Month: July 2012

SILEX and proliferation

SILEX and proliferation

In July, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) held its final hearing to license the world’s first facility to enrich uranium on a commercial scale using lasers. For years, experts have warned that laser enrichment, known as SILEX (separation of isotopes by laser excitation), would be particularly good at making highly enriched uranium — the ingredient needed to make nuclear weapons — and that a commercial venture could stimulate proliferation.

Informed consent: Getting from NIMBY to yes

Informed consent: Getting from NIMBY to yes

“Not in my backyard.” I don’t know whether anyone has actually uttered those words at a hearing or town-hall meeting, but I’ve heard plenty of energy developers and permit processors speak dismissively of local opponents as NIMBYs. Somehow the pejorative sticks: If you’re concerned about noise, stink, ugliness, dirty air and water, diminished property values, endangered wildlife, climate change, or threats to public health and safety, you’re a self-interested elitist and you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Opportunity after the disaster

Opportunity after the disaster

Japan’s energy policy is now at its most critical juncture since the inception of nuclear power in 1966. Nearly 16 months after the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station — the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl — Japan’s nuclear policy has finally started to transform.

Mind the gaps between climate science and social policy

Mind the gaps between climate science and social policy

With temperatures topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit this month in Chicago, thoughts turn to global warming. Whether any particular extreme weather event could be a symptom of climate change is difficult to say. Even higher-than-normal regional temperature patterns may not be direct evidence of the planet’s warming overall. Climate models cannot forecast changes in temperature or rainfall at local levels.

Australia’s nuclear dilemma

Australia’s nuclear dilemma

“What will make a focus on nuclear security a permanent feature of what we do?” asked Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit held in Seoul in late March. Experts agree that the 2014 summit must go further in securing nuclear materials from disasters and, most important, terrorist threats — but agreement on precisely how to do this is harder to come by. In this regard, Australia has much to offer.

Dual-use research after the avian influenza controversy

Dual-use research after the avian influenza controversy

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.

Nuclear power vs. people power

Nuclear power vs. people power

India has come into its own, a once-sleeping tiger waking with a seismic roar. In the last two decades, India has emerged as a robust modern military force, a formidable science and technology hub, and a soaring economic success despite the global recession. These developments, however, are accompanied by more and more demand for, and reliance on, nuclear power — and lots of it.

Allison Macfarlane confirmed to lead NRC

Allison Macfarlane confirmed to lead NRC

In a vote last Friday, the Senate voted to confirm Allison Macfarlane, chair of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, as the new chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Macfarlane also served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.

The everyday denial of climate change

The everyday denial of climate change

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.

Fighting nuclear proliferation on the high seas

Fighting nuclear proliferation on the high seas

In 2002, the US National Security Agency tracked the Cambodian vessel So San on its voyage from North Korea to the Middle East. At America’s request, the ship was boarded by the Spanish Navy and searched in the Arabian Sea; 15 Scud missiles and 85 drums of chemicals, which Yemeni officials later declared to be missile fuel, were found buried under a mountain of sandbags. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh claimed the cache as his property.