The BBC after the bomb. The BBC's War Book contains meticulous plans for the organisation's operations after a nuclear attack on the UK. Ordered to be destroyed after the end of the Soviet Union, a rebellious BBC official quietly transferred it to the corporation's archives. Filled with the sort of mordantly amusing detail common to such documents - the BBC would be run by Radio 4, 'informal clothing' only being required, and an abandoned plan to entertain the nation with Round the Horne and Goon Show repeats - the plans help flesh out the way British bureaucracy faced up to an unknowable future that, at the time, seemed sometimes to be very close indeed. Previously.
The twitter account Soviet Visuals is on vacation in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Zone of Alienation aka the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. You can follow along on Twitter (where they are semi-consistently using the #LiveFromChernobyl tag) or Facebook. And don't worry: "the radiation exposure inside the approved itinerary @ exclusion zone is equal to roughly 1hr of transatlantic flight [...] and this is over 1 whole day of being in the zone."
Keiko Horikawa is a Japanese freelance journalist whose work, unknown in English translation until now, deals with the value of life and the weight of death. Her two subjects are the death penalty and the atomic bombing in Hiroshima, which has gained new urgency as bomb survivors, the hibakusha, die out after 70 years. Here is a translation of an event promoting her book about the Genbaku Kuyoto, the mound containing the unclaimed remains of approximately 70,000 bomb victims, and her effort to reunite the 815 identified remains with their families.
As Putin continues to probe, and another commentator predicts Russia will invade Estonia, Latvia and/or Lithuania within a year (also, Independent), it's useful to revisit Article 5 of Nato. Recently, the BBC simulation ended in a result of nuclear weapon use, which did not go down well, while another study also indicated results of either a Russian victory or nuclear war. Earlier in the year, Newsweek analysed this scenario; the Chicago Tribune blames NATO, as does The Nation, while The Master Plan considers ongoing Russian shenanigans.
30 years ago today, a fire started near Pripyat. "The time was 1:23 a.m. The world had changed. But those sleeping just downwind had no idea." The Chernobyl disaster began on April 26th, 1986. [more inside]
Paracelsus, the father of modern toxicology, held that "The dose makes the poison.” Substances considered toxic are harmless in small doses, and conversely an ordinarily harmless substance can be deadly if over-consumed. Going a step beyond Paracelsus, hormesis is the idea that small doses of ordinarily harmful stressors actually improve a variety of outcomes by stimulating defense or repair mechanisms. Below a certain dose the stressor acts beneficially, there is a threshhold dose where the stressor has no net effect, and past that point the net effect is deleterious. [more inside]
The case for optimism on climate change - "I'll finish with this story. When I was 13 years old, I heard that proposal by President Kennedy to land a person on the Moon and bring him back safely in 10 years. And I heard adults of that day and time say, 'That's reckless, expensive, may well fail.' But eight years and two months later, in the moment that Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon, there was great cheer that went up in NASA's mission control in Houston. Here's a little-known fact about that: the average age of the systems engineers, the controllers in the room that day, was 26, which means, among other things, their age, when they heard that challenge, was 18." (via; previously) [more inside]
Concepcion Picciotto, who held vigil outside the White House for more than three decades, died today. [more inside]
North Korea says it just tested a hydrogen bomb. Here's what we know. [Vox]
According to top experts, it's very plausible this was a test. "I think it is *probably* a test," Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, tweeted. "DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the formal name of North Korea] event epicenter close to test site and on 1/2 hour." Generally, earthquakes don't just happen on exactly the half hour.[more inside]
The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was established in 1961 and has grown into one of the US government’s largest intelligence organizations. It employs 17,000 people, including thousands stationed overseas, and its 2013 fiscal year budget request was for $3.15 billion. Yet, the DIA is also one of the more secretive agencies in the U.S. intelligence community, regularly denying access to basic information about its structure, functions and activities. On November 20, the National Security Archive posted a new sourcebook of over 50 declassified documents that help to illuminate the DIA’s five-decades-long history. [more inside]
The Doomsday Scam. For decades, aspiring bomb makers — including ISIS — have desperately tried to get their hands on a lethal substance called red mercury. [more inside]
The Cold War gift that keeps on giving. Just testing the the Davy Crockett may have contaminated 12,000 acres around Fort Carson with uranium and depleted uranium residue. “In the general mindset of the era, it was deemed a requirement for more covert, squad level nuclear weaponry…called the ‘Davy Crockett,’ it was a 155mm caliber tactical nuclear recoilless gun” With an explosive yield of .01-.02 kilotons, or the equivalent of 10 to 20 tons of TNT the Davy Crockett was developed for covert units to destroy Soviet infrastructure, engage tank formations or repel larger units. As the largest conventional ordinance has a blast yield of 11 tons of TNT and was short ranged, very inaccurate and likely to expose users to radioactive fallout and contaminate large areas for years, the weapon was wisely discontinued. Previously [more inside]
Project Oil Sands - "In the late 1950s, Dr. Manley Natland, a passionate, lifelong geologist working for the Richfield Oil Corporation, hatched a gonzo idea to harness the power of a nuclear explosion for the benefit of bitumen extraction in Alberta’s oil sands. He proposed a plan to plant an atomic bomb deep below the oil sands, set it off and start pumping the oil freed up by the intense heat of the explosion."
