|Russian Science and the World|
(WWW Monthly Digest)
Associated Press / Tuesday July 13, 1999, 3:24 PM ET
Russian Scientist Has Home Raided
- Anatoly Medetsky Associated Press Writer
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (AP) -- Security agents raided the home and laboratory of a scientist who had been researching the dumping of radioactive waste in the Pacific Ocean by the Russian navy, Russian news agencies said today.
The incident echoed cases against two other Russians who documented alleged environmental abuses by the navy and are now being prosecuted.
The Federal Security Service, or FSB, chief successor to the Soviet-era KGB, said in its search warrant that Vladimir Soifer was suspected of violating laws on handling classified documents and that his activity "poses a threat to the Russian state and its military security," the Interfax news agency said.
On July 3, agents seized documents and letters in raids at Soifer's home and laboratory in the far eastern port of Vladivostok, the FSB said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency. Soifer, who is being treated for diabetes in Moscow, has not been arrested, Interfax said. The 69-year-old Soifer has spent 40 years studying the extent of radioactive contamination of Russia's oceans, and was investigating the Pacific Fleet's practice several years ago of dumping nuclear waste in the Sea of Japan.
Soifer supporters said the FSB was once again trying to suppress damaging information about environmental abuses. "Instead of protecting Russia from the import of radioactive and toxic wastes, the special services are persecuting those who care about Russia's ecological safety," said the Russian Social-Ecological Union, an environmental group. In 1997, the FSB arrested navy Capt. Grigory Pasko, who, like Soifer, had documented the Pacific Fleet's nuclear-waste dumping practices. His trial on treason charges is expected to end this week. Also on trial for treason is Alexander Nikitin, a former navy officer, who was arrested after he co-wrote a 1996 report in the journal Bellona about 52 abandoned nuclear submarines in a remote northern shipyard.
The chief of the military counterintelligence department of the Pacific Fleet, Rear Adm. Nikolai Sotskov, denied any link between the search of Soifer's home and the Pasko case. "Neither the command of the Pacific Fleet nor the FSB ... prevents anyone from studying information and taking pictures to assess the condition of the environment, including aspects connected with its radioactive contamination", he said, according to ITAR-Tass.
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Nature / Vol.400, No.6742, p.300 22 July 1999
Russian environmental researcher falls foul of security services
Moscow -- A prominent Russian ecologist has had his passport seized and his laboratory sealed by the country's security services. Confidential reports and classified maps were removed from the Vladivostok apartment and laboratory of Vladimir Soyfer, who has been working on nuclear pollution in the far east of Russia for the last 40 years. The warrant for the search states: "Since Soyfer's actions pose a threat to the state and military security of the Russian Federation, it seemed necessary to analyse his correspondence." Material confiscated is being studied by military counter-espionage officials. This may lead to Soyfer being charged with revealing state secrets.
Security official Aleksander Kazakov has denied that he knew Soyfer's apartment was being searched, although a check on Soyfer's laboratory had been planned as a routine procedure. The Federal Security Service (FSB) have not confirmed the reports.
Kazakov says that Soyfer was informed of the time of this check, but "he did not wish to be present". But Soyfer denies this, pointing out that he could not be present as he was being treated for diabetes at the Moscow hospital of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
According to the investigation, Soyfer kept secret documents in his laboratory safe that should have been given back to officials, as well as illegal photocopies. The warrant accuses him of negligence under the Russian Criminal Code, although this does not carry a prison sentence.
A letter distributed by Aleksei Yablokov, chairman of the Social-Ecological Union, suggests that the secret services may be trying to prove that Soyfer has passed secret information to foreign agents.
Counter-admiral Nikolai Sotskov, chief of the Pacific Navy's counter-espionage department, denies this. "Neither our navy, nor the FSB, prevent anyone from monitoring the environment," he says.
But Soyfer has had run-ins with the navy before. The author of over 200 scientific articles on radioactive pollution in the region, he has been studying the consequences of a nuclear submarine accident in the bay of Chazhma in 1985, and of radioactive waste dumped in the Japan sea. This led to a confrontation with Pacific Navy commander admiral Mikhail Zakharenko.
