WorldScan Weekly: January 7, 2000

NIKITIN ACQUITTAL APPEALED

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, January 7, 2000 (ENS) - St. Petersburg Prosecutor's Office has lodged an appeal with the Russian Supreme Court against the acquittal of environmental whistleblower Aleksandr Nikitin.

The court, presided over by Judge Sergey Golets, acquitted Nikitin December 29 of all charges connected with information he published on nuclear accidents of Russia's Northern Fleet of submarines.

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Aleksandr Nikitin (Photo courtesy Bellona)
In his appeal prosecutor Aleksandr Gutsan writes that he disagrees with the ruling of the court, arguing that it had been taken in contradiction with the factual content of the case. Gutsan goes on demanding this ruling to be dismissed and the case to be forwarded for evaluation by another judge in the City Court of St. Petersburg.

Gutsan demanded 12 years in labour camps for Nikitin a week before the verdict was announced.

"We have no fear meeting the prosecutor in the Supreme Court again, given the court's decision is taken in full conformity with the law," said Nikitin.

The Supreme Court has the power to dismiss the prosecutor's appeal, to accept it, or even to forward the case for additional investigation back to the Russian Security Police (FSB).

"The legal stand of the decision to acquit is as solid as a rock," Yury Schmidt, Nikitin's lawyer, said. "We just hope that no politics will interfere when the Supreme Court takes its stance," Schmidt added.

Nikitin was arrested and charged with espionage by the Russian Security Police, the FSB, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB, for his participation in the 1995 report "The Russian Northern Fleet: Sources of Radioactive Contamination," published by the Norwegian environmental watchdog Bellona.

Nikitin has maintained throughout the more than four years of the investigation and through all three of his trials that all information he contributed to the report was publicly available.

HOPES DASHED FOR EU AVIATION EMISSIONS DEAL

BRUSSELS, Belgium, January 7, 2000 (ENS) - The European air transport industry has poured cold water on hopes of an early voluntary agreement with the European Union on reducing aircraft carbon dioxide emissions. Firms say it will be more than a decade before the sector can exceed annual 1.1 percent reductions, an ambition level already rejected by the European Commission as insufficient.

In a joint statement, European airline association AEA and aerospace industry association AECMA say major emission reductions through new technology developments will only be possible after 2012. This is the end of the 2008-2012 "first commitment period" under the Kyoto climate protocol. During this five year period the European Union is committed to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by eight percent relative to 1990 levels if the protocol is ratified by enough countries so that it comes into effect.

The industry statement responds to a European Commission paper suggesting that any voluntary agreement "should aim to achieve" four to five percent annual reductions in fuel consumption, and thus carbon dioxide emissions, per passenger-kilometre by 2012.

Carbon dioxide is the main heat trapping greenhouse gas linked to global warming.

Preliminary talks with AEA and AECMA officials on an agreement began at the Commission's instigation last year after a similar deal was struck with car manufacturers.

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{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email: envdaily@ends.co.uk}

AUSTRALIA BATTLES TOXIC BLUE-GREEN ALGAE

PERTH, Australia, January 7, 2000 (ENS) - Perth's Canning River became the site for the trial of a world-first method to remove nutrients in an attempt to minimize blooms of toxic blue-green algae on Wednesday.

In a 700-metre stretch of the Canning River, a joint project led by Malcolm Robb of the Water and Rivers Commission and D. Grant Douglas of the Land and Water division of the Australian government research organization CSIRO, attempted to trap phosphorus in the water and river sediments by placing a thin layer of absorbent clay, less than a millimetre deep, on the river bottom.

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Scientists on the Canning River spraying clay (Photo courtesy CSIRO)
This will deprive the blue-green algae of one of their major food sources by locking up phosphorus, the trigger for algae blooms.

The absorbent clay-based substance called "Phoslock" was applied by a small boat equipped with a boomspray that spread the material over the water, allowing it to sink to the bottom. Its key feature is the ability to absorb and lock up large amounts of phosphorus from the surrounding water and sediment.