Someday this country’s gonna be a fine, good place to be. Maybe it needs our bones in the ground before that time can come: An essay on the summer of the Atomic Bomb, by Joni Tevis. Originally published in The Diagram
Today, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) announced she would support the Obama Administration's Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the international agreement to end economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions imposed on its nuclear program. As the 34th Senator to so announce, Mikulski hands the White House the final Senate vote needed to protect President Obama's veto of Congress's expected rejection of the deal. [more inside]
The online edition of Science magazine reports that the private and secretive company Tri Alpha Energy, has built a machine that forms a ball of superheated gas—at about 10 million degrees Celsius—and holds it steady for 5 milliseconds, calling the achievement "a significant step toward mastering nuclear fusion"
On January 3rd, 1961, three men died when the US Army's SL-1 experimental nuclear reactor melted down. It was the first fatal reactor incident in the US. But was it an accident? Or murder?
After intense negotiations, the Obama administration has started a new phase of defending the nuclear deal with Iran that could determine whether Congress will approve it after a 60-day review. Obama's deal with Iran could become his administration's foreign policy legacy. But is Iran’s nuclear capability the issue anyway?
How World War III became possible: A nuclear conflict with Russia is likelier than you think (SLVox).
Dr. Yotarou Hatamura, who runs the Association for the Study of Failure, is also supervisor of the Failure Knowledge Database Project. He proposes adopting the "Failure Mandala" to promote the systematic understanding and dissemination of failures. To support this approach, he presents a compilation of 100 case studies of failure events organized by topic (also viewable as a single list of PDF files; and available in Japanese). Dr. Hatamura subsequently chaired the investigative committee into the Fukushima nuclear incident, which he discusses here.
At Maralinga, the British Government treated Aborigines, Australian servicemen and even its own troops as scientific guinea pigs. John Keane, whose father was there, looks at the dirty games that were played in the desert of South Australia.
"More than sixty years have passed since Israel started its nuclear venture and almost half a century has elapsed since it crossed the nuclear weapons threshold. Yet Israel's nuclear history still lacks a voice of its own: Israel has never issued an authorized and official nuclear history; no insiders have ever been authorized to tell the story from within. Unlike all seven other nuclear weapons states, Israel's nuclear policy is essentially one of non-acknowledgement. Israel believes that nuclear silence is golden, referring to its nuclear code of conduct as the policy of amimut ("opacity" in Hebrew)." A special collection of declassified documents was published by the National Security Archive this Wednesday, that sheds some light on How Israel Hid Its Secret Nuclear Weapons Program.
What would happen if an 800-kiloton nuclear warhead detonated above midtown Manhattan? [via realfuture]
What Lies Beneath
In the 1960s, hundreds of pounds of uranium went missing in Pennsylvania. Is it buried in the ground, poisoning locals—or did Israel steal it to build the bomb?
In the 1960s, hundreds of pounds of uranium went missing in Pennsylvania. Is it buried in the ground, poisoning locals—or did Israel steal it to build the bomb?
"The CIA would have [given] Iran the actual [nuclear bomb] already constructed for them, but didn't because it wouldn't have been credible for their Russian to have it." [more inside]
Three and a half years after the most devastating nuclear accident in a generation, Fukushima Daiichi is still in crisis. Some 6,000 workers, somehow going about their jobs despite the suffocating gear they must wear for hours at a time, struggle to contain the damage. So much radiation still pulses inside the crippled reactor cores that no one has been able to get close enough to survey the full extent of the destruction.
26 miles east of Carlsbad, New Mexico and 2,150 feet underground, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) brings new meaning to the phrase "built to last". The world's third deep geological nuclear waste repository, WIPP was designed to house radioactive material for 10,000 years. The primary challenge (keeping hazardous waste IN) was tackled by engineers. But for the secondary challenge - keeping living creatures OUT - the goverment recruited a team of geologists, linguists, astrophysicists, architects, artists, and writers. The job description included the words "the knowledge necessary to develop a marker system that will remain in operation during the performance period of the site - 10,000 years". Stymied by inevitable linguistic and orthographic drift, the group has discussed a wide array of ideas, some more fabulously demented than others (artificial moons, a nuclear containment-centric priesthood, a landscape of massive granite thorns). They intend to submit their final plan by 2028. [more inside]
UN Climate Report: We Must Focus On 'Decarbonization', and It Won't Wreck the Economy - "The basic message is simple: We share a planet. Let's start acting like it." [more inside]
A Star in a Bottle. "An audacious plan to create a new energy source could save the planet from catastrophe. But time is running out."
