Российская наука и мир (дайджест) - Декабрь 1998 г.

1998 г.
Российская наука и мир
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)

    SCIENCE / V. 282, N 5396, 11 Dec 1998
    New Minister Sets Lofty Goals

    Министр науки М.Кирпичников пытается собрать достаточно средств, чтобы сохранить научно-исследовательские учреждения.

MOSCOW - As Russia's economy unravels, Science Minister Mikhail Kirpichnikov is trying to patch together enough resources to keep the country's once-proud research enterprise from crumbling away. Kirpichnikov says he is ready to try some new maneuvers such as channeling money to some disciplines at the expense of others and "aggressively" claiming intellectual property rights for scientists. Top officials place high hopes in him, although his ministry's options are limited by Russia's dwindling finances: This year the government will spend less than $2 billion on science, the lowest sum in decades.

© 1998 by The American Association for the Advancement of Science.
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    Nature / Volume 396, 397, December, 1998
    Moscow plans to boost jobs in science towns

    Администрация Московской области приняла программу поддержки 24 научных городов, расположенных вокруг Москвы.

MOSCOW - The authorities of Moscow district - a vast territory around the Russian capital which excludes Moscow itself - have adopted a programme to support the 24 "scientific towns" in the territory. The scientific organizations which are at the heart of the towns belong to the state, but the federal budget fails to finance them fully.
"The level of unemployment in our scientific towns is two to three times the average for the district," says Alexei Vorontsov, deputy head of the Moscow district administration.

* * *
    Nature / Volume 396, 397, December, 1998
    Moscow scientists reject funding deal and plan more protests

    Ученые Москвы решили продолжать действия протеста против недостаточного финансирования научных исследований, а также низкой зарплаты ученых.

MOSCOW - Scientists in Moscow have vowed to continue protesting at the lack of adequate funding for research, rejecting an agreement reached last month between the Russian Committee of Scientific Collectives (RCSC) and the deputy prime minister Vladimir Bulgak. Although the government has, in line with the agreement, paid the scientists their salaries for November, a meeting of the trade unions of the Moscow branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) issued a statement saying that they felt "free to break the achieved agreements" (see Nature 396, 208; 1998).
The researchers insist that, before the end of the year, the cabinet should transfer 5 billion rubles (US$28 million) to scientific organizations, including 2.9 billion rubles in salaries. These figures were approved earlier this year by the previous government, which was dissolved in August. But these figures are significantly higher than those in the agreement signed by the RCSC, which is the Russian trade union of scientific workers. This gives only 1.9 billion rubles, including 1.8 billion in scientists' salaries. The cabinet has promised to pay another 1.1 billion rubles to scientists in January and February next year, and the remaining 2 billion will be provided in exemptions from utility charges.
The Moscow RAS trade unions say that they cannot accept a situation in which there is virtually no money for scientific work itself, such as equipment, reagents, conferences and seminars. They are seeking the support of other regional branches for their position.

Nature © Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1998
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    UniSci Science and Research News / 14-Dec-1998
    U.S. Will Train Russians For Impending AIDS Epidemic

    Российские специалисты в области медицины, психологии, социологии и биологии будут обучаться в Америке, чтобы противостоять распространению ВИЧ/СПИДа в России.