"In summer, the water flow in the upper Canning is so low that it's more a lake than a river, and its nutrient levels are so high that blooms of blue-green algae can occur," Robb explains.

"It's not unusual to see health warning signs along the river banks. Our aim is to see if we can minimize the blooms that are responsible."

If this trial and other similar planned trials are successful it will provide managers of fresh water bodies round Australia with a potent new weapon in the fight against toxic blooms.

ONLINE ADVENTURING UNDER THE SEA

NEWARK, Delaware, January 5, 1999 (ENS) - Exploring the extremes of heat and cold in the ocean depths could yield clues to the beginnings of life on Earth and give glimpses of life on other planets. Now, for the first time, Internet users can travel with a scientific team deep beneath the Sea of Cortés, off Mexico's west coast to uncover some of these mysteries for themselves.

The unique expedition, Extreme 2000, begins January 13. Craig Cary, associate professor in the University of Delaware's Graduate College of Marine Studies, will head a team of scientists who will take turns boarding a three-person submersible nick-named Alvin. Each day, they will descend for about an hour and a half to reach the ocean's floor.

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Craig Cary and colleague prepare for their undersea expedition, Extreme 2000 (Photo courtesy )
"Our research ultimately may help us better understand life on this planet," Cary explains. "It's likely that life originated in high-temperature environments, and so we may find relatives of our early ancestral life in hydrothermal vents deep beneath the ocean's surface."

From Alvin's cold sphere, the scientists will collect samples of toxic chemicals released by hydrothermal vents, part of their quest to understand early life.

Such findings could launch new discoveries about other planets, too, Cary says. Some scientists believe, for example, that water is trapped beneath the ice on Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. If so, the water may be kept in a liquid state by hydrothermal vents, which could harbor ancient microbes, similar to those on Earth.

Cary and his team will call selected high school and middle school classrooms from the ocean floor on January 13.

If all goes well, web surfers also may be able to access the periodic deep-sea Internet transmissions, to be sent during eight separate dives, from January 13 through January 20. Check the site, http://www.ocean.udel.edu/deepsea , when it goes live.

WORLD BANK FUNDS WATER AND SANITATION IN BRAZIL

WASHINGTON, DC, January 7, 2000 (ENS) - WASHINGTON, January 7, 2000 - The World Bank Thursday approved a US$136 million loan to help improve management of water resources in the semi-arid northeastern Brazilian state of Ceará, to improve rural and urban access to drinking water, even during periods of drought.

"This loan supports the government of Ceará as it seeks to improve management of both demand and supply of water in the state," said Gobind Nankani, director of the World Bank's program in Brazil. "By upgrading infrastructure, improving conservation, and implementing reasonable prices for water use, Ceará authorities will offer reliable access to safe water to poor people in Fortaleza and other urban areas, as well as the countryside."

The World Bank also approved a $30 million loan to provide technical assistance supporting Brazil's initiative to improve water resources management and extend basic water and sanitation services to the urban poor. The Second Water and Sanitation Project for Low-Income Populations (PROSANEAR II) will broaden improvements completed in 1996, and which were supported by a previous loan.

"Overall, access to water and sanitation services in Brazil is steadily increasing and the services are improving," said Nankani. "But many low-income people are without access to sewerage services, and some still don't have basic water service. This loan will help Brazil carry on its efforts in a key area for the poor."

About 90 percent of Brazilians have water services, but only 48 percent have sewerage. Water and sanitation facilities are most lacking in urban slums, or "favelas," where their absence is a key cause of disease and premature death, especially among children.

The first PROSANEAR loan, worth $100 million, developed low-cost, appropriate technologies and community based approaches which led to water and sewerage being extended to more than one million poor residents in 15 cities between 1990 and 1996. This second loan will support training and awareness raising for municipalities, slum communities and water companies to help them jointly design and implement water and sanitation projects.