Friday, September 30, 2011

X-47B Could Revolutionize Naval Aviation

Landing a plane on a bobbing aircraft carrier deck is one of the hardest maneuvers for any pilot. And after that's done, refuel the drone from a tanker in flight.  For years, the U.S. Navy and Northrop Grumman have worked on precise navigation technology that will make this possible. This year, the program stepped much closer to making this a reality.

The tailless, bat-winged craft, dubbed the X-47B, flew for the first time in February. And recently, an F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet equipped with an early version of the autonomous guidance software designed for the drone successfully landed on a carrier without a pilot on the stick and throttle. This precision navigation equipment is a "key technology" that allows the Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D) aircraft to navigate on approach with an accuracy of less than 10, said Capt. Jaime Engdahl, UCAS-D program manager at Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR).

While the primary goal of the UCAS-D program is to launch and land the aircraft on the carrier, officials must accomplish much more. Upon touchdown, crews must clear the drone from the runway within 45 seconds -- no easy feat - so other aircraft can land. Unlike many of the drones in use today, X-47B is fully autonomous, and special computer software keeps the composite aircraft aloft, according to Keith Carter, NAVAIR's chief engineer on the program.

"There is no pilot flying at all," Carter said. "The aircraft responds to external stimuli." While the basic airframe shape, which shares many flight technologies and design similarities with the B-2 bomber, is not groundbreaking, the precision GPS computer system is new technology. The first of two demonstrator aircraft has been flying test missions at Edwards Air Force Base in California since its first flight in February. Due to the autonomous nature of the aircraft, many hours are spent conducting mission planning for the flight tests, according to Engdahl.

A second aircraft is undergoing tests in preparation for its first flight.  Prior to making its first carrier landing, one X-47B will conduct air traffic control exercises, which includes transferring control from a ground station at Patuxent River to a station on the carrier. Aside from takeoffs and landings, the X-47B will spend time on the carrier conducting other tests. Before the first flight, program officials plan to put a drone on the flight deck and drive it around using a wireless controller. The crew also will conduct maintenance demonstrations in advance of carrier touch-and-goes and landings, which are expected in 2013.

New and precise GPS equipment on the carrier, coupled with an inertial navigation system, will provide the precise position of the carrier deck. "That gives you [the] … pitch, roll, yaw of the ship," Engdahl said.
Computers pick the landing point, which is then transmitted to the X-47B. "This is forward-leading technology," Engdahl said. "It's relevant to the future of unmanned carrier aircraft." Three separate computers on the drone evaluate the landing. If they believe a safe landing is not possible, the aircraft climbs and goes around for another approach.

As another safety precaution, a landing signal officer on the ship will hold a controller that will clear the aircraft to land. If a signal is not given to the aircraft, it will circle around and make another attempt. And there's more to landing on a carrier than just landing. "There's an entire dance that takes about 45 seconds to get it trapped, rolled out, pulled back, wings folded, taxi out of the landing area, so that you can land the next airplane," Engdahl said.

After the carrier landings, the second test aircraft will conduct air-to-air refueling using both U.S. Air Force and Navy refueling systems.  "It truly does portend a significant change in the advantages and the power and the versatility of naval carrier aviation," Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, said of the X-47B. "If we can blend the unmanned on an aircraft carrier and the manned [aircraft] on an aircraft carrier, we've changed the dimension of carrier naval aviation in a way that has not happened in decades."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Plot to Bomb Pentagon and Capitol Buildings Foiled by Agents

The Pentagon was previously attacked in 2001 when the 9/11 hijackers flew a plane into the building

A 26-year-old US citizen has been arrested for allegedly plotting to fly explosive-packed, remote controlled planes into the Pentagon and the US Capitol in Washington DC. Rezwan Ferdaus was also charged with attempting to supply materials to al-Qaeda and aid attacks on US soldiers.

The Northeastern University physics graduate is accused of planning to commit "jihad" since early 2010. Mr Ferdaus was arrested in Boston after an undercover investigation by the FBI. Announcing his arrest, the US Department of Justice described an elaborate operation over a period of months leading up to the arrest of Mr Ferdaus.

Authorities said he designed and supplied undercover operatives with a total of eight mobile phone detonators intended to be used by al-Qaeda operatives to set off bombs in the Middle East. During a June 2011 meeting, Mr Ferdaus was told that his first phone detonation device had killed three US soldiers and injured four or five others in Iraq. "That was exactly what I wanted," he reportedly told the undercover agents. Also during 2011, Mr Ferdaus began speaking to the agents about his desire to organize an attack on the Pentagon, home of the US military, and the Capitol building in Washington DC, seat of the Congress.
Posing as accomplices, they then supplied him with C-4 explosives, a remote-controlled plane and arms. Mr Ferdaus was arrested on Wednesday immediately after putting the newly delivered weapons in a storage container, the FBI said.

 "The conduct alleged today shows that Mr Ferdaus had long planned to commit violent acts against our country, including attacks on the Pentagon and our nation's Capitol," US Attorney Carmen Ortiz said. However, Ms Ortiz, US Attorney for Massachusetts, added: "The public was never in danger from the explosives," which were controlled by undercover FBI employees.

If convicted, Mr Ferdaus could face up to 15 years in jail for providing support and resources to a foreign terrorist organisation and up to 20 years in prison for attempting to destroy national defence premises.
Richard DesLauriers, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Boston Division, said law enforcement agencies in the area had worked together to "detect, deter, and prevent terrorism. We have an obligation to take action to protect the public whenever an individual expresses a desire to commit violence," he said.
Kudos to those agents for a job done extremely well.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Brain Images Captured Visually

Imagine watching someone’s dream, or tapping directly into the mind of a coma patient. Berkeley scientists say they're close to doing it via fMRI and computational models which decode and reconstruct people’s dynamic visual experiences. So far, the technology only reconstructs movie clips you’ve already viewed. But the breakthrough paves the way to reproduce our mental movies no one else sees, such as dreams and memories.

The researchers say that eventually the technology could allow us to see into the minds of people who cannot communicate verbally, such as stroke victims, coma patients, and people with neurodegenerative diseases. It may also lay the groundwork for a brain-machine interface, so people with cerebral palsy or paralysis, for example, can guide computers with their minds.

