Monthly Archives: October 2014

Surveillance – Undress People Remotely

Officials from Guinness World Records today recognized DARPA’s Terahertz Electronics program for creating the fastest solid-state amplifier integrated circuit ever measured. The ten-stage common-source amplifier operates at a speed of one terahertz (1012 GHz), or one trillion cycles per second—150 billion cycles faster than the existing world record of 850 gigahertz set in 2012.…Developed by Northrop Grumman Corporation, the Terahertz Monolithic Integrated Circuit (TMIC) exhibits power gains several orders of magnitude beyond the current state of the art…  For years, researchers have been looking to exploit the tremendously high-frequency band beginning above 300 gigahertz where the wavelengths are less than one millimeter. The terahertz level has proven to be somewhat elusive though due to a lack of effective means to generate, detect, process and radiate the necessary high-frequency signals.  Current electronics using solid-state technologies have largely been unable to access the sub-millimeter band of the electromagnetic spectrum due to insufficient transistor performance…

According to  Dev Palmer, DARPA program manager. “This breakthrough could lead to revolutionary technologies such as high-resolution security imaging systems, improved collision-avoidance radar, communications networks with many times the capacity of current systems and spectrometers that could detect potentially dangerous chemicals and explosives with much greater sensitivity.”

DARPA has made a series of strategic investments in terahertz electronics through itsHiFIVE, SWIFT and TFAST programs. Each program built on the successes of the previous one, providing the foundational research necessary for frequencies to reach the terahertz threshold.

Excerpts from DARPA CIRCUIT ACHIEVES SPEEDS OF 1 TRILLION CYCLES PER SECOND, EARNS GUINNESS WORLD RECORD, DARPA website, http://www.darpa.mil, Oct. 28, 2014

This technology can be used for Security and Communications (including military communications): Here from Wikipedia

Security:
Terahertz radiation can penetrate fabrics and plastics, so it can be used in surveillance, such as security screening, to uncover concealed weapons on a person, remotely. This is of particular interest because many materials of interest have unique spectral “fingerprints” in the terahertz range…. In January 2013, the NYPD announced plans to experiment with the newfound technology to detect concealed weapons, prompting Miami blogger and privacy activist Jonathan Corbett to file a lawsuit against the department in Manhattan federal court that same month, challenging such use: “For thousands of years, humans have used clothing to protect their modesty and have quite reasonably held the expectation of privacy for anything inside of their clothing, since no human is able to see through them.” He seeks a court order to prohibit using the technology without reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

 

 

Geopolitics of Nuclear Power: Russia-Bangladesh Deal

The construction in northwestern Bangladesh of Ruppur, the republic’s first nuclear power plant, involving Russia is set to become a historic benchmark in bilateral relations, the country’s Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu said on Oct. 27, 2014.  “So Russian Government is kind enough to extend economic help to develop nuclear reactors… So 1,000 megawatt and 1,000 megawatt, 2,000 megawatt of nuclear reactor constructed and developed by Russia is a great landmark treaty for Bangladesh and Russia,” the minister said in an exclusive interview with TASS…..  In January 2013, Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina paid a visit to Moscow during which the sides agreed that Russia will provide a $500 million loan during the early stage of constructing the Nuclear Power Plant.

Bangladesh hopes for long-term cooperation with Russia in nuclear energy. TASS, Oct. 27, 2014

Nuclear Power – Sweden

Sweden may be facing the phase out of nuclear power following agreement by the country’s Social Democrats and their junior coalition partner, the Green Party, to set up an energy commission tasked with achieving a 100% renewable electricity system….The parties said in separate, but identical statements that nuclear power should be replaced with renewable energy and energy efficiency. The goal, they said, should be at least 30 TWh of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020. A goal for 2030 has yet to be set, they added. Support for offshore wind and solar power are needed “in addition”, they said.

Nuclear power “should bear a greater share of its economic cost”, they said. “Safety requirements should be strengthened and the nuclear waste fee increased.”  Waste management in Sweden is undertaken by SKB while safety regulations are set by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority. Both of these operate independently of government.  State-owned utility Vattenfall’s plan to build a new nuclear power plant has been “interrupted”and the company will lead the country’s energy system towards a higher share for renewable energy, they said.

