FPS-Hosted Sessions at the APS April Meeting

Cameron Reed and Pierce Corden

The annual April meeting of the APS was held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Orange County/Anaheim, CA, April 30-May 2, 2011. FPS hosted sessions on electromagnetic pulses, nuclear weapons at age 65, Forum Award recipients, deepwater drilling, the status of arms control, and science diplomacy. The following paragraphs summarize the papers presented. The complete scientific program of the meeting can be found at http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/APR11/Content/2070. Transcripts and slides from many of the talks given at the meeting can be found at http://www.physics.wisc.edu/apsapril2011.

Session B5: Electromagnetic Pulse Phenomena. This session was organized by Benn Tannenbaum, chaired by Valerie Thomas, and featured three talks. The first was given by Peter Huessy of the National Defense University Foundation, who spoke on “EMP Threats to US National Security: Congressional Responses.” Huessy opened his talk by stating that protection from EMPs is a matter of common national defense, and reviewed the work of the 2001 congressional Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack. As a result of the commission’s 2004 report, congress passed legislation to protect the electrical grid of the U. S. from such attacks; the work of the commission now continues as a congressional caucus.  Among other developments, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has ruled that utilities can add cost of protection to their rate structures; the cost of this is estimated to be some $200-300 million for the entire power grid. Huessy argued that such developments are an excellent example of cooperation between government, congress, the private sector and non-governmental organizations. Huessy closed by summarizing many ongoing threats in this area, such as solar storms and indications that the Iranians have tested a missile that can be used in an EMP mode.

The second speaker was Yousaf Butt of Harvard University, whose talk was titled “Nuclear EMP and Geomagnetic Threats in Context.” Butt first reviewed the nature of nuclear-event electromagnetic pulses. These consist of three sub-pulses, which are termed E1, E2, and E3 pulses. E1 pulses are created by prompt gamma-rays which generate electrons by Compton scattering in the atmosphere within about a microsecond of bomb detonation. E2 pulses arise from scattered gamma-rays and persist to about 0.01 seconds after detonation; these are similar to lightning storms, and electronic devices can be protected in the same way as from such storms. E3 pulses are magnetohydrodynamic disturbances which can induce low-frequency currents in transformers over about 100 seconds. Solar Coronal Mass Ejections impacting the Earth’s magnetic field can induce electric fields similar to E3 pulses; such an event took down the power gird in Quebec in 1989. Butt stated that a significant issue is that there are some 2500 large transformers in the United States, but these are typically not stockpiled and may require a year to replace. Mitigative actions could include better space weather prediction which would allow utilities to preemptively shut down transmission facilities, stockpiling of critical components, establishing backup communication links, and education of grid operators. It was Butt’s opinion that the likelihood of geomagnetic storms exceeds that of nuclear EMP strikes.

In a more technical paper, third speaker Michael Dinallo of Sandia National Laboratory addressed the audience on “Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse Review.” With considerable analysis of the corresponding fundamental boundary-value electromagnetic theory, Dinallo reviewed the physics of EM pulses, covering such considerations as atmospheric conductivity, current induction in devices and above-ground wires, and coupling into outlets within buildings. He then described the results of experimental simulations on electronic devices. Detrimental effects include thermalization, metalization, breakdowns, and localized melting. Research is ongoing in areas such as civilian response (alternate communication channels), in-field shielding, materials properties, and laboratory characterization of component responses to pulses.

Session E5: Nuclear Weapons at 65. This session was chaired by Patricia M. Lewis and featured two talks. The first was given by Rebecca Johnson, Executive Director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy in London. Johnson addressed the audience by Skype with accompanying slides; her talk was titled “Nuclear Weapons at 65: Time to Retire?” She opened by reminding listeners that the effects of nuclear weapons have spatial and temporal coverage - from prompt effects to long-term radiation exposure - more extensive than any other type of weapon. In view of this, she feels that the status quo is not realistic, and that since such weapons cannot be used to deter terrorism they should be considered criminal by being subject to humanitarian law, that they should be outlawed and abolished, and that their use should considered a war crime. She argued that it would be easier to verify a total prohibition on such weapons than a partial ban.

