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Former Crypto-Analyst Analyzes the Danger of Nuclear Weapon Stockpiles 142

Posted by Zonk
from the pro-tip-they're-risky dept.
An anonymous reader writes "IEEE Spectrum reports that noted encryption pioneer Prof. Martin Hellman has a new passion; estimating the risk of our current nuclear weapons policies. His web site, Defusing the Nuclear Threat, asks the question, 'How risky are nuclear weapons? Amazingly, no one seems to know.' Hellman therefore did a preliminary analysis and found the risk to be 'equivalent to having your home surrounded by thousands of nuclear power plants.' The web site and a related statement therefore urgently call for more detailed studies to either confirm or correct his startling conclusion. The statement has been signed by seven notable individuals including former NSA Director Adm. Bobby R. Inman and two Nobel Laureates."
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Former Crypto-Analyst Analyzes the Danger of Nuclear Weapon Stockpiles

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...which are managed by a monkey and operated by people with a god complex.
    • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:42AM (#22979150)
      ...which are managed by a monkey and operated by people with a god complex.

      You might find this [wikipedia.org] refreshing then.

      Quite frankly, I reckon even if these (carefully screened) individuals who control the nuclear arsenal were trigger-happy, they'd quickly rethink their situation when they realize they have the destiny of the world in their hands. Yes, even the chief monkey in the White House.
      • by gnick (1211984) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:29AM (#22979326) Homepage
        I work very close to the issue at hand and can testify to seeing major gaps in the "careful screening" that goes into clearing the persons responsible. And it's distressing - Minor security incidents that clearly implicate cleared individuals go largely uninvestigated (petty theft, etc.) But, on a bright note, there's so much redundancy and security-bureaucracy that the security environment for special nuclear material or critical weapons components is actually very good (if rather expensive).
        • And it's distressing - Minor security incidents that clearly implicate cleared individuals go largely uninvestigated (petty theft, etc.)
          (I am truly sorry, but the temptation is quite beyond my powers to resist:)

          Let me guess. You are distressed because they have stolen your red Swingline stapler.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by camelrider (46141)
      Well, nuclear power plants in Western Europe and North America have shown themselves to be pretty safe.

      A dozen automobiles are far more dangerous than "thousands" of nuclear power plants. How about one meth lab? Or even one anthracite-powered power plant?

  • misleading summary (Score:5, Interesting)

    by aleph42 (1082389) * on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:34AM (#22979110)

    I find the summary misleading. I thought the risk analysis was about incidents with nuclear weapons when at peace, but he only calculates the risks of all out nuclear war.

    While it's an interseting number it's not a useful one to take a decision, since one of the sad premise of today's war strategy is that, since others have the nuclear weapon, you must have it too. No one is going to dump his nuke stocks because he might have to use them some days.

    It's like doing an article summary saying "having a gun in your room is dangerous", when it really means "a gunfight is something that might happen".

    I would have been more interested by numbers about the effects of an all out nuclear war. The only ones I can remember are that a US president was told (during the cold war) that scenarios predicted 300 million american death *at best* in a *winned* nuclear war against Russia. The second one ( which I'm not sure about) is that, at the peak of the number of nukes between US and Russia, they could have "destroyed the earth 52 times" (killed everything on it? phisically shatter?).

    Does anyone have more details concerning these numbers?
    • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:40AM (#22979142) Homepage Journal

      The only ones I can remember are that a US president was told (during the cold war) that scenarios predicted 300 million american death *at best* in a *winned* nuclear war against Russia.
      That'd be a neat trick.

      United States -- Population: 301,139,947 (July 2007 est.)

      • by aleph42 (1082389) *
        Ooookay. My bad for quoting from memory.

        My source is a TV documentary on a missile crisis during the cold war; very serious as far as I could tell. (It was about a time when reflection of sunlight on some clouds had caused the "missile incoming" alarm in Russia to go off).

        Since I obvoiously misremembered the number, I can only say that it was huge (I'm sure about the act it was millions, and ny second guess is it was 100 mil or so). The president, who had received that analysis just after he was elected, d
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by QuantumG (50515) *
          Well, to be fair, it makes as much sense as having enough weapons to destroy the Earth 56 times. :)

          • by gnick (1211984) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:35AM (#22979354) Homepage

            Well, to be fair, it makes as much sense as having enough weapons to destroy the Earth 56 times.
            I'm personally of the opinion that way too much $$$ goes into maintaining the size of the stockpile that we have. But, the massive size isn't as ludicrous as it might sound. The point of having too many weapons isn't so that you can wipe out huge regions multiple times - Just the opposite. By having a large range of nuclear capabilities, you can hit small strategic targets or large targets as necessary while minimizing "splash". If all we had was huge city-killers that could kill the earth once, we'd have to kill huge regions just to hit small hardened targets. But, we have city killers and (relatively) small target killers. Of course, just how small we can design them is restricted by international treaty to make sure that we're not tempted to deploy except in dire need.
            • by Cairnarvon (901868) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:29AM (#22979652) Homepage
              The point of having a stockpile of nuclear weapons isn't to use it, it's *only* to act as a detterent. There's no nuclear weapon small enough that it won't seriously impact innocent civilians, unless you're targetting tiny islands in the Pacific.
              • by gnick (1211984) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @11:23AM (#22980008) Homepage
                I mostly agree. Nuclear war would be abysmal and should be avoided at (nearly) any cost. But, your deterrent is only as good as your ability.