"A month ago, I heard that the now vacant Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant was available as a filming location..." Scouting New York's Nick Carr photographed the inside of the first nuclear power plant in the US to be dismantled.
Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy And Doom is a new book by Elaine Scarry, author of The Body In Pain (NYRB, LRB), in which she contends that the existence of nuclear weapons creates an unaccountable monarchy. [more inside]
Kristen Iversen wants to better inform Colorado residents about the history of the Rocky Flats Plutonium processing facility and recommends this brief YouTube documentary as an introductory primer. [more inside]
Unedited footage of the bombing of Nagasaki: This silent film shows the final preparation and loading of the "Fat Man" bomb into "Bockscar," the plane which dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. It then shows the Nagasaki explosion from the window of an observation plane. This footage comes from Los Alamos National Laboratory. (SLYT)
In a six-month agreement, Iran will cap uranium enrichment at the 5% level, reduce its stockpile of already enriched uranium, and allow for more robust international inspections. In return, it will receive no new nuclear sanctions and "sanction relief" in the amount of $7 billion. [more inside]
Command and Control is a new book by Eric Schlosser about nuclear weapons mishaps, with a focus on the Damascus Accident. You can read an excerpt at Mother Jones, an op-ed adapted from the text at Politico, or a different op-ed at The Guardian. The book has been positively reviewed by The New York Times and Publishers Weekly. Schlosser has been interviewed by Steve Roberts on The Diane Rehm Show, Amy Goodman, Michael Mechanic at Mother Jones, and Ryan Devereaux at Rolling Stone.
Abe's Nuclear Energy Policy and Japan's Future: "Japan has nearly doubled spending on solar power projects to $20 bn and ramped up renewable energy capacity equivalent to six nuclear reactors, pointing the way to a sustainable and cheaper alternative to nuclear energy." [more inside]
boy genuis in Nevada At age 14, Taylor Wilson built his own nuclear fusion reactor and now he aspires to change the world with inventions like mini nuclear power plants.
" The House In The Middle" A 1954 Civil Defense film shows how you can protect your home against atomic firestorms via good housekeeping (13 min, YouTube)
Her encampment is 'an old patio umbrella draped in a white plastic sheet secured with binder clips. It is flanked by two large boards with messages in capital letters: BAN ALL NUCLEAR WEAPONS OR HAVE A NICE DOOMSDAY and LIVE BY THE BOMB, DIE BY THE BOMB. This rudimentary shelter has been positioned outside the White House for more than three decades. It is a monument itself now, widely considered the longest-running act of political protest in the United States, and this woman, Concepcion Picciotto — Connie, as she’s known to many — is its longest-running caretaker.' [more inside]
The 36-Hour War. A look at the future of nuclear warfare, from a 1945 issue of Life Magazine
They had to be fully autonomous, because they were situated hundreds and hundreds miles aways from any populated areas. After reviewing different ideas on how to make them work for a years without service and any external power supply, Soviet engineers decided to implement atomic energy to power up those structures. So, special lightweight small atomic reactors were produced in limited series to be delivered to the Polar Circle lands and to be installed on the lighthouses.
When the US Department of Energy halted Plutonium 238 production as far back as 1988, things looked grim for the future of space exploration. On Monday, March 18th, NASA's planetary science division head Jim Green announced that production has been restarted, and is currently in the test phases leading up to a restart at full scale.
Around midnight local time (UTC +9) on 12 February the Democratic People's Republic of Korea detonated a 6-10 kiloton nuclear device at the Punggye-ri nuclear test facility. [more inside]
Overthinking It!: The Nuclear Option: Batman, Iron Man, and Attitudes Toward Power [more inside]
To the tinkly piano tune of "We are the world", a video released last weekend from Uriminzokkiri, North Korea's official website, shows a dream sequence involving various rockets, Korean unification, a sparkle-powered North Korean Space Shuttle, and the apparent missile-based destruction of Manhattan. [more inside]
"Most films of nuclear explosions are dubbed. If they do contain an actual recording of the test blast itself.........it's almost always shifted in time so that the explosion and the sound of the blast wave are simultaneous. This is, of course, quite false: the speed of light is much faster than the speed of sound....." Unearthed recently from some Russian archive, this document of a nuclear detonation is one of the few films of its kind that includes a recording of the audio. The sound is not what you might expect.