In the news (September 18 – September 24 2013)

Welcome back, dear readers. Thanks for checking in. We’re happy to report that people from 41 countries have perused our weekly review in the last month.

Twenty-one years ago today, the U.S. detonated the last of its 1,032 nuclear-bomb tests beneath Nevada’s desert floor. Can you still feel the Earth shake? Also, 17 years ago, on September 24, 1996, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) opened for signature in a ceremony at the UN headquarters in New York. U.S. President Bill Clinton was the first one to sign. China followed. Both states have yet to ratify the treaty.

 Nuclear Safeguards — Iran

 Eyes and ears are focused on New York this week, where the annual United Nations General Assembly hosts leaders from around the world. Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, is expected to make his speech today and there has been much hand wringing over whether the Persian nation’s new leader is a man to be trusted.

Shane Harris at Foreign Policy writes that Rouhani has a fan club among Western intelligence agencies due to his reputation for moderation dating back to contacts with Reagan’s National Security Council in 1986. That hasn’t stopped both Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress from warning President Barack Obama from making contact with his Iranian counterpart, wrote Julian Pecquet in The Hill. The Chairwomen of the House Foreign Affairs Middle East panel, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, went so far as to express longing for Rouhani’s predecessor: “[Rouhani] is the master of disguise. He knows how to do the charm offensive on the U.S. and is charming the snakes coming out of the basket with his sweet tune of reconciliation and love of the Jews. And it’s working. I miss Ahmadinejad: he was so `what you see is what you get.'”

The UN’s permanent Security Council members and Germany will meet with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, wrote Laura Rozen for The Back Channel. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was “struck by the energy and determination” showed by Zarif at the meeting of world leaders. Writing in The Guardian, Iran’s former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, said that Rouhani enjoys “explicit public support from the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic [which] provides Rouhani and his colleagues with the necessary authority for a diplomatic resolution of a number of foreign policy issues with the West, not jus the nuclear issue.”

Finally, in an article that left Atomic Reporters scratching its head, the editorial department of the Christian Science Monitor bumbled and fumbled while pondering whether “Nuclear Power is Really the Core of Iran’s National Identity.” Leaving aside the propositional fallacies in logic that the author(s) trip over, we would recommend that they bone up Iran’s post-revolutionary trade history (to understand why they’d want their own fuel cycle) as well as familiarize themselves with the economic spin-offs from harnessing nuclear power (medical, mining, food). They might then want to ask themselves if the UN’s five recognized nuclear nations would even be sitting at the same table with Iran if it weren’t for the atomic work… Meah, maybe it’d just be easier for them to consult their own Middle East writer, veteran journalist Scott Peterson.

Question: Would there be a third nation willing to take the U.S. and Iranian crazies extremists during the duration of serious negotiations? How should the media balance recognition of the positions that these people hold with the ludicrous bile emitting from their mouths?

Nuclear Safeguards: Burma

On the occasion of the IAEA General Conference, Burma (Myanmar) signed the Additional Protocol to its existing safeguards agreement with the Agency. Once it has entered into force, the AP will enable inspectors to track more nuclear-related activities in the country, another sign by the reclusive regime that it’s willing to open up to the international community. However, for the deal to be implemented it needs ratification by the Burmese government. SIPRI’s Robert Kelley, writing for the Democratic Voice of Burma,  reminds us that ratification as well as the process of compiling and declaring a list with all nuclear-related activities might take years and points out that the Burmese government can ‘cut its own red tape’ by voluntarily cooperating with the IAEA and allowing  initial inspections.

Question: What’s the latest on Brazil’s, Argentina’s and Egypt’s stance on the Additional Protocol?

 Syria

Here at AR we’re often left wondering how far down the Syrian rabbit hole we should venture. To be sure, there is the curious case of Dair Alzour, the alleged reactor destroyed in a September 2007 Israeli air raid. But those items of yesteryear pale in comparison to the gruesome chemical-, artillery-, air- and small-arms weaponry that has left scores of thousands dead and millions homeless.

And yet, and yet…

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told the New York Times that Iran would be welcomed to the Geneva meetings seeking redress to the Syrian stalemate as long as Tehran’s government understands “that there is a Chinese wall between the Syrian case and the nuclear program.” It sounds silly and disingenuous to convene a meeting over Syria’s future without inviting Iran, especially after reading Dexter Filkins masterful portrait of Iran’s Qassem Suleimani in the New Yorker.

