|Российская наука и мир|
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)
Sciences et avenir / 09/03/11
Tragi-comédie sur fond de statistique
Une équipe russe prétend avoir démontré, preuves mathématiques à l'appui, que Molière ne serait pas l'auteur de ses pièces
Вопрос об авторстве комедий Мольера, поднятый еще в начале XX века, не потерял актуальности до сих пор, причем как во Франции, так и за ее пределами. Одна из наиболее обсуждаемых гипотез (проблема "Корнель-Мольер") состоит в том, что ряд стихотворных пьес, приписываемых Мольеру, на самом деле принадлежит перу Пьера Корнеля.
В поддержку этой гипотезы выступили ученые из Санкт-Петербургского государственного университета Михаил Марусенко и Елена Родионова, применив математический метод атрибуции анонимных и псевдонимных произведений, основанный на теории распознавания образов.
Une controverse vieille d'un siècle
Il va peut-être falloir réviser ses classiques. Molière ne serait pas l'auteur de ses pièces en vers parmi les plus connues, Tartuffe, l'Ecole des femmes, les femmes savantes ou l'Ecole des maris. La paternité en reviendrait à Corneille selon une nouvelle étude statistique de la structure des textes des deux auteurs. C'est en effet la seconde fois en dix ans, que les maths tentent de démêler la controverse soulevée par l'écrivain Pierre Louÿs en 1919. En 2001 et 2003, Dominique Labbé avait ainsi chiffré la proximité du vocabulaire utilisé par Molière et Corneille.
Sa conclusion était qu'une dizaine de pièces du premier (y compris en prose comme Dom Juan) pouvait en fait être attribuée au second. Cette fois, Mikhail Marusenko et Elena Rodionova de l'université de Saint-Petersbourg, s'intéressent aux formes grammaticales pour estimer cette proximité. Combien de verbes conjugués, d'adjectifs, de pronoms, de phrases simples ou complexes... ? Au total plus de 50 paramètres sont considérés, mais seulement cinq servent pour discriminer les différents textes (11 de Corneille, 13 de Molière et 3 de Quinault, un contemporain des deux autres). Résultat, "à 95 %, six pièces de Molière sur treize peuvent être attribuée à Corneille", concluent les lexicographes.
Autre détail surprenant, l'étude est parue il y a déjà un an, faisant suite à une thèse encore plus ancienne. Elle a été seulement récemment mise en ligne par l'association cornélienne de France, qui ne cache pas sa préférence pour Corneille aux dépens de Molière. "C'est la seconde fois qu'une preuve scientifique confirme une thèse peu orthodoxe", constate Denis Boissier, le rédacteur en chef du site de l'association.
Des travaux polémiques
Malheureusement, les nouveaux arguments avancés ne convainquent pas plus qu'il y a dix ans. "Les russes, comme Dominique Labbé, instruisent à charge. Ils prennent pour hypothèse que Molière n'a pas écrit ses pièces. Mais ils ne comparent pas à beaucoup d'autres auteurs, ou mieux à des auteurs antérieurs ou postérieurs aux deux dramaturges", note Georges Forestier, professeur à la Sorbonne. "On a reproché beaucoup de choses à Molière de son vivant, mais pas d'avoir utilisé un prête-nom !".
Suite aux premiers travaux statistiques, un peu agacé par la tournure des événements, ce spécialiste à la fois de Corneille et de Molière en avait profité pour tordre le cou à quelques mythes et idées reçues sur la vie de Molière. Une nouvelle version de cet argumentaire est d'ailleurs en cours de publication. Il fait notamment remarquer qu'il est troublant que l'inventeur de cette fable (la paternité des œuvres de Molière) soit lui-même auteur d'une des plus belles supercheries littéraires de l'histoire". Pierre Louÿs avait en effet fait croire que des poèmes de sa composition étaient d'origine grecque...
Un autre spécialiste, Charles Bernet, en retraite de l'université de Lyon, n'est guère convaincu non plus, notamment à cause de la petite taille du corpus utilisé. Après les résultats de Dominique Labbé, il avait utilisé la même méthode en étudiant d'autres textes, notamment d'auteurs ayant publié après la mort de Corneille. Et il avait trouvé que l'on pouvait tout à fait les associer ! Il avait aussi trouvé que Quinault aurait pu écrire une pièce de Corneille alors que des éléments biographiques prouvent le contraire.
Une affaire à suivre
Bref, toutes ces méthodes sont à prendre avec précaution. "Deux textes peuvent être proches, mais ne pas appartenir au même auteur. Affirmer un lien entre proximité de structure et paternité est un postulat très fort", explique Stephan Vonfelt qui avait lui aussi proposé un test radical. Plus précisément il avait analysé en 2009 la structure la plus fondamentale d'un texte, la répartition des lettres. Et lui trouvait plus de proximité entre Corneille et Racine qu'entre Corneille et Molière !
A l'appui de leur thèse, les russes avancent tout de même un argument. Leur méthode appliquée aux écrivains Romain Garry et Emil Ajar a permis d'attribuer les textes du second au premier. Ces deux auteurs ne faisant en effet qu'un. Mais c'est à double tranchant, car on aurait pu tout aussi bien attendre que la méthode trahisse l'astuce de Romain Garry... Pour Charles Bernet, "les études n'utilisant qu'une discipline ne peuvent suffire. Il faut arriver à ce que les statisticiens, les philologues, les historiens... discutent ensemble". Ce dernier acte est loin d'être écrit.
© Le Nouvel Observateur.
* * *
Ha'aretz / Mon, March 28, 2011
Israel, Russia sign space agency cooperation agreement
Deal meant to foster joint programs in planetary research, space biology and medicine, also outlines guidelines for cooperation in intellectual property and scientific exchanges
Россия и Израиль подписали соглашение, предполагающее развитие российско-израильского сотрудничества в области исследования и использования космического пространства и применения космических технологий в мирных целях.
Israel and Russia on Sunday signed a space cooperation agreement, with the head of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, making a special visit to Jerusalem to attend the signing ceremony.
The framework agreement is meant to foster joint research programs and other collaborations in areas like astrophysical and planetary research, space biology and medicine, navigational satellites and launching services and technology. It also outlines guidelines for cooperation in intellectual property and scientific exchanges.
