Month: January 2012

America’s nuclear future: Does the public have a fair say in it?

America’s nuclear future: Does the public have a fair say in it?

For the past two years the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (BRC) has worked to develop a strategy “for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle.” The commission’s final report was released on January 26. It is too early to assess the policy outcomes of the BRC’s effort, but we can take stock now of how effectively it provided opportunities for stakeholder and public engagement.

A hinge moment for the BWC?

A hinge moment for the BWC?

Although it was an eleventh-hour decision, the Seventh Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) Review Conference in Geneva did manage to produce a consensus final document this past December. As the saying goes, “a win is a win,” and in the end the final document — adopted with less than an hour to go in the three-week meeting — would not have derived any more force if adopted earlier.

Involuntary response

Involuntary response

Earlier this month, widespread inaction on the increasing dangers posed by nuclear proliferation and climate change forced the Bulletin’s Doomsday Clock to move one minute closer to midnight, indicating the mounting perils confronting humanity’s survival. One factor pushing the clock forward to five minutes to midnight was the failure to ensure strict security and comprehensive international oversight for nuclear weapons and materials, which continue to accumulate in a few nations.

Crying wolf about an Iranian nuclear bomb

Crying wolf about an Iranian nuclear bomb

The long-simmering international crisis over Iran’s nuclear ambitions may now have reached a boiling point. Washington is imposing sanctions on Iranian oil exports, the heart of the Iranian economy. And Tehran, in turn, is threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which nearly a fifth of the world’s oil trade passes on a daily basis.  The potential for outright war between the United States and Iran has never seemed more plausible.

Going viral

Going viral

We’ve been lucky. The avian influenza (H5N1) virus that first emerged in Hong Kong in 1997 — which killed six and caused 18 serious illnesses — has not acquired the ability to spread easily from person to person. Virtually all of the reported cases have involved contact with infected birds or bird products.

Nuclear scientists as assassination targets

Nuclear scientists as assassination targets

Since 2007, international media have reported the violent deaths of four scientists and engineers connected with Iran’s nuclear program and an attempt on the life of a fifth. The news reports on such killings are murky, incomplete, and, in some instances, likely inaccurate. The motivations and identity of the persons behind the killings are also obscure, but the fact that they are taking place is undeniable.

Doomsday Clock moves to five minutes to midnight

Doomsday Clock moves to five minutes to midnight

It is five minutes to midnight. Two years ago, it appeared that world leaders might address the truly global threats that we face. In many cases, that trend has not continued or been reversed. For that reason, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is moving the clock hand one minute closer to midnight, back to its time in 2007.

Nuclear nomads: A look at the subcontracted heroes

Nuclear nomads: A look at the subcontracted heroes

In the days after the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station last March, the international media celebrated the heroism of the “Fukushima 50” — the plant and emergency workers who exposed themselves to extremely high radiation levels to get the reactors under control. Their efforts, it seems, were doomed from the start. Three of the reactor cores melted down anyway. And the cleanup will take decades.

Biological indecision

Biological indecision

The December 2011 Seventh Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in Geneva was widely expected to significantly strengthen international measures in the prohibition regime against weapons of mass destruction. After all, the review came after a series of constructive annual meetings in the second Intersessional Process (ISP) — the meetings and actions taken throughout the five years between each review conference — from 2007 to 2010 as well as in a number of meetings held over the last couple of years in different parts of the world.

North Korea from 30,000 feet

The first publicly available overhead imagery that suggested North Korea was constructing a new nuclear reactor at its Yongbyon complex appeared on November 4, 2010. Charles L. Pritchard, a former special envoy for negotiations with North Korea and the president of the Korea Economic Institute, along with a delegation from the institute provided the first confirmation of this construction after a visit to Yongbyon that week.

Staying in the zone

Staying in the zone

Few things have gone right since the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference called for a 2012 meeting to discuss establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. Evidence of nuclear weapons-related research in Iran has continued to mount, putting the world, and particularly Israel, on edge. By now, the enthusiasms of 2010 seem almost quaint.

Using microbes to fight microbes

Using microbes to fight microbes

There are more microorganisms in and on our bodies than human cells. In fact, scientists estimate that microorganisms outnumber human cells by 10 to 1. These microbes cover our skin, nose, mouth, and gastrointestinal and urogenital tracts. Called the “human microbiome,” scientists are investigating the relationship between these microbes and disease.