“ Although the Iranians were severely strained by American sanctions, imposed to stop the regime from developing a nuclear weapon, they were unstinting in their efforts to save Assad. Among other things, they extended a seven-billion-dollar loan to shore up the Syrian economy. “I don’t think the Iranians are calculating this in terms of dollars,” a Middle Eastern security official told Filkins. “They regard the loss of Assad as an existential threat.”

Finally, we’re late to this Carnegie Endowment piece on how lessons learned from Iraq’s nuclear-verification regime may be applied on Syria’s chemical weapons.

Question: Are the Fabius comments meant to rule out the possibility of a “Grand Bargain?” Suleimani and other veterans of the Iran-Iraq war are becoming old men, which hasn’t stopped them from engineering adequate counter-insurgency operations in Syria, but does point to a battlefield shelf-life. At what point does the absence of a deal push Iran to take the offensive, lest its tested military assets expire?

Nuclear Security

In The Copenhagen Post, Cindy Vestergaard writes how Denmark and Greenland are meeting to determine how rare-earth metals on the island can be mined with assurance that the 260,000 tones of associated uranium that would also need to come out of the ground isn’t used in weapons. Who knows, maybe during the excavating they’ll find residue from that nuclear bomb lost back in 1968 by a B-52 near Thule?

Speaking of unsecured nuclear bombs, Journalist Eric Schlosser obtained through a Freedom of Information Act filing a document shedding new light on how close the U.S. came to unleashing nuclear Armageddon on itself in a January 1961 accident over North Carolina. “In the newly-published document, a senior engineer in the Sandia national laboratories responsible for the mechanical safety of nuclear weapons  concludes that `one simple, dynamo-technology, low voltage switch stood between the  United States  and a major catastrophe.'” 

Questions: The Schlosser story brings to mind two possible narratives. In the first, 1950s engineers were told to make a safety system that would guarantee that a bomb would not go off unless all steps in a designed series of events took place. In the second, somebody built a $5 switch that failed to work at a critical time and the bomb failed to work when it should have.  Could the 1961 accident over North Carolina in fact have demonstrated the security of the system? Or, did the Soviets in fact miss their first-strike opportunity not knowing that the U.S. arsenal was filled with duds?

Nuclear Safety — Fukushima

AFP reported that Japan dumped 1,130 tons of low-level-radioactive water into the sea as a result of Typhoon Man-yi. Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reiterated calls for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to “confront reality” over the waste-water build-up. The paper also reported that the Liberal Democrat Party will seek to extend the statute of limitations on damages from the Fukushima meltdown to seven years.

Other nuclear news of note

New York based NGO United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) announced September 23 that Dr. Gary Samore, who recently served with the Obama administration for four years as White House Coordinator for WMD Counter-Terrorism and Arms Control, will serve as the new President of UANI. On 20 September Jaime Aguirre Gomez of Mexico’s National Commission for Nuclear Safety and Safeguards added the 5th piece for the online roundtable on development and disarmament hosted by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Tuesday Bonus

 Austria’s Nobel-Prize winning playwright Elfriede Jelinek’s play, Kein Licht (No Light), opened at Vienna’s Kosmos Theater after running in Japan. The play is said to describe the harsh conditions immediately after the Tohoku earthquake and nuclear disaster.

Kosmos Pic

In the news (September 10 – September 17 2013)

Syria

Welcome back to all our readers! Another week, another digest. First, we return to one of last week’s more prominent stories; on Russia’s concerns that a US led air offensive could lead to the catastrophic destruction of the Miniature Neutron Source Reactor near Damascus. Well, the Anadolu Agency reports that the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has issued a statement calling such claims “unrealistic.” Associated Senior Research Fellow of SIPRI, Robert Kelley, refuted the claim that Syria even had anything that could accurately be termed a “nuclear program.”

“There is a little tiny nuclear reactor in Syria.  It is located in the desert at Deir al Hajar, 15 km from the Damascus city limit.  It is not in the suburbs as some would tell you,” said Kelley “As I noted, they are interested in medical isotopes… It would be a gross mischaracterization to call these hospitals ‘nuclear programs’ or ‘nuclear capabilities’. They are not military in any way and have zero contribution to military programs.”

