ec2-18-206-48-243.compute-1.amazonaws.com | ToothyWiki | RecentChanges | Login | Advent calendar | Webcomic

Something that actually happened, according to Niall Ferguson; a big disappointment after the promise of Aliens of London.

Imminence of this hyped up during the ColdWar?  --MoonShadow
Certainly both sides used the fear of it to enable them to act in certain ways they might not rationally have gotten away with.  --Vitenka

Characterised as a war involving many nations, presumed to involve a nuclear exchange and thus the probable destruction of all human civilisation.  Since the two may not be linked after all, ScienceFiction writers often attempt to FutureProof? their work by calling this second outcome WorldWarTerminus?.  --Vitenka

To my mind this may not be imminent, but it is inevitable.  Sooner or later someone will do the unthinkable.  The only real question is whether prior to this we will have managed to GetTheHellOffThisPlanet.  --Vitenka

I think the end of the human race through global warfare (multiple superpowers attempting to wipe each other out) is now an increasingly unlikely scenario. (Where superpower is defined as a country with the military capability to wipe out 50% or more of humanity). --DR
I think rather than going out with a BOOM a more likely scenario is being nibbled to death through a succession of increasingly nasty smaller incidents.  In 20 years time cults like AumShinrikyo? will be able to construct some seriously nasty stuff. --DR
I agree, absolutely, that we need to GetTheHellOffThisPlanet, though I note that being able to move asteroids around the system also carries its own risks.

What's the "this" being described as inevitable? WorldWarThree (I agree), or the nuclear destruction of the earth (I disagree)?  --AlexChurchill
WorldWarTerminus? (which may or may not be nuclear, but there's pretty sure to be some form of global man-made deliberate disaster)  --Vitenka

I do believe that world war three is inevitable - all those nukes will go out of date soon (true, by the way - nuclear warheads do radioactively decay to other isotopes that are not as predictable and don't make such a nice bang, so the material has to be reprocessed every so often) and so it's simple economics that says one day it'll be cheaper to use the damn things than reprocess them or store the material safely.  Personally, I'd rather not be around before that happens, because that happening will likely enforce the not being around part later.  I reckon that the next world war will very possibly involve nukes.  The current situation of a few big countries sitting on lots of nukes whilst telling the rest of the world that they can't have nukes is unstable.  While nukes are used as gunboat diplomacy they will be politically desirable (do you see the USA laying into Pakistan and India?), and then the problem is that it takes only one eejit to press a button and away you go.  Indeed, given the material, it would not be impossible for a terrorist agency to manufacture a bomb of their own, which is where things get truly scary (an interesting fictional case in Clancy's "The sum of all fears" ISBN 0399136150 , and no, I don't read Clancy very much...) --Jumlian

As I understand it, once the basics are known (that you initiate the reaction by rapidly compressing the material - most easily done via an explosive casing) it becomes textbook physics to create the damn things.  Processing the uranium / plutonium is the hardest part, because it's pretty hard to distill metal and the damn stuff is incredibly poisonous.  --Vitenka

Distillation isn't exactly the term.  Either a gas centrifuge or other lovely thing.  Separating atoms of identical chemical properties and a difference of only 1.3% by mass per atom is very difficult in large quantities.  It being poisonous however isn't an issue if you're making a nuke.
It is you know.  The radiation won't kill you for years - and you presumably don't intend to get near the explosion.  But inhaling a bit of plutonium vapour will kill you damn quickly - you may not be able to finish the damn bomb.  And yeah, you don't do it by distillation unless you're really insane but it's the same sorta thing ;)  --Vitenka

OTOP I don't agree with the 'some eejit' scenario.  Such a scenario (or a terrorist one) would destroy a portion of the world, but not a blanket covering.  That takes America, Russia or China to go all out.  I can't see the economics of blowing everything up ever being cheaper than just, I dunno, sinking them into the sea.  Which would be nasty, but not as nasty as blowing them up.  --Vitenka

