Every month, Scientific American—the longest-running magazine in the U.S. and an authoritative voice in science, technology and innovation—provides insight into scientific topics that affect our daily lives and capture our imagination, establishing the vital bridge between science and public policy.
>> Key information from this month’s issue:
Nuclear power contributes approximately 20 percent of the U.S. power supply. After a 30-year hiatus, there is a greater push for more nuclear power plants, with 22 new reactors under review. One reason for this push is the consequences of the alternatives: pollution from fossil-fueled power plants shortens the life span of as many as 30,000 Americans a year; coal and hydraulic fracturing threaten the environment and water supplies; and oil dependence undermines the nation’s energy security.
The recent events in Japan called into question nuclear power safety. Although regulations for the design of new nuclear power plants include safety features intended to avoid disasters, nuclear power will always be vulnerable to those highly unlikely occurrences that have big repercussions. Preparing for such scenarios is hard enough without having to stay within a budget. Instead of giving up on nuclear power, the U.S. needs to demand transparency and rigorous enforcement of regulations by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Now is the time to make tough decisions that will\ ensure safety and regain the public trust. Nuclear Energy: Is Nuclear Power Safe? See Science Agenda: Coming Clean about Nuclear Power
• GLOBAL WARMING
Physicist Richard A. Muller, although convinced that climate change is real, potentially dangerous and probably caused in part by humans, has disagreed with many climate scientists, asserting that their measurements and analyses are deeply flawed. Muller launched his own climate study at the University of California, Berkeley—the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project—in order to better study temperature measurements, taking into account much of the concerns expressed by skeptics. On March 31 Muller testified in front of Congress and confirmed what mainstream climate scientists had been saying: Earth is warming in line with the projections of climate models. See Global Warming: “I Stick to the Science”
Cars with increasingly sophisticated onboard computers may be in danger of cyberattacks. Research shows that a hacker could use a cell phone to unlock a car’s doors or start its engine remotely—raising the need for car companies to improve security systems for onboard networks. See Advances: Hack my Ride
A one degree Celsius rise in average global temperature could cause the median area burned annually by wildfires to increase up to sixfold in some parts of the American West, such as the southern Rocky Mountains. See Graphic Science:
Up in Flames
The livestock business accounts for about 18 percent of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions—an even larger contribution than the global transportation sector, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. Considering that the organization expects worldwide meat consumption to double between 2002 and 2050, a group of scientists aims to satisfy the world’s demand for meat by manufacturing it in the lab. If it is successful, this could mean protein-rich foods without environmental or ethical consequences. See Technology: Inside the Meat Lab