Stanley Foundation Collects Nuclear Adventure Stories

Last fall, the Stanley Foundation held a meeting in Santa Fe to collect stories of nuclear adventures. It was great fun, with us old talky folks and younger enthusiastic listeners. I met a number of people I knew only through social media!

They recorded some of us old talky people and have just published a number of recordings.

Here’s my story of my adventure in Estonia.

And here’s the whole project.

Their pull quote from my story:

It was was an enormous tailings pond, 1 km long & .5 km wide. Right on the Baltic… It was set on a base of cambrian blue clay. The problem of having all those tons of material on it was that the whole thing could just slide into the sea.

I am so proud of what the Estonians have done, pictured above. The green area is the stabilized tailings pond. And one of the things that the Estonian government wanted was economic development, hence the growing port around it.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

Destroyer of Worlds

Two not entirely parallel threads this morning, on nuclear weapons and artificial intelligence.

The question came up again

It’s been answered by historians, but Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project have so much mythology attached to them that I’m sure it will be asked again.

Alex Wellerstein, one of the best historians of the Manhattan Project: Oppenheimer probably didn’t say it at the time, and the most noted source of the quote is from a video made toward the end of his life.

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If Ukraine Had Kept Soviet Nuclear Missiles

Bill Clinton has joined the chorus of “If Ukraine had kept its nuclear weapons, Russia would never have invaded.” Bill never was good at foreign policy. He was right in 1994, and he’s wrong now.

What people mean when they make that claim is “If Ukraine in January 2022 (or January 2014) had nuclear weapons that could be used against Russia, then Russia would never have invaded.” This claim is based on two big assumptions: that a Ukraine that retained the nuclear weapons on its territory in 1994 would have followed the same path as the Ukraine that signed the Budapest Memorandum, and that Ukraine could have repurposed those weapons into a defensive stand against Russia. I’ve written about this in the past.

For a history of what actually happened, check out Mariana Budjeryn’s “Inheriting the Bomb: The Collapse of the USSR and the Nuclear Disarmament of Ukraine.” It’s the most complete history of these events. Let’s consider how Ukraine might have developed if it had kept those nuclear weapons.

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I’m going to Trinity Site today. It’s one of the two days in the year that you can visit the site of the first atomic bomb detonation. So here are some nuclear pictures and videos for your amusement.

The National Security Archive has obtained several nuclear-related videos.

A U.S. B-52 bomber flies in low over “Soviet” territory in a declassified dramatization of a U.S. nuclear strike.

Kim Jong Un showed off his nuclear arsenal – or part of it; we don’t know – last week. NK News has lots of photos.

I’ll try to get some photos at Trinity Site. They won’t be like either of these.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

Not Enough Disruption?

For the past few weeks, a paper in Nature has provoked vapors among those who want more scientific disruption. Bill Broad summarized it in the New York Times.

The paper defined “disruption” by a pattern of citations in the scientific literature. Horrifyingly to some, those disruptions have decreased since 1950.

There are layers of assumptions. First, that a pattern of citations in scientific papers is a measure of disruption. Next, that disruption is good and necessary for science. The overall goal of this disruption is not made explicit. To better our lives? In what way? For an abstract ideal of progress? For personal glory?

Four examples are given in Johnson’s thread: the DNA helix, relativity, quantum mechanics, and space flight. None were developed in a single paper. All emerged after long histories of related work. The first two are associated with single historic papers. The last two aren’t.

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Cleaning Up One Of The Soviet Union’s Messes

If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ve probably seen parts of this story. A longer version was posted for a while, but then Stanford University cleaned out all websites that used Drupal, so it’s gone now.

This week I refound a video that I like because it explains a lot about the Silmet rare-earths refining plant at Sillamäe, Estonia.

I became involved with Sillamäe in 1998, when NATO wanted Los Alamos to hold more of its Advanced Research Workshops with the recently independent states that came out of the Soviet Union. We held an ARW in Tallinn in October 1998 on how to remediate the kilometer-long tailings pond from the plant.

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The Waste Land

T.S. Eliot’s famous poem was published in the December 1922 issue of Criterion, 100 years ago. There’s a lot in it, and people focus on different parts. The first few lines get a workout every April, when people try to make them mean that April weather is changeable, but if you read the first four lines, and even better seven, it’s clear that that’s not what they mean.

The rest of the poem is harder. It’s fragmented, and thus easy to pluck pieces out, which is what people do.

But perhaps Eliot and his famous editor, Ezra Pound, had a thought that unified the poem. Let’s look at the title: The Waste Land. We can see that theme throughout: the dry red rocks, the inability of people to connect, water and death, and finally, in line 424 of 437, we meet the Fisher King, who rules the Waste Land and who suffers a wound that will not heal.

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Oppenheimer Clearance Removal Vacated

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm vacated the 1954 decision of the Atomic Energy Commission, the predecessor of the Department of Energy, to revoke J. Robert Oppenheimer’s security clearance.

Many people have worked to remove this unfair judgment against Oppenheimer for many years. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has been instrumental. Jeff Bingaman, when he was New Mexico’s senator worked hard on the issue. Many organizations and individuals were involved, even me to a small extent.

Here’s what’s not in the Granholm statement or an NYT article on the decision. In the early 1950s, Oppenheimer was not sufficiently in favor of developing the hydrogen bomb. Edward Teller had been pushing the idea since the Manhattan Project, when he had pursued it to minimizing his work toward the atomic bomb. Oppenheimer had humiliated Lewis Straus, the chairman of the AEC, in a congressional hearing for his lack of knowledge of science. The knives were out.

As Granholm’s statement points out, no evidence was presented in the hearing that the two men precipitated on Oppenheimer’s security clearance that he was disloyal to the United States. Just that they didn’t like the cut of his jib. And they won at the time.

Now that has been reversed. Sadly, it doesn’t remove the harms of the past, to Oppenheimer and his family.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

Post-Colonial Trolling

Vladimir Putin has made clear his ambition to reintegrate Ukraine into a Russian Empire. Russia expanded from the Ukraine-Moscow-Novgorod area across Asia over a period of centuries. By 1721, it was at its maximum extent, including colonies in North America. Like other empires, it indulged in various forms of genocide as it incorporated peoples of many languages and living conditions.

The Soviet Union grew out of the Russian Empire and continued its imperial characteristics, but its rhetoric denied those characteristics. It was the friend of oppressed people everywhere, and the members of the Union were happy to be part of it, so went the official line.

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Will Russia Break Up?

One speculation on the outcome of Russia’s war against Ukraine is that Russia will break up. Russia remains an empire, conquered over centuries. The breakup of the Soviet Union allowed 14 of its colonies to become independent. Those colonies had been given the status of Republics of the Soviet Union. Russia today contains several types of internal groupings: 46 oblasts, 21 republics, 9 krays, 4 autonomous okrugs, 2 cities of federal significance and 1 autonomous oblasts.

Many of these are ethnically distinct. All are supposed to be treated equally, but they are unequal in size and importance to Moscow. Many of the differences go back to how the groups were incorporated into the Russian Empire.

In addition to the union republics, most of these groups existed at the time the Soviet Union but did not seek independence, partly because their governmental organization was not strong enough to stand independently. All of the union republics had legislative bodies (supreme soviets) and an executive, some stronger and more prepared for independence than others.

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