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Edmonton Journal / July 3, 2010
Russian scientist urges BP to use nuclear blast to seal well
Unorthodox method used by Soviets several times since 1966
- By Nastassia Astrasheuskaya, Ben Judah and Alina Selyukh, Reuters
Директор Института стратегической стабильности, бывший министр атомной энергетики, академик Виктор Михайлов считает, что разлив нефти в Мексиканском заливе можно остановить с помощью подводного ядерного взрыва малой мощности. В СССР подобный способ применялся для тушения горящих газовых скважин.
Того же мнения придерживается американский физик Мило Нордайк (Ливерморская национальная лаборатория), один из крупнейших экспертов в области мирного применения атомной энергии.
Агентство по наблюдению за ядерной деятельностью США вариант атомного взрыва исключает.
His face wracked by age and his voice rasping after decades of chain-smoking coarse tobacco, the former longtime Russian Minister of nuclear energy and veteran Soviet physicist Viktor Mikhailov knows just how to fix BP's oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
"A nuclear explosion over the leak," he says nonchalantly puffing a cigarette as he sits in a conference room at the Institute of Strategic Stability, where he is a director. "I don't know what BP is waiting for; they are wasting their time. Only about 10 kilotons of nuclear explosion capacity and the problem is solved."
A nuclear fix to the leaking well has been touted online and in the occasional newspaper op-ed for weeks now. Washington has repeatedly dismissed the idea and BP execs say they are not considering an explosion - nuclear or otherwise. But as a series of efforts to plug the 60,000 barrels of oil a day gushing from the sea floor have failed, talk of an extreme solution refuses to die.
For some, blasting the problem seems the most logical answer in the world. Mikhailov has had a distinguished career in the nuclear field, helping to close a Soviet Union program that used nuclear explosions to seal gas leaks. Ordinarily he is an opponent of nuclear blasts, but he says an underwater explosion in the Gulf of Mexico would not be harmful and could cost no more than $10 million US. That compares with the $2.35 billion BP has paid out in cleanup and compensation costs so far. "This option is worth the money," he says.
And it's not just Soviet experts. Milo Nordyke, one of the masterminds behind U.S research into peaceful nuclear energy in the 1960s and '70s, says a nuclear explosion is a logical last-resort solution for BP and the government. Matthew Simmons, a former energy adviser to former U.S. president George W. Bush and the founder of energy investment-banking firm Simmons and Company International, is another calling for the nuclear option.
Even former U.S. president Bill Clinton has voiced support for the idea of an explosion to stem the flow of oil, albeit one using conventional materials rather than nukes.
"Unless we send the navy down deep to blow up the well and cover the leak with piles and piles and piles of rock and debris, which may become necessary ... unless we are going to do that, we are dependent on the technical expertise of these people from BP," Clinton told the Fortune/Time/CNN Global Forum in South Africa on June 29.
Clinton was picking up on an idea mooted by Christopher Brownfield in June. Brownfield is a one-time nuclear submarine officer, a veteran of the Iraq war (he volunteered in 2006) and now a nuclear policy researcher at Columbia University. He is also one of a number of scientists whose theories rely not on nuclear bombs - he did toy with that thought for a while - but on conventional explosives that would implode the well and, if not completely plug it with crushed rock, at least bring the flow of oil under control. "It's kind of like stepping on a garden hose to kink it," Brownfield says. "You may not cut off the flow entirely but it would greatly reduce the flow."
Using nuclear blasts for peaceful ends was a key plank of Cold War policy in both the United States and the Soviet Union. In the middle of last century, both countries were motivated by a desire to soften the image of the era's weapon of choice.
Washington had big plans to use peaceful nuclear explosions to build an additional Panama Canal, carve a path for an inter-state highway through mountains in the Mojave Desert and connect underwater aquifers in Arizona. But the experimental plans were dropped as authorities learned more about the ecological dangers of surface explosions.
The Soviet program, known as Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy, was launched in 1958. The project saw 124 nuclear explosions for such tasks as digging canals and reservoirs, creating underground storage caverns for natural gas and toxic waste, exploiting oil and gas deposits and sealing gas leaks. It was finally mothballed by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989.
The Soviets first used a nuclear blast to seal a gas leak in 1966. Urtabulak, one of its prized gas fields in Uzbekistan, had caught fire and raged for three years. Desperate to save the reserves, Yefim Slavsky, then Minister of Light Industry, ordered nuclear engineers to use the most powerful weapon in their arsenal.
