Tag Archives: Nuclear power

The Week Ahead: Hold On To Your Hats!

When it comes to the global economy, it seems like the fun is just getting started: Regulators are now  calling for extra capital to be imposed on the largest banks, Bank for International Settlements urge economic growth to slow down in order to curb inflation, central bankers are screaming for rate hike and Greek deputy prime minister warns that rebels may block new economic reforms.

“You can’t ask for more taxes in an already overtaxed country, in a market that has been sucked dry, with economic activity at zero and a huge recession.”

Antonis Samaras

Yup! Just when you thought the Chinese was going to save the day, it turns out that it’s not that easy after all. No matter what the bureaucrats of Brussels asks for; the people of Greece may very well give them the middle finger. But that’s not all. The central bankers – who have declared the worst is over  every other week for two years – has suddenly discovered that it’s probably not.

Right now rather disturbing news reports are pouring in.

Here’s some of the headlines of the financial press at the moment:

FINANCIAL TIMES

REUTERS

AP

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

  • French Banks Seek Greek Debt Rollover. French banks have proposed a plan to reinvest half the proceeds from maturing Greek governments bonds ahead of a meeting of key players, in efforts to encourage private investors to contribute to a new bailout for Greece.
  • Nokia, Siemens fail to secure investors. Nokia Corp and Siemens AG failed to secure a deal for investors for a controlling stake in their unprofitable joint venture.

DER SPIEGEL

THIS WEEKS NUMBERS

Well, I have a feeling we might get a surprise or two, also, during the week.

When it comes to the economic data, European investors will look closely at the PMI surveys, that will indicate whether global soft-patch continued into June.

Th week also sees a raft of data on inflation, the US housing market and consumer trends, plus business conditions in Japan.

Monday
A week in which market attention will remain firmly set on Greece starts with the publication of Italian wages data before attention shifts across the Atlantic to the US, where personal income and outlays numbers will be used to gauge the strength of the consumer sector.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Greece’s Parliament is scheduled to vote on its new package of austerity measures on Tuesday. The reforms are a requirement for the next tranche of the IMF/EU loans to be released in time for the funding of bonds in mid-July.
The day also features a number of key data releases, starting with Japanese retail sales numbers for May, Gfk consumer confidence in Germany, plus business confidence and producer price numbers for Italy.
In the UK, final gross domestic product (GDP) numbers for Q1 are released, as well as current account data. According to official estimates, the UK economy expanded at only a modest rate of 0.5% in the first quarter of 2011.
After cooling in May, German consumer price inflation is expected to quicken from an annual rate of 2.4% to 2.6%.
Weekly US Redbook store chain sales are published before the release of the S&P Case-Shiller home price index takes centre stage. The index of home prices in the nation’s largest cities fell below its April 2009 low towards the end of Q1, raising worries about a double-dip in house prices.

The US Conference Board publishes its June barometer of consumer sentiment. Confidence waned in May amid rising fuel and oil prices and concerns about the employment situation. This apprehension among consumers likely continued in June.

Wednesday
Preliminary industrial production numbers for Japan will be eagerly anticipated after trade data showed exports falling at a faster-than-expected rate.
French GDP data (final) for Q1 are released in advance of UK consumer credit, mortgage lending/applications and money supply numbers.
European Commission economic sentiment figures for June follow.
Weekly US mortgage applications data are released, as well as pending homes sales numbers, which plunged in April. However, there is evidence to suggest that temporary factors, such as bad weather, were behind the severity of the decline.

Thursday
The Gfk consumer confidence survey for the UK is published ahead of the Markit/JMMA Manufacturing PMI™ for June. The PMI™ pointed to renewed output growth in May, as easing supply chain pressures enabled firms to restart production lines.
Euro zone inflation comes under the spotlight with producer price data for France and the preliminary estimate of consumer price inflation for the single currency area as a whole. After dipping unexpectedly in May, a further easing in the rate of inflation will make a rate hike later in the year less likely. German unemployment numbers are also published for June.
The usual US weekly jobless claims date are accompanied by the Chicago PMI, which will be watched closely due to its good track record with the ISM manufacturing index, published Friday.