                If Elbonia possesses a single nuclear weapon strong enough to destroy the entire planet, other countries would assume that they could molest Elbonia quite a bit before pushing them far enough to employ their nuclear 'arsenal'. Even small-scale nuclear attacks may go unresponded.

                But, if Elbonia possesses a large selection of tiny nukes that could target arbitrary targets globally with minimal side effects, that would be a reasonable deterrent to keep other nations from harassing Elbonia . Nations would refrain from nuking Elbonia for fear that Elbonia would actually respond in kind.

                Basically, you have to be able to convince the world that you *could* use your arsenal and *would* use your arsenal if you had to. It's a disgusting situation, but it's reality for now.

                And, the stockpile isn't *just* to have a deterrent. It's mainly for use as a deterrent and, gods-willing, it will never be needed for anything else. But, if we were nuked, it would become a horrible but possibly necessary actual selection of weaponry... If we were to ever set some idiotic policy such as "we would never deploy nuclear weapons for any reason", we would no longer have a deterrent and would be inviting attack.
                • by Raenex (947668)

                  If we were to ever set some idiotic policy such as "we would never deploy nuclear weapons for any reason", we would no longer have a deterrent and would be inviting attack.

                  I remember in college in a politics class the question was posed "if we were wiped out with nuclear weapons in a surprise first strike, would you not retaliate since it would just be more senseless killing?" And to my shock, all the girls in the class agreed! I thought right then and there that a woman should never be president. But I imagine Hillary would pull the trigger, or Thatcher would have.

                • A deterrent is, basically, a threat. The problem with threatening other people is that you may end up in a situation where you have to carry out your threat. One can only speculate whether the cold war could have been avoided, but if we want world peace at some point in the future, we have to work towards reducing the level of threats globally. This may be a scary prospect for some, but at the end of the day, it is the only way. The US likes to see itself as 'the leader of the free world' - do you guys have
              • by gnick (1211984)

                ...unless you're targetting tiny islands in the Pacific.
                As a side note, some of the Pacific-island-neighbors really lost out in some of those tests... Testing restrictions were rather lax in the early days.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by zippthorne (748122)
              I suppose that could be the reason, but a far more compelling reason is redundancy. Of course that presumes competence in the decision makers, but the argument goes like this:

              You don't ever want a nuclear weapon to go off where you don't want it to go off. If it blows up in the factory, or gets launched and blows up over the enemy you didn't actually have yet, it's very bad for you. i.e. you want it to have an extremely low false-positive rate. So you optimize the design for failure.

              But when you do need
            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              Even a "small" atomic weapon will kill a city, little boy was approximately 15 KT and there wasn't a whole lot left of Hiroshima after it was used. To put the size of that weapon in context one warhead in a modern MIRV package is 100+ KT. The reason for eliminating megaton weapons was because missile accuracy became good enough that they were no longer necessary to compensate for being off target. The additional mass that went into a single large weapon became several smaller weapons with improved accuracy
          • by aleph42 (1082389) *
            If you count "killing everyone on earth" as destroying it, then it's probably accurate.

            I often saw on article about meteors that it wouldn't take much to fill the atmosphere with enough dust (for years) to kill most plants thus most life.

            Actually some weeks ago I searched for some time on wikipedia for the effect of nukes and weather their combined power could physically destroy earth. But I quit after having to go on the page about sugar to get an idea of how much energy was in 10^10... :)
            • by Dun Malg (230075)

              If you count "killing everyone on earth" as destroying it, then it's probably accurate.

              Even then, it's a gross overstatement. "Destroy the world X times over" is a phrase used by "peace activist" types when talking to the media. It's pure hyperbole. The earth is a pretty darned big place. Nuclear weapons are large on a human scale, but on the scale of the entire planet, they are hardly pinpricks. Even if you accept the widely discredited "nuclear winter" scenario, it wouldn't even come close to killing even HALF of the world's population.

          • by stevied (169)
            In any serious nuclear war, the enemy is going to be targeting known missile sites. Presumably the assumption is that a significant %age of weapons may be destroyed before they can be deployed, therefore build in some factor of redundancy. Whether the factor is in fact 56, and if so, whether it's sensible, I couldn't say ;-)
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by smallfries (601545)
        Although the OP has already said above that he was quoting from memory and the number is probably wrong - it would be a neat trick. At the height of the cold war "winning" was defined as having more of your population survive than the other side. This was also the criteria that the Indians were using to claim they could "win" a war against Pakistan if Kashmir ever went hot.

        Depending on how long you run the stats for it is not impossible that that percentage of the US would have been wiped out in a full-scal
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by dasunt (249686)

          There's some speculation that nuclear winter wouldn't have happened -- the models that predicted it are relatively simplistic, especially by modern standards, and considering that the majority of the bombs will be airbursts.