The number of HIV/AIDS cases in Russia is expected to skyrocket in the years ahead, and Russia's current public health infrastructure - outmoded in the former Soviet era and now overwhelmed due to the Russian economic crisis - is unprepared for AIDS.
Quickly training Russian medical, public health, and behavioral scientists in HIV prevention research methods offers one important strategy for averting the AIDS epidemic that is beginning to unfold in Russia and throughout eastern Europe.
Starting in March, 1999, the Medical College of Wisconsin's Center for AIDS Intervention Research (CAIR) will provide training to assist Russian health researchers in developing HIV prevention approaches to stave off the emerging AIDS epidemic in Russia.
In the project, CAIR will be part of a consortium that also includes Yale University School of Public Health and St. Petersburg State University in Russia. The Fogarty International Training Center of the National Institutes of Health has awarded CAIR a five-year, $515,000 grant for the training program.
"AIDS is now knocking on Russia's door," says Jeffrey A. Kelly, Ph.D., Medical College of Wisconsin professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine and CAIR director.
"Following the breakup of the former Soviet Union and its social controls, there have been alarming rises in rates of sexually-transmitted diseases and injection drug use among very young people, all occurring in a context of little awareness about AIDS, few resources for AIDS prevention, and massive social and economic problems that are gripping Russia. The stage is set for a major Russian HIV epidemic, and the country is unprepared for it."
A team of CAIR investigators including Dr. Kelly, Kathleen J. Sikkema, Ph.D., CAIR's associate director for training, and Anton M. Somlai, Ed.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine, has visited St. Petersburg twice this year and met with Russian scientists, public health officials, and non-government community-based organizations to develop the training program.
Four Russian scientists from the disciplines of medicine, psychology, sociology and biology will spend five months receiving training in HIV prevention research at CAIR, along with additional experience at Yale University. Four other health scientists will spend two years in Milwaukee receiving intensive AIDS research training at CAIR, and will then apply what they have learned when they return to Russia. CAIR investigators will also conduct HIV prevention research courses in St. Petersburg several times a year throughout the five-year period. "The objective of this program is to share with our Russian colleagues the lessons learned in our own country's fight to stop AIDS," said Dr. Kelly. "By providing research training to health scientists in Russia, we hope that we can contribute to HIV prevention and policy efforts there."

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    Fox News Online / December 14, 1998
    High-tech data reveals details of hurricane destruction

    Данные, полученные с помощью российских спутников, помогли увидеть разрушения, нанесенные ураганом

RESTON, VA. (AP) - One image shows a galaxy of lights, another darkness. One shows vast patches of green vegetation, another brown mud. One shows roads, bridges and villages, another more brown mud. The before-and-after views of Nicaragua and Honduras, including high-resolution photos like those used for government spying, are vivid evidence of the destruction of Hurricane Mitch across an area with the size and population of California. They also may be key to rebuilding Central America after the most destructive storm in the Western Hemisphere in 200 years. More than 9,000 people died and 2 million were left homeless, with damage estimated at more than $5 billion.
"People analyzing the photographs are amazed at the level of destruction. We have not seen anything like this for any other major storm anywhere," said Jim Jancaitis, systems development director at the U.S. Geological Survey's Center for Integration of Natural Disaster Information. With monitors taking in everything from Russian satellite images to weather data and live news media reports, the lab has the immodest goal of monitoring and saving the world. Alarms go off when the words like "hurricane" or "earthquake" are uttered in news bulletins, but the lab's other monitors usually already have researchers scurrying. First word of the hurricane that hit Central America triggered a massive data-gathering effort that has given relief workers and reconstruction crews the ability to immediately locate landslides, pinpoint fatalities, spot potential dangers and retrace roads, utilities and shifting waterways. An Army Corps of Engineers spokesman, Scott Saunders, called the survey system "a powerful application that we have put to good use." The World Food Program, missionary groups, international financiers and Canadian and British agencies working in Central America also have been using the data. As Air Force OC-135B observation planes continued to fly over the region snapping detailed, high-resolution photographs, a team of Geological Survey scientists worked in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, using the data in state-of-the-art computers to analyze immediate problems.
One is a massive landslide across Tegucigalpa's Choluteca River, which Jancaitis said has backed up a "witch's brew" of water, chemicals, raw sewage, debris and bodies. In an unprecedented high-tech exercise involving the survey and several other agencies and companies, a mountain of data is being drawn together to form a highly complex geographic information system of areas devastated by Mitch.
Anyone with access to the Internet can get a glimpse at the system, at www.usgs.gov. But some of the highest-resolution photographs, which are for government use only, are not there. The full information package of photos, maps and data that can be layered over each other for comparison is being made available for use by government and private relief agencies and others involved in the rebuilding. It could provide the pattern for a more scientific, coordinated response to disasters, whether they be in large urban areas or the world's remotest corners. "It's very exciting stuff with really large possibilities," Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said in an interview. He noted that while computer imaging systems been used in past domestic disasters, its use in Honduras and Nicaragua shows how it can guide rebuilding. "In Central America, we are gaining the ability to use data after the fact," he said. Babbitt said it was important to make the data as widely available as possible, although he and other officials acknowledged the concern that such detailed information about a country might be misused by terrorists. Nonetheless, Babbitt said, the danger of misuse "is outweighed by the benefits of transparency in making it useful."
Further enhancements are expected as the technology rapidly improves and costs go down. Gathering and consolidating similar information on past U.S. disasters cost millions of dollars and took several months. Scientists estimate the cost of the Central American project so far at about $250,000. Mark Schaefer, a deputy assistant interior secretary, said the system could help save lives in future disasters anywhere in the world.
"Natural disasters are both a tragedy and an opportunity to build a more resilient system," he said.

