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Il reattore sperimentale a fusione ITER comincia il suo percorso
L’ambizioso progetto ITER, finalizzato alla costruzione del primo reattore sperimentale a fusione nucleare, ha vissuto un’importante tappa dal punto di vista simbolico, con l’arrivo della prima attrezzatura a Cadarache, nel Sud della Francia, il luogo dove sarà costruito il reattore.
L’onore di aver fornito i primi componenti dell’ambiziosa infrastruttura spetta all’Europa: il partner, tra i 7 coinvolti nella collaborazione – a cui partecipano anche Cina, Giappone, India, Repubblica di Corea, Federazione Russa e Stati Uniti – che contribuisce al progetto sostenendo quasi la metà dei costi totali del reattore. L’Italia è coinvolta con un’ampia partnership, che include il Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, l’Università degli Studi di Padova, l’Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN), l’Agenzia nazionale per le nuove tecnologie, l’energia e lo sviluppo economico sostenibile (ENEA) e Acciaierie Venete.
ITER ambisce a dimostrare la fattibilità scientifica e tecnologica della fusione nucleare controllata: un processo non ancora sperimentato artificialmente, volto a riprodurre il meccanismo che alimenta in modo naturale le stelle. Ci si aspetta che questa ambiziosa infrastruttura generi in modo continuo una quantità estremamente rilevante di energia, pari a circa 500 MegaWatt.
Fonte Fusion for Energy
Data pubblicazione 11/05/2015
Feature: The new shape of fusion
ITER, the international fusion reactor being built in France, will stand 10 stories tall, weigh three times as much as the Eiffel Tower, and cost its seven international partners $18 billion or more. The result of decades of planning, ITER will not produce fusion energy until 2027 at the earliest. And it will be decades before an ITER-like plant pumps electricity into the grid. Surely there is a quicker and cheaper route to fusion energy.
Fusion enthusiasts have a slew of schemes for achieving the starlike temperatures or crushing pressures needed to get hydrogen nuclei to come together in an energy-spawning union. Some are mainstream, such as lasers, some unorthodox. Yet the doughnut-shaped vessels called tokamaks, designed to cage a superheated plasma using magnetic fields, remain the leading fusion strategy and are the basis of ITER. Even among tokamaks, however, a nimbler alternative has emerged: a spherical tokamak.
Imagine the doughnut shape of a conventional tokamak plumped up into a shape more like a cored apple. That simple change, say the idea’s advocates, could open the way to a fusion power plant that would match ITER’s promise, without the massive scale. “The aim is to make tokamaks smaller, cheaper, and faster—to reduce the eventual cost of electricity,” says Ian Chapman, head of tokamak science at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Abingdon, U.K
Culham is one of two labs about to give these portly tokamaks a major test. The world’s two front-rank machines—the National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX) at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in New Jersey and the Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak (MAST) in Culham—are both being upgraded with stronger magnets and more powerful heating systems. Soon they will switch on and heat hydrogen to temperatures much closer to those needed for generating fusion energy. If they perform well, then the next major tokamak to be built—a machine that would run in parallel with ITER and test technology for commercial reactors—will likely be a spherical tokamak.
A small company spun off from Culham is even making a long-shot bet that it can have a spherical tokamak reactor capable of generating more energy than it consumes—one of ITER’s goals—up and running within the decade. If it succeeds, spherical tokamaks could change the shape of fusion’s future. “It’s going to be exciting,” says Howard Wilson, director of the York Plasma Institute at the University of York in the United Kingdom. “Spherical tokamaks are the new kids on the block. But there are still important questions we’re trying to get to the bottom of.”
TOKAMAKS ARE AN INGENIOUS WAY to cage one of the most unruly substances humans have ever grappled with: plasma hot enough to sustain fusion. To get nuclei to slam together and fuse, fusion reactors must reach temperatures 10 times hotter than the core of the sun, about 150 million degrees Celsius. The result is a tenuous ionized gas that would vaporize any material it touches—and yet must be held in place long enough for fusion to generate useful amounts of energy.
Tokamaks attempt this seemingly impossible task using magnets, which can hold and manipulate plasma because it is made of charged particles. A complex set of electromagnets encircle the doughnut-shaped vessel, some horizontal and some vertical, while one tightly wound coil of wire, called a solenoid, runs down the doughnut hole. Their combined magnetic field squeezes the plasma toward the center of the tube and drives it around the ring while also twisting in a slow corkscrew motion.
