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Archive for the ‘nuclear weapons’ category: Page 7

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://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]

Got Lifeboat?

Jun 16, 2009

Gulches — freedom lifeboats

Posted by in categories: education, geopolitics, habitats, lifeboat, nuclear weapons

Jim Davies of Strike the Root writes about Galt’s Gulch and some gulch-like projects. These appeal to him because of the exponential trends in government power and abuse of power. He writes, in part,

“We have the serious opportunity in our hands right now of terminating the era of government absolutely, and so of removing from the human race the threat of ever more brutal tyranny ending only with WMD annihilation–while opening up vistas of peaceful prosperity and technological progress which even a realist like myself cannot find words to describe. ”

http://www.strike-the-root.com/91/davies/davies11.html

Avoiding those terrible events is what building our Lifeboat is all about. Got Lifeboat?

Mar 10, 2009

How long do we have? — Regulate armed robots before it’s too late

Posted by in categories: counterterrorism, defense, ethics, military, nuclear weapons, policy, robotics/AI


NewScientist — March 10, 2009, by A. C. Grayling

IN THIS age of super-rapid technological advance, we do well to obey the Boy Scout injunction: “Be prepared”. That requires nimbleness of mind, given that the ever accelerating power of computers is being applied across such a wide range of applications, making it hard to keep track of everything that is happening. The danger is that we only wake up to the need for forethought when in the midst of a storm created by innovations that have already overtaken us.

We are on the brink, and perhaps to some degree already over the edge, in one hugely important area: robotics. Robot sentries patrol the borders of South Korea and Israel. Remote-controlled aircraft mount missile attacks on enemy positions. Other military robots are already in service, and not just for defusing bombs or detecting landmines: a coming generation of autonomous combat robots capable of deep penetration into enemy territory raises questions about whether they will be able to discriminate between soldiers and innocent civilians. Police forces are looking to acquire miniature Taser-firing robot helicopters. In South Korea and Japan the development of robots for feeding and bathing the elderly and children is already advanced. Even in a robot-backward country like the UK, some vacuum cleaners sense their autonomous way around furniture. A driverless car has already negotiated its way through Los Angeles traffic.

Continue reading “How long do we have? — Regulate armed robots before it's too late” »

Feb 6, 2009

Nuclear Secrets Smuggler A.Q. Khan is Now Free

Posted by in category: nuclear weapons

According to the Associated Press, Abdul Qadeer Khan is now free to “move around” and is no longer under house arrest (where he was confined since 2004).

“In January 2004, Khan confessed to having been involved in a clandestine international network of nuclear weapons technology proliferation from Pakistan to Libya, Iran and North Korea. On February 5, 2004, the President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, announced that he had pardoned Khan, who is widely seen as a national hero.” (Source)

For more information about nuclear proliferation, see:

See also this recent post by Michael Anissimov, the Fundraising Director of the Lifeboat Foundation.

Nov 26, 2008

What are the Risks of Failure of Nuclear Deterrence?

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

Nuclear warheads

Martin Hellman is a professor at Stanford, one of the co-inventors of public-key cryptography, and the creator of NuclearRisks.org. He has recently published an excellent essay about the risks of failure of nuclear deterrence: Soaring, Cryptography and Nuclear Weapons. (also available on PDF)

I highly recommend that you read it, along with the other resources on NuclearRisks.org, and also subscribe to their newsletter (on the left on the frontpage).

There are also chapters on Nuclear War and Nuclear Terrorism in Global Catastrophic Risks (intro freely available as PDF here).

Continue reading “What are the Risks of Failure of Nuclear Deterrence?” »

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