STOCKHOLM — The global nuclear arsenal is expected to grow in the coming years for the first time since the Cold War while the risk of such weapons being used is the greatest in decades, a leading conflict and armaments think-tank said on Monday.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine and Western support for Kyiv has heightened tensions among the world’s nine nuclear-armed states, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) think-tank said in a new set of research.
While the number of nuclear weapons fell slightly between January 2021 and January 2022, SIPRI said that unless immediate action was taken by the nuclear powers, global inventories of warheads could soon begin rising for the first time in decades.
“All of the nuclear-armed states are increasing or upgrading their arsenals and most are sharpening nuclear rhetoric and the role nuclear weapons play in their military strategies,” Wilfred Wan, Director of SIPRI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programme, said in the think-tank’s 2022 yearbook.
“This is a very worrying trend.”
Three days after Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, which the Kremlin calls a “special military operation”, President Vladimir Putin put Russia’s nuclear deterrent on high alert.
He has also warned of consequences that would be “such as you have never seen in your entire history” for countries that stood in Russia’s way.
Russia has the world’s biggest nuclear arsenal with a total of 5,977 warheads, some 550 more than the United States. The two countries possess more than 90% of the world’s warheads, though SIPRI said China was in the middle of an expansion with an estimated more than 300 new missile silos.
SIPRI said the global number of nuclear warheads fell to 12,705 in January 2022 from 13,080 in January 2021. An estimated 3,732 warheads were deployed with missiles and aircraft, and around 2,000 – nearly all belonging to Russia or the United States – were kept in a state of high readiness.
“Relations between the world’s great powers have deteriorated further at a time when humanity and the planet face an array of profound and pressing common challenges that can only be addressed by international cooperation,” SIPRI board chairman and former Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said.
‘Every breath you take’: Air pollution stifles Europe’s health targets
PARIS – Air quality in Europe is improving but still poses high risks, the European Environment Agency (EEA) said on Thursday, as fine particles exposure led to at least 238,000 premature deaths in the 27-nation EU in 2020.
“Air pollution is still the largest environmental health risk in Europe,” the EEA said.
“While emissions of key air pollutants and their concentrations in ambient air have fallen significantly over the past two decades in Europe, air quality remains poor in many areas.”
Between 2005 and 2020, the number of early deaths from exposure to fine particulate matter fell by 45% in the European Union, in line with the bloc’s zero pollution action plan target of a 55% cut in premature deaths by 2030.
However, 96% of the EU’s urban population was still exposed in 2020 to concentrations of fine particules that were above the World Health Organization’s guideline level of 5 microgrammes per cubic metre.
Air pollution aggravates respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, with heart disease and stroke cited as the most common causes of related early deaths.
“Further efforts will be needed to meet the zero pollution vision for 2050 of reducing air pollution to levels no longer considered harmful to health,” the EEA said.
The European Commission proposed in October to set stricter thresholds for air pollution but also to enhance the right of citizens to clean air. This could include provisions to claim compensation for health damage in case of quality standards breaches.
But air pollution does not only damage health.
According to the EEA, 59% of forested areas were exposed to harmful ground-level ozone in the European Economic Area, damaging vegetation and reducing biodiversity.
In 2020, critical levels of nitrogen deposition were found in 75% of the ecosystem of the 27 member states. This represents a fall of 12% since 2005, against the EU objective for a 25% decline by 2030.
India’s first private rocket company looks to slash satellite costs
BENGALURU – The startup behind India’s first private space launch plans to put a satellite into orbit in 2023 and expects to be able to do so at half of the cost of established launch companies, the founders of Skyroot Aerospace told Reuters in an interview.
The Hyderabad-based company, backed by Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, GIC, says the $68 million it has raised will fund its next two launches.
Skyroot has been in contact with more than 400 potential customers, it says.
Thousands of small satellite launches are planned in coming years as companies build out networks to deliver broadband services like SpaceX’s Starlink and to power applications like tracking supply chains or monitoring offshore oil rigs.
Skyroot faces both established and up-and-coming rocket launch rivals that also promise to bring down costs. In China, startup Galactic Energy put five satellites into orbit last week in its fourth successful launch.
In Japan, Space One, backed by Canon Electronics and IHI Corp, plans to launch 20 small rockets per year by the middle of the decade.
But Skyroot, which launched a test rocket last week, expects to cut the cost of a launch by 50% compared with current pricing for established competitors like Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit and California-based Rocket Lab USA Inc.
Pawan Chandana, one of Skyroot’s two co-founders, told Reuters he expected a surge in demand for the company’s launch services if it proves itself with launches set for next year.
“Most of these customers have been building constellations and will be launching them in the next five years,” he said.
The Modi government’s push to increase India’s share of the global space launch market from just 1% has given investors confidence that Skyroot and other startups have government backing for their efforts, Skyroot says.
“Three or four months back when we were talking to investors, one of the biggest questions they asked was if the government was supporting us,” Skyroot co-founder Bharath Daka told Reuters.
