Friday, February 13, 2004
1. NUCLEAR WEAPONS: THE LOOPHOLE IN THE NONPROLIFERATION TREATY.
Abdul Qadeer Khan, "father" of Pakistan’s bomb, and a popular national hero, had a little business on the side selling nuclear technology to countries that don’t like us, like Iran, Libya and North Korea. In return for a pledge not to make nuclear weapons, the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) allows such countries to develop "peaceful" atomic energy programs. But simply shortening the fuel cycle can turn a power reactor into a plutonium-239 factory, and enriching uranium fuel can be continued to produce weapons-grade uranium-235. President Bush wants nuclear powers to plug that "loophole" by only providing nuclear fuel to those countries that renounce both enrichment and reprocessing. It’s a great plan, but its not clear why nonnuclear nations would agree to it. Libya renounced its nuclear program to get sanctions lifted, but some nuclear wannabes post beware-of-dog signs and keep their hands under the table to look like they’ve got a gun.
2. SPACE EXPLORATION: IT’S TIME FOR ANOTHER "AUGUSTINE REPORT."
Among aerospace executives who addressed the first public hearing of President Bush’s new space-exploration advisory commission was Norm Augustine, former Chairman of Lockheed Martin. 13 years ago, he chaired the Advisory Committee on the Future of the US Space Program. The 1990 "Augustine Report" ranked space science above space stations, aerospace planes, and a manned moon/Mars mission called for by George I (WN 14 Dec 90). Commission member Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium, asked about the cost of a Mars mission. Augustine said he hadn’t done enough analysis, but if he had to bet, he’d bet that the entire $15B NASA budget for ten years would not be enough. Bush II is proposing an extra $1B per year for five years, plus $11B saved from scrapping the shuttle and finishing the space station. That’s about $134B short. The recommendations of the "Augustine Report" should have been followed. We’d be far better off today.
3. CLONING: SCIENTISTS IN SOUTH KOREA CLONE MATURE HUMAN EMBRYOS.
It was a year ago that Clonaid Inc., owned by Raelians, announced the cloning of baby Eve (WN 3 Jan 03). Raelians believe the first humans were cloned by space aliens. (Ever notice how funny other people’s religions are?) That was a hoax, but this looks like a real breakthrough in therapeutic cloning. Embryonic stem cells with the same DNA as a donor mother were derived. In spite of great medical promise, it’s already stirring up controversy in the Senate, which is deadlocked on whether to ban such research. But whatever we do in the U.S., it now seems inevitable that reproductive cloning of a human will happen sometime, somewhere. Immortality is an easy sell, and this is as close as you can get.