Science  09 Jun 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5472, pp. 1717
  1. Muzzled Watchdog

    The Indian government has stripped its Atomic Energy Regulatory Board of its role in overseeing the safety of the nation's nuclear weapons program, a move that critics fear will aggravate problems at deteriorating weapons facilities. The action, taken in April but revealed last week, will allow the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) in Mumbai, the nation's leading weapons lab, to create its own safety panel.

    The shift leaves weaponeers free to set weak safety standards, critics say. “In one stroke, the safety assurance and regulation of the mostly old and dilapidated BARC facilities have been made the responsibility of those who are managing these installations,” A. Gopalakrishnan, the former head of the board, told the Indian press. But R. Chidambaram (below), chair of the Atomic Energy Commission, says that India is merely following the lead of other nuclear powers in separating regulation of civilian and military plants.

    Edwin Lyman of the nonprofit Nuclear Control Institute in Washington, D.C., disputes that claim: “Actually, the trend in the U.S. is in the other direction,” with weapons labs coming under increasing scrutiny. He sees the Indian decision as a misstep: “I can only expect things to deteriorate under the new system.”

  2. Biocomputing Burst

    A push to get the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund more computing research is gaining ground. The agency this week announced a $10 million initiative to develop National Programs of Excellence in Biomedical Computing that will nurture a new generation of byte-savvy biologists.

    Last year, an NIH advisory panel called for creating up to 20 such centers at U.S. universities to encourage cooperation between cyberscientists and biologists and create better software and networks for manipulating the mushrooming biological data sets (Science, 11 June 1999, p. 1742). The new program will take a first step toward that goal by providing funds for universities to sketch out their vision of a biocomputing center and try out some pilot projects.

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