Markit’s release of Manufacturing PMIs for Asia follow, notably final data for China, where the flash HSBC PMI™ survey pointed to a stagnation of output and easing price pressures across the sector. HSBC PMI™ releases for South Korea and Taiwan will be monitored for trends in global trade flows.
The Markit Euro Zone Manufacturing PMI™ data follow last week’s flash estimate, which showed the region’s economic growth surge losing momentum at a worrying rate.
The publication of the Markit/CIPS UK Manufacturing PMI™ follows shortly after. May data signalled that manufacturing moved from rapid expansion to near-stagnation.
Italy publishes final GDP numbers for Q1 and jobs numbers before the unemployment rate for the euro zone is released.
The week ends in the US, where the University of Michigan consumer confidence index will shed light on consumer spending patterns. Construction spending numbers follow.

However, the ISM Manufacturing PMI will be the key release in the US; the headline index posted its lowest reading for 12-months in May, reflecting a marked slowdown in output and new order growth.

Friday
Friday starts with the release of unemployment, consumer price inflation and household spending numbers for Japan, plus the Bank of Japan’s quarterly survey of business conditions.

Now, hold on to your hats, and trade with attitude!

1 Comment

Filed under International Econnomic Politics, Laws and Regulations, National Economic Politics

Stuxnet Mutants All Over The Web

The application security management firm, Idappcom, say they detected 52 new pieces of malicious software last month that are designed in a similar way as the feared Stuxnet worm. Stuxnet have been caracterized as the worlds first cyber weapon, aimed at critical public  facilities like power plants and water supply systems.

“There are lots of other countries which realise that you can do this, and gain access to systems which are running critical infrastructure. We will see copycats, maybe modified versions of Stuxnet, copies of which aren’t hard to find at all.”

Mikko Hypponen


According to Mikko Hypponen, chief security researcher at F-Secure, there has been a revolution in malware with Stuxnet. At the same time security management firm, Idappcom, reports 52 new threats targeted at supervisory control and data acquisition systems – Scada- the sort hit by the infamous Stuxnet worm.

Scada systems are found in a variety of industrial plants ranging from water and waste treatment to food and pharmaceuticals and even nuclear power plants.

“We quickly realised this was too much of a significant blip to be an anomaly. It may be an indicator towards a worrying trend.”

“Our records go back to 2004 and I’ve never recorded any sort of significant blip on the radar in an area like this previously.” says Tony Haywood, chief technology officer at Idappcom.

“We quickly realised this was too much of a significant blip to be an anomaly. It may be an indicator towards a worrying trend,” Haywood says.

Some of the xploits found are causing DOS (Denial Of Service), bringing systems to halt.

Scada systems are often at greater risk because they are connected to legacy operating systems such as Windows 95 for which there are no service packs or automatic updates.

Day by day, its getting harder to secure the SCADA systems.

“The worst case scenario is that Al-Qaeda or another organisation could gain access to this type of knowledge and information, and make use of it to launch attacks on critical infrastructure.”

“The worst case scenario is that Al-Qaeda or another organisation could gain access to this type of knowledge and information, and make use of it to launch attacks on critical infrastructure – like blow up nuclear power plants or do something to our food chain,” Mikko Hypponen says.

Discovered at the middle of last year, Stuxnet has become a major puzzle for those involved in computer security, but more than that, also among those interested in international espionage.

“There will be copies of Stuxnet, from the same source and elsewhere.”

Mikko Hypponen

“I think Stuxnet is a new phenomenon, the first example of its kind, and will be something we will look back at in years to come,” says Hypponen, whose information security experience spans many years and who was involved in classified briefings regarding the new threat.

“There will be copies of Stuxnet, from the same source and elsewhere,” he predicts.

