Government sitting on NBN report: Turnbull

The government is withholding a report on the NBN so its progress can’t be scrutinised by the public ahead of the election, the opposition says.

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Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull made the claim during a debate on Monday night against Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on the ABC’s Lateline program.

“Anthony is sitting on the latest revision of the business plan and has not released it to the public,” Mr Turnbull said.

“You’ve made them keep the draft stamp on it so you don’t have to give it out before the election.

“You’ve got a confession from the (NBN) company that they’re failing and you don’t want to let the public know.”

Mr Albanese said he hadn’t received the document and denied the project was failing.

He stood by the government’s plan to connect 8.5 million premises to fibre by 2021 at a cost of $37.4 billion.

But Mr Turnbull rubbished the figures, saying the government’s plan would cost $94 billion compared to the coalition’s $29.5 billion.

The coalition would use “the technology that delivers the service you need in the most timely and cost effective way,” he said.

By using existing copper networks, which can provide download speeds of 100 megabits per second to homes within 400 metres of a fibre node, “three-quarters or more of the construction cost” could be saved, Mr Turnbull said.

But Mr Albanese said the coalition’s figures were “plucked out of a Coco Pops packet”.

“This is an absolute nonsense with no basis in fact,” he said.

Labor’s NBN, which would deliver download speeds of 1000 megabits per second and upload speeds of 400 megabits per second, would “transform the way that education, health and aged care services are delivered,” Mr Albanese said.

And while speed was important, reliability in the network was crucial, he added.

“That’s why fibre is important,” he said.

Session of China’s National People’s Congress

About 3000 delegates have gathered in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing for a two-week session of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress.

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The session will include the final stage of a once-in-a-decade transition of leadership in the Communist party that runs the world’s second-largest economy.

 

Nikki Canning reports.

 

The National People’s Congress began with Premier Wen Jiabao’s report card on the country’s progress over the past five years.

 

Premier Wen pointed out to delegates the great technological progress being made for an emerging economy, and China’s resilience in recovering from a number of natural disasters.

 

[under translation] “We have a spaceship lanched, and [new] land and aircraft have been launched as well. In the computing and high-speed world we have also made great achievements. The first (Chinese) submarine has been launched and we have also successfully hosted the Beijing Olympics and Special Olympics [Paralympics] and the Shanghai Expo.”

 

Premier Wen also reminded delegates that China has shown great resilience as other countries suffered a financial crisis.

 

China’s economy is seen as a key driver of global recovery, but has struggled in the face of weakness at home and in key overseas markets.

 

It grew 7.8 per cent in 2012, its worst performance for 13 years, but normally exceeds the target set at the People’s Congress.

 

Premier Wen has set this year’s target for economic growth at about 7.5 per cent, saying the country will have to work hard to achieve it.

 

His report sets 2013’s inflation target at 3.5 per cent, after it came in at 2.6 per cent in 2012.

 

Premier Wen also signalled that the country’s new leaders will no longer emphasise growth at all costs and would instead focus on social programs.

 

“We have increased investment of four-trillion [RMB] and the Central Government has invested 2.6-trillion in wellbeing projects. This investment goes into the environment, into rebuilding after natural disasters. Over the five years, we have built more that 18-million low-income houses.”

 

This session of Congress will complete China’s leadership transition that began with a Communist Party congress in November last year, that appointed Xi Jinping as party leader.

 

Xi will formally be named president during the 13-day session of Congress, replacing the outgoing Hu Jintao.

 

Premier Wen is also coming to the end of a decade in office.

 

His successor in charge of day-to-day government will be Li Keqiang.

 

Premier Wen ended his report card by foreshadowing brighter days ahead for the country under its new leadership.

 

“Looking forward, it is a bright future in front of us. Under the leadership of Comrade Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, we’ll be united as one and striving hard to build this society and to realise our regeneration of the Chinese nation. Let’s strive and let’s go on [forward].” [applause]

 

 

World’s first test tube burger tasted in London

Scientists have unveiled the world’s first lab-grown beef burger in London, frying it in a little oil and butter and serving it to volunteers in what they hope is the start of a food revolution.

