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World news

A round-up of this month's engineering news from around the world with a regional focus on the Pacific.

11 August

US oil giant ExxonMobil started drilling for oil at the northernmost well in Russia’s Arctic. The project, known as Universitetskaya-1, is a joint venture between ExxonMobile and Russia’s state-owned company Rosneft. Launched despite the western sanctions against Russia targeting its industry and energy sector, the opening of the site was hailed as a victory of ‘pragmatism and common sense’ by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

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12 August

Israel revealed a plan to create a network of sensors along its 68km-long border with Gaza to detect tunnelling activity by its enemies. The sensor network, inspired by what Americans did in Vietnam, could help Israeli soldiers gain better control over infiltration of Gaza militants into Israeli territory. The sensors would be augmented by physical obstacles and are hoped to reveal not only new construction but also the existing tunnels.

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12 August

Mexico took the first step towards opening up the country’s energy sector and ending the monopoly of two state-owned companies – oil corporation Pemex and electricity utility CFE. A package of laws designed to serve as guidance for the energy sector reform was signed by President Enrique Pena Nieto in the hope the liberalisation would attract substantial foreign investment.

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18 August

South Korea said it could run out of temporary storage space for spent nuclear fuel as soon as 2016. Hong Doo-seung, chairman of the Public Engagement Commission overseeing nuclear policy, said the country may be forced to switch off some of its nuclear plants unless new storage space is found. Nuclear power from 23 reactors provides about a third of South Korea’s electricity consumption. A permanent disposal site was completed near the city of Gyeongju in June but its opening has been delayed because of regulatory issues.

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18 August

Germany had accidently eavesdropped on highly sensitive phone calls of America’s prominent politicians, German newspaper Der Spiegel revealed. The incidents involved a phone call made by US Secretary of State John Kerry and a conversation between Hillary Clinton and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The phone calls, intercepted as part of Germany’s intelligence activities in the Middle East, had been immediately erased, Der Spiegel claimed.

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5 September

Tesla Motors said it will build a ‘Gigafactory’ in Nevada to scale up production of its long-endurance lithium-ion battery packs and drive down cost to make electric vehicles more accessible. Tesla says the facility could produce 35GWh of cells and 50GWh of battery packs per year by 2020 and create 6,500 new jobs.

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5 September

Conservationists installed a gun-shot detection system in a South African national park to protect rhinos increasingly threatened by illegal poaching. Previously deployed by police in crime-ridden neighbourhoods in the USA, the ShotSpotter system system consists of sensitive microphones that can detect gunshots up to a distance of 3km. According to the authorities, poachers have already been brought to court thanks to the technology.

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26 August

The prospective new owner of the last commercial ship­builder on the River Clyde, which looked doomed to close, said dozens of new jobs could be created at the firm. Jim McColl is founder of Clyde Blowers Capital, which was selected by administrators KPMG to take over the struggling Ferguson shipyard in Port Glasgow last month.

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5 September

The world’s first wind farm with turbine blades designed to minimise interference with radar systems will be built in France by EDF Energies Nouvelles. The blades, developed by Dutch wind turbine maker Vestas, incorporate stealth technology like that used on warplanes to reduce their radar signature. The 96MW demonstration project will be built near Perpignan next spring and will go online by the end of 2015.

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4 September

Ireland expressed serious concern about a US court order for Microsoft to hand over emails held on its Dublin servers to US prosecutors in a drug trafficking case. The Irish government said such warrants could put companies in breach of the Irish Data Protection Acts and the EU Data Protection Directive and such requests should be submitted under the 2001 Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty instead.

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