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Friday, November 14, 1997 Published at 06:17 GMT


Malaysia calls in Russian rainmakers

Thick smog in the Malaysian capital is a serious health risk

Malaysia is to use Russian rain-making equipment to clear the haze which has covered parts of south-east Asia for many months.

The rain machine is designed to produce high winds, creating the conditions which cause clouds and rain. The Russians say the winds will not damage property or the environment - and the Malaysian authorities will only have to pay if the rain machine works.

BBC Science's John Wilson says this is highly unlikely because there is no reliable scientific evidence that cyclone technology works.

So much energy is needed to create even a localised breeze that even ten jumbo jets at full throttle cannot shift the fog from a small airport.

Calculations suggest that to create a cyclone or storm requires as much energy as letting off several nuclear weapons every second.

Malaysia has tried other methods of creating rainfall, including 'cloud seeding', but these have achieved only limited success.

The smoke haze has blanketed parts of south-east Asia for more than three months, causing the closure of schools and factories and blighting the tourist industry.

In parts of Brunei motorists have been driving with their headlights on at midday.

Russia has a long record of attempts to control climate. The latest, in September of this year, involved Moscow's mayor, Yuri Luzhkov. He paid the equivalent of £500,000 to stop rain falling during the day of the capital's 850th anniversary celebrations.

The rain held off, but scientists say it is impossible to assess if the mayor got value for money, or was just lucky, without detailed measurements.

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