"The Minister said, "Do it. Put it out. Explode it," " recalls Albert Vasilyev, a young engineer and a rising star in the project who now teaches at the Lenin Technical Institute in Moscow.
"The explosion takes place deep underground," Vasilyev says. "We pinch the pipe, break it and the pipe collapses." According to Vasilyev, the blast at Urtabulak sealed the well shut leaving only an empty crater.
In all, the Soviets detonated five nuclear devices to seal off runaway gas wells. "It worked quite well for them," said Nordyke.
Copyright © The Edmonton Journal
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© 2008-2010 Canwest Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.
Times Higher Education / 21 July 2010
UK and Russia look to the skies to improve life on Earth
Британская космическая индустрия начинает новую эру сотрудничества с Россией подписанием исторического соглашения между двумя странами. Cоглашение будет способствовать подъему космической промышленности обеих стран и сотрудничеству между британскими и российскими учеными.
The newly formed UK Space Agency has signed an agreement with the Russian Federal Space Bureau, Roscosmos, that promises to boost collaboration on space research between the two countries.
The memorandum of understanding, announced today, does not commit either body to specific projects.
However, Vitaly Davyidov, deputy head of Roscosmos, said the agreement would soon lead to a "whole number of joint projects" aimed primarily at applying space technologies to the "social and economic development of Russia, the UK and Europe in general".
David Williams, acting chief executive of the UK Space Agency, which was set up in March, said: "Space provides governments with the possibility to improve lives across their communities, along with offering novel commercial opportunities. It is a truly global activity and one where it is right that we should work together".
Meanwhile, in a speech in Farnborough today, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, announced the launch of a new UK centre for monitoring the Earth from space. The Earth observation hub will focus on acquiring environmental data, as well as acting as a flight operations centre for satellites, and will be based at the International Space Innovation Centre (ISIC) at Harwell in Oxfordshire, which will open in 2011.
Mr Willetts said the centre would not be a "centralising force", but would link regional space capabilities and promote knowledge-sharing between academia and industry.
"ISIC will operate at arm's length from the UK Space Agency so that it becomes a common facility within the Harwell campus," he said.
"And at Harwell, the new European Space Agency facility is already working well, especially in climate change science and related applications.
"Soon it will have an incubator for new space businesses and work on space exploration. This is a fantastic additional catalyst for UK space."
© 2010 TSL Education Ltd.
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BBC News / 20 July 2010
Russia to kick off construction of a new spaceport
- By Katia Moskvitch, Science reporter
Для начала полномасштабного строительства космодрома "Восточный" на ближайшие три года будет выделено 24,7 млрд рублей.
Новый космодром будет построен вблизи города Углегорск в Амурской области и станет первым национальным космодромом гражданского назначения. Космодром обеспечит обслуживание фактически всех перспективных космических проектов, в том числе пилотируемой транспортной системы и будущих межпланетных комплексов.
Russia will invest US $800m (£527m) into a new spaceport in the country's Far East, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has announced. The move is meant to ease the dependence on the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan, built during the Soviet-era. The future cosmodrome will be built near the town of Uglegorsk in the Far Eastern Amur region, close to the border with China.
It is planned to be mostly used for civilian launches and should be operational by 2015. "The government has made a decision to earmark 24.7 billion rubles ($809m) over the next three years for the start of the full-blown construction of the Vostochny cosmodrome," Mr Putin said. Vostochny means "eastern" in Russian.
The head of Russia's federal space agency, Roscosmos Anatoly Perminov, said that up to 30,000 specialists would build the new space launch facility. He also noted that it will be smaller than Baikonur, which Russia rents from Kazakhstan.
"It will be a least costly and a more compact site," Mr Perminov noted, comparing the new site with Baikonur, which is the largest and oldest space launch facility in the world.
The new space port will cover some 700 sq km and will contain new launch pads, a high-tech residential compound and research laboratories.
Port for civilians
Earlier, Mr Perminov mentioned that Russia hoped to launch its first space vessel from the new port as soon as it was completed in 2015, and a first manned flight is planned for 2018. Mr Putin stressed that the new site will be mostly for civilian launches.
"I very much expect that Vostochny will become the first national cosmodrome for civilian purposes and will guarantee Russia full independence of space activities," he said.
"It is important that the cosmodrome effectively ensures the operation of all future space projects," the Russian premier added. Russia plans to build a new generation of space vessels that could also be used for interplanetary flights - in particular, for a voyage to Mars. Engineers are supposed to start designing Vostochny's launch pads, assembly and testing sites as early as next year. The main construction work is planned to take place in 2012.
