It sounds like a doomsday scenario drawn up by strategists at the height of the Cold War. … Chinese armies move south into the Korean peninsula and collide with American and South Korean forces moving north. The resulting clashes spark war between nuclear-armed superpowers. … A new report says such a confrontation is still a real danger in the event of a sudden collapse of the North Korean regime. … The report produced by the US research institute, the Rand Corporation, says that North Korea is a failing state that could fall apart at any moment. … It says agreement is urgently needed between Washington and Beijing on contingency plans - including setting up a temporary line of division inside North Korea to keep their armies apart. … Analysts have been predicting the imminent collapse of North Korea for the last two decades.
The ambition behind it far exceeds the two- or four- or even six-year terms of any politician. Here we were trying to build a structure that would last longer than the Great Pyramids of Egypt, longer than any man-made structure, longer than any language. When forced to adopt a long view of human existence—when looking back on today from 10,000 years into the future—it’s hard not to view Yucca Mountain in near-mythical terms. We can imagine future earthlings pondering it the way we ponder the Parthenon or Stonehenge today—massive structures imbued with an alien spirituality. ... Ten thousand years may be the time scale of legends, but nuclear waste storage is a very real and practical problem for humans. It is a problem where incomprehensibly long time scales clash with human ones, where grand visions run up against forces utterly mundane and petty.
To approach the subject of red mercury is to journey into a comic-book universe, a zone where the stubborn facts of science give way to unverifiable claims, fantasy and outright magic, and where villains pursuing the dark promise of a mysterious weapon could be rushing headlong to the end of the world. This is all the more remarkable given the broad agreement among nonproliferation specialists that red mercury, at least as a chemical compound with explosive pop, does not exist. ... Legends of red mercury’s powers began circulating by late in the Cold War. But their breakout period came after the Soviet Union’s demise, when disarray and penury settled over the Kremlin’s arms programs. As declining security fueled worries of illicit trafficking, red mercury embedded itself in the lexicon of the freewheeling black-market arms bazaar. Aided by credulous news reports, it became an arms trafficker’s marvelous elixir, a substance that could do almost anything a shady client might need: guide missiles, shield objects from radar, equip a rogue underdog state or terrorist group with weapons rivaling those of a superpower. It was priced accordingly, at hundreds of thousands of dollars a kilogram. With time, the asking price would soar. ... Red mercury was a lure, the central prop of a confidence game designed to fleece ignorant buyers. ... When the Crocodile placed his order, Abu Omar said, the smuggler asked how much the Islamic State was willing to pay. The answer was vague. The Islamic State would pay, he said, ‘‘whatever was asked.’’ This was not the practical guidance a businessman needs. So the Crocodile sharpened the answer. Up to $4 million — and a $100,000 bonus — for each unit of red mercury matching that shown in a set of photographs he sent to Abu Omar over WhatsApp, the mobile-messaging service. ... the hoax has roots in an intelligence-service put-on, a disinformation campaign of phony news articles planted decades ago in Russian newspapers by the K.G.B. and one of its successors, the F.S.B.
Is cold fusion truly impossible, or is it just that no respectable scientist can risk their reputation working on it? ... cold fusion (or LENR, for ‘low-energy nuclear reaction’) is the controversial idea that nuclear reactions similar to those in the Sun could, under certain conditions, also occur close to room temperature. ... was popularised in 1989 by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, who claimed to have found evidence that such processes could take place in palladium loaded with deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen). A few other physicists, including the late Sergio Focardi at Bologna, claimed similar effects with nickel and ordinary hydrogen. But most were highly skeptical, and the field subsequently gained, as Wikipedia puts it, ‘a reputation as pathological science’. ... We know that huge amounts of energy are locked up in metastable nuclear configurations, trapped like water behind a dam. There’s no known way to get useful access to it at low temperatures. ... There are credible reports that a 1MW version of his device, producing many times the energy that it consumes, has been on trial in an industrial plant in North Carolina for months, with good results so far. And Rossi’s US backer and licensee, Tom Darden – who has a long track record of investment in pollution-reducing industries – has been increasingly willing to speak out in support of the LENR technology field. ... We should certainly be very cautious about such surprising claims, unless and until we amass a great deal of evidence. But this is not a good reason for ignoring such evidence in the first place, or refusing to contemplate the possibility that it might exist.
