Friday, April 12, 2002
1. MISSILE DEFENSE: BACK TO NUCLEAR-ARMED INTERCEPTORS?
Defense Science Board is exploring the idea of using interceptor
missiles armed with nuclear weapons. This might be named the
"Ground Hog Day defense," after the movie. We seem doomed to
keep repeating failed ideas. We had such a missile defense once,
briefly, until we realized that even a country like North Korea,
which doesn't have the bomb, could create nuclear havoc by just
sending their unarmed, inaccurate, marginally intercontinental
missiles our way. In any case, the very fact that nuclear-armed
interceptors are now being considered seems to be an admission
that, contrary to Pentagon hype, the current crop of hit-to-kill
interceptors show little promise of hitting realistic targets.
2. NASA: NUCLEAR-POWERED SPACE EXPLORATION.
You may recall the
noisy protests of anti-nuke fear mongers over the use of RTGs
(radioisotope thermoelectric generators) in the Cassini mission
(WN 5 Sep 97).
According to Time.Com columnist Leon
Jaroff, they are now upset by an item in the FY03 NASA budget for
development of nuclear powered spacecraft. If we are to explore
beyond the orbit of Mars, some form of nuclear energy will be a
necessity. The fear mongers, however, are misinformed. In the
first place NASA isn't looking for a new generation of RTGs,
which generate fairly feeble amounts of power, they want to take
the step to nuclear reactors, which can supply the much greater
power needs of future missions. What the nuclear activists fail
to recognize is that a nuclear reactor, launched cold, is no more
of a hazard to Earth dwellers than any space hardware. Only after
the buildup of reaction products does radiation become a problem.
By then the spacecraft should be beyond the point of no return.
3. CLONING: NOBEL LAUREATES CLASH WITH PRESIDENT BUSH.
Wednesday, the American Society for Cell Biology released a
letter signed by 40 Nobel laureates warning that a cloning ban
"would have a chilling effect on all scientific research in the
United States." Among the signers of the letter were a number of
physicists, including former presidents of the American Physical
Society, Jerry Friedman and Burt Richter. The letter strongly
opposes attempts to create a cloned human being, calling for
strong criminal sanctions to prevent it. However, legislation
introduced by Senator Brownback (R-KS) would block even nuclear
transplantation technology, which cannot be used to clone human
beings but can clone stem cells for treatment of some of the most
debilitating diseases known to man. President Bush somehow sees
this as an attack on human dignity, and promised he would sign
legislation outlawing importation of therapies developed in other
countries using cloning technology. That, of course, has the
effect of limiting treatment for some dreaded diseases to those
who can afford to travel to other countries for treatment.