© 1998, News America Digital Publishing, Inc.
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    Electronic Telegraph / December 17, 1998
    Bacteria to cure curse of astronauts' underpants
    • Aisling Irwin

    Грязное нижнее белье изрядно портит жизнь космонавтам на орбитальной станции. Ученые одной из лабораторий Института биологических и медицинских проблем заняты поиском коктейля из бактерий, превращающих грязное белье в метан - топливо, которое может оказаться полезным на космической станции. "Это будет революцией в науке биологического распада" - сказал доктор В.Ильин, научный сотрудник исследовательского центра.

DIRTY underpants in space, the scourge of any astronaut's life, could be eliminated by the Russians. Scientists are busy searching for a cocktail of bacteria that will feast on the dirty underpants, converting them into methane - a fuel that might prove useful on a space station. Astronauts' underwear, changed once a week, builds up over months in the cramped Russian space station Mir, occupying valuable space. Vyacheslav Ilyin, workers at the Russian state research centre's Institute for Biological and Medical Problems, in Moscow, he said: "They identify waste as one of the most acute problems they encounter in space."
In an enclosed environment such as a space station or a spaceship where almost everything - including urine - is recycled, the question of underpants, and disposable items such as the airline-style towels with which they wash themselves, is pressing. The laundry bags accumulate until they are fetched by a Progress cargo ship launched from Earth, which only visits a few times a year.
Russian scientists have been working on a mix of bacteria that could digest both cotton and paper underpants. The items, along with anything made from certain plastics, cellulose and other organic waste, will be placed in a unit where the bacteria will digest them. Dr Ilyin told New Scientist magazine: "This will be a revolution in the science of biodegradation."
The search for the most suitable combination of bacteria may take a decade as it involves scientists and researchers hunting through national and international collections. The researchers want the unit to be ready well before 2017, when the Russians hope to send a crew of cosmonauts on the first interplanetary mission to deep space, probably to Mars. Rubbish can be more than an irritation on Mir. Laundry bags were the scapegoats for the near-disaster on Mir in 1997 in which a Russian cargo ship collided with the station. One Russian explanation for the Mir catastrophe was that the unexpected weight of the station's laundry bags caused one cosmonaut to misjudge the momentum of the incoming cargo ship while he was guiding it into position. Each astronaut can generate an average of up to nine litres of uncompressed waste, including used underpants, every day.

* * *
    New Scientist / 12 December 1998
    Eat my shorts

    Космическое топливо из нижнего белья.

One of space travel's most pressing but least known problems - what to do with dirty underwear - could soon be solved.
Russian scientists are designing a cocktail of bacteria to digest astronauts' cotton and paper underpants. The resulting methane gas could be used to power spacecraft, they claim. "This will be a revolution in the science of biodegradation," says Vyacheslav Ilyin, project director and head of the microbial ecology laboratory at the Russian State Research Centre's Institute for Biological and Medical Problems in Moscow.
The disposal unit will be able to process plastic, cellulose and other organic waste aboard a spacecraft. "Cosmonauts identify waste as one of the most acute problems they encounter in space," says Ilyin. Each astronaut produces an average of 2-5 kilograms - or up to 9 litres of uncompressed waste a day. To keep waste to a minimum, they are forced to wear underwear for up to a week at a time. Onboard laundry facilities are rare in space, although the Russian space station Mir does contain a shower. Aboard Mir, waste is stored in sealed containers until a Progress supply module arrives with fresh supplies. Waste is then transferred to the module, which burns up and disintegrates as it re-enters the Earth's atmosphere. But Progress modules only call about twice a year. Meanwhile, stored waste builds up on the station, taking up valuable space and posing a potential health threat to crew. The search for the most suitable combination of microbes is expected to take up to a decade. Many of the strains are stored in national and international collections.
The researchers aim to have the complete microbial disposal unit ready by 2017, when Russia hopes to launch its first crewed interplanetary mission, possibly to Mars.

