Month: August 2012

Letter from Pakistan: How an unfair non-proliferation regime undermines nuclear security

Letter from Pakistan: How an unfair non-proliferation regime undermines nuclear security

In a September 1967 speech, V.C. Trivedi, the Indian Ambassador to an early UN arms control effort known as the Eighteen Nations Committee on Disarmament, said that developing countries could tolerate nuclear weapons apartheid, but not an atomic apartheid that prevented them from attaining the economic progress that civilian nuclear power can bring. Regrettably, today’s global nonproliferation architecture is being applied with such selectivity that it can truly be called the neo-nuclear apartheid.

The oversight imperative

The oversight imperative

The prevention of nuclear terrorism, one of the foremost international security threats that we face today, relies on separate national regulations with little oversight. There are few international checks and balances on the physical protection of the treacherous material, which could be used to create nuclear devices by terrorists, aside from bilateral agreements and individual treaties formed at the will of individual states. This lack of binding guidelines and international oversight of nuclear security is inadequate for today’s nuclear risks.

Keeping the life sciences honest

Keeping the life sciences honest

When scientist Ron Fouchier, from Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, presented his research at a conference in Malta last year, he described how he and his colleagues induced mutations into the H5N1 virus, ultimately giving the deadly virus the ability to become airborne and transmit infection as efficiently as the seasonal flu. Fouchier was ostensibly trying to learn more about the virus in order to protect humanity from its dangers, but his work also meant risking that the virus he created would escape the lab or be mimicked by a rogue scientist with terrorist ties.

Cold comfort

Cold comfort

As the plausible military rationales for nuclear weapons continue to deteriorate in the aftermath of the Cold War, political and psychological rationales for nuclear weapons — like providing reassurance to US allies — are increasingly viewed to be just as important as deterrence.

Treading water

Treading water

In 1954, Lewis Strauss, then chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, gave a speech in which he famously predicted that “our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter.” Whether he was talking about fission reactors or a secret fusion project is unclear, but he was wrong in either case. What did turn out to be too cheap to meter, however, was water.

The new biological countermeasures program: Will it work?

The new biological countermeasures program: Will it work?

On June 18, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a new program to protect the population against health threats. Primed by worries about bioterrorism and pandemic flu and other possible epidemics, the department established three centers to more quickly develop and manufacture medical countermeasures. The initial cost of the program is $400 million, with an eventual government outlay projected as high as $2 billion.

Climate change and the Syrian uprising

Climate change and the Syrian uprising

Two days short of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, Al Jazeera published an article, headlined “A Kingdom of Silence,” that contended an uprising was unlikely in Syria. The article cited the country’s “popular president, dreaded security forces, and religious diversity” as reasons that the regime of Bashar al-Assad would not be challenged, despite the chaos and leadership changes already wrought by the so-called Arab Spring.

Climate change, irreversibility, and urgency

Climate change, irreversibility, and urgency

Climate scientists like to think of themselves as wise planetary physicians, explaining to the world what they have learned about climate and advising humanity on how to cope with the challenge of climate change. This metaphor can also appear attractive to policymakers and the public. Consider the appealing similarities between deciding what you should do about your weight and what the world should do about global warming. You can ask your doctor’s opinion, but it is you who will determine your target weight. You can also ask your physician to recommend actions to reach that target.

What’s next for the NRC: A conversation with Allison Macfarlane

What’s next for the NRC: A conversation with Allison Macfarlane

Sworn in as chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission a month ago, Allison Macfarlane is an expert on nuclear waste and the first geologist to serve on the commission. Before beginning her one-year term as the NRC’s 15th chairman, Macfarlane was an associate professor of environmental science and policy at George Mason University, as well as an affiliate of MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society and Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

The unacceptable risks of a man-made pandemic

The unacceptable risks of a man-made pandemic

Now that world attention finally has been focused on the potentially human-contagious H5N1 Asian bird-flu virus, the international research community should take steps to deal with three other potential pandemic pathogens. Two are among history’s nightmares: smallpox, which killed or maimed millions of people over centuries as it ravaged the world, and the resurrected 1918 pandemic flu virus, which may have killed 50 million people worldwide over just two years.

Contemplating a third nuclear test in North Korea

Shortly after its failed April 13 rocket launch, North Korea was widely expected to conduct its third underground nuclear test. Such a test would have fit the pattern of the first two nuclear tests, both of which followed failed rocket launches and international condemnation. And Pyongyang has compelling technical, military, and political reasons to conduct a third nuclear test that would demonstrate it can miniaturize nuclear warheads to fit on a missile, making its nuclear arsenal more threatening.

Whither the anti-terrorism budget?

Whither the anti-terrorism budget?

Nuclear terrorism is the ultimate preventable catastrophe. If highly enriched uranium and plutonium are adequately secured or eliminated, they cannot be stolen for use in a nuclear device. In 2011, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper noted that “poorly secured stocks of [chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials] provide potential source material for terror attacks.” Osama bin Laden may be dead, but the threat of nuclear terrorism remains.