Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sorry, but this blog is dormant. For current information, please see the Google Knols under DeVolpi.


Thursday, July 10, 2008


Scott Ritter on Nuclear Expertise

On the 26 June 2008 TruthDig blog, Scott Ritter, former IAEA inspector, posted a critique of the credentials of David Albright, whose nuclear credentials have been widely extolled. A large number of comments have been posted on TruthDig about his critque, and I have weighed in on this dispute with the following comments divided into 3 pieces because of space limitations on TruthDig.


Nuclear Expertise


Scott Ritter’s challenge regarding the credentials of some outspoken "nuclear experts" is worthy of further comment, both in terms of the specific individuals and in terms of others who need to be "outed." Too often proponents or critics with impressive resumes, especially from academia, gloss over their lack of fundamental training and experience in the fields of technical discussion. Although relevant credentials and biases are very pertinent, it is extremely difficult to challenge credentials after formal publication or media publicity.

ALBRIGHT. Having been acquainted with David Albright since the early 1980s on the Washington NGO scene, I regrettably must second Scott Ritter’s outing of Dave’s overworked credentials.

My official role at Argonne National Laboratory in arms-control and verification technology led me to relevant contracts with the Defense Nuclear Agency well before the beginning of formalized on-site inspection, including OSIA, as well as interactions with all the DOE weapons labs, with DOD, and at overseas laboratories. My volunteer activities allowed contribution of technical expertise to various NGO groups with which I collaborated, such as the FAS, NRDC, ACA, CDI, and others. My professional activities at Argonne (and other laboratories) involved nearly 40 years of lab, field, and analytical activities in instrumentation, nuclear physics, nuclear engineering, reactor safety, radioisotopes, experiments, verification technology, and arms control. I have technical papers, review articles, and patents to back this up.

Besides being a technical consultant to the joint FAS/NRDC (Federation of American Scientists/Natural Resources Defense Council) verification project, I worked with European arms-control projects involving Soviet and Eastern European counterparts before the Cold War came to an end (www.NuclearShadowboxing.Info). Despite a half-century close involvement, I don’t recall Dave’s (or anyone else’s) position as a "Senior Staff Scientist" for the FAS (although they could use some professional help nowadays on nuclear issues).

Aside from Albright’s book compilation on fissile materials, there are some other useful contributions he has made to arms control and non-proliferation, such as his interpretation of country-specific proliferation activities. Dave’s a friendly guy, but I always found him shallow on experience, and — now realizing that he was once on the research staff of Princeton University's Center for Energy and Environmental Studies — I have a better understanding of his predisposition and educational preparation. With no substantive foundation he has expressed himself as philosophically opposed to nuclear power. This is not uncommon, particularly with academics associated with Princeton who evince no hands-on or other practical field experience regarding nuclear-weapons, nuclear-reactor technology, or verification methodology.

KHIDIR HAMZA. In connection with the "hands-on" criterion, I confess reluctance to accept some of the negative assessments about Dr. Khidir Hamza. He has evidenced both academic and insider experience that really cannot be challenged in terms of insufficient qualifications. As far has the technical content of his book, I find it quite plausible. Regarding his derring-do exploits and memoirs, they make a good read. I notice that David Kay, a highly qualified IAEA inspector that I was once acquainted with, praised the book. I sense considerable self-effacing dissonance among Iraqi defectors regarding Hamza and each other.

—A. DeVolpi, retired physicist

THE PROFESSORS. For progress in non-proliferation, we need be saved from the assumed or accorded authoritarianism of well-intentioned professors, especially from the East Coast, who have titles mistaken as credentials. Frank von Hippel of Princeton comes to mind. Notwithstanding good intentions, pleasant personality, teaching experience, and published papers — these do not constitute hands-on field or laboratory experience. Nor does time spent in Washington corridors, offices, conference rooms count.