Excerpt from Sweden faces future without nuclear, World Nuclear Association, October  12014

Why Rhino Poaching Goes on Forever

Mistrust in police ranks, a shortage of proper intelligence structures and an easy exit through South Africa’s more than nine harbours are all stumbling blocks specialised police experience in the ongoing battle against rhino poaching.

This was how Colonel Johan Jooste, operational commander of the Hawks endangered species unit in South Africa outlined some issues facing his unit. He was addressing the 35th international conference of crime fighters in Cape Town this week, Netwerk24 reports.“…We find instances where police are involved in rhino poaching syndicates,” he said, adding police detailed to anti- and counter-poaching should receive specialist training….

Knowledgeable hunters in South Africa are recruited by buyers of rhino horn. They are also responsible for removing the horn and taking it to the next person in the chain, usually someone responsible for transport.  “It can be someone who knows the area well and can also be either a policeman or a traffic officer,” he said, adding the horn was stored or taken to places such as harbours for illegal export.  The Kruger National Park has this year lost 503 rhinos to poachers out of a national total of 787.

Excerpts, Rhino poachers present different challenges to the Hawks, defenceWeb, Tuesday, Oct. 14 2014

Hypersonic Weapons

Payloads on hypersonic aircraft, whether they are weapons or sensors, could reach their destination within minutes, rather than hours, said Mark Lewis, former chief scientist of the Air Force and now director of the Science and Technology Institute at the Institute for Defense Analyses, a federally funded research-and-development center.  Hypersonic speed is generally defined as beginning at Mach 5, which is the point where aerodynamic heating caused by the speed of the vehicle cutting through the atmosphere becomes a factor.

The Air Force concluded its successful X-51 WaveRider program in 2013. The final test had the missile-like aircraft flying at Mach 5.1 for about 200 seconds.  Meanwhile, the Army is testing the advanced hypersonic weapon, a missile designed for vertical launch. It suffered a failed test seconds after takeoff in August 2014, but that was caused by a faulty booster, not the missile or hypersonic technology itself, Lewis noted….

Hypersonic technology could be seen as a follow-on to stealth, Lewis said. Even if an aircraft has that kind of technology, it doesn’t mean it is invisible, he said. Adversaries are growing better at spotting stealthy aircraft, he said. Speed might compensate for that, he said. “If I can fly really fast, it makes it harder to act against me. It doesn’t make it impossible. But it makes it harder.”

Top Air Force leaders are indicating that they want to move hypersonic technology to the next level.  Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh and Secretary Deborah Lee James in the document “America’s Air Force: A Call to the Future,” said hypersonic development was number one on the service’s list of top five technology priorities.  [T]the Air Force sees hypersonic weapons as a potential means to break through anti-access/area-denied battlefields where adversaries have robust defenses….

The Air Force will team with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on two new hypersonic programs, he said. The first will be a cruise missile called HAWC, the hypersonic air-breathing weapons concept. The other is called tactical boost glide, which will accelerate an aircraft to Mach 5 plus speeds, then let it glide to its target.

Similarly, space planes could deliver payloads in minutes. The reusable space plane concept has been proposed many times over the years, and received a new lease on life when DARPA awarded three contracts to Boeing, Masten Space Systems and Northrop Grumman to study the idea of a two-stage launch system that could rapidly place 3,000 to 5,000 pounds into orbit. The Air Force has never given up on that idea, as evidenced by the new DARPA initiative, Lewis said.  Space planes have been talked about for decades, Lewis said. There have been many starts and stops in developing the concept, he added.

NASA’s space shuttle was originally conceived as a vehicle that could rapidly lift payloads into space at low cost, and be flexible and responsive. It never lived up to that promise.

The DARPA experimental spaceplane (XS-1) program envisions a reusable aircraft that could be launched from a mobile platform, and return 10 times within 10 days. It would employ a reusable first stage that would fly to Mach 10 at a suborbital altitude. At that point, one or more expendable upper stages would separate and deploy a satellite into low-Earth orbit.  While a space plane in low-Earth orbit could potentially be used as a weapon, it would more likely be employed as a means to rapidly replace satellites that have been damaged in a space war, or to place sensors over regions where there are currently no assets, Lewis said….

