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Spirit Lands, Stardust Grabs!
Mad Cows, Barbie in a Blender,
Bad News Nukes & More!
Halliburtongate Continues!
By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON December 31, 2003 (Reuters) - The U.S. military said on Wednesday it would soon take over Halliburton's role of getting fuel into Iraq, a decision that follows a draft Pentagon audit that found Vice President Dick Cheney's old firm may have overcharged for the job.

The Pentagon's Defense Energy Support Center (DESC) said it had expanded its traditional mandate of providing fuel to the U.S. military and would now be responsible for importing and distributing fuel products to the Iraqi people.

"This is the first time our agency has been given this kind of work," said DESC spokeswoman Lynette Ebberts, who declined to comment on whether the DESC was taking the work because of price gouging allegations against Halliburton.

Halliburton's unit Kellogg Brown and Root is expected to continue bringing in fuel to Iraq under a broader, March no-bid deal with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers until DESC has advertised new contracts and found replacements for the work.

"What is really important here is that fuel support is not interrupted to the Iraqi people. We will use whatever means we have to accomplish that," said Ebberts.

Halliburton spokeswoman Wendy Hall said the task of getting fuel into Iraq was always understood by the company to be a temporary job.

"KBR has repeatedly tried to transfer the fuel delivery mission to another supplier," said Hall in an e-mail response. "We will work with the DESC to perform a smooth transition of the transportation mission."

The DESC was asked several months ago to look into taking over the job, a request that became more urgent after a preliminary Pentagon audit this month found evidence KBR may have overcharged U.S. taxpayers $61 million to supply fuel to Iraq via Kuwait.

Halliburton strongly denies wrongdoing and said it delivered fuel to Iraq at the best price under extremely dangerous conditions. Cheney was chief executive of Halliburton from 1995 to 2000.


Despite being an oil-rich nation, Iraq suffers from a fuel shortage and products have been trucked in since the end of the U.S.-led war that toppled President Saddam Hussein (news - web sites).

Ebberts said a team of DESC experts would go to Iraq in mid-January to assess what was needed and competitively bid fuel contracts would be advertised soon after to replace the work currently being done by KBR. KBR can bid for that work.

A pre-solicitation notice appeared on the U.S. government's procurement Web site on Wednesday for the management and oversight of fuel distribution in Iraq ( The notice said the contracts would be from April 1, 2004 through June 30, 2004 with three month options to renew.

"This procurement is unrestricted and all responsible sources may submit an offer," the notice said, without providing any details on the value of the work.

Ebberts did not know the value of the fuel work but said it was separate from $2 billion worth of contracts set to replace KBR's no-competition deal. These oil reconstruction contracts, one for the north and the other for southern Iraq's oil fields, are due to be announced by Jan. 17, after several delays.

"Our goal is to have full and open competition (for the fuel contracts) but we do have other contract options available, such as extending existing contracts as necessary or we can use bridging contracts using limited competition procedures," said Ebberts, without specifying which contracts could be used.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Bob Faletti defended KBR and said the new arrangement had nothing to do with criticism of the Texas company, its performance in Iraq or with the military's audit, which is not yet complete.

"KBR has done an excellent job," said Faletti.

Space News: Spirit Lands, Stardust Grabs, Beagle Not Barking & More!

Spirit Lands on Mars and Sends Postcards
NASA Press Release

January 4, 2004 - A traveling robotic geologist from NASA has landed on Mars and returned stunning images of the area around its landing site in Gusev Crater. Mars Exploration Rover Spirit successfully sent a radio signal after the spacecraft had bounced and rolled for several minutes following its initial impact at 11:35 p.m. EST (8:35 p.m. Pacific Standard Time) on January 3.

"This is a big night for NASA," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe.
"We're back. I am very, very proud of this team, and we're on Mars."

Members of the mission's flight team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., cheered and clapped when they learned that NASA's Deep Space Network had received a post-landing signal from Spirit.

The cheering resumed about three hours later when the rover transmitted its first images to Earth, relaying them through NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter.

"We've got many steps to go before this mission is over, but we've retired a lot of risk with this landing," said JPL's Pete Theisinger, project manager for the Mars Exploration Rover Project.

Deputy project manager for the rovers, JPL's Richard Cook, said, "We're certainly looking forward to Opportunity landing three weeks from now." Opportunity is Spirit's twin rover, headed for the opposite side of Mars.

Dr. Charles Elachi, JPL director, said, "To achieve this mission, we have assembled the best team of young women and men this country can put together. Essential work was done by other NASA centers and by our industrial and academic partners.

Spirit stopped rolling with its base petal down, though that favorable position could change as airbags deflate, said JPL's Rob Manning, development manager for the rover's descent through Mars' atmosphere and landing on the surface.

NASA chose Spirit's landing site, within Gusev Crater, based on evidence from Mars orbiters that this crater may have held a lake long ago. A long, deep valley, apparently carved by ancient flows of water, leads into Gusev. The crater itself is basin the size of Connecticut created by an asteroid or comet impact early in Mars' history. Spirit's task is to spend the next three months exploring for clues in rocks and soil about whether the past environment at this part of Mars was ever watery and suitable to sustain life.

Spirit traveled 487 million kilometers (302.6 million) miles to reach Mars after its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on June 10, 2003. Its twin, Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, was launched July 7, 2003, and is on course for a landing on the opposite side of Mars on Jan. 25 (Universal Time and EST; 9:05 p.m. on Jan. 24, PST).

The flight team expects to spend more than a week directing Spirit through a series of steps in unfolding, standing up and other preparations necessary before the rover rolls off of its lander platform to get its wheels onto the ground.

