Thursday, 19 March 2009

The End is Nigh: The Conference!

Y'know, while reading coverage of this year's International Prophecy Conference I'm not actually sure what scares me the most. It's either that preacher Mark Hitchcock has penned *20* books on apocalyptica or that there's a CONFERENCE where people go and talk.

It's no surprise to see Tim LaHaye, he of the bestselling Left Behind series, down as one of the speakers at this conference, though Hitchcock's latest title (The Late Great United States, What Bible Prophecy Reveals about America's Last Days) is a sobering reminder that the evangelical Christian community in America is very much alive and well and busy claiming the current crisis as a sign of the times. He's also author of the cherrily-titled Could the Rapture Happen Today? and Iran: The Coming Crisis.

Hitchcock confidentally proclaims that America will NOT be a superpower during the End Times, meaning it will have already be brought low by "anything from "a nuclear 9/11'' to an economic collapse to the expected Rapture that could swoop 30 million believers into heaven"

"We don't want to be obsessed with it,'' he said. I really hope the irony of that statement is clear.

Global crisis 'to strike by 2030'

A "perfect storm" of food shortages, scarce water and insufficient energy resources threaten to unleash public unrest, cross-border conflicts and mass migration as people flee from the worst-affected regions, the UK government's chief scientist is warning.

In a major speech to environmental groups and politicians, Professor John Beddington, who took up the position of chief scientific adviser last year, will say that the world is heading for major upheavals which are due to come to a head in 2030.

He will tell the government's Sustainable Development UK conference in Westminster that the growing population and success in alleviating poverty in developing countries will trigger a surge in demand for food, water and energy over the next two decades, at a time when governments must also make major progress in combating climate change.

"We head into a perfect storm in 2030, because all of these things are operating on the same time frame," Beddington told the Guardian.

"If we don't address this, we can expect major destabilisation, an increase in rioting and potentially significant problems with international migration, as people move out to avoid food and water shortages," he added.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

I need a hol-i-day, a nuclear hol-i-day ...

Love is all around at the moment. Nuclear love, that is, as Russia announces a "comprehensive military rearmament" from 2011 - partly in response to perceived shortcomings during the recent war with Georgia and also in reaction to NATO's expansion and America's continued plans for its missile defence shield (no word on that yet from the Obama administration?) Russian President Dmitry Medvedev specifically named his country's strategic nuclear forces as being in need of the $140bn (£94.5bn) boost.

Meanwhile, China has voiced concern about the rising tensions in Korea over the forthcoming North's rocket test launch - with Japan even suggesting it could deploy a vessel equipped with missile interceptor technology to the Sea of Japan (East Sea) to destroy the rocket. Worries continue that North Korea is slowly but surely building an arsenal capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

And British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has told Iran it should "let the world help it get civil nuclear power" and announced that an expansion of nuclear power was needed globally to meet carbon reduction targets. This less than a month after Iran and Russia started tests of the Middle Eastern country's first nuclear power plant.

Edit:
Further to coverage of Gordon Brown's warning to Iran, the BBC (where would I be without them?) helpfully did a nice little feature on the issue of Iran's civilian nuclear programme, but one which makes it clear that the UK is involved in this nuclear rearmament race, even if it is by stealth.

Elsewhere in his speech ... the UK leader also proposed to further reduce Britain's own nuclear warheads in the run-up to the next five-yearly proliferation review conference next year. These warheads now number fewer than 160.

The weakness in his argument, other governments might say, is that at the same time Britain is also starting on a major programme of renewing its nuclear weapons. It is planning to build four new submarines, will take part in an American programme to extend the life of the Trident D5 missile and is examining an upgrade for its own warheads.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Scientists anticipate 'more bad news' on climate change

More than 2,000 climate scientists gathering in Copenhagen are expected to give a much clearer - and up-to-date - picture about the effects of climate change.

The scientists are concerned that the 2007 reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are already out of date. Latest data suggests greater rises in sea levels this century.

For the scientists, this conference is "about removing as much wriggle room as possible from the political negotiations on a new global climate treaty taking place in December".

In the context of the wrangle over the language used when talking about the effects of climate change, it will be interesting to see what conclusions a sober, research-based and non-political analysis will come to. The acid test will come when the politicians meet later in the year and what tactics they will employ to evade acting over what will undoubtedly be a pretty miserable prognosis.

Monday, 9 March 2009

N Korea gets jumpy, threatens war

Good to see the stand-off in Korea continues to bubble along nicely*, while talks over North Korea's nuclear ambitions remain stalled.

North Korea has warned that any attempt to shoot down a satellite it says it plans to launch will result in war, while also putting its military on full combat alert as an annual military exercise by US and South Korean forces begins. North Korea is always rankled by the annual drill, which tests the joint forces' ability to defend the peninsula.

The South and the US believe Pyongyang could be preparing to test-fire a long-range missile under the guise of a satellite launch.

In January, N Korea scrapped a series of peace agreements with the South over Seoul's decision to link bilateral aid to progress on "denuclearisation".

* irony

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

'Close shave' by space rock

An asteroid which may be as big as a ten-storey building has passed close by the Earth, astronomers say. The object, known as 2009 DD45, thought to be 21-47m (68-152ft) across, raced by our planet at 1344 GMT on Monday.

The gap was just 72,000 km (44,750 miles); a fifth of the distance between our planet and the Moon.

International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Centre (MPC), which catalogues Solar System objects, lists the closest recent flyby as 2004 FU162, a small asteroid about 6m (20ft) across which came within about 6,500km (4,000 miles) of our planet in March 2004. The latest object, 2009 DD45, passed by our planet at only twice the altitude of satellites in geosynchronous orbit.

So what's your favourite apocalypse?

Got a favourite prediction for the end of the world? Or even one of your own? Which doomsayer has caught your eye?

Pop your top prediction, plus a link, in the comments box and we'll publish a selection in the next issue ...

Deadly shipment 'under threat from terrorists'

According to the Times yesterday (no, go and find your own damn link!), Greenpeace is claiming a French consignment of reprocessed nuclear fuel to Japan contains enough bomb-grade plutonium to make 225 nuclear weapons and is at risk from being hijacked by terrorists.

The shipment of mixed oxide (MOX), a blend of plutonium and reprocessed uranium, is being carried on two ships from the British-based firm Pacific Nuclear Transport from Cherbourg this week. Areva, the reprocessing company, confirmed the shipment and said the vessels would be "armed and protected by specifically trained guards from Britain".

Just so you know, you recover bomb-grade plutonium by re-processing spent nuclear fuel and separating the plutonium from remaining uranium and waste fission products.

Radioactive relic found

A bottle discarded at a waste site in the US contains the oldest sample of bomb-grade plutonium made in a nuclear reactor, scientists say.

The sample dates to 1944 and is a relic from the infancy of the US nuclear weapons programme.

The type of plutonium in the bottle - known as Pu-239 - is a so-called alpha emitter. These alpha particles are too bulky to penetrate skin or paper, but they can cause poisoning if swallowed or inhaled.

It has a half-life (the time it takes for half the radioactive nuclei in a sample to decay) of 24,110 years.

The bottle in question was discovered in a burial trench at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state, north-western US.

Established as part of the Manhattan Project in 1943, Hanford was home to the world's first full-scale plutonium production facility.