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Archive for the ‘nuclear weapons’ category: Page 5

Aug 11, 2012

Water and Bombs again

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, business, counterterrorism, defense, education, engineering, ethics, events, existential risks, futurism, geopolitics, habitats, human trajectories, lifeboat, media & arts, military, nuclear weapons, physics, policy, space, sustainability, transparency

This essay was posted previously last year and removed and has appeared in abridged form in the European Space Safety online Magazine and can also be found on Yahoo voices.

Several dates are cited as marking the beginning of the space age. Sputnik, October 4th, 1957, Yuri’s day April 12th, 1961, and the first successful V-2 launch by the Nazis on October 3rd, 1942, to name a few. Some prefer December 21st, 1968, when human beings first escaped the Earth’s gravitational field on Apollo 8. When studying the events that allowed man to leave Earth, future historians may agree on a date not generally associated with space flight. July 16th, 1945 was Trinity, the first nuclear weapon test. Stanislaw Ulam, a 36-year-old Polish mathematician who helped build “the gadget”, visited ground zero after the test. Ulam later conceived the idea of propelling a spaceship with atomic bombs. Near the end of his life the eccentric genius stated the idea was his greatest work.

When considering nuclear propulsion, it must be understood that space is not an ocean, though often characterized as one. The distances and conditions are not comparable. While chemical energy has allowed humankind to travel across and above the surface of Earth, the energy required to travel in space is of a different order. Water, in the form of steam, was the agent of change that brought about the industrial revolution. Fossil fuel, burned and transformed by steam into mechanical work, would radically change the world in the span of a century. What is difficult for moderns to understand is not only how limited human capabilities were before steam, but how limited they are in the present in terms of space travel. The psychological limits of human beings limit space journeys to a few years. Chemical propulsion is not capable of taking human beings to the outer solar system and back within those crew limits. The solution is a reaction one million times more powerful. Nuclear energy is to the space age as steam was to the industrial age.

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Jul 12, 2012

A Resilient Logic for Hazardous Times

Posted by in categories: complex systems, economics, engineering, ethics, existential risks, nuclear weapons, policy, sustainability
“If the rate of change on the outside
exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near”
- Jack Welch

Complex societies are heavily addicted to expensive, vulnerable and potentially hazardous infrastructure. We rely on a healthy environment for production of food and access to clean water. We depend on technological infrastructure for energy supplies and communications. We are deeply addicted to economic growth to support growing populations and consumption. If one of these pillars of modern society crumbles our existence will collapse like a house of cards.

The interdependencies and complexities of the system we call modern society has become so intertangled that finding a robust and simple solution to our problems has become close to impossible. Historically the cold war gave us the logic of a “balance of terror”. This logic, originally concerned with a balance of U.S. vs. Soviet military capacities, has lead to an increasingly expensive way of reducing risk and ever expanding bureaucracies to keep us “virtually safe”.

With the onset of a global economic recession, drastic climate change, deadly natural disasters, raging civil wars and diminishing natural resources we need a new logic. A set of moral laws for reducing risk and mitigating consequences applicable at a low cost from the bottom up of entire societies.

The concept of resilience is based on the idea that disasters are inevitable and a natural part of existence. Our best defense is preparedness and engineering systems that not only can withstand heavy strains but also absorb damage. The Institute for Resilient Infrastructure at the University of Leeds gives this definition of “Resilience”;

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May 14, 2012

From Global Crisis — A Planetary Defense?

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, defense, economics, ethics, events, existential risks, futurism, geopolitics, lifeboat, military, nuclear weapons, policy, rants, space, treaties

Russia’s hastily convened international conference in St. Petersburg next month is being billed as a last-ditch effort at superpower cooperation in defense of Earth against dangers from space.

But it cannot be overlooked that this conference comes in response to the highly controversial NATO anti-ballistic missile deployments in Eastern Europe. These seriously destabilizing, nuclear defenses are pretexted as a defense against a non-nuclear Iran. In reality, the western moves of anti-missile systems into Poland and Romania create a de facto nuclear first-strike capability for NATO, and they vacate a series of Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaties with the Russians that go back forty years.

Deeply distrustful of these new US and NATO nuclear first-strike capabilities, the Russians announced they will not attend NATO’s planned deterrence summit in Chicago this month. Instead, they are testing Western intentions with a proposal for cooperative project for near-space mapping, surveillance, and defense against Earth-crossing asteroids and other dangerous space objects.

The Russians have invited NATO members as well as forward-thinking space powers to a conference in June in Petrograd. The agenda: Planetary defense against incursions by objects from space. It would be a way of making cooperative plowshares from the space technologies of hair-trigger nuclear terror (2 minutes warning, or less, in the case of the Eastern European ABMs).

It’s an offer the US and other space powers should accept.

