ebola virus in Uganda is causing a quick and significant rise in the number of cases and fatalities, the World Health Organization said.

Uganda health officials declared an outbreak of Ebola a week ago. Five days later, on September 25, they confirmed the disease had infected 36 people, killing 23.

It is the first Ebola disease outbreak caused by the Sudan virus in Uganda since 2012. A vaccine is available to protect adults from becoming infected with the more common Zaire strain of Ebola. However, a similar vaccine does not exist for the Sudan virus.

Ana Marie Henao-Restrepo, WHO co-lead R & D Blueprint for epidemics in the Health Emergency Program, said several possible vaccines are under development.

“We have identified there are three candidate vaccines that have … clinical data, data from humans on safety and homogenicity. It is specifically designed to protect against the Sudan virus and that could be tested in a randomized trial in Uganda, if the Ugandan authorities decide to do so,” she said.

The Ebola virus is spread by contact with an infected patient’s blood or bodily fluids. The WHO reports the median age of cases in Uganda is 26, with 62 percent female and 38 percent male. The disease has a fatality rate of 41 percent.

WHO spokeswoman Carla Drysdale said WHO experts are working with Uganda’s experienced Ebola control teams to reinforce diagnosis, treatment and preventive measures.

“While there is no vaccine to treat Sudan Ebola virus, other health measures such as swift detection, community engagement, isolation of patients, and early supportive care have proven to save lives in similar outbreaks,” Drysdale said. “We must raise awareness in the community that seeking treatment early significantly increases chances of survival.”

While Uganda is struggling to prevent Ebola from spreading, the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared on Tuesday the end of an Ebola outbreak, which emerged in North Kivu Province six weeks ago. North Kivu, which has a vaccine against the Zaire virus, experienced only one confirmed case of Ebola and no deaths.

Spanish Court Formally Sends Shakira to Trial for Tax Fraud

A Spanish court on Tuesday formally ordered Colombian superstar Shakira to stand trial on accusations that she failed to pay $14.31 million in income taxes, a court document released on Tuesday showed.

The ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ singer, 45, whose full name is Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll, rejected in July a deal to settle the case, which meant she would have to stand trial in a case that could see her sent to prison for eight years.

The Esplugues de Llobregat court on Tuesday confirmed the trial will go ahead on a date still to be announced.

The prosecutor is seeking an eight-year prison term for the singer, who is accused of failing to pay taxes between 2012 and 2014, a period in which she said she was leading a “nomadic life” because of her work.

“The order to send Shakira to trial is just another step in any proceedings of this kind. The situation has not changed and everything continues as normal. Shakira’s legal defense will do its job by presenting its written arguments at the appropriate time,” a statement from her lawyers said.

Shakira vowed last week to fight what she claimed were “false” accusations by Spanish authorities and added that she had already paid what the Spanish tax office said she owed before they filed a lawsuit. 

На кордоні з Грузією росіянам почали вручати повістки – ЗМІ

Раніше стало відомо, що у Росії на КПП «Верхній Ларс», через який росіяни масово виїжджають до Грузії, найближчим часом розгорнуть мобілізаційний пункт військкомату

Australia Played Role in NASA Asteroid Defense Test

NASA successfully crashed its DART spacecraft into a faraway asteroid Monday, in a test of the world’s first planetary defense system. The experiment, designed to avert a potentially catastrophic meteorite collision with Earth, was supported by Australia’s national science agency.

The aim was to crash the spacecraft directly into the moonlet hard enough to shift its orbital track around a second, larger asteroid.

It will, however, take days or even weeks to establish how much the smaller asteroid’s path has changed.

Rebecca Allen, from Australia’s Swinburne University’s Center for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that the mission was a great success.

“It was incredible just because it was, you know, a full bullseye, if we can call it that,” she said. “You know, we were expecting maybe it could glance off the side. Is it going to hit exactly where they wanted to and once again NASA does not disappoint with the precision of the impact of the DART spacecraft.”

The DART mission has been supported by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO.

It manages the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, one of three stations around the world that make up NASA’s Deep Space Network and was to receive the final signals from the spacecraft as it approached and hit the asteroid known as Dimorphos.

Planetary defense experts have said that altering the course of a menacing asteroid or comet is preferable to blowing it up and creating multiple pieces that could rain down on Earth.

Australian astrophysicist Kirsten Banks said NASA’s DART mission will test our planetary defenses.

“It is going to change the orbit of that asteroid a little bit around the bigger one,” she said. “We will be able to see a slight change in the periods, how it takes that little moonlet to orbit around the asteroid and quantitatively measure the effectiveness of this particular method of planetary defense.”

The two asteroids that were part of NASA’s DART mission are both very small compared with the asteroid that hit Earth about 66 million years ago, wiping out about 75% of the world’s plant and animal species, including the dinosaurs.

Category 3 Hurricane Ian Makes Landfall Over Western Cuba 

Hurricane Ian has made landfall over western Cuba just hours after evolving as a major hurricane.

Forecasters at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center say Ian is carrying maximum sustained winds of 205 kilometers an hour, making it a Category 3 storm on the center’s five-level scale that measures a storm’s maximum sustained wind speed and destructive potential.

The storm is just 10 kilometers south of the province of Pinar del Rio, traveling at a speed of 19 kilometers an hour. Officials in Pinar del Rio evacuated tens of thousands of residents ahead of Ian’s arrival and took steps to protect its vital tobacco crops and its related infrastructure.

The NHC says Ian will remain a major hurricane as it travels over the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday. It is expected to reach the western Gulf Coast of the southern U.S. state of Florida as early as Wednesday and take a direct path towards the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg. The area has not sustained a direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.

Forecasters have issued hurricane, tropical storm and storm surge warnings and watches for parts of western Cuba and Florida that are in the current path of Hurricane Ian. The storm is expected to produce between 15 to 25 centimeters of rainfall in western Cuba, with the Florida Keys expected to receive 10 to 15 centimeters and central west Florida to get between 15 to 30 centimeters of rainfall.

Parts of western Cuba are also expected to experience life-threatening storm surges, flash flooding and possible mudslides Tuesday, as well as devastating wind damage. The NHC says parts of Florida’s western coast could see storm surges between 60 to 304 centimeters thanks to Hurricane Ian.

U.S. President Joe Biden has issued an emergency declaration for Florida, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster-relief efforts and provide more federal funding. Authorities have issued evacuation orders for hundreds of thousands of residents along Florida’s Gulf Coast. The potential devastation from Ian has even prompted officials with the U.S. space agency NASA to roll its massive Artemis 1 moon rocket and Orion space capsule from its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center — located on Florida’s eastern coast — back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, further delaying its planned test flight.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.