          OTOH, who is going to argue that a nuclear war is safe? It's like the statistics that there are enough weapons to destroy the earth x times over. Bullshit. The dinokiller astroid was 100 million megatons. At the peak, the nuclear weapon stockpile was .02 million megatons. At the

    • by vertinox (846076)
      It's like doing an article summary saying "having a gun in your room is dangerous", when it really means "a gunfight is something that might happen".

      If you mean that by if your gun misfires and then an automated system kicks in putting all your guns into auto-sentry mode shooting everything that moves which also causes your neighbors sentry guns to start shooting causing a chain reaction with your neighbors then by what you mean... Yes.

      The key thing about a nuclear weapon mishap is that there is the chance
      • by Dun Malg (230075) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @12:36PM (#22980578) Homepage

        Imagine if you would a nuclear storage facility in Russia which during a routine disposal of a weapon something goes horribly wrong and it goes off
        Imagine throwing a pile of bricks and a bucket of mortar in the air and having them come down fully assembled into a perfect patio barbecue. That's about the likelihood of your scenario. Setting off nukes isn't like lighting a fuse on a stick of dynamite. It requires very precise timing, a virtually simultaneous detonation of the high explosives surrounding the warhead. An accidental detonation would be highly asymmetrical and merely result in the immediate area being peppered with fragments of plutonium.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Diagoras (859063)
      http://www.uow.edu.au/arts/sts/bmartin/pubs/82cab/index.html [uow.edu.au]

      Useful analysis of the effects of a nuclear war.

      Overkill is a myth.
    • It used to be (in the 50s) that scientists predicted the survival of human civilisation in Africa and Australia after a nuclear war.

      After the 60s pretty much everyone predicted (maybe they now predict, if they didn't factor in the dust problem, but calculated with nuclear stockpiles ready somewhere around the 1960s) the end of life as we know it if there was a nuclear war.

      The reason is pretty simple. Because of the large detonations a lot of dust would be thrown into the air. It would be so much and would b
      • Actually, there would be so many problems that it is hard to say which one would be the biggest. These days, with the US economy so delicately balanced that the best Bush could do after 9/11 was to tell everyone to go out and spend, if we lost even a single major city to a nuclear explosion, this country could easily topple. As the economy collapsed, we would then have roving gangs and individuals out looking to steal food or anything else they needed to survive. Stores would be cleaned out, transportation
      • by Dun Malg (230075)

        The reason is pretty simple. Because of the large detonations a lot of dust would be thrown into the air. It would be so much and would be thrown so high that it would turn the earth dark shutting out the sun. That is called nuclear winter. It would kill all live that depends in some way on the sun.

        The theory of "Nuclear Winter" is crap. Krakatoa injected orders of magnitude more dust and smoke into the stratosphere in 1883 than all the nuclear weapons in the world could. This resulted in a 0.5degC reduction in temperature for approximately 2 years.

        • RTFA (Score:3, Informative)

          by Britz (170620)
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_winter [wikipedia.org]

          I didn't put the link there for fun. Here is an interesting part:

          2007 study on global nuclear war

          A study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research in July 2007[3], Nuclear winter revisited with a modern climate model and current nuclear arsenals: Still catastrophic consequences[4], used current climate models to look at the consequences of a global nuclear war involving most or all of the world's current nuclear arsenals (which the authors described as being
          • by et764 (837202)

            (1 Tg is equal to 1012 grams)

            They couldn't decide on 1000 or 1024, so they split the difference?

    • A couple points...

      During the cold war the US did not have 300 million citizens so that figure is very exaggerated.

      There isn't and never was enough nukes on the planet to kill everything and physically destroy it. Theres an interesting website out there that talks about what it would take to physically destroy the planet. The conclusion was that we can't do it with our current technology.

      As for killing everything on it... the numbers don't add up. If theres 6 billion people, we're talking 99.99999999... woul
    • by famebait (450028)
      It's like doing an article summary saying "having a gun in your room is dangerous", when it really means "a gunfight is something that might happen".

      Having the gun does makes the 'gunfight' (i.e. someone entering with a gun) more dangerous, significantly raising the chances of you getting killed. Unlike the nuclear missile scenario, there is no MAD at work here - shooting first really does pay, and that goes for the other guy too.
  • by Lawrence_Bird (67278) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:38AM (#22979132) Homepage
    Basis of his 'estimates'? Access to SIOP? Access to any other data, either physical or strategic of our, our allies or our 'adversaries' nuclear weapons/plans? Oh.. zero? By all means lets trumpet his 'work' outside his area of training as authoritative, complete with requisite frightening headlines.
    • by AaxelB (1034884) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:46AM (#22979408)
      Well, since he's a well-known crypto-analyst, my guess is that he's incredibly paranoid and vastly overestimates any chance of catastrophe. So... I guess that makes him qualified to make scaremongrish claims, in a strange way.
      • by capnkr (1153623) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @11:00AM (#22979838)
        I'd rather be in a home surrounded by nuke plants than by coal/oil plants, anyway.

        During peacetime, things would be much cleaner in my environment.

