March 06, 2015

China approving new domestic nuclear reactor projects and gearing up for nuclear exports

China approved construction of its first nuclear power project since the Fukushima disaster in Japan almost four years ago brought the program to a standstill.

China’s State Council gave the go-ahead on Feb. 17 to begin building two new reactors at China General Nuclear Power Group’s Hongyanhe plant in the country’s northeast.

Nuclear power is among the clean energies China hopes to rely on in a bid to cap carbon emissions by 2030. Atomic energy now accounts for just 2 percent of the country’s total power generation, according to International Energy Agency reports.

China may soon approve another two nuclear units in Fujian province, and may eventually approve construction of six to eight units within the year, the newspaper said, citing an unidentified official close to the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s economic planner.

CRISPR gene editing progressing to germ line genetic editing and the application for intelligence enhancement

Harvard's Luhan Yang described a human germline genetic editing experiment. Researchers hoped to obtain, from a hospital in New York, the ovaries of a woman undergoing surgery for ovarian cancer, caused by a mutation in a gene called BRCA1. Working with another Harvard laboratory, that of antiaging specialist David Sinclair, they would extract immature egg cells that could be coaxed to grow and divide in the laboratory. Yang would use CRISPR in these cells to correct the DNA of the BRCA1 gene. The objective would be to create a viable egg without the genetic error that caused the woman’s cancer.

Regardless of the fate of that particular experiment, human germ line engineering has become a burgeoning research concept. At least one other center in Boston is working on it, as are scientists in China, in the U.K., and at a biotechnology company called OvaScience, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that boasts some of the world’s leading fertility doctors on its advisory board.

The objective of these groups is to demonstrate that it’s possible to produce children free of specific genes that cause inherited disease. If it’s possible to correct the DNA in a woman’s egg, or a man’s sperm, those cells could be used in an in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinic to produce an embryo and then a child. It might also be possible to directly edit the DNA of an early-stage IVF embryo using CRISPR. Several people interviewed by MIT Technology Review said that such experiments had already been carried out in China and that results describing edited embryos were pending publication. These people didn’t wish to comment publicly because the papers are under review.

Guoping Feng, a neurobiologist at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, where a colony of marmoset monkeys is being established with the aim of using CRISPR to create accurate models of human brain diseases. To create the models, Feng will edit the DNA of embryos and then transfer them into female marmosets to produce live monkeys. One gene Feng hopes to alter is SHANK3. The gene is involved in how neurons communicate and, when it’s damaged in children, is known to cause autism.

US Navy 30 year ship building plan update

2015 Congressional Research report - Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress

The Navy’s proposed FY2016 budget requests funding for the procurement of nine new battle force ships (i.e., ships that count against the Navy’s goal for achieving and maintaining a fleet of 306 ships). The nine ships include two Virginia-class attack submarines, two DDG-51 class Aegis destroyers, three Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs), one LPD-17 class amphibious ship, and one TAO(X) class oiler. The Navy’s proposed FY2016-FY2020 five-year shipbuilding plan includes a total of 48 ships, compared to a total of 44 ships in the FY2015-FY2019 five-year shipbuilding plan.

Mobile landing platform

March 05, 2015

Lockheed 30kw combat blasts a truck from over a mile

A 30-kilowatt fiber laser weapon system from Lockheed Martin successfully disabled a vehicle engine from a distance of more than one mile. In the test -- said to represent the highest power ever documented by a laser weapon of its type -- the beam from the Advanced Test High Energy Asset, or ATHENA, quickly burned through the engine manifold of a truck mounted and running on a test platform.

"This test represents the next step to providing lightweight and rugged laser weapon systems for military aircraft, helicopters, ships and trucks."

In early 2014, the US Army has awarded Lockheed Martin a $25 million contract to design, build and test a “weapons-grade” 60 kilowatt fiber laser system. Under a contract managed by the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s Technical Center, the fiber laser will be integrated on the High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD) - essentially an Army truck adapted to carry the laser and its accompanying cooling system.

The Army’s High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator(HEL MD) will improve to a 60 kw system late in 2016. Today's technology will enable fiber lasers to scale to 300 kw. Near term improvement to the underlying technology will enable well beyond 500 kw lasers.

CNES Partners with Google to deploy Global 100,000 Internet Loon Ballon Networks

The French space agency, CNES, on Dec. 11 said it is partnering with Google on the Google X Project Loon to deploy more than 100,000 balloons in the stratosphere to provide high-speed Internet to regions without it.

CNES has maintained an active balloon launch program for studies of upper-atmospheric air currents, the chemical composition of the atmosphere at specific altitudes and other purposes, launching as many as 20 balloons a month.

