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Iran 'pursuing nuclear programme' Saturday, 8 September, 2001, BBC
Iran is accused of stockpiling weapons A report by the American Central Intelligence Agency has accused Iran of having one of the world's most active programmes to acquire nuclear weapons.
The CIA Director, George Tenet, told the United States Congress that Iran was seeking missile-related technology from a number of countries including Russia and China.
The report says Tehran is trying to develop the capability to build nuclear weapons and delivery systems.
The report highlights the help given by Russia in the building of a nuclear reactor at Bushehr, which the CIA says could be used to advance Iran's nuclear weapons programme.
The report also alleges that Iran, which Washington accuses of sponsoring international terrorism, is stockpiling chemical and biological weapons.
The report, issued every six months, tracks the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, biological and high-tech conventional weapons.
"Tehran is attempting to develop a domestic capability to produce various types of weapons... and their delivery systems," it says.
According to Mr Tenet, during the second half of 2000 "entities in Russia, North Korea and China continued to supply crucial ballistic missile-related equipment, technology and expertise to Iran".
Iran also has stocks of chemical weapons and is seeking more, as well as the ability to make their own from "entities in Russia and China".
During the six-month period that the report focuses on, Russia continued to help Iran build a 1,000 megawatt nuclear reactor at Bushehr.
The report says that the expertise and technology gained from this enterprise could also "be used to advance Iran's nuclear weapons research and development programme".
The US intelligence community predicts that within the next 15 years, the US will most likely face intercontinental ballistic missile threats from North Korea, probably from Iran and possibly from Iraq.
Fusion power 'within reach' 1 October, 2001, BBC
Controlling the "naughty child": The plasma reaches millions of degrees in the Mast experimental reactor By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse
Fusion power is "within reach", according to atomic scientists in the UK.
Fusion is the form of nuclear energy that powers the stars. Although, it has many advantages over conventional nuclear power, it has been technically difficult to develop.
The best approach appears to be to confine a superhot gas, called a plasma, in a magnetic field. Some success has been achieved this way using huge experimental fusion reactors.
But now, according to United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) scientists, making smaller versions of the same equipment may be technically easier, cheaper and swifter to develop. The most recent experiments show promise, they claim.
Leaner and swifter
"I believe that if our experiments are successful, and they are promising, we could be designing the forerunner of the first commercial fusion reactor," said UKAEA's Dr Alan Sykes, as he showed BBC News Online around his laboratory at Culham, near Oxford.
Called Mast (Mega Amp Spherical Tokomak), the new equipment could be the design breakthrough needed to make fusion power a reality - at long last.
It is a leaner version of a prototype fusion reactor that has already solved many technical problems.
"Building Mast is like building a fighter aircraft when you have already built an airliner. It could be faster and more efficient at reaching our goal of significant fusion power," said Dr Rob Akers, of the UKAEA.
Few would argue that fusion power holds great promise.
It is the energy that allows the Sun to shine. But taming the power that lights up the Universe is not proving easy. For almost 50 years, scientists have been trying to harness star power in the laboratory.
To make nuclear fusion happen atoms must first be broken down into electrons and atomic nuclei. This produces an electrically charged gas called a plasma. The bare nuclei must then be forced together so that they merge. Because like charges repel, this is difficult.
At the heart of our Sun, fusion takes place at a temperature of 15 million degrees and a pressure of 100,000 atmospheres.
Because it is not possible to reproduce these conditions on Earth, terrestrial fusion reactors must operate at lower pressures and higher temperatures - about 100 million degrees.
There is also the major problem of confining the plasma.
"A plasma is a form of gas that has a great deal of free energy that is just looking for a way out," explained Dr Akers. "You could say that plasmas are like naughty children."
The best way to control the plasma is to "bottle" it, corralling the electrically charged gas in powerful magnetic fields.
So far, the most successful magnetic bottle is a "tokomak", a doughnut-shaped device invented by the Russians. In a tokomak, two magnetic fields are combined to confine the plasma.
The world's largest tokomak is called Jet, the Joint European Torus. It is also at Culham.
Using the Jet, scientists have heated plasma to 300 million degrees - more than is needed to achieve fusion ignition. But magnetic confinement is easier if the prototype reactor is small.
Smaller is better
"That is where Mast comes in," said UKEA's Dr Chris Warwick. "Mast keeps the plasma in a tighter configuration that is more energy efficient."
Controlling the eddies and whirls of the writhing plasma so that it can burst into life as a miniature Sun has been a formidable, and so far only partially met, engineering challenge.