Meanwhile, Spirit's cameras and a mineral-identifying infrared instrument will begin examining the surrounding terrain.

That information will help engineers and scientists decide which direction to send the rover first.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, manages the Mars Exploration Rover project for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington. Additional information about the project is available from JPL at:

NASA Mars Rover site -

Cornell Athena Mars Exploration Rover site -

Stardust Catches Comet on the Fly and Heads for Home Plate
NASA Press Release

January 2, 2004 - Team Stardust, NASA's first dedicated sample return mission to a comet, passed a huge milestone today by successfully navigating through the particle and gas-laden coma around comet Wild 2 (pronounced "Vilt-2"). During the hazardous traverse, the spacecraft flew within about 230 kilometers (143 miles) of the comet, catching samples of comet particles and scoring detailed pictures of Wild 2's pockmarked surface.

Closest approach was at about 19:22 Universal Time (11:22 a.m. Pacific Standard Time). The spacecraft's radio signal was received on Earth 21 minutes and 40 seconds later, at 11:44 a.m. PST.

"Things couldn't have worked better in a fairy tale," said Tom Duxbury, Stardust project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

"These images are better than we had hoped for in our wildest dreams," said Ray Newburn of JPL, a co-investigator for Stardust. "They will help us better understand the mechanisms that drive conditions on comets."

"These are the best pictures ever taken of a comet," said Principal Investigator Dr. Don Brownlee of the University of Washington, Seattle. "Although Stardust was designed to be a comet sample return mission, the fantastic details shown in these images greatly exceed our expectations."

The collected particles, stowed in a sample return capsule onboard Stardust, will be returned to Earth for in-depth analysis. That dramatic event will occur on January 15, 2006, when the capsule makes a soft landing at the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range.

The microscopic particle samples of comet and interstellar dust collected by Stardust will be taken to the planetary material curatorial facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, for analysis.

Stardust has traveled about 3.22 billion kilometers (2 billion miles) since its launch on February 7, 1999.

As it closed the final gap with its cometary quarry, it endured a bombardment of particles surrounding the nucleus of comet Wild 2. To protect Stardust against the blast of expected cometary particles and rocks, the spacecraft rotated so it was flying in the shadow of its "Whipple Shields." The shields are named for American astronomer Dr. Fred L. Whipple, who, in the 1950s, came up with the idea of shielding spacecraft from high-speed collisions with the bits and pieces ejected from comets. The system includes two bumpers at the front of the spacecraft -- which protect Stardust's solar panels -- and another shield protecting the main spacecraft body.

Each shield is built around composite panels designed to disperse particles as they impact, augmented by blankets of a ceramic cloth called Nextel that further dissipate and spread particle debris.

"Everything occurred pretty much to the minute," said Duxbury. "And with our cometary encounter complete, we invite everybody to tune in about one million, 71 thousand minutes from now when Stardust returns to Earth, bringing with it the first comet samples in the history of space exploration."

Scientists believe in-depth terrestrial analysis of the samples will reveal much about comets and the earliest history of the solar system. Chemical and physical information locked within the cometary particles could be the record of the formation of the planets and the materials from which they were made. More information on the Stardust mission is available at

Stardust, a part of NASA's Discovery Program of low-cost, highly focused science missions, was built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, Colo., and is managed by JPL for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.

JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Stardust NASA Webcam -

Beagle Watchers Still Hopeful
Particle Physics & Astronomy Research Council Press Release

December 29, 2003 - The latest attempts to communicate with Beagle 2 via the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank and the Mars Odyssey spacecraft have been unsuccessful. However, the Beagle 2 team has not given up hope and continues to be optimistic that efforts to contact the lander will eventually be successful.

This message was also reinforced by Lord Sainsbury, UK Minister for Science and Innovation, who this morning joined members of the Beagle 2 team to answer questions about the status of the project.

"While we're disappointed that things have not gone according to plan, we are determined that the search should go on, both the search to make contact with Beagle 2 and also (the search) to answer the long term question about whether there is life on Mars," said Lord Sainsbury.

"There's clearly still a good opportunity to make contact with Beagle 2 with Mars Express when it comes into action, and that has to be the first priority at this point. I think everything is being done by the 'tiger team' in Leicester to make contact with Beagle 2 and I want to wish them every success in their efforts."

"We are looking at a number of possible failure modes that we might do something about," said Dr. Mark Sims, Beagle 2 mission manager from the University of Leicester.

"We are working under the assumption that Beagle 2 is on the surface of Mars and for some reason cannot communicate to us. In particular, we're looking at two major issues. One is communications, and there are also related timing and software issues.

"We've got a few more Odyssey contacts, the last one being on 31 December.

"Then we have four contacts with Mars Express already pre-programmed into Beagle, assuming the software is running, on 6, 12, 13 and 17. The 6 and 12 are when Mars Express is maneuvering into its final orbit, so they are not optimum for Beagle 2 communications. The 13th and 17th are very good opportunities for Mars Express."

According to Dr. Sims, one of the scenarios the team was investigating – a timer and hardware reset – now seems unlikely, and can probably be ruled out. However, other possible slips of the onboard time may have been caused by software or problems of copying data between various parts of memory. Possibly, all of the stored command times have been lost.

"None of these can yet be eliminated," he said.

After the tenth contact attempt, Beagle 2 will move into communication search mode 1 (CSM 1), taking advantage of the ability of the software on board Beagle 2 to recognise when dawn and dusk occur on Mars by measuring the current feeding from the solar arrays.

"When we get into CSM 1 mode, Beagle 2 will start putting additional contacts on its time line, independent of the clock value," said Mark Sims. "This will happen after 31 December."

