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Submission + - The Islamic State is using mustard agents (

Lasrick writes: Gabrielle Tarini reports on the Islamic State's use of mustard chemicals, and the fact that it now appears they manufacture the chemicals on their own: 'US officials have identified at least four occasions in the last two months when the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has used mustard agents on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border. While early claims by US officials suggested that ISIS militants obtained the deadly chemicals from caches in Syria, officials now believe the group has developed the capacity to manufacture its own mustard on a small scale.'

Submission + - Move Iran out of nuclear and into energy efficiency and renewables (

Lasrick writes: Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute has a plan to keep Iran from drifting back towards the nuclear path, and it involves energy efficiency and renewables. Lovins sees 'legendary possibilities' for renewables in Iran, because, 'Iran uses about three times the world average amount of energy per dollar of gross domestic product, due partly to huge and budget-busting energy subsidies now slated for phase-out. Technical studies have confirmed that Iran’s energy use is pervasively inefficient, offering vast scope for lucrative savings.' Lovins points out that Iran enjoys Arizona-like sunshine and average windspeeds equivalent to the American Midwest: 'Consequently, Iran’s New England-sized, 70-gigawatt grid could quickly shift from three-quarter gas- and one-quarter oil-fired generation (plus 10 gigawatts of less reliable hydropower) to modern renewables.' Great read.

Submission + - Rogue biohacking is not a problem (

Lasrick writes: Although biosecurity experts have long warned that biohackers will eventually engineer pathogens in the same way that computer enthusiasts in the 1970s developed viruses and adware, UC Berkeley's Zian Liu thinks fears about "rogue biohackers" are overblown. He lists the five barriers that make it much more difficult to bioengineer in your garage than people think, but also suggests some important chokeholds regulators can take to prevent a would-be bioweaponeer from getting lucky. Great read.

Submission + - Nuclear Energy: The Good News and the Bad News in the EPA Clean Energy Plan (

Lasrick writes: Peter Bradford explains what the EPA's new Clean Power Plan has in store for nuclear energy: 'The competitive position of all new low-carbon electricity sources will improve relative to fossil fuels. New reactors (including the five under construction) and expansions of existing plants will count toward state compliance with the plan’s requirements as new sources of low-carbon energy. Existing reactors, however, must sink or swim on their own prospective economic performance—the final plan includes no special carbon-reduction credits to help them.' Excellent explanation of the details of the plan, and how the nuclear industry benefits (or doesn't).

Submission + - Forget hashtag activism: A Millenials guide to nuclear weapons realism (

Lasrick writes: Matthew Costlow is frustrated with his generation's tendency of "hashtag activism" and would like Millenials instead to get real on the issue of nuclear weapons. 'Allow me to suggest a radical new mindset for my generation as it confronts the issues of nuclear disarmament, Russian and Chinese aggression, and nuclear proliferation: extreme humility. Instead of “boldly” proclaiming the need to raise awareness, let’s utilize our generation’s greatest asset—access to data—and truly understand the issues before trying to solve anything. Instead of proposing “fresh ideas” for their own sake, let’s recognize that we are not the first generation to deal with these issues and probably will not be the last. Instead of studiously avoiding specifics or hard choices, let’s face a messy reality and not simplify an increasingly complex world to bumper-sticker activism.' Great read.

Submission + - Flash from the past: Why an apparent Israeli nuclear test in 1979 matters today (

Lasrick writes: Stanford's Leonard Weiss writes about growing evidence that Israel and South Africa cooperated on nuclear weapons testing in the 1970s, and in fact conducted a test: "On September 22, 1979, a US satellite code-named Vela 6911, which was designed to look for clandestine atmospheric nuclear tests and had been in operation for more than 10 years, recorded a double flash in an area where the South Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean, off the coast of South Africa. The detection immediately triggered a series of steps in which analysts at national labs in the United States informed their superiors that the recorded signal had all the earmarks of a nuclear test... The event has been a subject of controversy ever since, but is now recognized by most analysts as the detection of an Israeli nuclear test with South African logistical cooperation."

Weiss goes through the history of the investigation and new evidence that has come to light, and relates it to the rhetoric surrounding Iran's nuclear energy program and the recent agreement Iran struck with the P5+1, as well as to efforts for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. Terrific cloak-and-dagger read with plenty of technical details.

Submission + - Plutonium Is the Unsung Concession in Iran Nuclear Deal ( 1

Lasrick writes: For whatever reason, the most impressive achievement regarding the nuclear agreement with Iran is the one that is being ignored: Tehran's complete turn-around on the issue of plutonium production. Plutonium is cheaper and more easily produced than uranium; more than 95% of the world's nuclear weapons rely on plutonium to ignite. William J. Broad at the NY Times gives a thorough explanation of why nuclear experts are so delighted that Iran is giving up a plutonium path to the bomb. This is a great read.