This is the face of nuclear development in the United States today: slow, over-budget, economically untenable. Yet the dream of a nuclear-powered society is still alive. Nationwide, we get about 20 percent of our electricity from nuclear. It produces the lion's share (64 percent) of our clean energy, provided that by "clean," you mean anything but fossil fuels. In addition to Watts Bar 2 there are four other reactors currently under construction in this country, signaling that perhaps America has a renewed interest in going nuclear. ... Look abroad and there's even more reason for nuclear advocates to be hopeful. China is leading a renaissance in nuclear energy: Today that country gets only 2.5 percent of its electricity from nuclear, but it has 21 reactors under construction, more in the works, and a growing business selling reactors to countries like Pakistan, Argentina, and the United Kingdom. This vigor marks a level of nuclear investment the world has not seen since the heyday of American atomic enthusiasm, when 58 reactors came online between 1965 and 1980. ... What happens next depends on whether nuclear boosters can solve the three key problems that have plagued American nuclear power, and left places like Watts Bar in perpetual limbo. ... nuclear power plants can generate tremendous amounts of energy. But while it's expensive to develop any kind of energy infrastructure, the cost of nuclear energy has not fallen over time. There is no Moore's Law in play here. ... Not only are China's reactors using a standardized design with some modular parts, but the entire construction process is performed by a dedicated crew that travels from reactor site to reactor site.
A critical part of any analysis of high-renewable systems is the cost of backup thermal power and/or storage needed to meet demand during periods of low renewable generation. These costs are substantial; as a result, levelized costs of wind and solar are not the right tools to use in assessing the total cost of a high-renewable system ... High-renewable grids reduce CO2 emissions by 65%-70% in Germany and 55%-60% in California vs. the current grid. Reason: backup thermal capacity is idle for much of the year ... High-renewable grid costs per MWh are 1.9x the current system in Germany, and 1.5x in California. Costs fall to 1.6x in Germany and 1.2x in California assuming long-run “learning curve” declines in wind, solar and storage costs, higher nuclear plant costs and higher natural gas fuel costs ... The cost of time-shifting surplus renewable generation via storage has fallen, but its cost, intermittent utilization and energy loss result in higher per MWh system costs when it is added ... Balanced systems with nuclear power have lower estimated costs and CO2 emissions than high-renewable systems. However, there’s enormous uncertainty regarding the actual cost of nuclear power in the US and Europe, rendering balanced system assessments less reliable. Nuclear power is growing in Asia where plant costs are 20%-30% lower, but political, historical, economic, regulatory and cultural issues prevent these observations from being easily applied outside of Asia ... National/cross-border grid expansion, storing electricity in electric car batteries, demand management and renewable energy overbuilding are often mentioned as ways of reducing the cost of high-renewable systems. However, each relies to some extent on conjecture, insufficient empirical support and/or incomplete assessments of related costs
The global catastrophic risks in this report can be divided into two categories. Some are ongoing and could potentially occur in any given year. Others are emerging and may be very unlikely today but will become significantly more likely in the coming decades. The most significant ongoing risks are natural pandemics and nuclear war, whereas the most significant emerging risks are catastrophic climate change and risks stemming from emerging technologies. Even where risks remain in the future, there are things we can do today to address them. ... The relative likelihood and urgency of the different risks matters when deciding how to respond. Even though the level of uncertainty is extreme, rational action requires explicit assessments of how much attention the different risks deserve, and how likely they are. The views of the authors on these vexed questions, based on our reading of the scientific evidence, are summarised in the following table. More information can be found in the full version of this report.
It’s been six years since we first wrote about the coming G-Zero world—a world with no global leader. The underlying shifts in the geopolitical environment have been clear: a US with less interest in assuming leadership responsibilities; US allies, particularly in Europe, that are weaker and looking to hedge bets on US intentions; and two frenemies, Russia and China, seeking to assert themselves as (limited) alternatives to the US—Russia primarily on the security front in its extended backyard, and China primarily on the economic front regionally, and, increasingly, globally. ... These trends have accelerated with the populist revolt against “globalism”—first in the Middle East, then in Europe, and now in the US. Through 2016, you could see the G-Zero picking up speed ... with the shock election of Donald Trump as president of the US, the G-Zero world is now fully upon us.