The team is also looking at sending blind commands to Beagle 2. This is helped by Beagle going into CSM 1 mode.

"The team has come up with a method of fooling the receiver into accepting commands without having to talk back to the orbiter," said Dr. Sims. "We have an agreement with JPL to reconfigure Odyssey to provisionally attempt this on 31 December, the last programmed Odyssey pass."

Malin Science Systems has also provided the Beagle 2 team with a picture of the landing site taken by the camera on Mars Global Surveyor 20 minutes after the spacecraft's scheduled touchdown. It shows that the weather was quite good on the day Beagle landed, so it was unlikely to be a factor in the descent. The next opportunity to image the landing site with Mars Global Surveyor will not be until 5 January.

The image showing the centre of Beagle 2's landing ellipse also shows a 1 km wide crater. There is just an outside possibility that the lander could have touched down inside this crater, resulting in problems caused by steep slopes, large number of rocks or disruption to communication from the lander. This image is now available on the Beagle 2 and PPARC Web sites (see below).

While the Lander Operations Control Centre in Leicester continues its efforts to communicate with the Beagle 2, Lord Sainsbury took the opportunity to inform the media that the UK government is keen to continue the innovative robotic exploration effort begun with the lander.

"Long term we need to be working with ESA to ensure that in some form there is a Beagle 3 which takes forwards this technology," he said. "I very much hope that the Aurora programme, which is now being developed by ESA, will take forward this kind of robotic exploration.

"We've always recognised that Beagle 2 was a high risk project, and we must avoid the temptation in future to only do low risk projects.

"I'd like to use this opportunity to add my thanks to all those helping our efforts to make contact with Beagle 2. I think the amount of international collaboration one gets on these occasions is very, very impressive and very encouraging to the team."

"We should not ignore the importance of Mars Express, which has three British-designed instruments on board and which looks set for success," he added.

"Finally, can I use this opportunity to wish the Americans every success with its two Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity."

Beagle 2 -

Earth Bacteria Fuels Mars Comparison
Oregon State University News Release
By Mark Floyd

CORVALLIS OR December 29, 2003 - A team of scientists has discovered bacteria in a hole drilled more than 4,000 feet deep in volcanic rock on the island of Hawaii near Hilo, in an environment they say could be analogous to conditions on Mars and other planets.

Bacteria are being discovered in some of Earth's most inhospitable places, from miles below the ocean's surface to deep within Arctic glaciers. The latest discovery is one of the deepest drill holes in which scientists have discovered living organisms encased within volcanic rock, said Martin R. Fisk, a professor in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University.

Results of the study were published in the December issue of Geochemistry, Geophysics and Geosystems, a journal published by the American Geophysical Union and the Geochemical Society.

"We identified the bacteria in a core sample taken at 1,350 meters," said Fisk, who is lead author on the article. "We think there could be bacteria living at the bottom of the hole, some 3,000 meters below the surface. If microorganisms can live in these kinds of conditions on Earth, it is conceivable they could exist below the surface on Mars as well."

The study was funded by NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology and Oregon State University, and included researchers from OSU, JPL, the Kinohi Institute in Pasadena, Calif., and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

The scientists found the bacteria in core samples retrieved during a study done through the Hawaii Scientific Drilling Program, a major scientific undertaking run by the Cal Tech, the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Hawaii, and funded by the National Science Foundation.

The 3,000-meter hole began in igneous rock from the Mauna Loa volcano, and eventually encountered lavas from Mauna Kea at 257 meters below the surface.

At one thousand meters, the scientists discovered most of the deposits were fractured basalt glass - or hyaloclastites - which are formed when lava flowed down the volcano and spilled into the ocean.

"When we looked at some of these hyaloclastite units, we could see they had been altered and the changes were consistent with rock that has been 'eaten' by microorganisms," Fisk said.

Proving it was more difficult. Using ultraviolet fluorescence and resonance Raman spectroscopy, the scientists found the building blocks for proteins and DNA present within the basalt. They conducted chemical mapping exercises that showed phosphorus and carbon were enriched at the boundary zones between clay and basaltic glass - another sign of bacterial activity.

They then used electron microscopy that revealed tiny (two- to three-micrometer) spheres that looked like microbes in those same parts of the rock that contained the DNA and protein building blocks. There also was a significant difference in the levels of carbon, phosphorous, chloride and magnesium compared to unoccupied neighboring regions of basalt.

Finally, they removed DNA from a crushed sample of the rock and found that it had come from novel types of microorganisms. These unusual organisms are similar to ones collected from below the sea floor, from deep-sea hydrothermal vents, and from the deepest part of the ocean - the Mariana Trench.

"When you put all of those things together," Fisk said, "it is a very strong indication of the presence of microorganisms. The evidence also points to microbes that were living deep in the Earth, and not just dead microbes that have found their way into the rocks."

The study is important, researchers say, because it provides scientists with another theory about where life may be found on other planets. Microorganisms in subsurface environments on our own planet comprise a significant fraction of the Earth's biomass, with estimates ranging from 5 percent to 50 percent, the researchers point out.

Bacteria also grow in some rather inhospitable places.

Five years ago, in a study published in Science, Fisk and OSU microbiologist Steve Giovannoni described evidence they uncovered of rock-eating microbes living nearly a mile beneath the ocean floor. The microbial fossils they found in miles of core samples came from the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. Fisk said he became curious about the possibility of life after looking at swirling tracks and trails etched into the basalt.

Basalt rocks have all of the elements for life including carbon, phosphorous and nitrogen, and need only water to complete the formula.

