WorldScan: November 26, 2002

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Russian Anti-Nuclear Groups Under Close Scrutiny

IRKUTSK, Siberia, Russia, November 25, 2002 (ENS) - Members of the environmental group Baikal Environmental Wave are breathing easier today after the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) searched their offices Friday as part of a criminal investigation over suspected disclosure of state secrets. The FSB confiscated 15 of BEW's 18 computers.

But on Sunday the authorities said they will not charge the environmental group with disclosing state secrets, according to the FSB press service in Irkutsk. Some of the confiscated computers will be returned, the FSB said.

"Criminal charges will be made not over activities of environmental group, but over activities of people who offered state' secrets to environmental activists," an FSB official told the NTV television company.

Last year, the group began to monitor radioactive contamination near Angarsk Combine (AEHK). According to the official AEHK website, it "produces and enriches uranium hexafluoride which used to produce nuclear fuel."

The BEW project included the production and publication of a map that shows radioactive pollution near the facility. The map was produced nearly 10 month ago and then mailed out to local authorities and federal agencies.

BEW ordered this map officialy from a state owned company of local geologists, Sosnov-Geologia, which has official license to produce similar maps. The geologists said they did not monitor any secret facilities or areas and conducted all of their activities with official permission.

According to Russian legislation, said BEW, information on radioactive contamination cannot be kept secret. But according to the FSB, the map contains state secrets.

"In Russia, people working to protect [the] right for healthy environment, especially if this work [is] related to facilities of Ministry of Atomic Power, often get under pressure from FSB," said BEW in a statement.

In the past few years "environmental groups in Russia works under heavy pressure from FSB," said Vladimir Slivyak of Ecodefense in an interview with the political news agency POLIT.RU.

"According to Russian legislation, information about radioactive contamination in Russia can not be secret," said Alexandr Nikitin of Bellona Saint Peterburg. "But I'm not surprised. In Russia environmental activists have to expect such attacks. The only question is who's next," Nikitin said in interwiev with the radio program "Echo of Moscow."

In Moscow on November 21, the authorities limited a demonstration against the import of Bulgarian spent nuclear fuel by the Russian nuclear industry. The authorities permitted no more than 15 participants for this action. Never before have such demands been made of any other action organizers, said Slivyak.

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IFAW Challenges Airbus Factory Planned for German Wetland

BRUSSELS, Belgium, November 25, 2002 (ENS) - Germany's Mühlenberger Loch, a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention and a protected area under the European Habitat Directive and the European Birds Directive, could be the site of a new DaimlerChrysler Aerospace Airbus manufacturing plant, but not if the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) wins its case before the European Court of First Instance.

IFAW is challenging the European Commission's interpretation of European Union transparency rules before the court.

Represented by the Brussels based international law firm Stanbrook & Hooper, IFAW is seeking to overturn a European Commission decision that denies IFAW access to key documentation submitted by the German state authorities.

The documents relate to the expansion of the existing Airbus site in the Mühlenberger Loch on the Elbe River in Germany's Hamburg region. Plans to expand an existing plant that will be used for the final assembly of the Airbus A380 mean that between 420 and 450 acres of what is currently Europe's largest freshwater tidal mudflat are being destroyed.

IFAW, among other environmental groups, is angered that such an important area of wetlands is being destroyed for the Airbus A380's production, which IFAW says "could easily be carried out elsewhere."

Under a recent EU Directive, IFAW requested access to those documents relating to the Commission's favorable opinion to declassify the protected Mühlenberger Loch before the site could be developed.

The European Commission granted IFAW access to all the documents relating to this opinion except the German authored ones, which were withheld at the request of the German authorities.

The documentation seemed to cause the Commission to re-evaluate its original negative view of the project and it was on this documentation that the Commission relied when taking its controversial decision to authorize the destruction of Mühlenberger Loch.

IFAW lawyers, Stanbrook and Hooper, are contesting whether the Commission is obliged to comply with such a request from a Member State, to deny public access to documents not otherwise classified as sensitive.

IFAW's main submission is that, according to the EU's Access Regulation, the final decision in relation to the release of Commission held documents originating from the Member States, has to be made by the Commission and not by the Member State, in this case, Germany.

Wetlands are important because of the freshwater that they supply, IFAW explains. Acting as giant sponges they absorb rainfall and then slowly release it, at the same time helping to control floods and purify the water. The freshwater tidal mudflat is also a resting and feeding area for migratory birds and home to endangered fish and plant species.

Airbus Industrie wants to use the area for production of a new large capacity aircraft airbus A3XX for up to 800 passengers. The city of Hamburg sees the industrial project as a chance to strengthen the city as industrial and technical center, and to develop as a center of the European aircraft industry. The factory will create 4,000 jobs - 2,000 directly with DaimlerChrysler Aerospace airbus, and 2,000 with suppliers.