Ian Anthony, another SIPRI research fellow, claimed that the reactor was too small to melt down at all, being “ten thousand times smaller than Fukushima” and that its location meant it could not be at risk of collateral damage. Tom Collina, an expert in Arms Control Association, said that Syria does not have materials needed to pursue a nuclear weapons program in the first place, and that “I do not think the US would target the research reactor. If it is destroyed by accident, yes there is a chance of contamination but not mass casualties.”

Questions: In 2007 Israeli destroyed a supposed nuclear reactor in Syria.  But from that day until now not a single other piece of the nuclear fuel cycle required to support a reactor has been found.  Since there are no other elements of a nuclear program in Syria other than the tiny reactor is there any threat of public damage from nuclear fuel cycle facilities being hit?  Is there a danger of public risk if hospital sources or food irradiators are hit?

Nuclear Arsenals – Israel’s numbers

Batsheva Sobelman points out in the Los Angeles Times that the new estimate on Israel’s nuclear arsenal by Hans Kirstensen and Robert Norris in their article Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories, published in the September/October issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, agrees with the number given by SIPRI in their 2013 Yearbook, again by Kirstensen together with Philipp Schell. The two studies place Israel’s arsenal at the number 80 which is lower than previous estimates. Kirstensen and Norris further claim that Israel has nuclear material for 115 to 190 more warheads.

Question:  What is more important, the quantity or quality of Israel’s nuclear bombs? Is Israel’s nuclear weapon capability a motivating factor for Arab States to also seek nuclear weapons?  Do NGO’s estimating warhead numbers take thermonuclear weapons into account or do they assume that all the material goes into simple fission bombs?  That could explain the difference.

IAEA and the Middle East WMD-Free Zone

Dan Joyner points out on the blog Arms Control Law that in the 2013 report “Application of IAEA Safeguards in the Middle East” issued annually by the IAEA, a reference that has been included in every report since 2004 was absent this time. The reference in question was the listing by name of 24 countries whose territories would comprise a proposed WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East. Joyner believes that this definition had helped avoid some serious complications in an already complex situation and further surmises that the deletion was not coincidental…

Questions: Given the sensitivity of the Middle East issue, can the dropping of the definition of the zone be the result of an oversight? If not, then it would be really interesting to find out where this idea originated from and the reasoning behind it.

Nuclear Safety – Fukushima

Japan and the crew at the Fukushima NPP are bracing for the typhoon Man-Yi. Japan’s NHK reports from the site that the main worry would come from the rain overflowing the basement of turbine buildings and the underground tunnel where highly contaminated water has accumulated. Workers have tied down outdoor pumps and piping, used to inject water into the reactors, and have placed weights on the large cranes used for removing the debris to stop them toppling over.

On the subject of natural disasters and the responsibility of corporate executives and government officials to deal with them, the Yomiuri Shimbun reports that the on Thursday, the Tokyo District Prosecutor’s Office announced there will be no indictment for 42 TEPCO executives and government officials on the charges of ‘professional negligence.’ The main reason being, according to Yomiuri’s report, that “to establish a case for professional negligence in such a situation, there must be evidence to prove failure to take necessary steps despite being aware of the potential danger of the tsunami, instead of merely a nebulous feeling that a crisis could occur,” and that “the extremely chaotic nature of the crisis made it very hard for prosecutors to charge a particular individual with criminal responsibility for the accident.”

Question: If the “chaotic nature of a crisis” as Yomiuri describes the reasoning of the prosecutors, helps the ones in charge get off the hook; wouldn’t it then be in their interest to keep things “chaotic” rather than “under control”?

Nuclear Energy – Japan

Japan’s power grid is now running 100 percent nuclear-free following the shutdown of the No. 4 reactor at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi NPP for a routine maintenance checkup. For the 2nd time since the Fukushima disaster, every one of Japan’s 50 reactors is quiet. The Mainichi reports that it will take at least until the end of the year until any of them are restarted and Kanoko Matsuyama cautions that the country’s winter power needs may not be met solely by oil-burning power plants in this Bloomberg article. Phillip Inman of The Guardian talks about how the closures will affect Britain’s economy, saying “A survey and report published by the business lobby group the CBI found that around 95% of British business leaders are worried about the cost of energy and that more than three-quarters of them have little faith that matters will improve in the next five years.” Meanwhile, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote a piece for The Telegraph skewering Shinzo Abe’s long-term intentions to reinvigorate the Japanese economy with affordable energy as the crux of his plan.

