USA

Responding to US intelligence reports suggesting a major terrorist attack on American soil may be brewing, Attorney General Ashcroft and the FBI scheduled a Wednesday news conference to outline intensive federal efforts to detect and disrupt any potential plots. The intelligence reportedly includes no specifics on time, place, or method. In a related development, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced a $450 million program to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on "dirty bomb" materials. A top priority, he said, is the retrieval of 330 tons of spent reactor fuel by the end of 2005.

The day after President Bush delivered a major speech on the transfer of full sovereignty to the Iraqi people, the US and chief ally Britain appeared to disagree on how much authority the new government would wield over coalition military operations. Prime Minister Tony Blair said the Iraqis would have the right to veto military responses, but the White House claimed US troops needed to act in their own defense. Blair, however, denied that a rift has opened over the issue.

Roman Catholics in the Boston Archdiocese learned Tuesday that 65 of its 357 parishes would be closed. The plan partly is a result of the blow dealt the archdiocese by the clergy sex abuse scandal that led to an $85 million settlement with victims last fall.

The survival of bacteria at the Hanford nuclear reservation near Yakima, Wash., is a promising development, a study to be presented Wednesday at the American Society of Microbiology's annual meeting in New Orleans maintains. Researchers believe the presence of swarming microorganisms beneath leaking underground waste tanks may show how bacteria can help in toxic cleanups.

A fire at the BioLab chemical warehouse in Conyers, Ga., produced a noxious plume of smoke that stretched more than 100 miles, prompted hundreds of people to evacuate their homes, and closed I-20 for hours Tuesday. Officials described the fumes, fed by tons of dry chlorine pellets, as more irritating than dangerous. No serious injuries were reported. The fire was slowly being extinguished Wednesday. Meanwhile, in rural south-central New Mexico, a wildfire grew to more than 23,000 acres in the Lincoln National Forest. Gov. Bill Richardson (D) said the wind-fed blaze might have been contained to a single acre if planes that carry water or retardants hadn't been grounded for safety reasons.

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