Whoa! Geez Louise, I can see so many applications for this and some of them are not good. Someone might be able to steal your thoughts, your visions, your dreams, your inventions your battle strategy. In fact nothing would be private any more if this technology got into the wrong hands and it always does, doesn't it?  Mind reading in technicolor is just too "Big Brother" to suit me.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rebels Force Their Way Into Sirte

Alistair Leithead is with forces of Libya's transition government near Sirte

Libya's interim government forces have made major progress in their attack on Sirte, one of the last strongholds of Muammar Gaddafi' loyalists.  Gunfire was heard and black smoke was seen rising as National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters moved to within 1km (0.5 miles) from the city centre. The troops regrouped as night fell, preparing for a new assault in the morning.

Sirte is Col Gaddafi's birthplace, but it is not known if he is in the city. The city has always been a hugely symbolic target for the NTC, and it seems close to being won, reports the BBC's Alastair Leithead, who is with anti-Gaddafi forces in Sirte.

Anti-Gaddafi forces have been trying to seize Sirte for months On Saturday, NTC soldiers entered the city from both the west and east. The advance was especially swift from the east.  NTC fighters pushed far along the road towards the city centre, outpacing the protection of the artillery and rockets which had been bombarding what had left of the pro-Gaddafi positions. NTC fighter El-Tohamy Abuzein told the Reuters news agency that pro-Gaddafi snipers were firing from mosques and other buildings.
"They're using the houses and public buildings," he said. At least two soldiers of the interim government were killed, reports say.

NTC fighters tried to push into Sirte last weekend but were driven back by pro-Gaddafi forces entrenched in the city. Nato aircraft hit targets in the Sirte area on Saturday, as part of the alliance's UN-mandated mission to protect civilians. Nato air strikes have played a major role in the conflict. The NTC is also facing strong resistance in the only other remaining Gaddafi stronghold, Bani Walid to the south-east of of the capital, Tripoli.

At the UN headquarters in New York, Libya's interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril gave his first address to the General Assembly. He said a new democratic Libya was "coming to life" and reaching out to the international community.

Col Gaddafi went into hiding after Tripoli fell to NTC forces in August, six months into the uprising. The whereabouts of the former leader - who ruled Libya for 42 years - are unknown. Many of his relatives and aides have taken refuge in neighbouring Algeria and Niger.

Meanwhile a report on the NTC's Qatar-based Libya TV criticized the Algerian authorities over an audio message broadcast by Col Gaddafi's daughter Aisha - who has fled to Algeria. The message, which criticized the new Libyan government, was broadcast on Friday by a pro-Gaddafi TV channel in Syria.
Libya TV said Aisha Gaddafi should not be allowed to make political statements. She was granted entry in Algeria for humanitarian reasons.

Come out Mr Gaddafi. Your people want a few words with you.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Jaycee Sues US

Kidnap victim Jaycee Dugard on Thursday sued the federal government and accused it of failing to monitor the felon who grabbed her off a Northern California street as a child and held her for 18 years.
 California parole officials failed to properly supervise the rapist accused of kidnapping Dugard and missed "numerous" clues during her 18 years of captivity, a prison watchdog said in a report released on November 4, 2009.
Her captor, Phillip Garrido, was sentenced in June to 431 years to life in prison after pleading guilty to kidnapping and multiple counts of sexual assault, in a case that resulted from his arrest in 2009 and the stunning rescue of Dugard. Garrido, who kidnapped Dugard in 1991 when she was 11, had previous federal convictions dating to 1977 for kidnapping and forcible rape in a case stemming from his abduction of a woman in the Tahoe area of Northern California whom he took to Reno, Nevada.

He was sentenced to 50 years in prison, but was released early on parole in 1988 after serving less than 11 years, Dugard's attorneys state in their lawsuit.  Her attorney Dale Kinsella said in a statement that from December 1988 to March 1999 federal parole agents "failed on numerous occasions to properly monitor" Garrido. "We believe that the years of abuse experienced by Ms. Dugard are a direct result of the U.S. Parole Commission's colossal blunders in the supervision of Mr. Garrido," Kinsella said.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on the lawsuit. The suit was filed in San Francisco in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
In particular, the lawsuit states that parole officers failed to follow up on accusations of sexual harassment made against Garrido in 1989 by a co-worker and other women at the nursing home where he was employed. And Garrido tested positive for drugs multiple times during his first year-and-a-half under federal supervision, but that was not reported to the Parole Commission despite its "zero tolerance" for drug use by parolees, the lawsuit states.

The suit also says that parole officers, despite being required to conduct monthly personal check-ups with Garrido, failed to visit his home in 1990, 1992 and 1994. Dugard was snatched from a street near her South Lake Tahoe home on June 10, 1991, as she walked to a school bus stop. After nearly two decades, she was discovered living with Phillip Garrido and his wife, Nancy, in 2009.

Garrido kept Dugard against her will, hiding her for much of that time in a squalid compound of tents and sheds behind his Northern California home, fathering two girls with her when she was still a teen. Dugard's family received a $20 million settlement in 2009 through a state victims' compensation fund. The California inspector general found the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation failed to properly supervise Garrido starting in 1999, when his parole case was handed over from federal officials to the state.

Dugard in her lawsuit seeks general damages in an amount to be determined according to evidence presented in court. Nancy Garrido was sentenced earlier this year to 36 years to life in prison after pleading guilty to one count each of kidnapping and rape by force.
This needs to be done to set a precedent and serve as an example of what negligence and failure to carry out monitoring of potentially dangerous offenders can bring about. Put a spotlight on these essential services and keep it there to keep them on their toes. No more Jaycees.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Can You Dodge a Falling Satellite?

The UARS was launched in 1991 by the Space Shuttle Discovery.

 Fragments from a satellite falling to Earth are expected to land on Friday. So is it possible to take evasive action? A six-tonne satellite is expected to crash land in the next 24 hours, scattering debris over an area of the planet's surface up to 500km (310 miles) wide.

Nasa, which owns the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), estimates it will break into about 26 parts, the heaviest weighing about 158kg, which is equivalent to a very large person.  The debris will include three batteries, four wheel rims and four fuel tanks, and their speed when they hit the ground or the ocean will vary.  The rims, for example, could reach speeds of 107 metres per second (240mph).