This agreement joins previous ones signed by Israel with the European Space Agency as well as the space agencies of France and Italy. The Science Ministry said in a statement yesterday that both the industrial and scientific communities will benefit from the new agreement.
"We expect the agreement will be implemented through the shared activities of the research and industrial institutions of the two countries," Dr. Zvi Kaplan, head of the Israeli Space Agency, told Haaretz. He said there are several framework agreements with other countries that are not being implemented because of lack of investment by Israel or its partners.
The signing ceremony took place in the Prime Minister's Office, in the presence of Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, Roscosmos director Anatoly Perminov, Kaplan and experts from both countries.
Hershkowitz called Israel "a world power" in the space field. "We have abilities and advantages over many other countries and the fact that Russia, a pioneer in space, wants to acquire Israeli expertise is a great honor for the State of Israel," he said.
Perminov told Haaretz he was interested in cooperating with Israel "to develop a micro-system weighing up to 230 kilograms for remote sensing of Earth from space at advanced resolution."
The Roscosmos chief also spoke about his agency's agenda for the near future. "We're planning to send a manned mission to Mars by 2035," he said, noting that last year the agency began working on a nuclear engine capable of covering such a distance. He estimated it would be ready in about nine years.
Israel has distinguished itself internationally in recent years for its success in reducing the size of space-bound equipment. Its expertise in the area has been attributed to its unique practice of launching satellites westwards, against the direction of the earth's revolution and in the exact opposite direction of most of rest of the world. Motivated by the need to avoid launching missiles over its neighbors to the east, Israeli scientists have focused on reducing the weight of Israeli space technology to ease the burden on them.
* * *
Le Figaro / 17/03/2011
À Mourmansk, la Russie est confrontée à ses "poubelles" radioactives
L'ex-URSS manque de spécialistes capables de surveiller l'état technique des centrales
Le Figaro публикует репортаж с Кольской АЭС. В 2009 году срок службы первого блока был продлен до 2018 года, хотя его жизненный цикл закончился еще шесть лет назад. Срок службы второго блока, введенного в эксплуатацию 35 лет назад, был увеличен на 10 лет. В конце сентября 2010 года третий блок был остановлен из-за технических неполадок, однако официально утечек радиации зафиксировано не было.
La péninsule de Kola… ses lacs, sa nature sauvage, son gibier à profusion, et son soleil de minuit. C'est ainsi que les guides touristiques dépeignent ce bout de terre russe baignée par les mers Blanche et de Barents, et situé au nord du cercle polaire arctique. Mais pour les habitants de Poliarnye Zori, 15 000 habitants, la vie se résume au site nucléaire qui, depuis quarante ans, fournit 60 % de l'énergie de la région de Mourmansk. Irina en est persuadée : "Ici, le rêve de tout le monde est de travailler à la centrale", tant les salaires sont élevés. "Les femmes de ménage y ont une qualification d'ingénieur", affirme cette souriante babouchka. Quelques années après avoir participé à la liquidation de la centrale de Tchernobyl, en 1986, cette jeune pionnière a déménagé à Kola pour participer à la construction du complexe nucléaire. Aujourd'hui, elle est officiellement invalide, malade du cœur, mais préfère attribuer sa santé fragile à d'autres causes qu'aux radiations ukrainiennes. Elle vante la saveur unique des champignons locaux, dont la qualité, affirme-t-elle, est "régulièrement contrôlée par les laboratoires".
Tel un paquebot entouré par les eaux, la centrale nucléaire a effectivement fière allure. Les quatre blocs de production sont régulièrement modernisés afin de s'adapter aux normes réglementaires. "L'ampleur de certains travaux a parfois même outrepassé les recommandations édictées par l'Agence internationale de l'énergie atomique", annonce fièrement le directeur, Vassily Omeltchouk. Un choix également dicté par des raisons économiques. "Le programme de modernisation du premier bloc, qui a débuté dans les années 90, ne nous a coûté que 200 dollars le kilowatt, alors que la construction d'une nouvelle centrale nous serait revenue dix fois plus cher", poursuit le responsable.
Mais depuis l'accident de Fukushima, cette belle assurance est plus mollement partagée par les chefs moscovites. "La centrale de Kola ne correspond pas aux normes de sécurité internationales", affirme Vladimir Kouznetsov, membre du Conseil public auprès de l'agence russe de l'énergie atomique (Rosatom). Et ce dernier de dénoncer, en Russie, la "prolongation frénétique du délai d'exploitation des vieux réacteurs". Parallèlement, l'ex-URSS manque de "spécialistes performants capables de surveiller l'état technique des centrales", déplore cet ancien responsable des liquidateurs de Tchernobyl.
Le bloc numéro 1 de Kola qui, en 2009, avait déjà dépassé de six ans son cycle de vie estimé, a obtenu une prolongation d'activité jusqu'en 2018. Trente-cinq ans après son démarrage, le bloc numéro 2 a obtenu in extremis un délai supplémentaire de dix ans. Fin septembre 2010, c'est le réacteur numéro 3 qui a été mis à l'arrêt à la suite d'une défaillance technique, sans qu'aucune fuite radioactive n'ait été officiellement détectée. "Le gouvernement doit analyser l'état actuel des centrales nucléaires et les perspectives pour l'avenir", a ordonné le premier ministre, Vladimir Poutine. La Russie, quatrième pays producteur d'électricité nucléaire mondial, remettrait-elle en cause le règne de l'atome ?
À Mourmansk, dont la région est souvent qualifiée de "poubelle radioactive", même les écologistes ne croient pas en cette perspective. "L'énergie nucléaire est une réalité, et elle est amenée à se développer. Nous devons tous entreprendre des efforts pour garantir sa sécurité", explique Andreï Zolotkov, responsable de l'ONG norvégienne Bellona. À Kola, le visiteur est surtout frappé par l'amoncellement dans une zone étanche de la centrale, de tonneaux contenant une pâte bleue destinée à piéger les isotopes de césium et de cobalt. "Ce sont des déchets à l'origine liquide et qui sont ensuite purifiés et solidifiés. Nous les entreposons ici jusqu'au moment où la Russie créera un cimetière spécialement destiné pour les accueillir", explique le responsable de la sécurité, Igor Marakoulin.
