Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

More stuff you probably didn't know

It appears I misunderstood the situation -- for so long as Michael Jackson remains dead, and Sarah Palin remains a narcissistic doofus, the public discourse will consist of nothing else. We are doomed to hear about these two individuals, the not-so-quick and the dead, relentlessly, and exclusively, until the extinction of humanity. So, I guess it's up to me to tell you some of the news that isn't fit to print.

Did you know that President Obama, on June 29, acted to abort a Bush administration initiative that could have led to the resumption of nuclear fuel reprocessing in the United States? The nuclear power controversy was big time in my youth but it has been quiet lately, so readers may need a brief review of the reprocessing issue. The Union of Concerned Scientists gives a primer, including a discussion of the now extinct GWB plans. Briefly, as the enriched uranium in nuclear reactors fissions to produce power, it's breakdown products include plutonium, as well as a whole lot of shorter-lived, highly radioactive species. In reprocessing, the plutonium and unburned uranium are chemically separated from the rest of the junk, the idea being that both can then be re-used in reactors.

The problems with this? You've got a whole lot of highly radioactive, very dangerous stuff being shipped around the planet -- the very dangerous spent fuel from reactor to reprocessing plant, and the plutonium heading back out to reactors. Unlike uranium, which requires elaborate technology to enrich from reactor to weapon grade, plutonium can be separated out chemically, by a smart college kid.

All of the stages in this cycle make excellent targets for attacks by depraved maniacs, whether to cause a disaster on the spot or to steal material for use in weapons. Terrorists aside, plain old accidents would be unacceptable. Furthermore the process generates a stream of highly radioactive liquid waste which is hard to dispose of. Reprocessing and other technologies to extend the nuclear fuel resource may become part of the global energy mix in the future, but that won't make sense until we have nuclear disarmament -- so the plutonium is not subject to diversion -- and a technological regime which can implement these processes safely and securely. We are nowhere close to that yet.

In other news apparently equally unfit to print, Obama appointed Eric Goosby, M.D., as U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and the Senate confirmed him a couple of weeks ago. He was an HIV policy official in the Clinton administration and then head of the Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation. There is a lot going on in global AIDS policy right now, not least the evident failure of the universal treatment campaign -- we're actually rolling out treatment more slowly than the pace of new infections; the impact of the economic slowdown on AIDS prevention and treatment efforts in the poor countries; Obama's breaking his campaign promise to provide $1 billion a year in new funding for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief; and PEPFAR's emphasis on abstinence and monogamy in HIV prevention, which is not effective with the people at highest risk, including married women who cannot control what their husbands do. Many of us are expecting positive changes.

I choose these two items because they are of particular interest to me, they are very important, and the corporate media have largely ignored them. I'll accept other nominations.

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