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LONDON-British insurers and brokers are supporting scientists in a natural disaster research project.

The project, launched Thursday, is financially backed by a consortium of eight U.K. insurance companies, Lloyd's of London syndicates, and brokers. It also is partially funded by a 480,000 pounds ($781,680) grant spread over three years from the Department of Trade and Industry.

The project participants aim to promote research into several areas that specifically meet the needs of the insurance industry. Research is likely to focus on natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, El Nino, predictions of extreme climatic events and damage to satellites. Scientific and research groups will submit project ideas, and the TSUNAMI participants will decide which of these proposed projects they want to fund either jointly or individually.

The project is called TSUNAMI, which is both the Japanese word for tidal wave and an acronym for Technology and Science in Universities, the Natural Environment Research Council and the Meteorological Office for Insurance.

John Battle, U.K. Minister for Science, Energy and Technology, issued a statement explaining the importance of the initiative to the insurance industry. "Both insurance and reinsurance are international businesses in which successful players are using increasingly sophisticated techniques and spen-ding more on scientific research. If the U.K. is to retain its position in world insurance markets, it needs to take more advantage of the latest scientific research."

Mr. Battle added that he believes TSUNAMI will build a better bridge between science and industry, leading to a stronger U.K. market and new business opportunities.

Nick Golden, group underwriting and insurance manager for Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance Group P.L.C., one of the eight project backers, said he did not anticipate the extra knowledge insurers gleaned from the research into natural disasters would result in higher premiums.

He said the main point is that the information from the research should be used for more than fixing prices. It must be employed responsibly, such as in advising construction firms not to build in areas which the research shows are prone to flooding, said Mr. Golden. He also said learning more about phenomena such as El Nino, which causes a warming of the oceans that in turn affects weather patterns worldwide, may be a useful way to predict future weather activity.

The TSUNAMI consortium members are: Benfield Ellinger Ltd., a unit of Benfield Group Ltd., Catlin Underwriting Agencies Ltd., Commercial Union Assurance Co. P.L.C., DP Mann Underwriting Agency Ltd., Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance Group P.L.C., Sedgwick Reinsurance Brokers Ltd., Greig Fester Group Ltd-which is to merge with Benfield Group Ltd. (see story on page 39)-and Wren Syndicates Management Ltd.

The announcement was made just short of the 10th anniversary of the October 1987 storm that caused insured damage in the south of England worth an estimated 1.5 billion pounds ($2.4 billion). One reason for the high damage total was that the storm had been completely unexpected.