But plasma is not easy to master. Confining it is like trying to squeeze a balloon with your hands: It likes to bulge out between your fingers. The hotter a plasma gets, the more the magnetically confined gas bulges and wriggles and tries to escape. Much of the past 60 years of fusion research has focused on how to control plasma.
Generating and maintaining enough heat for fusion has been another challenge. Friction generated as the plasma surges around the tokamak supplies some of the heat, but modern tokamaks also beam in microwaves and high-energy particles. As fast as the heat is supplied, it bleeds away, as the hottest, fastest moving particles in the turbulent plasma swirl away from the hot core toward the cooler edge. “Any confinement system is going to be slightly leaky and will lose particles,” Wilson says.
Studies of tokamaks of different sizes and configurations have always pointed to the same message: To contain a plasma and keep it hot, bigger is better. In a bigger volume, hot particles have to travel farther to escape. Today’s biggest tokamak, the 8-meter-wide Joint European Torus (JET) at Culham, set a record for fusion energy in 1997, generating 16 megawatts for a few seconds. (That was still slightly less than the heating power pumped into the plasma.) For most of the fusion community, ITER is the logical next step. It is expected to be the first machine to achieve energy gain—more fusion energy out than heating power in.
In the 1980s, a team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee explored how a simple shape change could affect tokamak performance. They focused on the aspect ratio—the radius of the whole tokamak compared to the radius of the vacuum tube. (A Hula-Hoop has a very high aspect ratio, a bagel a lower one.) Their calculations suggested that making the aspect ratio very low, so that the tokamak was essentially a sphere with narrow hole through the middle, could have many advantages.
Near a spherical tokamak’s central hole, the Oak Ridge researchers predicted, particles would enjoy unusual stability. Instead of corkscrewing lazily around the tube as in a conventional tokamak, the magnetic field lines wind tightly around the central column, holding particles there for extended periods before they return to the outside surface. The D-shaped cross section of the plasma would also help suppress turbulence, improving energy confinement. And they reckoned that the new shape would use magnetic fields more efficiently—achieving more plasma pressure for a given magnetic pressure, a ratio known as beta. Higher beta means more bang for your magnetic buck. “The general idea of spherical tokamaks was to produce electricity on a smaller scale, and more cheaply,” Culham’s Chapman says.
But such a design posed a practical problem. The narrow central hole in a spherical tokamak didn’t leave enough room for the equipment that needs to fit there: part of each vertical magnet plus the central solenoid. In 1984, Martin Peng of Oak Ridge came up with an elegant, space-saving solution: replace the multitude of vertical ring magnets with C-shaped rings that share a single conductor down the center of the reactor (see graphic, below).
U.S. fusion funding was in short supply at that time, so Oak Ridge could not build a spherical machine to test Peng’s design. A few labs overseas converted some small devices designed for other purposes into spherical tokamaks, but the first true example was built at the Culham lab in 1990. “It was put together on a shoestring with parts from other machines,” Chapman says. Known as the Small Tight Aspect Ratio Tokamak (START), the device soon achieved a beta of 40%, more than three times that of any conventional tokamak. It also bested traditional machines in terms of stability. “It smashed the world record at the time,” Chapman says. “People got more interested.” Other labs rushed to build small spherical tokamaks, some in countries not known for their fusion research, including Australia, Brazil, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Turkey.
The next question, Chapman says, was “can we build a bigger machine and get similar performance?” Princeton and Culham’s machines were meant to answer that question. Completed in 1999, NSTX and MAST both hold plasmas about 3 meters across, roughly three times bigger than START’s but a third the size of JET’s. The performance of the pair showed that START wasn’t a one-off: again they achieved a beta of about 40%, reduced instabilities, and good confinement.
Now, both machines are moving to the next stage: more heating power to make a hotter plasma and stronger magnets to hold it in place. MAST is now in pieces, the empty vacuum vessel looking like a giant tin can adorned with portholes, while its €30 million worth of new magnets, pumps, power supplies, and heating systems are prepared. At Princeton, technicians are putting the finishing touches to a similar $94 million upgrade of NSTX’s magnets and neutral beam heating. Like most experimental tokamaks, the two machines are not aiming to produce lots of energy, just learning how to control and confine plasma under fusionlike conditions. “It’s a big step,” Chapman says. “NSTX-U will have really high injected power in a small plasma volume. Can you control that plasma? This is a necessary step before you could make a spherical tokamak power plant.”
