Rhone River Contains High Levels Of PCBs

25 08 2008

Beneath the waters of the Rhone, which flows through some of France’s key tourists spots – from Lyon, to Avignon and on to the Camargue nature reserve – lurks an environmental disaster so grave that it has been described as “the French Chernobyl”.

Along the length of the Rhone, from Lyon down to the Camargue estuary, river fisherman have been ordered by the French government to moor up their boats.

Last year, a dredge of the Rhone showed contaminated sediment in its bed and a local fisherman, concerned that birds seemed to be dying around the Grand Large area, just outside Lyon, sent some of his catch to a laboratory to be tested.

The fish contained 12 times the legal safety limit of the toxic chemicals polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.





Google Blurs Faces

4 07 2008

Google has decided, for privacy reasons, to blur the faces and car license plates of people/vehicles shown on their French StreetView service.

StreetView is an enhancement to Google Maps, allowing users to navigate through a continuous panoramic street-level photograph of a location. The French edition, launched Thursday, covers only a small—but very special—subset of French streets: the route of the famous Tour de France cycle race.

In the U.S., StreetView offers near-complete coverage of the streets of a number of cities. It raised privacy concerns when it launched there, as people who never expected to be photographed found their movements displayed to a worldwide audience.





French Army Chief Of Staff Quits 2 Days After Incident

1 07 2008

The French army chief of staff, Gen Bruno Cuche, has resigned two days after a soldier injured 17 people at a military show.

Gen Cuche offered his resignation on Tuesday to President Nicolas Sarkozy who accepted it.

The soldier used real bullets instead of blanks at the public demonstration at a barracks in south-western France.

Four people, including a child, were seriously injured in the incident. They are now said to be out of danger.

On Monday, President Sarkozy, who visited the wounded in hospital, said he would seek explanations from the whole chain of command over the incident.

Earlier, Defence Minister Herve Morin called for “immediate sanctions… without waiting for the conclusions of the judicial and military enquiries”.

The incident highlighted “grave deficiencies in the use of ammunition and in the security of public demonstrations held at regiments’ open days”, the defence ministry said in a statement.

The resignation is a measure of how seriously the French government, and in particular President Sarkozy, is taking this extraordinary breach of safety procedures, says a BBC correspondent in Paris.

The shooting occurred during a public demonstration of hostage-freeing techniques at a barracks in Carcassonne, in the Aude region.

The sergeant who fired the shots is being held in custody and is expected to be charged on Tuesday with causing unintentional injury.

It is now thought he had held on to some live ammunition from a previous exercise in breach of regulations and mistakenly loaded them into his assault rifle during the display.

Questions are also being asked about the organisation of the event, in which an actor posing as a terrorist was positioned among the public that meant that the soldier was firing straight into the crowd.

For France, it is an appallingly embarrassing incident just as the country takes over the presidency of the European Union, with defence one of President Sarkozy’s top priorities for the next few months, our correspondent adds.





French Armt Chief Of Staff Quits 2 Days After Incident

1 07 2008

The French army chief of staff, Gen Bruno Cuche, has resigned two days after a soldier injured 17 people at a military show.

Gen Cuche offered his resignation on Tuesday to President Nicolas Sarkozy who accepted it.

The soldier used real bullets instead of blanks at the public demonstration at a barracks in south-western France.

Four people, including a child, were seriously injured in the incident. They are now said to be out of danger.

On Monday, President Sarkozy, who visited the wounded in hospital, said he would seek explanations from the whole chain of command over the incident.

Earlier, Defence Minister Herve Morin called for “immediate sanctions… without waiting for the conclusions of the judicial and military enquiries”.

The incident highlighted “grave deficiencies in the use of ammunition and in the security of public demonstrations held at regiments’ open days”, the defence ministry said in a statement.

The resignation is a measure of how seriously the French government, and in particular President Sarkozy, is taking this extraordinary breach of safety procedures, says a BBC correspondent in Paris.