Jan 13, 2012

Verne, Wells, and the Obvious Future Part 2

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, biotech/medical, business, defense, economics, education, engineering, ethics, events, evolution, existential risks, futurism, life extension, lifeboat, media & arts, military, nuclear weapons, philosophy, physics, policy, space

I am taking the advice of a reader of this blog and devoting part 2 to examples of old school and modern movies and the visionary science they portray.

Things to Come 1936 — Event Horizon 1997
Things to Come was a disappointment to Wells and Event Horizon was no less a disappointment to audiences. I found them both very interesting as a showcase for some technology and social challenges.… to come- but a little off the mark in regards to the exact technology and explicit social issues. In the final scene of Things to Come, Raymond Massey asks if mankind will choose the stars. What will we choose? I find this moment very powerful- perhaps the example; the most eloguent expression of the whole genre of science fiction. Event Horizon was a complete counterpoint; a horror movie set in space with a starship modeled after a gothic cathedral. Event Horizon had a rescue crew put in stasis for a high G several month journey to Neptune on a fusion powered spaceship. High accelleration and fusion brings H-bombs to mind, and though not portrayed, this propulsion system is in fact a most probable future. Fusion “engines” are old hat in sci-fi despite the near certainty the only places fusion will ever work as advertised are in a bomb or a star. The Event Horizon, haunted and consigned to hell, used a “gravity drive” to achieve star travel by “folding space.” Interestingly, a recent concept for a black hole powered starship is probably the most accurate forecast of the technology that will be used for interstellar travel in the next century. While ripping a hole in the fabric of space time may be strictly science fantasy, for the next thousand years at least, small singularity propulsion using Hawking radiation to achieve a high fraction of the speed of light is mathematically sound and the most obvious future.

https://russian.lifeboat.com/blog/2012/09/only-one-star-drive-can-work-so-far

That is, if humanity avoids an outbreak of engineered pathogens or any one of several other threats to our existence in that time frame.

Continue reading “Verne, Wells, and the Obvious Future Part 2” »

Jan 10, 2012

Verne, Wells, and the Obvious Future Part 1

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, business, education, engineering, ethics, events, existential risks, finance, fun, futurism, media & arts, military, nuclear weapons, philosophy, physics, policy, robotics/AI, space, transparency

Steamships, locomotives, electricity; these marvels of the industrial age sparked the imagination of futurists such as Jules Verne. Perhaps no other writer or work inspired so many to reach the stars as did this Frenchman’s famous tale of space travel. Later developments in microbiology, chemistry, and astronomy would inspire H.G. Wells and the notable science fiction authors of the early 20th century.

The submarine, aircraft, the spaceship, time travel, nuclear weapons, and even stealth technology were all predicted in some form by science fiction writers many decades before they were realized. The writers were not simply making up such wonders from fanciful thought or childrens ryhmes. As science advanced in the mid 19th and early 20th century, the probable future developments this new knowledge would bring about were in some cases quite obvious. Though powered flight seems a recent miracle, it was long expected as hydrogen balloons and parachutes had been around for over a century and steam propulsion went through a long gestation before ships and trains were driven by the new engines. Solid rockets were ancient and even multiple stages to increase altitude had been in use by fireworks makers for a very long time before the space age.

Some predictions were seen to come about in ways far removed yet still connected to their fictional counterparts. The U.S. Navy flagged steam driven Nautilus swam the ocean blue under nuclear power not long before rockets took men to the moon. While Verne predicted an electric submarine, his notional Florida space gun never did take three men into space. However there was a Canadian weapons designer named Gerald Bull who met his end while trying to build such a gun for Saddam Hussien. The insane Invisible Man of Wells took the form of invisible aircraft playing a less than human role in the insane game of mutually assured destruction. And a true time machine was found easily enough in the mathematics of Einstein. Simply going fast enough through space will take a human being millions of years into the future. However, traveling back in time is still as much an impossibillity as the anti-gravity Cavorite from the First Men in the Moon. Wells missed on occasion but was not far off with his story of alien invaders defeated by germs- except we are the aliens invading the natural world’s ecosystem with our genetically modified creations and could very well soon meet our end as a result.

While Verne’s Captain Nemo made war on the death merchants of his world with a submarine ram, our own more modern anti-war device was found in the hydrogen bomb. So destructive an agent that no new world war has been possible since nuclear weapons were stockpiled in the second half of the last century. Neither Verne or Wells imagined the destructive power of a single missile submarine able to incinerate all the major cities of earth. The dozens of such superdreadnoughts even now cruising in the icy darkness of the deep ocean proves that truth is more often stranger than fiction. It may seem the golden age of predictive fiction has passed as exceptions to the laws of physics prove impossible despite advertisments to the contrary. Science fiction has given way to science fantasy and the suspension of disbelief possible in the last century has turned to disappointment and the distractions of whimsical technological fairy tales. “Beam me up” was simply a way to cut production costs for special effects and warp drive the only trick that would make a one hour episode work. Unobtainium and wishalloy, handwavium and technobabble- it has watered down what our future could be into childish wish fulfillment and escapism.