L'ingénieur tente de balayer les doutes en certifiant que cette technique obéit à des normes plus strictes que celles prévalant en Europe, et notamment en Finlande où "les déchets des radionucléides sont rejetés en mer". Quant au directeur, Vassily Omeltchouk, il se retranche derrière les multiples autorisations que sa centrale a reçues pour poursuivre son activité. Équipée de réacteurs à eau pressurisée, cette dernière, enfin, n'est pas équipée des onze réacteurs - sur 32 - de type Tchernobyl que comptent le pays. Mercredi, le président, Dimitri Medvedev, a rappelé que l'atome restait une "source d'énergie sûre". À condition, a-t-il ajouté, que les centrales soient construites au bon endroit et convenablement surveillées.
* * *
The New York Times / March 24, 2011
Russia to Test Nuclear Plants for Ability to Survive Quakes
В ближайшее время российские атомные реакторы пройдут "стресс-тест" - необходимо выяснить, способны ли они выдержать землетрясения большей силы, чем предполагалось при постройке.
WASHINGTON - Russia, responding to the Japanese nuclear crisis, will perform a "stress test" on all its reactors to judge their ability to withstand earthquakes more powerful than the original design anticipated, the Russian state-owned nuclear power company Rosatom said on Thursday.
Rosatom is willing to share the test results with the United States, said the company's director general, Sergey Kirienko, who met here with Energy Department officials.
The United States and Russia signed a nuclear cooperation agreement last year.
Mr. Kirienko also said he thought the World Association of Nuclear Operators, an industry group based in London, should have expanded authority to inspect reactors and coordinate safety efforts. Rosatom is a member of the group.
In an interview, Mr. Kirienko said the Russian stress tests would be completed in the next few months.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is pushing for the European Union to conduct such tests on all 143 nuclear reactors of its member countries. In the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said on Wednesday that it would complete a review of American reactors over the next 90 days, to determine what changes might be necessary after the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.
If Russian reactors failed the stress tests, "we will have to take compensating measures," Mr. Kirienko said.
"I do not exclude the possibility of decommissioning some reactors, or replacing them with new ones as soon as possible."
American reactors were put through a similar exercise in the 1990s, identifying weak spots and reinforcing them. At some plants, workers attached extra cables to the ceiling tiles in control rooms, to make sure they would not fall on operators in an earthquake. At others they beefed up the overhead trays that support control cables and power cables. Some strengthened the big tanks that hold cooling water; sometimes that meant removing small glass windows in the tank wall used to observe the water level, because the window could break, creating a leak.
Russia does not operate any boiling water reactors, the type involved in Fukushima. It operates many pressurized water reactors, a design also used in the West that Russian officials say is inherently safer. Some of the oldest such reactors in Russia have an extra-large volume of cooling water on hand, Mr. Kirienko said.
Mr. Kirienko said he did not expect the Fukushima case to affect the pace of reactor construction in China or India, because those countries already had nuclear expertise. But he said that reactor development in Italy, Switzerland and Venezuela, which do not have reactors now, would be delayed. And he said that Germany, which decided last week to shut down seven older nuclear plants, would probably also slow any new developments.
Despite the crisis in Japan, Russia may actually increase nuclear construction, Rosatom officials said. Sergey Novikov, a spokesman, said that before the disaster, the Russian goal was to increase the fraction of electricity from reactors to 25 to 30 percent by 2030, from 16 percent now.
In light of Fukushima, he said, the effort might turn to replacing some older reactors.
© 2011. The New York Times Company.
* * *
Sify News / 2011-03-27
Russia plans to synthesise new element
Физики из Объединенного института ядерных исследований (Дубна) планируют начать эксперименты по синтезу 119-го элемента таблицы Менделеева.
Moscow, March 27 - Russian physicists plan to begin experiments on the synthesis of a new element 119 of the periodic system, a top scientist has said.
Scientists from the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, where six elements of the periodic system were synthesised earlier, are planning to conduct experiments with help from American experts.
"In the near future we are planning a first experiment on the synthesis of element 119 of Mendeleev's periodic table together with our American colleagues from Livermore and Berkeley (laboratories)," said Sergei Dmitriyev, head of the institute's laboratory of nuclear reactions, in Dubna, 125 km north of Moscow.
"We do believe that element 118 is not the last one," he said.
Element 118 was synthesised in Dubna in October 2006.
The Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna is currently celebrating the 55th anniversary of its foundation.
© Copyright Sify Technologies Ltd, 1998-2010. All rights reserved.
* * *
Nanotechwire.com / 3/27/2011
RUSNANO Co-investment Helps Launch Russian Production-Research Lab from American Innovation company BiOptix
"РОСНАНО" инвестирует 4,5 млн. долларов в проект по расширению производства безметковых биодетекторов и бионанослайдов (стеклянные подложки, покрытые прецизионными металлическими и биофункциональными наноплёнками), разработанных американской компанией BiOptix Diagnostics, Inc.
При проведении измерений с помощью биодетекторов нет необходимости в прикреплении флуоресцентной или изотопной метки к исследуемым молекулам, что позволяет проводить ранее недоступные исследования, а также экономить время и реагенты.
RUSNANO has invested $4.5 million dollars in a project to expand production of label-free biodetectors and bionanoslides with their American developer, BiOptix Diagnostics, Inc. Two American venture capital funds, Boulder Ventures, Ltd. and Peierls Foundation, and private investors have invested another $4.5 million in authorized capital of BiOptix. The project, which has a total budget of $19 million, was approved by the Supervisory Council of RUSNANO in December 2010.
The transaction is structured such that RUSNANO invests in the capital of the American company, and BiOptix, over the course of several years, will direct a significant part of the investment toward establishing production in Russia of disposable bionanoslides - glass bases covered with metal and biofunctional nanofilms. A research laboratory will also be established in Russia. Specialists at the laboratory will make further improvements in the technology and develop proposals with scientists from the Bio Nano Physics Research and Education Center of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.
BiOptix Diagnostics, Inc. developed its patented biodetection technology with John Hall, a 2005 Nobel Prize laureate in Physics. The instruments incorporating the technology - which work without attaching a florescent or isotope tag to the object being studied - are able to detect not only the presence of a bioreaction but also directly ascertain its kinetic parameters. Measurement of kinetic constants of bimolecular reaction is essential to thorough study of promising molecule-candidates for innovative pharmaceuticals.