The shooting occurred during a public demonstration of hostage-freeing techniques at a barracks in Carcassonne, in the Aude region.

The sergeant who fired the shots is being held in custody and is expected to be charged on Tuesday with causing unintentional injury.

It is now thought he had held on to some live ammunition from a previous exercise in breach of regulations and mistakenly loaded them into his assault rifle during the display.

Questions are also being asked about the organisation of the event, in which an actor posing as a terrorist was positioned among the public that meant that the soldier was firing straight into the crowd.

For France, it is an appallingly embarrassing incident just as the country takes over the presidency of the European Union, with defence one of President Sarkozy’s top priorities for the next few months, our correspondent adds.





Will Earth Be Sucked Up By A Black Hole Made Near Switzerland?!?!

23 06 2008

Our planet is not at risk from the world’s most powerful particle physics experiment, a report has concluded.

The document addresses fears that the Large Hadron Collider is so energetic, it could have unforeseen consequences.

Critics are worried that mini-black holes made at the soon-to-open facility on the French-Swiss border might threaten the Earth’s very existence.

But the report, issued the European Organization for Nuclear Research, says there is “no conceivable danger”.

The organization – known better by its French acronym, Cern – will operate the collider underground in a 27km-long tunnel near Geneva.

This Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a powerful and complicated machine, which will smash together protons at super-fast speeds in a bid to unlock the secrets of the Universe.

Six “detectors” – individual experiments – will count, trace and analyse the particles that emerge from the collisions.

Most physicists believe the risk of a cataclysm lies in the realms of science fiction. But there have been fears about the possibility of a mini-black hole – produced in the collider – swelling so that it gobbles up the Earth.

Critics have previously raised concerns that the production of weird hypothetical particles called strangelets in the LHC could trigger the mass conversion of nuclei in ordinary atoms into more strange matter – transforming the Earth into a hot, dead lump.

New particles

The lay language summary of the report, which has been written by Cern’s top theorists, states: “Over the past billions of years, nature has already generated on Earth as many collisions as about a million LHC experiments – and the planet still exists.”

The report added: “There is no basis for any concerns about the consequences of new particles or forms of matter that could possibly be produced by the LHC.”

Simulated production of a black hole in Atlas (Cern)
If a black hole is produced, it might look like this in LHC data

The new document is an update of the analysis carried out in 2003 into the safety of the collider by an independent team of scientists.

The authors of the latest report, including theoretical physicist John Ellis, confirmed that black holes could be made by the collider. But they said: “If microscopic black holes were to be singly produced by colliding the quarks and gluons inside protons, they would also be able to decay into the same types of particles that produced them.”

The report added: “The expected lifetime [of a mini-black hole] would be very short.”

On the strangelet issue, the report says that these particles are even less likely to be produced at the LHC than in the lower-energy Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in New York, which has been operating since 2000.

A previous battle over particle accelerator safety was fought over the US machine.

‘Fundamental question’

The scientific consensus appears to be on the side of Cern’s theorists.

But in 2003, Dr Adrian Kent, a theoretical physicist at the University of Cambridge, wrote a paper in which he argued that scientists had not adequately calculated the risks of a “killer strangelet” catastrophe scenario.

He also expressed concern that a fundamental question (how improbable does a cataclysm have to be to warrant proceeding with an experiment?) had never been seriously inspected.

The LHC was due to switch on in 26 November 2007. The start-up has been postponed several times, however, and is currently scheduled for later this summer.

The first delay was precipitated by an accident in March 2007 during stress testing of one of the LHC’s “quadrupole” magnets.

A statement carried on the Cern website from the US laboratory that provided the magnet stated that the equipment had experienced a “failure” when supporting structures “broke”.

It later emerged that the magnet had exploded in the tunnel, close to one of the LHC’s most important detectors, prompting the the facility to be evacuated.

In March, a complaint requesting an injunction against the LHC’s switch-on was filed before the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii by seven plaintiffs.

One of the plaintiffs had previously attempted to bring a similar injunction against the RHIC over safety concerns.








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