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Apr 1, 2011

Are Current Nuclear Power Plants an Existential Risk?

Posted by in categories: events, existential risks, nuclear weapons

If nothing else, Japan’s recent tragedy has brought the risk of current nuclear power plants back into focus. While it’s far to early to tell just how grave the Fukushima situation truly is, it is obvious that our best laid plans are inadequate as they relate to engineering facilities to withstand cataclysmic scale events.

Few places on the globe are as well prepared as Japan for earthquakes and the possibility of subsequent tsunamis. However, in spite of their preparedness — which was evidenced by the remarkably small number of casualties given the nature of the events that took place (can you imagine how many people would have perished had this same disaster struck somewhere else in the world?) — Japan’s ability to manage a damaged nuclear power plant was severely compromised.

As frightening as Japan’s situation is, what ought to frighten us even more is that there are many more nuclear power plants in equally vulnerable locations all over the globe. In California, for example, both the San Onofre and Diablo Canyon facilities are right on the coast (they both use ocean water for cooling) and the Diablo Canyon facility in particular is perilously close to a major fault.

Given what we’ve seen in Japan, the widely varying degrees of preparedness around the world, the age of many of the existing power plants and the consequences for even a single catastrophic containment failure, shouldn’t we be taking a long, hard look at nuclear power as a viable means of providing energy for the planet? Have we learned so little from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and now Fukushima? Just how capable are we [really] of dealing with a second, a third or a fourth disaster of this type? (and what if they were to happen simultaneously?) With so many existential risks completely beyond our control, does it make sense to add another one when there are other, lower risk alternatives to nuclear energy within our reach?

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Aug 6, 2010

Shukrijumah: It’s On Now

Posted by in categories: counterterrorism, defense, nuclear weapons

The Lifeboat Foundation has been on to this guy for years.

The overview: “We would like the nuclear terrorist Adnan G. El Shukrijumah to be captured. There is a $5 million reward for assisting in his capture” (https://russian.lifeboat.com/ex/nuclear.terrorist).

Now the AP reports “a suspected al-Qaida operative who lived for more than 15 years in the U.S. has become chief of the terror network’s global operations, the FBI says, marking the first time a leader so intimately familiar with American society has been placed in charge of planning attacks”… that suspected operative? Adnan Shukrijumah.

According to the AP piece, his mother claims that he’s non-violent. If so, that could suggest new directions for al-Qaida; but it seems rather unlikely that al-Qaida will become a charitable NGO if Jose Padilla’s account is to be believed. It’s old news now that Padilla claims to have trained in terrorist tactics using natural gas with Shukrijumah back in the summer of 2001 (http://edition.cnn.com/2004/LAW/06/01/comey.padilla.transcript/).

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May 2, 2010

Nuclear Winter and Fire and Reducing Fire Risks to Cities

Posted by in categories: defense, existential risks, lifeboat, military, nuclear weapons

This is a crosspost from Nextbigfuture

I looked at nuclear winter and city firestorms a few months ago I will summarize the case I made then in the next section. There is significant additions based on my further research and email exchanges that I had with Prof Alan Robock and Brian Toon who wrote the nuclear winter research.

The Steps needed to prove nuclear winter:
1. Prove that enough cities will have firestorms or big enough fires (the claim here is that does not happen)
2. Prove that when enough cities in a suffient area have big fire that enough smoke and soot gets into the stratosphere (trouble with this claim because of the Kuwait fires)
3. Prove that condition persists and effects climate as per models (others have questioned that but this issue is not addressed here

The nuclear winter case is predictated on getting 150 million tons (150 teragram case) of soot, smoke into the stratosphere and having it stay there. The assumption seemed to be that the cities will be targeted and the cities will burn in massive firestorms. Alan Robock indicated that they only included a fire based on the radius of ignition from the atmospheric blasts. However, in the scientific american article and in their 2007 paper the stated assumptions are:

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Jul 26, 2009

Herman Khan about Doomsday Machine

Posted by in categories: defense, geopolitics, military, nuclear weapons, policy

50 years ago Herman Khan coined the term in his book “On thermonuclear war”. His ideas are still important. Now we can read what he really said online. His main ideas are that DM is feasable, that it will cost around 10–100 billion USD, it will be much cheaper in the future and there are good rational reasons to built it as ultimate mean of defence, but better not to built it, because it will lead to DM-race between states with more and more dangerous and effective DM as outcome. And this race will not be stable, but provoking one side to strike first. This book and especially this chapter inspired “Dr. Strangelove” movie of Kubrick.
Herman Khan. On Doomsday machine.

Jun 25, 2009

Nuclear saber rattling

Posted by in categories: defense, lifeboat, nuclear weapons

North Korea warns of a “fire shower of nuclear retaliation” in their latest episode of megalomania.
http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=7914048
[note, that site attempts to pop up new windows]

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