Computer approved despite spy saga

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 June, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 June, 1999, 12:00am

The Hong Kong Observatory has secured an American supercomputer with nuclear-weapon-design capabilities despite attempts by conservatives in the US House of Representatives to block the sale.

Observatory officials announced yesterday that the US Department of Commerce had granted an export licence for the computer, which will be used for improved weather forecasting.

The news came after speculation that the sale would not go ahead because of anti-Chinese sentiment in the US Congress amid allegations in the Cox report that Beijing had been stealing US nuclear weapon secrets for years.

'According to the current plan, the computer will be delivered to the Hong Kong Observatory in July,' an Observatory spokesman said.

The spokesman said high-powered computer models for weather forecasts would begin before the rainy season next year.

The $10 million Cray SV1 computer from Silicon Graphics almost became a casualty after the Cox report called for greater restrictions on sales of hi-tech items to Hong Kong.

New York Republican John Sweeney unsuccessfully introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to block the sale.

A senior Observatory official said: 'A bit of controversy is actually good for us.

'Now even Tung Chee-hwa knows we use sophisticated modelling technology to predict the weather.' The Cray computer will provide computing power 1,000 times greater than that currently available to the Observatory and will predict rapidly changing weather conditions over small areas.