"Under these conditions, microbes could live beneath any rocky planet," Fisk said. "It would be conceivable to find life inside of Mars, within a moon of Jupiter or Saturn, or even on a comet containing ice crystals that gets warmed up when the comet passes by the sun."

Water is a key ingredient, so one key to finding life on other planets is determining how deep the ground is frozen. Dig down deep enough, the scientists say, and that's where you may find life.

Such studies are not simple, said Michael Storrie-Lombardi, executive director of the Kinohi Institute. They require expertise in oceanography, astrobiology, geochemistry, microbiology, biochemistry and spectroscopy.

"The interplay between life and its surrounding environment is amazingly complex," Storrie-Lombardi said, "and detecting the signatures of living systems in Dr. Fisk's study demanded close cooperation among scientists in multiple disciplines - and resources from multiple institutions.

"That same cooperation and communication will be vital as we begin to search for signs of life below the surface of Mars, or on the satellites of Jupiter and Saturn."

Anti-Mad Cow Treatment Ignored
By Maggie Fox

WASHINGTON January 02, 2004 (Reuters) — A U.S. scientist said Tuesday a simple treatment combining high pressure with heat could neutralize the proteins that cause mad cow disease, but federal officials had shown little interest in it.

Dr. Paul Brown of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke said his process, developed with European researchers, would inactivate the prion proteins that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy without damaging the meat. Normal cooking does not affect prions.

"For the past two years I have been looking at a method of inactivating prions in meat," Brown, a top expert on BSE and related diseases, said in a telephone interview. "It uses high pressure and it works, but to this date no one seems interested in using it."

Brown and colleagues at Washington Farms in Tacoma, Washington, and the Istituto Superiore di Sanita in Rome published a report in May showing that short, high-temperature pressure bursts could greatly reduce the numbers of prions active in meat.

"The application of commercially practical conditions of temperature and pressure could ensure the safety of processed meats from BSE contamination," they wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Brown and colleagues tested hot dogs, contaminating them with brain tissues from hamsters that had scrapie, a relative of BSE.

They sealed the samples, put them in polyethylene bottles filled with hot castor oil then subjected them to bursts of physical pressure in a pressure chamber.

The pressure bursts, ranging from 100,000 pounds per square inch to 174,000 PSI (690 MPa to 1,200 MPa), inactivated many of the prions, Brown's team said. They said the process would also destroy a range of bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

U.S. officials have taken a series of measures to protect the meat supply from mad cow disease after the discovery of a single U.S. cow with BSE.

The measures imposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture include a ban on using meat from downer cattle — animals unable to walk on their own at the slaughter plant.

U.S. officials have repeatedly said there is no risk to consumers from the recall of 10,000 pounds of beef linked to the infected cow and 19 others slaughtered on Dec. 9.

Brown and other experts note that the process of slaughtering can spatter and spread infected material on to meat, despite the most careful measures. Processed meat products are considered the riskiest as they mix tissue from various parts of the animal.

BSE destroys the brains of infected cattle. There is no cure and it is always fatal.

People get a form of the disease known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease by eating infected beef products. At least 137 people have died from vCJD after mad cow struck herds in Britain and Europe a decade ago.

A commentary on Brown's findings in the New England Journal of Medicine's Infectious Diseases publication in July said they had commercial potential.

"[But] extensive studies using other foods and other temperature and pressure combinations are needed before it can be considered for use," Dr. Richard Ellison wrote in the commentary.
Barbie in a Blender

Associated Press Writer

SAN FRANCISCO December 30, 2003 (AP) - A federal appeals court dismissed a copyright lawsuit Mattel Inc. brought against a Utah artist who shot a photographic series depicting Barbie dolls naked in a blender, wrapped in a tortilla and sizzling on a wok.

Mattel sued Tom Forsythe, a self-described "artsurdist" from Kanab, Utah, who used the fashion dolls in a work entitled "Food Chain Barbie" to criticize "America's culture of consumption and conformism." One photo, "Malted Barbie," featured a nude Barbie on a vintage Hamilton Beach malt machine.

The toy maker sued Forsythe in 1999, alleging copyright infringement and dilution of copyright. Mattel said the pictures, which often showed Barbie posed in sexually provocative positions, could confuse consumers into believing the company was behind the works.

A federal judge in Los Angeles also had dismissed the suit. Mattel took the case to the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (news - web sites), which on Monday agreed with U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew.

The appeals court said the lawsuit "may have been groundless and unreasonable." In addition, the court said Forsythe had a First Amendment right to lampoon Barbie.

"Mattel cannot use trademark laws to censor all parodies or satires which use its name," Judge Harry Pregerson wrote for the three-judge panel.

El Segundo, Calif.-based Mattel did not return calls seeking comment.

Forsythe has said he uses Barbie to criticize "the materialistic and gender-oppressive values" he believes the dolls embody. On Monday, he said that with the help of the attorneys who worked for free on his case, "I wasn't scared off. It was a ridiculous lawsuit."

One of Forsythe's photos, "Barbie Enchiladas," shows four Barbie dolls inside a lit oven, wrapped in tortillas and covered with salsa in a casserole dish. The appeals court said Forsythe earned $3,659 selling postcards of his "Food Chain Barbie" series.

Forsythe isn't the only one Mattel has sued over Barbie. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of Danish pop band Aqua to distribute the suggestive 1997 pop song, "Barbie Girl," in which a baby-doll voice proclaims: "I'm a blonde bimbo girl."

Bad News Nukes!

Dean Was Warned on Vermont Nuke Security
Associated Press Writers

Vermont January 4, 2004 (AP) - Presidential hopeful Howard Dean, who accuses President Bush of being weak on homeland security, was warned repeatedly as Vermont governor about security lapses at his state's nuclear power plant and was told the state was ill-prepared for a disaster at its most attractive terrorist target.

