Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that the UK will become the first non-Muslim country to issue an Islamic bond.
He told the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) in London, “Britain is a country ready to welcome your investment, a country that values your friendship, and will never exclude anyone because of their race, their religion, their colour or their creed.”
Under Islamic rules, no interest can be charged; transactions must be based on a real trade; and they must not involve gambling or alcohol.
Thorium could prove to be safer in reactors than uranium
Nuclear scientists are being urged by the former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix to develop thorium as a new fuel.
Mr Blix says that the radioactive element may prove much safer in reactors than uranium.
It is also more difficult to use thorium for the production of nuclear weapons.
His comments will add to growing levels of interest in thorium, but critics warn that developing new reactors could waste public funds.
Mr Blix, the former Swedish foreign minister, told BBC News: “I’m a lawyer not a scientist but in my opinion we should be trying our best to develop the use of thorium. I realise there are many obstacles to be overcome but the benefits would be great.
“I am told that thorium will be safer in reactors – and it is almost impossible to make a bomb out of thorium. These are very major factors as the world looks for future energy supplies.”
His enthusiasm is shared by some in the British nuclear establishment. Scientists at the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) have been encouraged by the government to help research on an Indian thorium-based reactor, and on a test programme in Norway.
The Norway tests at the OECD’s nuclear trials facility in Halden are conducted in a Bond-style underground bunker.
A couple of charming Nordic homes perch on top of a hill at the edge of the town. Below them a garage door in a cliff face leads into a tunnel deep into the hill where the reactor hall lies.
In theory, at least, the mountain protects the town from an accident.
The thorium tests are being carried out by a private firm, Thor Energy (the element itself was discovered in Norway in 1828 and named after the Norse god of thunder).
The company hopes to get thorium licensed alongside uranium in current water-cooled reactor plants.
The British government says it would be useful to increase the fuel options for nuclear operators, as thorium is believed to be three times more plentiful than uranium. It is also currently being produced as a by-product from mining rare earths.
Staff from NNL have been advising Thor on the use of mixed oxide fuels (MOX). NNL has also been helping the Indian authorities develop a thorium reactor, as India sits on top of the world’s biggest thorium reserves.
The Thor project represents an evolutionary approach, using thorium in existing reactors together with uranium or plutonium.
Oystein Asphjell, chief executive of Thor Energy told BBC News: “There is lots of thorium in the world, very well distributed all over the globe. In operations, in a reactor, it has some chemical and physical properties that make it really superior to uranium as well. On the waste side, we don’t generate long lived waste.”
China is going for a revolutionary approach, devising a next-generation reactor which its supporters say will enable thorium to be used much more safely than uranium.
When a uranium reactor overheats and the fuel rods can’t contain the chain reaction, as happened at Fukushima, the crisis continues. If something happened to a thorium reactor, technicians could simply switch off the stimulus which comes from uranium or plutonium in a small feeder plant and the thorium reaction would halt itself.
Prof Carlo Rubbia from Cern previously told BBC News: “Thorium will be able to shut itself off without any human intervention… You just switch off the beam.”
“There are also no long-lived waste products… We estimate that after something like 400-500 years all the radioactivity will be dissipated away.”
These advantages, if they were realised, would be huge. But thorium still has many technical problems to overcome. What is more, countless billions have been ploughed into uranium-based research and development, and in the words of Mr Blix, uranium has a very deep furrow, backed by vested interests.
Canada, China, Germany, India, the Netherlands, the UK and the US have experimented with thorium as a substitute fuel in the past.
Questions are being raised, though, about the advisability of pinning the world’s energy ambitions on another nuclear dream. Environmentalists often allege that if renewable power had commanded a fraction as much research funding as nuclear it would already be much cheaper and more common.
Dr Nils Bohmer, a nuclear physicist working for a Norwegian environmental NGO, Bellona, said developing thorium was a costly distraction from the need to cut emissions immediately to stave off the prospect of dangerous climate change.
“The advantages of thorium are purely theoretical,” he told BBC News.
“The technology development is decades in the future. Instead I think we should focus on developing renewable technology – for example offshore wind technology – which I think has a huge potential to develop.”
If thorium ever makes it as a commercial nuclear fuel, uranium may be seen as a massive and costly diversion. Some supporters of thorium believe that it was bypassed in the past because governments wanted the plutonium from certain conventional reactors to make atomic bombs.