Meanwhile, more akin to the space shuttle than the DARPA concept for the space plane, the Air Force continues to use the X-37B, a top-secret orbiter that also glides to Earth. One has been in orbit since October 2012. The Air Force has repeatedly denied that it has, or is intended to be, weaponized. What its exact mission is remains classified

Excerpts from Stew Magnuson, Hypersonic Weapons Can Defeat Distance, National Defense Magazine, Nov.  2014

 

Floating Power Plants: Cayman Islands

A United States company OTEC International is in talks with Caribbean Utilities Company (CUC), Grand Cayman’s electrical provider, to supply renewable energy to the island via Ocean Thermal Energy from a platform at North Side.  According to the company:

“The Cayman Islands has documented its storm history with precision, which made it easier for OTEC International to identify locations where  Floating Power Platforms (FPPs) can be securely sited and appropriately designed to survive strong storm conditions.  The first phase of the Cayman project would be the generation of 6.25-MW renewable electricity* from an FPP that would be permanently moored less than a mile from shore. At this distance from shore, the plant’s visual impact will be minimal because of the platform’s overall low profile. The power generated would be transported to a substation onshore via cable and connected to the island’s CUC grid…..A comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) will be completed before the project can receive all necessary licenses and permits from various governmental authorities.”

*This type of ocean-thermal electricity plant takes advantage of the temperature difference between warm surface water and cold deep seawater.

Excerpts from Company providing floating ocean power platform technology to supply renewable energy to Cayman Islands in talks, Cayman inews, Sept. 21, 2014

 

The Plastic in the Oceans

The steady build-up of garbage in the world’s oceans is a “tremendous challenge” and a growing threat to the planet’s marine ecosystems with the potential for “significant socio-economic consequences,” the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) heard today.  In the final day of the 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans, held in Athens, Greece, scientists, policymakers and delegates gathered amid growing global concern over the accumulation of plastic waste in oceans and seas – a problem that could pose an estimated $13 billion in damage to marine life and habitats, and which demands a comprehensive remedy.

Addressing the meeting, Jacqueline Alder, Coordinator of UNEP’s Freshwater and Marine Ecosystem Branch, applauded the creation of a “visioning roadmap” seeking to chart a way forward for oceans governance in the coming decade, particularly in the areas of extraction, governance, impacts of a changing climate, ocean acidification, and pollution.

The meeting generated broad agreement among experts and policymakers regarding the issue of microplastics – tiny pieces of plastic less than one millimetre in size – which, they said, deserved more attention in order to better grasp their physical and biological impact on the marine ecosystems they pollute.  In addition, they advised a three-tier approach tackling marine litter at the national, regional and municipal levels as municipalities tends to have responsibility for solid-waste management….

The five garbage patches, or gyres, that have amassed in the world’s oceans as plastic waste and other jettisoned materials are carried by the currents. The patches themselves now occupy a total of 15, 915, 933 square kilometres of ocean, threatening the marine environment and the plants and animals living within it.

UN meeting hears call for greater marine protections as plastic waste accrues in oceans, UN Press. Release, Oct. 1, 2014

Mismanaging Nuclear Waste – Germany

Inspectors in northern Germany have found that a third of barrels containing radioactive waste at a decommissioned nuclear plant are damaged, the Schleswig-Holstein Environment Ministry said on Thursday.  Vattenfall, the energy company which manages the Brunsbüttel site in Schlewswig-Holstein, reported that 102 of the 335 barrels stored in the site’s six underground chambers were corroded, leaking or had loose lids.  Some of the containers are so deformed that they can no longer be moved, as they no longer fit into the robotic gripping arms installed at the site, the inspectors reported.  “The chambers are secure and there is no danger for the personnel or the local population,” Vattenfall said in a statement released on Thursday,

The Brunsbüttel site harbours 631 barrels of nuclear waste in its six chambers, which have been used for storing waste since 1979. The nuclear power plant was decommissioned in 2011.  The barrels contain resin used for water filters, residue from contaminated water and various other types of waste.