India opened the door to private space companies in 2020 with a regulatory overhaul and a new agency to boost private-sector launches.
Before that, companies could only act as contractors to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), a government space agency with a reputation of its own for frugal engineering. The country’s Mars mission in 2014 cost only $74 million, less than the budget of the Hollywood space movie “Gravity”.
Building on India’s record for cost efficiency will be key, said Chandana. Skyroot, founded in 2018 when Chandana and Daka quit jobs at ISRO, has set a target to develop rockets for one-fifth of the current industry costs.
The Skyroot rocket that reached 89.5 kilometers altitude in last week’s test launch used carbon-fibre components and 3D-printed parts, including the thrusters. That boosted efficiency by 30%, the company says, cutting weight and procurement costs, although it meant Skryoot engineers had to write the machine code for vendors who fabricated the rocket because few had experience working with carbon fibre.
With 3D printing, Skyroot believes it can build a new rocket in just two days as it works towards reusable rockets, a technology pioneered by SpaceX.
Chandana and Daka believe the per-kilogram launch cost for a satellite can be brought down to nearly $10, from thousands of dollars currently, a stretch target that could upend the economics of space commerce and one that draws inspiration from their idol: Elon Musk.
“SpaceX is a symbol of great innovation and great market validation,” said Chandana, who added they have not had the chance to speak to Musk.
“Right now, we think he’s probably busy running Twitter.”
Five key decisions at global wildlife summit
PANAMA CITY — A global wildlife summit that ends Friday passed resolutions to protect hundreds of threatened species, including sharks, reptiles, turtles as well as trees.
Here are some highlights of the two-week meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Panama.
1) Sharks steal the show
No longer just the villains of the deep, these ancient predators were the stars of the summit.
Delegates from more than 180 countries agreed to regulate the trade in 54 species of the requiem shark and hammerhead shark families.
These species are the most hunted for their shark fins — seen as a delicacy in some Asian countries — and their numbers have been decimated, putting the entire marine ecosystem at risk.
Only Japan grumbled over the resolution, arguing restrictions on the trade of the blue shark would be a blow to the livelihoods of its fishermen.
CITES also voted to restrict the trade of guitarfish rays and several other freshwater ray species.
|Matamata (chelus fimbriatus) ‘Raffaello’ is measured during inventory on December 29, 2011 at the Hagenbeck zoo in Hamburg, northern Germany. Photo: AFP|
2) See-through glass frogs
The skin of these nocturnal amphibians can be lime green or so translucent their organs are visible through their skin.
This has made them sought-after pets, and intense trafficking has placed the species in critical danger.
CITES also placed more than 160 species of glass frog, found in several rainforests in Central and South America, on its Appendix II, which places trade restrictions on threatened species.
The European Union and Canada withdrew early reservations about the resolution, which was adopted unanimously.
|Several broad-snouted caimans (Caiman latirostris) swim in a ditch that goes through the built-up area in the Tereirao shantytown in Recredo dos Bandeirantes, western Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on January 29, 2015. Photo: AFP|
3) Weird and wonderful turtles
CITES approved varying levels of protection for around 20 turtle species from America and Asia.
These include the striking matamata turtles, with their prehistoric, beetle-like appearance, which have also become sought-after pets and are hunted for their meat and eggs.
They live in the Amazon and Orinoco basins, but scientists do not know how many there are.
Freshwater turtles are among the most-trafficked species in the world.
The unusual-looking North American Alligator Snapping Turtle was also granted trade protection.
|Stacks of ivory and rhinoceros horns burn in Kenya in the world’s biggest ivory bonfire in 2016. Photo: AFP|
4) Crocodile bans lifted
Brazil and the Philippines now will be able to export farm-raised crocodiles, after a total trade ban was lifted.
Delegates also allowed the export of skin and meat of the broad-snouted caiman — found in the wild in the Brazilian Amazon and Pantanal as well as wetlands, rivers, and lakes of neighboring countries.
“The population of these animals is very big. There has been a great reproductive success,” said researcher Miryam Venegas-Anaya, a crocodile expert with the University of Panama.
In the Philippines, a trade restriction was lifted on the saltwater crocodile that lives mainly on the islands of Mindanao and Palawan.
However, Thailand’s efforts to lift a ban on its Siamese crocodile was rejected.
5) Ivory ban stays, no luck for hippos
Zimbabwe and its southern African neighbors have seen their elephant populations soar in recent years, and pushed a drive to re-open the ivory trade which has been banned since 1989.
One-off sales were allowed in 1999 and 2008 despite fierce opposition.
However, in the rest of the continent poaching for ivory is still decimating elephant populations and the request was rejected.
Delegates also rejected a request by Botswana, Namibia and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), to allow the sale of southern white rhino horn.
Meanwhile, after a fierce debate, a request by ten west African nations to ban the trade in hippopotamus, was rejected by delegates.
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