        And, if the missiles ever really start flying, I would be assured of a quick ticket outta here, before having to live in a screwed up world full of nuclear winter.

        Besides - power plants used to be targeted anyway, I'd bet - *regardless* of what source/type of fuel they used.

        Mod story "boring and pointless fearmongering (again)"...
    • by nbauman (624611) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:55AM (#22979792) Homepage Journal
      To answer those who say, "What does some guy who invented an algorithm know about nuclear war," (1) IEEE Spectrum checked Hellman's claims with 2 reliable, independent experts and (2) A long list of people who do know about nuclear war signed on to his claims. You might take seriously the former director of the CIA, the former president's science advisor, 2 Nobel laureates, and the (Republican) former head of the FDA.

      (But that is a reasonable question -- you get points for skepticism.)

      This teaches 2 related lessons about journalism and science:

      (1) There are 2 kinds of publications in the world -- those that check their facts and those that don't. The first are reliable; the second aren't. This is why some obscure guy publishing a blog can be more reliable than most major newspapers and TV stations. (Or in this case, why IEEE Spectrum is more reliable than most daily newspapers.)

      (2) There are 2 kinds of scientists in the world -- those who gather a consensus of experts before going public, and those who don't. The first are reliable; the second aren't. (This is why that story recently about cell phones causing brain cancer by an Australian neurologist was complete bullshit.) Hellman is competent enough in science to know that.

      According to TFA http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/apr08/6099 [ieee.org]

      Hellman's method isn't unfamiliar to those trying to gauge the risk of failure for complex systems, such as nuclear reactors. IEEE Spectrum asked J. Wesley Hines, a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Tennessee, to examine Hellman's methods, which were detailed in the appendix of the Bent article. "I only read the appendix but feel his argument is rational and also feel his methods are justified," says Hines. "Some could argue with the numbers he used, but he does give logical reasons for using those numbers and admits that they have large uncertainties since the events have been rare in the past."

      Robert N. Charette, who runs the risk-management consultancy ITABHI and is a regular contributor to IEEE Spectrum, agrees with Hines. However, he says Hellman should have also turned the analysis on its head. "The other side of the risk equation is, suppose you get rid of nuclear weapons. Does that increase the probability of war? Pretending there aren't any nukes, how many wars would we have had?"

      And the signers http://nuclearrisk.org/statement.php [nuclearrisk.org]

      The above statement has been endorsed by the following Charter Signers:*
      Prof. Kenneth Arrow, Stanford University, 1972 Nobel Laureate in Economics; see also Nobel Announcement
      Mr. D. James Bidzos, Chairman of the Board, Verisign Inc.
      Dr. Richard Garwin, IBM Fellow Emeritus, former member President's Science Advisory Committee and Defense Science Board; see also NY Times article
      Adm. Bobby R. Inman, USN (Ret.), University of Texas at Austin, former Director NSA and Deputy Director CIA
      Prof. William Kays, former Dean of Engineering, Stanford University
      Prof. Donald Kennedy, President Emeritus of Stanford University, former head of FDA
      Prof. Martin Perl, Stanford University, 1995 Nobel Laureate in Physics; see also Nobel Announcement


      (BTW, here's a tip for any student. You used to be able to get a student membership in the IEEE, which includes a subscription to Spectrum and another (expensive) IEEE magazine of your choice, for some ridiculously low amount like $12 a year. It's a great deal for the magazines alone, although IEEE membership has even better benefits that most students don't even know about.)
      • by Anonymous Coward
        I'm an old timer who can remember duck and cover drills (don't look at the bright light, etc.) in school, and used to have a copy of the Army's old 1956 manual on The Effects of Nuclear Weapons, did lots of reading - used to subscribe to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, etc. - and tend to follow that stuff even today, only more casually. When we lived in Southern California in the 1950's, I can remember the AEC announcing A-tests and putting directions to the public parking area in the papers, and if
    • by timeOday (582209)
      The only thing he could be slammed for is claiming surprise at what is blindingly obvious - that a world full of world-destroying weapons is an incredibly dangerous and unstable situation, and poses a risk far beyond any other faced by the human race. People equate the threat of terrorism to the cold war, what a joke. During the Cuban Missile Crisis we were that close to millions of deaths, and possibly the end of a human-habitable climate on earth! In the last few years nukes have proliferated like neve
    • Yup, same thing I thought after I looked at the site. Note that Bobby Inman doesn't exactly have a great reputation wrt strategic assets or intel. He's like the weatherman who predicts the opposite of what will really happen. I was an ICBM launch officer in SAC and designed some support equipment at NSA. From my perspective, as someone who actually worked on this stuff, there ain't no way "the general public" can possibly know anything that would lead to these types of studies. NSA isn't DOE or DOD. They do
      • by hughk (248126)
        This sounds too much like "trust us, we're the guvmint". Given the amount of money the weapons program costs and the danger it represents, it is kind of interesting to ask questions. Inside major institutions such as the DOE or DOD, it is often a career limiting move to question the status quo.
        • I didn't say anything against oversight. I said it's impossible for "the general public" to possibly have this knowledge, let alone make informed decisions. The article is about the entire world. It's lunatic, really.

