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Major breakthrough made on lightning diversion
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Chinese scientists are now able to harness lightning. A research project has found ways to draw lightning down to designated areas for disaster prevention and use.

"The two-year project, which will be completed next month, can successfully capture lightning and transmit the energy to a ground collection system," for research and use, Qie Xiushu, a researcher at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), said yesterday.

"The project's technology can also divert lightning to safe places to prevent disasters," Qie told China Daily.

Special rockets equipped with conductors capture the lightning and draw the energy to the ground.

The lightning diversion rocket - YL-1 - developed by the institute, passed national scientific tests earlier this month and will be put into mass production.

The rocket, which is very light and can be retrieved with a parachute, must be launched into a thunderstorm minutes before lightning occurs.

"Timing is very important for launching the rocket," Qie said. "With ground monitoring and experience, we have gained a 70 percent success rate."

"China's technology is comparable with the world's best," she said.

"Great economic losses can be avoided in the country with the wide use of this technology in the future."

Scientists have begun to use the electromagnetic radiation produced by lightning to genetically modify plants and to change the some of the earth's chemical elements.

Lightning diversion can also help reduce the frequency of hailstorms, Zhang Yijun, director of the Lightning Physics Laboratory of the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, said.

The technology is expected to be used in the fields of meteorology, forestry and agriculture, scientists said.

In China, some 1,000 people are killed by lightning annually and economic losses average 1 billion yuan ($143 million). It is the third largest natural disaster to affect the country, after floods and landslides.

The country began to study lightning diversion in 1989 and has achieved rapid progress in recent years along with four other countries - the United States, France, Japan and Brazil.

A bolt of lightning can generate several hundred billion kilowatts of electricity, more than 1,000 times the total capacity of the Three Gorges hydropower plant, the world's largest, scientists said.

The world experiences more than 100 bolts of lightning every second, discharging a huge amount of energy.

(China Daily July 18, 2008)

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