Stuxnet is a Windows worm that is propagated on USB sticks and over private networks, but with one very unique feature – it doesn’t replicate over the Internet.

Malware that we generally see on computers is generally designed to spread as far as possible, as cyber criminals aren’t too worried about what it will infect.

But Stuxnet is different, because it wants to reach environments that are disconnected from the Internet on purpose, like the nuclear programme in Iran.

But that’s not to say that it won’t infect your Windows PC.

Hypponen points: “It infects any Windows PC that you put an infected USB stick in. But when it infects a PC it does nothing. It will only replicate on any other USB stick you put into it.”

This means that Stuxnet is a worm that can go around the world silently, doing nothing to the systems it infects, waiting for a precise moment to strike. And it will strike, but only if it reaches a Windows PC that has a specific type of program installed.

“It’s called Step 7, made by Siemens and which is used to program Programmable Logic Control (PLC) devices,” the researcher explains.

“These boxes control factories, pumps, general purpose systems. These are running their own operating system, which isn’t Windows as it isn’t reliable enough.”

“It’s trying to find a specific environment with a specific configuration of high frequency power converters made by two different manufacturers.”

But the PLC boxes need to be programmed by a Windows computer before they are sent over to a factory or wherever they need to go.

If a USB stick has transferred Stuxnet to one of these computers, this is the point where Stuxnet will start to make its move, if it finds itself on a system that has a specific type of PLC box connected.

“It will reprogram the PLC, so that any changes are hidden. And it will wait, hoping that somebody disconnects the PLC from the Windows computer and takes it to a factory.”

If that should happen, Stuxnet will still do nothing, apart from check what kind of factory the PLC box is supposed to be controlling.

“It’s trying to find a specific environment with a specific configuration of high frequency power converters made by two different manufacturers. When it finds the right kind, then it knows it’s in the right environment.”

The right environment is Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility.

Nuclear centrifuges are being cleaned by the high frequency power converters, which Stuxnet now has the capability to control.

“But even then it does nothing,” Hypponen continues. “It records the normal everyday traffic for two or three days.”

And then like a heist movie where a criminal fiddles with a security camera so a guard sees a film from yesterday rather than what’s happening in the present, Stuxnet floods back the traffic it recorded to the factory’s monitoring system.

Anyone monitoring will see normal operation, but operation from the past.

“Then it starts changing the spinning speed, which ends up breaking the centrifuges or ends up creating lousy uranium.”

The intelligence and technological sophistication of Stuxnet has led experts to believe it was the creation of a multi-million pound operation with state involvement.

There are also claims it was the creation of a joint effort between Israel and the US, a theory Hypponen believes to be true.

But the expert also thinks that it could be a major wake-up call to interested parties, which could be a problem for developed western nations in the future.

“When people think about these extremists, they don’t think about them having these types of technology skills. They typically think of unintelligent Talibans riding camels in the desert. That’s a dangerous misconception.”

“There are lots of other countries which realise that you can do this, and gain access to systems which are running critical infrastructure. We will see copycats, maybe modified versions of Stuxnet, copies of which aren’t hard to find at all,” he says.

Which led us to Hypponen’s first comment over worst case scenarios if jihadists ever find a way of attacking Western nations with modified Stuxnet technology, now available easily through a search of the web.

He said, “When people think about these extremists, they don’t think about them having these types of technology skills. They typically think of unintelligent Talibans riding camels in the desert. That’s a dangerous misconception.”

Hypponen show The INQUIRER a copy of “Inspire”, a lifestyle publication written in English that is best described as a jihadist magazine aimed at new recruits.

Among the news articles, poems, songs, Osama Bin Laden speeches and right alongside a section on making bomb making equipment, there is a section on how to do public key encryption.

It describes an open source PGP-like encryption system coded and developed by extremists.

“These guys write pretty good magazines in English and code their own tools. They could easily get Stuxnet itself – it’s far from trivial to modify, but it’s easier to modify than write something from scratch. But I think I’m more worried about the idea of getting copied by other parties.”

