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Underestimating nuclear accident risks: Why are rare events so common?

More than a month has passed since the one-two punch of an earthquake and tsunami added a third dimension to the tragedy in Japan: a major nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. The situation remains serious, and radioactivity continues to be released. Yet media reports of the disaster have become sporadic, reduced … Continued

Re-envisioning the Chemical Weapons Convention

When Albert Einstein developed his theory of relativity, he made extensive use of "thought experiments" -- hypothetical exercises that, while impossible to carry out in real life, are useful for testing complex theories. In one well-known case, he compared the passage of time on a train traveling at close to the speed of light with that of a stationary observer in order to elucidate a concept known as the "relativity of simultaneity."

Daily update from Japan

Friday, April 29, Tokyo 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. Sunday, April 24, 4 p.m. ET, Tokyo

Japan’s nuclear history in perspective: Eisenhower and atoms for war and peace

Re-examining Japan's nuclear history could not only help the country come to terms with the Fukushima disaster, but help it find a future without the US nuclear influence that has shaped its past.

Japan’s nuclear history in perspective: Eisenhower and atoms for war and peace

It is tragic that Japan, the most fiercely antinuclear country on the planet, with its Peace Constitution, three non-nuclear principles, and commitment to nuclear disarmament, is being hit with the most dangerous and prolonged nuclear crisis in the past quarter-century -- one whose damage might still exceed that of Chernobyl 25 years ago. But Japan's antinuclearism has always rested upon a Faustian bargain, marked by dependence on the United States, which has been the most unabashedly pro-nuclear country on the planet for the past 66 years.

From the Bulletin Archives: Containment of a reactor meltdown

Editor's Note: Authored by Jan Beyea and Frank von Hippel, this article originally appeared in the September 1982 issue of the Bulletin.
Reactor Design

Second chances: Containment of a reactor meltdown

One aspect of the drama that we have been witnessing at Japan's Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami is the efforts of Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) to prevent the over-pressurization of the containments of its boiling water reactors at plants I and II. These reactors lost power from the grid due to the earthquake and their backup emergency diesel generators failed, apparently due to damage from the tsunami.

Did we make a huge mistake over dual use?

Given the amount of space they occupy in newspapers, I cannot be the only person fascinated by obituaries. I enjoy reading about real people, their accomplishments, and the different worlds they inhabited. This pastime has led to new discoveries for me -- most recently the works of late historian John Burrow.

Parts of the sum: Unpacking the dynamics of biological weapons proliferation

The proliferation potential of biological weapons is an exceedingly complex topic, only made more complicated by semantic inconsistencies. For example, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC), considered to be the cornerstone of the global biological weapons nonproliferation regime, has been variously termed an arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation treaty.

After New START: Challenges and opportunities for 21st century arms control

Now that the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) has finally entered into force, how will the Obama administration achieve further bilateral nuclear reductions with Russia? With tremendous effort, public engagement, and compromise. Negotiating a follow-on agreement promises to be difficult and divisive -- even more so than with New START -- because it will force both countries to reassess deeply ingrained beliefs about how nuclear and non-nuclear assets affect national security.

Medical isotope production: The US must follow South Africa’s lead

A major outcome of the April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC, was the commitment by 47 nations to collaborate in developing new technologies that require neither highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuels for reactor operation nor HEU targets for producing medical or other isotopes. This principle of HEU minimization also was included in the final document of the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, which was adopted by consensus.

The high stakes of New START

With President Obama determined to bring New START to the Senate floor before the end of the year, the national security establishment is virtually unanimous in its support of the treaty.

New START and the allure of strategic superiority

After countless Senate hearings and nearly six months after the signing ceremony in Prague, the New START treaty has successfully passed out of committee. The support of the necessary 67 out of 100 senators appears likely but is not yet a done deal; as a Senate staff member told the Washington Post, "The administration is still going to have to work on these votes."

Against counterinsurgency in Afghanistan

It says something about American politics that Gen. Stanley McChrystal was not fired because U.S. casualties in Afghanistan are running at record levels, because the much vaunted Marja initiative has failed, or because the Kandahar offensive is already in trouble during its preliminary rollout. No, he was fired because he and his team embarrassed the White House with carelessly frank talk to a journalist. "This is a change in personnel, but not a change in policy," said President Barack Obama in announcing General McChrystal's dismissal.

Deconstructing the meaning of Iran’s 20 percent uranium enrichment

On February 11, the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered the "sweet" news that Iran had successfully produced 20 percent enriched uranium. More than anything, the announcement served as Iran's response to the stalemate over purchasing fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor that is used, in part, to produce medical isotopes.

Do professional ethics matter in war?

What happens when the U.S. military decides that an academic discipline's professional ethics code is a nuisance? That is the situation in which anthropology now finds itself.

What to do about tactical nuclear weapons

Since the United States and Russia might soon sign a new treaty that limits their strategic nuclear weapons, it's natural to wonder about Washington and Moscow's tactical nuclear weapons, which the treaty won't cover. The hope is that the momentum for a nuclear-weapon-free world, the renewed U.S.-Russian negotiations, and the ongoing review of the U.S. nuclear posture and NATO strategic concept will help make progress on reducing nonstrategic nuclear arsenals--an issue that has been largely neglected for more than a decade.

An American suicide bomber?

"As for the Taliban fighters, they not only don't cherish life, they expend it freely in suicide bombings. It's difficult to imagine an American suicide bomber," Washington Post pundit Richard Cohen opined in a recent column.

Is the cyber threat a weapon of mass destruction?

Google's surprise announcement of "a highly sophisticated and targeted attack" on its systems--a case of computer-aided espionage--has also raised the specter of offensive warfare. Defense News quotes Adm. Robert Willard of U.S.

The lasting toll of Semipalatinsk’s nuclear testing

During the rainy, windy early morning of August 29, 1949, the Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear explosion--code-named "First Lightning"--at the Semipalatinsk Test Site in eastern Kazakhstan. Witnesses remember feeling the ground tremble and seeing the sky turn red--and how that red sky was quickly dominated by a peculiar mushroom-shaped cloud. The Soviet military and scientific personnel conducting the test knew that the rain and wind would make the local population more susceptible to radioactive fallout.