Entries Tagged "nuclear weapons"

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Nuclear Fears

Interesting review — by David Roepik — of The Rise of Nuclear Fear, by Spencer Weart:

Along with contributing to the birth of the environmental movement, Weart shows how fear of radiation began to undermine society’s faith in science and modern technology. He writes “Polls showed that the number of Americans who felt ‘a great deal’ of confidence in science declined from more than half in 1966 to about a third in 1973. A main reason for misgivings about science, according to a poll that had studied the matter in detail was ‘Unspoken fear of atomic war.'”

Even more, Weart suggests that nuclear fears have contributed to increasing mistrust not just in modern technology and the people and companies and institutions who control and regulate those technologies, but even in the societal structures that support them. He cites a widely read anti-nuclear book in the late 70s that warned that “the nuclear industry is driving us into a robotic slave society, an empire of death more evil even than Hitler’s.” He notes how strongly these underlying anti-establishment cultural worldviews informed a 1976 article opposing nuclear power by energy expert Amory Lovins, who wrote “reactors necessarily required high centralized power systems, which by their very nature were inflexible, hard to understand, unresponsive to ordinary people, inequitable (my emphasis), and vulnerable to disruption.” Weart observes that “people with a more egalitarian ideology who thought that wealth and power should be widely distributed, were more anxious about environmental risks in general and nuclear power above all than people who believed in a more hierarchical social order.” “By the mid-1970’s,” Weart writes, “many nuclear opponents were saying that their battle was not just against the reactor industry but against all modern hierarchies and their technologies.”

Posted on June 28, 2012 at 8:50 AMView Comments

Russian Nuclear Launch Code Backup Procedure

If the safe doesn’t open, use a sledgehammer:

The sledgehammer’s existence first came to light in 1980, when a group of inspecting officers from the General Staff visiting Strategic Missile Forces headquarters asked General Georgy Novikov what he would do if he received a missile launch order but the safe containing the launch codes failed to open.

Novikov said he would “knock off the safe’s lock with the sledgehammer” he kept nearby, the spokesman said.

At the time the inspectors severely criticized the general’s response, but the General Staff’s top official said Novikov would be acting correctly.

EDITED TO ADD (7/14): British nukes used to be protected by bike locks.

Posted on June 27, 2012 at 6:30 AMView Comments

Authenticating the Authenticators

This is an interesting read:

It was a question that changed his life, and changed mine, and may have changed — even saved — all of ours by calling attention to flaws in our nuclear command and control system at the height of the Cold War. It was a question that makes Maj. Hering an unsung hero of the nuclear age. A question that came from inside the system, a question that has no good answer: How can any missile crewman know that an order to twist his launch key in its slot and send a thermonuclear missile rocketing out of its silo­a nuke capable of killing millions of civilians­is lawful, legitimate, and comes from a sane president?

Any chain of authentication ultimately rests on trust; there’s no way around it.

Posted on March 25, 2011 at 12:22 PMView Comments

Hacking Tamper-Evident Devices

At the Black Hat conference lasts week, Jamie Schwettmann and Eric Michaud presented some great research on hacking tamper-evident seals.

Jamie Schwettmann and Eric Michaud of i11 Industries went through a long list of tamper evident devices at the conference here and explained, step-by-step, how each seal can be circumvented with common items, such as various solvents, hypodermic needles, razors, blow driers, and in more difficult cases with the help of tools such as drills.

Tamper-evident devices may be as old as civilization, and today are used in everyday products such as aspirin containers’ paper seals. The more difficult devices may be bolt locks designed to secure shipping containers, or polycarbonate locks designed to shatter if cut.

But they all share something in common: They can be removed and the anti-tampering device reassembled.

Here’s their paper, and here are the slides from their presentation. (These two direct download links from GoogleDocs also work.) There was more information in the presentation than in either the paper or the PowerPoint slides. If the video ever gets online, I’ll link to it in this post.

Posted on January 24, 2011 at 1:20 PMView Comments

Surviving a Terrorist's Nuclear Attack

Interesting reading, mostly for the probable effects of a terrorist-sized nuclear bomb.

A terrorist bomb is likely to be relatively small — possibly only a fraction of the Hiroshima bomb’s explosive power — and likely exploded at ground level. This means that the area totally destroyed by the explosion is likely to be much smaller than the area exposed to lesser damage or to fallout radiation (this nuclear weapons effects calculator from the Federation of Atomic Scientists will let you see the effect of different sized bombs burst at different heights). Because of this, Homeland Security people in the Obama Administration have been encouraging a duck-and-cover approach, followed by advice to “shelter in place” against fallout rather than trying to evacuate the area.

Posted on January 14, 2011 at 7:07 AMView Comments

Doomsday Shelters

Selling fear:

The Vivos network, which offers partial ownerships similar to a timeshare in underground shelter communities, is one of several ventures touting escape from a surface-level calamity.