So is it possible for humans to ensure they don't get hit? "Potentially, you could get out of the way," says Richard Crowther of the UK Space Agency, which is a member of a global network of agencies that monitors space debris.  You could dodge a fragment if it's daytime, you get a clear view and you see it in time.But some pieces will travel at high speeds. And experts will only know where the debris will land minutes beforehand.
Some pieces could injure a person or damage property,but the chance of it hitting a person is put at one in 3,200. "But if you're going to spend all the time looking up then you're at greater risk of bumping into something than something coming down on you."  Equally, if you want to avoid the risk of being hit completely, he says, then you need to go beyond 57 degrees latitude north (Scotland or Quebec) or south (further south than the southern tip of Argentina).  "But travelling there will involve a greater risk than the risk of being hit by this."

Even if it is coming to your neighbourhood, you won't get much notice. Nasa is tracking the object in orbit and said on Thursday that it was expected to re-enter the atmosphere on Friday afternoon on the US east coast.  But Nasa doesn't know exactly where it will land, partly due to continuous changes in the atmosphere caused by the Sun. And the uncertainty surrounding the satellite's final destination will continue until its final minutes.

In 1979, when the Skylab space station fell to Earth, it missed the expected landing in South Africa and crashed in Western Australia. So good luck and duck.

Neutrino Particles Defy Physics and Einstein's Theories

Puzzling results from Cern, home of the LHC, have confounded physicists - because it appears subatomic particles have exceeded the speed of light.
Neutrinos sent through the ground from Cern toward the Gran Sasso laboratory 732km away seemed to show up a tiny fraction of a second early. The result - which threatens to upend a century of physics - will be put online for scrutiny by other scientists. In the meantime, the group says it is being very cautious about its claims. "We tried to find all possible explanations for this," said report author Antonio Ereditato of the Opera collaboration.  "We wanted to find a mistake - trivial mistakes, more complicated mistakes, or nasty effects - and we didn't."

"When you don't find anything, then you say 'Well, now I'm forced to go out and ask the community to scrutinize this.'" The speed of light is the Universe's ultimate speed limit, and much of modern physics - as laid out in part by Albert Einstein in his special theory of relativity - depends on the idea that nothing can exceed it. Thousands of experiments have been undertaken to measure it ever more precisely, and no result has ever spotted a particle breaking the limit.

But Dr Ereditato and his colleagues have been carrying out an experiment for the last three years that seems to suggest neutrinos have done just that. Neutrinos come in a number of types, and have recently been seen to switch spontaneously from one type to another. The team prepares a beam of just one type, muon neutrinos, sending them from Cern to an underground laboratory at Gran Sasso in Italy to see how many show up as a different type, tau neutrinos.

In the course of doing the experiments, the researchers noticed that the particles showed up a few billionths of a second sooner than light would over the same distance. The team measured the travel times of neutrino bunches some 15,000 times, and have reached a level of statistical significance that in scientific circles would count as a formal discovery.

But the group understands that what are known as "systematic errors" could easily make an erroneous result look like a breaking of the ultimate speed limit, and that has motivated them to publish their measurements.
"My dream would be that another, independent experiment finds the same thing - then I would be relieved," Dr Ereditato said. But for now, he explained, "we are not claiming things, we want just to be helped by the scientific community in understanding our crazy result - because it is crazy".

"And of course the consequences can be very serious."
Pretty much everything we believe about the universe would have to be discarded.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Killing of Troy Davis - By Will Wilkinson

The state of Georgia just killed Troy Davis. Which is to say, a number of individual human beings acting under the imagined authority of the state of Georgia killed Troy Davis. They strapped him to a gurney, injected him with a lethal chemical, and he died from it. Davis was convicted of murdering Mark MacPhail, an off-duty cop working as a security guard in Savannah. Somebody murdered Mark MacPhail. I don't know if it was Troy Davis. I don't know if Troy Davis got a fair trial. People accused of crimes should get fair trails. The innocent should not be sentenced for crimes they did not commit. All that's immensely important. But the deeper question here is whether death is an appropriate penalty for murder. It isn't. And that's why it was wrong to kill Troy Davis. It's that simple.

Now, I don't know how to convince you that even especially heinous murderers don't deserve to suffer the same fate they meted out. I suppose I would start by distinguishing justice from vengeance. I would observe that there is no pervasive ethereal moral substance that must be kept in some sort of cosmic balance lest society devolve into chaos. We may feel deeply, in our marrow, in our prickling indignant skin, that the yin of crime calls out for the yang of punishment. But I would warn against putting much trust our retributive instincts. I would suggest that civilization demands setting these feelings aside, that it requires that we ask ourselves in a cool hour the point of criminal justice.

The point, I would submit, is to enforce and reinforce not only the good rules of liberal order, but also the humane ethos of liberal civilization. We punish to deter. We punish to acknowledge the harm brought to the victim, to their loved ones, to their community. We punish to shame and to publicly dishonor the criminal. But the way we do it should embody ideals of humanity, magnanimity, and improvement. Punishment thus should be as light as is consistent with the requirements of security and harmonious society. We must learn, against the grain of our vengeful retributive instincts, to find satisfaction in justice that leaves the thief with his hands, the murderer with his life.

Troy Davis didn't need to be killed in order to achieve any of the goals of a civilized system of criminal justice. Nobody needs to be killed to do that. That's why the people of decent societies oppose the death penalty. The folks at the GOP debate in Tampa who cheered for Texas' record of execution under Rick Perry showed just how indecently uncivilized America remains. But sooner or later enlightenment will dawn and we'll stop perversely killing in the name of justice. Let's hope the killing of Troy Davis helps make it sooner.

Troy Davis is Executed in Georgia For Shooting Policeman

There was a demonstration outside the prison Death row inmate Troy Davis has been executed in the US state of Georgia for the fatal shooting of policeman Mark MacPhail in 1989. Davis' death was delayed for hours while the US Supreme Court considered an 11th-hour appeal for clemency.

The 42-year-old's case was heavily disputed after most of the witnesses recanted or changed their testimony. Outside the jail in Jackson, Georgia, there was a heavy police presence earlier as his supporters demonstrated. Davis was convicted in 1991 of killing MacPhail, an off-duty police officer, but maintained he was innocent.

