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Dinosaurs derail desalination drive Down under

An inconvenient fossil find

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A fossilised spanner has been thrown into the works of plans for Australia's largest desalination plant, as a hoard of dino-remains has been uncovered on the beach near the proposed site. The plant, intended to protect Melbourne from drought, was being built at a cost of A$3bn, but the dinosaur discovery has put its future in doubt.

Among the fossils are plesiosaur teeth, as well as bones and vertebrae from other species. The find dates back to 115 million years ago, when the Australian land mass was in the polar circle, experts say.

A local Liberal politician told Reuters that there needed to be a proper study done before work on the plant could continue. Carrying on with the work would be like "boring through the tombs of Egypt's ancient emperors or drilling through the terracotta warriors in China after they were discovered", he said.

But the local authorities have yet to rule on whether or not the plant will proceed, and won't say whether or not it will conduct an environmental impact report, following the find. An official statement says: "We will take all environmental and cultural issues into consideration when determining the final specifications."

The desalination plant would be one of the biggest in the world, capable of processing 150 billion litres of water every year. Construction was set to begin next year, and the plant was expected to be up and running by 2011.

Drought is becoming an increasingly serious issue for Australia. Parts of the continent have been officially considered as suffering from drought for a decade already, with no sign of water on the way.

Desalination plants, although controversial, are seen by many as the obvious way to tackle the problem today, and to ensure against the drier future predicted by climate modellers. ®

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