The moderate cost to purchase and use BiOptix biodetectors, their compactness, operating and servicing simplicity, and accuracy will enable BiOptix to take a significant share of the rapidly expanding global market in label-free technology for detecting molecular interactions.
The products are in demand from laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, universities, and research and development institutes throughout the world. They accelerate the pace and raise the efficiency of innovative drug development.
"We are excited to have RUSNANO as an investor and partner in BiOptix," said Richard Whitcomb, president and CEO of BiOptix Diagnostics, Inc. "RUSNANO's participation in this project will hasten the process of building a successful business and enable us to tap into new markets and resources that were previously inaccessible."
"RUSNANO had cooperated with high-tech companies in the US earlier, but this is our company's first direct investment in an American legal entity. We are proud to be part of such an outstanding innovative history. I think products from BiOptix can open new opportunities for developing promising drugs," RUSNANO managing director Evgeniy Evdokimov remarked.
RUSNANO was established in March 2011 as an open joint-stock company through reorganization of state corporation Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies. RUSNANO's mission is to develop the Russian nanotechnology industry through co-investment in nanotechnology projects with substantial economic potential or social benefit. The Government of the Russian Federation owns 100 percent of the shares in RUSNANO. Anatoly Chubais is chairman of the Executive Board of RUSNANO.
Work to establish nanotechnology infrastructure and training for nanotechnology specialists, formerly conducted by the Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies, has been entrusted to the Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programs, a non-commercial fund also established through reorganization of the Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies.
BiOptix Diagnostics, Inc., headquartered in Boulder, CO, was established in 2003. The company specializes in production of label-free biodetectors. In 2010 BiOptix began supplying biodetectors to customers and initiated small-batch production of bionanoslides.
Copyright © 2011 Nanotechwire.com.
* * *
ChemRar / 24 March 2011
Tuberculosis Findings at Russian Academy of Sciences Workshop in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
14-22 марта в Рио-де-Жанейро прошел научно-практический междисциплинарный семинар и дискуссионный научный клуб "Новые технологии в медицине и экспериментальной биологии". Организаторами выступили Академия полярной медицины и экстремальной экологии человека (Россия), Государственный институт усовершенствования врачей (Казахстан), Центр физиологических и биохимических исследований (Украина), Медико-биотехнологический институт "Вектор-Т" и ООО "Панаген" (Россия), Immunitor Corporation (USA).
Одним из наиболее обсуждаемых вопросов стали последние достижения в профилактике и лечении туберкулеза.
Vancouver, Canada, March 23, 2011. Immunitor presented positive clinical data for adjunct immunotherapy treatment of difficult to treat cases of tuberculosis. Immune Network Ltd., is proud to announce that Immunitor co-organized and participated in an international scientific workshop dedicated to "NEW TECHNOLOGIES IN MEDICINE AND EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY" held this week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Co-organized by Russian Academy of Sciences and biotechnology companies this invitation-only conference focuses on lab-to-product strategies for the most advanced and original biomedical projects developed in Russia and former Soviet Union countries. "This is one of most exciting think-tank gatherings during which latest ideas and inventions are scrutinized and investments prioritized," said Immunitor's executive Dr. Aldar Bourinbaiar. "We are extremely privileged and honored to be invited. Our recent break-through in immunotherapy of tuberculosis has attracted significant interest in CIS countries, which are among high burden TB countries", he added.
During the conference, the finalized results from imm01 clinical trial in Ukraine were presented, which compared the outcome of V5 immunotherapy to placebo among treatment refractory tuberculosis cases including re-treated TB, multi-drug resistant (MDR-TB) and TB and HIV co-infection. The interim results of this study were published recently in peer-reviewed journals. Presented data provided further evidence of the beneficial effect of V5 in tuberculosis patients. Once-per-day pill of V5 was safe and did not produce adverse effects or reactivation of TB.
Concurrent administration of V5 either with 1st- or 2nd-line TB drugs resulted in rapid clearance of M. tuberculosis in sputum smears. Sputum conversion occurred very quickly - only one month of treatment was needed. No difference was seen when "regular" easy-to-treat TB was compared to re-treated TB, MDR-TB or HIV-TB - the proportion of converted patients and time to conversion were identical, regardless whether 1st- or 2nd-line TB drugs were used.
Administration of V5 produced other statistically significant clinical benefits. V5 reversed TB-associated wasting; eliminated fever; and had shown marked anti-inflammatory effect: erythrocyte sedimentation rate and leukocyte counts reverted back to within normal range. In addition to the anti-tubercular and beneficial clinical effects, Immunitor's V5 immunomodulator is also shown to reduce the hepatotoxicity induced by TB chemotherapy. The serious adverse effects of TB drugs have important negative consequences on treatment options, not only damaging the liver, but also decreasing the willingness of patients to comply with their TB regimen, causing drug-resistance.
At the conference in Copacabana beach the initial roadmap has been established that would allow Immunitor to initiate independent clinical trials at multiple sites in Russia. Negotiations are now underway regarding clinical protocol and ethics approval for the trial that will be initiated later this year. Also during the conference, participants were invited to visit The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Portuguese Fundaçao Oswaldo Cruz, also known as FIOCRUZ) - the main biomedical institution in Brazil. The FIOCRUZ meeting resulted in the exchange of ideas and business opportunities that will be explored further as mutually beneficial to all involved parties.
After HIV, tuberculosis is the second most common cause of death from an infectious disease, with approximately 1.7 million people dying each year, and 9 million individuals acquiring new infections. Current treatments are not fully effective, particularly against multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) and HIV-TB and strenuous treatment regimens lasting for up to 2 years are required. "Immunitor's approach has the potential to address current challenges - offering shorter and safer treatment solution. V5 is inexpensive; easy to administer; does not require refrigeration; and is made from readily available sources, which suits ideally countries which include Brazil, Russia, India and China, where TB is rampant and patients are often too poor to afford expensive 2nd line TB drugs," said Vichai Jirathitikal, co-founder and co-inventor of Immunitor oral vaccine platform.
© 2010 CHT "ChemRar".