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The tasters pronounced the 140-gram (five-ounce) patty, developed at a cost of more than 250,000 euros ($330,000) with backing from Google co-founder Sergey Brin, as “close to meat” in flavour and texture but not as juicy.

The so-called “cultured beef” — dubbed the “Frankenburger” — was made using strands of meat grown from muscle cells taken from a living cow, mixed with salt, egg powder and breadcrumbs and coloured with beetroot juice and saffron.

Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands, who led the research, claimed it could eventually replace ordinary beef in the diets of millions of people and in so doing reduce the huge environmental pressure caused by raising livestock.

Post insisted the artificial beef is safe, promising to give the leftovers from Monday’s tasting to his children.

“I ate it myself a couple of times with no hesitation whatsoever… I would feel perfectly comfortable letting them taste it,” he told journalists at the tasting.

Post acknowledged that the technology was at a very early stage but predicted the meat could be on supermarket shelves in 10 to 20 years. “This is just to show that we can do it,” he said.

The first public tasting took place at a west London theatre, where a professional chef cooked the round, pink patty over low heat at a kitchen counter similar to those used in TV cookery shows.

One of the volunteers, Austrian food researcher Hanni Ruetzler, cut into it carefully, before declaring: “It’s close to meat. It’s not that juicy, but the consistency is perfect.”

US-based author Josh Schonwald, the other volunteer, added: “The absence is the fat. There’s a leanness to it. But the bite feels like a conventional hamburger.”

He remarked that the whole experience was rather unnatural, jokingly complaining that he should have been allowed to try the beef with a little tomato ketchup.

The scientists took stem cells from organic cows and placed them in a nutrient solution to create muscle tissue, which then grew into small strands of meat.

The burger required 20,000 such strands, grown over three months.

Proponents of test-tube meat cite a variety of reasons for supporting it, from animal welfare to the environment and even public health — lab-created meat theoretically carries no risk of disease and is not treated with antibiotics.

According to a report from the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, global meat production will more than double between 2000 and 2050, to 465 million tonnes.

Campaigners say such demand is putting unsustainable pressure on the planet, both through the feed required for the animals and the methane gas they produce, which contributes to global warming.

Animal rights group Peta has offered a prize of $1 million (750,000 euros) for the first lab to produce and bring to market in-vitro chicken meat, and is funding research in the United States.

Google entrepreneur Brin stepped in to support the Maastricht project after funding from the Dutch government ran out.

“There are basically three things that can happen going forward. One is that we all become vegetarian. I don’t think that’s really likely,” he said in a video message.

“The second is we ignore the issues and that leads to continued environmental harm, and the third option is we do something new.”

Britain’s Vegetarian Society questioned the need for such technology when people could just stop eating meat.

Post said: “We are catering for beef eaters eating beef in an environmentally friendly and ethical way. Let the vegetarians remain vegetarians.”

Dr Neil Stephens, a sociologist based at Cardiff University who has studied test-tube meat, said it remained to be seen whether the public would accept it.

“It is so unusual, so ambiguous, that I think questions will be raised about whether this is meat at all,” he said.

He added that it could be many years before the meat is ready to be sold to the public.

“Challenges include up-scaling production so that significant quantities can be made at a competitive price,” he said.

“What will be interesting is, in the coming weeks, watching the response to see how many people are convinced by the technology.”

$150K donated to Lane memorial fund

The three boys charged with the drive-by shooting of Australian Chris Lane have no known gang links but it is possible they were “wannabe gangsters”, the police chief heading the murder investigation in Oklahoma said.

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“It’s the idea that, ‘I’m a gangster, you need to respect me, you need to give me attention, you need to be afraid of me’,” Duncan Police chief Danny Ford told the Duncan Banner newspaper.

“The problem is when you market yourself, someone eventually begins to say, ‘Well, OK, if you’re really going to market yourself that way then demonstrate to us’, and they feel like if it got to that situation they had to demonstrate to maintain the status they were trying to get”.

James Edwards, 15 and Chancey Luna, 16, have been charged with the first-degree murder of Mr Lane.