          Cost and danger of nukes is far less than most people would think for the U.S. Don't take it personally but just making that statement shows you don't have a lot of knowledge about the subject. Size and cost of nuke programs are far less than most people think. MAD and nuke arms race were passe
          • by hughk (248126)

            In the case "the general public" means everyone except Weapons scientists who designed the things in the first place.

            I am unclear whether you know who Hellman was (clue: Diffie-Hellman key exchanges). Believe me, he is a clever guy. The things is that from the cryptography side, we can design the best system in the world, but if not used properly, it will be compromised.

            Examples of stupid usage with nuclear weapons have already happened, for example the time when the code on the PAL on Minutemen was 'fixe

            • No, I'm not familiar with him but that's irrelevant, actually. I was trying to communicate there are some things which the "general public" can never know and could never use to make informed decisions. The world isn't based on mob rule (pure democracy), nor should it be. A lot of security issues are like this, be they national defense or police actions. It's true of other things as well. I don't want to know the operational details of NARC activities or the regulation and enforcement of standards of medica

    • I am quite annoyed at the incredible sloppiness at the IEEE site.

      I quote from their site thus:

      "Hellman has set up a Web site related to his nuclear deterrence work. From there you can download the Bent article. You can also view a statement signed by Richard L. Garwin, who came up with the design for the first hydrogen bomb;..."

      Where IEEE dreamed this ... whopper ... up is beyond me, especially now that most of the classification barriers are down and the truth is widely known. This goes into th
  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:44AM (#22979154)
    Just because this guy invented (or part-invented) an encryption technique, he is not necessarily an expert in any other field - no matter how much of a celebtrity he may be.

    While he may have "woken up" to the threat of nuclear weapons, and can use his established reputation to help reduce the threat they pose, he is certainly not an expert and his opinions (for that is all they are) carry no greater weight than yours or mine.

    Beware of celebreties with a cause.

    • by QuantumG (50515) *
      Dude who has shown he is good with math, does some math, news at 11.
    • by tomtomtom777 (1148633) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:07AM (#22979244) Homepage

      Just because this guy invented (or part-invented) an encryption technique, he is not necessarily an expert in any other field - no matter how much of a celebtrity he may be.

      Just because this guy invented an encryption technique, doesn't mean he less capable of studying the risks than some nuclear expert. At a first glance, he doesn't seem to claim anything outrageous.

      Beware of "celebrities" with a cause, but not necessarily more or less then "experts" with a cause

    • and can use his established reputation to help reduce the threat they pose,

      Which "established reputation" is that? Fact is, 99.9% of America has never heard of him, and will never hear of him without wondering "who the hell is this guy?".

      This is about like the guy who does the obituaries column in the local paper sounding the alarm about nuclear war - meaningless, but no doubt it makes him feel better....

      • by nbauman (624611) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @11:24AM (#22980024) Homepage Journal

        This is about like the guy who does the obituaries column in the local paper sounding the alarm about nuclear war - meaningless, but no doubt it makes him feel better....

        You picked a poor metaphor. The guy who did the obituaries in the New York Times was Theodore Bernstein, who is most distinguished for arguing at an editorial conference before the imminent Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion that the Times had an obligation to print what they knew about the invasion, which would have scuttled the invasion. (That was the journalistic equivalent of the engineer's pre-flight conference before the Challenger disaster.) That invasion led to the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Cuban missile nuclear showdown, which was as close as we've ever come to destroying the world.

        Bernstein was accused of left-wing sympathies during the days of the blacklist, and as a result, the Times busted him down to the obituary page. Back in those days, we had a social contract that, if you committed yourself to a corporation, they would give you a job for life, so instead of firing people who were drunk or incompetent, the Times would just assign them to the obituary page. Unlike everyone else, Bernstein revolutionized the obituary page by writing serious obituaries.

        Bernstein also wrote a textbook about copy-editing called Headlines and Deadlines, which is still used in journalism schools. The main point of that book, BTW, was that copy editors should check the facts of a story, and make sure it gets all sides. If the Times had followed that advice, they would have avoided some recent humiliations. So Bernstein got the last laugh again.
        • I concede the point, if your "local paper" is the New York Times. My local paper is the Times-Picayune (dumb name, not sure why they still care about Picayune), and the only thing I know about the Obit columnist is that he (or she) has a name.
    • And the reverse is also true. It is not because he is a celebrity in one particular field he doesn't know anything about they rest of the world.

      What is the point to argument on the guy rather than on the rational? Should we understand you have no more arguments than doing a personal attack?

    • by caluml (551744)

      Just because this guy invented (or part-invented) an encryption technique, he is not necessarily an expert in any other field - no matter how much of a celebtrity he may be.
      Just because this guy invented (or part-invented) an encryption technique, he is not necessarily not an expert in any other field either.
  • by Peter La Casse (3992) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:00AM (#22979214) Homepage

    'How risky are nuclear weapons? Amazingly, no one seems to know.' Hellman therefore did a preliminary analysis and found the risk to be 'equivalent to having your home surrounded by thousands of nuclear power plants'

    That's reassuring, because it seems unlikely that my home will ever be surrounded by thousands of nuclear power plants.