The US Supreme Court judges took more than four hours to issue their rejection of the final appeal, an unusually long time for such a ruling. "The application for stay of execution of sentence of death presented to Justice [Clarence] Thomas and by him referred to the Court is denied," it read. Davis continued to protest his innocence in the death chamber. "I did not have a gun," he said, "For those about to take my life, may God have mercy on your souls. May God bless your souls." Davis was pronounced dead at 23:08  Thursday, 15 minutes after the lethal injection began.

Mark MacPhail was shot dead in 1989 as he tried to defend a homeless man Prosecutors said Davis was beating the man with a gun after demanding a beer from him. No gun was found and no DNA evidence conclusively linked Davis to the murder. On Wednesday morning, Davis' lawyers appealed to the county court responsible for Georgia's death row, but that was also rejected.

The legal team had argued that ballistic testing from the case was flawed. The pardons board also dismissed an appeal to reconsider their decision on Monday to deny Davis clemency. Prosecutors said they had no doubts as to his guilt. "He had all the chances in the world," Anneliese MacPhail, the mother of the murdered policeman, said earlier in a phone interview with the Associated Press news agency.

Davis counted among his supporters Pope Benedict XVI and former US President Jimmy Carter, as well as US conservative figures like representative Bob Barr and former FBI director William Sessions. Outside the prison, hundreds of people gathered chanting: "They say, death row; we say, hell no". Around 10 counter-demonstrators were also present, voicing support for the death penalty and for the family of MacPhail.

There was a heavy police presence, including large numbers of riot police, but no disturbances were reported. Davis' execution date had already been halted three times. Protests had taken on an international dimension since Monday's decision to deny clemency by the Georgia pardons board.

Amnesty International and other groups organized protests at the US embassy in Paris. "We strongly deplore that the numerous appeals for clemency were not heeded," the French foreign ministry said after the execution.
 In Washington DC dozens gathered outside the White House, in the hope that President Obama might intervene at the last-minute. But White House press secretary Jay Carney said it would not be appropriate for the president to interfere in specific cases of state prosecution, such as this one. Why? Why did they not respond to pleas for clemency. Will someone elucidate for me?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Troy Davis Makes Final Appeal Before Execution

A US death row inmate has made a final bid for clemency two days before his scheduled execution for the 1989 killing of an off-duty policeman. Troy Davis' legal team made the appeal to the Georgia Board of Paroles and Pardons, which has the power to commute the sentence.

Davis was convicted in 1991, but most of the witnesses have since recanted or changed their testimony. The 42-year-old is due to face a lethal injection on Wednesday evening. Over one million people worldwide have signed petitions for clemency in his case. Pope Benedict XVI, former US President Jimmy Carter and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton are among those who have backed Davis, who has always maintained he is innocent.

The pardons board has previously rejected Davis's appeal for clemency

He was convicted of the fatal shooting of police officer Mark Allen MacPhail in Savannah, Georgia. Prosecutors say the off-duty policeman intervened as Davis was attacking Larry Young, a homeless man, in a Burger King car park. Davis was said to have had a "smirk" on his face as he shot MacPhail.

But no murder weapon was ever found and no DNA evidence or fingerprints conclusively linked Davis to the shooting. Seven of the nine witnesses who testified against him have since recanted or changed their testimony. Others, who did not testify, have said another man at the scene admitted to the shooting.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole heard on Monday from defence lawyers, witnesses and prosecutors as well as MacPhail's relatives. But Davis did not appear. Madison MacPhail, the victim's daughter, told reporters: "A future was taken from me. A future we would have had together, the future he would have had with his family." "I believe the death penalty is the correct source of justice," she added. Ms MacPhail was a toddler when her father was killed.

The board has the power to commute the death sentence to life in prison or life without parole.A vigil took place outside the hearing. Demonstrators held signs that said "I am Troy Davis" and "save Troy Davis", and chanted for his release. The parole board is Davis' last chance after the federal appeals courts and the Georgia Supreme Court upheld his conviction.

In 2010 US District Judge William T Moore Jr ordered a rare innocence hearing to investigate doubts about Davis' guilt. Two witnesses said they falsely incriminated Davis, while two others told the court another man had confessed to being the actual killer. But Judge Moore said there was not enough evidence to vindicate Davis or grant him a new trial. Appeals courts have subsequently refused to review the judge's decision.

I think his guilt or innocence should be established decisively, once and for all, before they take his life. I wonder how many innocent people have been executed because the Appeals Court refused to review a case. Naturally, there are no statistics on this. There should be a special review board, whose only purpose is to review cases of death row inmates where there is any doubt. In fact they should review all death row cases. This case sounds like a trumped up case against a black man who happened to be in the vicinity and was a perfect fall guy.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Huge Ocean Discovered Under East Asia

Location of ocean under Earth's surface

Scientists probing the Earth's interior have found a large reservoir of water equal to the volume of the Arctic Ocean beneath eastern Asia. The left figure is a slice through the Earth, taken from the figure on the right, showing the attenuation anomalies within the mantle at a depth of roughly 620 miles. In the image, red shows unusually soft and weak rock believed to be saturated with water, and the blue  in both images shows unusually stiff rock (yellow and white show near-average values).

The discovery marks the first time such a large body of water has found in the planet's deep mantle. The finding, made by Michael Wysession, a seismologist at Washington University in St. Louis, and his former graduate student Jesse Lawrence, now at the University of California, San Diego, will be detailed in a forthcoming monograph to be published by the American Geophysical Union.

The pair analyzed more than 600,000 seismograms — records of waves generated by earthquakes traveling through the Earth—collected from instruments scattered around the planet.  They noticed a region beneath Asia where seismic waves appeared to dampen, or "attenuate," and also slow down slightly. "Water slows the speed of waves a little," Wysession explained. "Lots of damping and a little slowing match the predictions for water very well."
This augers well for a world which is worried about finding enough pure water to supply the planet in the future. I am assuming it is not salt water. The scientists did not specify.