The upgraded machines will each have a different emphasis. NSTX-U, with the greater heating power, will focus on controlling instabilities and improving confinement when it restarts this summer. “If we can get reasonable beta values, [NSTXU] will reach plasma [properties] similar to conventional tokamaks,” says NSTX chief Masayuki Ono. MAST-Upgrade, due to fire up in 2017, will address a different problem: capturing the fusion energy that would build up in a full-scale plant.
Fusion reactions generate most of their energy in the form of high-energy neutrons, which, being neutral, are immune to magnetic fields and can shoot straight out of the reactor. In a future power plant, a neutron-absorbing material will capture them, converting their energy to heat that will drive a steam turbine and generate electricity. But 20% of the reaction energy heats the plasma directly and must somehow be tapped. Modern tokamaks remove heat by shaping the magnetic field into a kind of exhaust pipe, called a divertor, which siphons off some of the outermost layer of plasma and pipes it away. But fusion heat will build up even faster in a spherical tokamak because of its compact size. MAST-Upgrade has a flexible magnet system so that researchers can try out various divertor designs, looking for one that can cope with the heat.
Researchers know from experience that when a tokamak steps up in size or power, plasma can start misbehaving in new ways. “We need MAST and NSTX to make sure there are no surprises at low aspect ratio,” says Dennis Whyte, director of the Plasma Science and Fusion Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Once NSTX and MAST have shown what they are capable of, Wilson says, “we can pin down what a [power-producing] spherical tokamak will look like. If confinement is good, we can make a very compact machine, around MAST size.”
BUT GENERATING ELECTRICITY isn’t the only potential goal. The fusion community will soon have to build a reactor to test how components for a future power plant would hold up under years of bombardment by high-energy neutrons. That’s the goal of a proposed machine known in Europe as the Component Test Facility (CTF), which could run stably around the clock, generating as much heat from fusion as it consumes. A CTF is “absolutely necessary,” Chapman says. “It’s very important to test materials to make reactors out of.” The design of CTF hasn’t been settled, but spherical tokamak proponents argue their design offers an efficient route to such a testbed—one that “would be relatively compact and cheap to build and run,” Ono says.
With ITER construction consuming much of the world’s fusion budget, that promise won’t be tested anytime soon. But one company hopes to go from a standing start to a small power-producing spherical tokamak in a decade. In 2009, a couple of researchers from Culham created a spinoff company—Tokamak Solutions—to build small spherical tokamaks as neutron sources for research. Later, one of the company’s suppliers showed them a new multilayered conducting tape, made with the high-temperature superconductor yttrium-barium-copper-oxide, that promised a major performance boost.
Lacking electrical resistance, superconductors can be wound into electromagnets that produce much stronger fields than conventional copper magnets. ITER will use low-temperature superconductors for its magnets, but they require massive and expensive cooling. High-temperature materials are cheaper to use but were thought to be unable to withstand the strong magnetic fields around a tokamak—until the new superconducting tape came along. The company changed direction, was renamed Tokamak Energy, and is now testing a first-generation superconducting spherical tokamak no taller than a person.
Superconductors allow a tokamak to confine a plasma for longer. Whereas NSTX and MAST can run for only a few seconds, the team at Tokamak Energy this year ran their machine—albeit at low temperature and pressure—for more than 15 minutes. In the coming months, they will attempt a 24-hour pulse—smashing the tokamak record of slightly over 5 hours.
Next year, the company will put together a slightly larger machine able to produce twice the magnetic field of NSTX-U. The next step—investors permitting—will be a machine slightly smaller than Princeton’s but with three times the magnetic field. Company CEO David Kingham thinks that will be enough to beat ITER to the prize: a net gain of energy. “We want to get fusion gain in 5 years. That’s the challenge,” he says.
“It’s a high-risk approach,” Wilson says. “They’re buying their lottery ticket. If they win, it’ll be great. If they don’t, they’ll likely disappear. Even if it doesn’t work, we’ll learn from it; it will accelerate the fusion program.”
It’s a spirit familiar to everyone trying to reshape the future of fusion.