"Ecological investigations attract the attention of the special services, because by analysing the structure of pollution it is easy to tell what kind of secret objects -- especially nuclear facilities -- are nearby", says Nikolay Ponomarev-Stepnoy, vice president of the Kurchatov Institute.
©1999 Macmillan Publishers Ltd.
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Science / Vol.285, No.5424, Iss. of 2 July 1999, p.45
Scientific Openness and National Security
Science is an international enterprise that embraces the importance of sharing information as one of its core values because the building of new knowledge onto old knowledge drives scientific advances. At the same time, the scientific community recognizes the importance of protecting U.S. national security interests from foreign espionage. How then are we to react to news reports of the possible theft of classified information from our nation's weapons laboratories and to the ensuing calls in Congress for increased restrictions on foreign visitors to national laboratories? Concern about possible new restrictions on foreign scientists has led the National Academies to issue a statement (available at www.national-academies.org/topnews/) and to initiate a fast-track study, with a workshop in August 1999 that will examine how best to ensure the dual objectives of international communication among scientists and protection of classified information.
Inappropriate restrictions could harm U.S. interests by impeding the nation's scientific progress, weakening its role as a key player in the international scientific community, and endangering international cooperative activities in areas that bolster national security, such as nuclear safety, weapons proliferation, and environmental cleanup.
An ability to maintain strong international ties has been critical to the strength of U.S. science. For example, one-quarter of the 1900 U.S. members of the National Academy of Sciences were born in another country. Of the students who received their Ph.D.'s in science at U.S. universities in 1997, 33 percent were foreign born. Our nation's well-being continues to depend on the many intellectual contributions of individuals who have come from other countries.
Although the national laboratories of the Department of Energy (DOE) are engaged in classified military work, they also carry out a large amount of unclassified scientific and engineering research. Many of the foreign scientists who visit them are invited because they bring important new knowledge. A wide range of scientific expertise is essential for maintaining the intellectual vitality and quality of these laboratories and for sustaining their capacity to attract and retain promising young talent.
Several studies by the National Academies have articulated the importance of increasing openness to promote the security systems necessary for controlling chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons. The 1997 National Academy of Sciences report Controlling Dangerous Pathogens emphasizes that appropriately structured U.S.-Russian scientific cooperation, featuring direct lab-to-lab contact, is needed to increase the certainty that work on biological weapons is not continued in Russia. Likewise, the 1999 National Research Council report Protecting Nuclear Weapons Material in Russia concludes that "continued DOE involvement in strengthening material protection, control, and accountability in Russia should be a high-priority national security imperative for the United States for at least a decade."
International scientific exchanges can also be a key to finding peaceful resolutions to very difficult issues. Last February, for example, scientists from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, the United States, and Canada issued an important joint report on managing the dwindling water resources in the Middle East (available at www.nap.edu/html/waterfuture). Although regional water management is in large part a political issue, wise decisions will depend on application of the best scientific and engineering knowledge.
In the post-Cold War era, the U.S. scientific and engineering communities have increasingly been called on to play diplomatic roles in establishing international partnerships. They have facilitated progress in such areas as counterproliferation, demilitarization, environmental cleanup, nuclear safety, and counterterrorism, while helping to divert foreign military manpower toward civilian goals. These interactions, which are clearly in the nation's best interests, require openness and free communication among scientists. Maintaining these interactions and simultaneously protecting our nation's classified information are critical for our long-term security.
©1999 by The American Association for the Advancement of Science
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Associated Press / Thursday July 15 11:49 AM ET
New Element on Periodic Table
- David Kinney Associated Press Writer
Russian physicists have created a new, super-heavy element that lasted a surprisingly long 30 seconds before disintegrating, according to a report in today's issue of the journal Nature.
Using an atom smasher to bombard plutonium with calcium ions, the physicists created an element whose atomic number is 114, which refers to the number of protons in its nucleus. The newest addition to the periodic table has yet to be named.