No, the terrorist ideal would be used as provocation to cause someone to retaliate with a full arsenal.  Either that or to cause as much devastation as possible - can you imagine the chaos if someone took out Jerusalem?  That's three major world religions and many many countries you seriously annoy, and one country effectively annihilated.  There is very little way to dispose of refined weapons-grade material.  If you shove it out of sight, the problem is if some of it goes wandering.  Throwing it into a deep sea trench could just encourage salvage (not impossible, even with today's technology), and then there's no guarantee who gets their hands on it.  Vitrification of plutonium (casting it into glass with a lot of silica) was proposed at Sellafield, but the radiation damage to the structure of the glass causes it to disintegrate, spreading plutonium glass dust everywhere.  Once refined, the only ways to get rid of Plutonium would be to bury it and guard it for the next 62,000 years, keep it in warheads, under guard, or to actually use those warheads and fission the plutonium to death.  You could turn it into fuel for a fast-breeder reactor, I suppose, but that is awkward in that it makes more plutonium than it uses. The economic argument is weak, granted, but bear in mind that it does seem to happen with conventional weaponry (conventional explosives also decay over time - is it more cost effective to use the bombs or pay three times the cost to make each one in order to decommission them?), and America does seem to have at least one war every few years, which also props up its defence industry (some sickening proportion of American GDP is ploughed into its military, which requires that all those cruise missiles get used).  There is always a war that can be launched for benefit (oil, resources, land, etc.), leaving all morality out of the question.  The question then becomes is a war worth the monetary cost.  As regards the necessity of going "all out" the extant arsenals are vastly in excess of that required.  A single ICBM missile is typically equipped with up to 2 dozen warheads.  If the war involves NATO, Britain is on the front line, and is pretty small in terms of area...  the point being that those countries with nukes, and we have a fair few, are more likely to themselves be nuked than those countries without.--Jumlian
I would have thought that one could use plutonium as reactor fuel without including any of the target-for-breeding.  Alternatively, people could just start using more nuclear power, which would provide a wonderful sink for lots of nasties. -- NickTaylor
Plutonium in reactors works, but produces many nasty by-products (which can themselves be used in suitably arranged reactors, after repurification) and it takes forever to reduce a decent quantity.  With prefect reactors, you could keep going until everything was neutron-enriched lead.  And that would take the aforemenetioned 60k years.  --Vitenka

My point was that it takes that kind of strike.  One terrorist bomb is a tragedy, but as long as there's no massive ill-aimed retaliation, it doesn't end the race.  Similarly, and wayy more disturbingly with the economic argument.  I agree that in the next major conflict, some bombs will be used in a so called 'tactical' way - irradiating relatively small areas.  But this won't cause a nuclear winter (since no one is gonna wage war against a hardened or retaliatory equipped opponent while there are choicer targets around.)  I'm not sure about a cascade terrorism scenario, which nuking Israel would cause.  Let's see.  You'd likely wipe out much of the leadership very quickly - leading to ill planned secondary strikes.  You could expect inneffective military targets in favour of statements.  LasVegas? would go in an interesting MovieReference?.  It'd be pretty devastating, but you may actually have hit upon a valid way to get to the AfterTheBomb? PostNuclearWasteland? scenario, much beloved of the late 80s.  Large areas uninhabited, but oddly shaped tracts reasonably unaffected, apart from radioactive dust storms.  --Vitenka
(Note, both scenarios pretty much remove any organised nuclear capability from use - the first - hopefully - through fear and the second by just blowing random people up until it's uncontrolled)  --Vitenka

