Science  19 Jul 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5580, pp. 315

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  1. Science and Security

    The proposed U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ran a gauntlet of 11 House committees last week, with lawmakers recommending several tweaks in the department's research agenda (Science, 5 July, p. 27). In general, the changes are intended either to shelter existing programs or give science a higher profile within the new department.

    The House commerce committee, for example, proposed keeping $2 billion for bioterrorism research at the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which would work jointly with the new department on setting priorities. The House Science Committee suggested an undersecretary for science and technology and a research think tank, in line with a recent National Academy of Sciences report. The Armed Services Committee gave the department authority to set up a research center at one of the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons labs, with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California the presumed favorite, although a Senate energy panel discussing the labs' role in homeland defense last week heard Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) criticize the lab's track record on other projects.

    House leaders hope that Congress will present the president with a bill by the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks. But that means reaching agreement with the Democrat-controlled Senate, which is working on its own blueprint. Still, as one biomedical lobbyist says, “it's useful that [the commerce committee] took note of our concern.”

  2. Bright Future

    Science is a major winner in a 3-year funding plan released by the U.K.'s Labour government this week. The budget of the government's Office of Science and Technology will increase by 10% per year, from a current $3.1 billion to $4.6 billion by fiscal year 2005–06. “These increases in funding are a clear signal that the government is prepared to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to science,” says Robert May, president of the Royal Society. Decisions on how the funds will be divided among the six grant-awarding research councils and the central government labs will be made in October.

    The biennial plan also contains money to improve science teaching in schools and universities and to bolster university research labs. Graduate students will also benefit from the largess, with annual stipends set to nearly double to $19,000.

  3. Venus Trip

    An aborted European plan to send a mission to Venus has been resurrected. Last week, the European Space Agency's (ESA's) Science Programme Committee agreed to aim for the original launch date of November 2005 for Venus Express, the first flight to Venus since NASA's Magellan surveyed the planet in 1994.

    Venus Express was cancelled 2 months ago after David Southwood, ESA's director of science, concluded that ESA's member space agencies could not meet the necessary tight schedule (Science, 31 May, p. 1585). But a reevaluation has made the agency more optimistic. Planetary scientist Fred Taylor of Oxford University says the ESA Council responded to a “massive wave of support” for the mission from scientists, politicians, and the general public.

    However, one dark cloud remains: Budget woes might prevent Italy from making what ESA expects will be a substantial contribution to the Venus Express payload. The Italian Space Agency plans to decide by mid-October.

  4. Mission Impossible?

    The surreal hunt for radioactive Soviet leftovers in the Republic of Georgia is entering a dangerous new phase. Officials in the strife-torn country are trying to track down abandoned canisters packed with strontium-90 before terrorists—or unwitting members of the public—lay their hands on the potent radioactive material.

    In February, the International Atomic Energy Agency helped the Georgians recover two canisters, bringing the total number safely secured to six (Science, 1 February, p. 777). But last month, a 2-week follow-up search for as many as six more thought to be missing in the mountains near the breakaway Abkhazia region came up empty.

    Officials now believe that the outstanding canisters, once the heart of thermogenerators used for remote radio relay stations, might be in territory outside Georgian army control. Negotiations are under way toward deploying a joint Georgian-Abkhaz team, with atomic agency support, to search for the canisters in what one official calls “lawless territory overrun with criminal groups.” One key sticking point remains: “No one can guarantee the safety of the team in the field,” says Zurab Saralidze, deputy director of the Institute of Physics in Tbilisi.