Ninety-four elements exist in nature. Scientists have spent 60 years creating elements in the lab, registering 21 so far. But some of the more recent elements were so unstable that they disintegrated in milliseconds.
For decades, physicists have theorized the existence of super-heavy manmade elements with a much longer life. These elements would make up an "island of stability."
In the study, researchers at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, reported creating two atoms of element 114 that lasted for as long as 30 seconds before flickering out. This, they say, is proof the island exists.
The discovery, and more recent creations of even heavier elements, have no practical applications as far as today's scientists know. But for academics, it's thrilling. The study of super-heavies could shed light on supernovas and origins of the universe. And chemists are interested in how they bond with compounds. The new manmade elements are numbered according to how many protons are in their nuclei, not by their order of discovery. Numbers 95 through 112 were created between 1944 and 1996. In the past year, scientists have created not just 114, but also 116 and 118. The ones in between have not yet been created. For decades, scientists thought one isotope, or version, of element 114 - with 114 protons and 184 neutrons - would be very stable because its nucleus would have a full complement of neutrons and protons. No more could be squeezed inside. Late last year, the Dubna scientists made an isotope of element 114 with 175 neutrons. In March, the lab created another 114 isotope, but it had only 173 neutrons and was therefore less stable than the first one they created.
This year, another major lab trying to create elements, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, forged the heaviest element yet, 118, and when it decayed, it morphed into element 116, then an isotope of 114 with even fewer neutrons than Dubna's. It lasted for milliseconds.
These three types of 114 are just off the "island of stability," scientists say, because they are all short of the 184 neutrons needed. But physicists say they are in "shallow water," and that's proof enough.
If they can create a 114 isotope with 184 neutrons, they would reach real stability: perhaps a life measured in years.
One physicist, Albert Ghiorso of Lawrence Berkeley, said he is skeptical the Russians really did create such an element. He said that with their setup, it is too difficult to pinpoint a single atom among all the collision byproducts.
But Neil Rowley, of the Institute for Subatomic Research in France, is convinced the Dubna observations are real. "Everything behaves the way it ought to," he said.
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The Chicago Sun Times
/ July 12, 1999
Prather Report has no friends
- Robert Novak, Sun-Times Columnist
Jack Kemp last Wednesday released a startling document that was quickly consigned to oblivion. An experienced weapons scientist found that the Cox Report erred in claiming Chinese espionage penetrated U.S. weapons laboratories while failing to recognize Clinton administration culpability. As much as President Clinton would rather not hear this, Republicans like it even less.
That goes for William J. Bennett, Kemp's fellow Republican wise man and co-director of their conservative Empower America organization. Gordon Prather, a nuclear physicist with long experience in government weapons programs, was commissioned by Kemp to produce an Empower America report. But Bennett barely glanced at the finished product when he said: Not on my watch! The Prather Report was quietly released under Kemp's personal aegis.
A scientist and no politician, Prather takes 26 pages to demolish the impressions left by the bipartisan report of the select House committee headed by Republican Rep.Christopher Cox of California. He declares that Clinton's nuclear disarmament opened the nation's nuclear secrets to the world, while the post-Cox Report tightening of security actually enlarged the true menace of Russian nuclear proliferation by ending cooperation with Moscow. There goes the Clinton administration's credibility. There goes the GOP's Chinese peril. No wonder nobody likes it.