"If we follow the Mast idea and not the Jet one, we could imagine a string of medium-scale fusion reactors instead of a few very big ones," said Dr Sykes.
"There are still very many difficulties but perhaps in a few decades we could have commercial fusion reactors in cities providing cheap pollution-free power," he added.
Laser fusion experiment
Super laser advances fusion research 6 April, 2001, BBC
A burst of energy at the focus of the laser beams By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse
Scientists have taken a step forward in their attempt to harness fusion energy, the power behind the Sun.
One of the world's most powerful lasers, called the Omega, has imploded a super-cooled pellet of solid hydrogen as part of a research programme to find ways of compressing the element to a critical point where nuclear reactions will occur.
The Omega is a testing platform for technologies to explore fusion at the United States National Ignition Facility (NIF) under construction at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. It will be completed in 2003.
The super-cooled target tests are the latest in a series of experiments aimed at creating sustainable fusion, which could generate near-limitless power using water as fuel.
Very hot, very small
Nuclear fusion occurs when atoms are compressed so much that they fuse together and release vast amounts of nuclear energy.
One way to do this is to heat gas to tens of millions of degrees and confine it in a magnetic cage. This approach is being investigated by several countries. Success is not expected for decades, if at all.
Another approach is to crush hydrogen pellets by firing laser beams at them from all directions. To ignite fusion power, scientists have to pack the biggest punch they can in the smallest space possible.
One of the limits to the process is the amount of material being fused. By chilling material to low temperatures, more can be squeezed by the laser.
To find out how to do this, researchers at the University of Rochester's Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) filled a hollow plastic ball with solid hydrogen under immense pressure and chilled it to minus 250 deg C.
The pellets are some of the smoothest, most perfectly round objects in the world. Each pellet must be almost perfect so that the energy from the laser is most efficiently used to start the implosion.
The tiny pellet was mounted inside a target chamber. As the laser beam struck it, the pellet was stripped of its protective housing in a split-second and blasted with more energy than 100 times the peak power output of the entire US power grid.
The lasers crush the pellet from 60 directions at once, vaporising the plastic shell and sending a shock wave into the frozen ice inside. The hydrogen atoms are superheated, causing them to undergo momentary fusion.
In less than a billionth of a second, the laser sends the temperature in the pellet from just a few degrees above absolute zero to nearly 27 million deg C, twice as hot as the core of the Sun.
"So far we're just testing the system," said David Harding, senior scientist at LLE, "but we have fired on several frozen targets and the results are looking good."
Eventually, the ultra-cold approach will be used at the NIF to create a fusion reaction that generates more power than it consumes.
Keeping the pressure on long enough is the goal of the NIF, which will focus 192 laser beams on a frozen target and heat it to more than 50 million deg C.
Sixth anthrax case hits US 18 October, 2001, BBC
People demanding tests swamp emergency services Officials have confirmed two more cases of anthrax infection in the United States - bringing the total to six - and offered a $1m reward for information as they tried to calm public fears.
A New Jersey postal worker and an employee of CBS News in New York both tested positive for skin anthrax.
All three major TV networks in New York City have now become sites of anthrax infection and a seventh possible case is being investigated in Florida.
In the first anthrax mail attack confirmed outside the United States, the Kenyan Government said four people had been exposed to the bacteria from a letter posted from the US.
Security officials in the United States held a series of press conferences aimed at reassuring the public that they were safe from the threat of anthrax.
US law enforcement officials said there was no evidence linking the anthrax scares with "foreign terrorists", although nothing had been ruled out.
The White House has refused to rule out the possibility that the outbreaks of anthrax are the work of Saudi-born dissident Osama Bin Laden.
The US considers Bin Laden the prime suspect in the 11 September suicide attacks on New York and Washington, and has demanded that the Taleban authorities in Afghanistan hand him over.
In other developments:
Four men associated with Bin Laden - including his former personal secretary - are sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole for their part in the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 Afghanistan's ruling Taleban hand back a warehouse containing thousands of tonnes of grain seized from the World Food Programme US warplanes bomb at least three Afghan cities as the Taleban report high civilian casualties US President Bush says ground attacks are close as UK Prime Minister Tony Blair warns that a new phase of military action is about to start The Taleban deny that opposition Northern Alliance forces are advancing on the strategically important Afghan town of Mazar-e-Sharif
The postal worker may have become infected by handling contaminated letters sent to the NBC TV network and to the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, officials said.