Google Vice President Mike Cassidy, in charge of the Loon project, said the company is evaluating multiple designs for Loon, with CNES and others.

“No single solution can solve such a big, complex problem,” Cassidy said. “That’s why we’re working with experts from all over the world, such as CNES, to invest in new technologies like Project Loon that can use the winds to provide Internet to rural and remote areas.”

The balloons provide wireless Internet using the same LTE protocol used by cellular devices. Google has said that the balloons can serve data at rates of 22 megabits per second to fixed antennas, and five megabits per second to mobile handsets.

Looking ahead to being ten times richer and looking back at being ten times poorer

Nextbigfuture described a future where China helps build out the infrastructure that the rest of the developing world needs over the next few decades. The shortfall of infrastructure is lowering the potential GDP growth by 2-3% in many countries. An extra 2% GDP growth globally would accelerate the arrival of a world with a quadrillion dollar economy measured in todays dollars. Good policies and accelerating the adoption of key technology can bring forward a better world economy by decades.

The World economy is currently about $106 trillion in GDP purchasing power parity (PPP). This is about $15000 per person in PPP dollars.

China is leveraging its $4 trillion in reserves to provide low interest financing for high speed rail, export of Chinese nuclear reactors, factories and property development.

Education, energy, urbanization and innovation are the main keys.

Google could provide high speed global internet over the next few years with long endurance stratospheric balloons. This could boost the world economy by 22 trillion by 2030.

Robert Fogel, nobel prize winning economist has projected China to have 123 trillion GDP in 2040 China's share of global GDP -- 40 percent -- will dwarf that of the United States (14 percent) and the European Union (5 percent) 30 years from now. So World economy Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Fogel is projecting a world economy of $307 trillion in 2040. This prediction is that the world economy will triple in 25 years. A further tripling afterwards would have a world economy of $900 trillion around 2065.

The average per capita wealth would be $100,000 on a PPP basis for each of about 10 billion people. This would be an economy ten times bigger than today.

IMF data indicates that on a purchasing power parity basis the world economy became a $100 trillion economy in about 2013. The same data series indicates that the world economy was about 10.95 trillion in todays PPP dollars in 1980. This would mean that the world had a ten trillion economy in about 1975.

The Maddison world GDP estimates would put the ten trillion world economy in todays PPP dollars at about 1965. The Maddison world GDP estimates would put the one trillion world economy at about 1850.

World population today is 7.23 billion

Shanghai skyline Dec 2014

World population in 1975 was 4.0 billion

New York Skyline in 1975

World population in 1850 was about 1.26 billion.

New York and Brooklyn in 1850

World population in 2070 would be about 10 billion. It could be 11 billion based on Africa birthrate sustaining at a higher rate longer than previously expected.

Military Budgets for 3rd to tenth place now and in 2020

The Military Balance is The International Institute for Strategic Studies’ (IISS) annual assessment of the military capabilities and defence economics of 171 countries worldwide.

France and Germany have seen a 25% drop in the value of the Euro since 2014 (1.38 down to 1.1). The Euro is expected to drop another 5% or so relative the US dollar by the end of 2015. The Euro is expected to drop another 10% or so each year from 2016 to 2018. This will drop any eurozone country in any ranking that is stated in US dollars or based on an exchange rate.

The russian ruble has nearly halved its value against the US dollar (from 32 to 1 US dollar to 62 to 1 US dollar). Russia is in the middle of a big military buildup. If the currency had stayed stable it would have meant about a US$100 billion per year military budget in 2016. However, the military budget will instead shrink a bit in US dollar terms.

Saudi Arabia has a peg of the riyal to the US dollar. Saudi Arabia spends abuot 6% of its GDP on its military compared to about 4% for the USA and 2% for China and in the 1% range for Japan and European countries.

Saudi Arabia and Russia are oil and gas dependent economies and it appears there will be prolonged weakness in oil and gas prices. This will limit their economies and limit their future military spending through 2020.

India had a currency hit over a year ago. India appears back to getting pretty good GDP growth and Modi wants to increase India's military spending. India definitely should be number 3 in military spending by 2020.

Highlights and forecasts from the IHS Defence Budgets Annual Report:

* By 2019, for the first time in history, NATO will not account for the majority of worldwide defence expenditure, having accounted for almost two-thirds of global spending as recently as 2010;

* By 2020, defence spending in Asia Pacific will exceed that of the US, if sequestration continues; at present the US outspends the region by USD170 billion;

* Rapid growth in the Middle East and North Africa will come to an end as oil revenues slump;

* Despite a two percent cut in 2014, the UK resumed its position as the third highest spender on defence above Japan, Russia, and France, due to Russian currency depreciation; IHS has a lower number for Saudi Arabia military spending then IISS.