Prather for many years had access to national secrets, but not in preparing this analysis. He relied on the Cox committee's report and, significantly, the widely ignored findings by government technical experts. The Cox committee's principal charge: "The People's Republic of China's penetration of our national weapons laboratories spans at least the past several decades, and almost certainly continues today."That, says Prather, "is almost certainly not true." Nor, he adds, is there evidence that China ever stole anything from the labs, that any lab scientist ever gave the PRC classified information or that China has incorporated U.S. secrets into its weapons systems. Prather says Clinton's policy of "openness" at the U.S. weapons labs "damaged" future national security. The United States let it be known that it never would build another nuclear weapon and "invited the PRC weapons scientists to come over and check us out." With millions of pages of secrets made public, there was "no need to `spy' since the Clinton administration has thrown open the gates." Furthermore, the Prather Report suggests that openness was intended to extract Chinese secrets. If China's scientists picking up openly displayed U.S. secrets after being invited to get them is defined as espionage, "then the Clinton administration asked U.S. lab scientists to `spy.' " Prather dismisses highly publicized charges that Taiwan-born Peter Lee, a U.S. scientist employed at the Los Alamos laboratory, stole secrets. Whoever allowed the Cox committee to make these "ridiculous" allegations, says Prather, "did so because the alleged spying incident happened on [Ronald] Reagan's, not Clinton's, watch." The real post-Cold War threat, contends Prather, is proliferation of Russian nuclear weapons. The administration's "draconian" security measures taken in the wake of the Cox Report "are going to further devastate our own nuclear weapons infrastructure while killing the one set of programs [cooperating with Russia] that had any chance of preventing the proliferation of Russian `loose nukes.' " Bennett declined to discuss the matter with me on the record. But the Republican establishment is permanently wedded to the demonization of China. The lead editorial in the last Weekly Standard (co-authored by editor William Kristol, Bennett's former chief of staff) suggests that the United States should turn from the Balkans to China "to check Beijing's ambitions." That suggests Republicans are too committed to Chinese-bashing to pay close attention to Kemp's cover letter to the Prather Report: "The White House is using the espionage angle to mask the real security risk, which comes not from foreign spies but rather from the Clinton administration's own ill-conceived security strategy." Robert Novak appears on the CNN programs "Capital Gang" at 6 p.m. Saturday, and "Evans, Novak, Hunt and Shields" at 4 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday.
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University Science / 08-Jul-1999
Trees Reveal Why Northern Forests Not Growing Faster
Russian, Swiss and Arizona tree ring scientists have discovered why forests in northern Siberia have not been growing faster even though Siberian summer temperatures have warmed during the past few decades.
Meteorological instruments at their tree sites have recorded not only a temperature rise during this century, but also a slow, gradual increase in the amount of snow. Greater snowfall is keeping the ground frozen longer, delaying 'spring greening' for this high-latitude forest, they report today in Nature.
Scientists study wood density and width of annual tree rings for information on year-to-year, or even season-to-season, changes in temperature and precipitation. Tree ring analysis plays a major role in reconstructing how global climate has changed over much of the past millennium. So when European researchers last year reported that beginning in the 1960s, significant numbers of trees at timberline across the subarctic from Alaska and Canada to Scandinavia and Siberia have not grown as much as expected given the rise in temperature, dendroclimatologists -- tree ring scientists who study climate -- were puzzled. The recent marked weakening in the correlation between tree growth and temperature means that past climate reconstructions are even more reliable than previously thought, but forces scientists to rethink the role of the vast northern forests in the global carbon cycle, said Malcolm Hughes. Hughes, professor and director of the Laboratory of Tree Ring Research at the University of Arizona in Tucson, is co-author of the Nature paper. (Currently, he is doing field research in the northern Rockies, but will return to the Tucson campus on July 20.)
"The recent weaker correlation between tree growth and temperature clearly affects the reliability of our reconstructions of the past. Actually, it means past climate reconstructions (before the 1960s) are better than we thought they were. And, as a result of this, it means that we underestimated the differences between the present century and past centuries," Hughes said.
In a global warming study published last March in Geophysical Review Letters, Hughes and University of Massachusetts colleagues found the 1990s to be the warmest decade of the millennium, with 1998 the warmest year so far.
The contrast between this century and previous centuries may be greater than thought, Hughes now suggests, because "our calibration is contaminated partly by this recent weaker correlation." The other major implication of the weaker relationship between summer temperatures and growth has to do with the greenhouse effect.
"The northern forests of Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia and Siberia are almost in the same league as the tropical forests in terms of their role in the global carbon cycle," Hughes said.
