In the United States, just one government-sponsored funding program focuses on the health effects of low doses of ionizing radiation. That is the Energy Department’s Low-Dose Program, which supports biomedical radiation research at academic institutions throughout the United States. In the most recent presidential budget for fiscal 2012, funding for this program is slated to decrease from $25 million to $14 million. Is this reasonable? Do scientists and policymakers already know enough about the health risks of low doses of ionizing radiation to make quality decisions?
Month: July 2011
US missile defense deployments in Europe, now the nucleus of a NATO system to protect alliance European territory against emerging missile threats, have long worried Russia: After all, an effective missile defense has the potential to undermine Russia’s nuclear retaliatory capability against the United States.
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.
Over recent decades, the United States has dedicated enormous resources — in terms of money, manpower and national credibility — to reducing the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and the global economic crisis. These commitments have been made not necessarily because the potential dangers are expected to materialize often — many of them are low-probability risks — but because the consequences if they do are so large as to be considered unacceptable.
For more than four decades, Gus Speth has been a major figure in the modern environmental movement — a movement that he now says is failing. He has worked within nonprofit activist organizations, government bureaucracies, and academia, and moves easily between these realms. In 1970, as a newly minted environmental attorney, he cofounded the Natural Resources Defense Council, which today has a staff of more than 300 lawyers, scientists, and policy experts. In 1982, he founded the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank.
As I endeavored to write a positive take on the prospects for the upcoming Seventh Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in December, the proverb “There’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip” kept coming to mind. In other words, a lot could still go wrong in December. Perhaps it’s the history of the near-death experience of the Convention in the 2001-2002 Fifth Review Conference, or maybe it’s the Convention’s existence on the intersessional process (ISP) life-support system of 2003-2005 and 2007-2010.
In a recent speech in Brussels, departing Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticized European members of NATO for allowing defense obligations to fall increasingly upon the United States, continuing a funding imbalance that could lead Americans to question whether the costs of NATO are justified.
There has been ample discussion in recent years of a “nuclear renaissance,” and many politicians and energy analysts believe that a meaningful response to climate change must include a new fleet of nuclear plants in the United States. The long-term planning studies that routinely come out of utilities, advocacy groups, and the Department of Energy now commonly include new nuclear units.
It appears that the managers of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, taken by surprise, did not know exactly what to do after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck the plant on March 11. Experts in the United States, thousands of miles away, had a duty to provide timely, helpful advice. Both the press and US officials failed. In particular, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s recommendation to stay at least 50 miles away from Fukushima was inappropriate and may have caused unnecessary panic.
Despite its political instability, Pakistan continues to steadily expand its nuclear capabilities and competencies; in fact, it has the world's fastest-growing nuclear stockpile. In the aftermath of the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden, who had made his hideout in an Islamabad suburb, concerns about the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons are likely to keep pace with the growth of Pakistan's arsenal. Pakistan is building two new plutonium production reactors and a new reprocessing facility with which it will be able to fabricate more nuclear weapons fuel.
Though nuclear power produces electricity with little in the way of carbon dioxide emissions, it, like other energy sources, is not without its own set of waste products. And in the case of nuclear power, most of these wastes are radioactive. Some very low level nuclear wastes can be stored and then disposed of in landfill-type settings.