The warnings, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press, began in 1991 when a group of students were brought into a secure area of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant without proper screening. On at least two occasions, a gun or mock terrorists passed undetected into the plant during security tests.

During Dean's final year in office in 2002, an audit concluded that despite a decade of repeated warnings of poor safety at Vermont Yankee, Dean's administration was poorly prepared for a nuclear disaster.

"The lack of funding and overarching coordination at the state level directly impacts the ability of the state, local and power plant planners to be adequately prepared for a real emergency at Vermont Yankee," state Auditor Elizabeth M. Ready wrote in a study issued five months after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Security was so lax at Vermont Yankee that in August 2001, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staged a drill in which three mock terrorists gained access to the plant. The agency gave Vermont Yankee the worst security rating among the nation's 103 reactors.

The NRC has primary responsibility for safety at Vermont Yankee. But Vermont laws required an active state role by creating a panel to review security and performance and requiring plant operators to set aside money for the state to use in the event of a nuclear disaster.

Dean's campaign said Saturday it ultimately was the NRC's responsibility to ensure security at the plant, but that he badgered Vermont Yankee's operators and the NRC to make improvements during the 1990s. It noted the NRC's safety budget was cut in the 1990s.

"After September 11, Governor Dean decided the buck stops here in terms of security and personally ran this effort, creating a Cabinet-level agency," spokesman Jay Carson said.

Carson acknowledged there were weaknesses before 2002 in Vermont's nuclear preparedness, and Dean moved quickly afterward to place state troopers and National Guardsman at the plant, distribute radiation pills to civilians, demand a federal no-fly zone over the plant to prevent an aerial attack, and increase emergency preparedness funding.

"As many have said before, hindsight is 20-20 and no one could have predicted what could have happened on a terrible day in September 2001," Carson said.

"In retrospect, every state in the entire country could have been safer. The important thing is after Governor Dean recognized these vulnerabilities, he took swift, bold steps to make things better," Carson said.

State Auditor Ready, a Democrat and Dean backer, agreed things improved after her critical 2002 report and that security tests this year showed Vermont Yankee was safer. "Once Governor Dean got that report there was swift and thorough action," she said.

But even after Ready's report recommended the state's nuclear preparedness spending triple from $400,000 to $1.2 million, Dean budgeted only half the increase.

That led Dean's state emergency management director, Ed von Turkovich, to tell the Legislature in 2002 that the increase to $800,000 "does not cover the expenses related to the program" and that Vermont's nuclear preparedness was "in trouble, grossly underfunded, under-resourced and has been for years." Dean's campaign said the governor spent significant other money on security through other departments.

The lack of preparedness was blamed in the 2002 audit on inadequate funds. "Vermont receives the least amount of funding for its Radiological Emergency Response Plan, in total dollars, of any New England state that hosts a nuclear power plant," the audit disclosed.

The audit was not the first warning to Dean, documents show.

On Feb. 14, 2000, von Turkovich wrote Dean's top deputy, Administration Secretary Kathleen Hoyt, expressing concern the state was not forcing Vermont Yankee, which was up for sale, to set aside more money for preparedness.

"We are sympathetic to the utility's concern for controlling costs with respect to the pending sale of the plant and have committed to expend additional state and federal resources to subsidize this program in the coming year," von Turkovich wrote.

"However, I believe in the near future, the present or new owners will need to broaden their level of support for preparedness activities that need to be accomplished on behalf of the communities that reside in the Emergency Planning Zone," he wrote.

The documents contrast with Dean's position as a presidential candidate who has portrayed himself as more concerned about nuclear security than Bush.

"Our most important challenge will be to address the most dangerous threat of all: catastrophic terrorism using weapons of mass destruction," Dean said in his speech in Los Angeles last month. "Here, where the stakes are highest, the current administration has, remarkably, done the least."

Dean also has suggested Bush was unprepared before and after Sept. 11 to fight terrorism. "We are in danger of losing the war on terror, because we are fighting it with the strategies of the past," the Democratic candidate said.

The Vermont documents show Dean and his top aides received numerous warnings about Vermont Yankee.

In August 1991, an aide sent a handwritten memo to Dean saying there was a "security error" at Vermont Yankee that was "not public."

A group of students "on a tour were taken into a secure area without checking through security first," the aide wrote, saying the matter was minor but would be disclosed to federal regulators. Dean initialed the memo, indicating he read it.

In 1992, the NRC provided information to Dean about "declining performances at Vermont Yankee in three important areas: plant security, engineering/technical support and safety assessment/quality verification," documents show.

Dean responded by writing the head of the plant that the problems could "have an impact on the health and safety of the people of Vermont" and "it is my expectation that you will do all in your power to correct this declining trend." It was one of several such letters he wrote.

Just months later, the Vermont Nuclear Advisory Panel, a state panel, reported that two nuclear fuel mishandling incidents at the plant were the "result of complacent operator and management actions."

Richard Sedano, Dean's top utility regulator, said Saturday that while "everybody has a different appreciation of terrorism after the World Trade Center" the state closely monitored Vermont Yankee's safety and in May 1993 staged a public hearing to embarrass the plant's operators into improving their management. He called it a "therapeutic and beneficial experience."

Environmental groups sent Dean repeated letters about the plant's security and safety. During a 1998 federal security test, mock terrorists sneaked a fake gun past security and six times scaled, undetected, the plant's security perimeter fence.

The 1998 test was alarming because seven years earlier, protesters had managed to breach the same security by scaling the fence or rafting down an adjacent river. The 2001 security test again penetrated Vermont Yankee's security.