I hold Frank partially responsible for the decade-long hiatus in reaching agreement with Korea on nuclear demilitarization, for decades of lack of progress in conversion of the Siberian plutonium reactors, for stalling growth of nuclear power in the United States, for misrepresenting the weaponizability of reactor-grade plutonium, and for sustaining radiophobia.
On the latter point, over two decades after the Chernobyl accident, Frank is yet to acknowledge in print that he was utterly wrong in projecting or implying a huge number of fatalities due to the accident. He and others cling to unvalidated beliefs regarding the effects of low levels of radiation. That particular professional impropriety about predicting Chernobyl radiation effects was written in collaboration with Tom Cochran. Frank’s other nuclear-policy distortions often came with like-minded, but equally unrepentant collaborators.

Another fundamental lapse, more common in academic circles compared to those who have gained field experience, is insufficient awareness of systematic error in data and computed results. Much of the debacle regarding unfounded projections of excess cancers (for adults and juveniles) from the Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island accidents would have averted if proper scientific methodology were applied to the estimates.

Were it not for the prevalence of contemporary East-Coast academics, U.S. oil- and coal-burning electrical power stations might long have been on the wane, along with the carbon-dioxide and chronic pollution they emit. Certainly shortages and prices of oil would not have reached their present levels had more nuclear-power stations been built as a carbon-disengaged source of baseload electricity.

Steve Fetter, now at University of Maryland, is another bright fellow with Harvard physics graduate degrees, but has weighed in on topics with which he evinces little or no practical field experience. I know about these people because I once had to bring them up to speed on fundamentals regarding practical nuclear and instrument technology.

Include Tom Cochran in the good-hearted, under-experienced list. Academic qualifications aside, professorships or PhDs do not necessarily correspond to the experiential foundations of a John Pike or Steve Aftergood. Hal Feiverson of Princeton, though, is an example of a professor who has exhibited a learning process well beyond the university norm.

Moreover, were it not for the professors of the 30s and 40s who gained hands-on laboratory and field experience, we would not have succeeded in the timely development of nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors. With the demise of Hans Bethe and Pief Panofsky, a good example remaining is Dick Garwin (aside from some uncharacteristic overreaching he has done with regard to Chernobyl cancer projections).

Finally, there is the matter of "political" scientists, such as Graham Allison of Harvard, who have leaned over from the political to the technical side to address issues regarding "nuclear terrorism," and others who have presented overhyped views about "dirty bombs." The political scientists do better when they have sound technical advice or stick to their field.

—A. DeVolpi, retired physicist

FIELD EXPERIENCE. What’s so special about hands-on experience? It’s simply not gained without many years working in the field or in laboratories, well beyond graduate-level academic and specialized training in occupations. Those who attain hands-on field experience — usually under distracting and sometimes dangerous conditions — find out that good data collection, patience, luck, calculated risk, indulgence, leadership, subservience, practical skills, inadvertent radiation exposures, bruises, disappointment, details, experiment design, equipment, science fundamentals, analytic skills, jury-rigging, self-effacement, open-mindedness, tolerance, technical publication, and knowledge reinforcement are some aspects of direct participation not found much in books or in the classroom for either teacher or student.

Academic institutions do a great job giving researchers a good start; just look at the graduate degrees and prominent educational institutions (United States, Great Britain, etc.) where the Iraqi nuclear-weapon developers acquired their basic scientific and technological knowledge. The remaining requisite experience is gained in the field the hard way. (It should be noted, however, that even after two decades of effort, Saddam Hussein — lavishing authority and money — failed to have even a single functional nuclear weapon produced.)

Once in a while it does become necessary to challenge the credentials and experience of those who take outspoken positions on topics they seem to misunderstand or misrepresent, often because of they lack meaningful field experience, as Scott Ritter has noted. If a more insightful author-evaluation process were routinely available, policymakers would have less cover for the type of premature or egregious data selection experienced particularly with regard to events in the Mid-East.