Technology: The Third Industrial Revolution
May 2015 (Magazine)By Daniel Ben-Ami
A number of fast-moving technological trends seem to be spreading the importance of ‘tech’ beyond IT and into every corner of our lives and our economy. Daniel Ben-Ami attempts to pierce the hype to find the stuff that will stick
Imagine it is the end of a hectic working day and you don’t feel like the long commute home by public transport. Instead, you tap a couple of times on your smart watch and within a few minutes a driverless car turns up to take you back. Since the vehicle is automated, you can watch one of your favourite films during the journey. As the car pulls up outside your house you are reminded of the days when the garden was concreted over to use as a driveway. In the era of the driverless car, only dedicated hobbyists have their own vehicles. Then, as you walk into your home, you feel happy that it is scrupulously clean, thanks to your domestic cleaning robot.
At a glance
- A gamut of new technologies, including artificial intelligence, Big Data, drones, robots, the ‘Internet of Things’ and 3D printing, holds out the promise of substantial economic advance.
- There is a broad range of opinions on the likely impact of these technologies.
- Optimists see strong prospects for a surge in productivity growth, rising living standards and buoyant investment returns.
- The pessimists fear mass job insecurity, widening inequality and even the obsolescence of human beings.
This might sound like science fiction but many of the elements either already exist or are not far away. It is already possible to use apps such as Uber and mytaxi to order taxis on a smartphone. Google has tested driverless cars, although there are still regulatory and cultural barriers to their introduction. Robotic vacuum cleaners have also been around for several years, although it turns out that it is easier to teach computers to beat grandmasters at chess than it is to train a robot to load a dishwasher.
Nor do these technologies represent the full gamut of innovation that is causing so much excitement in some circles and such alarm in others. Artificial intelligence, Big Data, drones, 3D printing and the ‘internet of things’ (linking numerous types of devices over the internet) all hold out of the promise of substantial technological advance.
For the optimists, they herald a third industrial revolution as radical as the impact of the steam engine or mass production for earlier generations. But the pessimists are not all bearded tree huggers. Stephen Hawking, one of the world’s most eminent scientists, has argued that the development of full artificial intelligence “could spell the end of the human race”. In his view, humans would be superseded as they may not be equipped to compete with their artificial counterparts.
Indeed, neither the critics nor supporters of the new technologies are necessarily those who might be expected. Many greens are upbeat on at least some of the new technologies, on the grounds that they could use fewer resources. For example, the total number of vehicles could be reduced if the new technology allows more people to make better use of fewer cars. It should no longer be necessary for vehicles to spend most of their time parked idly on the street or in car parks.
On the other hand, many who identify themselves as progressive or pro-labour fear technological advance is already leading to increased job insecurity and widening inequality.
No doubt, the advent of new technology will generate both winners and losers. For example, Frances Hudson, a global thematic strategist at Standard Life Investments (SLI), argues that cyber security companies are likely to mushroom as a result of the adoption of Big Data. On the other hand, traditional taxi firms and hoteliers are being squeezed by the likes of Uber and Airbnb.
However, the key challenge is to work out whether these technologies, either on their own or in concert, are likely to have a transformative effect on the global economy. If such a step-change is likely, this raises many follow-up questions on the nature of the shift. For instance, will there be a surge in productivity growth and corporate profits? And will goods and services become substantially cheaper as they are produced by more efficient technologies?
It is striking that, even among informed observers, opinions differ markedly. Even those who are generally positive about the potential for the new technology often see its implementation being thwarted by excessive regulation and cultural conservatism. There is no easy consensus, even when it comes to relatively near-term developments.
James Woudhuysen, one of Britain’s leading futurologists, is an avid supporter of new technology in principle but says many current claims are exaggerated. For instance, he is sceptical of the scope for sharing or on-demand economy apps such as Uber. He accepts it is possible to share homes and cars but argues that many other appliances and services do not lend themselves to sharing. “The scale of the phenomenon is very modest,” he says.
In contrast, he contends that robots could have important implications, although the scope of their introduction, so far, is often exaggerated. He points to figures from the International Federation of Robotics showing global industrial sales of 178,000 units in 2013. In contrast, in the US alone about 250,000 jobs have been created every month under the Obama administration. The two figures are not strictly comparable but they suggest labour is holding its own against the machines, so far.