* Russian defence spending is forecast to reach its peak of USD62.6 billion in 2015;

* India is forecast to become the third largest defence market by 2020.

Damned Lies and the Military Budgets of China and the USA

China announced an official 2015 military budget of $145 billion, which is a 10.1% increase from 2014. The Pentagon and global arms bodies estimate China’s actual military spending may be anywhere from 40 to 50 percent more because the official budget doesn’t include the costs of high-tech weapons imports, research and development, and other programs. A 50% adjusted accounting of China's defense spending would be about $220 billion in 2015. However, even though China spends three to four times what the UK or Russia are spending annually on defense, China's military and military systems are in many ways inferior to the military of those countries. However, the higher spending and improvements in research and technology are allowing China to rapidly catch up. China will become a clear number two in actual conventional military capability in the 2020s. Russia and the USA will still have a clear advantage in nuclear capability.

China's military spending is about 2% of its overall GDP. US official military spending is about 4% of GDP.

China’s official military spending is still less than a third of the U.S. defense budget, a proposed $534 billion for 2015 along with $51 billion for the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The US figures do not include the costs of the Veterans administration or interest from the defense related share of the debt. Including all those defense related items would increase the accounting of US defense spending to over $1.3 trillion in 2015. An all related defense spending level is about 7% of US GDP.

"InflationAdjustedDefenseSpending" by Johnpseudo - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

DARPA neural interfaced Prosthetic Limbs will allow sense of touch and targets tests in patient homes by 2019

Rehabilitation experts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine hope to one day give people with an arm amputation a prosthetic limb that not only moves like a natural one, but “feels” like it, too. They expect such sensation will improve dexterous control of the device and give users greater intuition about what they are doing with their prosthetic.

With funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’s Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces (HAPTIX) program, Robert Gaunt, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R), Pitt School of Medicine and a multidisciplinary research team from Pitt, West Virginia University and Ripple LLC will begin developing the technology with the aim of being able to test it in patients’ homes within four years.

“Advanced prosthetic limbs that behave like the hand and arm they are replacing have been an unrealized promise for many years largely because until recently, the technologies to really accomplish this goal simply haven’t been available,” Dr. Gaunt said. “To make the most of these new capabilities, we have to integrate the prosthetic into the remaining neural circuitry so the patient can use it like a regular hand that, for example, can pick up a pen, gently hold an egg or turn a stuck doorknob.”

In the 18-month, first phase of the project, the team will recruit five volunteers to try to demonstrate that stimulation of the sensory portion of the spinal cord nerves, which would normally innervate the hand and forearm, can cause the amputee to feel distinct sensations of touch and joint movement in the “phantom” hand and wrist.

They also plan to insert fine-wire electrodes into the forearm muscles of able-bodied volunteers to collect and interpret muscle signals to guide movement of a virtual prosthetic hand to control hand opening and closing, as well as thumb movement. Eventually, the team aims to devise a fully implantable system for home use.

DARPA’s Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces (HAPTIX) program aims to develop fully implantable, modular and reconfigurable neural-interface systems that would enable intuitive, dexterous control of advanced upper-limb prosthetic devices. In a major step toward achieving these goals, DARPA has awarded prime contracts for Phase 1 of HAPTIX

Stem Cells from Wisdom Teeth Can Be Transformed into Corneal Cells

The cornea transparent ‘window’ on the front of the eye that allows the light to enter.

Stem cells from the dental pulp of wisdom teeth can be coaxed to turn into cells of the eye’s cornea and could one day be used to repair corneal scarring due to infection or injury, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The findings, published online today in STEM CELLS Translational Medicine, indicate they also could become a new source of corneal transplant tissue made from the patient’s own cells.

Corneal blindness, which affects millions of people worldwide, is typically treated with transplants of donor corneas, said senior investigator James Funderburgh, Ph.D., professor of ophthalmology at Pitt and associate director of the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh, a joint program of UPMC Eye Center and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

“Shortages of donor corneas and rejection of donor tissue do occur, which can result in permanent vision loss,” Dr. Funderburgh said. “Our work is promising because using the patient’s own cells for treatment could help us avoid these problems.

Experiments conducted by lead author Fatima Syed-Picard, Ph.D., also of Pitt’s Department of Ophthalmology, and the team showed that stem cells of the dental pulp, obtained from routine human third molar, or wisdom tooth, extractions performed at Pitt’s School of Dental Medicine, could be turned into corneal stromal cells called keratocytes, which have the same embryonic origin.

