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Innovative Electric Vehicles on Display at Washington Auto Show

Electric vehicles are in high demand as gas prices and concerns about carbon emissions and global warming climb. From the 2022 Washington Auto Show, VOA’s Saqib Ul Islam examines where consumers and car manufacturers think all-electric vehicles are heading in the future.

Camera: Saqib Ul Islam Produced by: Saqib Ul Islam

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Toyota Heading to Moon with Cruiser, Robotic Arms, Dreams

Toyota is working with Japan’s space agency on a vehicle to explore the lunar surface, with ambitions to help people live on the moon by 2040 and then go live on Mars, company officials said Friday.

The vehicle being developed with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is called Lunar Cruiser, whose name pays homage to the Toyota Land Cruiser sport utility vehicle. Its launch is set for the late 2020’s.

The vehicle is based on the idea that people eat, work, sleep and communicate with others safely in cars, and the same can be done in outer space, said Takao Sato, who heads the Lunar Cruiser project at Toyota Motor Corp.

“We see space as an area for our once-in-a-century transformation. By going to space, we may be able to develop telecommunications and other technology that will prove valuable to human life,” Sato told The Associated Press.

Gitai Japan Inc., a venture contracted with Toyota, has developed a robotic arm for the Lunar Cruiser, designed to perform tasks such as inspection and maintenance. Its “grapple fixture” allows the arm’s end to be changed so it can work like different tools, scooping, lifting and sweeping.

Gitai Chief Executive Sho Nakanose said he felt the challenge of blasting off into space has basically been met but working in space entails big costs and hazards for astronauts. That’s where robots would come in handy, he said.

Since its founding in the 1930s, Toyota has fretted about losing a core business because of changing times. It has ventured into housing, boats, jets and robots. Its net-connected sustainable living quarters near Mount Fuji, called Woven City, where construction is starting this year.

Japanese fascination with the moon has been growing.

A private Japanese venture called ispace Inc. is working on lunar rovers, landing and orbiting, and is scheduled for a moon landing later this year. Businessman Yusaku Maezawa, who recently took videos of himself floating around in the International Space Station, has booked an orbit around the moon aboard Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s Starship.

Toyota engineer Shinichiro Noda said he is excited about the lunar project, an extension of the automaker’s longtime mission to serve customers and the moon may provide valuable resources for life on Earth.

“Sending our cars to the moon is our mission,” he said. Toyota has vehicles almost everywhere. “But this is about taking our cars to somewhere we have never been.” 

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FAA, Telecom Companies to Turn On More 5G Towers

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday U.S.-based telecommunications companies AT&T and Verizon can activate more of their fifth-generation, or 5G, transmitters after consultation with the agency. 

Earlier this month, the telecommunication companies agreed they would delay launching the new wireless service near key airports after weeks of legal wrangling with the nation’s largest airlines and U.S. government regulators that feared the 5G service would interfere with aircraft technology and cause massive flight disruptions. 

But in its release Friday, the FAA said both companies provided additional data about the exact location of wireless transmitters and supported more thorough analysis of how 5G C-band signals interact with aircraft instruments. 

The agency said it used that data to precisely map the size and shape of the areas around airports where 5G signals might interfere with aircraft, allowing the regulators to shrink the areas where wireless operators had to delay their antenna activations. 

The FAA said that will allow wireless providers to safely turn on more towers as they deploy new 5G service in major markets across the country. The agency expressed its appreciation for the “collaborative approach” AT&T and Verizon took in providing the data. 

The FAA says it is continuing to work with helicopter operators and others in the aviation community to ensure they can safely operate in areas of current and planned 5G deployment. 

Some information for this report came from Reuters. 


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Homeless See Progress from COVID-19 Policies, But Can it Last?

Billions of dollars have poured in from federal and local governments to help America’s homeless survive the coronavirus pandemic. And this spending is helping – for now. VOA’s Veronica Balderas Iglesias examines whether the strategies spurred by the pandemic could be a long-term solution to this chronic U.S. problem.