Ready's audit in 2002 questioned why, with so many warnings about safety, Dean's administration had significantly fewer people committed to nuclear emergency planning than neighboring states.

"Unlike its nearest counterparts, Vermont's Division of Emergency Management has only one full-time and two part-time staff to support" its emergency response program, she wrote. "New Hampshire has nearly 20 full- and part-time staff as well as consultants, while Massachusetts has more than 20 full-time staff to carry out" its program.

How to Not Store Nuclear Waste
By Anna Peltola

STOCKHOLM January 02, 2004 (Reuters) — Since the start of the nuclear era, highly radioactive waste has been crossing continents and oceans in search of a secure and final resting place.

Nearly all countries produce nuclear waste, some types of which can remain radioactive for thousands of years, but they cannot agree on the best way to store it.

At present highly radioactive waste is put into interim storage where it has to sit for 30 to 40 years for its radioactivity and heat production to decline. It is still hazardous and should be stored somewhere permanently.

In many countries it is unclear who will pay for the cost divided over hundreds, even hundreds of thousands of years. Utilities could end up with a bigger bill than expected.

Most high-level waste, the most dangerous kind, is spent fuel from the over 400 nuclear power reactors in more than 30 countries. The dismantling of nuclear weapons adds to the pile.

Even nuclear-free states produce waste from industry, hospitals providing radiation therapy, and research centers.

Experts say technology exists for secure underground deposits which could last millions of years. Most countries plan to seal the highly hazardous waste in containers and store it 1,640 to 3,280 feet underground.

Skeptics say it could be safe for decades or even centuries, but at some point it would be bound to leak or be attacked by terrorists.

"If there isn't a responsible solution to deal with nuclear waste, it may be better to keep it above ground for a while longer when we are looking for technology that is safer," said Martina Krueger, who works for the environmental organization Greenpeace in Sweden.

To open or not?

Some politicians have demanded that the repositories are built so that future generations can open them and eliminate the waste with the help of new technology.

Others say that would also leave the deposits vulnerable to potential social chaos thousands of years down the line.

If waste is safe in interim storage, why not keep it there?

"Sure it's safe ... but what we have to communicate are the trade-offs," said Thomas Sanders from Sandia National Laboratories, owned by the U.S. government.

Some nuclear plants are already running into the limits of their storage capacity. And since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States attention has turned to individual plants and whether these can be protected from terrorist attacks.

European Union countries plan to build repositories by around 2020, but some have not even started considering sites. In 2001 Finland became the first and so far only E.U. state to decide on a site for a final storage.

The United States plans to deposit waste from its 103 nuclear plants beneath Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The site should open in 2010 but faces local protests and legal hurdles.

Critics say big central repositories would again increase the risk of accidents or theft because the nuclear waste has to be transported to them from each plant.

Who pays?

In many cases it is unclear for how long nuclear waste is the liability of the firm causing it, and when the state takes over.

This makes it tough for utilities to calculate the cost, especially if the repositories are built in such a way that they have to be guarded for security reasons.

"It is difficult to give precise costs because France hasn't decided on a strategy on long-term waste management," said Yves le Bars, chairman of ANDRA, the national radioactive waste management agency in France, the E.U.'s biggest nuclear power.

"We say it will take between 15 billion to 25 billion euros (U.S.$18.9 billion to $31.4 billion) to build a repository, operate it and close it for the existing facilities," he said. This would cover high-level waste from France's 58 nuclear plants, assuming fuel would be reprocessed.

Finding a location for a dump is one of the biggest hurdles.

In South Korea, the state tried for years to find a county willing to host a repository for low and intermediate level waste. Finally this year, Buan county applied for the deposit and suggested Wi-do island as a host.

The island has 1,000 inhabitants, most of them fishers.

"They decided to accept the repository because the government is paying a tremendous financial package," said Myung Jae Song, general manager at the Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Company, the world's fifth-largest producer of nuclear power.

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), suggested in early December that countries should consider shared storage, even though no state should be forced to deal with another's atomic waste.

At Eurajoki, site of Finland's final repository, people were upset by the idea that their town could one day start importing foreign waste, said local politician Altti Lucander.

"It causes confusion and may lead to there being no acceptance for national deposits," Lucander said.

Additional reporting by Mark John in Paris

Genre News: Angelina Jolie, Lance Henriksen, Slinky, Angel, Nemo & Firefly - The Movie!

Angelina Jolie Talks Cambodian Cows

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia January 3, 2004 (AP) - "Tomb Raider" star Angelina Jolie is funding a program to donate cows to poverty-stricken Cambodian farmers.

Three hundred families will get one cow each to help them earn money, hopefully dissuading them from logging and hunting wildlife for a living, said Mounh Sarath, director of the Cambodian Vision in Development project.

Jolie is giving $1.5 million to the organization for its environmental protection efforts in remote parts of northwestern Cambodia.

The 28-year-old actress is having a house built in Cambodia. She fell in love with the country when scenes for "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" were shot at the famed Angkor temple complex.

The project aims to protect about 148,200 acres of forest in the Samlaut and Pailin areas, both former strongholds of the Khmer Rouge regime that ruled Cambodia in 1975-79.

The 300 cows will cost $36,000, Mounh Sarath said Thursday, adding that each family can keep the cow and its first calf.

"Whenever the second calf is born, they will give it to our organization to pass over to another family," he said.

Jolie's upcoming films include "Taking Lives," also starring Ethan Hawke and Kiefer Sutherland.