* * *
    Washington Post / Saturday, December 26, 1998
    Cure for Russia's Nuclear "Headache" Proves to Be Painful
    • By David Hoffma / Washington Post Foreign Service

    Одна из многочисленных проблем находящейся в кризисе атомной промышленности современной России - огромные запасы высокообогащенного урана и плутония, которые надо как-то учитывать, хранить и самое главное - охранять.

OBNINSK, Russia - Igor Matveyenko slaps a plastic identification card up against a gray metallic square imprinted with a red "K" for control. In front of him, a beep sounds and a glass door slides open. Just beyond lies an experimental nuclear reactor and what Matveyenko calls "our headache."
The headache is not the reactor itself, but little round "tablets" or disks containing weapons-grade plutonium and uranium. They are used for tests carried out at the Institute of Physics and Power Engineering, a prominent and once secret nuclear research institute here, 60 miles southwest of Moscow. In the building known as Fast Critical Facilities, there are 100,000 disks, or about 10 tons of bomb-grade fissile material, theoretically enough to make hundreds of nuclear bombs.
The disks, a dozen of which could easily fit into a pocket, are kept underground. But the old Soviet accounting system for them is a nightmare. About 6,000 disks have duplicate numbers. The Soviet-era records were kept in paper notebooks. The notebooks, some decades old, record the weight and the "price", an absurd measurement for bomb-grade material. In short, there is no full record of the current physical condition of the massive pile of uranium and plutonium disks. Stashed in other underground warehouses here are barrels and vaults containing still more fissile material. Today, an agonizingly difficult inventory of the disks is underway. In 1 1/2 years, specialists have managed to put new bar codes on a third of them. But the work of imprinting the bar codes is slow and painstaking since the disks are radioactive, and it may take years to complete.
The disks are at the heart of an enormously complex, costly and troubled drive to protect Russia's weapons-grade uranium and plutonium from theft and diversion. In this city, which has long been identified with nuclear energy and which boasts the world's first commercial nuclear reactor, the effort to control nuclear materials has already begun with help from the United States. But even so, the obstacles are large. And the difficulties have been aggravated by the Russian economic crisis.
"The problems of the entire industry are all here," said the institute's director Anatoly Zrodnikov. "Just as all the problems of water can be seen in a single drop, so all the problems of the nuclear industry are here, too." The Soviet Union is believed to have produced more than 1,200 tons of highly enriched uranium and 150 tons of plutonium. More than half is in weapons, but an estimated 650 tons remain scattered across Russia and the former Soviet republics in 50 civilian scientific centers and military research facilities. Experts have long believed that getting fissile material is the final barrier to building a bomb. The assumption was that it would take a would-be nuclear state a decade or more to create fissile material, and that factories to make enriched uranium or plutonium would be difficult to hide. But this barrier could be breached by purchasing or diverting existing material from Russia's warehouses. After the Soviet collapse, the United States began helping Russia secure its fissile materials through a $137 million a year program, undertaken along with Russia's Ministry of Atomic Energy, known as "materials protection, control and accounting". The effort has made some headway, but there have also been alarming reports in recent months that it is faltering.
The progress is symbolized here by a simple piece of white tape over an emergency exit used to detect possible intruders - and by the new radio in the hands of Vasily Drakin, chief of security. In the Soviet days, officers at closed cities were prohibited from using radio communications because it was feared that spies could detect the radio waves.
Another sign of progress is a host of laptop computers and measuring devices in a thick concrete-walled room here that once held a reactor but is now a training center set up with aid from the United States and the European Union. Andrei Mozhayev, in a white lab coat, demonstrated a garbage-can size device that can quickly measure how much bomb-grade plutonium or uranium is in a canister without opening it.
And at the entrance to the experimental reactor, every person goes through a complex security gateway that, among other things, examines their handprints, and takes their weight and compares it with a computer record. There are also plans, so far unrealized, to consolidate all the fissile material here into one, well-guarded "security island," a building with extra fences and protection. In the reactor hall, Matveyenko pointed out a television security system and a special piece of equipment used to scan a whole rod of disks to see what kind of fissile materials are inside. These were also the result of Western aid, he said, but the money ran out -- and neither is working. Western experts say Russia's economic crisis has also dealt a heavy blow to the "human factor", the guards and other mid-level workers who oversee tons of fissile material across the country. Moreover, the economic crisis has raised questions about the ability of Russia and the West to finish the job and protect fissile material stockpiles that remain vulnerable.
