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Soaring, Cryptography, and Nuclear Weapons 303

Posted by kdawson
from the we-can-get-there-from-here dept.
Martin Hellman sends in a pointer to his essay that uses analogies from cryptography and the sport of soaring in an attempt to draw people in to thinking about the risks of nuclear weapons. Quoting: "... I did a preliminary risk analysis which indicates that relying on nuclear weapons for our security is thousands of times more dangerous than having a nuclear power plant built next to your home." Hellman is best known as co-inventor (with Diffie and Merkle) of public key cryptography, and has worked for over twenty-five years to reduce the threat posed by nuclear weapons. He is also a glider pilot with over 2,600 logged hours. Hellman adds, "Readers needing a break can go to some photos of the Sierra Nevada mountains taken from my glider."
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Soaring, Cryptography, and Nuclear Weapons

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  • by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@gmai ... m minus language> on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @03:00PM (#25458733) Homepage Journal

    ...who's takeaway from the article is that we need to build more nuclear plants?

    Must have been a stack overflow somewhere. /BOFH reference

    • by bugeaterr (836984) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @03:12PM (#25458945)

      ...who's takeaway from the article is that we need to build more nuclear plants?

      America does need to build more nuclear plants.
      The rest of the world is because it is safe and clean.

      Chernobyl, 3 Mile Island, need you name more?

      Yes, you do.

      Even reasonable environmentalists [npr.org] are considering nuclear.

      • by repvik (96666) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @03:27PM (#25459197)

        And the reasonable environmentalists might be right. Technology might possibly have developed over the last 20+ years.
        We're afraid of technology that had flaws in its infancy. Maybe humanity has learned, and possibly improved technology since then?

        • by Free the Cowards (1280296) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @03:31PM (#25459289)

          It's even worse than technology that had flaws in its infancy. Chernobyl is the only serious civilian power-generation reactor accident. And Chernobyl had a tremendously bad design that never would have been approved in the West, even in the period when everything nuclear was considered to be good, and what killed it was a horribly conceived experiment run by idiots that never would have been allowed in the West, again not even during that optimistic period.

          It's great to take lessons from Chernobyl, but it's wrong to take away the lesson that nuclear power is dangerous.

    • by kestasjk (933987) *

      ...I did a preliminary risk analysis which indicates that relying on nuclear weapons for our security is thousands of times more dangerous than having a nuclear power plant built next to your home.

      The problem with this quote is that these days a freeway/airport is probably thousands of times more dangerous than having a nuclear power plant build next to your home.

  • Public-key crypto (Score:3, Informative)

    by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @03:01PM (#25458759) Homepage

    Hellman is best known as co-inventor (with Diffie and Merkle) of public key cryptography

    FWIW, the British secret service discovered public-cryptography several years before. Hellman et al just introduced it to the public. See Schneier's Applied Cryptography [amazon.com] .

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Apathist (741707)
      Sure, but they saw fit not to share it with us plebs... and most likely still would not have. These guys are the reason why modern, publicly available crypto exists.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      It is possible for inventions to be made independently, as they were in this case. However, I do think "Hellman is best known as co-inventor (with Diffie and Merkle) of public key cryptography" is vastly misleading: "Hellman is best known as co-inventor (with Diffie, Merkle, Cocks, Ellis and Williamson) of public key cryptography" is more accurate.
  • A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      After all, we don't want to start a nuclear war unless we really have to.
      - Col Lionel Mandrake

  • He's a fool. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tjstork (137384) <todd@bandrowsky.gmail@com> on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @03:07PM (#25458845) Homepage Journal

    The thing is, if you all don't have nuclear weapons, and I covertly do, I win.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mikeee (137160)

      1. Get everyone to agree that nuclear weapons are bad.
      2. ???
      3. Profit!

    • Maybe, assuming you had to use them to win a fight, and you'd better have a good reason. If you're the only one with nukes then there is the possibility of other countries not liking that and arranging preemptive airstrikes or commando raids to destroy your launch infrastructure.