1. Independent America: Trump rejects the comparative weakness of the presidency, and he wants to more directly project American power in service of US national interests
2. China overreacts: Xi will be extremely sensitive to external challenges to his country’s interests at a time when all eyes are on his leadership
3. A weaker Merkel: Could the Europeans have resolved their financial crises without the Germans forcing a solution?
4. No reform: The reform needle won’t move in 2017. Save for a few bright spots, money won’t know where to flow
5. Technology and the Middle East: Technology, a force for economic growth and efficiency, also exacerbates political instability
6. Central banks get political: In the US, there’s risk of an open conflict between the Federal Reserve and the White House
7. The White House versus Silicon Valley: Technology leaders from California, the major state that voted in largest numbers against Trump in the election, have a bone to pick with the new president
8. Turkey: Ever-fewer checks on executive power will leave the private sector vulnerable to political whims
9. North Korea: It’s making consistent progress on an intercontinental ballistic missile capability that would allow it to hit the West Coast of the US with a nuclear weapon
10. South Africa: South Africa’s political infighting will undermine the country’s traditional role as a force for regional security
Red Herrings: US domestic policy, India versus Pakistan, Brazil
One of the Cold War’s great mysteries is how the world survived the second week of November 1983. ... That it did is in large part thanks to the actions—or, more accurately, the inaction—of an Air Force officer named Leonard Perroots, who died this January. That it almost did not was a function of Ronald Reagan’s rhetorical and military bellicosity, the Soviets’ fear of that aggressiveness, and a tragicomic degree of misperception. At no other point in history had two nations devoted the level of human, financial, and technical resources that the United States and the Soviet Union did to sussing each other’s intentions. And yet their confusion remained so total that the Soviets mistook a NATO war game for the prelude to an actual attack, even as Reagan thought he was doing his utmost to pursue peace. ... For decades, the U.S. government kept whole chapters of this near-catastrophe secret, but the lessons of that fraught autumn are finally coming into focus. And not a moment too soon.
Driven by economics (a hunger for resources and new markets) and politics (a longing for strategic allies), Chinese companies and workers have rushed into all parts of the world. In 2000, only five countries counted China as their largest trading partner; today, more than 100 countries do, from Australia to the United States. The drumbeat of proposed projects never stops: a military operating base, China’s first overseas, in Djibouti; an $8 billion high-speed railway through Nigeria; an almost-fantastical canal across Nicaragua expected to cost $50 billion. Even as China’s boom slows down, its most ambitious scheme is still ramping up: With the “One Belt, One Road” initiative — its name a reference to trade routes — President Xi Jinping has spoken of putting $1.6 trillion over the next decade into infrastructure and development throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The scheme would dwarf the United States’ post-World War II Marshall Plan for Europe. ... China’s relationship with Africa goes back to the 1960s, when Chairman Mao Zedong promoted solidarity with the developing world — “Ya Fei La,” as he called it, using the first syllables for Asia, Africa and Latin America. Though it was poor and mired in the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, China won new allies in Africa by finishing, in 1976, a 1,156-mile railroad through the bush from Tanzania to Zambia. Aid continued to trickle in, but there were no other big projects for nearly 30 years
The very nature of these warships is what makes them both so difficult to remove from the ocean floor and so appealing to illegal salvagers ballsy enough to try. Consider this: The Perch, which was as long as a football field and 26 feet wide, displaced nearly 2,000 tons when submerged. The Encounter and Exeter belonged to a robust class of British destroyers that carried torpedoes, anti-aircraft weaponry, and a complement of about 150 sailors each. The De Ruyter was the largest of all, with a length of more than 560 feet. All now gone without a trace. ... Even in poor condition, gleaned steel fetches about $150 a ton in international markets. A recovered destroyer can easily result in a profit of $100,000 ... There’s a ton more money to be had if you find ships built before the dawn of nuclear testing. Steel is made by melting iron at super-high temperatures and infusing it with carbon. To make sure those carbon levels don’t get too high, steelmakers blow oxygen into the mix, along with ambient atmospheric particulates. That includes radiation. Natural elements like radon create low-level natural radioactivity. We increased those levels exponentially when countries like the United States and Russia began nuclear testing in the mid-1940s. France, England, and China jumped on the bomb bandwagon a few years later. And with each detonation, radioactivity levels in our atmosphere increased. That meant each time steelmakers were blowing oxygen into new steel, they were also blowing nuclear particulates into it. ... That’s not true for the steel used to fabricate pre-1942 vessels, which is virtually radiation-free. And its clean status makes this metal particularly valuable for some technical applications of nuclear medicine and, more commonly, the development of nuclear energy and weapons.
