What Geology Reveals About North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons – And What It Obscures

Pedestrians in Tokyo pass a television screen broadcasting a report on May 4, 2019 that North Korea has fired several unidentified short-range projectiles into the sea off its eastern coast. AP Photo/Koji Sasahara

Article By: Marshall Rogers-Martinez, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

North Korea’s leader, Chairman Kim Jong Un, clearly is in no hurry to demilitarize his country. In the wake of two historic yet unproductive summits with President Trump, Kim made a state visit in April to Moscow, where he made clear that his country will not give up its nuclear weapons without international security guarantees. North Korea also tested what appeared to be short-range missiles on April 18 and May 4.

These tests are reminders that North Korea’s military forces, particularly its nuclear arsenal, pose a serious threat to the United States and its Asian allies. This reclusive nation is a high-priority U.S. intelligence target, but there are still large uncertainties about the power of its nuclear weapons. North Korean scientists work in isolation from the rest of the world, and defectors are far and few between.

My research focuses on improving techniques for estimating the yield, or size, of underground nuclear explosions by using physics-based simulations. Science and technology give us a lot of tools for assessing the nuclear capabilities of countries like North Korea, but it’s still difficult to track and accurately measure the size and power of their nuclear arsenals. Here’s a look at some of the challenges. Experts say the US and North Korea are closer to nuclear war than many Americans believe.

A Nation In The Dark

For an isolated nation like North Korea, developing a functional nuclear weapons program is a historic feat. Just eight other sovereign states have accomplished this goal – the five declared nuclear weapons states (the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China) plus Israel, India and Pakistan.

North Korea has been developing nuclear weapons since the mid-1980s. Paradoxically, in 1985 it also joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, or NPT, under which it pledged not to develop or acquire nuclear weapons. But by 2002, U.S. intelligence discovered evidence that North Korea was producing enriched uranium – a technological milestone that can yield explosive material to power nuclear weapons. In response the U.S. suspended fuel oil shipments to North Korea, which prompted the North to leave the NPT in 2003.

Then the North resumed a previously shuttered program to extract plutonium from spent uranium fuel. Plutonium-based nuclear weapons are more energy-dense than uranium-based designs, so they can be smaller and more mobile without sacrificing yield.

North Korea conducted its first nuclear test on Oct. 6, 2006. Many experts considered the test to be unsuccessful because the size of the explosion, as determined from seismograms, was relatively small. However, that conclusion was based on incomplete information. And the test still served as a powerful domestic propaganda tool and international display of might.

More Tests, More Uncertainty

Since 2006 North Korea has conducted five more nuclear tests, each one larger than the last. Scientists are still working to measure their yield accurately. This question is important, because it reveals how advanced the North Korean nuclear program is, which has implications for global security.

Estimates of the size of North Korea’s most recent test in September 2017 place it between 70 and 280 kilotons of TNT equivalent. For reference, that’s five to 20 times stronger than the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. In fact, the explosion was so strong that it caused the mountain under which it was detonated to collapse by several meters.

We have a variety of tools for gaining knowledge about these events, ranging from satellite imagery to radar and seismograms. These methods give us an idea of North Korea’s capabilities, but they all have drawbacks. One difficulty common to all of them is uncertainty about geological conditions at the test site. Without a good understanding of the geology, it’s difficult to accurately model the explosions and replicate observations. It is even harder to constrain the error associated with those estimates.

Another, less understood phenomenon is the effect of fracture damage at the test site. North Korea has conducted all of its nuclear tests at the same location. Field experiments have shown that such repeat tests dampen the outgoing seismic and infrasound waves, making the explosion appear weaker than it actually is. This happens because the rock that was fractured by the first explosion is more loosely held together and acts like a giant muffler. These processes are poorly understood and contribute to even more uncertainty.

Additionally, my research and work by other scientists have shown that many types of rock enhance the production of earthquake-like seismic waves by underground explosions. The more energy from an explosion that gets converted into these earthquake-like waves, the more difficult it becomes to estimate the size of the explosion.

What Do We Know?

What U.S. officials do know is that North Korea has an active nuclear weapons program, and any such program poses an existential threat to the United States and the world at large. Intelligence experts in South Korea and nuclear scientists in the United States estimate that North Korea has between 30 and 60 nuclear weapons in reserve, with the ability to produce more in the future.