"While this study is of subarctic forests in Siberia only, our tree sites cover a big piece of real estate -- over 100 degrees of northern longitude, or almost a third of the way around the Earth. Many scientists are trying to figure out how the growth of forests will change in a greenhouse-warmed Earth. But in all science, looking to the past or the future, the present is our indicator. And what we are seeing is a change in the mechanism." Eugene Vaganov, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Siberian Institute of Forestry, Hughes, and other experts in Siberian environment and tree physiology based their study on empirical evidence and theoretical research. They used tree ring width and wood density measurements from conifers growing at the northern Siberian timberline and instrument-recorded weather data in computer simulations based on Vaganov's mathematical models. Vaganov, who leads the world's premier institute in Siberian forest ecology, is active in many collaborations with Hughes and others at the UA Tree Ring Laboratory, where the science of dendrochronology was born. Russian and Arizona tree ring scientists joined forces in the late 1980s, at the end of the Cold War. Vaganov will be a visiting scholar at the university in Tucson again this fall.
"One of the characteristics of the high-latitude Siberian forest is that trees over most of this area are growing on frozen ground that thaws only a foot or two deep in summer," Hughes said. The trees, primarily larch, don't grow very tall, perhaps a maximum of five meters, he added. Trees 600 and 700 years old may be only a quarter meter (10 inches) or less in diameter. "Basically, what's happening is really simple," Hughes said. "Average temperatures don't climb above freezing until the first week of June. So that's when the thawing takes place. And the more snow there is, the later the ground thaws." The snow acts like a blanket that keeps in the chill. Below the snow is an almost infinite amount of solid ice. Only when the snow melts is the ground exposed to the sun's radiant energy. And only when the soil reaches a few degrees above zero can new growth begin, Hughes said. The increased snow in Siberia may delay the onset of forest growth only by a few days or a week, Hughes said. But that's a big slice out of a short growing season that ends in late August, he added.
"It turns out that most growth takes place in June, and June temperatures are the major influence on growth rates, so you may be reducing growth by 20 percent, simply by losing five or six days of prime growing time."As for the future of modeling changes in growth, this means that people are going to have to have good projections of snowfall as well as summer temperatures."
The Siberian forests are a rich and largely untapped archive of information on the 20th century natural environment, Hughes said. They might be studied in greater detail for a broader picture of what's happening in nature, and can be used to cross-check information from a handful of long-term ecological research sites in Alaska and Canada.
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Science / Vol.285, No.5425, Iss. of 9 July 1999, p.195
For Russians, a Bittersweet Jamboree
Molecular biologist Evgeni Rogaev was one of thousands of talented scientists who left Russia in the wake of the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991. But after a 4-year stint in Canada, he found a way home: A 5-year grant of about $30,000 a year from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) allowed him to reopen his lab on the genetics of Alzheimer's disease at the Research Center of Mental Health in Moscow. Now, however, Rogaev and some of his Russian colleagues worry that they will have no choice but to leave again when their Hughes funding ends next year.
Last month, the 90 HHMI scholars from Russia and countries in eastern Europe met in Moscow to show off what they've done with their grant money. "The HHMI grant enables us to create collaborations between various laboratories--one condition which made it possible for me to return to Russia," says Rogaev.
HHMI has announced a new competition next year involving bigger grants to fewer grantees, which may sustain some of the current crop. But Rogaev says others may have to pull up stakes once again. "I want to live in Russia," he says. But "if the carpet will be pulled from under my feet, then what else can I do?"
In a sign of the deepening erosion of Russian science, even this elite group of researchers found reason to gripe. "None of the serious biology research groups in Russia is being supported by the state ... 99% exist on foreign funding," says Ivan Shatsky of the Belozersky Institute of Physico-Chemical Biology. In fact, he asserts, the state doesn't think much of science at all. A case in point: None of the government science officials invited by HHMI bothered to show up for the meeting.
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Associated Press / Wednesday July 21 11:24 AM ET )
Mathematicians Vie in Olympiad
- By Anca Paduraru, Associated Press Writer
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) -- American students equate success at the International Mathematics Olympiad with a high-flying Wall Street career. Others, like Romanians, see it as a chance for a future in the West.
