Fictions of Survivability vs. Simulations of Catastrophe in US Nuclear Policy

In November of 1975, H.C. Dudley, a professor of radiation physics at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago, published an article in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists titled ‘The Ultimate Catastrophe.’ [1] Dudley, though perhaps on the wrong side of governmental secrecy regarding nuclear weapons thought, was challenging core assumptions that pervaded decades of simulation, modelling, and war gaming of nuclear conflict.

From a weapons standpoint, the US military initially saw Fat Man and Little Boy as big bombs—the biggest ever, a way to fit one thousand planes worth of boom into a single B-29. Officials were at first reluctant to admit to lethal contingencies. In a letter to General Groves dated August 25, 1945, one US Lt. Col said of reports that people were “doomed to die of radioactivity burns”: “I think it’s good propaganda. The thing is these people got good and burned—good thermal burns.”[2-a] The discovery of radioactive tuna sourced from Japan in 1954 was hidden from Japanese diplomats. [2-b] Simulated damage in early explosion scenarios were sometimes limited to blast effects, ignoring the possibility of fallout, firestorms, etc. These refusals of admission culminated in the design of war plans that some thinkers would go on to call ‘overkill.’ [2-d] Continue reading

how some guys just destroyed physics as we know it and why you still shouldn’t care

UPDATE: Since this article was first posted, new experiments have shown that neutrinos from CERN travel subluminally. Additionally, OPERA has since identified errors in their original experiment.

I’m about to use the word neutrino a bunch of times, so I’ll start by telling you what a neutrino is.

For those of you who took Italian in high school, no, a neutrino is not a little neutron. But it is little, and electrically neutral. In fact, neutrinos are so little that they were first thought to have zero mass, like photons, but more recent discoveries revealed that this cannot be true.

Where can we find these little guys? Everywhere. Our sun pumps out neutrinos like Universal Studios does sequels to the Land Before Time. When hydrogen atoms fuse to make helium, a neutrino pops out and starts barreling toward earth at 670 million miles per hour. Each second, trillions of neutrinos tear through …more