Questions: Is it by coincidence that governments in developed countries find it more and more difficult to support and sustain plans for long term development and reliance on nuclear energy? Is it the pressure from the public/constituencies, the confidence that they can rely on others sources of energy  or the less pressing needs and less dramatic energy needs projections for the next decades compared to those of the developing world? Is it fair to say that the ‘nuclear renaissance’ didn’t die out; it just emigrated ‘south’?

Nuclear Energy – Pakistan-China cooperation

Nuclear energy business-oriented news site World Nuclear News (WNN) reports that in late August Chinese companies and Pakistan inked a series of deals for the construction of two nuclear reactors in Pakistan. “The cost of the two 1100 MWe ACP1000 units – to be built at the coastal Karachi site near Paradise Point in Sindh province about 25 kilometres west of the capital – has been put at PKR959 billion ($9.6 billion),” reports WNN.

So far when asked about doing business with Pakistan even though China is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Chinese brought forth the ‘grandfather’ argument: that they were refurbishing the 40 year old reactors at Chasma which they had built prior to their NSG membership. But this is an entirely new project and, as the report points out, it’s the ‘good ole’ item specific safeguards (INFCIRC 66) that will be applied again.

Question: How will this new deal sit with China’s partners in the Nuclear Suppliers Group? Can this play out in the near future as a fait accompli in getting Pakistan the same NSG exemption with India? And on a different note and beyond any implications for the nonproliferation and export control regimes, could this be good news when it comes to enhancing nuclear safety or in other words, how much safer will the new reactors be compared to the 40 year old ones currently operated in Pakistan?

Nuclear Literature

Eric Schlosser, perhaps most famous for authoring Fast Food Nation, has decided to tackle the subject of nuclear weapons protocol in his new book, Command and Control. Walter Russell Mead reviewed it for The New York Times, calling it “disquieting but riveting” while also acknowledging that “Schlosser is a better reporter than policy analyst, and his discussion of what we should do about the problem he so grippingly describes is disappointingly thin.” Schlosser’s book documents a number of accidents involving nuclear weapons and near-misses during the Cold War, a subject he returns to in an article he wrote for The Guardian last week. This piece focuses specifically on the status of Britain’s stockpile of trident missiles, but the author touches on the same base point: “Nuclear weapons are the most lethal machines ever invented, but the deterrence they provide is something intangible.”

The Question:  The issue of accidents does not adequately reflect the sudden drop in the number of NW accidents in the period after the one Schlosser describes.  Is it true that taking NW off airborne alert drastically reduced the risk of accident and made nuclear weapons storage and handling as safe as any other military munitions?

Tuesday Bonus

Iran’s ex-Foreign Minister and current head of the country’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, answered questions yesterday in Vienna after delivering his speech to the IAEA’s general conference. “The president, the foreign minister and myself are a group that is like-minded,” he said, adding that they have “a more full-fledged desire” to resolve the standoff.

Salehi Photo

In the news (September 3- September 9 2013)

Syria

With the likelihood of U.S. military intervention in Syria still a possibility, the Russian government has voiced concerns that an aerial campaign against the country could lead to the bombing of the Miniature Neutron Source Reactor outside of Damascus, along with other “nuclear objects.” Moscow officially requested that the IAEA provide a report detailing the long-term consequences that such a strike would have last Thursday.

The Agency has chosen to remain vague on the issue. On Friday, IAEA Spokesperson Gill Tudor told UPI that Russia’s formal request had been received and that “the Agency is considering the questions raised.” Director General Yukiya Amano acknowledged that the situation was “complicated.”

As reported by AFP, Reuters, and Bloomberg Joseph Macmanus, the American envoy to the IAEA countered the request at Monday’s private Board of Governors meeting arguing that, “The IAEA has never before conducted this type of analysis, it would exceed IAEA’s mandate” and that the Agency “will have to review such a request in light of its legal authority, mandate, and resources and must determine whether there is a scientific basis for conducting a highly speculative investigation of this kind.”

Friends of AR raised some good points worth mentioning.

1.      There is a food irradiator with a large gamma radiation source right next (250 meters away) to the MNSR facility. An attack on the MNSR would have essentially no impact on local populations but dispersing the food irradiator sources would cause clean-up headaches.  Both these installations are not in Damascus or near other inhabited areas or next to other facilities but in a location on a patch of desert near Damascus. This means that any future hit on the facilities would be very difficult to be claimed as an accident or a collateral damage.