  • Would it be better if my home was surrounded by thousands of oil refineries instead?

    Oh, whoops, I'm in Houston, it probably is.
  • There is an article in April Scientific American which exposes the twin facts that no screening currently exists that can detect significant amounts of weapons grade Uranium being brought into the US or Europe in shipping containers, and that the amount of weapons grade U on the loose is enough to make home made kiloton weapons possible. Although the article only cites public data, there are an awful lot of physicists and engineers about who could design a simple low yield nuclear device given access to eno
    • by aleph42 (1082389) *
      I really agree with your post as a whole, and I think it is a shame that current systems discourage leaders to take decisions that are good only in the long term.

      But there is a small factual point I don't understand: how would the KGB using polonium was a warning? Everyone knows that Russia has nukes! (and polonium).

      Apart from that, you seem to say that the author of that article was on the no-fly list. How did he get off it? Judging from what I heard of this list, that was no small feat.
      • I prefer to assume that it was a criminal gang, on the basis that the officials of the KGB and its successor are not stupid. If a Russian mafia organisation has access to significant quantities of radioactives and the necessary laboratory facilities, this is a demonstration that they could potentially build a bomb, and transport bomb making materials on civil aircraft and around London. If the real KGB wanted to kill somebody, I am sure they could do it far more easily and less traceably, without causing a
    • by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:35AM (#22979352) Homepage Journal
      ``Our desire for cheap international trade based around largely uninspected shipping containers exposes us to an enormous risk.''

      The counter point to this is that while, indeed, the system is far from secure, things seem to be going alright.

      I find this is the key difference between Real World security and computer security. In computer security, weaknesses, once known, _will_ be exploited on a massive scale. In the Real World, things are often far less grave. This explains both why so few people get computer security right (applying a Real World "it will be ok" attitude to computer security is a mistake), and why I think people should just relax and not worry so much about, for example, terrorists blowing up airplanes.

      Security should, at least in my opinion, always be a cost-benefit trade-off. More severe security measures can reduce the risk of a disastrous security breach, but security measures incur their own cost, which you pay every day, even if no security breach is even attempted. The trick is finding the right balance.

      Of course, it isn't a very comfortable idea that you or your friends might be blown up anytime, or get ruined by identity fraud, but I'd honestly rather live with that idea than to spend my life locked up in my house, afraid to go out because the bus might be blown up, and afraid to order anything online because my credit card data could be stolen...and _still_ run the risk to get killed in an earthquake.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by jilles (20976)
        Your impression of things being alright does not constitute a fact. It's merely an impression. Real world security is very much like computer security: how you feel about security has little or no relation to how secure you are. Hellman knows this.

        The US has used this knowledge to great advantage using propaganda at various times in its history. The anti communist-propaganda in the fifties was a great example. So was the weapons of mass destruction campaign just a few years ago. In both cases the aim was to
    • by smoker2 (750216)
      You do realise that you're talking rubbish ?
      I have posted on this before but for the record - I drive a truck, 18 wheeler, hgv, whatever you like to call it where-ever you are. I regularly collect shipping containers from major ports around the UK (which is part of the EU). I have been pulled to one side while leaving the port before (last year sometime) because I had set off the *radiation detectors*. The stated contents of the container were toilets shipped from China. The officials used a higher spec ma
  • Junk Science (Score:2, Informative)

    by tsotha (720379)

    Real scientists should shun these kinds of people. This guy has a completely unverifiable model and feeds garbage information into it. He's trying to predict the likelihood of deterrence failing. But it's never failed, so he has no data to go off of. Not only has it never failed, when we think deterrence has been close to failing, we have no way of knowing how close. There's simply no way to assign probabilities to complex chains of events involving humans.

    There's nothing to be learned from a model li

    • Re:Junk Science (Score:4, Insightful)

      by vrmlguy (120854) <samwyse.gmail@com> on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:49AM (#22979754) Homepage Journal

      Real scientists should shun engineers who warn about. This guy has a completely unverifiable model and feeds garbage information into it. He's trying to predict the likelihood of deterrence failing. But it's never failed, so he has no data to go off of. Not only has it never failed, when we think deterrence has been close to failing, we have no way of knowing how close.
      By that logic, on the morning January 28, 1986, NASA's management was right to ignore the engineers warning that the Space Shuttle Challenger might explode. Those guys also had an unverifiable model: A shuttle had never failed, so they had no data to go off of. Not only had it never failed, they had no way of knowing how close it had ever come to failing. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Challenger_disaster [wikipedia.org]
      • by Dun Malg (230075)

        A shuttle had never failed, so they had no data to go off of. Not only had it never failed, they had no way of knowing how close it had ever come to failing.
        Not comparable. They weren't warning of a "shuttle failure", they were warning specifically of an "O-ring failure". The data on O-ring failure at low temperature is quite extensive.
        • by Raenex (947668)

          They weren't warning of a "shuttle failure", they were warning specifically of an "O-ring failure".