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CDC: Immunocompromised Could Benefit From Extra Shot of Moderna, Pfizer Vaccines

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday a third primary shot of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for immunocompromised people could significantly reduce their need for hospitalization. 

The CDC said the recommendation of a third shot, not a booster, is the result of a study of immunocompromised people in which the third shot proved to be about 88% effective against hospitalization. The two-shot regime proved to be 69% effective in avoiding hospitalization among that group.

The government authorized the third shots of Pfizer or Moderna for people with compromised immune systems in August. 

Later, in October, regulators said the immunocompromised who had gotten their third shots would be eligible for boosters early this year for even more protection.  However, that information has not trickled down to all health facilities and people have reported that they have been turned away at some hospitals and pharmacies. 

More than a million-and-a-half doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine recently arrived in Ethiopia from the United States.  The shots were provided to the East African nation through COVAX, the international vaccine alliance that strives to offer the world’s poorest countries equitable access to the life-saving shots.   

The American Embassy in Ethiopia said the vaccines arrived in two shipments on January 24 and 26, bringing “the number of doses of vaccines provided to Ethiopia by the American people to over 6.1 million since July 17, 2021.”

The head of the hospital system in Paris has questioned whether the unvaccinated should pay a portion of their hospitalization costs.

“When free and efficient drugs are available, should people be able to renounce it without consequences … while we struggle to take care of other patients?” Martin Hirsch posed in a recent television interview. 

His proposal has been met with mixed reaction from politicians and citizens.

Paris Mayor Anne Hildalgo, who is a Socialist, said she is against the idea, while Olga Givernet, a lawmaker from President Emanuel Macron’s party, said, “the issue as raised by the medical community could not be ignored.”  

Meanwhile, a recent poll revealed that 51% of the French population believe the unvaccinated should pay a portion of their hospital costs. France has universal health care which pays the entire amount of COVID-19 hospitalization, which costs more than $3,000 per day. 

Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and a Republican vice-presidential nominee, has been spotted dining out in New York City, after having tested positive for COVID-19.  Her positive test forced the postponement of a trial in which she is suing The New York Times newspaper. New York City Mayor Eric Adams has advised anyone who has come in contact with Palin to get tested. 

More than 366.3 million global COVID-19 infections have been recorded, according to The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.  The center said early Friday 5.6 million people have died from COVID-19.   Almost 10 billion vaccine doses have been administered, according to Johns Hopkins.

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Journey Ends for Webb Space Telescope; Now Comes Work

The world’s biggest and most powerful space telescope found a parking space. Plus, a lottery winner can’t claim his prize, and a volcanic eruption may offer clues on the formation of planets. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi brings us The Week in Space.

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6 Cancer Patients Sue Utility Over Fukushima Radiation 

Six people who were children living in Fukushima at the time of the 2011 nuclear disaster and have since developed thyroid cancer filed a lawsuit Thursday demanding a utility pay compensation for their illnesses, which they say were triggered by massive radiation spewed from the Fukushima nuclear plant. 

The people, now aged 17-27 and living in and outside of Fukushima, demand the Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings pay a total of 616 million yen ($5.4 million) in compensation. 

One of the plaintiffs, identified only as a woman in her 20s, said she has had to prioritize her health over her career and has seen prejudice against thyroid cancer patients. 

“But I decided to come forward and tell the truth in hopes of improving the situation for nearly 300 other people also suffering like us,” she said. 

Their lawyers said it is the first group lawsuit in Japan filed by Fukushima residents over health problems linked to the nuclear disaster 11 years ago. 

In a news conference after filing their lawsuit at the Tokyo District Court, a plaintiff and the mother of another plaintiff said they hoped the court would establish a correlation between the cancer and radiation leaked from the plant. An expert panel commissioned by the Fukushima prefectural government has so far ruled out the alleged cause. 

