What’s the Justification for the Prompt Global Strike Program?

The White House requested $250MM for research next year into hypersonic engines that could support a “Prompt Global Strike” (PGS) weapon system later this decade. Air Force General Chilton explains the need for PGS as follows:

Today we can present some conventional options to the president to strike a target anywhere on the globe that range from 96 hours to maybe four, five, six hours. If the president wants to act faster than that, the only thing we have that goes faster is a nuclear response.

Now I think hypersonic engines are as cool as the next geek, but PGS is going to consume many billions of dollars to produce a capability that we have had for half a century: Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) can reach any point on earth in under an hour. Yes, today they may all be tipped with nuclear warheads. But it would be a lot cheaper to recommission ICBMs with precision conventional warheads than to build a maneuvering hypersonic cruise missile. And the proposed PGS doesn’t solve any of the strategic problems posed by conventional ICBMs: Russia and China are already protesting that PGS is as destabilizing as our strategic nuclear arsenal.

Concealed firearms without a permit in three states

Arizona just joined Alaska and Vermont in allowing concealed carry of firearms without a permit. The law, restoring this right to adults over age 21, takes effect this summer. Interesting details from an AP report:

[T]he measure was supported by police unions representing rank-and-file officers, who said their best friend on the streets is a law-abiding citizen equipped to protect themselves [sic] or others.

Under the Arizona legislation, people carrying a concealed weapon will be required to tell a police officer that if asked, and the officer can temporarily take the weapon while communicating with the person.

More than 154,000 people have permits to carry a concealed weapon in Arizona.

Forty-five other states require permits for hidden guns, and two states – Illinois and Wisconsin – prohibit them altogether.

Trash: The Other Renewable Fuel

State-of-the-art incinerators are so clean and efficient that many environmentalists are advocating for them. The NYTimes discovers that even Europeans like them!

A 2009 EPA study “concluded that waste-to-energy plants produced lower levels of pollutants than the best landfills did, but nine times the energy.” Of course overwhelming arguments like that never stopped fringe/NIMBY wackos. In its otherwise positive article on waste-to-energy plants the NYTimes found a group that has “vigorously opposed building a plant in New York City.”

“Incinerators are really the devil,” said Laura Haight, a senior environmental associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Capitalism in Higher Education

Our most prestigious colleges and universities are … simply corporations operated to exploit their pricing power for the financial benefit of their senior faculty and staff, and to build monuments to their alumni.

That’s Andrew Manshel in his explanatory essay, “Why Top Colleges Squeeze You Dry,” following a theme I first covered two years ago in my post on “Runaway Higher Education.” He provides an extraordinarily revealing explanation of how this market works based on his two years as CFO at Barnard College:

[A]t the beginning of my tenure as an elite school’s chief financial officer, I was surprised to learn from my colleagues that tuition and fees were not set by analyzing budget projections. Instead they were set by looking at a chart of the prior year’s tuition charges at comparable schools and then trying to predict their increases for the next year. The goal was to maintain the college’s position in the pecking order of total charges. I learned that the most prestigious and desirable institutions have a good deal of information about the shape of the demand curve for the families seeking to obtain elite higher education for their offspring. These schools have the capacity to estimate with some precision how many applicants will go elsewhere for each additional dollar they charge in tuition and fees. Each sets its tuition so as to produce a targeted “yield”—the percentage of accepted students who actually enroll there. If in any year we over- or under-estimated the price changes made by the other schools, and we had moved up or down in rank, we corrected the following year by raising or lowering tuition by more or less to compensate. We essentially followed the price leadership of the wealthiest, most prestigious institutions.

The results of this market pricing power are straightforward. First, and most significantly—given that 60% to 75% of college costs go to salary and benefits—is handsome compensation for senior faculty and administrators.

Safer, Cheaper Fission Energy from Thorium

Thorium — the other actinide.

I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of thorium fission reactors before. Thorium in nature is roughly three times as abundant as uranium — about as common as lead. A recent article in Wired notes that a liquid-fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) uses its fuel three orders of magnitude more efficiently than solid-fuel uranium reactors, leaving little waste. Ironically, that seems to have been its downfall:

[The Atomic Energy Commission] proved the efficacy of thorium reactors in hundreds of tests at Oak Ridge from the ’50s through the early ’70s. But thorium hit a dead end. Locked in a struggle with a nuclear-armed Soviet Union, the US government in the ’60s chose to build uranium-fueled reactors — in part because they produce plutonium that can be refined into weapons-grade material.

The arguments for LFTRs are extremely compelling: Not only is fuel a miniscule cost, but they are also so efficient and inherently safe that they leave little waste and they require an infrastructure footprint only about 1% that of a uranium reactor of the same power capacity.

Kirk Sorensen advocates for thorium fission energy at energyfromthorium.com.