2.      Regarding the comments by Ambassador Macmanus of the United States as reported by the press:

a)      Contrary to what Amb. Macmanus alluded to, that such a request is unprecedented and beyond the mandate of the IAEA, one can think of a number of other cases where the IAEA issued reports based on special requests by its members  and outside its mandate to provide oversight such as the reports: on the Syrian facility at Al Kibar bombed by the Israeli AF in September 2007; on the radiation risks from the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents; restitution of Iraq’s bombed nuclear research site; on the radiological situation in former nuclear test sites; on the former military nuclear facilities of the states that voluntarily gave up their nuclear weapons (South Africa, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belarus); a series of probes by the IAEA on the use of depleted uranium in ammunition used in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kuwait and Kosovo by the US.

b)      What might be unprecedented though is that in all the cases mentioned above the event in question had already taken place whereas this is a request in anticipation of a future hypothetical possibility. Macmanus also raised that. There is also the possibility that the US will attack 3 alleged undeclared nuclear sites in Syria consistent with its efforts to reduce WMD capabilities in the country.  This could result in the unavoidable spread of nuclear materials.  So the question of IAEA mandate limits in this case is debatable.

c)      Finally, again according to the reports, a question was raised whether the IAEA has the technical capabilities to perform such a probe. All the precedents mentioned above point toward an answer in the affirmative. The technical issues are the same, or very similar, to say the least.
On Tuesday the Syrian envoy to the IAEA told the BoG that his country supports the Russian motion for a probe, reports AFP. The same piece hosts comments on the risks of bombing the Syrian MNSR by expert Robert Kelley of SIPRI. Kelley told AFP that the presence right next to the MSNR of a food irradiator using gamma sources probably stored in vaults on surface level represents a far greater danger if this compound is to be bombed.

Question: If the MSNR or a source is hit, either intentionally or accidentally, would Syria request IAEA technical assistance in remediating the “orphaned source? While the MNSR is an IAEA Safeguards Department issue they will have no information about the food irradiator next to the MNSR because it is not a nuclear materials problem.  This is the provenance of the Department of Technical Cooperation.  Will IAEA be able to bridge its internal gaps and provide an assessment on both risks? Finally, does the Agency’s Statute provide the mandate to do assessments of the consequences of possible military attacks against nuclear facilities under safeguards or other atomic energy-related sites?

Iran & Nuclear Safeguards

In his opening statement to the IAEA Board of Governors, Director General Yukiya Amano expressed his Agency’s desire to work more cooperatively with Iran. A new government and a new envoy to the IAEA have increased the likelihood of conciliation between the country and the IAEA. Amano said that the organization “remains committed to working constructively with Iran […] to resolve outstanding issues by diplomatic means” but that, “Given the nature and extent of credible information available to the Agency about possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme, it remains essential and urgent for Iran to engage with us on the substance of these concerns.”

In fact, Amano highlighted the issue when he told the Board that Iran’s continued refusal to provide the IAEA with an up-to-date design document for its IR-40 heavy water reactor currently under construction near the city of Arak. Despite protestations to the contrary, critics in the West believe that the reactor could be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium. Still, an earlier statement by Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, reported by Press TV, suggests the new regime’s growing willingness to compromise: “Although we deem the nuclear dossier concocted, we are ready to allay the West’s concerns on the basis of international laws and conventions.” Formal talks are scheduled to take place on September 27.

Question: Deja-vu, we’ve been here before; does the current distraction of the Obama administration by the tumbleweeds of internal and external forces sufficiently distract it to permit the Europeans to finally put some worthwhile goodies on the table  to bargain with – or if this is so, will Brussels fumble the ball – again?

Fukushima & Nuclear Safety

And the 2020 Olympics go to Tokyo! AFC quotes Japanese PM from his presentation before the members of the International Olympic Committee held this Saturday in Buenos Aires:

“Let me assure you the situation is under control. […] It has never done or will do any damage to Tokyo. […] You should read past the headlines and look at the facts. […] The contaminated water has been contained in an area of the harbour only 0.3 square kilometres big. […] There have been no health problems and nor will there be. I will be taking responsibility for all the programmes with regard to the plant and the leaks.”

Let’s hope Abe will stick to his word because last Wednesday, Japanese authorities warned that the radioactive contaminants in the water coming out of Fukushima NPP has reached fatal levels in specific areas, reports The Guardian. In an effort to quell the flow of this contaminated groundwater into the soil behind the plant, the government also announced plans to construct a mile-long ice wall beneath the plant, expected to be completed by the middle of 2015.