Submission + - NASA's Ten-Year Mission to Study All the Ways the Arctic Is Doomed (

Lasrick writes: NASA is kicking off the Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment, a decade-long effort to figure out just how bad things in northern US and Canada really are. The large-scale study will combine on-the-ground field studies as well as data from remote sensors—such as satellites and two season of “intensive airborne surveys”—to improve how scientists analyze and model the effects of climate change on the region.

Submission + - The Paris climate talks: Negotiating with the atmosphere (

Lasrick writes: The Paris climate change talks are in December, but what negotiators plan to propose will only be part of non-legally-binding pledges—and they represent only what is achievable without too much difficulty. Dawn Stover writes about alternatives to the meaningless numbers and endless talks: 'The very idea that the Paris conference is a negotiation is ridiculous. You can’t negotiate with the atmosphere.' Terrific stuff.

Submission + - Congressional testimony: a surprising consensus on climate (

Lasrick writes: Many legislators regularly deny that there is a scientific consensus, or even broad scientific support, for government action to address climate change. Researchers recently assessed the content of congressional testimony related to either global warming or climate change from 1969 to 2007. For each piece of testimony, they recorded several characteristics about how the testimony discussed climate. For instance, noting whether the testimony indicated that global warming or climate change was happening and whether any climate change was attributable (in part) to anthropogenic sources. The results: Testimony to Congress—even under Republican reign—reflects the scientific consensus that humans are changing our planet’s climate. Great read.

Submission + - U.S. tech groups press Obama on Chinese cybersecurity (

An anonymous reader writes: A collection of U.S. business and industry groups is urging President Obama to reason with Beijing on technology protectionism ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s upcoming visit to the States. According to a letter addressed to Obama on the 11th August, the group of 19 industry bodies are lobbying for China to scale back its cybersecurity measures. The American Chamber of Commerce in China, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Association of Manufacturers are among the focus groups. The lobbyists referred to a number of recent regulations which raise suspicion as to the country’s commitment to open markets.

Submission + - 70th Anniversary: The Harrowing Story of the Nagasaki Bombing Mission (

Lasrick writes: A typhoon was coming, the fuel pump failed, they had to switch planes, things were wired incorrectly, they missed their rendezvous, they couldn’t see the primary target, they ran out of gas on the way home, and they had to crash-land. But the worst part was when the Fat Man atomic bomb started to arm itself mid-flight.

Submission + - Answering Elon Musk on the dangers of Artificial Intelligence (

Lasrick writes: Stanford's Edward Moore Geist takes apart the recent panic over superintelligent machines in a terrific, thorough piece of analysis: 'Superintelligence is propounding a solution that will not work to a problem that probably does not exist, but Bostrom and Musk are right that now is the time to take the ethical and policy implications of artificial intelligence seriously. The extraordinary claim that machines can become so intelligent as to gain demonic powers requires extraordinary evidence, particularly since artificial intelligence (AI) researchers have struggled to create machines that show much evidence of intelligence at all.'

Submission + - Is artificial intelligence really an existential threat to humanity? (

Lasrick writes: Edward Moore Geist, MacArthur Nuclear Security Fellow at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), takes apart the new book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, by Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom. In that book, Bostrom postulates that self-improving artificial intelligences could effortlessly enslave or destroy Homo sapiens if they so wished, and as Geist points out, those views have found an eager audience in Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates, among others. Although Geist feels that Bostrom and Musk are right that now is the time to take the ethical and policy implications of artificial intelligence seriously, the book propounds 'a solution that will not work to a problem that probably does not exist.' Geist goes on to analyze what may or may not be possible even with AI, but feels the book is a distraction: 'For all its entertainment value as a philosophical exercise, Bostrom’s concept of superintelligence is mostly a distraction from the very real ethical and policy challenges posed by ongoing advances in artificial intelligence.' This is a remarkable read.

Submission + - Saudi Arabia's desire for nuclear energy is not a cover for a Bomb (

Lasrick writes: Researcher Lauren Sukin analyzes Saudi Arabia's increasing energy demand. By some estimates, the Kingdom's energy consumption is projected to grow by over 250 percent by 2028. 'Electricity needs have skyrocketed because of a combination of rising consumer and industrial demand and the country's increasing need for energy-guzzling water desalination.' And, Saudi Arabia’s conventional superiority and current US security guarantees are enough to solve regional security concerns. Seen from this perspective, Sukin writes that Saudi Arabia's desire for nuclear energy is not a cover for a bomb, but a desire to fix an energy security problem.

The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent. -- Sagan