Friday, January 4, 2002
1. STOCKPILE RELIABILITY: INSPECTOR GENERAL WANTS MORE LAB TESTS.
Underground testing of nuclear warheads ended in 1992, but each
year DOE must certify to the President that the stockpile is safe
and reliable. Certification is based on laboratory testing of
individual components, but a new IG report points to significant
delays in the test schedule. This is unfortunate. It not only
raises questions about certification, it has prompted calls for a
resumption of underground testing, which would be a huge mistake.
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty may be dead
(WN 17 Sep 99),
but no country on Earth is conducting actual detonations. Why would
the United States want to set off a resumption of testing?
2. TERRORISM: FEAR PROMPTS HOARDING OF CRITICAL SUBSTANCES.
In the aftermath of the anthrax mailings, there was panic buying of
Cipro, an oral antibiotic. Now, as concern grows over terrorist
attacks on nuclear power plants, people have begun stockpiling
potassium iodide (KI). Radioactive iodine, particularly I-125,
which concentrates in the thyroid, is a major hazard in reactor
accidents. The treatment is to flood the body with the stable
isotope, I-127, by taking potassium iodide tablets immediately
after exposure. Now the federal government is accumulating a
national stockpile to be deployed in an emergency, something it
promised to do 22 years ago after the Three-Mile Island accident.
3. AIRPORT LIE DETECTOR: AT FIRST BLUSH, IT'S A DUMB IDEA.
The system is supposed to scan the faces of passengers at the check-in
counter with a high-definition thermal imaging camera while
they answer questions. The claim is that blood rushes to the eye
area when people lie. That may be, but your face will also flush
when you run three miles from Concourse A to Concourse F, only to
find the gate has been changed. On the other hand, you may turn
pale if you see fuses dangling from another passenger's shoes. In
short, it will work as well as a polygraph, which is not at all.
4. HOMESTAKE GOLD: A MINE IS A TERRIBLE THING TO WASTE.
Tacked on to the 2002 appropriation bill for the Department of Defense,
is a provision relieving the Homestake Mining Company of any
legal liability it might have for environmental damage over the
125 history of its gold mine in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
In exchange, Homestake agreed not to flood the mine when it
closes later this month, leaving it available for use as an
underground physics lab, operated by the National Science
Foundation. The lab will be 8,000 ft underground, making it the
best shielded laboratory in the world for neutrino studies, and a
major advance in sensitivity in the search for proton decay.
Flooding the mine would presumably protect Homestake by covering
up environmental problems. While it is certainly a sweetheart
deal for Homestake, it is a great bargain for American science.
It won't end the debate. The political war is just beginning.