Spring-boarding off of Japan’s £200 million frozen-wall plan, Damian Carrington wrote an article criticizing the nuclear power industry for its safety gaffes and of the massive financial costs associated with disaster relief following such an atomic accident. Jeff Kingston, in a special for the Japan Times, also has choice words for the mishandling of cleanup detail, although his ire is directed more specifically at the Abe government and Tepco’s obfuscation of facts than at the nuclear enterprise as a whole.

The Question: So the Japanese government is planning ahead for dealing with Fukushima contingencies for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics while American and French officials get together to conceptualize new Grand Designs for new robust nuclear liability and nuclear safety regimes. In both cases the Fukushima accident is by definition the new model case. But how easy or effective or prudent is it to plan ahead based on a disaster that’s far from over, with new unanticipated incidents popping up regularly even two and a half years into this situation? 

North Korea

South Korea seems to be trying to hand its isolationist, northern neighbours the olive branch. A development suggesting a thawing in recent tensions is the reopening of the reopening of a military hot-line across the border. President Park Geun-hye has conveyed her willingness to assist the North in building infrastructure and interacting with international organizations. “If the South and the North build up trust in each other and denuclearization makes progress, I intend to provide support for North Korea to beef up infrastructure, such as communication, transportation and electricity (facilities), and to join international organizations,” Park said.

Question: What can we learn from history; what does the collapse of the U.S.- North Korean Agreed Framework in 2002 offer as a lesson for the way forward?


In the news (August 28 – September 2 2013)

Nuclear Energy

We begin this week in Bangladesh, where Aminur Rahman Rasel writes in the Dhaka Tribune that groundwork on the 2,000 MW Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant will begin in October. The low-lying nation of 150 million people has historically had difficulties making durable concrete and is paying Russia’s Atomstroyexport $45.9 million to supervise construction.

Vietnam is accelerating the use of $143 million budgeted to train nuclear professionals, Xinhua News reported. The country, set to begin constructing its first plant next year, wants to annually enroll 250 students in the nuclear disciplines by 2015.

While Paladin CEO John Borshoff lamented uranium prices in The Australian, over at EnergyBiz, Ken Silverstein wrote that “nuclear-energy plants are sweating over the loss of Russian uranium” as the two-decade-long Megatons to Megawatts program comes to an end. World Nuclear News reported that the program down blended 500 tonnes of highly-enriched uranium, enough material to build 20,000 nuclear weapons. Russia could receive $17 billion from the project, Interfax reported.

Questions:   Does not the end of “Megatons-to-Megawatts” portend new business for uranium-enrichment companies more than it does for prospectors? After all, the 24-tons of Russian LEU annually used to down-blend its HEU were covered by U.S. exports. What’s missing is a vast concentration of saved separative work units

Fukushima & Nuclear Safety

The steady drumbeat of bad news continues to pace coverage of Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi disasters: Bloomberg News reported that the Nuclear Regulatory Authority has begun preparing the public for what insiders have long known: that the Fukushima’s tainted water must be dumped into the ocean. The acknowledgement followed weekend news that radiation spikes around the plant have triggered fresh safety concerns. Whiles Reuters reports that Japan’s government will abandon the “hands-off approach to Fukushima, ” there’s little indication on what it is prepared to do beyond engaging in a “debate (to) redraw the line” with Tepco over clean-up budgets. Andrew Dewit and Christopher Hobson plead in The Japan Times for the government to assume control on “national security” grounds.’

New research from the halls of academia (abstract) show how Fukushima’s Cesium-137 discharge will spread across the world’s oceans in the decades ahead. Predictably, media coverage focused on when the radionuclides will be detected off U.S. waters in 2014. Jeremy Hsu at LiveScience wrote that the Pacific’s “energetic and turbulent” currents help the dilution process. Lindsay Abrams at Salon wrote that the Fukushima plume “should be harmless” to human health.  

Bill Sweet at IEEE Spectrum wrote a belated review of M.V. Ramana’s “The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Power in India” and remains concerned that Indian atomic regulators lack independence

Behnam Taebi at the Jerusalem Post revisits the Elephant in the Room: “As politicians, energy experts and the general public weigh the pros and cons, one key element in harnessing energy from the atom is being neglected…The technical choices we make today will determine the extent of the burden humanity will face in containing contaminated by-products than can remain radioactive for thousands of years.”