CREDENTIALS AND CONFLICTS OF INTEREST. In general, one inherent qualification of the academic community is comparatively less conflict of financial and institutional interest. Even so, more weight to meaningful qualifications and explicit disclaimers should be required of academics when they address issues without having the type of field experience that Scott Ridder and David Kay have had. I find that to be particularly the case when it comes a technical understanding of nuclear reactors and the risks of radiation and proliferation. Academic or NGO papers having essentially no professional foundation are a disservice to our common interest in an improved energy economy that would be accompanied by reducing risk and chronic hazard.
This isn’t meant to imply that questions they raise shouldn’t be answered — just that those who answer should have an applicable track record.

In any event, a good disassociated test of validity is to examine technical statements and papers for rigorous recognition, analysis, and presentation of potential systematic errors in measurements; it is the keystone to credibility. Too many consequential predictions have been made on the basis of selected or functionally dependent data. Those who don’t recognize the limitations of their estimates do not warrant much credibility.

In short, academic/NGO papers and presentations should start out with a disclaimer if not based on actual laboratory or field experience, and if the authors cannot or do not fathom or report systematic measurement errors. Why don’t they just admit, "I’ve really had no field experience on this topic, and I don’t know how to characterize the validity of my results, but caveat emptor, here they are!"

Academic and NGO communities should police their own qualifications for speaking out on critical issues so that experienced professionals, such as Scott Ridder and myself, don’t have to come forward with the risk of appearing to respond with ad-hominem attacks.

—A. DeVolpi, retired physicist


Sunday, July 06, 2008


Back On Line

After a year or so of dormancy, this Nuclear Shadowboxing (NSB) Blog is being reactivated. I'll need some time to refamiliarize with making changes and loading in resources.



Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Update on Iran's Nuclear Program (Mar. 2007)

There's an update on our Nuclear Resources links regarding Iran's nuclear program based on IAEA inspections. Even though some facilities are inaccessible while the enhanced-safeguards protocol is suspended (due to the ongoing dispute), the overall assessment indicates that Iran still has not gone beyond the point of no return on weaponization.



Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Proliferation and Nonproliferation

To provide information on nuclear proliferation and nonproliferation, we will gradually add information to this blog. For starters, we'll draw attention to the problem of unsequestered weapons-grade uranium, that is, trying to keep track of the roughly 1700 tons of enriched uranium that were produced during the Cold War. Where is the uranium now -- and how well safeguarded?

Four articles by reporter Sam Roe for the Chicago Tribune are a good place for an update, one of which is directly accessible with this link, and all of them in the left column as Proliferation/Nonproliferation articles by following Nuclear Resource Links.


Sunday, November 26, 2006



Because of the mysterious death of Litvinenko, allegedly from a severe dose of polonium radiation poisoning, some resource information on polonium has been posted with our resource links. It is raw, undigested, but useful data. Simply click on the underlined title of this post, Polonium, or the underlined Link below, for a shortcut to the file.

Additional information is being made available through the "Comments" and links that are added to this thread.



