• Nuclear storage tunnel collapses at Washington State’s Hanford site; employees evacuated

    Hundreds of workers have been forced to “take cover” after a tunnel in a nuclear finishing plant collapsed at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeastern Washington state. The Department of Energy activated its Emergency Operations Center following the collapse. Nuclear experts have criticized to storage and safety practices at the site, calling it “the most toxic place in America” and saying it was “an underground Chernobyl waiting to happen.”

  • Quickly detecting structural problems in bridges, dams

    Today, there is great interest in using distributed sensors to continually monitor the structural health of large structures such as dams or bridges. With one million sensing points, a newly developed fiber optic distributed sensor could offer significantly faster detection of structural problems than is currently available.

  • New evidence shows pattern of Assad regime’s use of nerve agents

    New evidence supports the conclusion that Syrian government forces have used nerve agents on at least four occasions in recent months: on 4 April 2017, in a chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed at least ninety-two people, and on three other occasions in December 2016 and March 2017, Human Rights Watch said in a report released yesterday. These attacks are part of a broader pattern of Syrian government forces’ use of chemical weapons. The attacks are widespread and systematic, and in some cases have been directed against the civilian population. As part of the evidence showing these attacks have become widespread and systematic, the detailed 48-page report identifies the three different systems being used by the Assad regime to deliver chemical weapons.

  • New nuclear forensics signature discovery capability to help trace origins of plutonium

    Two weeks ago the Department of Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) joined with partners at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) to launch the Plutonium Processing Signatures Discovery capability. The new capability, the result of a four-year effort, represents a significant technological advancement in nuclear forensics that will improve our ability to trace the origins of plutonium. Nuclear forensics involves determining where illicit or smuggled radioactive material came from. In the event of a nuclear weapon detonation, knowing where radioactive material came from can help investigators determine who’s responsible.

  • France: We have proof Assad ordered chemical attack on Khan Sheikhun

    Jean-Marc Ayrault, France’s foreign minister, said Wednesday that France’s intelligence services have evidence that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack on a Sunni village earlier this month. The Syrian military’s attack on Khan Sheikhun killed eighty-six. British and Turkish scientists, examining injured victims and performing autopsies on those killed, found evidence of both sarin - a nerve gas - and chlorine.

  • Syrian defector: Assad still has hundreds of tons of chemical weapons stockpiled

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad circumvented a 2013 deal to dismantle his chemical weapons stockpile by failing to declare the full extent of his arsenal, Syria’s former chemical weapons research chief. Brigadier-General Zaher al-Sakat, who served as the head of chemical warfare in a top Syrian military unit before defecting in 2013, said that Assad had not declared large amounts of sarin and its precursor chemicals.

  • How will the federal government protect nuclear safety in an anti-regulatory climate?

    The Trump administration and congressional Republicans have undertaken a wide-ranging effort to shrink the federal government’s regulatory footprint. Much attention has focused on high-profile targets, such as the Environmental Protection Agency. But this trend also has major implications for other agencies. One example is the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which oversees safety across a complex, privately owned network of nuclear power plants, used fuel storage facilities and other sites related to civilian uses of nuclear energy. The NRC and the system it regulates exemplify what some scholars call a “high reliability organization” – one that cannot be allowed to fail, because the consequences would be grave (two examples of failures of external oversight: Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011). A high reliability organization is not automatically a highly reliable organization. Reliability is an ongoing accomplishment involving continuous learning, sustained vigilance and a strong system of checks and balances. Moving forward in an anti-regulatory climate, with so many complex challenges facing the agency, it is essential to ensure independent leadership, public transparency and adequate resources to support the NRC’s mission.

  • Soil-based scrubber turns deadly chemicals into harmless dirt

    A DARPA program that is developing a field-deployable system for onsite neutralization of bulk stores of chemical warfare agents (CWA) has successfully demonstrated a novel waterless soil-scrubbing technology that safely neutralized toxic chemicals simulating sarin, soman, and mustard agents. The technology demonstrated greater than 99.9999 percent removal of the simulants, without creating any hazardous waste by-products.

  • WH report: The Assad regime's use of chemical weapons on 4 April 2017

    The White House on Tuesday released a 4-page report, prepared by the National Security Council, which contains declassified U.S. intelligence on the 4 April chemical weapons attack in Syria. The document calls Russia’s claim that the source of the gas was a rebels’ storage facility a “false narrative,” accusing Russia of “shielding” a client state which has used weapons of mass destruction.