This could, of course, change over time. For instance, it is already possible to buy a wheeled, safe, physically trainable robot called Baxter, from Rethink Robotics, for a basic price of only €22,000. Baxter is capable of doing numerous monotonous tasks such as machine tending, material handling and packaging. Nor should the potential for robots to transform the service sector, for example by stacking shelves in supermarkets, be ignored.
Woudhuysen is particularly upbeat about drones which, he notes, can already be bought for a few hundred euros at local electronics stores. He sees them as having enormous potential in agriculture, land use, leisure, surveillance, transport and weather forecasting. However, he points out that there is a widespread reluctance to harness them to the full. “They make people uncomfortable in today’s cultural climate,” he says. Even fears about possible crashes with manned aircraft are, in his view, overplayed. These could easily be tackled by making it mandatory for drones to have collision avoidance software installed.
Big Data is perhaps more difficult to characterise than some of the other new technologies. Back in 2001, Doug Laney, an analyst at Gartner, defined it in relation to the three Vs – volume, velocity and variety – referring to the huge amount of data being collected, the speed at which it could be processed and by attempts to deal with the sheer variety of formats.
Timandra Harkness, whose book on Big Data will be published by Bloomsbury next year, suggests a different set of characteristics should be highlighted today. In her view, the volume of data is not a key factor because what is considered ‘big’ changes so rapidly. Instead, she points to what she refers to as DATA: Dimensionality (different kinds of data from different sources can be linked together); Automaticity (collecting data is now the default); Timeliness; and Artificial intelligence (methods of analysing data are increasingly dependent on advanced techniques).
She says recent advances in the natural sciences would have been impossible without the ability of Big Data to sift through huge amounts of information in search of patterns. “The Higgs boson is completely the product of Big Data,” she observes. “There is absolutely no way they would have found it without it.”
While Harkness acknowledges that human judgement will often do as good a job of seeing what might happen in the real world as the biggest data machines, she nonetheless argues that Big Data can play an important role in helping business predict problems and work more efficiently. It already is widely used in the oil and gas industry. The problem, in her view, is that the implementation of Big Data is often unambitious. For example, it is more likely to be used in relatively straightforward applications, such as energy saving, rather than tackling formidable challenges such as harnessing nuclear fusion or building solar furnaces.
Given the wide range of opinions on these different technologies it is not surprising that the assessment of their broader impact also varies. Those who are most positive about the implementation of the new technologies tend to be most upbeat about their likely economic and financial effects. Sceptics on the technology tend to downplay their likely consequences.
Anis Lahlou-Abid, a portfolio manager at JPMorgan Asset Management, is on the optimistic end of the scale. In his view, the technological changes may be evolutionary but their combined effect should enable a revolutionary shift in the economy. “Without a doubt, it could be transformative,” he says. Productivity could surge and stockmarkets boom.
He says this positive impact is downplayed because the markets are still haunted by the impact of the technology boom of the late 1990s. Even those who are too young to remember it are fearful that rising optimism could be a prelude to a bust. “The internet bubble is still fresh in the minds of even the youngest among us,” he says.
In his view, fears of increasing unemployment and widening inequality are overplayed. Although technological advance can destroy old jobs, it also creates new ones. Absolute living standards should also rise as capital is reallocated to where it’s going to be more productive, he insists.
Frederic Fayolle, a portfolio manager at Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management, is at the more guarded end of the spectrum. Although he is certainly not opposed to the new technology, he sees its impact as likely to be more incremental than transformative. For a start, he points out that the productivity growth bonanza from the internet and PC revolution has been “a bit elusive”. The dramatic technology-driven productivity gains forecast by many in the past have failed to materialise.
He also points out that revenue from new technologies will have to replace shrinking revenue streams from existing technologies such as servers and mainframe computers. In some cases, such as the internet of things, innovations will rely on traditional technologies such as semiconductors and microcontrollers. So the net boost to the technology sector itself could be limited.
Henk Grootveld, a fund manager and the head of trends investing at Rolinco, sees elements of hype as well as real innovation in the new technology. A technology that is being hyped at one point can become real a couple of years later.
He points to 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, as a technology that could have a large impact in a relatively short time. He says it will not be long before all dental implants are printed and sees a lot of potential for printing aeroplanes and their engines. There are already plans to build a 3D printed electric car using Local Motors’ network of 100 microfactories across the globe over the next 10 years. Such innovations shorten the time to market and therefore increase productivity.