So far, Vattenfall has only inspected four of the six chambers using remote cameras.  The chambers themselves are built from concrete and have walls over a metre thick to prevent radiation escaping into the surrounding environment.  The energy company has sent a proposal to the Schlewsig-Holstein Environment Ministry for making the storage facility more secure, including by installing dehumidifiers to slow corrosion, which has yet to be approved by government experts.  “The chambers [at Brunsbüttel] were supposed to be a temporary storage facility,” Vattenfall said in a statement on Thursday. “They weren’t designed to for long-term containment.”

It was originally planned to store the barrels at Brunsbüttel until they were moved to the ‘Konrad’ mine shaft site in Lower Saxony.This permanent storage facility was to be completed by the mid- to late 90s, but has been subject to successive delays. Completion dates in 2014 has been missed and a target of 2019 is also unlikely.  The latest estimate for completion is the start of the next decade.

One in three nuclear waste barrels damaged, The Local Germany, Oct. 10, 2014

Sabotaging Iran’s Nuclear Program

A U.S. security institute said it has located via satellite imagery a section of a sprawling Iranian military complex where it said an explosion or fire might have taken place earlier this week. (pdf).

Iran’s official IRNA news agency on Monday cited an Iranian defence industry body as saying that two workers were killed in a fire at an explosives factory in an eastern district of Tehran.  Iran’s Defence Industries Organisation said the fire broke out on Sunday evening, IRNA said, giving no further detail.  An Iranian opposition website, Saham, described the incident as a strong explosion that took place near the Parchin military complex around 30 km southeast of the capital. It did not give a source and the report could not be independently verified….  The dissident National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) exposed Iran’s uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and a heavy water facility at Arak in 2002. But analysts say it has a mixed track record and a clear political agenda.

The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said it had obtained commercially available satellite imagery on which six buildings at Parchin appeared damaged or destroyed.  However, the images ISIS issued indicated the site of the possible blast was not the same location in Parchin where the U.N. nuclear agency suspects that Iran, possibly a decade ago, carried out explosives tests that could be relevant for developing a nuclear arms capability. Iran denies any such aim.

The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency wants to visit this area of Parchin, but Iran has so far not granted access. Iran says Parchin is a conventional military facility and that its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful. It has often accused its enemies of seeking to sabotage its atomic activities.

ISIS said its analysis of the satellite imagery from Oct. 7 and 8 indicated an explosion could have taken place at a southern section of Parchin.  “Several signatures that coincide with those expected from an explosion site are visible here,” it said on its website.  “Two buildings that were present in August 2014 are no longer there, while a third building appears to be severely damaged. In total at least six buildings appear damaged or destroyed,” ISIS added.

Israel and the United States have not ruled out military action against Iran if diplomacy fails to resolve a decade-old dispute over Tehran’s nuclear programme. Israel is widely believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed power.

U.S. think-tank says it located possible blast at Iran military site, Reuters, Oct. 9, 2014

Water Resources,China: Short-Term Fixes

China’s new canal stretches over 1,200km (750 miles) from the Yangzi river north to the capital, Beijing. The new channel is only part of the world’s biggest water-diversion scheme. More than 300,000 people have been kicked out to make way for the channel and the expansion of a reservoir in central China that will feed it. But the government is in a hurry, and has paid their complaints little heed.

China’s leaders see the so-called South-North Water Diversion Project, which has already cost tens of billions of dollars, as crucial to solving a water problem that threatens the country’s development and stability. Grain-growing areas around Beijing have about as much water per person as such arid countries as Niger and Eritrea. Overuse has caused thousands of rivers to disappear. The amount of water available is diminishing fast as the water table drops and rivers dry up; what little is left is often too polluted even for industrial use. The World Bank has said that China’s water crisis costs the country more than 2% of GDP, mostly because of damage to health. T

Yet China’s water problem will remain unsolved. The canal is the second leg of the diversion project; the first, which opened last year in eastern China, brings water from the south along the route of the old Grand Canal, built 1,400 years ago, to the northern plain. Neither will prove more than temporary palliatives as demand continues to soar and pollution remains widespread. China’s water crisis cannot be tackled by showy mega-projects. Misguided policy is as much to blame as a mismatch in supply between the water-rich south and the arid north. A new approach to water management, rather than more concrete, is needed.