* * *
Foreign Policy / March 30, 2011
Russia's Arctic Opening
As Moscow prepares to open the icy waters of the Arctic to offshore drilling, dangers abound. But it's also a moment of opportunity to get things right
О перспективах и опасностях освоения месторождений в Арктике.
When it comes to Russian oil and gas, major deals with foreign companies are a good deal like London buses: Just when you're about to give up waiting for one to come along, three or four turn up at once.
Already, 2011 has been a bumper year.
In January, BP sought to ensure its future as a major international player by announcing a landmark $16 billion alliance - now on the rocks - with Russia's state-run Rosneft. The company's chairman, Igor Sechin, is also Russia's deputy prime minister. Facing a multi-billion dollar tab from last year's Gulf of Mexico spill - and the prospect of being frozen out of operating roles in the United States for years - BP agreed to swap a chunk of its own equity for a share of Rosneft and cooperate in a new Arctic venture in the Kara Sea, with the blessing of the Kremlin but, perhaps fatally, without the benediction of BP's Russian business partners in TNK-BP.
Later the same month, on the margins of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, executives at ExxonMobil struck a deal with Rosneft to develop offshore fields in the Black Sea.
In early March, France's Total bought a $4 billion stake in Russia's leading independent gas company, Novatek. Less noticed - but of considerable long-term significance - the same week saw Russia's state-run gas giant, Gazprom, secure ownership of Kovykta, a Siberian gas field that will ultimately be used to pump gas to the hungriest energy consumer on the block: China.
Together, these deals reflect Moscow's growing appetite for partnerships with international companies in areas that require hefty investments of technology and money, coupled with a strategic desire to assert control over relatively easy-to-produce assets.
In one sense, this is nothing new. International companies have a long and tortured history of involvement in Russia's hydrocarbon development, stretching back to the Rothschilds and the Nobels more than 100 years ago.
Much of this history has depended on the ebb and flow of power between resource-rich Russia and companies with the means to develop those resources. In the 1990s, with oil prices low and a weak Russian government, companies' bargaining position was strong. After 2000, with rising prices and a more assertive Kremlin, power shifted back to the state.
Now, Russia seems attractive - and receptive - once again. With large parts of the world off-limits to outsiders and the Middle East in turmoil, international oil companies increasingly see Russian assets as an indispensable part of their portfolio. Russia, meanwhile, needs international expertise, and money, to keep production high.
But these latest deals involve two new elements that point to the longer-term future of Russian hydrocarbons.
First, two of the deals have an Arctic focus, moving beyond the more southern fields that have fed Russia's energy superpower status for years. It is an ironic twist of business logic that one of the indirect consequences of the Gulf oil-spill disaster has been that BP has attempted to enter an agreement to develop hydrocarbons in the environmentally sensitive offshore Russian Arctic. (As Russia's ever-colorful prime minister Vladimir Putin put it: "One beaten man is worth two unbeaten men.")
The Total-Novatek deal, meanwhile, opens the way for Total's involvement in the huge onshore Arctic Yamal gas deposit, with a development price tag of $20 billion. (Development of the giant Arctic offshore Shtokman gas field, in which Gazprom is partnering with Total and Norway's Statoil, is slated to come into production in 2016 - but many expect that timeline to slip).
Second, Russia is attempting to recalibrate its hydrocarbon focus from Western countries to those in Asia. American shale gas has exploded the commercial logic of large-scale liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports to the United States: America may be able to get all the gas it needs out of its own ground. U.S. oil imports have already been declining for several years.
The European energy market is huge, but mature. The prospects for growth in European gas consumption are limited. China, meanwhile, is hungry. It is already more dependent on imported oil and gas than the United States, and its needs are projected to increase dramatically in the coming years.
Some Russians fear that, over time, the sparsely populated Russian Far East will become a Chinese economic dependency: There are (almost) as many people in the single Chinese border province of Heilongjiang as in the whole of Russia east of the Urals. Other Russians express a different concern: that they are not getting enough Chinese investment to truly scale up hydrocarbon exports, whether from the Arctic or not. Rosneft has been talking to the China National Petroleum Corporation about offshore Arctic exploration for years.
The environmental dangers of Arctic development are monumental. So is the prize. A BP press statement announcing the potentially spiked Rosneft deal described it as opening up "an area roughly equivalent in size and prospectivity to the UK North Sea."
For Russia, the Arctic is key to boosting hydrocarbon exports on which the country's economy - and political system - largely depend.
For all the pieties about economic diversification repeated by President Dmitry Medvedev and his reform-minded advisers, Russia remains a petro-state. But Arctic development is about more than just maintaining Russia's oil and gas exports. In the long term, increased hydrocarbon activities would boost shipping along Russia's Northern Sea Route. This, in turn, could help open up Russia's vast Arctic interior.
What should observers make of this? First, and fundamentally, whether or not BP is ultimately successful in the Rosneft deal, Arctic development is here to stay - and not just in Russia.
A British company, Cairn, will continue exploration off Greenland this summer. Although developments off the coast of Alaska are controversial - and Shell's program has been pushed back another year - the United States already produces oil onshore in the Arctic. Norway's Statoil produces LNG above the Arctic Circle. The Norwegian government has just given a green light to more exploration in the Barents Sea, while a boundary treaty with Russia opens the scope still further. In Canada, a $16 billion proposed gas pipeline along the Mackenzie Valley recently passed a major regulatory hurdle - though U.S. shale gas may yet kill it.
In short, an international treaty to prevent Arctic oil and gas development, on the model of the Antarctic Treaty, is a non-starter. The Arctic states - and the majority of the Arctic's many peoples - don't want one.
But if a treaty preventing development is out, there are still international mechanisms for shaping the way development will happen. The Arctic's premier consultative body, the Arctic Council, may yet be strengthened by its member states (including the United States and Russia) at a meeting in May. Non-Arctic states are increasingly interested.
Second, Arctic development poses huge environmental challenges, and nowhere more sharply than in Russia. Last year, Putin promised at an international conference in Moscow that Russia's Arctic development would take place with the highest environmental standards. The international environmental NGO WWF has since pointed to the possibility that the boundaries of Russia's national parks may be redrawn to accommodate development.
There will always be commercial and other pressures to take more risks: to go faster, deeper, further. But baseline science needs to be in place to assess environmental impacts. As it stands, the technology and infrastructure needed to clean up a spill in the Arctic should the worst happen are inadequate.