Radius Engineering in Terrell, Texas, has built underground shelters for more than three decades, and business has never been better, says Walton McCarthy, company president.

The company sells fiberglass shelters that can accommodate 10 to 2,000 adults to live underground for one to five years with power, food, water and filtered air, McCarthy says.

The shelters range from $400,000 to a $41 million facility Radius built and installed underground that is suitable for 750 people, McCarthy says. He declined to disclose the client or location of the shelter.

“We’ve doubled sales every year for five years,” he says.Other shelter manufacturers include Hardened Structures of Colorado and Utah Shelter Systems, which also report increased sales.

[…]

The Vivos website features a clock counting down to Dec. 21, 2012, the date when the ancient Mayan “Long Count” calendar marks the end of a 5,126-year era, at which time some people expect an unknown apocalypse.

Vicino, whose terravivos.com website lists 11 global catastrophes ranging from nuclear war to solar flares to comets, bristles at the notion he’s profiting from people’s fears.

“You don’t think of the person who sells you a fire extinguisher as taking advantage of your fear,” he says. “The fact that you may never use that fire extinguisher doesn’t make it a waste or bad.

“We’re not creating the fear; the fear is already out there. We’re creating a solution.

Yip Harburg commented on the subject about half a century ago, and the Chad Mitchell Trio recited it. It’s at about 0:40 on the recording, though the rest is worth listening to as well.

    Hammacher Schlemmer is selling a shelter,
          worthy of Kubla Khan’s Xanadu dome;
    Plushy and swanky, with posh hanky panky
          that affluent Yankees can really call home.

    Hammacher Schlemmer is selling a shelter,
          a push-button palace, fluorescent repose;
    Electric devices for facing a crisis
          with frozen fruit ices and cinema shows.

    Hammacher Schlemmer is selling a shelter
          all chromium kitchens and rubber-tiled dorms;
    With waterproof portals to echo the chortles
          of weatherproof mortals in hydrogen storms.

    What a great come-to-glory emporium!
    To enjoy a deluxe moratorium,
    Where nuclear heat can beguile the elite
          in a creme-de-la-creme crematorium.

EDITED TO ADD (8/9: Slate on this as a bogus trend.

Posted on July 30, 2010 at 12:47 PMView Comments

Vigilant Citizens: Then vs. Now

This is from Atomic Bombing: How to Protect Yourself, published in 1950:

Of course, millions of us will go through our lives never seeing a spy or a saboteur going about his business. Thousands of us may, at one time or another, think we see something like that. Only hundreds will be right. It would be foolish for all of us to see enemy agents lurking behind every tree, to become frightened of our own shadows and report them to the F.B.I.

But we are citizens, we might see something which might be useful to the F.B.I. and it is our duty to report what we see. It is also our duty to know what is useful to the F.B.I. and what isn’t.

[…]

If you think your neighbor has “radical” views — that is none of your or the F.B.I.’s business. After all, it is the difference in views of our citizens, from the differences between Jefferson and Hamilton to the differences between Truman and Dewey, which have made our country strong.

But if you see your neighbor — and the views he expresses might seem to agree with yours completely — commit an act which might lead you to suspect that he might be committing espionage, sabotage or subversion, then report it to the F.B.I.

After that, forget about it. Mr. Hoover also said: “Do not circulate rumors about subversive activities, or draw conclusions from information you furnish the F.B.I. The data you possess might be incomplete or only partially accurate. By drawing conclusions based on insufficient evidence grave injustices might result to innocent persons.”

In other words, you might be wrong. In our system, it takes a court, a trial and a jury to say a man is guilty.

It would be nice if this advice didn’t seem as outdated as the rest of the book.

Posted on July 1, 2010 at 1:05 PMView Comments

Scanning Cargo for Nuclear Material and Conventional Explosives

Still experimental:

The team propose using a particle accelerator to alternately smash ionised hydrogen molecules and deuterium ions into targets of carbon and boron respectively. The collisions produce beams of gamma rays of various energies as well as neutrons. These beams are then passed through the cargo.

By measuring the way the beams are absorbed, Goldberg and company say they can work out whether the cargo contains explosives or nuclear materials. And they say they can do it at the rate of 20 containers per hour.

That’s an ambitious goal that presents numerous challenges.

For example, the beam currents will provide relatively sparse data so the team will have to employ a technique called few-view tomography to fill in the gaps. It will also mean that each container will have to be zapped several times. That may not be entirely desirable for certain types of goods such as food and equipment with delicate electronics.

Just how beams of gamma rays and neutrons affect these kinds of goods is something that will have to be determined

Then there is the question of false positives. One advantage of a machine like this is that it has several scanning modes is that if one reveals something suspicious, it can switch to another to look in more detail. That should build up a decent picture of the cargo’s contents and reduce false positives.

Posted on January 27, 2010 at 6:53 AMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.