March 10, 2006 in Nation/World

Bird flu could arrive soon

The Spokesman-Review

The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu could appear in the United States in the next few months as wild birds migrate from infected nations, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday.

Chertoff said “there will be a reasonable possibility of a domestic fowl outbreak” as migrating birds mix with ducks, chickens and other birds in the U.S. But he cautioned against panic, noting that the Agriculture Department has dealt with other strains of bird flu for years.

“If we get a wild bird or even a domestic chicken that gets infected with avian flu, we’re going to be able to deal with it, because we’ve got a lot of experience with that,” Chertoff said, speaking to newspaper editors and publishers.

Los Olivos, Calif.

Neverland Ranch workers barred

The state barred workers from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch on Thursday and fined the singer $69,000 because the estate’s workers’ compensation insurance policy had lapsed.

The “stop order” was issued after a worker reported Tuesday that a co-worker who had been injured did not have the state-required health coverage, said Dean Fryer, spokesman for the California Department of Industrial Relations.

Regulators determined coverage for 69 employees at the Santa Barbara County ranch lapsed Jan. 10, Fryer said.

“In effect, it shuts them down,” Fryer said.

Jackson, 47, has lived in the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain since being acquitted of child molestation charges last year. A call to his spokeswoman seeking comment was not immediately returned Thursday.

The 2,600-acre ranch boasts amusement park rides and has been home to elephants, giraffes, snakes, orangutans, tigers and a crocodile. Fryer said local animal welfare agencies were notified of the shutdown so they could make arrangements to feed and care for the animals.

Albuquerque, N.M.

Particles heated to 2 billion degrees

A particle accelerator at Sandia National Laboratories has heated a swarm of charged particles to a record 2 billion degrees Kelvin, a temperature beyond that of a star’s interior.

Scientists working with Sandia’s Z machine said the feat also revealed a new phenomenon that could eventually make future nuclear fusion power plants smaller and cheaper to operate than if the plants relied on previously known physics.

“At first, we were disbelieving,” said Chris Deeney, head of the project. “We repeated the experiment many times to make sure we had a true result and not an ‘Oops’!”

Sandia’s experiment, which held up in tests and computer modeling in the 14 months since it was first done, was outlined in the Feb. 24 edition of Physical Review Letters.

The achievement will not mean fusion in the near future, but it’s another step toward that goal, said Neal Singer, a Sandia spokesman.

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