      Also depends on what you have. Say, hypothetically, you're in charge of an Iran-like banana republic and the US had no nukes but you had two nukes, then you take out New York and Los Angeles with the nuclear strikes. The US' forc
      • Also depends on what you have. Say, hypothetically, you're in charge of an Iran-like banana republic and the US had no nukes but you had two nukes then you take out New York and Los Angeles with the nuclear strikes

        Well, yes, but the problem is that a good sized h-bomb that takes out NY and LA takes with it a good chunk of the northeastern USA and southern california. Take a took at a map of

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Bravo_fallout2.png [wikipedia.org]

        That's a fallout plume of 1000 rads out to a range of over 100 mi

        • by JohnnyComeLately (725958) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @05:42PM (#25461217) Homepage Journal

          Are you talking hypothetically, or realistically?? I can promise you that if a state launched an ICBM, we'd have nukes popping out of our silos likely before their missiles started re-entry. The US is ready within an extremely short period (a time I can't say) to retaliate against any missle strike.

          Likewise, let's say they launch from around Channel Islands and take out LA in minutes from initial launch, there are crews 24/7 waiting in Silo's to turn key and launch. Economy, and conventional forces have no play. All it takes is an Executive Branch decision, a few minor, procedural events, and several hundred thousand people reach the temperature of the sun in a few minutes half way across the world.

          With regards to EMP, do some googling for the term "survivable" and you'll see we've been fielding systems for decades that are designed to make it through the EMP. I'll give you one example to start, MILSTAR EHF satellites.

    • by commodoresloat (172735) * on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @03:55PM (#25459693)

      The whole point of nuclear weapons is to overtly have them; if your possession of them is truly "covert," you don't win a damn thing. Even Israel's nuclear program was an open secret for years because it allowed them to gain the effects of deterrence without openly proclaiming that they had a nuclear arsenal. But nobody seriously believed they didn't have one.

    • Ok, give every nation 10 nuclear weapons, to be deployed against any nation, ally or enemy, that launches nukes first. Suddenly, using nukes leads not just to the country being attacked retaliating, but also to 1600 nuclear missiles flying at you from litterally every corner of the globe.

      The problem with MAD is that it is only a halfway solution. It might just be possible for the US or the Soviet union to remove enough of the others nuclear arsenal that a victory is possible without massive civilian casua

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by meringuoid (568297)
      The thing is, if you all don't have nuclear weapons, and I covertly do, I win.

      But zer whole point of ein... nuclear deterrent is wasted if you keep it a secret! Why didn't you tell zer whole world, eh?

      Secret nukes: bad idea. If your neighbour attacks you and you use nuclear weapons in self-defence, millions are dead. If you publish details of your armament to the world ahead of time, your neighbour never dares attack in the first place. Conversely, if you attack your neighbour with your secret arsenal,

  • Dangers... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Notquitecajun (1073646) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @03:08PM (#25458867)
    If the dangers from owning your own nukes are so serious, why haven't we destroyed the world yet - even with some of the so-called religious fundamentalist whackos that people are so afraid of in the White House?

    Honestly, all this fear running around and western democracies - and the Russians - are the ONLY ones who have managed them responsibly. We haven't blown the world up, and the worst are some "near misses" which didn't produce anything. Shoot, we're farther away now from nuclear war between major powers than we have been since before the Cold War.

    Point fingers at Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, and their ilk. Leave the rest of us out of it. They're the nuclear "powers" to be afraid of, and we should raise defenses against their armament which are overwhelming - not detente.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by eln (21727)

      Honestly, all this fear running around and western democracies - and the Russians - are the ONLY ones who have managed them responsibly.

      Maybe I'm just not up on my history, but when have any of the other nuclear powers detonated a nuclear weapon other than in uninhabited areas for testing purposes?

      Was there a nuclear war between India and Pakistan that I missed? Did Israel wipe Syria off the map while I wasn't looking?

      None of the countries that have nukes have blown up the world. The only one that has used them for their intended purpose (blowing lots of people up) is the US, and that was more than 60 years ago. To say that any other cou

    • Honestly, all this fear running around and western democracies - and the Russians - are the ONLY ones who have managed them responsibly. We haven't blown the world up, and the worst are some "near misses" which didn't produce anything. Shoot, we're farther away now from nuclear war between major powers than we have been since before the Cold War.