Third, the involvement of international oil companies, particularly in Russia's Arctic, should broadly be welcome. It is better for Arctic resources to be developed with Western technology and standards than for it to be attempted without them. There is a strong incentive for cooperation: The industry as a whole will be held responsible if something goes wrong. An environmental disaster in the Arctic would likely have a transnational dimension.
Going forward, it must be a priority to make sure that companies less exposed to the anger of activist shareholders and environmentally sensitive governments adopt the same standards. Russia's Arctic opening is a huge challenge with tremendous strategic, commercial, and environmental ramifications. It is also an opportunity do things right.
© 2011 The Slate Group, LLC. All rights reserved.
* * *
The Guardian / Sunday 13 March 2011
Sergei Korolev: the rocket genius behind Yuri Gagarin
50 years ago, Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. But the unsung hero of the Soviet Union's triumph was a brilliant scientist who survived Stalin's purges
К 50-летию со дня первого полета человека в космос The Guardian публикует статью о С.П.Королеве.
It remains the one untarnished triumph of Soviet science. On 12 April 1961, a peasant farmer's son with a winsome smile crammed himself into a capsule eight feet in diameter and was blasted into space on top of a rocket 20 storeys high. One hundred and eight minutes later, after making a single orbit of our world, the young pilot parachuted back to Earth. In doing so, Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to journey into space.
The flight of Vostok 1 - whose 50th anniversary will be celebrated next month - was a defining moment of the 20th century and opened up the prospect of interplanetary travel for our species. It also made Gagarin an international star while his mission was hailed as clear proof of the superiority of communist technology. The 27-year-old cosmonaut became a figurehead for the Soviet Union and toured the world. He lunched with the Queen; was kissed by Gina Lollobrigida; and holidayed with the privileged in Crimea.
Gagarin also received more than a million letters from fans across the world, an astonishing outpouring of global admiration - for he was not obvious star material. He was short and slightly built. Yet Gagarin possessed a smile "that lit up the darkness of the cold war", as one writer put it, and had a natural grace that made him the best ambassador that the USSR ever had. Even his flaws seem oddly endearing by modern standards, his worst moment occurring when he gashed his head after leaping from a window to avoid his wife who had discovered a girl in his hotel room.
To many Russians, Gagarin occupies the same emotional territory as John F Kennedy or Princess Diana. The trio even share the intense attention of conspiracy theorists with alien abduction, a CIA plot and suicide all being blamed for Gagarin's death in 1968.
At the same time, his flight's anniversary will give Russians a chance to reflect on the former might of the Soviet empire. Ravaged by a war that had killed more than 26 million of its citizens, the USSR learned, within a generation, how to orbit satellites, aim probes at the moon and finally put a man into space. It was an extraordinary demonstration of the might of the Soviet people. At least, that is what was claimed at the time.
In fact, Gagarin's flight was anything but a collective affair. In the years that have followed the USSR's disintegration, it has become clear that his mission was a highly individualistic business with one man dominating proceedings: Sergei Korolev, the chief designer - a shadowy figure who was only revealed to have masterminded the USSR's rocket wizardry after his death in 1966. The remarkable story of his genius, his survival in the Gulags; his transformation into one of the most powerful men in the Soviet Union - and his interaction with his favourite cosmonaut, his "little eagle" Yuri Gagarin, is the real story behind that flight on 12 April 1961. Gagarin became the face of Soviet space supremacy, while Korolev was its brains. The pair made a potent team and their success brought fame to one and immense power to the other. Neither lived long to enjoy those rewards, however.
The man who would lead the world into the space age, Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, was born on 12 January 1907, in Zhitomir, in modern-day Ukraine. His mother Maria left her husband Pavel while Sergei was young and remarried - though Korolev went on to have a good relationship with his stepfather. Like Gagarin, he was besotted with flying and aeronautics and studied in Moscow under Andrei Tupolev, the distinguished Soviet aircraft designer. Tupolev described his young student "as a man with unlimited devotion to his job and his ideas".
Korolev qualified as a pilot and began designing gliders to which he added rocket engines. In 1933, he successfully launched the first liquid-fuelled rocket in the USSR. He prospered for he was hard-working and loyal to the Soviet system. It was not enough. On 27 June 1938, four secret service agents broke into his apartment and arrested him as a spy. Korolev was beaten. He asked for a glass of water and a jailer smashed the jug in his face. In the end, Korolev was forced to admit to crimes of treason and sabotage and was sentenced to 10 years' hard labour at the Kolyma gold mine, the most notorious of all Gulag prison camps. Korolev never found out why he had been picked out.
He survived Kolyma but lost all his teeth, his jaw was broken and he may have suffered a heart attack. He was, as his biographer James Harford says, just another "egregious example of the incredible stupidity, not to speak of callous cruelty, of the purges of Joseph Stalin". More than five million Soviet men and women were arrested and either shot, jailed or sent to the Gulags during the Great Purge that was unleashed in the 30s.
After five months, Korolev was released from Kolyma - probably because Tupolev intervened on his behalf - and he spent the next five years in jail in Moscow working, officially, on aircraft and rocket design with other imprisoned engineers. Then, in 1945, he was made a colonel in the Red Army and sent to Germany. It was a remarkable change in his fortunes and it occurred for a simple reason: the Russians had captured Nazi stores of V2 rocket components and wanted to use them to develop their own missile system. Korolev's credentials were ideal.
The V2's guidance systems, turbo-pumps and engines were of startling sophistication, Korolev realised. However, the rocket's designer, Werner von Braun, and his team had defected to the Americans, with several complete V2s. This gave the US a huge advantage in the race to develop missiles from the Nazis' technology. But Korolev was a gifted engineer and designer - and an obsessive worker. "I can never forget, on going home, if there is something wrong with a technique," he told a colleague. He slept for only a few hours a night, lived frugally and on 21 August 1957 launched the Soviet R-7 rocket, the world's first intercontinental ballistic missile, on a 4,000-mile journey from Baikonur cosmodrome, in modern-day Kazakhstan, to the Kamchatka peninsula. He had beaten the USA by 15 months.