Grootveld also argues that emerging economies could benefit from the new technologies. He accepts that Western firms might find it more viable to manufacture at home than in the recent past. However, he says: “If we can 3D print everything, so can the Chinese.”
In contrast, Frances Hudson of SLI argues that 3D printing could make it more difficult for poorer countries to develop their industrial capacity. “It might make it harder for them to move up the value chain,” she says.
One final and generally neglected point should be borne in mind in relation to the discussion on the potential of new technology. Since at least as far back as the 1990s, the term ‘technology’ has often been used synonymously with ‘information technology’. But although IT is no doubt an important sector, the application of technology goes much further. As James Woudhuysen argues: “The important developments are in IT but they are also in construction, energy, transport, agriculture, materials, biotech and medicine.”
The technologies that are generating the most excitement at present are not necessarily those that will prove most transformative in the future.
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The slaughter of Palmyra’s citizens begins: First images emerge from Syrian city over-run by ISIS… and show rows of people beheaded as terror group celebrates freeing Islamists from state prison
- Jihadis have entered 2,000-year-old ruins but no reports of destruction yet
- Seized air base, spy HQ and claimed to have liberated hundreds prisoners
- First time ISIS has claimed city directly from Syrian army and allied forces
- Terror group now controls HALF of all territory in the war-torn country
Published: 06:58 GMT, 21 May 2015 | Updated: 16:14 GMT, 21 May 2015
Shocking images emerged today showing decapitated bodies strewn across blood-filled streets in Palmyra – victims of the Islamic State’s unrelenting savagery as they stormed the ancient city.
The terror group have now seized full control of the historic settlement, putting the world heritage site and its priceless 2,000-year-old artefacts at risk of destruction.
The jihadis have also captured the military air base, intelligence headquarters and its notorious prison, where hundreds of inmates have reportedly been liberated.
British-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), said ISIS now controlled half of all territory in the war-torn country.
Pro-government forces beat a hasty retreat late last night after 100 fighters were slaughtered in violent clashes in just a few hours.
It is the first time ISIS has claimed a city directly from the Syrian army and allied forces, which have already lost ground in the northwest and south to other insurgent groups in recent weeks.
Beibares Tellawi, an activist in Homs province, said the militants had reached Tadmur prison, where thousands of Syrian dissidents have been imprisoned and tortured over the years.
The fate of the prisoners was not immediately known, although pro-ISIS Twitter accounts shared a image claiming to show inmates celebrating with militants after being set free.
The jihadis have also seized control of the Jazl oil field in the Homs countryside.
Government war planes responded by carrying out air strikes on ISIS positions in the city.
Rami Abdulrahman, the head of SOHR, who bases his information on a network of sources on the ground, said there were so far no reports of destruction of the city’s historic artefacts.
The city is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site, including ancient temples and colonnaded streets, which previously attracted thousands of tourists.
Syria’s antiquities chief said previously the insurgents would destroy ancient ruins if they took control of it.
He said the group was in control of a hospital in the city which Syrian forces had used as a base before withdrawing.
‘The situation is very bad,’ Syria’s antiquities chief, Mamoun Abdulkarim, said after ISIS captured a northern section of the city earlier in the day.
‘If only five members of ISIS go into the ancient buildings, they’ll destroy everything,’ he added, calling for international action to save the city.
Syrian state TV reported that pro-government forces had managed to secure safe exit for most of the civilian population.
The jihadists sparked international outrage this year when they blew up the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud and smashed artefacts in the museum of Mosul, both in Iraq.
Hundreds of statues and artefacts from Palmyra’s museum have been transferred out of the city, according to Abdulkarim, but many others – including massive tombs – could not be moved.
News of Palmyra’s fall came after a State Department official said the weekend loss of Ramadi had prompted the U.S take an ‘extremely hard look’ at its strategy to confront the extremists.
The fall of Ramadi, their most significant victory since mid-2014 when they conquered swathes of land, sparked a US-led air campaign to support Baghdad.
On Wednesday, the Anbar police chief was dismissed, after video footage emerged online suggesting security personnel deserted their posts at the height of the ISIS offensive.
The militants’ gains have sparked international concerns, with France pledging Wednesday to host high-level international talks next month in Paris over the threat posed by IS.