It’s still unclear how far North Korea can deliver nuclear weapons. However, their ability to produce plutonium enables them to make small, easily transportable nuclear bombs, which increase the threat.

In the face of such developments, one course of action available to the U.S. that would serve our country’s national security interests is to negotiate with North Korea in good faith, but accept nothing less than complete nuclear disarmament on the Korean peninsula. And any such agreement will have to be verified through disclosures and inspections to ensure that North Korea doesn’t cheat.

That’s impossible if U.S. experts don’t have an accurate accounting of what the North has achieved so far. The more that Americans negotiators know about Pyongyang’s nuclear activities to date, the better prepared they will be to set realistic terms if and when North Korea decides – as other nations have – that its future is brighter without nuclear weapons.

Marshall Rogers-Martinez, PhD Candidate, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Nuclear Weapons And Iran’s Uranium Enrichment Program: 4 Questions Answered

United Nations Security Council members listen to Iranian Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Eshagh Al-Habib, left, during a meeting on Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement, Dec. 12, 2018, at UN headquarters. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Editor’s note: Iran has breached a limit on enriching uranium that was imposed in a 2015 agreement restricting its nuclear activities. Under the deal, the United States and five other world powers lifted economic sanctions they had imposed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. But President Trump removed the U.S. from the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions.

Miles Pomper, a senior fellow at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, explains what uranium enrichment is and why it is central to both peaceful nuclear energy programs and building nuclear weapons.

1. What Is Uranium Enrichment?

Uranium can fuel nuclear power plants and nuclear bombs because some of its isotopes, or atomic forms, are fissile: Their atoms can be easily split to release energy.

Freshly mined uranium contains more than 99% of an isotope called uranium 238, which is not fissile, plus a tiny fraction of uranium 235, which is fissile. Enrichment is an industrial process to increase the proportion of U-235. It’s usually done by passing uranium gas through devices called centrifuges, which rotate at high speeds. This process sifts out U-235, which is lighter than U-238.

Commercial nuclear power plants run on low-enriched uranium fuel, which contains 3-5% U-235. Further processing can produce highly enriched uranium, which contains more than 20% U-235.Moderate and conservative Iranian leaders have been debating whether to pursue nuclear weapons since the country’s 1979 revolution.

2. How Is Enriching Uranium Connected To Making Nuclear Weapons?

The same technology is used to enrich uranium for either nuclear power or nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons typically contain uranium enriched to 80% U-235 or more, which is known as weapon-grade uranium.

Nuclear weapons can also can be powered with plutonium, but Iran would need to irradiate uranium fuel in its Arak nuclear reactor and build an additional facility to separate plutonium from the spent fuel to take that route. Currently its uranium work poses a more immediate risk.

Both nuclear power and nuclear weapons rely on nuclear chain reactions to release energy, but in different ways. A commercial nuclear power plant uses low-enriched uranium fuel and various design elements to generate a slow nuclear chain reaction that produces a constant stream of energy. In a nuclear weapon, specially designed high explosives cram together enough weapon-grade uranium or plutonium to produce an extremely fast chain reaction that generates an explosion.

Producing a nuclear weapon involves more than making highly enriched uranium or plutonium, but experts generally view this as the most time-consuming step. It’s also the stage that is most visible to outsiders, so it is an important indicator of a country’s progress.

Building K-33 at the Oak Ridge site in Tennessee enriched uranium for U.S. nuclear weapons from 1954-1985. The plant was demolished in 2012. DOE

3. How Good Is Iran At Enriching Uranium?

Iran’s work on uranium enrichment has proceeded in fits and starts, but now experts generally believe that if it exits the nuclear deal, it could make enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon.

These efforts began in the late 1980s, while Iran was engaged in a bloody war with Iraq. The first centrifuges and designs were provided by Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani nuclear scientist who ran a black market network for nuclear technologies from the 1970s through the early 2000s. These machines were poor-quality, frequently secondhand models and often broke down. And the United States and Israel reportedly carried out espionage operations, including cyberattacks, to further disable Iran’s enrichment ability.

Iran continues to have technical problems in producing more advanced centrifuges. Nonetheless, it improved their performance sufficiently in the years leading up to the 2015 deal that observers widely believe Iran could produce enough material for a nuclear weapons program. The 2015 agreement deal set limits on Iran’s research and development activities to limit further progress, but Iran has been testing the legal boundaries of these restrictions.