"His ability to inspire large teams, as well as individuals, is proverbial," says Harford in Korolev: How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat America to the Moon. "He had a roaring temper, was prone to shout and use expletives, but was quick to forgive and forget. His consuming passion was work, work, work for space exploration and for the defence of his country. One wonders how he maintained such an unswerving loyalty to a system that had treated him so cruelly."
Von Braun may have built the V2 and later the Saturn V rocket that took Armstrong and Aldrin to the moon, but his achievements were dwarfed by those of Korolev. The chief designer - he was never named in state communiqués because of official disapproval of "the cult of personalities" - developed the first intercontinental missile and then launched the world's first satellite, Sputnik 1. He also put into space the first dog, the first two-man crew, the first woman, the first three-man crew; directed the first walk in space; created the first Soviet spy satellite and communication satellite; built mighty launch vehicles and flew spacecraft towards the moon, Venus and Mars - and all on a shoestring budget.
However, it was the launch of the first man into space that truly marked out Korolev - and Gagarin - for greatness.
Yuri Gagarin was born on 9 March 1934, in Klushino, in the Smolensk region, 100 miles west of Moscow. His father and mother worked on the local collective farm, he as a storeman, she with a dairy herd, according to Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony in their book Starman: The Truth behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin. In October 1942, the village was overrun by retreating German troops. The Gagarins were thrown out of their home and had to dig a shelter to survive the winter. Later Yuri's brother Valentin and sister Zoya were deported to labour camps in Poland.
Remarkably the family survived and in 1950 Yuri was sent to Moscow to train as a steel foundryman before enrolling in the newly built technical school in Saratov, where he took up flying, eventually becoming a military pilot. He was stationed in Murmansk and flew MiG-15 jets on reconnaissance missions.
In October 1959, a set of recruiting teams began visiting air bases across the Soviet Union. Nothing was said about the nature of their mission. In any case, most pilots failed the tests they were set. A privileged few, including Gagarin, were selected and sent to Burdenko military hospital in Moscow where the pilot recalled being examined, intensely, by groups of doctors. "They tapped our bodies with hammers, twisted us about on special devices and checked the vestibular organs in our ears," Gagarin recalled. "They tested us from head to toe."
Korolev - who had already stunned the world with the launch of Sputnik 1, the first satellite - was now preparing for his ultimate achievement: putting a human in space. After his earlier experiment with the ill-fated Laika, he had successfully flown a dog into orbit and returned it safely to Earth. And if a dog could do it, it was surely time for a human. However, at the time, doctors - both in the east and the west - were unsure about how the human frame would respond to the intense forces of launch and then the weightlessness of orbit. Hence their obsession with astronauts' fitness. In the end, 20 pilots were selected - only for them to find that the early version of the Vostok capsule that Korolev had come up with was so cramped, only those under 5ft 6in could get in it. The slightly built Gagarin fitted in nicely. Many of the others did not.
In the end, only Gherman Titov provided real competition for Gagarin. He was a brilliant pilot, intense, self-possessed and, as befits a teacher's son, was well-educated and fond of quoting poetry. A week before Vostok's lift-off, the choice was whittled down to the two of them.
Titov was convinced he would win but days before launch was told it would be Gagarin who would be going. Titov never got over being the second, largely unremembered man in space - he flew Vostok 2 on 6 August 1961 - and in 1998, shortly before his death, he still spoke bitterly about his rival: "Some people will tell you I gave him a hug [when his selection was announced]. Nonsense. There was none of that."
Behind the scenes, powerful forces had been backing Gagarin. Khrushchev knew spaceflight was a potent propaganda weapon. "Khrushchev and Gagarin were both peasant farmers' sons while Titov was middle-class," argue Bizony and Doran. "If Gagarin could reach the greatest heights, then Khrushchev's rise to power from similarly humble origins was validated."
So it was the peasant workers' son who headed for glory on the morning of 12 April 1961. He took the bus to the launch pad with Titov in tow - just in case there was a last-minute emergency. Both were wearing spacesuits. Then Gagarin stood up to go. "According to Russian tradition, one should kiss the person going away three times on alternating cheeks," cameraman Vladimir Suvorov recalled. "But they were wearing spacesuits with helmets attached, so they simply clanged against each other."
Gagarin squirmed into his capsule and waited. There was no countdown - a silly, American affectation according to Korolev who, at 9.06am, simply pressed an ignition key and the R-7 rose slowly from the pad. Gagarin shouted: "Poyekhali!" ("Let's go!")
"After the launch, there was complete silence in mission control apart from an operator repeating, every 30 seconds, that 'the flight is normal'," recalls Mikhail Marov, one of Korolev's research engineers. "Then he announced the ship had reached orbit and there was huge shout of joy." Marov - a fellow of the Russian Academy of Science who subsequently headed several space missions - today remembers Gagarin's talking quietly and calmly. "I can see clouds. I can see everything. It's beautiful," he told mission control.
Around 9.50 Vostok began its sweep over America. Half an hour later its engine was retrofired and the capsule began its descent. Every manœuvre had been controlled by Korolev from the ground.
"Those minutes seemed like eternity," Marov recalls. Then it was announced that Gagarin had landed safely. The Soviet press agency Tass immediately broadcast details of the flight and within minutes, crowds began to fill the streets of Moscow. "They looked like surging seas," says Marov. "I have never seen such enthusiasm of ordinary people. They took Gagarin's triumph as a personal victory."
In fact, his flight came perilously close to being a personal loss. As it began its descent, Gagarin's capsule should have separated from the main spaceship but a cable did not detach. The capsule began to spin and tumble "like a yo-yo" as one engineer later described it, exposing unprotected areas to the searing heat of re-entry. The temperature inside rose dangerously. "I was in a cloud of fire rushing toward Earth," Gagarin recalled. Ten minutes later the errant cable burned through; the two modules separated; and Gagarin's capsule ceased its wild rotation. The cosmonaut, who had nearly lost consciousness, blew open its hatch and was ejected, as planned, to make a parachute descent. He landed close to the village of Smelovka, near Saratov in southern Russia. "I saw a woman and a little girl coming toward me. I began to wave my arms and yell. I said I was a Soviet and had come from space."