Dammit I saw a cheapish film about that once. Some terrorists nuked a small bit of Russia and Russia nuked Washingon DC, it was all about stopping a nuclear war rather than winning it. Pretty good I seem to remember. I note that leaders (and almost certainly other people) of nuclear powers tend to have pretty fast communications for exactly this reason. They're called Hot Lines...
Anywho. The economics of conventional weaponry is probably taken into account by the huge amounts of training that go on in the military. It's not just about keeping the troops keen and ready, it's about making sure your bullets are reasonably fresh and that you have a constant supply (it is always wise for a government to make sure that their arms suppliers don't go out of buisness). When war breaks out you just load up the surplus and crank up production to make sure you don't run out of bullets or shells (which might be bad thing). Nukes going out of date? That's more of a problem, then again you can't really argue that it's more economic to use nukes than to dispose of them cleanly. Fallout tends to be pretty expensive (applys less to conventional weapons but yes I know about the MoD? having to pay millions to clean up lead poisoning on firing ranges). --Edith
You might also be interested to know that work is going on in the MinSci department of radioactive waste isolation (storing it in glass) but as far as I can see, the best way to get rid of weapons grade plutonium is to melt it into a greater mass of none-weapons grade plutonium and bury it. Yes you still have the usual problems with nuclear waste but if you want to make a bomb you have to refine it all over again.--Edith
I thought all plutonium was weapons grade - it certainly isn't a natural element, and no isotope is stable.  Weapons grade merely means it has no Uranium left in it.  You'd have to mix it with Uranium, and in that case a chemical separation is actually disturbingly easy if you just dissolve the whole lot in acid.  The biggest problem is separating 235U from 238U in the first place to make reactor fuel (235 being the isotope of choice but being very much the least abundant of the two) --Jumlian
A mix of isotopes is much harder to make explode than a pure lump - though it's just as deadly if spread over a wide area.  You'd also probably want to mix it with, I dunno, carbon.  Heck - alloy it with lead.  Just be careful with the overheating problems.  Still refinable, but I guess easier to handle.  And plutonium IS naturally occuring.  You mine the stuff as ore, I thought.  Though more is produced by breeder reactors.  The other solution often proposed, is just to fire it into space.  Though the prospect of a rocket carrying barrells of the stuff blowing up on the launch pad makes that a long-term prospect at best.  (While we're on the subject - you've all seen the wonderful 'how to make damn sure no one goes near our toxic waste dumps in the next 10k years' paper?)  --Vitenka
Er, no, sorry.  I worked on U-series isotopes for a PhDPlutonium is NOT NATURAL.  It is only made in a nuclear reactor from the bombardment of U-235 with lots of neutrons, a situation that doesn't happen naturally to a significant extent.  Longest lived isotope is I think 27,000 years, and so there's no primordial stuff left.  And 10k years is being optimistic.  The short lived isotopes will be gone, but the long-lived ones are still there (and that includes most of the Plutonium).-Jumlian
Right, that's me getting Uranium and Plutonium mixed up then. Sorry.--Edith
I thought you could get plutonium out of U-238, given enough sufficiently energetic neutrons?  I'd always assumed this was the attraction of breeder reactors. -- NickTaylor
Yup, the argument here was whether or not you could dig it out of the ground.  I thought you could, apparently you can't.  --Vitenka

You credit the fighters in the next major conflict with a large amount of restraint.  My problem with this is that, marked exceptions aside (Mongols, being the main one) large-scale war has only relatively recently been directed at the civilian population rather than the fighting forces involved.  The point of a modern nuke is that it takes out and area the size of a city, implying that cities and the civilians they contain are the targets, as has been the case with the two nukes used so far in wartime.  The area afterwards is (in the short term) pretty useless.  No housing, industry, population or suchlike left, indiscriminate, massive and horrendous injuries in the secondary blast zone.  No advantage in taking the ground whatsoever.  It's a complete scorched earth policy.  It is, to my mind, more than a little sick.  There is only one aim in using such a device, and that is in reducing the large local civilian population to a small cloud of radioactive ash.  To then expect restraint in the use of such an indiscriminately awesome device seems to not mesh, in my mind.  --Jumlian

Oh sure - the military attack would take out every strategic bit of the country in question (all in the name of reducing friendly casualties, of course) - but it wouldn't wreck the entire world.  The terrorist scenario I am more placing the small scale upon disorganisation after the first retaliations and upon them not being patient enough (or taking the infilitration risk long enough) to build up an arsenal large enough to force a global counterstrike.  Plus, of course, most terorist groups don't want armaggeddon.  (Though the few that do would be enough.)  Plus the US (at least) is looking to minimise the devices use - they want 'bunker busters' and so forth - which at least produce PhotogenicDestruction?.  --Vitenka

