The Doomsday Clock is an internationally recognized design that conveys how close we are to destroying our civilization with dangerous technologies of our own making. First and foremost among these are nuclear weapons, but the dangers include climate-changing technologies, emerging... Read More
Lynn EdenRobert RosnerRod EwingSivan KarthaEdward "Rocky" Kolb Lawrence M. KraussLeon LedermanRaymond T. PierrehumbertM. V. RamanaJennifer SimsRichard C. J. SomervilleSharon SquassoniElizabeth J. WilsonDavid TitleyRamamurti Rajaraman
Today, more than 25 years after the end of the Cold War, the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board have looked closely at the world situation and found it so threatening that the hands of the Doomsday Clock must once again be set at three minutes to midnight.
If they participate in military cyberoperations—intentionally or not—could employees at Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and many other tech firms be considered “civilians directly participating in hostilities” and therefore legitimate targets of war?
In a summer dominated by heat waves and a devastating nationwide drought, it would seem that climate change would be a major issue in the US presidential campaign. However, quite the opposite is happening. Neither President Barack Obama nor the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, has focused any attention on this critical issue.
The past nine months have been trying for researchers who study the H5N1 avian influenza virus, the committees that have been discussing dual-use research in the life sciences, and the entities that fund and publish such research. The details have been reported in many venues and need only brief summary here: Two laboratories funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) embarked on studies to determine whether the H5N1 virus -- a bird flu virus that has caused a relatively small number of human deaths -- could be made to transmit between people.
For nearly three decades, natural and physical scientists have provided increasingly clear and dire assessments of the alteration in the biophysical world. Yet despite these urgent warnings, human social and political response to ecological degradation remains wholly inadequate. While apathy in the United States is particularly notable, this gap between the severity of the problem and its lack of public salience is visible in most Western nations. As scientific evidence for climate change pours in, public urgency and even interest in the issue fails to correspond.
There are increasing signs that state parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) realize that the lack of biosecurity awareness and education among life scientists represents a serious gap in the overall web of policies designed to prevent bioterrorism and biowarfare. Without such awareness and education, how can practicing life scientists contribute their expertise to the development and implementation of oversight systems and codes of conduct necessary to protect benignly intended work from hostile misuse?
The 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC, was a milestone for nuclear security. Political leaders from 47 countries, including the United States, and multilateral organizations gathered to make a concerted global effort to protect vulnerable nuclear material and to prevent nuclear terrorism. Chinese President Hu Jintao -- putting aside China-US disputes over arms sales to Taiwan and the Dalai Lama's visit to Washington -- attended the summit, speaking positively of China's responsible and cooperative attitude toward international security.
As the situation at Fukushima is becoming less unpredictable, though not yet completely stabilized, and there is more information available, I will stop my daily writings on the nuclear power plant. Thank you very much for your encouragement and warm support.
The mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is to facilitate peaceful uses of the atom while ensuring that its nuclear assistance is not used for military purposes -- a challenging mandate that in its implementation introduces both significant benefits and risks to humankind. On one hand the agency helps member states gain access to peaceful nuclear technology; on the other, preventing nuclear proliferation remains one of its crucial activities.
With more than 4,000 people falling ill since 2007, the Netherlands is experiencing one of the world's worst outbreaks of Q fever. A zoonotic disease (meaning it can be transmitted from animals to people), Q fever can cause sickness and even death in humans. The Dutch struggle to address the ongoing outbreak can be instructive in terms of how to improve the handling of public health crises, and the rest of the world would do well to learn from their experience.
In Part 1 of this article, the recent and historical budgets for securing vulnerable nuclear materials around the globe were analyzed. Recommendations were also made for increasing the budgets for the key National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) programs, including the International Nuclear Material Protection Cooperation (INMPC) and Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) programs, in fiscal year (FY) 2010 and then through 2014.
In a 2005 essay entitled "Biomedical Research and Biosecurity," Robert Steinbrook, the national correspondent of the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded, "Establishing biosecurity policies for biomedical research without obstructing scientific progress or disrupting the usual procedures for scientific communication is a complex matter." Indeed it is--and has been.
In a previous column, I discussed how the recent U.S. buildup of high-containment biodefense laboratories might inadvertently increase the risk of another bioterrorist attack by increasing the number of researchers who have expertise and access to dangerous pathogens. One response to this risk has been to oversee research facilities and monitor the acquisition of microbes.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the size of the U.S. nuclear weapons budget allowed for a healthy amount of high-risk, long-term basic research to be conducted at the nation's nuclear weapons laboratories. Much of this research grew out of, but diverged from, the labs' core weapons-related capabilities. Importantly, the wide-ranging capabilities at these laboratories allowed other national security agencies to tap into that expertise on an "as needed" basis without making the long-term investments necessary to build and sustain it.
Earlier this year, I wrote about preparations for the December 5th meeting between States Parties to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC). I warned that in addition to agreeing to a broad agenda, the States Parties needed to begin acting to make this agenda a reality.