Ancient Wheel Patterns From Syria to Saudi Arabia


 The giant stone structures form wheel shapes with spokes often radiating inside. They stretch from Syria to Saudi Arabia, can be seen from the air but not the ground, and are virtually unknown to the public. They are the Middle East's own version of the Nazca Lines — ancient "geolyphs," or drawings, that span deserts in southern Peru — and now, thanks to new satellite-mapping technologies, and an aerial photography program in Jordan, researchers are discovering more of them than ever before. They number well into the thousands.

Referred to by archaeologists as "wheels," these stone structures have a wide variety of designs, with a common one being a circle with spokes radiating inside. Researchers believe that they date back to antiquity, at least 2,000 years ago. They are often found on lava fields and range from 82 feet to 230 feet (25 meters to 70 meters) across.
"In Jordan alone we've got stone-built structures that are far more numerous than (the) Nazca Lines, far more extensive in the area that they cover, and far older," said David Kennedy, a professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Western Australia. Kennedy's new research, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, reveals that these wheels form part of a variety of stone landscapes.
 These include kites (stone structures used for funnelling and killing animals); pendants (lines of stone cairns that run from burials); and walls, mysterious structures that meander across the landscape for up to several hundred feet and have no apparent practical use.  His team's studies are part of a long-term aerial reconnaissance project that is looking at archaeological sites across Jordan. As of now, Kennedy and his colleagues are puzzled as to what the structures may have been used for or what meaning they held.

Kennedy's main area of expertise is in Roman archaeology, but he became fascinated by these structures when, as a student, he read accounts of Royal Air Force pilots flying over them in the 1920s on airmail routes across Jordan. "You can't not be fascinated by these things," Kennedy said. Indeed, in 1927 RAF Flight Lt. Percy Maitland published an account of the ruins in the journal Antiquity. He reported encountering them over "lava country" and said that they, along with the other stone structures, are known to the Bedouin as the "works of the old men."

Kennedy and his team have been studying the structures using aerial photography and Google Earth, as the wheels are hard to pick up from the ground, Kennedy said. "Sometimes when you're actually there on the site you can make out something of a pattern but not very easily," he said. "Whereas if you go up just a hundred feet or so it, for me, comes sharply into focus what the shape is." The designs must have been clearer when they were originally built. "People have probably walked over them, walked past them, for centuries, millennia, without having any clear idea what the shape was."

So far, none of the wheels appears to have been excavated, something that makes dating them, and finding out their purpose, more difficult.  Some of the wheels are found in isolation while others are clustered together. At one location, near the Azraq Oasis, hundreds of them can be found clustered into a dozen groups. "Some of these collections around Azraq are really quite remarkable," Kennedy said.

In Saudi Arabia, Kennedy's team has found wheel styles that are quite different: Some are rectangular and are not wheels at all; others are circular but contain two spokes forming a bar often aligned in the same direction that the sun rises and sets in the Middle East. The ones in Jordan and Syria, on the other hand, have numerous spokes and do not seem to be aligned with any astronomical phenomena. "On looking at large numbers of these, over a number of years, I wasn't struck by any pattern in the way in which the spokes were laid out," Kennedy said.

Cairns are often found associated with the wheels. Sometimes they circle the perimeter of the wheel, other times they are in among the spokes. In Saudi Arabia some of the cairns look, from the air, like they are associated with ancient burials.

The function of the wheels may also have been similar to the enigmatic drawings in the Nazca desert.  "If we consider, more generally, the stone circles as worship places of ancestors, or places for rituals connected with astronomical events or with seasons, they could have the same function of [the] geoglyphs of South America, the Nazca Lines for instance. The design is different, but the function could be the same."
Kennedy said that for now the meaning of the wheels remains a mystery.

Well there are theories abounding about the Nazca drawings.; symbols to guide alien spaceships to a safe landing.  or perhaps symbols to inform passing extra terrestrials about the creatures and resources on the planet( like a celestial billboard). Remember these symbols, on opposite sides of the earth are all  meant to be seen from above. And yet they were built thousands of years ago. Theories anyone??

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Reno Air Crash - Update

The latest update on the casualties resulting from the Air Race crash in Reno is as follows: Nine people have died and fifty-four are injured, some still critical. Further updates as they arrive.

Reno Air Race Crash: Three People Killed

The National Championship Air Races draws thousands of people every year in September to watch various military and civilian planes race. Three people have died and scores are injured after an airplane crashed near a grandstand at an air race near Reno, Nevada, say medical officials. The vintage World War II-era P-51 Mustang crashed at about 1630 local time at the National Championship Air Races.

Organizers said a mechanical fault was probably to blame but were awaiting the results of an official investigation. Eyewitnesses said debris and body parts were strewn across the airfield." Fifty-four people were taken to hospital, some in critical condition", said Mike Houghton, head of the Reno Air Racing Association and CEO of the event. "One guy was cut in half. There's arms and legs. One guy just said, 'hey, there's another foot over here'”
He said he did not have confirmed figures for fatalities.  The National Transportation Safety Board has taken over the airport to investigate the accident.  Mr Houghton said the Mustang had not been flying too close to the ground prior to the crash. He said that there appeared to be a "problem with the aircraft that caused it to go out of control".  "The community is pulling together to try to deal with the scope of it. The hospitals have certainly geared up and staffed up to deal with it." Fifteen of the injured were in a critical condition.

Kathy Carter, a spokeswoman for Renown Medical Center in Reno, said that two people had died, not including the pilot. Earlier unconfirmed reports said up to 12 people might have been killed.
The Mustang, named The Galloping Ghost, was flown by well-known racing pilot Jimmy Leeward, 74.  Leeward has been racing planes since the 1970s Mr Houghton said that Leeward, from Ocala, Florida, was a real estate developer who had been racing planes since the mid-1970s. He said that Leeward's medical records had been "in tip-top condition". He added that most of Leeward's family had been at Friday's event. Leeward's website says he had flown in more than 120 races and had been a movie stunt pilot.

Ronald Sargis, who was sitting in the box-seat area, said spectators could tell the plane was in trouble before it crashed. "About six or seven boxes down from us, it impacted into the front row," Mr Sargis told KCRA-TV in Sacramento. He added: "It appeared to be just pulverized."
Jeff Martinez, a local weatherman who was just outside the air race grounds, said he saw the plane veer to the right and then crash into the ground.
The Reno Gazette-Journal website had posted a witness video of the crash from YouTube, but YouTube has now withdrawn it, saying it breached its terms. Eyewitness Dr Gerald Lent, of Reno, told the newspaper: "It's just like a massacre. It's like a bomb went off. There are people lying all over the runway."
Maureen Higgins of Alabama, who has been coming to the show for 16 years, told the Associated Press that the pilot was on his third lap when he lost control. "I saw body parts and gore like you wouldn't believe it," Ms Higgins said.