      I realize I shouldn't be feeding the trolls here, but still: some of those near misses have been pretty [wikipedia.org] fucking [wikipedia.org] near [wikipedia.org] (and these are just some well-known examples!).

      • The Iranians, while likely over-exaggerating their capabilities, are not held by the constraints that the rest of the western world uses. I honestly believe that they may have used them by now. I'm almost surprised the Pakistanis never did, but they've had too much internal turmoil to do anything further since gaining capability.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        In fact, North Korea probably doesn't even have any nuclear weapons. They claim to, but their single nuclear test was a dud, if in fact it was a test at all. Even if they have them, they are likely to be so primitive as to be far too large to fit on a missile, leaving them with a bomb that can't actually be moved to where it will destroy its target.

    • I think you are missing a point.

      Your argument seems to be, "we haven't had a nuclear war since 1945, so the risk of nuclear war must be extremely low."

      A lot of Hellman's article (and the whole point about the glider antics) was pointing out how awful the human intellect is at working out risks (as if the current economic mess, or for that matter Las Vegas, didn't spell that out even more eloquently). He is certainly correct to argue that it is even more dangerous to be complacent.

  • by shellster_dude (1261444) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @03:10PM (#25458909)
    "...I did a preliminary risk analysis which indicates that relying on nuclear weapons for our security is thousands of times more dangerous than having a nuclear power plant built next to your home."

    Yeah...I would love to see how he produced that "risk analysis" statement. I guess, since nuclear reactors are virtually not dangerous at all with todays technology, it can be said that something that is only a little dangerous (relying on nuclear weapons for security, which has worked for almost 60 years) can be a thousand times as dangerous, because 1000 * 0 = 0.
    • by jaxdahl (227487)

      http://nuclearrisk.org/paper.pdf [nuclearrisk.org]

      It's in the appendix, near the bottom. It definitely is preliminary and not in depth, but that's probably due to a lack of accessible/accurate data.

    • it can be said that something that is only a little dangerous (relying on nuclear weapons for security, which has worked for almost 60 years)

      As he points out in the article, "a little dangerous" isn't good enough. A 99% per year safety margin for nuclear deterrence would be small, but actually a 1% chance of nuclear war each year isn't an acceptable risk... and moreover is not a sustainable long-term strategy. As he points out, although nuclear weapons have not led to nuclear war in the last 50-60 years, that really only establishes that "the chance of nuclear war is somewhere between zero and 6% per year". Those are terrible odds.

      His point i

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by MrLogic17 (233498)

      Strange risk analysis.

      Out of untold tens (hundreds?) of thousands of nuclear weapons, only 2 have ever been used on people, and that was at war time. Zero have gone off accidentaly.

      Out of the dozens (hundreds?) of nuclear power plants that have been build & torn down, there have been 1 major (Chernobyl) and 1 minor (Three Mile Island) accidents.

      That's a pretty small sample size to be dividing against a zero.

      I too wanna see how he produced that "risk analysis".

    • by tmosley (996283)
      Hmm, 57 deaths (arguably 4000+) from having a nearby nuclear reactor over all of history (1 incident), vs 0 deaths over the whole of history from relying on nuclear weapons for defense. No country with nukes has ever been invaded (with the possible exception of Israel, but I don't know if they had nukes back then). Whereas every country that doesn't have nukes has been invaded (or at least bombarded from sea or sky) at some point.

      I think his math is a bit off... It's more like a negative inverse of hi
    • It seemed evident to me from reading the article that his basic premise was to rationalize the existence of nuclear possibilities, not to derive whether or not they do in fact exist.

      Probably his most flawed conception was that conflict between NATO/Russia would automatically result in nuclear escalation.

      That is quite absurd. Neither Russia nor America has ever considered the use of nuclear arms as a blanket protection for their strategic assets. If Russia invaded Germany tomorrow America would be all

  • All of his risk estimates are based on analysis of 40 year old quotes. He may as well have just plucked figures from the air.
  • by BobMcD (601576) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @03:30PM (#25459259)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Jordan_Gatling [wikipedia.org]

    In 1877, he wrote: "It occurred to me that if I could invent a machine - a gun - which could by its rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred, that it would, to a large extent supersede the necessity of large armies, and consequently, exposure to battle and disease [would] be greatly diminished."