According to U.S. officials with direct involvement, the devaluation of the ruble on Aug. 17 plunged many of Russia's nuclear institutes into a state of financial emergency. There were reports of shortages of food, clothing and housing for guards, widespread delays in paying workers who were operating safeguard equipment, and cases in which electric power to monitors was cut off. A larger question is how Russia's far-flung nuclear facilities will survive, given the shrinking resources available from Moscow. Many institutes have been under pressure to seek contracts outside Russia in order to stay alive, including from countries with developing nuclear power and weapons programs such as India, China and Iran.
The Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy is also going through a tense debate about survival. The minister, Yevgeny Adamov, recently suggested splitting off some of the ministry's lucrative commercial activities, which generate cash, into a new state-owned company. Critics say it could starve the weapons and research complex, for which government subsidies have dwindled. Some also fear that the plan will only throw open the doors to even more aggressive global commerce by individual Russian nuclear institutes.In the past, nations seeking know-how and fissile material for a weapons program have obtained it under the cover of civilian nuclear plants.
A senior U.S. official said the greatest proliferation threat from Russia is not the possibility of leakage from military facilities, which tend to be guarded, but rather from the hundreds of civilian nuclear research facilities. In the Soviet police state, it was practically unimaginable that someone would try to steal bomb-grade plutonium or uranium. But today, with the authoritarian state having vanished and Russia mired in desperate economic conditions, the threats - and vulnerabilities - have changed.
When police arrested three men in August 1994 at the Munich airport and accused them of trying to smuggle 13 ounces of weapons-grade plutonium into Germany, some experts contended that the material originally came from Obninsk. The source has never been identified, and the case has been described as an intelligence sting operation. Zrodnikov denied that the plutonium came from here. But he acknowledged that the new Russian market economy had brought temptations.
"Earlier the system of physical protection was based mainly on the person with the gun, the guards," he said. "The possibility of an insider was not taken into account. It could not even occur to anybody to take the material out. There was no one to discuss it with. Who would possibly purchase it?" Now, he added, the prospect of insider diversion is real. "There is a very strong decline in the control over personnel," he said. "This selection used to be so strict, that this factor was a reliable element of protection. Now the reliability has declined considerably." At the entrance to this town, a sign welcomes visitors to the home of the "peaceful atom."
Spread across two campuses over nearly 300 acres, the institute, established after World War II, held a central place in Soviet nuclear power research. At its peak in 1988 the institute had 10,000 workers, but now there are only 5,580. The first commercial reactor in the world was started here in 1954, and engineers designed many civilian reactors, as well as liquid-metal reactors for Alpha-class submarines and the Topaz nuclear power plant for spacecraft. For experiments, the institute received tons of bomb-grade plutonium and uranium. In the Soviet days, each shipment was accompanied by a paper "passport," listing the weight, year of manufacture, composition and price - one of the more bizarre accounting practices of Soviet central planning.
"It was an artificial price," said Gennady Pshakin, director of the international department. "No one knows the price of plutonium." Over time, it was not clear how much nuclear material had accumulated, nor what condition it was in. The Soviet numbers written on some of the disks were for use by the manufacturer, not the institute, and contained duplicates; sometimes up to five disks had the same number. Moreover, many of the disks needed to be re-covered with metal cladding, which is also painstakingly slow. The current pace is about a half ton a year - or 20 years to repair it all. Now, Matveyenko said, the engineers have put most of the old notebook data into a computer system. They have special scales and devices to measure more precisely the composition of each disk. But the institute is at the front lines of what looks to be a long battle across Russia to secure mountains of nuclear materials.
Zrodnikov said the institute was like a bank, but without the equivalent means to guard the weapons-grade plutonium and uranium in its stores. "This property has to be accounted for, controlled, and protected with far higher security than, say, what they keep in the banks," he said. "It is obvious what problems we are facing. If we take any bank of Russia, they made very serious investments into their system of security. They have the most modern equipment. But all this was at the expense of their business. Our situation is utterly different."

