Tag: nuclear

Toshiba gutted by nuclear write down

As expected, the electronics outfit Toshiba has seen a $3.52 billion loss in the nine months through December.

The loss is largely due to a goodwill impairment of around $5.28 billion on a US nuclear unit that came to light in late 2016.

The company hopes to keep the amount it owes from exceeding the value of its assets for the full year through March by selling part of its chip operations and taking other measures.

Toshiba will announce earnings for the April-December period tomorrow, along with a full-year outlook. The company is also expected to explain the cause of the losses, measures to avoid similar events and plans to rebuild its nuclear business.

Troubled Tosh, which was suffering from an accounting scandal, had to write-down of goodwill of CB&I Stone & Webster, a U.S.-based nuclear plant builder Toshiba acquired through U.S. subsidiary Westinghouse Electric in late 2015. Apparently, the world did not want nuclear power anymore and labour and materials costs were much higher than expected.

Toshiba overestimated the value of the company’s projects at the time of acquisition.

Now the company is rushing to flog off its semiconductor business to boost some capital.

But the problems are not just with the nuclear purchase. Toshiba is seen considering another goodwill write-down for Landis+Gyr, the world’s leading electric meter maker, which it acquired in 2011.

Toshiba had expected Landis, a Swiss company, to become a growth engine for its smart grid and smart community thrust, but its hopes have not materialized. It is expected to have to write down some of the value of this outfit too,

China makes supercomputer without US chips

Mao Tse Tung - Wikimedia CommonsThe People’s Republic of China has made a huge supercomputer without needing to buy any US chips.

The Sunway TaihuLight China has 10.65 million compute cores built entirely with Chinese microprocessors and there is not a single US computer which matches it. The TaihuLight sticks two fingers up at the US for banning the sale of Intel’s Xeon chips to China.

The super computer has a theoretical peak performance is 124.5 petaflops and it is the first system to exceed 100 petaflops.

TaihuLight is installed at China’s National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi, uses ShenWei CPUs developed by Jiangnan Computing Research Lab in Wuxi. The operating system is a Linux-based Chinese system called Sunway Raise.

It is used for advanced manufacturing, earth systems modelling, life science and big data applications.

The US initiated this ban because China, it claimed, was using its Tianhe-2 system for nuclear explosive testing activities. The US stopped live nuclear testing in 1992 and now relies on computer simulations. Critics in China suspected the U.S. was acting to slow that nation’s supercomputing development efforts.

The fastest US supercomputer, number 3 on the Top500 list, is the Titan, a Cray supercomputer at US Dept. of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory with a theoretical peak of about 27 petaflops.

Toshiba to lay staff off

ToshibaThe newly fledged CEO of Toshiba said that the accounting irregularities means that the firm will have to look towards laying off staff in divisions that are underperforming.

Masashi Muromachi has introduced a management team to take a cool long hard at its different business divisions and that could well mean layoffs.

According to Reuters, those divisons include its PC, home appliance and TV businesses.

Its nuclear business, which has also been under scrutiny, will also need to be looked at following the Fukushima disaster in Japan, which has virtually put an end to the business there.

Because of the irregularities, Toshiba may also need to take out bank loans because it is unable to raise money by issuing equities and bonds.

Muromachi did not say what the extent of the layoffs might be.

Japan to build ice wall under Fukushima plant

The Japanese government is once again being forced to deal with TEPCO’s mess. As if the company’s handling of the Fukushima disaster wasn’t bad enough already, the government is now forced to step in and foot the bill for a £300 million plan to construct a giant ice wall under the plant to stop Japan from becoming the world’s leading exporter of three-eyed green fin tuna.

It has recently emerged that up to 400 tonnes of radioactive water leaks from the wrecked nuke station out to sea every single day. Rather than changing all the menus in the country, the government decided radical measures are called for. Although the idea may sound radical, it is nothing new.

The Soviets also tried to place a huge cryogenic plant under the Chernobyl plant, but eventually they just decided to fill the excavated cavity with concrete. For some reason, people who opposed the cunning plan and didn’t agree with the cover-up were usually found dangling from ceiling fixtures and wooden beams. As Stalin once put it: “Death solves all problems – no man, no problem.”

Freezing the ground works, and the approach has been applied in many tunnel and mining projects around the world. But this time it is a bit different, as the patch of frozen ground will have to be quite a bit bigger than what engineers usually do when building tunnels or mineshafts, reports Gizmodo.

Some punters believe the announcement was timed to coincide with the Olympic Committee’s decision on Tokyo’s candidacy to host the 2020 Olympic Games.

We’re wondering where all the water will go once the “ice wall” is constructed? 