Most nuclear bombs are pretty nasty. Although you overestimate the permenant damage one has on an area. Both Nagaskai and Hiroshima are inhabited cities in Japan (I know this because my Dad has visited both) these days and provided an area isn't repeatedly nuked, most of the really nasty stuff decays fairly rapidly (unless the bomb was designed otherwise, not the usual state of affairs I believe). The civilian issue, yes, most global nuclear senarios involve targeting cities but not exclusively so, generally your enemy's nuclear missiles are your first target, then their military, then their cities. But that's the big ones which aren't that likely to be used because no bugger is stupid enough to start that sort of fight (for now, hopefully...). It is tactical nuclear weapons with much lower yields that are more likely to be used, for getting around hardened military bunkers (so-called bunker busters). Currently, conventional weapons on the same scale as the smaller tactical nuclear weapons exist such as the US daisycutter, which they used in Afganistan. The situation is quite controversial at the moment because the US looks like it will soon be working on more of these devices, despite several international agreements not to. Just in case anyone was feeling optimistic out there.--Edith
(reply to Vitenka) That statement coming from the country that once researched the NeutronBomb? (leaves all buldings standing for rapid economic recovery after the war!  Kills all known life forms dead!) I find restraint again hard to credit.  Using a nuke as a bunker buster, even a "tactical" nuke, will not leave much behind.  It just means that if they hit say a civilian shelter you don't get embarrassing headlines as no-one can tell what that building was.  To carry on my rant, the entire PhotogenicDestruction? thing is also sick.  War by remote control, fed to you by CNN, and if you don't like it you can watch friends on NBC.  Just like a damn video game... only people at the other end really are dying.  Really rather sick.
This is all fair enough - but it won't destroy the whole world.  It will be a terrible and horrible thing, and might just make people stop doing it for a few generations, but isn't an actual EndGame? scenario.  --Vitenka (WW3, not terminus)
Yes, sick and twisted and nasty. See the topic'-Edith
--Not my point.  To televise war like a video game is to demean the lives of the thousands that are dying.  If the public is desensitised to that extent, there is no disincentive.  It is very easy (and photogenic - any US press briefing when bombing an enemy base) to bomb from 20,000 feet but harder to shoot the 4-year old girl at point blank range.  War is nasty and brutal.  But for goodness sake don't make it entertainment. --Jumlian
''Ok, I take your point on that and agree. But where do you draw the line between keeping one's self informed to international and national events and entertainment? --Edith (a rather obvious question but I'd like to know the answer)
StronglyAgree?.  --Vitenka (Don't see a problem having both - but anyone voting for the army to do things ought to have to go and see them first hand)
(*reaches for get-out number 1*) That is largely a personal viewpoint.  As long as you bear in mind that the pretty explosions are killing people, then fine.  While that airstrike may look like so much Hollywood special effect - an interpretation the "wow our bombing is now so precise" briefings do nothing to dispel - it most certainly isn't.  For one, always having had a good imagination, I can visualise quite well that there are people under that explosion or it wouldn't be there.  In such a situation you are watching people die.  Maybe beyond the resolution of the screen but nonetheless.  Seeing such things does, thankfully, repulse me quite a lot, because it at least brings home that this is a very nasty thing to occur.  On the other hand I have seen people cheering such things "Go USA!".  It is a well known phenomenon that bomber pilots tend to disconnect what they do from the consequences, targets are patterns on the ground, not people.  If all you show people is footage from that viewpoint, you might expect them to become similarly desensitised.  Similarly, approaching the problem from the other side, as games get graphically more photo-realistic you further confuse the reality, that there are people under that smoke cloud dying.  But that's a different subject.  Just saying that this desensitisation is a BAD thing, 'tis all. --Jumlian 

People love reality TV shows, and with all the TV crews in warzones these days sometime the war just feels like. it might be more entertaining (and better publicity for the war) if the viewers are allowed to 'vote' with soldiers they wish to promote or whatever. -ColinLeung
If you continued that analogy just a little farther (which prisoners should be shot and which set free?) then I'm pretty sure we would see a very ugly face of humanity.  And everyone would claim to be in the minority who voted for freedom.  --Vitenka

CategoryWar | CategoryRant ( Jumlian, anyway. ) | ThingThatMatter? (Well, if we have one, it surely would)

ec2-18-206-48-243.compute-1.amazonaws.com | ToothyWiki | RecentChanges | Login | Advent calendar | Webcomic
Edit this page | View other revisions | Recently used referrers
Last edited July 17, 2006 12:13 am (viewing revision 31, which is the newest) (diff)