The second speaker was Jay Davis, Founding Director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and currently President of the Hertz Foundation, who spoke on “Issues for Future Nuclear Arms Control.” He described how as the number of nuclear weapons in the world decreases, each successive treaty will involve more participants. Trust will have to be built among the participants, and the cost and intrusiveness of inspection regimes will necessarily increase. Eventually, states such as Israel, Iran and North Korea will have to be a part of the process. Davis suggested a number of sequential steps to bring the numbers of weapons down. First, to get to about 1,000 weapons for both the United States and Russia, declarations of reserve weapons, “tail-counting” technologies, and protocols for verification procedures would have to be developed. China, the United Kingdom, and France will likely need to be involved at this step, which Davis estimated will probably require a decade. To get down to 500 weapons, a strategy for modifying the current United States “nuclear umbrella” strategy will need to be developed; one possibility might be to count weapons according as groups of allies. At this step, which Davis estimated may take yet another decade, Israel, India, and Pakistan may have to be brought in as observers. He remarked that 500 weapons may be an appropriate point for a “long pause”, as at this level nuclear weapons are still coupled to conventional weapons. At lower numbers, anti-ballistic missile systems become more credible and can upset deterrence theories. Issues at the level of 500 weapons will also involve replacement and maintenance of infrastructure, design labs, and the issue of military career motivation. To get down to 200 weapons per state, Israel, India, and Pakistan will have to be involved, and the issue of a fissile materials cutoff treaty, the nuclear fuel cycle, and dealing with rogue states will have to be addressed. An important political question for the United States will be: With whom are we willing to accept parity? At the level of 50-100 weapons, Iran and North Korea become part of the equation, and the issue of detecting small numbers of clandestine weapons will be important. Davis closed by remarking that, beyond this, it is difficult to have a clear vision: a “hard minimum” may be reached at a level of about 25 weapons per state.

Session J5: Forum on Physics and Society Awards Session. This session was chaired by outgoing Forum chair Charles Ferguson.  M. Granger Morgan of Carnegie-Mellon University, the Joseph A. Burton Forum Award recipient, spoke on “How a Physics Education has Influenced Practice and Graduate Education in Technically-Focused Quantitative Policy Analysis.” Morgan related how he came to appreciate in the early 1980’s that virtually no risk and policy analyses made any attempt to characterize uncertainty. With a group of colleagues, he solicited input from atmospheric science experts on estimates of uncertainties associated with the health effects of sulfur pollution from coal-fired power plants. This work evolved, with the help of many students and colleagues, into developing sophisticated computer models which utilize probability-density analyses to study various policy issues. In the early 1990s, Morgan moved into the area of climate change analysis; this part of his talk was illustrated with examples of probability-distribution analyses of equilibrium changes in global average temperature offered by 16 climate experts. The results showed that different sets of plausible assumptions can give dramatically different results. In many cases, Morgan argued, the best that we can hope to do may be to describe a broad range of possible futures; substantial uncertainty within the climate-analysis community is often not reflected in reviews. In the last part of his talk he described a unique program in Engineering and Public Policy that he has developed at Carnegie-Mellon University.

The second speaker in this session was  John Ahearne, a former Director of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Forum’s Leo Szilard Lectureship Award winner. Ahearne spoke on what he sees as the three overriding characteristics that physicists must practice: honesty, perseverance and objectivity. In the area of honesty, we all depend on the truthfulness of colleagues; without this, there will be serious damage to the progress and public credibility of science. Ahearne pointed out that scientists who are active in public policy will at times come under pressure to change their position, but argued that if you are sure of your position you should not succumb to that pressure. In the area of perseverance, there is no substitute for hard work. But perseverance, while a necessary condition for success, is not a sufficient one: the reward of a research career is through achievement, not effort alone. Ahearne illustrated this point with an example from his own career involving assessment of weaknesses of Warsaw Pact forces; this is described in more detail in his article elsewhere in this newsletter. In addressing objectivity, he reminded the audience that hope alone is not enough: the world does not behave as we wish it did. Finally, drawing from his experience in analyzing the Three Mile Island nuclear accident as Director of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Ahearn remarked that he learned that while scientists must scrupulously maintain their objectivity and integrity when dealing with controversial policy issues, we cannot dismiss the concerns and statements of individuals that lack technical backgrounds when dealing with risk communication.