News of Gagarin's flight swept round the globe. "Man in space!" the London Evening News announced that day while the following morning's Guardian proclaimed: "Russia hails Columbus of space: World's first astronaut home safely." In the US, which had its own space ambitions, the news was less welcome. Reporters pressed Nasa for a quote and phoned press officer John "Shorty" Powers at 4.30am. Powers, outraged at the call, snarled: "What is this! We're all asleep down here!" Next morning's US headlines included the classic: "Soviets put man in space. Spokesman says US asleep."
Powers wasn't far wrong, of course. At the time, Nasa was preparing its own manned Mercury missions but had got no further than a 17-minute test-flight with a chimp called Ham. Korolev had beaten the USA easily. "He seemed to be able to play these little games with his adversaries at will," says Tom Wolfe in The Right Stuff. "There was the eerie feeling that he would continue to let Nasa struggle furiously to catch up - and then launch some startling new demonstration of how just how far ahead he really was." One newspaper cartoon even showed a chimpanzee telling another: "We are a little behind the Russians and a little ahead of the Americans."
Hugo Young, writing in the Times, was more straightforward. "Gagarin's triumph pitilessly mocked the image of dynamism which President Kennedy had offered the American people. It had to be avenged almost as much for his sake as for the nation's." So Kennedy wrote a memo demanding that a space programme be found that promised dramatic results and that the United States could win. The crucial words were "dramatic" and "win". Only a manned lunar landing filled those criteria.
Thus, on 25 May 1961 - a few weeks after Gagarin's flight - Kennedy made his speech committing the United States to sending a man to the moon and returning him safely before the end of the decade. The Space Race was on. "That speech, that reaction needs to be understood as a key part of the fight of Yuri Gagarin because his mission was the immediate stimulus for the landing of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin," says space expert Professor John Logsdon of George Washington University.
Few observers gave America much chance of victory. The Soviet programme looked unbeatable with Gagarin and Korolev as its face and brains. It was not to be, however. Korolev was living on borrowed time. He had already suffered one heart attack and was now succumbing slowly to illnesses brought on by his treatment in the Gulag. "People thought of him as a burly man, built like a bear, but the truth was that his body was made rigid by countless ancient injuries," say Doran and Bizony. "He could not turn his neck, but had to swivel his upper torso to look people in the eye; nor could he open his jaws wide enough to laugh out loud."
On 5 January 1966, Korolev was admitted to hospital for what was supposed to be routine surgery. But during the operation, on 14 January, he haemorrhaged on the operating table. Doctors tried to put a tube into his lungs to keep him breathing but found his jaw had been broken so badly in the Gulag, they couldn't pass it through his damaged throat. He never regained consciousness and died, aged 59, later that day. For the first time, the Soviet people learned who the chief designer was. Pravda ran a two-page obituary and Korolev was given a state funeral. Thousands gathered as his ashes were carried through Red Square to the Kremlin Wall. Gagarin gave the final eulogy.
Korolev's little eagle only survived his mentor by two years. On 27 March, Gagarin took off from Chkalovsky airbase on a MiG-15UTI jet with fellow pilot Vladimir Seryogin. It crashed a few minutes later, killing both men. A KGB investigation suggested that a near-miss with another jet had sent Gagarin's plane spinning out of control, though the cause of the accident remains unclear and the subject of unending conspiracy theories. On 4 April 1968 - after a huge state funeral in which tens of thousands gathered - Gagarin's ashes were interred close to Korolev's. The Soviet space programme had been orphaned.
Before his death, Korolev had designed a mighty launcher, the N1, which was intended to carry men to the moon. Engineers continued to work on it but without the chief designer's guidance and inspiration, they were lost. In 1969, just as America was perfecting its Apollo missions, two unmanned test N1 launches were carried out. The first exploded in flight. The second didn't even make it off the launch pad. "The rocket fell over, destroying the entire launch complex," says Harford. The Soviet lunar dream was over. Weeks later, Armstrong and Aldrin were walking on the moon.
The might of the US aerospace industry had prevailed and America emerged as winners of the space race, though there is an ironic coda to this story, one that Korolev would have certainly enjoyed. After Apollo, the US went on to develop the space shuttle, the world's first reusable spacecraft, which was used - among many tasks - to construct the international space station. By the 1980s, the US was flaunting its space prowess. Then things went badly awry. Two shuttle accidents caused the deaths of 14 astronauts. As a result, the craft will be grounded later this year.
And after that, there will be only one way to get astronauts - no matter what their nationality - to the space station: on a Russian Soyuz launcher, a rocket derived from the R-7 that Korolev designed to put Gagarin into space. As Logsdon says: "The rocket we now rely on to put humans into space is essentially the same launch vehicle, taking off from the same launch pad, that was built by Korolev and which took Gagarin into space. Half a century later, we are back where we started. It raises the question of whether or not the world is serious about human spaceflight."
It also demonstrates, starkly, the enduring genius of Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, the man who launched Yuri Gagarin.
EYEWITNESS: The day I saw Gagarin
I have an intense, very personal memory of Yuri Gagarin. The young pilot, newly promoted to the rank of major, visited Britain a few months after his great flight. I was 11 years old at the time and fanatical about astronomy and space science. My mother, to my eternal gratitude, spotted that Gagarin would be opening the Soviet Trade Fair in London on 11 July when our family was on holiday in the city visiting relatives. (We lived in Glasgow.) I remember standing at the front of a fairly large crowd that afternoon. A car drew up and Gagarin bounced out. He marched smartly towards us, waving cheerfully before bounding into the exhibition. I could only have had a few seconds' sight of him but have a vivid recollection of his smartness, compact body and, most noticeable of all, his angelic smile.
My fleeting glimpse of the first man in space has stayed with me in the intervening half-century though at the time I was more interested in the trade fair itself, with its full-size models of the Soviets' early Sputnik probes and other scientific paraphernalia. I also collected a magazine that showed - in detail - how the USSR would get to the moon long before America. Sadly I did not keep it.
Gagarin went on to meet the Queen, lay a wreath at Karl Marx's grave and visit Manchester, rather bizarrely as the guest of the Amalgamated Union of Foundry Workers. Gagarin charmed wherever he went, though I rather liked the remark by then prime minister Harold Macmillan, who noted the people who lined the streets to see the cosmonaut. "There would have been twice the number if they had sent the dog," he muttered.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011.
* * *