Stuxnet "0.5" hit Iran as early as 2007

Insecurity experts at Symantec have found a version of the Stuxnet virus that was attacking Iran’s nuclear program in November 2007 – years earlier than previously thought.

Stuxnet became famous in 2010 when it started shutting down Iran’s nuclear programme by taking out a uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, Iran.

Symantec researchers uncovered a piece of code, which they called “Stuxnet 0.5,” among the thousands of versions of the virus they recovered from infected machines.

It is clear that Stuxnet 0.5 was in development as early as 2005, when Iran was still setting up its uranium enrichment facility. It was deployed in 2007, the same year the Natanz facility went online.

Symantec researcher Liam O’Murchu told Reuters that it was mind blowing they were thinking about creating a project like that in 2005.

It seems that the cyber weapon was powerful enough to cripple output at Natanz six years ago.

It might have been that Stuxnet was damaging centrifuges without destroying enough to make the plant operator suspicious.

It is not clear what damage Stuxnet 0.5 caused. Symantec said it was designed to attack the Natanz facility by opening and closing valves that feed uranium hexafluoride gas into centrifuges, without the knowledge of the operators of the facility.

It worked slightly differently from other versions which sabotaged the enrichment process by changing the speeds of those gas-spinning centrifuges.

Symantec said it has now uncovered four versions of Stuxnet and there are likely others that have not been discovered.

Researchers are still short on hard evidence to nail who’s behind Stuxnet. 

Iran sends monkey into space

Iran has reportedly managed to put a monkey into space, and has safely brought it back to earth.

Iranian state TV reports that the space-ape was sent on top of the Pishgam (Pioneer) launch vehicle. The sub-orbital launch reached an altitude of 120 kilometers and the fortunate primate was recovered alive and well, oblivious of any geopolitical implications. His predecessor wasn’t as lucky. In 2011, Iran also tried to put a monkey into space, but the launch failed. No official explanation was ever given.

Iran also managed to successfully launch other biological specimens in the past, including a mouse, some worms, and turtles. Earlier this year, Iran said it would try to put a monkey into orbit as part of its preparations for a manned mission, scheduled for 2020.

However, Iran’s space program is not very popular in the West. Many believe Iran is basically using its civilian space program as a cover for ballistic missile development, with the aid of North Korean rocket scientists. Iran’s nuclear program is another source of concern and the fear is that sooner or later Iran will manage to develop a viable delivery system for nuclear warheads.

Iran is still years away from developing long range ballistic missiles with enough throw-weight to deliver a warhead. Even if the rogue nation manages to develop a nuclear device, it will have to spend more time, effort and money before it can weaponise it.

The United States detonated its first nuclear device in July 1945 and the first thermonuclear devices were tested in the early fifties, but it took the US more than a decade to develop viable intercontinental ballistic missiles, tipped with thermonuclear warheads. First generation American and Soviet ICBMs were huge and took days to set up for launch, making them extremely vulnerable to attack. It took more than a decade to go from these behemoths to solid fuel missiles with multiple reentry vehicles, like the Minuteman III and Trident II we all know and love today. 

Kodak had nuke weapons capability

Buried among the paperwork of Kodak’s bankruptcy assets was the somewhat strange information that the company had its own nuclear reactor and was capable of making weapons grade uranium.

While the photocopying company was going down the loo, it turns out it could have made a fortune flogging enriched uranium to a rogue state or two.

Fortunately for humanity the idea did not appear to have entered the Kodak accountants’ heads.

Six years ago, according to Gizmodo, they had a nuclear reactor in a basement in Rochester loaded with 3.5 pounds of enriched uranium.

The thing was no one seemed to know why Kodak felt it needed to be a nuclear power, nor how they got permission to own it and install it in a basement in the middle of a densely populated city.  Certainly it would have made anyone think twice about taking its Kodachrome away. 

Its existence was only known about when the details were leaked by an ex-employee. It appears that only a few engineers and Federal employees really knew about the project.

According to Miles Pomper, from the Centre for Nonproliferation Studies in Washington, it was an odd situation because private companies just don’t have this material.

Kodak was not planning to get anyone to ask. It was using the reactor to check materials for impurities as well as neutron radiography testing.

It was a Californium Neutron Flux multiplier (CFX) which they picked up in 1974 and pre-loaded with three and a half pounds of enriched uranium plates placed around a californium-252 core. It is ironic really because there was enough californium to lay waste to Califoria if Kodak had been so minded.

The reactor was installed in a closely guarded, two-foot-thick concrete-walled underground bunker in the company’s headquarters.

No employees were ever in contact with the reactor – well, no one who was has told anyone.

After 2006 Kodak started to wonder if, after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, it might be a good idea to dismantle it.

Rumours that it sold it to a wild eyed scientist who was trying to stick it onto the back of his Delorean can be safely discounted. Still it makes you wonder how many other technology companies are sitting on a nuke or two. 