Session Q5: Physics and Engineering of Deep Water Drilling. This session was chaired by incoming Forum chair Peter Zimmerman, and featured three presentations. The first speaker was Brian Clark, an engineer with Schlumberger, who spoke on “Physics and the Quest for Hydrocarbons.” After a brief review of the nature and properties of the rock layers of the sub-sea environment and a brief description of the structure of drill rigs, Clark described the extensive role of physics applications in deepwater drilling, concentrating on heavily-instrumented “drill collars” that are used to acquire data. These devices are up to about 30 feet long and must be robust enough to withstand extreme operating conditions: pressures up to 20,000 psi, temperatures to 300 F, axial loads up to 80,000 pounds, and shocks in excess of 100 g’s. A number of sensors are used to characterize the drilling environment. These include electromagnetic transmitting and receiving antenna for characterizing conductive properties of the medium, nuclear sensors for determining the density of the medium via Compton-scattering of gamma rays from a Cesium-137 source, and pulsed deuterium-tritium neutron sources used to determine the relative amounts of oil and gas in the rock strata via a thermal-neutron return signal which is affected by the hydrogen content of the medium. Instruments are powered through the flow of “drill mud” used to carry away cuttings, and data can be transmitted to remote sites for real-time analyses from which steering directions can be fed back to the drill operator.

The second talk in this session was given by Kenneth Gray of the University of Texas, who spoke on “An Introduction to Deepwater Drilling.” Gray gave an extensive description of drill rigs and the sub-sea environment in which they operate. Nowadays, vertical wells are quite rare; most are horizontal or “slant” wells that may extend as far as 9 miles laterally from the rig. A single drilling platform may support 8 to 16 separate drill lines, and drills presently operate in water depths of greater than 10,000 feet with borehole depths of over 35,000 feet below the sea floor. The sea beds of the world are now populated with thousands of “completions”, operating wells which direct their products to collecting vessels on the ocean surface. Operation of these wells is complicated by the presence of subsurface oceanic loop currents, which can move pipes miles from their original locations. At the depths at which drills now routinely operate, rocks can behave plastically, and engineers need to be cognizant of their material properties. Much current research in this area is being devoted to developing sophisticated numerical models of rock environments which include three-dimensional simulations of stress/strain tensors to model anisotropic and inhomogeneous media.

The last speaker in this session was Jonathan Katz of Washington University, who spoke on  “Viscoelastic Muds---Top-Kill in Rapidly Flowing Wells.” Following the blow-out of BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, Katz was appointed to an advisory panel by Secretary of Steven Energy Chu. Katz reviewed the properties of viscoelastic muds, the type of synthetic, oil-based suspensions used in the “Top Kill” procedure that failed to stem the blowout. Katz had predicted from hydrodynamical considerations that turbulent mixing of the dense mud against less dense upflowing oil and gas would lead to entrainment of the mud in the fluid, with the result that it would be spat out of the well; this proved to be exactly what happened in practice. He then described laboratory experiments which have shown that a more effective surrogate mud may be a brine comprised of corn starch and water which will descend as a coherent slug through the oil and gas.

Session R5: The Status of Arms Control. This session was chaired by Pierce Corden of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and featured three talks. Slides from the first two talks are available at http://www.physics.wisc.edu/apsapril2011. Sidney Drell of Stanford University led off with a look-ahead to “What Happens to Deterrence as Nuclear Weapons Decrease toward Zero?”  He said we need to escape from the policy of mutual assured destruction (MAD), an ineffective policy against suicidal terrorists and rogue entities.  The now-number-one nuclear weapons policy priority is countering proliferation and terrorism threats. Drell cited advances in verification embodied in the New START Treaty that recently entered into force, and technical requirements for reducing arsenals to low levels.  The latter include verifying warhead and delivery system numbers and nuclear materials quantities, and cooperation and transparency in non-nuclear military issues.  Deterring attempts at breakout and instability in a nuclear-weapon free world are key issues.  An example of how technologies can assist in this effort is the Open Skies Treaty which, enhanced with modernized sensors, including the ability to sample gaseous and particulate emissions in the atmosphere, could provide highly capable aerial observation of the entire territories of the Treaty’s parties.

Marvin Adams of Texas A&M discussed “Confidence in Nuclear Weapons as Numbers Decrease and Time Since Testing Increases.” Challenges in the U.S. Stockpile Stewardship Program — designed to maintain confidence in the reliability, security and safety of nuclear weapons in the non-testing environment – arise from changes that occur in weapons over time, and resulting life extension programs.  Life extension involves deliberate physical changes to weapons.  Stewardship Program challenges include adequacy of surveillance, workforce recruitment and retention, weapons-science work, technical foundations for assessing changes, and production capabilities.  The expert judgment of scientists is indispensable.  The Program is working today, but issues for the future include attracting outstanding people and maintaining an adequate non-nuclear experimental program.  The technical challenges can be met, but require a sustained national commitment.

