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Submission + - Careful, we might nuke you: The consequences of rejecting a nuclear no-first-use (thebulletin.org)

Lasrick writes: Since developing nuclear weapons in 1945, the United States has maintained the right to use them first against another country, regardless of whether that country launched a nuclear attack at the US. Over the past several months President Obama has considered changing that “first-use” optional policy to one under which the US declares that it will only use nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack, a 'no-first-use' posture. Press reports now assert that key members of the president’s cabinet all opposed the move, including Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. There are reasonable arguments on both sides of the no-first-use debate, but unfortunately, there may be negative consequences for raising the issue publicly and then rejecting it. Nuclear security expert James Doyle explains what those consequences are.

Submission + - How likely is an existential catastrophe? More likely than you think (thebulletin.org)

Lasrick writes: The average American is at least 1,500 times more likely to die in a human extinction catastrophe than in a plane crash. That's according to this article by Phil Torres, founding director of the X-Risks Institute. As Torres points out: 'In the past few decades, the number of existential risk scenarios has risen, and it will likely rise even more this century. Consider that only 72 years ago, prior to the first atomic bomb exploding in the New Mexico desert, Homo sapiens faced only a handful of existential risks—all of them natural—including asteroid and comet impacts, supervolcanic eruptions, and global pandemics. Today the situation is quite different...' Some eye-opening stats from the article: A survey of experts found a 19 percent chance of human extinction this century; the average American is at least 1,500 times more likely to die in a human extinction catastrophe than in a plane crash, and almost 50 times more likely to see civilization collapse than to die in a vehicular accident. Torres acknowledges that these stats seem suspiciously high, but argues they should be taken seriously, and goes on to elaborate where the threats come from.

Submission + - Questions for the presidential candidates on nuclear terrorism and weapons (thebulletin.org)

Dan Drollette writes: A rare thing is happening in this campaign: the control that the president of the United States wields over the US nuclear arsenal is under serious discussion. So, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists asked its contributors — such as Siegfried Hecker, who headed the Los Alamos National Laboratory for a dozen years — for a few questions to ask our presidential candidates.

Submission + - Climate science, nuclear war, and the humanitarian impacts debate (thebulletin.org)

Dan Drollette writes: What would happen to the rest of the planet if "just" 50 to 100 Hiroshima-size weapons were used in a limited nuclear war — like, say, between India and Pakistan? A team of atmospheric and environmental scientists walk us through it, and find that the resulting nuclear winter would be far more disastrous than previously thought.

Submission + - Your exotic pet is actually a bioweapon (thebulletin.org)

Lasrick writes: Laura Kahn at Princeton's Program on Science and Global Security writes about how security experts, including some in the US military, are becoming concerned about the potential for adversaries to deliberately introduce non-native species as biological weapons. But, as Kahn points out: 'The United States already endures biological attacks from non-native species every year, which arrive in large numbers via the exotic pet trade.'

Kahn goes on to look at both the legal and illegal wildlife trade in the US, and efforts to curb wildlife trafficking. Great read.

Submission + - John Cook's experiment with online science trolls

Lasrick writes: John Cook is a researcher who writes about climate change denial at SkepticalScience, and he writes here about dealing with online trolls. Not only has he turned online trolling into a source of data collection, but has also come up with a very effective way to deal with trolling. Great read: 'When I turn the spotlight around to expose the techniques of science denial, the reaction can be intense.'

Submission + - Undersea cables and the future of submarine competition (tandfonline.com)

An anonymous reader writes: "The ocean floor also hosts an even more valuable resource than oil and gas: At least 95% of voice and Internet traffic travels through about 300 transoceanic fiber-optic cables along the seabed, including military transmissions and more than $4 trillion per year in financial transactions, all of which could be vulnerable to disruption if nations do not take the right precautions."

Submission + - Ban killer robots? How about defining them first? (thebulletin.org)

Lasrick writes: Global science and technology leaders like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have expressed concern about the existential risk to human society that could come from highly advanced artificial intelligence. But a key sticking point in the debate over banning autonomous weapons is the uncertainty about what exactly an autonomous weapon system is. Michael Horowitz of Perry World House at UPenn writes about how that need to first define the weapon system renders the discussion very different from arms control dialogues of the last few decades, and how effective policy will be difficult to come up with if we can’t even agree on what they are.

Submission + - China's security agenda (tandfonline.com)

Dan Drollette writes: Internal Chinese documents show that Beijing's recent moves are part of a plan to push the US out of the South China Sea and create protected sea lanes in Chinese "territory" — sort of a maritime Silk Road, surrounded by fortified islands that will become China's forward bases.

Submission + - It's time for transparency in the US lethal drone program (thebulletin.org)

Dan Drollette writes: Before he leaves office, Obama should come clean about the transparency, accountability, and intelligence problems with our lethal drone program. There's all kinds of potential problems: on the effectiveness of targeting key terrorist leaders, the use of primarily lethal force to combat terrorism, the propensity for blowback and anti-American sentiment, the erosion of sovereignty, and the potential for lowering the threshold for entering conflict—which could lead toward endless warfare and instability.

Submission + - From Flint to Yucca Mountain, politicized regulators are doing harm (thebulletin.org)

Lasrick writes: Using examples that range from the Yucca Mountain radioactive waste repository and the Flint, Michigan water crisis to lesser-known regulatory failures, Jeff Terry looks at the long-term harm that occurs when regulators let politics influence policy decisions. Terry offers a number of solutions that he believes 'would go a long way towards restoring confidence in regulators,' which in turn would restore public trust not only in a number of institutions, but in science itself. As Terry puts it: 'To maintain—or regain—public trust in our regulators, they must not behave like political entities, and the science they conduct must be beyond reproach.'

Submission + - The neuroweapons threat (thebulletin.org)

Lasrick writes: Like most powerful scientific breakthroughs, neurotechnologies that allow brains to control machines—or machines to read or control brains—inevitably bring with them the threat of weaponization and misuse. This article by James Giordano, a senior science advisory fellow to the Joint Staff at the Pentagon and member of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) panel on neuroethics, describes a threat that existing UN conventions designed to limit biological and chemical weapons do not yet cover. Fascinating read.

Submission + - Floating nuclear power plants: China is far from first (thebulletin.org)

Lasrick writes: China is planning to build as many as 20 floating nuclear power plants, the power from which would likely be used to accelerate construction of oil rigs and artificial islands in the South China Sea—already a source of border disputes and escalating tension between China and its neighbors. But China isn't the first to use this technology--the US launched the first such plant 50 years ago. Russia started its own project in 2000,and although development has been on-again, off-again, Russia is currently building two floating nuclear power plants at a shipyard in St. Petersburg. Dawn Stover describes here the history of floating nuclear power plants as well as the risks and rewards. An interesting read about an energy technology that we are about to see much more of.

Submission + - The tower in the woods: preparing for nuclear war (thebulletin.org)

Lasrick writes: Journalist Dawn Stover writes about GWEN, the communications tower in her sparsely populated hometown that was built as part of the Ground Wave Emergency Network, a US Air Force communication system intended to survive the effects of a nuclear bomb detonated high above the United States.This communications system was highly controversial: 'Neighbors worried that having a tower nearby would make them military targets. Some people even feared that the towers would be used for mind control.'

Stover goes on to describe how GWEN is only one of several 'survivable' command-and-control systems developed by the Pentagon, and the modernization efforts currently underway.

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