The solution is simple: China needs to price its water properly.  The Maoist obsession with food self-sufficiency compounds the problem. The arid northern plain, home to 200m people, produces water-hungry crops such as wheat and corn. Nearly 70% of water consumed in the area is used for agriculture. It is time for China to abandon autarkic thinking and import more food.

China’s water crisis: Grand new canals, Economist, Sept. 27, 2014

Orphaned Gold Mines – Canada

Welcome to the Giant Mine, an abandoned gold mine in Yellowknife, capital of the Northwest Territories of Canada. The Canadian government first took charge of it in 1999 after the owner declared bankruptcy and walked away. It is one of an estimated 10,000 orphaned or abandoned mines in Canada’s north that are now the government’s responsibility. And it is full of arsenic trioxide, a compound that is produced by heating arsenopyrite ore, a mineral that has traces of gold. Arsenic trioxide is odourless, tasteless, highly soluble—and lethal. An amount smaller than a pea is enough to kill. The Giant Mine has 237,000 tonnes of the stuff.

The Giant Mine opened in 1948. For the first few years arsenic trioxide went up the smokestack as vapour and came down in the surrounding area as dust. Dust-collecting “scrubbers” were added to capture some of the poisons after newspapers began warning people not to drink water made from melted snow. Once captured, the arsenic, which has the consistency of talcum powder, was blown into underground chambers. As long as the poisonous dust was in the permafrost layer, the thinking went, it would freeze solid and no longer pose a problem.

That might have worked had mine managers not later decided to dig a series of open pits to extract more gold. Now much closer to the surface, the permafrost has melted. With water leaching into and out of the mine it was only a matter of time before the arsenic threatened the waters of Great Slave Lake.

The federal government’s proposed answer, which was approved last month and whose cost has been estimated at C$1 billion ($900m), is a variation on the original plan. The largest open pit will be filled and the 15 sealed vaults containing the arsenic will be refrozen. “

The Dene, the largest group of indigenous people in the territory, in whose homelands the Giant Mine sits, want the dust taken out and reprocessed into a more stable form. Under pressure from the Dene, environmentalists and the city of Yellowknife, the government is to set up an independent body to monitor its work and check every 20 years whether plans should change. It has stopped claiming its solution will last forever, shortening the period a tad, from eternity to 100 years.

If there is a golden lining in this cloud of arsenic dust it is that the studies, remediation work and monitoring create jobs in Yellowknife, now largely a government town. “That mine is still making money,” says Walt Humphries, who is leading a campaign to turn the Giant Mine’s former recreation centre into a museum. “And it will make money for years to come.”

Canada’s Giant Mine: Giant headache, Economist, Sept. 27, 2014, at 38

The Benefits of War

[I]n Kurdish-run Iraq, three Western oil firms, Genel Energy, DNO and Gulf Keystone, continue to pump out crude that is piped or sent by road to Turkey. Their combined market value plunged after IS seized the city of Mosul in June, but has recovered to $8.3 billion, down 29% from the start of the year—a hefty fall, but not so bad for firms on the front line of fanaticism.“We’ve gone from a place that was a bit tricky in terms of security to a full-on war,” says the chief of one firm. But he is confident that the Kurdish region’s well-armed militia will protect his business. So far investors have tweaked their financial models, not run for the door. Analysts now assume a cost of capital of 15%, up from 12.5% before IS struck, he says….

For a start, it is possible to grind out profits in troubled places. Lafarge, a French cement giant, has operations across the Middle East and north Africa. Sales there have risen slightly since 2009 and gross operating profits are now $1.5 billion a year. MTN, a South African mobile-telecoms firm with a thirst for danger, has a division in Syria (and in Sudan and Iran) where gross operating profits rose by 56% in the first six months of this year….

[But]  And strife in Libya and Egypt has damaged north Africa’s hopes of becoming a production hub for Europe. Like countries, multinational companies have no permanent allies—only permanent interests.