They believe thorium was rejected because it was simply too safe.
A potential new HIV treatment has a “profound and unprecedented” impact on the virus, according to animal studies published in the journal Nature.
Potent antibodies were able to wipe a hybrid of human and monkey immunodeficiency viruses from the bloodstream of monkeys within days.
The findings could “revolutionise” the search for an HIV cure, say experts.
The US researchers said trials in patients with HIV now needed to take place.
The immune system produces precisely targeted antibodies to take out HIV, but the virus is able to rapidly mutate to evade the immune assault.
“The effect with these potent antibodies is profound and unprecedented. It’s probably as large an antiviral therapeutic effect as has ever been seen”
Prof Dan BarouchHarvard Medical School
However, some antibodies have been discovered that target the “conserved” parts of HIV – those that the virus struggles to change because they are vital for it to function.
‘Undetectable’Two groups, from Harvard Medical School and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, performed the first trials of these antibodies.
They used rhesus macaques that had been infected with simian-human immunodeficiency virus (SHIV), a blend of HIV and the monkey equivalent.
Data from the Harvard team showed that injection of the antibodies drove SHIV from the bloodstream until it reached undetectable levels after three to seven days.
The effect lasted for one to three months, but in three monkeys the virus did not return to the blood during the 250-day study.
Prof Dan Barouch told the BBC: “The effect with these potent antibodies is profound and unprecedented. It’s probably as large an antiviral therapeutic effect as has ever been seen.
“But we have to make sure we don’t overhype and the limitation is the study is in animals, not humans.”
The antibodies were also able to attack the virus in some tissues. Drugs can assault the virus in the blood during normal HIV treatment, but the virus can hide in other parts of the body.
These early findings raise the prospect of using antibodies to clear these tissues as well.
Similar results were produced by the team at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
‘Revolutionise’HIV infection is incurable, although taking a daily dose of medication can keep the virus in check, giving patients a near-normal life expectancy.
The antibodies will be tested in human clinical trials and if successful they could be used alongside antiretroviral drugs as a treatment.
It may also be possible to devise a vaccine that could train the immune system to produce these antibodies.
However, both these ideas are dependent on human trials being successful.
Commenting on the findings, Prof Louis Picker and Prof Steven Deeks said: “The findings of these two papers could revolutionise efforts to cure HIV.”
However, they warned that HIV was so prone to mutation that it was “likely that some people will harbour viruses that are resistant to one or more” of the antibodies.
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Land matters for sustainable economies, livelihoods, human rights, and the environment- the development community cannot afford for land to be a trend. Expert panelists from DAI, Chemonics International, USAID, and Omidyar Network sat down with Devex to discuss what land rights mean for the future of global development.
How important are land rights for global development?
Global discussions over land rights and security have been increasing. From identifying the causes of land insecurity, the debate has recently shifted to finding solutions and the role of land in the future of global development.
Owning a piece of land is not just owning a piece of asset, it is a right that becomes the bed rock of a person’s higher development aspirations. Breaching this should be considered a human rights violation, according to Tiernan Mennen, director of land and resource rights at Chemonics International.
“Land right is a human right. It is the foundation to so many issues in international development,” Mennen said during a conversation hosted by Devex for our #landmatters campaign.
Gregory Myers, in charge of land tenure and property rights at the U.S. Agency for International Development, chimed in: “The global community has realized that focusing on global property rights is a gateway to achieving greater development objectives.”
Although many challenges still hound the progress of land rights and security including governance and various cultural perceptions of the issue, panelists said a growing awareness and active participation of communities are painting a bright future for future land security initiatives. Opportunities are cropping up with property investment projections on the rise, and — with increased community engagement — they can form a significant portion of the role of land in the future of global development.
“I’m very excited to this growing realization that land security can be delivered in a variety of forms. There’s a lot of investment opportunities and benefits [for people],” said Steven Lawry, global leader for land rights at DAI. “Where people control their land, they have a foundation on which to build sustainable livelihoods and preserve the environment.”
Achieving sustainable and inclusive development is a long-term commitment but setting the right first steps is crucial. In this endeavor, land really does matter.
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First-of-its-kind pilot initiative in Africa will provide free access to Wikipedia via text messages
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