Friday, November 17, 2006


Environmental Issues

Going Nuclear – Patrick Moore
The co-founder of Greenpeace, Patrick Moore, left the prominent environmental organization in 1986 because it began “abandoning science and logic.” Now the director of Greenspirit, Moore speaks out for the nuclear industry, the forest industry and supports genetically engineered crops. Is he still an environmentalist?
Edward Weinman: What are the most serious environmental problems facing us today? Patrick Moore: Poverty, deforestation in the tropics, micronutrient deficiency (malnutrition), urban sprawl, population growth and air pollution.
EW: You left Greenpeace in 1986. Why leave what was perhaps the first environmental organization with clout? PM: I left because I saw my colleagues abandoning science and logic and adopting zero-tolerance policies that made no sense. In many ways, Greenpeace is now promoting policies that are environmentally negative. Genetically modified crops reduce pesticide use; nuclear energy reduces greenhouse gas emissions; sustainable forestry produces the most abundant renewable material; aquaculture produces healthy oils and protein, and takes pressure off the wild stocks.
EW: How do we reconcile global needs to exploit natural resources for food and energy with the need to protect the environment? Are these needs incompatible? PM: There are many ways to reconcile human needs with environmental protection. Sustainability is about continuing to satisfy civilization’s need for food, energy, and materials while at the same time reducing negative environmental impact. This can be done through changes in behavior (e.g., energy conservation) and technological change (e.g., using nuclear energy and renewable energy instead of fossil fuel).
EW: The timber industry argues forests are a renewable resource. Environmentalists argue that reforestation doesn’t take into account the diversity of species, and that deforestation is one reason flooding is more prominent, especially in the Pacific Northwest. Does the truth exist somewhere in the middle?PM: Sustainable forestry aims to preserve species diversity. Deforestation, the permanent loss of forest, is caused by farming and cities, not forestry. Forestry causes reforestation. The anti-forestry movement is wrong because they are accusing the wrong sector. We should be growing more trees and using more wood, not cutting fewer trees and using less wood.
EW: The earth is growing warmer. That’s a given. What do you think – are we responsible for climate change, or is it a natural phenomenon that ebbs and flows? PM: It is a natural phenomenon and the earth has gone through many periods of cooling and warming. But we are definitely changing the chemistry of our atmosphere, mainly by burning fossil fuels and increasing the CO2 content of the air. Theoretically this should cause warming. So the present warming trend may be partly natural and partly caused by us. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to determine the percentage due to each.
EW: You were quoted as saying that global warming and the melting of glaciers is positive because it “creates more arable land.” I can understand how more arable land could be a good thing, but aren’t those positives offset by the loss of fresh water and rising sea levels? PM: The future balance of “positive” vs. “negative” impacts from climate change is both difficult to determine and depends on where one lives. Warming should result in increased rainfall overall. We don’t know the extent of sea level rise, I believe it is exaggerated. Nonetheless it would be prudent to reduce fossil fuel consumption for a number of reasons, including reducing the risk of serious negative consequences.
EW: What can individuals concerned about climate change do to protect the environment? Do the little things, like turning off the lights, add up, or is it like pouring a Dixie cup of water onto a forest fire? PM: Individuals can drastically reduce their fossil fuel consumption by buying fuel-efficient, hybrid autos and by converting the gas furnaces and hot water heaters to ground-source heat pumps.
EW: Why you have begun speaking out in favor of nuclear energy?PM: Nuclear energy is clean and safe and is the only large base load electrical source that can replace coal at a global level.
EW: Relying on nuclear energy brings with it a measure of permanence that many people are uncomfortable with. For example, the New York Times reported that rules for a proposed high-level waste repository in Nevada were thrown out after the former head of the EPA Christie Whitman left office because the rules only covered the first 10,000 years of waste storage at the plant, while “peak releases of radiation were expected after that time.” How can we predict how waste repository sites will age over such a time frame? And what if we’re wrong about those predictions? PM: It is ridiculous to try to plan for 10,000 years. Now that the ban on recycling nuclear fuel has been lifted in the United States, it will be possible to get the 95% of the energy that is in used fuel and use it. At the same time the fission products that are separated out only require 300 years to become relatively harmless.
EW: Iran is trying to bolster its nuclear program, its leaders say, for domestic energy. The West is opposed. If the West builds more nuclear reactors for energy purposes, shouldn’t other countries have the same right? Should we worry about nuclear reactors sprouting up across the globe? PM: The American proposal for an international partnership to control nuclear fuel would allow all nations to have nuclear power but would require that the uranium enrichment and used-fuel recycling be done by the existing nuclear powers. Russia appears to have accepted this approach.
EW: The default argument against nuclear power can be summed up in one word: Chernobyl. Could it happen again? PM: The dangers are overstated. Chernobyl was the only accident that caused death and injury and that style of Soviet reactor should never have been built. Of course, there are risks with all technologies, but nuclear is one of the safest. Many of the other Chernobyl-style reactors are still operating, after they were refit so that a Chernobyl type accident could not occur again. We learn from our mistakes.

Published in Iceland Review no 44?
Interviewed by Edward Weinman. 11/13/2006
< http://www.icelandreview.com/icelandreview/daily_news/?cat_id=21123&ew_0_a_id=244252 > or < http://tinyurl.com/yn7o7z >

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