Companies and geopolitical risk: Profits in a time of war, Economist, Sept 20, 2014, at 59

Andaman Islands as a Chokepoint

Hawks in Delhi who are suspicious of Chinese long-term aims say bluntly that India and its friends will acquire some sway over China only once the Andamans are treated as a “chokepoint”, a place to disrupt Chinese trade in the event of any future confrontation. Four-fifths of Chinese oil imports go through the strait. Chinese naval strategists warn of Indian designs to drop an “iron curtain” there…. Certainly, activity on the islands is growing. An air base that opened two years ago in Campbell Bay, Great Nicobar, has taken Indian military aircraft 300km closer than before to the Malacca Strait. Other airstrips are reportedly being built or lengthened to handle big aircraft, including the Hercules transport plane. Airfields for helicopters will follow. The navy wants to deploy drones to track passing ships. New coastguard stations serve a similar purpose. Regular naval exercises with neighbours are interspersed with big international training manoeuvres hosted in the Andamans and named “Millan”. The most recent involved 17 navies in a disaster-relief exercise meant to mark a decade after the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Such expansion, however, lacks clear purpose. The Andamans have a population of 400,000 and can support a large military presence only with difficulty. Communications are poor—at least until a long-promised submarine cable from the mainland arrives. And the economy is dependent on money and goods from mainland India. Mr Singh argues that for the Andamans to become robust, their economy must first develop. For that, he wants a big boost to tourism, including direct flights from Phuket in Thailand, only 45 minutes’ flying time away. Fisheries should also grow. One businessman in Port Blair shows off a haul of several dozen carcasses of huge yellowfin tuna. Yet real development faces all sorts of hurdles. They include a lack of available land because of strict—and certainly necessary—protection for indigenous tribal groups and valuable rainforest. India may yet develop the islands into a big military asset, but it has to balance the interests of civilians, too. It is going to be a slow boat.

The Andaman Islands: From outpost to springboard, Economist, Sept. 13, 2014, at 46

 

Gross Negligence: Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

BP wants its money back — hundreds of millions of dollars of it — but a federal judge said Wednesday (Sept 24. 2014) that the oil giant must stand by the agreement it made with the companies it compensated for losses blamed on the 2010 Gulf oil spill.BP argued that a flawed funding formula enabled nearly 800 businesses to overestimate their spill-related claims.

One construction company hundreds of miles from the coast received $13.2 million, but deserved $4.8 million at most, BP said. Another company selling “animals and animal skins” was overpaid about $14 million, and about 50 others shouldn’t have been paid at all, the company said.  About 150 claimants should return a total of $185 million, and overpayments to the rest haven’t been calculated, attorney Kevin Downey argued.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier was not persuaded, thwarting BP’s latest attempt to control potential liabilities now approaching $50 billion.  The judge agreed weeks ago to change the compensation formula for any future payments, but ruled that a deal is a deal when it comes to the money BP has already paid out. Under that deal, claimants agreed not to sue, and BP agreed that no future court action could change their payments….

Barbier said he would rule later on the issue of compensation for cleanup workers whose chronic medical problems weren’t diagnosed until after the deal’s cutoff date of April 16, 2012. The settlement entitled cleanup workers with chronic conditions including rashes and breathing problems to receive up to $60,700 if the problems first surfaced within days of their cleanup work…

BP’s closing share price was $50.20 the day of the explosion, and fell to $22.80 in June 2010, before the well was capped. Shareholders returned after BP set aside $42 billion to cover its liabilities, reassured the financial damage was contained.  That’s no longer so clear: The judge’s ruling this month that BP showed gross negligence and willful misconduct added a new level of uncertainty around BP’s spill-related expenses, reducing its market value by $9 billion in a single day.,,BP’s total potential liabilities now include up to $18 billion in fines and penalties that could be imposed for violating federal pollution laws, and more than $27 billion BP says it has already paid to restore the coast and settle damage claims.

JANET MCCONNAUGHEY and JONATHAN FAHEY,Businesses Won’t Have to Return BP Spill, Associated Press, Sept. 24, 2014