The 40th annual competition brought 500 math geniuses from 81 countries for two days of combined algebra and geometry tests that ended Wednesday.
"The tests were easy," said Dremov, a lanky 16-year-old Russian, who finished eighth and was one of 68 youths awarded gold medals. Started by Romania in 1959, the olympiad tests the students' capacity for invention. And according to the American Association for Mathematical Olympiads, 80 percent of former American competitors are now millionaires.
Still, students said they had to study extra hard during their summer vacation to be in top form for this year's olympiad, hosted by the Bucharest Polytechnics Institute. The American team arrived a week before the competition started to study in the mountain resort of Sinaia. Students at this level "are expected to perform at the highest level later in life," said Gabriel Carroll, 16, of Oakland, Calif., who took a silver medal.
China and Russia finished in a first-place tie in the team competition, followed by Vietnam and then Romania. The United States was ninth.
In the individual competition, Maxym Fedorchuk of Ukraine, Tamas Terpai of Hungary and Stefan Hornet of Romania tied for first place.
Reid Burton of Arlington, Mass., was the top American, finishing 18th.
Romanian students also said they saw the contest as a way to the prosperous West. Three of the Romanian students already have places at American universities.
"Even if I win the Olympiad, it still won't open any gates for me in Romania," said Marius Beceanu, 18.
Many teachers at the Bucharest Mathematics Institute left the country for prestigious careers abroad after the institute was shut down in 1974 by the late Elena Ceausescu, the self-styled scientist wife of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The institute was reopened shortly after communism ended in 1989.
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Electronic Telegraph / Friday 23 July 1999
Russian pupils 'are three years ahead of British children'
- By Liz Lightfoot, Education Correspondent
RUSSIAN schoolchildren are two to three years ahead of British pupils in maths, science, modern languages and art, MPs were told last week.
Kevin McNeany, chairman of Nord Anglia, a private education company which owns a school in Moscow, said that the ease with which Russian pupils learned English suggested that they were also more literate in their own language.
Mr McNeany told the Commons education select committee that private companies could improve state education in Britain. They could use their knowledge and experience of running schools in the private sector to improve not only failing schools but those regarded by the Government as "coasting".
He said: "In this country we are still very far from competitive with many other countries. When we merge Russian and British children in our schools, the Russians are two or three years ahead in subjects where we can identify it, such as maths, science and foreign languages, so we are saying we can make a difference."
Mr McNeany was giving evidence to the select committee on the first day of its inquiry into the role of private sector companies in the management and supply of state education services.
Nord Anglia has recently been awarded contracts by the Government to improve state education in failing Hackney, east London. Four years ago it opened a school for children aged five to 18 in Moscow, of whom one third are Russian and the rest British. Pupils are taught in English and follow a curriculum devised from merging those of the two countries.
Mr McNeany said afterwards that the Russian children were ahead at all ages when they joined his school. "I think it is the quality of the teaching they receive in Russian schools with its emphasis on literacy and numeracy training. They have a good grasp of grammar and phonetics which helps when they learn English."
Mr McNeany and Neil McIntosh, chief executive of CfBT Education Services, a "not-for-profit" company providing services to schools and education authorities, said they saw no harm in companies making a profit if they could use the same funds more efficiently to provide high quality education.
Mr McIntosh said many companies already made a profit out of providing services, such as teacher supply agencies. Mr McNeany said the Government had failed to persuade companies to take a lead in the new Education Action Zones because they offered few opportunities for innovation. Selling services to the zones was also difficult because companies had to charge VAT, which the zone trusts were unable to recover.
Teacher unions expressed outrage earlier this year when Hackney council and the Department for Education awarded contracts to improve schools in the east London borough to Nord Anglia, which is quoted on the Stock Exchange and aims to make profits for its shareholders.
But Mr McNeany told the committee there was no prospect of "mass privatisation" of schools. "We are a very small industry. It is most unlikely that we could take over the education system, had anyone had it in mind to offer it to us."
However, Mr McIntosh said he believed privatisation would go further. "In time, the role of the state will be to ensure that all children have access to a decent education, not necessarily to provide it."
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