US claims Russia behind Stuxnet

Tinfoil hats at the ready. While many think that the US and Israel were behind the Stuxnet computer worm that hit Iran’s nuclear facilities, the latest speculation is that it might have been Moscow.

Dr. Panayotis A. Yannakogeorgos is a cyber defense analyst with the U.S. Air Force Research Institute. He told the Diplomat that the one weak point in the theory that the US and Israel hit the Iranian nuclear problem with Stuxnet is that both sides denied it when they would not have had to.

Yannakogeorgos said that the Russians could have equally carried out the attack. Apparenly the Russians are not that happy about an Iranian indigenous nuclear capability even if they are helping build it.

Russia has a good reason not to want Iran to get its paws on nuclear technology. In 1995, for example, Chechen rebels planted a “dirty bomb” in Moscow’s Izmailovsky Park. Nuclear material is much more secure in Russia but if Iran develops a full-blown nuclear capability, Chechen or other violent extremist and nationalist rebels go to Iran to buy the material.

Yannakogeorgos thinks it is better for Russia to string the Iranians along. Russian companies will make money as the Iranians keep Russian scientists and engineers in the country, who can oversee Iranian nuclear progress. But the problem is that if the Russians delay a programme on technical grounds Iran will smell a rat.

“At the same time, their involvement in the nuclear program is leverage in Russo-American negotiations,” Yannakogeorgos said.

He suggested it was much better for the Russians to plant a worm with digital US-Israeli fingerprints so it would have to appear as if it were a clandestine operation by an adversary that didn’t have access to the gateway entry points. Observers of the virus could alert the Iranians before full nuclear catastrophe struck.

Yannakogeorgos noted that it was a Belarusian computer security expert who “discovered” the code. But they mysteriously did not seem interested in reverse engineering the malicious code to see what it was designed to do. Symantec researchers took on that task.

If this is true, Iran fell for it. The Stuxnet attack, coupled with an assassination campaign targeting Iranian nuclear and computer scientists and various leaks suggesting covert action, all made for a compelling case of US involvement.

Meanwhile, the Iranian boffins themselves are nervous about having gear which might have a virus on board and they, not the Russians are slowing down the development. 

MoD web blunder says Trident vulnerable to "disaffected sailors"

A blunder by the Ministry of Defence staff meant that secret information about nuclear submarines was accidentally made available for the world to see online.

The MoD made the document available, which gave information about nuclear reactors for future replacements for the British Trident nuclear fleet, after anti-nuclear campaigners filed a Freedom of Information request.

The accident occurred after parts of top secret details on a document posted online were wrongly blacked out by staff.

Although large sections of the document detailing the weaknesses in current submarines were blacked out, it was found that these were easily retrievable by cutting-and-pasting the document elsewhere.

This is because although several whole pages of the document had been blacked out by MoD staff highlighting them in black, by changing the background colour and copying the text the words became visible.

Thanks to the blunder, avid readers found that “Trident subs were vulnerable to accidents, which could be triggered by a disaffected sailor.” Details of the US nuclear sub fleet’s safety measures were also included in the document.

Of course it was a journalist who found out. 

This isn’t the first time the MoD has slipped up. In 2008 the department lost an entire server, while over two years 340 laptops have been lost. It’s also had secrets leaked on Facebook.

Further US and Israel Stuxnet ties surface

Further evidence has emerged that the Stuxnet worm, which caused major disruption to Iran’s nuclear programme, was a team effort by Israel and the US – according to the New York Times.

The news, which supports TechEye’s reports on the origin of the computer virus, came from a number of anonymous sources close to the newspaper. These sources stated that Stuxnet was created by Israel and the US as a way to “sabotage” Iran’s growing nuclear power.

This view was also held by a number of security experts, including Symantec and Langer Communications, who reported that the worm was designed to cause maximum damage to the Iranian nuclear enrichment programme by forcing gas centrifuge motors to spin too fast, which can cause them to break apart.

The Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, admitted that Stuxnet was successful, ensuring a delay of two years in the nuclear programme. Ahmadinejad also claimed that the worm was launched by enemies of the state.

The New York Times reported that Siemens, which created the SCADA systems for Iran’s nuclear facilities, revealed vulnerabilities in them in 2008 to the Idaho National Laboratory, which is the US’s primary nuclear research centre. 

Siemens also participated with the US Department of Homeland Security in a security study of the PCS 7 control systems, which were, coincidentally enough, targeted by Stuxnet.

It was also revealed that Israel tested the Stuxnet worm on machines and control systems within its Dimona nuclear research centre, giving further assurance of the two countries’ involvement in the attack on Iran’s nuclear capabilities.