    Sounds a lot like this, from TFA:

    Since World War III would mean the end of civilization, no one would dare start it.

    The thing is, just as many bodies lie in the dirt since the invention of the machine gun, and armies are effectively as big as ever. Also, this invention has been used to commit COUNTLESS atrocities that wouldn't have been as possible before it was introduced.

    My point is simple, focusing on the WEAPON is futile. In the hands of men anything will eventually be turned to evil. You have to assume the worst case when dealing with weapons and humanity. This is also why you basically HAVE to participate in the arms race. The opposite choice is elimination.

  • pro-israel or anti-israel

    pro-usa or anti-usa

    you should be against iranian proliferation

    there's this weird alien line of thought out there that goes like this: "if the usa has nukes, why shouldn't iran?"

    what that thought represents is tribal nationalistic thinking trumping common sense

    common sense holds that NO ONE should have nukes. so proliferation is bad, for whomever. the most logical approach to iranian proliferation then is this: "i am against iran having nukes, AND i am against the usa having nukes"

    but this whole "i support iran having nukes, to balance out the usa" is a level of stupidity beneath respect

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      fair enough, but what do you do once you are "against" iranian proliferation? John McCain (and many others) think that this means the U.S. should bomb Iran. I'm as against Iranian proliferation as I am against Korean, Bolivian, or Austrian nuclear proliferation -- but I am also against using phony claims of an imminent Iranian nuclear threat to justify hypocritical policy choices. If Iran does choose to go nuclear, that will be a decision that I have little influence on, and I'm not about to advocate bom

  • by SoapBox17 (1020345) on Tuesday October 21, 2008 @03:34PM (#25459369) Homepage
    They don't call it a Diffie-Merkle-Hellman exchange, who the hell is this Merkle guy?
  • Anybody else notice the nuclear weapons elephant in the room lately? I mean, beyond just the rhetoric level? I've noticed some people are re-evaluating their approach to nuke proliferation by deciding, "hey, let's build a shelter in the garage anyway, rather than just assuming everyone will be wiped out." Sort of a frightening trend, albeit more realistic than the idea that everybody's gonna die.

    I was also watching a C-SPAN panel of economists a couple weeks ago, and one of the panelists was extrapolating
  • If the author of TFA, Martin Hellman, is so concerned about the low speed pass then why not equip the glider with an emergency booster rocket? That way, if he ever finds himself without enough speed to come around and land he can activate the emergency booster rocket to gain enough speed to safely glide back and land OR he could equip his glider with a rocket powered ejection system OR (perhaps more feasibly) an aircraft parachute (a feature that is becoming more common in other light aircraft as a safety p
  • Situation before the Atomic bomb :

    Every 20-30 years, wars regularly happened between the most industrialized or powerful countries on earth.

    The bomb ended WWII.

    After the bomb :

    No open/direct/full conflict between the most powerful countries on earth since then.

    60 years of 'peace' as we have now since 1945 are an exception in the long recurrent wars that regularly dotted history.

  • It is not possible, unfortunately, to approach the issue of nuclear arms proliferation in a purely abstract and rational manner because humans are not purely abstract and rational beings. Although MAD is not absolutely effective in all cases, as Mr. Hellman correctly points out in his essay, neither are the alternatives, IMHO, any more appealing. There will always be people and leaders in this world, Iran and Pakistan for example, who have or are rapidly acquiring nuclear arms AND are NOT, for various reaso
  • Two words: Use CANDU [wikipedia.org].
  • Nuclear power isn't dangerous - bad engineering is dangerous. There's nothing special about nuclear power that makes it more dangerous than other industrial scale projects when engineered poorly.

    Chernobyl was a massive engineering mistake, sure. But poor engineering of Chinese coal mines kills around 6000 per year. The Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India leaked fumes, killing something like 15,000 people in 1984. The BASF fertilizer plant in Oppau, Germany blew up in 1921 killing like 600 peop

Little known fact about Middle Earth: The Hobbits had a very sophisticated computer network! It was a Tolkien Ring...

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