National Guard members who were already on site helped with the response.
There have been safety concerns in the past, with four pilots killed in 2007 and 2008. However, organizers and aviation authorities say they spend months in preparation for the event.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sharing With Sharks

In a surprising interaction at sea, colossal whale sharks home in on fishing nets near the island of New Guinea—and fishermen dole out snacks to the pilfering beasts.

The biggest fish in the sea is as long as a school bus, weighs as much as 50,000 pounds, and has a mouth that looks, head-on, wide enough to suck down a small car. Despite this distinctive profile, scientists know very little about Rhincodon typus—the whale shark.

The behemoths are indeed sharks: They breathe through gills, like fish. They are cold-blooded, like fish. The "whale" part of the name refers to size and how the animals eat. They are one of only three known shark species that filter feed, as baleen whales do, swimming slowly through plankton-rich water, maws agape. Water goes in carrying edibles of all sizes, and water sans food flows out.

The giant fish is hard to study in part because it is hard to find and track. By tagging individual specimens, scientists have learned that whale sharks can log thousands of miles in years-long trips. But they sometimes disappear for weeks, diving more than a mile down and resting in the chilly deep for a spell. No one has ever found mating or birthing grounds.

Whale sharks are ordinarily loners. But not in one corner of Indonesia. The photographs on this page, shot some eight miles off the province of Papua, reveal a group of sharks that call on fishermen each day, zipping by one another, looking for handouts near the surface, and nosing the nets—a rare instance when the generally docile fish act, well, like the rest of the sharks.

Nasa's Kepler telescope Finds Planet Orbiting Two Suns

A planet orbiting two suns - the first confirmed alien world of its kind - has been found by Nasa's Kepler telescope, the US space agency announced. It may resemble the planet Tatooine from the film Star Wars, but scientists say Luke Skywalker, or anyone at all, is unlikely to be living there. Named Kepler-16b, it is thought to be an uninhabitable cold gas giant, like Saturn.  The newly detected body lies some 200 light years from Earth.

Though there have been hints in the past that planets circling double stars might exist, scientists say this is the first confirmation. It means when the day ends on Kepler-16b, there is a double sunset, they say.
Kepler-16b's two suns are smaller than ours - at 69% and 20% of the mass of our sun - making the surface temperature an estimated -100 to -150F (-73 to -101C).

The planet orbits its two suns every 229 days at a distance of 65m miles (104m km) - about the same solar orbit as Venus.  The Kepler telescope, launched in 2009, is designed to scour our section of the Milky Way galaxy for Earth-like planets.

"This is really a stunning measurement by Kepler," said Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution for Science, a co-author of the study.  "The real exciting thing is there's a planet sitting out there orbiting around these two stars." Kepler finds stars whose light is regularly dimmed, which means there is an orbited planet between the star and the telescope.  Nasa's scientists saw additional dips in the light in both stars at alternating but regular times, confirming the dual orbit of the planet.

Weirder and weirder.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Can a Robot Have consciousness ??

If a robot is produced that behaves just like one of us in all respects, including thought, is it conscious or just a clever machine, asks Prof Barry C Smith, director of the Institute of Philosophy.

Human beings are made of flesh and blood - a mass of brawn and bone suffused with an intricate arrangement of nerve tissue. They belong to the physical world of matter and causes and yet they have a remarkable property - from time to time they are conscious.  Consciousness provides creatures like us with an inner life: a mental realm where we think and feel and have the means to experience sights and sounds, tastes and smells by which we come to know about the world around us. But how can mere matter and molecules give rise to such conscious experiences?

The 17th Century French philosopher, Rene Descartes, thought it couldn't. He supposed that in addition to our physical make-up, creatures like us had a non-material mind, or soul, in which our thinking took place.
For Descartes, the non-material mind was uniquely human. He denied that animals had minds. When they squealed with what we considered to be pain this, he thought, was just air escaping from their lungs. Animals were mere mechanisms. And even if we created a clever mechanical doll that replicated all our movements and reactions, it would not be capable of thinking because it would lack the power of speech.
These days few of us would deny our animal natures or accept that all other animals lacked consciousness.
But how could something that had no material existence (a soul) move our limbs and respond to physical inputs. Surely it is the brain that is responsible for controlling the body and so it must be the brain that gives rise to our consciousness and decision making. And yet many of the same thinkers would agree with Descartes that no machine could ever be conscious or have experiences like human beings.

We can no longer rely on Descartes' criterion for deciding which beings could think. Nowadays computers can make use of language and synthesized speech improves all the time. It was the potential for computers to use language and respond appropriately to questions that led Alan Turing, the mathematician and war time code-breaker, to propose a test for machine intelligence.  He imagined a person sitting in a room, communicating by computer screen with two others in different rooms. She could type in questions and receive answers, and if she could not tell which of the respondents was a person and which was a computer she had no reason to treat them differently. If she was prepared to treat one as intelligent, she should be prepared to treat the other as intelligent too. This is known as the Turing Test, and if the situation is arranged carefully, computer programs can pass it.

The original Turing Test relies on not being able to see who is sending the replies to questions, but what if we extended the test and installed the computer programme in a life-like robot? Robotics have developed rapidly in the last decade and we now see machines that move and behave like humans. Would such a display of life-like behaviour combined with appropriate responses to questions convince us that the machine was not only clever but also conscious?

Here, we need to draw a distinction between our thinking that the robot was conscious and it actually being conscious. We may be tempted to treat it as a minded creature but that doesn't mean it is a minded creature.
Those who study machine consciousness are trying to develop self-organising systems that will initiate actions and learn from their surroundings. The hope is that if we can create or replicate consciousness in a machine we would learn just what makes consciousness possible.