Michael Jones, 17, was charged with being an accessory to murder.

Mr Lane was jogging along a Duncan road last Friday when police allege Luna fired a .22 calibre revolver into Mr Lane’s back in a random attack.

Jones allegedly drove the black Ford Focus while Edwards was a passenger and after firing the bullet the trio left Mr Lane to die on the side of a road, authorities allege.

Chief Ford said one of the boys had confessed Mr Lane, 22, was shot for “the fun of it” and because they were “bored”.

Some locals have blamed the murder on gangs which have infiltrated Duncan, a town that has had just one other murder in the past five years. But the chief said he had no knowledge of gang activity in the city.

Grieving residents will hold a service on Friday evening at a Duncan school to honour Mr Lane.

“The idea came about after visiting with people in the community on Monday and feeling an overwhelming burden that our community is hurting,” Duncan First Baptist Church pastor Bryan Pain said.

More than half of the 3763 students at Duncan’s public schools stayed away from classes on Wednesday after local police received “anonymous threats” involving Duncan High School while an online memorial fund set up by one of Mr Lane’s US baseball team-mates has raised a staggering $US154,000 ($A171,807.89) in just three days.

It was hoped the fund would raise $US15,000 to help pay for funeral expenses and take Mr Lane’s body back to Melbourne.

But the outpouring of support from people around the world will allow Mr Lane’s parents to set up a foundation to make donations to organisations Mr Lane was passionate about.

The fund is at: www.gofundme.com/3zktjc

Worst leak at Fukushima nuclear plant: TEPCO

Some 300 tonnes of radioactive water is believed to have leaked from a tank at Japan’s crippled nuclear plant, the worst such leak since the crisis began, the operator said.

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Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said the leak was believed to be continuing Tuesday at Fukushima and it had not yet pinpointed the source of it.

   

TEPCO said puddles with extremely high radiation levels – about 100 millisieverts per hour – have been found near the water tanks at the ruined plant.

   

“This means you are exposed to the level of radiation in an hour that a nuclear plant worker is allowed to be exposed to in five years,” a TEPCO spokesman told a press conference.

   

The company later said it had identified which tank was faulty but had yet to find the spot from where it was leaking.

   

“We have instructed TEPCO to find the source of contaminated water…and to seal the leakage point,” an official from the Nuclear Regulation Authority told AFP.

   

“We have also instructed them to retrieve contaminated soil to avoid a further expansion of toxic water, and to strengthen monitoring of the surrounding environment.”

   

There were no significant changes in radiation levels outside the plant, he added.

   

Since a quake-generated tsunami struck Fukushima in March 2011, knocking out reactor cooling systems and sparking meltdowns, there have been four similar leaks from tanks of the same design.

   

But the latest leak was the worst from a tank in terms of volume, the TEPCO spokesman said.

   

TEPCO admitted the toxic water might contaminate groundwater and flow into the Pacific Ocean “in the longer term”, but said  it was working to avoid such a situation.

   

“We are transferring the contaminated water from a tank with a leakage problem to unbroken tanks, and retrieving leaked water and soil around it,” the spokesman said.

   

“We are also beefing up existing earth-fill dams around tanks,” he said, as the region braces for heavy rain later on Tuesday.

   

So far four tonnes of the spilled water had been retrieved since Monday evening when TEPCO started the recovery operation, the company said.

   

TEPCO has faced a growing catalogue of incidents at the plant including several leaks of radioactive water, following the worst nuclear disaster in a generation.

   

The company, which faces huge clean-up and compensation costs, has struggled with a massive amount of radioactive water accumulating as a result of continuing water injections to cool reactors.

   

The embattled utility in July admitted for the first time that radioactive groundwater had been leaking outside the plant. This month it started pumping it out to reduce leakage into the Pacific.

   

The problems have led the Japanese government and its nuclear regulator to say they would get more directly involved in the cleanup at Fukushima, rather than leaving it to the operator.

   

While no one is officially recorded as having died as a direct result of the meltdowns of Fukushima’s reactors, large areas around the plant had to be evacuated.

   

Tens of thousands of people are still unable to return to their homes.