April 26, 2006

Chernobyl Journey

A Belarusian journalist Vasily Semashko travels throughout the Chernobyl region and reports on his impressions about everyday life of the people living in the contaminated area. [via chernobyl.info]
April 25, 2006

Iran Threatens to Hide Nuclear Program

Iran threatened Tuesday to begin hiding its nuclear program if the West takes any 'harsh measures' against it Tehran's sharpest rebuttal yet to a U.N. Security Council deadline to suspend uranium enrichment or face possible sanctions.

Iran's supreme leader, meanwhile, said in a meeting with the president of wartorn Sudan that Tehran was ready to transfer its nuclear technology to other countries.

Iran's warning to the U.N. watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, came from Tehran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani. They were the strongest words of defiance yet ahead of a Friday deadline, set by the Security Council, for Iran to suspend enrichment of uranium, a process that can produce fuel for nuclear reactors or material for warheads. [via ABC News]
April 24, 2006

Chernobyl Disaster: 20 Years Later

In the early hours of 26 April 1986, one of four nuclear reactors at the Chernobyl power station exploded.

Several major news sites are have special sections on this tragedy.
BBC News

If you find something on the web on the anniversary, drop us a line and let us know.

Iran Hints at Exiting Nuclear Treaty

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hinted Monday that Iran was considering withdrawing from the worldwide Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and said he did not think the U.N. Security Council would impose sanctions on Iran. 'Those who speak about sanctions would be damaged more' than Iran, he told a news conference. 'But no particular event will happen, don't worry.'

He said Iran would reconsider its compliance with the treaty and membership in the International Atomic Energy Agency if they continued to be of no benefit to the country.

His comments came four days before Friday's expiration of a Security Council deadline for Iran to suspend its enrichment of uranium, a process that can produce fuel for nuclear reactors material for nuclear warheads.

Iran has rejected the demand, arguing it is entitled to the peaceful use of enrichment as a signatory to the treaty.

The IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, has accused Iran of failing to answer all questions about its nuclear program and reported the country to the Security Council for noncompliance with its demands. [via Los Angeles Times]

Book Review: The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Birth of the Modern Arms Race

Book CoverIn a new book from Harvard historian Priscilla McMillan, she examines the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer from 1945 through 1954. The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Birth of the Modern Arms Race provides a rich and detailed account of the intense conflict between those advocating arms control and those who favored developing the more powerful thermonuclear weapons. This conflict culminated in the 1954 Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) hearing that denied Oppenheimer his security clearance and his removal as a government science advisor on nuclear issues. The entire episode left Oppenheimer a broken man.

This book serves as a wonderful companion to the other recent biographies of Oppenheimer, such as American Prometheus and J. Robert Oppenheimer and the American Century. Although much of the story has been told before, McMillan draws upon recently declassified documents, interviews, and new information from Russia to probe deeper into this period of Oppenheimer's life. She reveals more evidence of the double-dealings by Oppenheimer's opponents. Most notably, Atomic Energy Commission chairman Lewis Strauss, who conspired to "destroy Oppenheimer and make [Edward] Teller the leader of the scientific community", and Edward Teller, who never forgave Oppy for choosing Hans Bethe to run the theoretical division at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project.

Central to this battle were the various hurdles in developing a hydrogen bomb, ranging from technical to political to moral. Although Teller had pushed for the development of the "super" during the Manhattan Project, little direct research was done toward it. With the loss of the nuclear monopoly in 1949 with the Soviet's exploding an atomic bomb, renewed debate emerged on the development of the H-bomb. Oppenheimer, who had begun to show some remorse over the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, sought to keep the U.S. from developing weapons whose only military use was (sorry, I made a mistake here) a "city-killer". He along with 8 of the 9 members (Glenn Seaborg was absent for the vote) of the General Advisory Committee to the AEC, recommended against the development of the H-bomb.

President Eisenhower ignored this recommendation, and gave the go-ahead to develop the H-bomb in 1951. However, Teller still felt frustrated at the pace of development. He routinely blamed Oppenheimer for impeding the development through his cult of personality.

Finally this conflict came to a conclusion in 1954, during the height of McCarthyism, when a security hearing was held in 1954 regarding Oppenheimer's loyalty. The entire affair was a shameful episode of American legal history. Illegal wiretaps, and other misdeeds by the prosecution riddled the entire hearing. In the end Oppenheimer was denied the renewal of his "Q" clearance.

With this, Oppenheimer spent his remaining years at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, no longer involved with the development of the weapon he helped create. McMillan goes further to suggest that had Oppenheimer prevailed in this battle, that he could have slowed or prevented the arms race. Although this hypothesis is speculative, one does have to wonder what the influence of the "Father of the Atomic Bomb" might have been able to accomplish?

Available at amazon.com.

April 21, 2006

Rare Look Inside a Radioactive Ghost Town

David Wright from ABC News visits Chernobyl, a ghost town, tended by a small community of brave people struggling to keep it safe. Reactor No. 4, which exploded 20 years ago next week, is surrounded by an exclusion zone five times the size of New York City. More reports from him are expected next week. [via ABC News]
April 18, 2006

Bush won't rule out nuclear strike on Iran

President Bush refused on Tuesday to rule out nuclear strikes against Iran if diplomacy fails to curb the Islamic Republic's atomic ambitions.