The third speaker in this session was Edward Levine, Senior Professional Staff Member, U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, who addressed “Securing Support from a Skeptical Senate for Further Strategic Arms Controls.”  The Senate has a Constitutional responsibility to approve treaties by a two-thirds vote.  This requires bipartisan support, a challenge for arms control even when public support exists.  Senators must have convincing national security reasons to agree to ratification.  The Executive Branch must therefore have unified support from the military leadership.  This was of particular importance for the New START Treaty.  Strategic arms treaties also need the support of the directors of the Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sandia nuclear weapon laboratories.  Support from the wider community of scientific experts in matters such as nuclear explosion detection, IAEA safeguards on peaceful nuclear power facilities, and nuclear security is also important.  This includes groups such as JASON and the Committee on International Science and Arms Control of the National Research Council.  The scientific community plays a key role in identifying the technical challenges posed by further steps in nuclear arms reductions and nonproliferation efforts, as well as possible solutions. 

Session Y5: Science Diplomacy. This session was chaired by Harvey Newman, and featured three talks. The first, by APS President Barry C. Barish, was titled “Science Diplomacy in Large International Collaborations.” Barish pointed out that forefront science is being carried out more and more through large-scale international collaborations such as the Auger cosmic-ray experiment, the ALMA array, ITER, the LHC, and the International Linear Collider, and asked what implications this has for United States science policy. He argued that developing and supporting such projects must be an important part of U. S. science policy in order to keep U. S. science at the forefront and consequently that the U. S. must be a part of such projects in order to remain competitive and to have significant societal impact. Since governments are the key decision makers, the scientific community must remain in close contact with them through organizations that provide advice on projects and costs such as the International Committee for Future Accelerators. He closed by drawing attention to some ongoing issues: that the United States must figure out how to most effectively integrate into doing things such as project governance and accountability with other parties, that year-at-a-time budgeting cannot provide the stable funding required for large projects, and that participation in shared governance conflicts with the usual American approach of rigid steps and reviews, which we tend to impose even when we are a minority partner.

The second talk in this session was by Neal Lane, who served as science advisor to President Bill Clinton. Lane spoke on “A Scientist’s Approach to Diplomacy -- First, Listen and Learn.” Lane first addressed what he called two angles in science diplomacy: policy for science  and science for policy. The former involves aspects such as research funding and international agreements on facilities, while the latter is concerned with applications of science to areas such as security, health, energy, the environment, and transportation. He then described the work of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). A continuing issue for the NSF is that while it helps to fund investigators’ foreign travel and international facilities, to many in Congress such activities seem more like a form of foreign aid. An important part of the President’s Science Advisor’s responsibilities is to advise the President on international science and technology matters, and Lane used a 1979 U.S.-China Agreement on Cooperation in Science and Technology as an example of what can be achieved along these lines; the agreement has led to a ministerial-level joint commission on S&T that discusses issues such as new technologies, common global problems, and barriers to cooperation such as intellectual property rights. Lane concluded by reminding the audience that scientists have been able to earn the trust of other people and nations even when official diplomats could not.

The final talk in this session was given by Norman P. Neureiter, Senior Advisor to the Center for Science Diplomacy at the AAAS. Neureiter spoke on “Science Diplomacy in Action.” He began giving a definition of science diplomacy as the use of scientific cooperation as a means of active engagement with countries where overall relations are strained or non-existent. While the science in such engagements must be of good quality, the underlying motivation is to develop an instrument of constructive foreign policy aimed at mutually beneficial engagement. Historically, this sort of diplomacy has been oriented toward the Soviet Union, Japan, and China, and was often augmented through non-governmental venues such as the Pugwash conferences. Neureiter described the work of the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy, which has recently engaged with scientists in countries such as Iran, Syria, Cuba, Myanmar, and North Korea. 

A specific current case of science diplomacy is President Obama’s initiative to reach out to the Muslim world by sending abroad science envoys to discuss opportunities for scientific and technological partnerships. Lessons learned form science diplomacy are that science is an area where communication can be easier and understanding more likely than through traditional diplomatic channels, and that mutually beneficial cooperation can be achieved in non-sensitive areas. Challenges include the perception that such initiatives “help the enemy”, ensuring steady funding, and carrying through meaningful follow-on after initial visits.

These contributions have not been peer-refereed. They represent solely the view(s) of the author(s) and not necessarily the view of APS.