  • By insisting Assad must go, the West has prolonged the Syrian conflict

    The most enthusiastic Western advocates of removing Assad form a liberal tendency and have been arguing for some form of intervention in Syria ever since the war began in earnest. They are opposed by more realist voices, who exhort them to remember the lessons of Iraq before getting militarily involved. Those on this side point to Syria’s fractured and often radical opposition, the regime’s formidable and battle-hardened forces, and the risks of starting a proxy conflict between the world’s great powers. In combination, these two tendencies have landed United States and United Kingdom foreign policy in an awkward gap between ends and means: Assad must go, but the military means required to remove him are off limits. It feels good to demand that a brutal dictator should no longer be allowed to rule, but insisting on it while failing to back it up with action has helped to prolong unimaginable suffering. Assad is clearly despicable, but the only atrocities worse than those his government has already committed are those yet to come. There are two ways to avert them: either Assad is deposed, probably via U.S.-led military intervention, or some political accord is struck to allow him to stay in exchange for a permanent ceasefire.

  • Glowing bacteria detect buried landmines, unexploded ordnance

    About half a million people around the world are suffering from mine-inflicted injuries, and each year an additional 15 to 20 thousand more people are injured or killed by these devices. More than 100 million such devices are still buried in over seventy countries. The major technical challenge in clearing minefields is detecting the mines. Researchers have developed a potential answer to this urgent need: a novel, functional system combining lasers and bacteria to remotely map the location of buried landmines and unexploded ordnance.

  • Medical evidence confirms sarin gas was used in Syria chemical attack

    Turkey’s health minister said that traces of sarin gas have been detected in blood and urine samples from victims injured in the town of Khan Sheikhun in Syria on 4 April, offering “concrete evidence” of its use in the attack. Isopropyl methylphosphonic acid, a chemical which sarin degrades into, was found in the blood and urine samples taken from the patients who arrived in Turkey. Many of the victims of last week’s attack were taken to Turkey for treatment because the Assad regime and Russia, as part of their war strategy, have destroyed many of the medical facilities in the Sunni areas of Syria.

  • Enzymes versus nerve agents: Designing antidotes for chemical weapons

    Nerve agents, a class of synthetic phosphorous-containing compounds, are among the most toxic substances known. Brief exposure to the most potent variants can lead to death within minutes. Once nerve agents enter the body, they irreversibly inhibit a vitally important enzyme called acetylcholinesterase. Its normal job within the nervous system is to help brain and muscle communicate. When a nerve agent shuts down this enzyme, classes of neurons throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems quickly get overstimulated, leading to profuse sweating, convulsions and an excruciating death by asphyxiation. There is a path to mitigate the danger of chemical weapons. This route lies within the domains of science – the very same science that produced chemical weapons in the first place. Researchers in the United States and around the world are developing the tools needed to quickly and safely destroy nerve agents – both in storage facilities and in the human body. There are promising advances, but no enzyme yet exists which is efficient enough for lifesaving use in people. It is worth keeping in mind the awesome and often complex power of science, however: We may be only a few years away from developing the kind of therapeutics that would make chemical weapons a worry of the past.

  • The Assad regime’s chemical-weapons kill chain

    “There’s a long list of Syrian officials with blood on their hands — but the culpability goes all the way to the top,” Gregory Koblentz writes in one of the more important analyses of the Assad regime’s strategic use of chemical weapons (“Syria’s Chemical Weapons Kill Chain,” Foreign Policy, 7 April 2017). Koblentz, the author of Living Weapons: Biological Warfare and International Security, explains that the Syrian chain of command for chemical weapons is composed of four tiers: the senior leadership, which authorizes the use of these weapons and provides strategic guidance; the chemists, who produce, transport, and prepare the chemical weapons for use; the coordinators, who provide intelligence on targets and integrate chemical weapons with conventional military operations; and the triggermen, who deliver the weapons to their targets. “Together, these individuals and organizations form a chemical-weapons kill chain,” Koblentz writes.

  • Automated, real-time automobile cow-avoidance device

    India has the second largest road network in the world, and a large number of traffic accidents: 1 in 20,000 people die there in a road traffic accident, and 12 in 70,000 are seriously injured in such accidents. India also has a large number of cows roaming streets and roads, and a large number of incidents in which cars run into loitering cows. India researchers have developed a real-time automatic obstacle detection and alert system which determines whether an object near the vehicle is an on-road cow and whether or not its movements represent a risk to the vehicle. If the cow poses a risk to the vehicle, an audio or visual indicator then alerts the driver to apply the brakes.