In this photo released May 22, 2019 by his office, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks to a group of students in Tehran, Iran. Khamenei publicly chastised the country’s moderate president and foreign minister Wednesday, saying he disagreed with the implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal. Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP

4. How Does The Iran Deal Limit Iran’s Activities?

The agreement limits how much uranium Iran can enrich and to what level. It also specifies how much enriched uranium Iran can stockpile, how many and what types of centrifuges it can use, and what kinds of research and development activities it can conduct.

All of these limits are designed to prevent Iranian scientists from amassing enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon – roughly 10 to 30 kilograms (22 to 65 pounds), depending on the device’s design and the bomb-makers’ sophistication and experience – in under a year. That delay is seen as long enough to give the international community time to respond if Iran decided to go nuclear.

The agreement also restricts Iran’s plutonium separation research, and requires it to accept International Atomic Energy Agency inspections to ensure that it is not using peaceful nuclear activities as a cover to produce weapons.

Under the agreement, restrictions on Iran’s enrichment activities were scheduled to start easing in 2026 and largely end in 2031, although international monitoring would continue after that.

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Miles A. Pomper, Senior Fellow, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The US Nuclear Arsenal: A Quick Overview

Warhead-containing nose cone of an inert Minuteman 3 missile. AP Photo/Charlie Riede

Article By: Jeffrey Fields, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on June 12, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un committed to “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

I spent many years working on nuclear nonproliferation at the Department of Defense, the State Department and nongovernmental organizations. Between 2009 and 2010, I worked with the special representative for nonproliferation at the State Department.

As the world focuses on North Korea’s nuclear weapons, this seems like a good time to ask: Is the U.S. doing anything to limit the size of its own nuclear arsenal?

Commitment To Disarming

The United States is one of five recognized nuclear weapons states – including Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom – under the 1970 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The treaty permits these states to possess nuclear weapons. Other countries signed on as non-nuclear weapons states, pledging not to pursue nuclear weapons in exchange for access to peaceful civilian nuclear technology like power reactors.

This was not meant to be permanent a state of affairs. An article of the treaty calls on all nuclear weapons states “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

To this end, President Barack Obama pledged to decrease the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy, committing to “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

Obama was the first president to talk about steps to disarmament this way.

By contrast, in December 2016, President-elect Trump tweeted that the U.S. need to “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

In 2018, the Department of Defense released a review of the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense strategy, known as the Nuclear Posture Review. It recommends the U.S. add to its arsenal a new low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile and a new nuclear sea-launched cruise missile.

The recommendation struck many observers as a pivot from the Obama administration’s policies toward an increased role for nuclear weapons. They view it as the beginning of a new arms race. Others see it as necessary to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent and consistent with past administrations’ nuclear policies.

The Obama administration had also come to the conclusion that even if disarmament was an ultimate if distant goal, many of the components U.S. nuclear arsenal still needed to be maintained and updated. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that modernizing current U.S. nuclear forces would cost US$1.2 trillion over the next 20 years.

US Arsenal Over Time

The New START Treaty, signed between the U.S. and Russia in 2010, was another bilateral agreement to reduce the number of strategic nuclear weapons and cap the number of deployed nuclear warheads at 1,550. That may sound like a lot, but at the height of the Cold War, the U.S. arsenal contained more than 30,000 nuclear weapons.

The New START Treaty only places a cap on deployed nuclear warheads, meaning weapons that are on delivery vehicles like ICBMs and ready to use, versus, say, warheads in storage. The stockpile, which is the total number of nuclear weapons both deployed and non-deployed, is much larger. The Obama administration first declassified the number in 2010. The number then was 5,113.

In 2017, the total number of weapons in the U.S. stockpile was reported as 3,822.

The New START Treaty also places limits on the number of vehicles used to deliver nuclear warheads that the United States and Russia can deploy. The United States maintains a so-called nuclear triad: nuclear weapons deployed on ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers like the B-2 aircraft. Since it would be difficult for an adversary to knock out all three methods of delivery, this strategy allows at least one leg of the triad to respond in the event of a devastating nuclear attack.