In Kenya, four members of the same family were exposed to anthrax spores from a letter mailed from Atlanta in the US, Kenyan Health Minister Sam Ongeri said. He stressed that they were in no danger.
The CBS employee who tested positive for the disease is an assistant to anchorman Dan Rather.
The person, who has not been named, is being treated with antibiotics and is expected to make a full recovery.
It is the same strain of anthrax that infected an aide to anchor Tom Brokaw at NBC News. US officials said it was professionally made, but not "weapons-grade".
Mr Rather said the problem Americans faced was not anthrax but fear, and those most at risk were those who feared most.
CBS News, he said, would continue broadcasting as normal.
US Director of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, tried to assuage public fears.
"We have tested thousands and thousands of people and in the course of those thousands of tests only five people have tested positive," he said.
But, he said, officials were checking test results for a possible seventh victim.
FBI director Robert Mueller said his investigators were "following each and every lead" to track down those responsible for the contaminated letters.
After thousands of false alerts, he also warned that anyone perpetrating an anthrax hoax would be prosecuted.
The FBI and the US Postal Service have offered a reward of up to $1m for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those who sent anthrax through the mail.
The health authorities and emergency services in New York have complained that they are being swamped by nervous members of the public demanding nasal swabs.
All American homes are to be sent an information card detailing how to spot a suspicious letter or package and what to do with it.
The US House of Representatives and several Congressional offices have shut down until next Tuesday after a contaminated letter was sent to the Senate majority leader.
But the Senate is continuing to work, although 31 employees have tested positive for anthrax exposure.
In Florida one man has died and another is receiving treatment for respiratory anthrax.
Using anthrax as a weapon 17 October, 2001, BBC
By BBC News Online's Nick Caistor
Military interest in the use of anthrax as a weapon began in the First World War. The Germans used it to contaminate animal feed and livestock but, unlike chemical gases, it was not employed directly against enemy troops.
The first mass use of anthrax spores as a weapon is said to have taken place during the Japanese occupation of China from 1932 to 1945.
The Japanese allegedly experimented with the use of anthrax and other biological weapons in Manchuria, and some 10,000 deliberately infected prisoners are thought to have died as a result.
Second World War
In the Second World War, the Germans did not launch the much-feared biological attack, although they and the Allied forces experimented with the possibilities of using anthrax or other agents.
The UK military tested spore delivery systems of anthrax on the tiny island of Gruinard off the Scottish coast.
These spores persisted and remained theoretically capable of infection for decades afterwards.
A massive decontamination effort, started in 1979 and completed in 1987, used 280 tons of formaldehyde and 2000 tons of seawater to clean up the island.
After the Second World War, the US continued its biological weapon research into the 1950s, when Iowa State University produced the virulent "Ames strain" of anthrax which was later sold to many parts of the world.
In 1970, President Nixon ordered an end to the production of biological weapons in the United States, since when research there has been confined to developing means of defence against any biological attack.
In 1972, international concern led to a treaty banning the production and stockpiling of biological weapons. This was eventually signed by some 140 nations.
Although it was one of the treaty signatories, the Soviet Union continued researching and producing biological weapons - and in April 1979 an accidental release of anthrax spores from a military facility near Sverdlovsk caused 68 known deaths.
But the greatest fears that anthrax might be used as a weapon came during the 1991 Gulf War.
Iraq purchased anthrax spores from the United States in the 1980s, and was thought to be developing the capability to use them in warheads and in aerial attacks.
In the event, no biological weapons were used.
After the war, the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) destroyed the remaining production and stockpiling facilities for biological warfare in Iraq. "By 1998, we were able to establish that Iraq had no capability of producing biological weapons," a former UN inspector, Scott Ritter, told the BBC.
In the 1990s, the one publicised case of the use of anthrax for terrorist aims was by the Aum Shinrikyo group in Japan.
They are said to have tried unsuccessfully to release anthrax in Tokyo several times, leading them to change to sarin gas, with fatal results.
Producing large amounts of anthrax in powder form- necessary for its use as an effective large-scale weapon- is a complicated and expensive process.
It requires the use of large centrifuges for repeated washings, and then intensive drying to produce the concentrated or "military-grade" powder.
The cost of this technology has led some experts in the United States to argue that the instigators of the present campaign must be a country, with previous experience, stocks and the necessary biotechnological expertise.
Scott Ritter also sees this as a real possibility.
"Terrorists do not have the facilities to weaponise anthrax, so if you have military grade anthrax being used, this would be the first solid evidence of state sponsorship," he said.