          I saw a TV show on this, which had interviews with the chief engineer who had been warning about this problem for a long time. When they didn't scrub the mission, when he got home he told his wife that they had just killed the astronauts.

          The data on O-ring failure at low temperature is quite extensive.

          There was evidence of failure on previous missions but it wasn't catastrophic -- leading to a false sense of safety. There has also been lots of evidence of near-failures with nuclear war. It's rather foolish to ignore these warnings signs and wait around before nuclea

  • by 4D6963 (933028) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:12AM (#22979270)

    and found the risk to be 'equivalent to having your home surrounded by thousands of nuclear power plants.'

    So if one of these nuclear power plants exploded (that's the risk being talked about here?), how large would the crater be, expressed in Libraries of Congress? Also, how likely would such an event be, expressed in chances of successfully dropping a penny from the top of the Empire State Building into someone's pocket?

    • So if one of these nuclear power plants exploded

      The only way to make a nuclear power plant explode is to fill it with dynamite and light the fuse - the fissionables have zero chance of exploding.

      The only threat from surrounding your house with thousands of nuclear power plants is that the cooling towers would affect the wind patterns around your house....

      • The only way to make a nuclear power plant explode is to fill it with dynamite and light the fuse

        The Chernobyl plant exploded, and the biggest fear during the TMI incident was of an explosion. Explosions can include chemical and/or pressure driven events, not just fission chain reactions.

        The only threat from surrounding your house with thousands of nuclear power plants is that the cooling towers would affect the wind patterns around your house....

        That's patently false, especially if you consider the risks of sabotage or terrorist attacks, which are probably higher than the risk of technical failure. Shit happens.

        Of course, after shit happens, you'll still probably claim that nuclear plants are perfectly safe because the incident was an anomaly, just like Ch

        • by AdamHaun (43173)

          Of course, after shit happens, you'll still probably claim that nuclear plants are perfectly safe because the incident was an anomaly, just like Chernobyl didn't count because it was "stupid design run by idiots" and TMI didn't count because it was due to problems in the nuclear industry that "have since been fixed". Well, life includes anomalies, and they will happen.

          People make those claims because they're good arguments. When you find a problem in something you've built, do you fix it, or give up and scrap the whole project? By your logic, we shouldn't be building houses, much less anything more complex. Chernobyl *was* poorly-designed and (at the time of the accident) run by a skeleton screw of incompetents. TMI *was* due to fixable problems, and injured, let's see, *nobody*.

          The Bhopal chemical plant accident has killed 20,000 people and injured over 120,000. Chemic

          • If nuclear power is so dangerous, why do the same two (bad) examples keep getting talked about over and over?

            The reason is the effects of an accident: ruining the real estate values of the area of a small US state for almost a century. It doesn't matter that the radiation effects wouldn't actually be all that dangerous or that not all that many people would be killed. The way people perceive the accident would cause a huge disruption to a large area, and it would have negative affects hugely disproportionate to the actual damages.

            Chernobyl was a big factor in the disintegration of the Soviet Union, a country

            • by AdamHaun (43173)
              The population of the psychology at large is not fixed. Fear of nuclear power was and continues to be propagated by anti-nuclear activists, who happen to be louder than other people. It can be unmade, but not if people who know what they're talking about refuse to speak out.

              Personally, I rank the real damage caused by coal plants as bigger threat than imaginary damage caused by lowered property values. Actually, I would love a nuclear plant in my back yard -- it would make it that much cheaper to buy a hous
        • That's patently false, especially if you consider the risks of sabotage or terrorist attacks, which are probably higher than the risk of technical failure. Shit happens.

          So, how many nuclear reactors in this country have been sabotaged or the object of terrorist attacks? Zero? There is little basis for the assumption that they are especially vulnerable (I'd worry more about being in the local Mall when someone with a dynamite vest decided to REALLY terrorize us).

          Of course, after shit happens, you'll stil

    • So if one of these nuclear power plants exploded (that's the risk being talked about here?)

      I'm old enough to remember being told it would never happen and not be smug about it like the earlier poster. The risk is pretty low but a relatively minor accident in the Ukrane (steam explosion in only one of several units) had major consequences.

      They are different issues anyway. Extreme secrecy combined with declining resources to look after existing weapons and people chosen for reasons other than competance cr

  • If having all these nuclear weapons is "equivalent to having your home surrounded by thousands of nuclear power plants.", then I feel pretty safe... I mean, despite all the hype around "nuclear disasters" at these power plants, they have proven very safe when managed properly. Most nuclear plants have been running in the U.S. and France for more than 30 years without issues.

    But I doubt this is where Mr Hellman was coming from. Instead, he was using the hype of the nuclear power plants being bad and dange
    • by mjwx (966435)

      If having all these nuclear weapons is "equivalent to having your home surrounded by thousands of nuclear power plants.", then I feel pretty safe...
      The key difference being that Nuclear Power Plants are not designed to explode, nuclear weapons are the exact opposite thus there is more protection put into a Nuclear Power Plant.