Russia's space agency's first deputy chief Viktor Remishevsky said the cosmodrome was meant to ensure stability of the Russian space industry by giving the country independent access to space.
Putin also encouraged more international co-operation, mentioning that the Russian segment of the International Space Station (ISS) should be completed by 2015. "In early 2011, the Russian Soyuz launch vehicle will start operating at the ESA's French Guiana Space Centre in Kourou. Later, the Phobos-Grunt Russian interplanetary spacecraft will put a Chinese space probe in orbit around Mars as part of our programmes to explore deep space," he stated.
With the US shuttle programme being phased out in February 2011, the only means to get to the ISS will be by the Soyuz spacecraft.
BBC © MMX.
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Science Now / July 16, 2010
Russian Researchers Call for Better Coordination of Science
- By Andrey Allakhverdov and Vladimir Pokrovsky
Более 2200 ученых, в том числе более 1000 докторов наук и около 60 членов Российской академии наук, поставили свои подписи под обращением к Дмитрию Медведеву в связи с нерациональностью государственной политики в области науки, а также проблемами конкурсного финансирования исследований. Документ стал самым массовым обращением представителей научного сообщества к главе государства.
Ученые обращают внимание Дмитрия Медведева на два вопроса - положение ведущих научных фондов России, Российского фонда фундаментальных исследований и Российского гуманитарного научного фонда, а также несоответствие определенных законом о госзакупках правил проведения конкурсов сложившейся специфике научной сферы.
More than 2200 researchers sent an open letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week asking the government to set Russian science in order and to consult with the scientific community when making major science-policy decisions. The signatories, including 60 members of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), say Russia's scientific enterprise needs to be more structured, systematic, transparent, and based on the real needs of researchers. "It is important to change the system of how the decisions are being worked out and made, otherwise officials' pretence of activity will finish off Russian science," the letter says.
"Unfortunately, there is no systematic state science policy," says signatory Yevgeny Onishchenko of the RAS's Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow. "Even when decisions are made, good and reasonable in intention, things are done in such a way that one's hair stands on end. It seems that the state machinery does its own thing while the scientific community exists somewhere far away."
The letter cites the new National Research Center formed out of Moscow's Kurchatov Institute as an example of this disconnect. "The decisions on the project were taken privately and even the managers of the institutes that were to join it were unaware of it." The government ignored internal problems at the institute, the letter says, including "a drop in the number of publications of the Kurchatov Institute researchers in the past 10 years."
Of particular concern to the letter's signatories is uncertainty about the future of two Russian grant-giving foundations: the Russian Foundation for Basic Research and the Russian Foundation for Humanities. The two bodies were created in the early 1990s to offer grant support to research teams and are the only public, Western-style funding bodies based on peer review. "Although the resources they offered were not very significant-about 6% of civil research funding-they helped to save science in Russia by giving small grants that helped to sustain the work of research groups," says Onishchenko. Both foundations, the letter states, "are at present the most effective state organizations that fund research. The resources that they allocate fund the most successful research teams no matter what body they belong to."
That could change, however, when a new budget code for the two foundations goes into effect on 1 January 2011. It stipulates that state funding bodies may distribute money only to subordinate bodies. Onishchenko says the government needs to "amend the budget code in order to give the foundations the right to fund research teams in any organizations without any time limits." The letter also calls for a doubling or more of their budgets in 2011 and an increase by 2013 in the size of grants to at least $50,000, from the current $13,000.
"Technically, all these problems are solvable," says Mikhail Gelfand, deputy director of the RAS's Kharkevich Institute for Information Transmission Problems in Moscow. Gelfand says it is possible to find the necessary additional funding from within existing science budgets without depriving areas such as health care.
The letter's signatories do not expect a quick response, although the law says a state official must reply within 1 month.
© 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science. All Rights Reserved.
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AFP / 21 Jul 2010
Soviet, US astronauts mark 35 years since space handshake
35 лет назад состоялся первый международный космический полет "Союз-Аполлон". 15 июля 1975 года с космодрома "Байконур" был произведен запуск корабля "Союз-19" с космонавтами Алексеем Леоновым и Валерием Кубасовым на борту. А спустя 7,5 часов с мыса Канаверал стартовал корабль "Аполлон-18" с астронавтами Томасом Стаффордом, Вэнсом Брандом и Дональдом Слейтоном. В ходе совместного шестисуточного полета была осуществлена стыковка советского и американского космических кораблей.