Researchers are far from realizing that dream and a big obstacle stands in their way. They need an answer to the following question - could a silicon-based machine ever produce consciousness, or is it only carbon creatures with our material make-up that can produce the glowing technicoloured moments of conscious experience? The question is whether consciousness is more a matter of what we do or what we are made of.

Consciousness may be the last remaining mystery for science, but to some extent it has been dethroned from the central role it used to occupy in the study of the mental. We are learning more and more from neuroscience and neurobiology about how much of what we do is the result of unconscious processes and mechanisms.  And we are also learning that there is no single thing consciousness is. There are different levels of consciousness in humans, and much of our thinking and decision making can go on without it.

It's worth remembering that the only convincing experience of consciousness we have is our own. We are each aware of our own inner lives, but have only indirect access to the inner mental lives of others. Are the people around me really conscious in the way I am, or could they all be zombies who walk and talk and act like humans although there is nobody home.

And this is creates a twist in our story. For if we managed to produce a robot that behaved just like one of us in all respects, it might not be proof of consciousness in a robot, but instead might be a convincing demonstration of how much we could do without consciousness.

There may be two or, in fact, many kinds of self awareness. Let's say there are two basic kinds of consciousness for the sake of argument: the kind that we feel and know, that is, the kind living organisms have and the kind an artificial intelligence might have. We think ,we feel, we process on a cellular level, in brain cells called neurons and they are connected by something called synapses. Our awareness is influenced by emotions, memories; by physical sensations and impressions, sights, sounds and smells and knowing where we are. That is a biological consciousness.
 A robot (artificial Intelligence)  which was, hypothetically, conscious would probably perceive things very differently. Let's assume it is super intelligent with a  million times more knowledge than a human. It would  draw on that vast knowledge to explain the situation it was in to the Nth degree. It would use micro chips and even nanotechnology and would rely on algorithms, mathematics, input and pure logic to process the situation. Chemical analysis of the air, and surroundings would be it's sensory input and some kind of locating device could tell it where it is. Sensors would pick up changes in the environment like barometric pressure and temperature. Decisions would  be based on the most logical course dictated by everything in it's memory banks. It couldn't make a decision based on emotion or impressions or just because and it couldn't really be accused of bad judgement as we so often are . But it is a kind of technical awareness.
This analysis is predicated on the silicon based technology  we are using presently, taken to a  logical future. There may come a time when a living organism is blended with an artificial intelligence like a cyborg . This entity could be, potentially,  as sentient as you or I and  yet have access to all the knowledge and technical know-how of a computer. And this idea is no longer science fiction.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Jackie Kennedy Interviews Released After 47 Years

Jaqueline Kennedy is forever enduring in the national memory for her poise, grace, and impeccable style. But little is known about how she really felt about her years in the White House and of her relationship with President John F. Kennedy. Now, the world is privy to rare details of the presidency and private life thanks to an oral history of the president, conducted with the widowed First Lady in early 1964, just months after his assassination.

The 8.5-hour-long series of audio interviews, as well as transcripts, are being released this week as a book entitled “Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy.” The interviews were conducted by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., a historian and Kennedy aide who was close to the family.  She agreed to the interviews on condition that they would not be released until long after her death. Previously locked up in the Kennedy Library, the tapes are being released 47 years after they were first conducted. They're chock-full of juicy gossip and surprising details of the iconic couple's life.

The New York Times recounts some of the most scintillating details from the interview, describing Jackie as delivering “tart commentary on former presidents, heads of state, her husband's aides, powerful women, women reporters, even her mother-in-law.” Jackie Kennedy also reserved some sharp criticisms for world leaders 

She recalls her husband's scathing words about his Texan Vice-President, Lyndon Johnson, whom he reluctantly made his number two because of the need for a Southerner to balance the ticket. "Jack said it to me sometimes. He said, 'Oh, God, can you ever imagine what would happen to the country if Lyndon were president?"' she said.

She also strongly criticised Dr King, recalling how her brother-in-law, US Attorney General Robert Kennedy, told her the civil rights leader had been intoxicated at JFK's funeral and mocked Cardinal Richard Cushing's Mass. She said: "He made fun of Cardinal Cushing and [Robert] said that he was drunk at it. I can't see a picture of Martin Luther King without thinking, that man's terrible."
During the eight hours of recordings, she also spoke of secret FBI wiretaps of a hotel suite occupied by Dr King the night before his historic speech which revealed he telephoned women to invite them to a sex party. The surveillance tapes, made by FBI chief J Edgar Hoover, remain sealed by court order until 2027.

In another passage, she said her husband’s speech writer Ted Sorensen had a “big inferiority complex” and Clare Booth Luce, the playwright and Republican politician, was quite possibly a “lesbian”.

She reserved sharp criticism for world leaders, too. French President Charles de Gaulle was "that egomaniac" and "that spiteful man", while future Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was a "bitter, kind of pushy, horrible woman".

She recalled that her closest moments with her husband came during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when the US and Soviet Union seemed on the brink of nuclear war. Some officials had sent their wives away, but the first lady resisted.  "If anything happens, we're all going to stay right here with you," she remembers telling her husband. "Even if there's not room in the bomb shelter in the White House. I just want to be with you, and I want to die with you, and the children do, too - than live without you."

Jackie Kennedy also recalled how her husband joked darkly about being assassinated after discussing Abraham Lincoln's legacy with a Princeton historian. JFK had asked the academic if Lincoln would have been rated as great a president if he had not been killed. The historian replied that was unlikely since Lincoln's reputation would ultimately have suffered while tackling the problem of post-Civil War reconstruction.

The former first lady said: "And then I remember Jack saying after the Cuban missile crisis, when it all turned [out] so fantastically, he said, 'Well, if anyone's ever going to shoot me, this would be the day they should do it.'"

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Closest Human Ancestor May Rewrite Evolutionary History

A startling mix of human and primitive traits found in the brains, hips, feet and hands of an extinct species identified last year make a strong case for it being the immediate ancestor to the human lineage ( the Missing Link), scientists have announced.
These new findings could rewrite long-standing theories about the precise steps human evolution took, they added, including the notion that early human female hips changed shape to accommodate larger-brained offspring. There is also new evidence suggesting that this species had the hands of a toolmaker.