The U.S. nuclear arsenal today is the smallest it has been since the early days of the Cold War. Whether this makes the world safer is still a subject of intense debate.

Optimists see any reduction in the size of arsenals as a positive. Pessimists see the continued reliance on nuclear deterrence, whatever the size of states’ arsenals, as inherently dangerous. While most nuclear armed states agree that nuclear weapons are only for deterrence and thus likely never to be used in war, their devastating power will always provoke fierce debate on their utility.

Jeffrey Fields, Associate Professor of the Practice of International Relations, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Our Relationship With Knowledge

This article will argue that the “more is better” relationship with knowledge which is the foundation of science and our modern civilization is simplistic, outdated and increasingly dangerous. Let’s start with a quick analogy which can provide a glimpse of where we’re headed.

Our Evolving Relationship With Food

For most of our history humans have lived near the edge of starvation much of the time. In this scarcity context a “more is better” relationship with food was entirely reasonable.

We live in a new food era now. In our time food is plentiful and readily available in much of the world, and where that’s true more people die of obesity related diseases than die of starvation.

The point here is that a “more is better” relationship with food which was entirely rational for a very long time in an era of food scarcity became outdated and dangerous when transported to a different era characterized by a food explosion. We lucky moderns are required to replace the simplistic “more is better” food paradigm from the earlier era with a more intelligent and sophisticated relationship which can involve complicated cost/benefit calculations.

Our Evolving Relationship With Knowledge

This is where we are in our relationship with knowledge as well. The simplistic “more is better” relationship with knowledge which served us so well for so long now must adapt to meet the challenge of the new environment which it’s success has created.

The modern knowledge explosion obviously brings many benefits, way more than can be listed here, more than our ancestors could have even dreamed of. And although mistakes, missteps and even epic calamities do occur, so far we’ve always managed to clean up the mess, fix the error, learn the lessons, and continue with progress. So what’s the problem??

To understand the threat posed by operating from an outdated relationship with knowledge we need to examine the issue of scale. It is the vast scale of the powers emerging from the knowledge explosion that makes the longstanding progress => mistakes => more progress process that we are used to obsolete.

Erasing The Room For Error

Luckily for the purposes of this article at least, nuclear weapons provide a very easily understood example of how powers of vast scale change the threat landscape by erasing the room for error.

As you know, the nuclear stockpiles of the great powers will have to be managed successfully every single day forever, for as long as those weapons exist. The key thing to note here is that as far as the future of humanity goes, successfully managing such vast power most of the time is no longer sufficient. Doing a pretty good job no longer works. Making a mistake and then fixing it is no longer an option.

In the nuclear era the room for error we’ve always counted on in the past is erased, and one bad day is all it takes to end the possibility for further progress. This is what defines the revolutionary new situation we now find ourselves in, a situation which demands perfection from us.

And Now The Bad News

If nuclear weapons were eliminated entirely the underlying “more is better” knowledge development process which created the nuclear threat would continue to create more vast powers with the potential for crashing civilization.

Each emerging power of vast scale will have to be successfully managed every single day forever because a single mistake with a single such power a single time may be sufficient to crash the system and prevent the opportunity for renewal.

More, Larger, Faster

A key fact of the knowledge explosion is that it feeds back upon itself creating an ever accelerating unfolding of new knowledge, and thus new powers. So not only will emerging powers be larger than what we could produce in the past, and not only will there be more such vast powers than currently, but they will arrive on the scene at an ever faster pace.

Ever more, ever larger powers, delivered at an ever faster pace. Each of these accelerating factors; scale, number, and speed; needs to be graphed against the glacial pace of human maturity development.

Are We Perfect?

There is nothing about thousands of years of human history which suggests that we are capable of the consistently perfect management which powers of vast scale require.

We’ve been able to survive repeated episodes of murderous insanity and other such mistakes in the past only because the powers available to us were limited. As example, we threw conventional explosives at each other with wild abandon in WWII, and were saved from total destruction only because conventional explosives simply aren’t powerful enough to crash civilization.

The Unexamined False Assumption

A simplistic “more is better” relationship with knowledge is built upon the false assumption that human beings will always be able to successfully manage any amount of power which emerges from the knowledge explosion. Simple common sense reveals this assumption to be a wishful thinking fantasy.