Questions:  How has the IAEA’s parroting of Tepco’s shoddy information affected its reputation? Has the agency sufficiently lowered public expectations around its role in nuclear safety? How much longer before the nuclear industry begs to have a more muscular and assertive international regulator to save its reputation?

Nuclear Security

NRC Handelsblad’s Marcel Haenen reported that the person appointed by the Netherlands to oversee next year’s nuclear-security summit, was dismissed after failing a background check. The Dutch police union has called for an investigation into the dismissal.

Hans Kristensen wrote that the U.S. and Dutch governments are in a dispute over who bears liability in an accident stemming from a potential security or safety breech at Volkel Air Base. The news was first reported by the Brandpunt Reporter and sourced from Wikileaks documents.

The Greenville News’s Eric Connor reports that nuclear engineer Larry Criscione is concerned that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will press felony charges against him for asserting records were withheld from the public. The information concerns the security of nuclear plants in the event of dam failures. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers admitted in May that hackers breached a database outlining the vulnerabilities of U.S. dams.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s editorial board wrote its concern about vulnerabilities exposed at First Energy Corp.’s Beaver Valley nuclear plant. Even as the operator has spent $132 million on security since 2001, a drill conducted in April revealed “one security shortcoming, five examples of performance below industry norms and six findings of low-security significance.”

Canada’s National Post reported that an unemployed technician tried to get a job by sending nuclear-security experts on a “wild goose chase” by claiming floorplans of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station had been posted on a jihadist website.

Smithsonian Magazine reports that the Malmstrom Air Force Base has been fighting to secure it’s 150 nuclear-tipped Minuteman III ICBM’s from an army of squirrels that have dug an extensive network of tunnels around the silos.

Questions:  While nuclear security exercises are intended to expose shortcomings, the Post-Gazette editorial shows continued public misunderstanding around the point of these drills. That’s because the public doesn’t have a baseline to judge security effectiveness. How can regulators and industry improve communication about nuclear security without compromising their efforts? How can the press and broader public hold regulators and industry accountable without access to the people and places that could enhance understanding? How can these accountability flaws be addressed? How do organizations like the IAEA vet their nuclear-security experts?

Iran & Nuclear Safeguards

The NY Times William Broad reported that “Iran Slows Its Gathering of Uranium” after the IAEA released its quarterly safeguards report. Other media reports wrote about “The Dog that Didn’t Bark” and focused on Iran’s installation of 40percent more advanced centrifgures. Since Iran already told IAEA in January that it would install 3,000 IR-2 machines, we question the news judgement of leading on the fact that the country has accomplished only a third of its mission.

The Beltway chorus has inevitably tied the U.S. administration’s “weak” decision to delay military action against Syria to Israeli Worries of Iran Implications.”

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris look at global nuclear weapon inventories and calculate 97 percent of the 125,000 devices produced since 1945 were made by the U.S., Soviet Union and Russia.

Finally, Robert S. Rochlin, the nuclear physicist who worked for the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) for more than three decades, died Aug. 25. He was 91. Rochlin co-authored “Radioisotopes for Industry” and “The Technical Problems of Arms Control” among numerous articles.

A loyal reader writes: “The ACDA was created by Kennedy after the Cuban fiasco to provide direct independent advice to the president. It was sacrificed by Clinton in return for Senate ratification of the Chemical Weapons Conventions and the agency was abolished in 1999 and merged into State. ACDA was non-partisan and did a lot of good work and provided independent advise to U.S. presidents. Its abolition by Clinton ranks as one of his greatest mistakes in office.”

 Questions: How has ACDA’s demise affected decision-making in the White House? Do the intelligence agencies and State Department possess sufficient competencies? Are they sufficiently independent?

Tuesday Bonus

This is a picture of a Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC), a ship capable of transporting up to 550,000 tons of liquid across oceans. A VLCC could carry all of Fukushima’s 338,000 tons of liquid waste and still have excess capacity! Given the fact that many marine species breed in the relatively shallow waters of littoral zones, would it not make sense for Japan to treat its waste the best it can and then pump the tritium-laced leftovers into the abyssal zone 6,000 meters down? Could it not, ideally, treat the waste on a deep-sea platform? Of course, this would constitute banned dumping in the ocean but would it not be a better choice than releases in the littoral zone which is also just uncontrolled dumping?

When does the world get to have a grown-up debate about real-world-crisis response to manmade disasters?

VLCC