(c) Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company.
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    Reuters / Friday December 11, 1998
    American, Russian Enter New Space Station
    • By Brad Liston

    Американские и российские космонавты вошли в новый модуль Международной космической станции.

HOUSTON - (Reuters) - A U.S. astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut entered the newly assembled International Space Station Thursday and the American declared that the orbiting science outpost was an "absolutely super place."
With a wave of his arm, Robert Cabana, the commander of the space shuttle Endeavour, urged Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalyov to join him so the two could glide through the hatch leading from Endeavour's airlock to the space station.
For Krikalyov, it was a first look at his future home. He will return aboard a Soyuz spacecraft in 2000 as part of a three-member crew who will take up residence in space.
"It's just an absolutely super place," Cabana said once he entered the U.S.-made space station module, Unity, 240 miles above the Indian Ocean. "Look at the volume Sergei is floating around in," he exclaimed. The Unity module has a diameter of 18 feet (5.4 meters).
There were half a dozen hatches for the crew to open from one end of the station to the other, each requiring its own procedure for opening. About an hour after Cabana and Krikalyov entered Unity, it was the Russian's turn to return the favor as he invited Cabana to enter the Russian Zarya module alongside him. The difference between the U.S. and Russian modules was striking. Unity, its walls, ceilings and floor given over to hatches and ports to connect future modules to the station, was spacious, it's white deck plates gleaming.
Zarya, a massive power station where electricity generated by solar-paneled "wings" is stored in six large batteries, had only a narrow hallway running from end to end, its walls painted a somber green and yellow. There was barely room for Endeavour's six crew members to gather in Zarya, as they exchanged hugs and smiles, clearly elated by the experience. "We are so pleased and excited and proud to be a part of the team that made this happen,"Cabana told Mission Control in Houston. Endeavour's six-member crew began assembling the first two elements of the $60 billion science outpost Sunday, but all of the work was outside the station, as tall as a seven-story building, prior to the hatch opening. Endeavour astronauts used spacewalks and the shuttle's robot arm to link Unity and Zarya. Two days of interior work Thursday and Friday includes installation of a communication system to provide two-way video conferencing between the shuttle and ground control. More than 100 space station components will eventually be assembled in orbit in one of the most ambitious engineering feats ever. Sixteen nations are involved in the project, led by the United States and Russia and requiring more than 40 manned missions during construction. The work to date has gone smoothly, but project managers were concerned about three pieces of hardware that escaped during spacewalks Monday and Wednesday. The small pieces of space debris - the largest a thermal cover - posed no threat to the crew or the mission, but the U.S. Air Force will have to track them until those components reenter the Earth's atmosphere and burn up.
Strict rules governing spacewalks require that anything free to float away must be safely tethered. Greg Harbough, the ground-based manager for spacewalks, said he had not ruled out a mechanical problem. "If it was crew error," Harbough said, mission managers would "reinforce the idea of strict tether protocol" in training for future spacewalks.
A third spacewalk is scheduled for Saturday, with Endeavour returning to Earth Monday.
Russia has a long history of space stations dating back to 1971 and currently operates the Mir space station. The United States has not had an operating space station since it abandoned Skylab in 1973.

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