Middle East expert Hassan Hassan, writing in the Foreign Policy magazine, warned the fall of the Ramadi ‘marks a dangerous new phase of the war’ and would have a ‘ripple effect across both the Syrian and Iraqi battlefields’.
The U.S. official said Washington would step up its aid to Iraq, including sending 1,000 anti-tank missile systems to help stop suicide car bombs and accelerating its training and equipping of tribal forces to fight ISIS.
‘You’d have to be delusional not to take something like this and say: ‘What went wrong, how do you fix it and how do we correct course to go from here?’,’ the official told reporters.
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Activist group says ISIL now controls half of Syria
Syrian Observatory says group now in control of 95,000 sq km of land, as Palmyra residents report worsening conditions.
Doha, Qatar - The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has captured Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra, giving them control of almost half of the country, according to a monitoring group.
Located in central Homs province and in the heart of Syria, Palmyra lies 210km northeast of Damascus in desert that stretches to the Iraqi frontier to the east.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday that ISIL now controls approximately 95,000 sq km of land in nine out of 14 provinces since they declared their alleged caliphate – which puts them in control of almost half of the country.
|Lining up for water in Palmyra on Thursday [Nasser/Al Jazeera]|
The Syrian government previously lost the town of Bosra in Deraa province to ISIL in March, which had also been declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
In April, ISIL managed to capture and control most of Yarmouk, which is 8km away from the centre of Damascus. Yarmouk is mostly inhabited by Palestinian refugees.
Activists in Palmyra, who requested anonymity, told Al Jazeera that ISIL took full control of the city on Wednesday evening and people were trying to escape, with many left stranded on the streets.
“ISIL have infiltrated the city overnight. Power is down and we barely have any electricity or water. There is fear among residents and we do not know what to expect next,” one activist said.
“The Syrian regime have bombed several targets for ISIL since last night, but air strikes also targeted two mosques in the city – Othman Bin Affan and al-Iman mosques. Several people have been killed and others injured.
|Nasser, a local activist, describes the current situation in Palmyra|
|ISIL has captured Palmyra’s prison, weapon stores, government buildings, the local museum and central bank.Prisoners were evacuated days beforehand and relocated to Damascus and Homs.ISIL captured the towns of al-Sekhna and al-Amirya.
No non-governmental organisations are operating in Palmyra and locals are in desperate need of aid and medical supplies.
“Hospitals and clinics are being bombed too. There are not enough medical supplies or doctors to treat the injured.”
Activists and journalists working at the Palmyra Media Centre made it clear to Al Jazeera that they were incapable of leaving their homes.
Nasser, a journalist in Palmyra, told Al Jazeera that residents in the city could not leave and government forces offered no way out.
“There are almost 170,000 people here, including 50,000 internally displaced people from Homs and Der Ezzor,” he said.
“ISIL is hated by residents here and labelled terrorists. ISIL will not treat us any different than those elsewhere in areas they control. This is a new siege.”
At least 462 people were killed since ISIL’s offensive began on Palmyra on May 13, the Syrian Observatory reported.
ISIL now controls the vast majority of the gas and oil fields in Syria and were able to capture two gas fields around Palmyra since they launched their attack on Palmyra, the Syrian Observatory reported, leaving the only government-held gas fields in the suburbs of Homs and al-Hasakah out of its control.
Apart from being a historical and World Heritage site that dates back to the 1st and 2nd century AD, capturing Palmyra means ISIL have control over areas that stretch to the Syrian-Iraqi border.
|Palmyra’s north after ISIL’s takeover on Thursday [Nasser/Al Jazeera]|
ISIL previously looted and destroyed artefacts in Iraq, and have reportedly destroyed historic temples and statues in areas it controls in Syria and Iraq.
Officials say they have also looted and sold artefacts to fund their operations.
Syrian state TV said the army retreated after they secured the evacuation of most residents in Palmyra to save them from ISIL “brutality”, acknowledging that ISIL entered the city in large numbers.
Maamoun Abdulkareem, director-general of Museums and Antiquities in Syria, said on Wednesday that ISIL’s attack on Palmyra is “revenge on Syrian society and civilisation”.
“We hoped the international community wouldn’t fail to defend Palmyra, but we didn’t see any actual reaction from them,” Abdulkareem said.
Hundreds of statues and ancient artefacts from Palmyra’s museum have already been transferred out of the city, he said.