We sensibly limit the powers available to kids out of the realistic understanding that their ability to manage power is limited. But then we assume that when children turn 18 they somehow magically acquire the ability to successfully manage any amount of power that the knowledge explosion may deliver.

The irrationality of this assumption is proven beyond doubt by the thousands of hair trigger hydrogen bombs we adults have aimed down our own throats, a stark reality we rarely find interesting enough to comment upon.

Mature? Ready for even more power?

Should We Become Luddites?

Should we turn our backs on knowledge? We don’t have that option. We make our livings on this Earth by knowledge. Knowledge is to humans what wings are to a bird, and fins are to a fish.

To illustrate the path we are now required to walk in our relationship with knowledge, let’s return to the example of food. The solution to obesity is obviously not to stop eating. The solution to obesity is instead to develop a more sophisticated relationship with food, eating what our bodies need, while saying no to excessive consumption.

In the same way, a simplistic “more is better” relationship with knowledge which has served us so well for so long must now make way for a more sophisticated relationship involving complicated cost/benefit calculations. And just as is the case with food, this will sometimes involve saying no to some new knowledge.

Yes, you’re right, it’s true, saying no to any knowledge is typically considered heresy in the age of science. Such reactions are surely understandable, but they are also wishful thinking prisoners of the past.

Nuclear weapons prove that the simplistic “more is better” relationship with knowledge the modern world is built upon is outdated 19th century philosophy which requires updating to meet the existential threats presented by a revolutionary new era.

What Can One Person Do?

Ok, so we read some of Phil’s rants, which told us what we already know, nuclear weapons are a horrific existential threat to everything we hold dear. That part is easy.

The more challenging question is, what are we going to do about it? What am I going to do about it? What can one ordinary person do about nuclear weapons?

As of this writing I’m just beginning my own journey in to this question, and I hope to document what I learn here on this blog. If you’re new to nuclear weapons activism too, perhaps we can travel this road together.

Why Did This Take So Long?

The first step for me has been to try to understand why it’s taken me 67 years to personally engage the nuclear weapons threat. I was born in 1952 just as the cold war arms race was taking off, grew up during the “duck and cover” era of the 50’s and 60’s, went to university, watched Reagan stare down the Soviets on TV, and have known about nuclear weapons my entire life.

So I can’t plead ignorance. Darn…

So what then? Why did it take so long for me to take nuclear weapons seriously enough to join the fight against them? As best I can tell, the answer goes something like this…

A Small Person Meets A Big Problem

It seems that when I asked myself, “What can I do about nuclear weapons?” I was hoping to find something big I could do, something decisive, some action that would make me feel like I was important.

As it turns out, whaddya know, I’m not important. I’m just a small ordinary average person living a small ordinary average life. Elbowing my ego out of the way a bit has helped me see what a small ordinary average person can do about nuclear weapons. And that turns out to be…

Small ordinary average things.

Hey, I know how to do that!

Well, ok, like what? What kind of small ordinary average kinda things can I do?

Calling All Typoholic Blowhards!!!

I can do what I’m already doing. I can talk. I can type. The only change required for me has been to talk and type about something more important than the kinds of silly things I’ve been talking and typing about all over the Net for 25 years.

Politicians Don’t Lead, They Follow

A ray of light realization for me has been to grasp that the politicians aren’t talking about nuclear weapons because most of us small ordinary average people aren’t doing so. The politicians are cautious, risk averse, chicken, they’re waiting for us to go first.

Seriously, I promise you, if the majority of voters insisted that the members of Congress should wear clown costumes while they work, it wouldn’t be long before they began debating what color the costumes should be on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Votes equal power, and we’ve got the votes the powerful want.

Talking Leads To More Talking

If enough of us talk about nuclear weapons, the politicians will too. The thing is though, we have to lead. We small ordinary average folks have to get the ball rolling. We have to talk first.

So, my job as a small ordinary average person is just to talk about nuclear weapons in public in whatever small ordinary average way that I can manage. If I’m talking about something that matters, I’m doing my job, and that’s enough. I don’t have to personally save the world, I just have to talk.

A turning point for me was viewing the excellent documentary film Countdown To Zero. You can read about the film here, and hopefully watch it here.

The makers of that film talked, I heard them, and now I’m talking too. The more people who are talking about nuclear weapons, the more other people will also talk. When enough of we small ordinary average folks are talking about nuclear weapons, even candidates for President will join the talking.