The team injected the engineered keratocytes into the corneas of healthy mice, where they integrated without signs of rejection. They also used the cells to develop constructs of corneal stroma akin to natural tissue.

“Other research has shown that dental pulp stem cells can be used to make neural, bone and other cells,” Dr. Syed-Picard noted. “They have great potential for use in regenerative therapies.”

In future work, the researchers will assess whether the technique can correct corneal scarring in an animal model.

Limbal Stem cell transplants

Currental limbal stem cell transplants have passed clinical trials

Repairing the cornea: Currently the only stem-cell-based therapy for the eye that has been proven to work in clinical trials.

Transplantation of limbal stem cells from a healthy eye can repair the cornea and give the patient back their sight. However, this procedure carries some risks to the healthy donor eye and to the patient, and other problems mean the approach isn’t ideal. For example, if a patient has damage to both of their eyes, it may not be possible to obtain any limbal stem cells. Cells from a donor can be used, but donors are in short supply, success rates are lower, and donor cells are usually only effective in the short to medium term.

First new super aircraft carrier will not launch aircraft at the desired frequency and will need til 2020s to sort out problems

The Congressional report makes it clear that the cost overruns are still a problem. There are critical technological problems that will likely not get sorted out til 2020. The first two may be delivered in March 2016 and June 2022 but they will still be working on achieving the reliability and performance that was desired. The US is looking to overhaul and modify the USS George Washington as a backup.

The Congressional Research services has a new report, Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress.

The report provides background information and potential oversight issues for Congress on the Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) class aircraft carrier program. The Navy’s proposed FY2016 budget requests a total of $2,633.1 million in procurement and advance procurement (AP) funding for CVN-78, CVN-79, and CVN-80, the first three ships in the program. Congress’s decisions on the
CVN-78 program could substantially affect Navy capabilities and funding requirements and the shipbuilding industrial base.

The Navy’s current aircraft carrier force consists of 10 nuclear-powered Nimitz-class ships (CVNs 68 through 77). Until December 2012, the Navy’s aircraft carrier force included an 11th aircraft carrier—the one-of-a-kind nuclear-powered Enterprise (CVN-65), which entered service in 1961.

The Ford-class design uses the basic Nimitz-class hull form but incorporates several improvements, including features permitting the ship to generate about 25% more aircraft sorties per day, more electrical power for supporting ship systems, and features permitting the ship to be operated by several hundred fewer sailors than a Nimitz-class ship, significantly reducing lifecycle operating and support (O and S) costs.

The Navy 2016 budget yields to Congress’s strong opposition to the service’s previous efforts to cut the active fleet to save money. It funds nuclear refueling and overhaul of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington –that it had tried to retire — and modifies its plan to put 11 cruisers and an amphibious ship into a deferred modernization program. Those changes would preserve the 11-carrier fleet and increase the operational fleet from the current 279 ships to 304 in 2020

March 04, 2015

Russia talks about Moscow Beijing high speed rail details and willingness to sell China 50% stakes in oil and gas fields

Further details of the proposed high-speed railway to link Moscow and Beijing through Siberia in just 33 hours have been unveiled. The project will see a new 400km per hr line running between the capital cities in a venture that would eclipse the iconic Trans-Siberian Railway.

During the Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum last week, it was revealed that two potential options for the routing of the track are being considered.

Alexander Misharin, the First Vice-President of Russian Railways, said talks were taking place about going through either Kazakhstan or across the Altai region.

The new 7,700-kilometre route will cost 1.5 trillion yuan (USD240 billion) and become a link in the Eurasian land bridge also known as the New Silk Road Economic Belt.

This belt will connect China with Central Asia, Europe and the Middle East as well as India and Southeast Asia. There are also plans for the construction of a rail tunnel linking Japan and Korea to the system.

In China, 2,270 kilometres of rail track are expected to be completed this year and Russia has already made substantial progress in upgrading the Trans-Siberian railway, which would connect with the Chinese lines.

The Moscow-Beijing express would travel on existing 1520-gauge rails. While this is wider than the 1435 gauge adopted by China and Europe, they can be modified to allow the high-speed trains to run on them. Passengers having to change trains at the border with China. The high-speed railroad is expected to be completed within five years.

Russia saying they will china buy 50% of oil and gas fields

Russia has reversed its long-held opposition to selling foreign investors majority stakes in its strategic oil and gas fields, saying there would now be "no political obstacles" to allowing Chinese stockholders to hold more than 50 percent of the properties.

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