Meanwhile, a thousand miles west, on the prairies and farms of central Iowa, a 2-year-old boy named Clair Patterson played. His boyhood would go on to be like something out of Tom Sawyer. There were no cars in town. Only a hundred kids attended his school. A regular weekend entailed gallivanting into the woods with friends, with no adult supervision, to fish, hunt squirrels, and camp along the Skunk River. His adventures stoked a curiosity about the natural world, a curiosity his mother fed by one day buying him a chemistry set. Patterson began mixing chemicals in his basement. He started reading his uncle’s chemistry textbook. By eighth grade, he was schooling his science teachers. ... During these years, Patterson nurtured a passion for science that would ultimately link his fate with the deaths of the five men in New Jersey. Luckily for the world, the child who’d freely roamed the Iowa woods remained equally content to blaze his own path as an adult. Patterson would save our oceans, our air, and our minds from the brink of what is arguably the largest mass poisoning in human history.
Kim’s regime may be evil and deluded, but it’s not stupid. It has made sure that the whole world knows its aims, and it has carried out public demonstrations of its progress, which double as a thumb in the eye of the U.S. and South Korea. The regime has also moved its medium-range No-dong and Scud missiles out of testing and into active service, putting on displays that show their reach—which now extends to South Korean port cities and military sites, as well as to the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan. ... In short, North Korea is a problem with no solution … except time. ... True, time works in favor of Kim getting what he wants. Every test, successful or not, brings him closer to building his prized weapons. When he has nuclear ICBMs, North Korea will have a more potent and lethal strike capability against the United States and its allies, but no chance of destroying America, or winning a war, and therefore no better chance of avoiding the inevitable consequence of launching a nuke: national suicide. Kim may end up trapped in the circular logic of his strategy. He seeks to avoid destruction by building a weapon that, if used, assures his destruction.
This is not a joke, but neither should you worry if you are long oil, as the price will most likely hit (at least) $100 long before it heads south, and that is due to a rising deficit between oil production and new oil discoveries ... I should have said fossil fuels, not oil, in the headline above, but there wasn’t enough room for all those extra characters! In other words, what I meant to say is that fossil fuel (oil, gas and coal) prices will most likely approach $0 over the very long term. ... Just to complicate matters even further, strictly speaking, not even that is correct. What will happen to fossil fuel prices in the future is anybody’s guess, but what almost certainly will happen at some point is that demand for fossil fuels will approach zero. ... The problem in a nutshell is the geological depletion of existing fields and the growth of higher cost, geologically less attractive, fields. ... Tying up so much capital in one industry has become a significant drain on productivity in other parts of the economy. ... This will eventually have a major, and overwhelmingly negative, impact on GDP growth, all other things being equal.
Neutrinos are fundamental to the construction of the Universe. They are tremendously abundant, outnumbering atoms by about a billion to one. They modulate the reactions that cause massive stars to explode as supernovas. Their properties provide clues about the laws governing particle physics. And yet neutrinos are among the most enigmatic particles, largely due to their reticent nature: they have no electric charge and practically no mass, so they interact only extremely weakly with ordinary matter. Some 65 billion of them stream through every square centimetre of your body – an area the size of a thumbnail – every second, without your ever noticing them. ... The discovery of the neutrino dates back to the 1930s, when the famed Italian physicist Enrico Fermi helped to hammer out the first workable theory of nuclear phenomena such as radioactive decay. ... Neither Fermi nor anyone else at the time thought that such tiny wisps of matter could ever be detected directly. Before long, the spread of fascism in Europe overshadowed any such lofty thoughts. ... In 1938, he managed a Sound-of-Music-like escape, exploiting a trip to Stockholm to accept the Nobel Prize in order to slip out of Europe and head for the United States, where he became one of the early scientific leaders of the Manhattan Project.