If you’re ready to start talking, try this page which offers an easy way to Begin Your Career As A Nuclear Weapons Activist.

The Damascus Arkansas Titan Missile Explosion

In September 1980 a simple mistake by a crewman working in a missile silo at Damascus Arkansas caused a liquid fuel explosion which ejected the ICBM and it’s attached 9 megaton nuclear bomb from the silo.

The crewman dropped a ratchet socket which fell 80 feet down the silo before bouncing in to the missile and puncturing it’s fuel tank. When crews failed to contain the leak, an explosion in the silo lifted the 740 ton silo door and ejected the 2nd stage of the missile and it’s warhead out of the silo.

The 2nd stage of the missile exploded upon leaving the silo, totally destroying the launch complex. The warhead landed near the launch complex entry gate. Luckily, it’s safety features worked and there was no explosion or release of radioactivity.

That was really good news, because according to the video below, that warhead had more destructive power than all the bombs dropped by all parties in WWII, including the two nuclear bombs dropped by the U.S. at the end of the war.

As explained in the video, if a bomb of this size was detonated over Washington D.C. enough radiation would be released to kill everyone in Washington, everyone in Baltimore, everyone in Philadelphia, half the population of New York City, with further injuries and deaths as far north as Boston.

That’s the scale of destruction which was avoided when the warhead in this incident didn’t explode.

VIDEO:

A hair raising 90 minute documentary film about this event called “Command And Control” is available from the following sources. I just watched this again, it’s a compelling story, check it out.

Here’s a quick trailer of the film from YouTube.

You can view the full film on Netflix.

The full film can be rented on YouTube for $4.

The film is based on a book by Eric Schlosser regarding this event and related nuclear weapon safety issues. The book is available from Amazon.

Should We Bother With More Science?

As explored in the article Is Nuclear War A Sure Thing?, it seems reasonable to propose that 1) there is currently no credible plan for getting rid of nuclear weapons any time soon and 2) thousands of years of persistent all out, no holds barred, fight to the death human conflicts suggest that so long as we possess such weapons sooner or later we will use them, again.

Hopefully such speculation will prove incorrect, but given the weight of the evidence we have to at least consider that it may be true. If that’s the case, what are the implications?

One of the questions that may arise concerns a foundation of our civilization, science. If we have no credible plan for getting rid of nuclear weapons, as seems to currently be the case, what is the point of continuing scientific research? Won’t everything that is learned by such research likely be swept away in a coming nuclear holocaust?

Science is a process which continually builds upon itself, using what is learned today to learn more tomorrow. If we have no credible plan for safeguarding the future, what is science building towards?

Additional science would make sense if it could successfully address existential threats, such as that presented by nuclear weapons.

As example, during the Reagan era it was proposed that we could learn how to shoot down nuclear missiles.

But forty years later our progress on that project is so modest as to be largely meaningless. Even North Korea could probably get one or more missiles on to U.S. targets.

If we could track every atom of enriched uranium and plutonium on the planet that would surely be helpful, but according to Wired.com the U.S. Can’t Track Tons of Weapons-Grade Uranium and Plutonium.

If the majority of scientific effort was aimed at conquering existential threats such as nuclear weapons, climate change, incoming asteroids, and global pandemics etc, that would go a long way towards ensuring modern civilization survives to enjoy the benefits of new science. But, as best I can tell, such efforts make up the tiniest fraction of current research.

The point of this article is not to wave a sign declaring The End Is Near. It is instead to invite readers in to a constructive process of thinking through the implications of having no credible plan for getting rid of nuclear weapons. Looking in to the abyss with clear eyes is surely not a pleasant exercise, but such a process is likely necessary if we are to avoid being swept over the precipice.

Are we really going to give up all the incredible gifts science has handed us over the last 500 years? Are we really going to deny our descendants the miracles that would arise from science over coming centuries? Are we really going to do that? Really??

If we don’t come up with a credible plan for getting rid of nuclear weapons, the answer to these questions is most likely yes.

Giving up nuclear weapons is the price tag for the future of science and all the miracles it can offer us. We pay the price, or we don’t get the miracles. There is no reasonable logic which credibly suggests that we can have the cake and eat it too.