Fossils of the extinct hominid known as Australopithecus sediba were accidentally discovered by the 9-year-old son of a scientist in the remains of a cave in South Africa in 2008, findings detailed by researchers last year. Australopithecus means "southern ape," and is a group that includes the iconic fossil Lucy, while sediba means "wellspring" in the South African language Sotho.

Two key specimens were discovered — a juvenile male as developed as a 10- to 13-year-old human and an adult female maybe in her late 20s or early 30s. The species is both a hominid and a hominin — hominids include humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and their extinct ancestors, while hominins include those species after Homo, the human lineage, split from that of chimpanzees.

To begin to see where Au. sediba might fit on the family tree, researchers pinned down the age of the fossils by dating the calcified sediments surrounding them with advanced uranium-lead dating techniques and a method called paleomagnetic dating, which measures how many times the Earth's magnetic field has reversed. They discovered the fossils were approximately 1.977 million years old.

Most aspects of Au. sediba display an intriguing mix of both human and more primitive features. "The fossils demonstrate a surprisingly advanced but small brain, a very evolved hand with a long thumb like a human's, a very modern pelvis, but a foot and ankle shape never seen in any hominin species that combines features of both apes and humans in one anatomical package," said researcher Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. "The many very advanced features found in the brain and body and the earlier date make it possibly the best candidate ancestor for our genus, the genus Homo, more so than previous discoveries such as Homo habilis."

The brain is often thought of as what distinguishes humanity from the rest of the animal kingdom, and the juvenile specimen of Au. sediba had an exceptionally well-preserved skull that could shed light on the pace of brain evolution in early hominins. To find out more, the researchers scanned the space in the skull where its brain would have been using the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France; the result is the most accurate scan ever produced for an early human ancestor, with a level of detail of up to 90 microns, or just below the size of a human hair.

The scan revealed Au. sediba had a much smaller brain than seen in human species, with an adult version maybe only as large as a medium-size grapefruit. However, it was humanlike in several ways — for instance, its orbitofrontal region directly behind the eyes apparently expanded in ways that make it more like a human's frontal lobe in shape. This area is linked in humans with higher mental functions such as multitasking, an ability that may contribute to human capacities for long-term planning and innovative behavior.

This mosaic of modern and primitive traits held true with its hips as well. An analysis of the partial pelvis of the female Au. sediba revealed that it had modern, humanlike features. "It is surprising to discover such an advanced pelvis in such a small-brained creature," said researcher Job Kibii at the University of the Witwatersrand. "It is short and broad like a human pelvis ... parts of the pelvis are indistinguishable from that of humans." Scientists had thought the human-like pelvis evolved to accommodate larger-brained offspring. The new findings of humanlike hips in Au. sediba despite small-brained offspring suggests these pelvises may have instead initially evolved to help this hominin better wander across the landscape, perhaps as grasslands began to expand across its habitat.

When it came to walking, investigating the feet and ankles of the fossils revealed surprises about how Au. sediba might have strode across the world. No hominin ankle has ever been described with so many primitive and advanced features. "If the bones had not been found stuck together, the team may have described them as belonging to different species," said researcher Bernhard Zipfel at the University of the Witwatersrand. The researchers discovered that its ankle joint is mostly like a human's, with some evidence for a humanlike arch and a well--efined Achilles tendon, but its heel and shin bones appear to be mostly ape-like. This suggested the hominid probably climbed trees yet also walked in a unique way not exactly like that of humans.

Finally, an analysis of Au. sediba's hands suggests it might have been a toolmaker. The fossils — including the most complete hand known in an early hominin, which is missing only a few bones and belonged to the mature female specimen — showed its hand was capable of the strong grasping needed for tree-climbing, but that it also had a long thumb and short fingers. These would have allowed it a precision grip useful for tools, one involving just the thumb and fingers, where the palm does not play an active part.
Altogether, the hand of Au. sediba has more features related to tool-making than that of the first human species thought of as a tool user, the "handy man" Homo habilis, said researcher Tracy Kivell at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. "This suggests to us that sediba may also have been a toolmaker." Though the scientists haven't excavated the site in search of stone tools, "the hand and brain morphology suggest that Au. sediba may have had the capacity to manufacture and use complex tools," Kivell added.

Au. Sediba may indeed have been our direct ancestor but there is also the possibility it may have been another branch on our family tree which was growing in the same direction as us but for some reason  became extinct.

Monday, September 12, 2011

France Explosion at Nuclear Plant - Marcoule

One person has been killed and four injured, one seriously, in a blast at the Marcoule nuclear site in France.
There was no risk of a radioactive leak after the blast, caused by a fire near a furnace in the Centraco radioactive waste storage site, said officials.

The owner of the southern French plant, national electricity provider EDF, said it had been "an industrial accident, not a nuclear accident". The cause of the blast was not yet known, said the company.
The explosion hit the area at 11:45 local time. A security cordon was set up as a precaution. But interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet later said there had been no leak of radiation, neither inside nor outside the plant. None of the injured workers was contaminated by radiation, said officials. The worker who died was killed by the blast and not by exposure to nuclear material.
"There are several detectors on the outside and none of them detected anything, the building is sound."

The Centraco treatment centre belongs to a subsidiary of EDF. It produces MOX fuel, which recycles plutonium from nuclear weapons. There are no nuclear reactors on site.
The French nuclear programme does not have a stellar record of transparency. In environmental circles, particular opprobrium is reserved for officials who in 1986 claimed the Chernobyl accident would have no impact on France - a statement lampooned as indicating officials believed radioactive fallout observed national boundaries.
What this incident implies for the future of the French nuclear programme is not entirely clear. If it remains a relatively minor matter, it will probably be passed off as the type of thing that regrettably happens in all types of industrial facility.

However, Marcoule is on the list of candidate sites to host one of the European Pressurized Water Reactors (EPRs) that according to government policy are to provide the next generation of French citizens with nuclear electricity.
Marcoule was opened in 1955 and is one of France's oldest nuclear sites, though it has been extensively modernized. Marcoule is one of France's oldest nuclear facilities but has no reactors on site All the country's 58 nuclear reactors have been put through stress tests in recent months, following the disaster at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant which was hit by an earthquake and tsunami.
France is the world's most nuclear-dependent country, relying on nuclear power to meet 75% of its energy needs, so safety in the industry is a highly sensitive issue.