The plaintiffs, who were 6 to 16 years old at the time of the meltdown, were diagnosed with thyroid cancer between 2012 and 2018, their lawyers said. Four of them had their thyroid fully removed and need to take lifetime hormonal treatment. One of them says the cancer has since spread elsewhere. The other two had part of their thyroid removed. 

The plaintiffs are from different parts of Fukushima, including Aizu, about 120 kilometers (72 miles) west of the plant, and some of them have since moved to the Tokyo area. 

More than 290 people have been diagnosed with or are suspected of having thyroid cancer, including 266 found as part of the Fukushima prefectural panel’s survey of some 380,000 residents aged 18 or younger at the time of the disaster. 

The occurrence rate of 77 per 100,000 people is significantly higher than the usual 1-2 per million, their lawyers say. 

Prefectural officials and experts have said the high detection rate in Fukushima is due to overdiagnosis in many cases, which might have led to unnecessary treatment or surgery. Some also call for an end to the blanket surveys. 

Kenichi Ido, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, said his client’s cancer has progressed, that none of the cases involve overdiagnosis and that TEPCO should be held accountable for radiation exposure unless the company can prove otherwise. 

The government at the time of the accident was slow in its emergency response, and evacuation in many places was delayed due to a lack of disclosure about what was happening at the plant. Residents trying to flee in their cars clogged roads and were stranded for hours outside while radiation leaked from the damaged reactors. Some residents headed to evacuation centers in the direction of the radiation flow. 

In a trial seeking criminal responsibility of former TEPCO executives, the Tokyo District Court in 2019 found three top officials not guilty, saying they could not have foreseen the disaster. The case has been appealed to a high court. 

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Nigerian Authorities Raise Concerns Over Low Life Expectancy

Nigerian health authorities say the country’s life expectancy is among the worst in the world, with influenza and pneumonia leading causes of death. In southern Nigeria’s Cross River state, severe air pollution is increasing the cases of respiratory diseases.

Port Harcourt resident David Tolu-Adamu knows. Before leaving for work each day, he dons his face mask.

Tolu-Adamu says it’s a measure he has been taking since long before the coronavirus pandemic to filter out the sooty air.

“Constantly on a daily basis, year in year out, we have issues with black soot,” he says. “We breathe in this harmful substance in our day in, day out, in our sleep, while we work, when we exercise.”

Wearing a face mask is a common practice for many in the oil-rich city polluted by the activities of illegal oil refineries, flaring gas and the burning of garbage and tires. The pollution generated by soot escalated in 2016.

Health authorities say the soot is increasing respiratory ailments in the state and that some 23,000 people have been affected in the last five years.

This month, state authorities began addressing the problem in the affected areas by stopping and criminalizing the illegal refinery practices, says a local government head, Samuel Nwanosike.

“If the actions were not affecting our health, then we wouldn’t bother,” he says. “We are the ones here, we are the ones dying, we’re the ones feeling the pain. I am here every day in Ikwerre local government (area), sometimes I open my door, everywhere is turned dark; meanwhile there’s supposed to be sunshine.”

Health authorities say the country’s life expectancy of 54 years of age ranks among the five lowest in the world.

Respiratory illnesses such as influenza and pneumonia are leading causes of death. Globally, almost 300,000 people died from these ailments in 2018, according to World Health Organization estimates cited by the group World Life Expectancy.

Rivers State authorities blame soot pollution for making the problem worse. Since the start of this year, they have cracked down on illegal refinery operators, arresting more than 20 and shutting down many bases.

Critics accuse state authorities of not doing enough to curb pollution.

“The government is only interested in the proceeds of oil and gas, but they are not interested in the people; they’re not interested in the environment,” says Ibiosiya Sukubo, a local chief in Port Harcourt. “It has put our youths into the creeks, to the breaking of pipes and creating artisanal refineries, forgetting the additional health hazards and implications. We are just victims of circumstance.”

For now, Rivers State authorities say they will continue their crackdown on illegal refineries while looking for other ways to keep residents safe from the soot. 



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