Lance Henriksen Talks Alien vs. Predator

Hollywood December 23, 2003 (Sci Fi Wire) - Lance Henriksen, who plays billionaire industrialist Charles Bishop Weyland in the upcoming franchise hybrid film Alien vs. Predator, told SCI FI Wire that director Paul W.S. Anderson wrote the role specifically for him, as a nod to the previous Alien films.

"I was the first one cast in the movie," Henriksen said in an interview on the set in Prague.

"Paul was gracious enough to literally, for two hours, tell me every scene in the movie. And I was stunned, because he has this incredible enthusiasm for what he's doing and what his vision is that he had the energy to do that. So I was really welcomed."

Set in the present day, Alien vs. Predator will be a prequel of sorts to the four Alien films, which are set in the distant future.

"It's like going through the looking glass backwards here, because now we're going back in time to before Aliens, before Alien even." Henriksen said.

"The way [Anderson has] structured this script, there's such logic to it all, such sense, because we know those movies before, and we're not denying you know them, so when you see this movie you're going to see something completely different, but it's got those genres in it."

As the head of Weyland Industries, a precursor to the Weyland-Yutani Corp. referenced in the first Alien film, Henriksen's character is the implied inspiration for the future android Bishop, whom he portrayed in Aliens and Alien 3.

"This one is really closure, because I'm the guy that started the robotics that goes into use in the future," Henriksen said. "And they patterned it after me, so it's kind of a [tribute]."

Henriksen's character isn't the only link to the films that spawned the upcoming alien showdown, he said.

"Oh, there's a lot of nods in this, but they're more treats than anything." Alien vs. Predator is scheduled for release Aug. 6, 2004.

Slinky - The Movie?

LOS ANGELES January 2, 2003 ( - Slinky: It's fun for a girl or a boy.

A Venezuelan film producer is hoping the classic slogan for the torsion spring toy is true. Henrique Vera-Villanueva, the president and CEO of H2V Entertainment, is directing a family-friendly feature based around the Slinky, reports USA Today.

The tentatively titled "Slinky: The Magic Quilt" will star CGI-generated characters with Slinky-enhanced physiques.

"It's a bunch of characters, some of them new, such as the Slinky scarecrow and the Slinky robot, some based on the property known as the Slinky Pets," says Vera-Villanueva.

One such pet, Slinky Dog, which was voiced by Jim Varney, was featured in 1995's "Toy Story" and its sequel four years later.

Vera-Villanueva, whose idol is director Tim Burton, envisions a fully-realized Slinky world complete with its own hero.

"The main character is a big Indiana Jones-type Slinky," he says. "This character is on an adventurous quest, but it's a character-driven film, like 'Ice Age.'"

Two studios are reportedly interested in distribution rights to "Slinky" for a projected 2005 release date, just in time for the toy's 60th anniversary.

Slinky was developed by marine engineer Richard James who sold it at Gimbel's department store in 1945. At first, crowds ignored the droopy, coiled toy until James demonstrated its slinkity skills on the store's countertop, proving that indeed a spring is a marvelous thing.

Vera-Villanueva produced 1996's "Aire Libre" and the documentary "Hang the DJ" in 1998. "Slinky" is H2V's first foray into children's films.

Towne Talks 39 Steps

LOS ANGELES January 2, 2004 (AP) - Screenwriter Robert Towne has struck a deal to develop a remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic "The 39 Steps." Towne, who wrote "Chinatown" and "Mission: Impossible 3," will write and direct the thriller for Carlton International Media, Daily Variety reported on its Web site Thursday.

"There is only a handful of individuals in our business with the talent, experience and insight to whom we would entrust a project of this magnitude, and Robert Towne is one of them," said Stephen Davis, Carlton America's president and chief executive officer.

Hitchcock's version of the spy film was made in 1935 and starred Robert Donat, Lucie Mannheim and Madeleine Carroll.

Carlton owns one of the world's largest catalogs of classic movies. The company's vault also includes the 1959 version starring Kenneth More and the 1978 version by Don Sharp.

Planet Terry - The Movie?
By Josh Spector

Hollywood December 31, 2003 (Hollywood Reporter) - New Line Cinema has tapped the writing team of Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio to adapt the comic book "Planet Terry" for the big screen.

The project, which New Line pre-emptively acquired from comic book creator Rob Liefeld in July, is based on what was to be an online comic series for Liefeld. The specific story line is being kept under wraps, but it is described as a buddy action comedy with a sci-fi element.

Neal Moritz is producing "Planet Terry," while Brooklyn Weaver is executive producing. New Line production executives Kent Alterman, Keith Goldberg and Michelle Weiss are overseeing for the studio.

Paul and Daurio penned such films as "The Santa Clause 2" and "Bubble Boy." The duo also recently wrote "Dinner for Schmucks" for DreamWorks, "Car Wars" for Warner Bros. Pictures and "Special" at MGM. They are repped by the Gersh Agency and the Radmin Co.

Angel - The Musical?
By Kate O'Hare

LOS ANGELES December 31, 2003 ( - Although he did a musical episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," writer/producer Joss Whedon has shown no interest in doing the same on its spin-off, The WB's "Angel," which stars David Boreanaz as a vampire with a soul seeking redemption by doing good.

One cast member that wishes Whedon would reconsider is Sarah Thompson, who joined "Angel" this season in the recurring role of Eve, a young woman with mysterious links to dark forces.

"I'd like to sing on the show," she says, "because I'm a singer. I grew up doing musical theater."

Not that there hasn't been singing from time to time on "Angel."

Assorted people have warbled -- including Angel, who has a penchant for Barry Manilow songs -- for the mind-reading demon Lorne (Andy Hallett), himself a Vegas-style lounge singer.