MOSCOW - Elderly US astronauts reunited with their Soviet-era counterparts in Moscow on Wednesday to mark the 35th anniversary of their epic "handshake in space" in 1975 at the height of the Cold War.
Apollo astronauts Tom Stafford and Vance Brand joked with Soyuz cosmonaut Alexei Leonov over their troubles communicating after the initial exuberant greetings shouted out when the two space crafts docked on July 17, 1975.
The images of the handshake between the three men as the hatches opened were beamed around the world, marking the start of the East-West space cooperation following years of gruelling planning between the Cold War foes.
"We had three official space languages: English, Russian and the language of (the US state of) Oklahoma," Leonov, 76, poked fun at Stafford's southern US accent.
Leonov, a legendary figure in the history of space exploration, was the first man ever to make a space walk in 1965.
Stafford, the 79-year-old veteran Apollo commander, in turn said learning Russian was the most challenging feat of his career.
"The Apollo-Soyuz mission was my fourth mission. I had flown three previously, one stop to the moon and back... so technically Apollo-Soyuz to me was somewhat simple," Stafford told reporters in Moscow.
"But the most difficult thing of all the missions I flew was learning the Russian language.
"I knew that when I opened the hatch and met Alexei I had to speak Russian as well as he spoke English and with my Oklahoma accent that was very difficult," he said.
Brand, 79, said that language slip-ups were fodder for many shared jokes, which helped surmount deeper divide between the long-time rivals.
"We laughed a lot (over our mistakes). But looking at the big picture we were breaking new ground," he said. "Back then everything was much different, our cultures were very different."
"And from a technical stand point our space programmes grew up like two trees with two very different roots."
The space mission showed that a thaw in US-Soviet relations was possible back on Earth, Stafford said, delighting the audience in Moscow by speaking in halting Russian.
"The Soyuz flight was a historic flight. It is a symbol, a very important symbol for the world. In space, we forged very warm relations and we showed it was possible to live in this way back on earth," he said.
Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.
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The Moscow Times / 12 July 2010
Siberia's Status in Russia on Par With Russia's in the World
В Улан-Удэ прошла Четвертая международная научно-практическая конференция "Приоритеты байкальского региона в азиатской геополитике России", посвященная 350-летию добровольного вхождения Бурятии в состав Российского государства и организованная по инициативе Байкальского института природопользования Бурятского научного центра СО РАН.
VIENNA - Siberia increasingly is to Russia what Russia is to the world, a supplier of raw materials that those who are consuming them take without much thought to what is happening at their source economically or ecologically, a pattern that Siberians find increasingly unacceptable, according to a leading economist in that region.
At an academic conference last week in Ulan-Ude, Viktor Suslov, the deputy director of the Institute of Economics at the Siberian Division of the Russian Academy of Sciences, called for new laws that would require Moscow to pay rent for its exploitation of Siberian resources.
Arguing that "the status of Siberia inside Russia at the present moment corresponds to the position of Russia in the world at large," Suslov said Siberia must develop "a powerful industrial sector for processing raw materials, an effective system of innovations," while not forgetting about protecting the environment.
Suslov attracted attention recently when he and his colleagues in Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk released a report saying "the construction of large new hydroelectric stations on the territory of Siberia hardly can be considered rational" and current projects in that area are "simply criminal."
Suslov's linking of environmental and economic concerns is increasingly common among Siberian experts and commentators, one that reflects both their anger about the current situation and their use for their own purposes of the anger that many in Moscow now feel concerning how Russia has been reduced to being a raw materials supplier to the world.
Another side of Siberian concerns about the way things are going in their region was suggested at the same conference by Arnold Tulokhonov, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences who heads the Baikal Institute of Natural Resource Use at the Siberian Division of the Academy.
In the keynote address to the meeting, Tulokhonov compared the economic development of Siberia with that in the adjoining regions of China, noting that the situation on the Russian side of the border does not stand up well regardless of whether one looks at transportation infrastructure, population maintenance, or trade.
The academician stressed that Moscow should take into consideration the reality that "95 percent of the European part of Russia depends on the natural resources of Siberia and the Far East" and thus be willing to give more back so that the enormous part of Russia east of the Urals will not continue to suffer, especially compared with China.
And he concluded that Moscow must also take steps to ensure that the state borders between Russian and China be "converted into a means for the economic development of the border territories" and that "ecological-economic problems of these regions must be resolved only on the basis of a consideration of the mutual interests of the neighboring states."
© Copyright 1992-2010. The Moscow Times. All rights reserved.
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