Hypponen concludes the interview with the following last thought:

“When George W Bush signed a cyber attack agreement in 2008 against the Iran nuclear program, I do believe the outcome of that signature was Stuxnet.”

Related by the Econotwist’s:

11 Comments

Filed under International Econnomic Politics, Laws and Regulations, Technology

Nuclear Holocaust: All We Need Is A Solar Storm (Or A Crazy Hacker)

The severity of the nuclear threath from collapsing reactors in Japan is perhaps bigger than than most of us can imagine. Just a few hours ago, Tokyo Electric Power Co informed of a reactor containment vessel that may have been breached at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant, increasing Japan’s nuclear crisis and the risks of radioactive leaks. An emergency power cable is now being buildt to supply the reactors cooling system with more electricity. What do you think will happen if we at this moment should be hit by a massive solar storm, as predicted by NASA could happen at any time?

“If you get enough cold water inside you may stop the generation of steam and then life will get easier. Until then it is a bitch.”

Robert Kelley


Clouds of steam rose from the reactor buildings following a fire at Dai-Ichi’s No. 4 reactor this morning. Radiation levels at the No. 4 reactor hampered efforts to confirm whether the fire had been extinguished, a day after a similar blaze at the same structure, Bloomberg reports. And as long as there is steam coming out it will carry radioactive particles and gases with it.

“If you get enough cold water inside you may stop the generation of steam and then life will get easier. Until then it is a bitch,” says Robert Kelley, a nuclear engineer based in Vienna.

Exposed to air, the fuel bundles could chemically react with moisture, catch fire and spread radiation into the atmosphere, according to physicist Edwin Lyman, with the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Spent fuel is pretty hot and so it is stored under water to keep it cool,” Kelley says, who worked for 30 years at the U.S. Energy Department.

“If the water leaks or boils away, then the fuel is exposed,” then after burning, the uranium corrodes and releases cesium, contaminating the area, he explain.

A Tokyo Electric worker at the Fukushima nuclear plant is being treated for radiation exposure, the Japanese nuclear safety agency says.

Tokyo Electric says it hasn’t decided whether to bring workers back after the utility evacuated 750 of its 800 employees following yesterday morning’s blast.

The nuclear maintaince company,Tepco,  is now building a power cable to supply electricity to the plant’s cooling systems, according to spokesman Daisuke Hirose.

The systems were knocked out by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

The Yomiuri newspaper reported earlier today that if the plan succeeds, the company may be able to stabilize its reactors.

Hirose says there is no timetable for completion.

This video is just in; it seems like a new fire has erupted at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant:

.

Based on this information, it seems pretty clear that the only thing that keeps a global nuclear horror scenario from happening is a a stable supply of electricity.

And that fact should also be a cause of great consern.

A Black(Out) Swan

A national electrical grid is at the moment one of the most vunerable infrastrutures there is.

With the worlds first cyber weapon – Stuxnet – released online (at least partly) and available to everyone, any idiot of a hacker with medium computer skills are able to cut the power in large areas for an unknown amount of time.

Most nuclear plants have diesel generators that can provide electricity for a limited time – but still; limited.

However, there’s an even more scary possibillity.

According to NASA and several other scientist, is the activity of the Sun building up power to release one of its most powerful solare flare eruptions in more than 100 years.

Some says the effect of a solar storm like this will have the power of 100 million H-bombs, and NASA have been warning for the last two years that this might knock out communication satelites and; electrical grids.

The scientist are not sure when this megastorm will hit the earth, but they’re sure that it will, potentially leaving us without electricity for many months.

It can happen in the next five minutes – it can happen five years from now.

Thousands of  nuclear power plants all over the world could be facing a simultaniously meltdown.

I really don’t like the way this is going…

 

Solar Activity Over the Last 12 Months

Go to the ECOLOGY section to get the latest data on solar activity, using the solar widget from Wolfram Research.

 

Related by the Econotwist’s:

3 Comments

Filed under International Econnomic Politics