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New Poll Shows Majority of Canadians Support Kyoto Protocol

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada, November 25, 2002 (ENS) - A new poll casts doubt on claims by Alberta Premier Ralph Klein that Canadians who support a "made in Canada" plan on global warming oppose the Kyoto Protocol. Ratification of the controversial treaty limiting greenhouse gas emissions is currently a hot button issue. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has made a commitment to hold a vote in Parliament on ratification before the end of 2002.

Canada's target is to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to six percent below 1990 levels by the period between 2008 and 2012.

The latest poll shows a majority of Canadians (74 percent) want a "made in Canada" response to the Kyoto Protocol to meet or exceed the accord's emissions reduction target. Only 17 percent say a "made in Canada" plan should fall below the Kyoto target.

The national telephone survey commissioned by the Vancouver based environmental organization the David Suzuki Foundation was conducted by Vancouver polling firm McAllister Opinion Research. Questioners contacted a random sample of 1,009 Canadians between November 9 and 11. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent 19 times out of 20.

The results are the same as those found in an Ipsos-Reid/CTV/Globe and Mail survey released last week which showed support (74 percent) remains high for implementing the Kyoto Protocol. One-fifth (19 percent) of Canadians remain opposed to the Protocol. These findings are consistent with the findings of an Ipsos-Reid poll conducted the first week of October when 74 percent expressed support and 21 percent were opposed.

David Hocking, communications director with the David Suzuki Foundation, said, "The poll shows that when Canadians say they want a 'made in Canada' solution to climate change, they want it to meet or exceed the emissions reduction target of the Kyoto Protocol."

The government of Alberta, an oil and gas producing province, has proposed what it calls a "made in Canada" plan as an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol. That plan calls on Canada to meet the Kyoto target over 50 years instead of 10, and allows for increases in emissions during that time.

The poll asked Canadians whether they prefer the Kyoto plan to achieve the six percent emissions cut over 10 years, versus Alberta's plan to achieve the same reduction by the year 2050. A majority (69 percent) of those surveyed supported the 10 year deadline. Fewer than one in five (19 percent) supported the 50 year plan. Five percent did not like either plan, and seven percent expressed no preference.

A majority of those surveyed (60 percent) favored making a decision on the protocol now. Thirty-six percent wanted consultations to continue.

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Oyster Disease Spreads Across the Maritimes

MONCTON, New Brunswick, Canada, November 25, 2002 (ENS) - An oyster disease never reported before in Canada has spread from one part of Cape Breton to another part of the island, and into two sites in the province of Prince Edward Island, federal fisheries scientists confirmed last week.

American (eastern) oysters Crassostrea virginica are infected with the microscopic parasite Haplosporidium nelsoni, known as MSX disease.

The disease is not harmful to humans, but federal Fisheries Minister Robert Thibault has said the whole multi-million dollar oyster industry in the Maritime provinces could be at risk if MSX spread into the Gulf of St. Lawrence or Prince Edward Island.

The original diagnosis of MSX was made by the Shellfish Health Unit, Gulf Fisheries Centre of Fisheries and Oceans Canada in Moncton. The diagnosis was confirmed on October 18 by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in the United States.

Shipments of live oysters have been halted and a surveillance program is underway to determine the geographical extent of infected oyster stocks.

Efforts to contain the disease and prevent spread to other oysters within Nova Scotia and the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence are ongoing. Scientists hope the parasite will be discouraged by colder water temperatures as winter sets in.

Oyster aquaculture is a C$1 million industry in the Bras d'Or Lakes. Oyster growers have suffered financial losses since a halt was called to oyster movements. One local harvester told "The Halifax Herald" he lost 85 percent of his harvestable crop this season. Oysters take about five years to mature.

The source of the MSX infection is unknown. Cases of abnormal mortality and oysters destined for live transfer between Atlantic provinces are routinely examined by shellfish health pathologists at the Gulf Fisheries Centre. No evidence of this parasite has been detected in any of these investigations over the last 15 years.

The MSX disease has the potential to wipe out 85 to 90 percent of oysters in an area, as it did in the 1950s in the Chesapeake Bay when it was brought in from Asia.

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Australian Nuclear Probe Combats Acid Mine Waste, Salinity

SYDNEY, Australia, November 25, 2002 (ENS) - A nuclear probe developed for minerals exploration and mining by the government research organization CSIRO may soon be used to combat some of the world's biggest environmental problems - acid rain, acid mine drainage, and excess salinity.

"Acid rain is caused when high sulphur fossil fuels are burnt," says Dr. Mihai Borsaru, a nuclear physicist at CSIRO Exploration and Mining. "Australian coal is low in sulphur, but some coal extracted from Europe and North America is not. Armed with data from the probe, companies will be able to leave high sulphur coals in the ground."

