|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Putin Marks Gagarin Anniversary: Space Exploration Is Essential
April 11 (EIRNS)Speaking April 7 to a policy meeting on the future of Russia's space program, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin recalled the "legendary event" of Yuri Gagarin's first human flight into outer space, 50 years ago, as starting "a new chapter in human history." In closing remarks, Putin said, "Our colleagues have just mentioned that we noticed certain signs of the earthquake that struck Japan before it happened. And we understand the tragic consequences of this disaster. Naturally, in connection with this we seriously need space programs."
"There is still a lot that we have yet to understand about the way nature works," he continued. "And this will be impossible without space exploration programs, without the space industry you work for, and which makes us proud."
Over the past few years, Putin has pushed hard for rebuilding the Russian space program, which was savaged under the British-led monetarist oligarchs. The Buran space shuttle was scrapped, as was the giant Energia rocket. Over the past five years, however, Russia increased space spending by 40%, and earmarked $7 billion for 2010-11.
"In 2013, we are to begin flight development tests of light and heavy [lift] Angara carrier rockets at the Plesetsk space center," Putin reported. "We will also design and manufacture the Rus-M launcher to orbit manned and cargo spacecraft," the successor to the Soyuz rocket, and "the first manned flight is scheduled for 2018."
The Prime Minister mentioned Russia's current program to return to the development of space nuclear power systems "to base promising space projects on." That program, he explained, "will allow interplanetary flights, lunar exploration, and the study of primary planets." Putin said that, based on the successful international cooperation in the International Space Station program, and satellite search and rescue, Russia proposes to the space station partnersthe U.S., Europe, Canada and Japan"to study the Moon, Mars, and other planets together." He called on Russia's Federal Space Agency to "join hands with the Russian Academy of Sciences for the long-term planning of space exploration."
Russian Cosmonaut: 'We Either Fly to Mars, or We Will Be Mere Animals'
April 12 (EIRNS)On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's historic space flight, many cosmonauts, veterans of the Soviet manned space program, are speaking out about the meaning of space travel and the need to get a lot more serious about Moon/Mars exploration. For example, two of the most famous veterans of the Soviet space program's early years gave a joint press conference yesterday: Svetlana Savitskaya, the second woman in space and currently deputy chairman of the Duma Committee on Defense; and Georgi Grechko, a physicist who was twice Hero of the Soviet Union, and who went into space many times and was the first person to do an EVA (space walk).
Savitskaya said that interplanetary flight will be "a qualitative leap for cosmonautics," and that "it needs to be an international project," with each country contributing what it can do the best. Grechko said the priority should be a manned Mars program, and development of scientific space research projects like the Hubble telescope. He said there should be flights to Mars, and to asteroids.
The 80-year-old Grechko, who as a young man worked in the Design Bureau headed by the famed Soviet rocket designer Sergei Korolyov, also told the business wire service RBC.ru in an interview issued today:
"Even if flying to Mars were forbidden, people would still be found who would fly there. Man always overcomes difficulties and goes beyond the horizon. He came out of the caves, and that wasn't enough. He crossed a river, and that wasn't enough. He went from one continent to another across the Bering Strait, and crossed the oceans, but again that was not enough. He flew across the Atlantic Ocean in a single-engine plane, and again it was not enough. Man is man, because he is always drawn to go beyond the horizon. And thereby he expands the horizon for all humanity. If an animal has food, warmth, and a mate, it doesn't need anything more than that. So, we either remain human and fly to Mars, or we'll be animals."
Russia Steadfast on Nuclear Power Development
April 12 (EIRNS)Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko said that Russia's commitment to nuclear power for electricity generation remains unshaken, according to the Moscow correspondent of the Indian news daily The Hindu, Vladimir Radyukhin. Putin told Radyukhin that "it is impossible to speak about a global energy balance without the nuclear power industry," pointing out that nuclear power accounts for 16% of Russia's power generation and more than 80% in France.
Presently Russia has 31 nuclear reactors, which generate about 147 billion kilowatt-hours per year. Government plans call for building another 26 reactors by 2025 and increasing the nuclear power share of total electricity to 25%.
Putin also said: "Modern systems, modern nuclear energy units, are equipped with safety features that prevent the possible development of events along the lines of the current Japanese scenario." Energy Minister Shmatko said: "Russia will stick to its policy of fast-track development of the nuclear energy sector."
Radyukhin, in his talks with Sergei Novikov, a spokesman for Rosatom, Russia's state nuclear energy corporation, was told: "The Fukushima accident is the result of unlearned lessons of Chernobyl. We have been learning our lessons for the past 25 years."
The official cited the two VVER-1000 units, built in Kudankulam, India, which are now in an advanced state of installation, as an example of the high safety standards of Russian reactors. The Kudankulam reactors have the most advanced passive safety features, such as the heat removal system. It allows the heat from the reactor to escape via air chutes to the top of the containment dome where it is cooled by outside air, gets condensed back to water and returns to the cooling system, Novikov said. This helps cap the temperature inside the sealed reactor containment at 600°C and prevent uranium meltdown in case of an accident.
If a meltdown still happens, molten fuel will be trapped in a core-catcher beneath the reactor and will not leak into the ground and the atmosphere. Had such systems been installed at Fukushima, there would have been no containment explosions, no fuel meltdown or massive radiation leakage. "The Kudankulam plant has also been built to withstand strong earthquakes and high tsunami waves," Novikov said."
Crisis-Ridden Belarus Hit with Terrorist Attack
April 12 (EIRNS)A remotely detonated explosion ripped through Minsk's Oktyabrskaya metro station, one of the city's busiest, at rush hour April 11, killing at least 12 and injuring 149. According to RIA Novosti, Vadim Zaytsev, head of the KGB (state security service), said three people had been arrested, but the culprit may still be at large. "The KGB is looking into three possible motives for the attack: the destabilization of the situation in the country, revenge by extremist organizations, or the act of a mentally ill person," Zaytsev said.
President Alexander Lukashenko said the attack was an attempt to destabilize the country and "a serious challenge" to the nation. "Who gained by destroying the calm and stability in the country?" he asked. "Who did not like the stability in Belarus?"
The terror attack occurs at a time when Belarus is undergoing dire economic crisis, which is in part fallout of the EU decision to impose sanctions in the wake of the elections last fall. The immediate crisis was the steep fall in the value of the Belarus currency. According to the Belarus Digest, the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus has recently started devaluing the Belarusian ruble. Foreign currency is now officially allowed to be traded at an exchange rate that deviates as much as 10% from the official rate set by the Bank. Another report says people in Belarus are exchanging their Belarusian rubles for hard currency, gold, cars, and non-perishables, as rumors spread of an upcoming devaluation of the currency.