      Pro nuclear power, opponent to nuclear weapons.
  • Hellman therefore did a preliminary analysis and found the risk to be 'equivalent to having your home surrounded by thousands of nuclear power plants.
    Which begets the question: How risky is it to have thousands of nuclear power plants around your home?
    • Very risky, actually.

      The antinuke protest people flooding your neighborhood would make it very hard for you to go to work in the morning.
      • by mortonda (5175)

        Very risky, actually.

        The antinuke protest people flooding your neighborhood would make it very hard for you to go to work in the morning.
        Ha, I was getting ready to flame until I read the rest of you post. Good one. ;)

        Seriously, I would love for a lot of nuke plants to spring up around here. I think making more would lower the cost in the long run, and provide far cleaner energy.

  • I got inducted as a Tau Bate in college, when I was studying EE. A lifetime subscription to 'The Bent' was one of the two biggest benefits (the other being the special ring that gets you free sodas from vending machines).

    The Bent usually has great cover articles. Sometimes you get an article of the multi-cnetury history of global position determination, sometimes an explaination of the LIGO project. On rare occasion, you get a Libertarian discussing how things could be changed for the better in modern Am
  • Oh no! (Score:4, Funny)

    by danwesnor (896499) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:27AM (#22979640)

    Hellman therefore did a preliminary analysis and found the risk to be 'equivalent to having your home surrounded by thousands of nuclear power plants.'
    I can't think of one plausible reason why all the nuclear power plants in the world would come down here and surround my house. I doubt if I have anything they want, and wouldn't even know what to offer them. Do you suppose they drink sweet tea?
  • AMBASSADOR DE SADE:

    It was to have been announced at the party congress next week. I did not know the fools would make it operational until then.

    GENERAL TURGEDSON:

    Well, what the hell is a Doomsday Machine?

    AMBASSADOR DE SADE:

    Well, it has been explained to me that, if you add a thick Cobalt-Thorium-G jacket to a nuclear device, the radioactivity resulting from such a nuclear explosion will retain its lethal power for a hundred years.

    Our scientists calculated that the detonation of fifty of o
  • by Logic and Reason (952833) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @11:44AM (#22980198) Homepage
    The word is 'cryptanalyst', not 'crypto-analyst'. And Hellman is a cryptographer (or cryptologist), not a cryptanalyst. Cryptographers create encryption schemes; cryptanalysts break them.
  • According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and their Doomsday Clock, it is 5 Minutes to Midnight:
    http://www.thebulletin.org/minutes-to-midnight/ [thebulletin.org]

    They also mention the main non-nuclear threats like global warming and the other WMDs.
  • Here is the thing about nuclear missiles. They are mass manufactured and never meant to be used. So how reliable are they? I mean if you were making something, and the product was never going to be tested, and if they ever were used the last of your problem was getting sued over a faulty product, how reliable would you make? The unfounded assumption we make will most nuclear warhead is that they work at all. Remember that every nuclear warhead used so far has been custom manufactured and custom built a
    • These are items which in the US and Russian inventories, have been tested and tested and tested. The US and the former Soviet Union performed thousands of nuclear tests. Granted, they haven't, to my [limited] knowledge, done and "all up" test of a ballistic missile with warhead. Something about the atmospheric nuclear test ban gets in the way of such a test. The re-entry vehicles have been well tested. Every now and then, they pull a missile, take the warhead off, put in an inert warhead, and test laun
  • Just because the cold war is over people tend to assume nuclear war isn't much of a risk anymore. I think the risk of a nuclear war is high and increasing, and believe that nuclear weapons are still the number one threat to the survival of the human race.

    More countries have nukes than at the height of the cold war, some of those (india and pakistan for example) with pretty belligerent attitudes towards each other. The US is increasing its already massive arsenal, and working on a missile defense system tha

  • by PeterPiper (167721)
    Back in the late seventies, early eighties, when we were locked into a nuclear stalemate, I and much of the world were reasonably quite concerned. Back then, I read literally dozens of text books on the subject of nuclear deterrence and war fighting strategies. I was 'extremely' well informed. I am nowadays, much more concerned about other things. I would be the first to admit that a terrorist use of a nuke is a high probability, but there is virtually zero chance that such an event would lead to a global n
  • Security seems to refer to this from a distance. And, while it may have changed in the 25 years since, too many times the folks running things and allocating resources for security, completely miss the main point of the word security.

    To give you a furinstance, I was out riding on my motorcycle one Sunday afternoon, basically touring the areas back roads to see what might be around over the next hill. I won't name the area although it can be found on google maps if you know where to look. Anyway, I came a
  • John McPhee (Score:3, Insightful)

    by giminy (94188) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @02:25PM (#22981300) Homepage Journal
    For another (older but still very relevant) look at this and related issues (such as what to do with the plutonium by-product of power generating reactors), look no further than John McPhee's The Curve of Binding Energy. It's an extraordinarily interesting issue that will only become more pressing as time goes on. Unfortunately, it isn't as widely reported on as it used to be, which I suspect is due to political/embarrassment reasons...
  • So this guy that is very good at math, does some math, and says that we'll all die in a nuclear war? Can he do a shitload of math next that will tell me if water is still wet?

Air is water with holes in it.

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