Initially designed for the mining industry, the probe is being evaluated for its potential as an environmental management tool.

The probe centres on neutron capture in a technique called prompt gamma neutron activation analysis.

Neutrons emitted by a source, the artificial isotope californium-252, hit the rock and are captured by the nuclei of atoms in it. The nuclei are now slightly heavier and in an excited state. They relax by ejecting gamma rays, the energy of which shows the identity of the elements.

The probe complements chemical analysis, and CSIRO scientists say that since it investigates bulk properties, it generates data that is more representative than chemical data.

"Sulphur is the bane of the mining industry," said Dr. Borsaru. "High concentrations in waste rock, cause acid mine drainage. The sulphur oxidizes and combines with water to form sulphuric acid, which, in high volumes, wreaks havoc on the environment."

He told the Industrial Radioisotopes and Radiation Measurement Applications conference in Bologna, Italy recently that the probe would optimize the management of waste rock.

"It will provide mining companies with accurate sulphur readings in boreholes," he said.

Overseas the probe could help prevent acid rain, and CSIRO also hopes to use the probe to measure salt concentrations in soil as part of its fight against dryland salinity.

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New Possum Species Found in Australia

CANBERRA, Australia, November 25, 2002 (ENS) - The mountain brushtail possum, an arboreal marsupial mammal of Australian wet forests, is actually made up of two species, researchers at the Australian National University have found. Northern and southern populations of the mountain brushtail possum are both morphologically and genetically distinct, according to biologist Dr. David Lindenmayer and his colleagues.

Genetic data was collected last year when the scientists were investigating biological controls for the related common brushtail. "We were trying to find a parasite or disease in mountain brushtail to help control closely related common brushtails, which are a serious pest in New Zealand," said Lindenmayer.

The new species is proposed in an article in the latest "Australian Journal of Zoology" entitled "Geographic dimorphism in the Mountain Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus caninus) - the case for a new species."

"This article represents the last 10 years of data on the genetics and morphology of mountain brushtails where we have worked on them," said Lindenmayer, principal investigator of the Australia's Forest Marsupials project funded by the U.S. based scientific environmental organization Earthwatch.

Northern mountain brushtails in the forests of New South Wales and Queensland have smaller ears, shorter feet, and a longer, brushier tail than those in Victorian forests to the south.

"We knew we had two species on our hands last year when we got the genetic data to add to the morphology data," said Lindenmayer.

Although there is variability in both populations, years of data collected by Lindenmayer and colleagues confirm that these differences are statistically significant.

Genetic distances of 2.7 percent to three percent between the southern and northern populations of mountain brushtails further support their species status.

The article proposes calling the northern species the short-eared possum, reflecting its distinctly smaller ear, although it would retain the scientific name Trichosurus caninus. This is because the species was originally named using specimens from the northern population in the 1830s. The southern species will retain the common name, mountain brushtail possum, but gain a new scientific name, Trichosurus cunninghami.

Both mountain brushtail and short-eared possums require old-growth forests, where they live in the hollows of large dead trees, a habitat type that is increasingly threatened by intensive logging practices in Australia.

"Our findings have major conservation implications, as the two new species need conserving more carefully," said Lindenmayer. "Conservation is needed for two species now, not one."

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Belize Extends Protection to Nassau Grouper

BELIZE CITY, Belize, November 25, 2002 (ENS) - The government of Belize signed legislation earlier this month to protect the Nassau grouper, a commercially valuable reef fish known for its spectacular spawning ritual, according to the New York based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which helped document the species' decline through scientific surveys.

The legislation halts fishing in 11 offshore spawning areas, where groupers congregate each year to mate around the December full moon, which occurs this year on December 19.

Historically, hundreds of thousands of fish have gathered for these spawning events. But commercial fishing vessels have targeted these spots, resulting in huge catches and a sharp decline in Nassau groupers.

Nassau groupers grow slowly and are vulnerable to heavy fishing pressure. In many locations throughout the Caribbean such as Jamaica and the U.S. Virgin Islands, grouper populations have been fished to local extinction.

For the past three years, scientists from WCS and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have studied this phenomenon at Glover's Reef, a World Heritage Site where WCS maintains a research station. Scientists have documented a population decline of Nassau groupers at Glovers Reef of more than 80 percent since the late 1970s.

If fishing of the spawning aggregations continue at the current rate, scientists estimate they would vanish from Glovers Reef by 2013.

Other groups involved include in the conservation effort include Greenreef, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Belize Audubon Society, Friends of Nature and Tide.

"We commend the government of Belize for having the foresight to protect this unique marine resource," said Janet Gibson of the Wildlife Conservation Society. "Without this new law, the demise of the Nassau grouper in Belize would be imminent."

The legislation establishes a four month closed season for grouper fishing, but leaves two spawning sites open for commercial harvest that will be closely monitored.