Iran, which says its nuclear program is purely peaceful, told world powers it would pursue atomic technology, whatever they decide at a meeting in Moscow later in the day. Bush said in Washington he would discuss Iran's nuclear activities with China's President Hu Jintao this week andavoided ruling out nuclear retaliation if diplomatic efforts fail.

Asked if options included planning for a nuclear strike, Bush replied: 'All options are on the table. We want to solve this issue diplomatically and we're working hard to do so.' [via Yahoo! News]
April 12, 2006

Iran's Annoucement

I go away on vacation and this happens....

I try to post up some commentary later.
April 06, 2006

Video Preview of "Einstein's Letter"

A video preview of the Einstein's Letter episode of The History Channel's series "10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America"

This episode explores how the great scientist urged Franklin Roosevelt to develop an atomic bomb.

U.S. Reveals Nuclear Arsenal Modernization Plan

The Bush administration Wednesday unveiled a blueprint for rebuilding the nation's decrepit nuclear weapons complex, including restoration of a large-scale bomb manufacturing capacity.

The plan calls for the most sweeping realignment and modernization of the nation's massive system of laboratories and factories for nuclear bombs since the end of the Cold War.

Until now, the nation has depended on carefully maintaining aging bombs produced during the Cold War arms race, some several decades old. The administration, however, wants the capability to turn out 125 new nuclear bombs per year by 2022, as the Pentagon retires older bombs that it says will no longer be reliable or safe.

Under the plan, all of the nation's plutonium would be consolidated into a single facility that could be more effectively and cheaply defended against possible terrorist attacks. The plan would remove the plutonium kept at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory by 2014, though transfers of the material could start sooner. In recent years, concern has grown that Livermore, surrounded by residential neighborhoods in the Bay Area, could not repel a terrorist attack. [via NTI: Global Security Newswire
April 05, 2006

Chernobyl diary - BBC

A BBC News website team is in Ukraine to assess the legacy of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, 20 years after it spewed radiation across Europe.

Reporter Stephen Mulvey and photographer Phil Coomes will publish their reports and picture galleries closer to the anniversary itself on 26 April.

This diary records their impressions as they gather facts and interview people affected by the tragedy.

April 04, 2006

10 Days that Unexpectedly Changed America

The History Channel will soon air a new 10 part series entitled "10 Days that Unexpectedly Changed America." This series will run from April 9 through 13th. I have had an opportunity to watch half of the series, and have enjoyed every minute. Each episode explores some "minor" event of American history and then explores how its consequences rippled through time like a pebble dropped in a pond.

I was drawn to the series by an episode entitled Einstein’s Letter. Although every telling of the development of the atomic bomb begins with this famous letter, filmmaker Barak Goodman, takes the viewer deeper. He focuses on the role of Leo Szilard as the catalyst of this letter and his role in the development of the atomic age. The film continues following the effects of this simple 2 page letter, as the United States races with Germany to develop the atomic bomb. So often, Einstein’s other letters are never mentioned. In fact, he wrote two more to President Roosevelt on the subject of the atomic bomb. The first was to urge the United States to accelerate its race with the Germans, and the second was a letter of warning about the consequences of its use. The latter sat unread on FDR’s desk when he died unexpectedly. The film includes interviews with Richard Rhodes, author of “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” and William Lanouette's Genius in the Shadows : A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb.

The other episodes have been equally compelling and enlightening. In Scopes: The Battle Over America’s Soul, the courtroom battle over the teaching of evolution in the small Tennessee town is chronicled. Filmmakers Kate Davis & David Heilbroner capture the heart of the battle and how it echoes even today with the debates between Darwinism and its opponents.

Using animation to recreate the events of Shays Rebellion, this episode explores how a revolutionary war veteran led an uprising in protest of taxation and debt collection in Massachusetts. From this simple act, our Constitution and Bill of Rights were forged and George Washington cemented his place in American history. I have never been all that familiar with the events of that era, so this episode was an enjoyable learning experience.

One of the best examples of how one day changed America was the day that English settlers slaughtered the Pequot Indians at Mystic, Connecticut. This single act changed the relationship between Native Americans and Europeans for nearly 300 years. One cannot wonder if a similar day has occurred in Iraq, a day that will define relations between Arabs and Europeans in the same manner? However, this episode does have a positive ending with the rebirth of the Pequot Nation.

Another span of America’s past I am weak in is the Civil War. I knew of the bloody battles and the terrible cost. This episode, Antietam, looks at the bloodiest day in American history. Both sides paid a terrible price during this Civil War battle that resulted in 23,000 casualties and how it served as the pebble for the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the event is not as minor as others in the series, the effects of that day could not be underestimated. The fate of the Union hung in the balance with this battle, for England and France were close to aiding the Confederacy in order to restore the cotton trade and how close the Union was to ending the conflict if its commanders had been more aggressive.

History is a story of unexpected events that lead to larger consequences. These award-winning filmmakers have taken this fact and produced a wonderful series that explores how what might be a minor incident can form a nation or threaten the survival of all mankind. To learn more visit, http://www.historychannel.com/10days/

A Nuclear Workshop: Hiroshima and Nagasaki for College Teachers

A one-week Workshop, June 26 - 30, 2006
Resources and planning for a general education course or units dealing with All Things Nuclear and The Legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Guide: Raymond G. Wilson, Ph.D., Emeritus Associate Professor,
Physics Department, Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, IL 61702
Supported by The Cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the AAC&U SENCER Project

For more information visit, http://titan.iwu.edu/~physics/Hiroshima.html

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