Christian Kane, who recently returned to the role of the evil lawyer Lindsey, sang a song in Lorne's club in one episode -- a tune written by series co-creator David Greenwalt.

And there's plenty of talent to go around. Besides Hallett, an accomplished performer, and Kane (who has his own Southern rock band, Kane), there's James Marsters, who plays vampire Spike. He also has a band, Ghost of the Robot, and showed off his vocal prowess in the "Buffy" musical.

"I haven't told Joss [that I sing]," Thompson says. "I want to tell him. I figure, with Lorne's character, they could somehow work it in. You know how he can read people's minds if they sing? Maybe he could do that to me to get information out of Eve."

After garnering attention as Dana Poole on FOX's high-school drama "Boston Public," Thompson suddenly finds herself with two series at once. Along with her job on "Angel," she also has a recurring role as the hooker Bambi on the ABC drama "Line of Fire."

"It's cool," she says. 'You go for months without working, doing a little thing here or there, then you get two jobs at once."

On "Angel," Eve is romancing Lindsey, her partner in some unspecified evil plot, and on "Line of Fire," she's involved with a hunky FBI undercover agent, played by Anson Mount.

"I've got my own wonderful guy at home," Thompson says, "but working with them makes the day go by smoother."

Thompson even found herself keeping a big "Angel" secret. In the last original episode that aired, "Destiny," Kane's return as Lindsey -- who left "Angel" a couple of seasons ago -- was only revealed in the last moment of the final scene.

"I didn't know about it until the last minute," Thompson says. "It wasn't in the original script. It was a secret scene. I heard rumors there were going to be a big reveal, but I didn't know what was going to happen. David Boreanaz was like, 'Maybe you're going to turn out to be a lizard.' Everyone was throwing up crazy ideas.

"So finally, one day, an envelope arrives in my trailer. It's confidential, and I open it. It's the secret scene, for your eyes only, don't let anyone know. I wanted to tell people, tell my friends, my boyfriend, 'I'm evil!' but I couldn't. I had to keep my mouth shut."

Although she's been shuttling back and forth between shows, Thompson says she doesn't get confused. "I'm focused on wherever I am. When I'm working on 'Angel,' I'm not thinking about the other show, and vice versa."

She's had love scenes on both shows (including a magic-induced romp with Angel), but Thompson still has one wish: "A fight scene?"

Angel returns to The WB with all new episodes on January 14th.

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Nemo - The Lawsuit?

PARIS December 31, 2003 (AP) - A French children's book author has filed a lawsuit against Disney claiming that superstar fish Nemo closely resembles his own creation, a smiling, wide-eyed clown fish named Pierrot, reports said.

Franck Le Calvez's book "Pierrot the Clown Fish" tells the story of a striped orange fish who is separated from his family — a debut similar to "Finding Nemo."

In February, a court will hear his case against Disney and Pixar Animation, Le Monde newspaper said. The case is for breach of copyright and trademark, and Le Calvez also wants Nemo merchandise taken off the shelves of French shops.

The Walt Disney Co. said it considers the case "to be totally without merit."

"Finding Nemo, which is owned by Pixar and Disney, was independently developed and does not infringe anyone's copyright or trademarks," the company said in a prepared statement. "Obviously, it is up to the courts to decide this matter."

Le Calvez registered his story with French trademark officials in 1995, according to a Dec. 20 report in Le Monde. Then he pitched his idea to film animation studios, without success.

In 2000, Le Calvez turned Pierrot into an idea for a book, and it was published last year.

Neither Le Calvez nor his lawyer, Pascal Kamina, could be reached after business hours Tuesday.

In an article published Tuesday in The Hollywood Reporter, Kamina was quoted as saying that he will keep pushing forward with the suit if he does not receive an explanation from Disney.

Joss Whedon Talks Firefly - The Movie

Hollywood December 23, 2003 (Sci Fi Wire) - Joss Whedon, creator of the defunct Fox SF TV show Firefly, told SCI FI Wire that his proposed series-based feature film will aim at an audience that has never seen the show, but will also contain "big giant payoffs" for faithful fans.

Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) added that he's finishing up the script for the proposed movie.

"It is still just that, a possible film," Whedon said in an interview at the Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention.

"We have a good chance, actually. It looks like it's a real possibility. But more than that I cannot say. ... I don't want to jinx anything."

Whedon acknowledged that it seems odd to try to mount a movie based on a failed television show.
(Fox canceled Firefly after airing only 11 of the 14 produced episodes).

But, he added, referring to his hit Buffy TV series, "It also seems unusual to want to mount a show from a failed film, so you know unusual is sort of my stock in trade. The only reason I'm doing this is because I believed that there was a story to tell that I had not had the opportunity to tell. And I believed that I didn't want to work with anybody except these guys for a long while. So ... there was just too much to give away."

Whedon declined to say which of the series' many loose threads he would tie up in the movie. Some of those include the secret behind the Blue Sun Corp. and its interest in River (Summer Glau); the secret behind Shepherd Book's (Ron Glass) past; the unresolved romantic tension between Capt. Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and Inara (Morena Baccarin); and the unresolved romantic tension between Simon (Sean Maher) and Kaylee (Jewel Stait).

"There are about 400 things I'd like to see wrapped up in the film," Whedon said. "Unfortunately, then it becomes a miniseries. And so there are certain threads that this follows up on very heavily, and certain ones that it drops entirely. Because you have to pick and choose if it's a movie. ... Obviously, the movie is more epic than the show. There's big action stuff and all kinds of hijinks, but the ... development of the relationships and who these people are and why they belong together is always going to be the point."

Firefly: The Complete Series is currently available on DVD. See our review here.

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