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Cuba Almost Became a Nuclear Power in 1962

Cuba Almost Became a Nuclear Power in 1962 →

This is a fascinating piece of history, from Svetlana Savranskaya.

Long after the world thought the Cuban Missile Crisis had ended, with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's withdrawal of his medium-range nuclear missiles announced on October 28 -- and two days after President John F. Kennedy announced the lifting of the quarantine around Cuba -- the secret crisis still simmered. Unknown to the Americans, the Soviets had brought some 100 tactical nuclear weapons to Cuba -- 80 nuclear-armed front cruise missiles (FKRs), 12 nuclear warheads for dual-use Luna short-range rockets, and 6 nuclear bombs for IL-28 bombers. Even with the pullout of the strategic missiles, the tacticals would stay, and Soviet documentation reveals the intention of training the Cubans to use them.

Thoughts on the VP Debate

Before the debate, I predicted that Congressman Ryan would wipe the floor with VP Biden. I was wrong. I'd forgotten how good/awful of a debater VP Biden is. He's good because he's always confident and never in doubt. He's awful because he completely makes stuff up and delivers the resulting manure with complete and utter sincerity. How do you fight that without falling into the trap of constantly fact checking your opponent rather than giving your own answers?

How about an example? Last night, they were asked about whether or not the United States should intervene in Syria (given the Libya intervention). And, if not, why not? VP Biden confidently stated that we absolutely should not get involved in Syria. Syria would be a tough intervention because it "is a different country, it is five times as large geographically, it has one fifth the population." Not true. Syria is 185,000 square kilometers, while Libya is 1.7 million square kilometers. Geographically, Libya is ten times larger than Syria. Rather than Syria having one fifth the population of Libya, it actually has 4 times the population that Libya does.

Or, how about VP Biden's confident assertions that we shouldn't worry about Iran's stockpile of fissile material because "they don't have a weapon to put it in"? What kind of argument is that? Building a nuclear weapon is trivial compared to what it takes to acquire fissile material. Pakistan's A.Q. Khan sold nuclear technology to multiple countries, including Iran. If Iran did have problems building a weapon, North Korea would be more than happy to share notes. If Iran doesn't have a weapon now, it's only because they like the plausible deniability of continuing to claim that all of their enrichment is for "energy generation".

In short, VP Biden looks impressive in a debate, unless you know all of the issues well enough to spot all of the times that he's free associating and losing contact with reality. On the appearance of substance, I'd have to rate the debate a tie. Both candidates appeared that they knew what they were talking about.

However, I think VP Biden flubbed horribly on the demeanor side of the debate. He may have forgotten that his job was to persuade undecided voters. As he listened to Congressman Ryan, he spent the entire evening laughing, making faces, or sighing. When he was speaking, VP Biden often sounded angry. He was strident and loud, often shouting, and interrupted Congressman Ryan frequently. It was one of the more unpleasant debates I've ever watched. VP Biden came across as a rude, angry, boor. I know that this fired up the Democrats who already plan to vote for the President and VP. I can't imagine that this will make his ticket attractive to undecided voters. Overall, I don't think this evening was a win for the Obama-Biden ticket.

A Cheaper, Safer Sort of Nuclear Power

A Cheaper, Safer Sort of Nuclear Power →

Suppose—just suppose—that there were a tested energy technology out there that

  • produces electricity cheaper than coal, because of lower capital and fuel costs,
  • uses a fuel that is in almost inexhaustible supply, both in the U.S. and elsewhere,
  • operates continuously, in baseload or peaking mode, for up to 30 years,
  • operates at an efficient high temperature but at atmospheric pressure, *can be factory-built and deployed in compact 100-megawatt modules close to the end use of the power,
  • contributes nothing to air or water pollution and needs no water for operation,
  • safely consumes long-lived transuranic waste products from current nuclear fission reactors,
  • produces high-temperature process heat that can make hydrogen fuel for vehicles, and
  • is walkaway safe.

Science journalist Richard Martin's book SuperFuel makes the case that such a technology exists. It's thorium, and particularly the LFTR—the liquid fluoride thorium reactor.

The Federal government's regulatory apparatus has been well and truly captured by the companies that make conventional nuclear reactors. As long as they hold sway, it will be very, very difficult for anyone to build an LFTR power plant. The government should give innovative energy companies a chance to see whether thorium reactors really can be the green energy source of the future.

Azerbaijan eyes aiding Israel against Iran

Azerbaijan eyes aiding Israel against Iran →

Israel may have an ally, for a strike against Iran, in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan, the oil-rich ex-Soviet republic on Iran's far northern border, has, say local sources with knowledge of its military policy, explored with Israel how Azeri air bases and spy drones might help Israeli jets pull off a long-range attack.

That is a far cry from the massive firepower and diplomatic cover that Netanyahu wants from Washington. But, by addressing key weaknesses in any Israeli war plan - notably on refueling, reconnaissance and rescuing crews - such an alliance might tilt Israeli thinking on the feasibility of acting without U.S. help.

Why would they help?

The country, home to nine million people whose language is close to Turkish and who mostly share the Shi'ite Muslim faith of Iran, has four ex-Soviet air bases that could be suitable for Israeli jets, the Azeri sources said.

Relations have long been strained between the former Soviet state and Iran, which is home to twice as many ethnic Azeris as Azerbaijan itself. Tehran beams an Azeri-language television channel over the border which portrays Aliyev as a puppet of Israel and the West, as well as highlighting corruption in Baku.

Azerbaijan sees Iranian hands behind its Islamist opposition and both countries have arrested alleged spies and agitators.

Faced with an uneven balance of force, Aliyev's government makes no bones about Israel being an ally. As one presidential aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained: "We live in a dangerous neighborhood; that is what is the most powerful driving force for our relationship with Israel."

But, of course. Iran is being their normal belligerent, export aggression selves and Azerbaijan wants some backup. If not for Hezbollah, I think Lebanon would be in the exact same boat. Azerbaijan wants to avoid Lebanon's fate, by making sure Iran never gets a foothold inside their borders.

Powered by Nuclear "Waste"

Powered by Nuclear "Waste" →

Bill Gates is helping to fund a start-up called TerraPower LLC. The company hopes to build a nuclear reactor that can run for 50-100 years on the stuff that we currently consider to be nuclear waste.

Instead of storing it in Yucca Mountain, why don't we use it to generate clean electricity instead?

One big road block: getting a national government somewhere to allow someone to actually build and operate such a reactor.

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