Sweeping up from Geneva

Geneva Scrum
Iran’s Araghchi speaks with the press inside the Swiss wood-paneled dungeon Oct. 16

It’s been a week since Iran and the P5+1 sat for their latest round of jaw-jaw. The hundreds of journalists who attended the Swiss event are only now recovering from their sensory deprivation inside the wood-paneled and windowless cellar that served as a press center. Woe be the media which tried breaking the compartment in which it was sequestered for two days. Escape was futile. The outside environs offered only some steel fences, manicured lawns and the looming tower of the International Telecommunications Union. 

Continue reading Sweeping up from Geneva

The View from Tehran

The western media has its own preoccupations and biases; here’s a selection of articles  with a view through the eyes of Tehran filed by reporters in Iran’s news media covering the Geneva negotiations:

Fars News Agency

Fars reported on an Iran-US bilateral that was NOT a bilateral as both sides agreed. Here’s an explanation:

In earlier remarks on Tuesday, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister and Spokesman of Iran’s team of negotiators in talks with the world powers Seyed Abbas Araqchi announced that no discussions were held on bilateral relations between Tehran and Washington during the meetings of their representatives on the sidelines of the Geneva negotiations.

Araqchi, who is the second man in the nuclear talks with the world powers, met with Head of the US delegation Wendy Sherman on Tuesday night after the second round of talks between Iran and the Group 5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany).

At the meeting, the two diplomats discussed the contents of the multilateral talks between Iran and the Group 5+1.

“We don’t have discussions with the US on bilateral ties at all and speak with them merely on the nuclear issue,” Araqchi told reporters after meeting Sherman.

Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA)

ISNA confirmed the meeting between Iranian and US deputy FMs Argachi and Sherman and also provided a confirmation by Araqchi that the Additional Protocol was part of Iran’s offer.

Press TV

Press TV focused on positive comments from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney about the talks and Iran’s position.

And finally, a Press TV report on a bipartisan initiative in the US Congress to suspend the adoption of sanctions.

In the news (October 1 – October 7 2013)

Japan’s unholy alliance

Up on Cripple Creek, she sends me

If I spring a leak, she mends me

I don’t have to speak, as she defends me

A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one

The “she” in Robbie Robertson’s 1969 ballad “Up on Cripple Creek,” performed by The Band, was Bessie.

Japan’s nuclear village, represented among others by Keidanren, the voice of Japanese big business, has its own forgiving Bessie too, in the shape of Japan’s Ministry of Energy Trade and Industry (METI).

Atomic Reporters may take some salutary lessons in following the consequence of the accident at Fukushima Daichi; where there’s nuclear there’s usually a village and village life, well…it’s village life.

The latest announcement from Japan’s troubled nuclear village – is that Keidanren, supported by METI, has declared its intention to take the low road away from climate goals while nuclear power remains switched off. Keidanren is the name given to the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations.

And METI,  you may recall, was the ministry that controlled the  discredited Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) before it was reincarnated as the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), and may have more than its fair share of blame for the current misfortune. SimplyInfo, a crowd sources site carried this comment on METI’s competence from August 23.

See also Jeff Kingston’s latest review as to why 94 per cent of Japanese don’t believe the Fukushima disaster has been brought under control. Keep in mind, METI has been put in charge of the leaks springing from waste water tanks at the Fukushima site.

It’s not only in Japan that the nuclear village life has such national dominion. Reporters in newcomer states such as Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Turkey, Belarus, the UAE and others, would be well advised to heed the Japanese nuclear saga, and persistently challenge smiling faces.

This is how news media best fulfills its public function – not to cast any aspersions on Japan’s own news media, where some of the most dogged and critical journalism has been accomplished by local as well as national journalists. But Fukushima,  and before it Chernobyl, and before it, TMI, and Windscale – Mayak is not overlooked – all share a common denominator,  they were the consequence of cavalier behavior, of business  conducted out of critical public view and oversight.

Question: Is the irony well appreciated that an industry seeking to position itself as a rational low carbon alternative to fossil fuel power is willing to push for the abandonment of carbon emission targets, and how does this sit with the global nuclear village?

More from Fukushima

Tepco’s credibility is again under fire, as a U.S. researcher challenges the company’s statement that that the radioactive groundwater leaking out of Fukushima will only affect the coastline. In an interview with Bloomberg Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who has conducted his own tests of Japanese waters called the Tepco’s claim that all irradiated water would remain  within 0.3 square kilometers of the bay “not true to the science” and “silly.”

Nuclear Industry

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that Walter Tamosaitis, a lifelong worker and senior scientist at URS Corp was fired on Thursday. URS operates the largest radioactive waste treatment facility in Hanford, Washington, and Tamosaitis was the man whose technical concerns about the $12.3-billion  plant’s design brought construction to a halt, so it’s no wonder that whistleblowing watchdog Hanford Challenge called it “another act of retribution against Walter Tamosaitis.”

The White House and Iran

Julie Pace, White House correspondent for AP, conducted an in-depth interview with US President Barack Obama on Saturday. The section that most interests Atomic Reporters comes about midway, when Pace asks him to comment on Iran.  Obama believes Rouhani represents a positive step for Iran and lets slip that America’s March estimation, that Iran is at least a year away from being able to even produce nuclear weapons, is the same as it was then.

Orphaned (Re)source: Super Kukla Operating Experience, 1964-1973

Prompt burst reactors were developed in parallel with the first atomic bombs.  They were casually referred-to as “tickling the tail of the dragon.”  This is because they were made to go super prompt critical and depended on intrinsic heating of the core to shut them off before they exploded.  The operator completes the shutdown with rapid mechanical disassembly but that is only after heating of the core brings it down to barely supercritical.  Super prompt means that the reactor is highly super critical on prompt neutrons alone and the whole burst of neutrons that results is not actually critical on delayed neutrons.  Delayed neutrons come in milliseconds to seconds after fission and that is a very long time compared to the super prompt burst pulse.

Most prompt burst reactors in the US were essentially the same size and enrichment as a “gun-type” nuclear bomb.  So they were excellent for simulating the physics of such a device.  They were also used to make all sorts of basic neutron physics measurements and one was even used to irradiate chimpanzees to study the effects of a nuclear explosion on aircraft pilots.  Super Kukla was the largest such machine that was built.  It consisted of five tons of 20% enriched uranium with enriched control rods that added reactivity to cause the burst, rather than a poison rod such as used in a power reactor.  It was used to simulate the effects of Soviet ABM systems on US military hardware in a large central irradiation cavity.  The power in Super Kukla could double roughly every 100 microseconds which is certainly tickling the tail of the dragon.

All or most prompt burst reactors have been dismantled as the need for their basic physics experiments and damage to military systems missions have grown old.  The few reports on their characteristics are becoming lost or unavailable. This is one of the few now available for the public record:

LINK: Super Kukla Operating Experience



Three new stories caught our eyes this week, and we couldn’t help but share:

After months of remaining submerged, the process to set up a conference about a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone surfaced cautiously in Brussels 1 Oct with the announcement there will be consultations in Switzerland later in the month and the conference itself could convene as early as mid-December. In the meantime this nugget from the Jerusalem Post.

In the continuing saga of journalism at risk of stepping on land mines in the dangerous territory between open government and national security, the New York Times reports that the US Justice Department has begun playing nice.

Atomic Reporters will continue posting ad-hoc, breaking news we believe significant to journalists, as supplement to the weekly digest.

Orphaned (Re)source: LC 16/INF.2

Dear Readers,

Today we bring you the first in an occasional series of hard-to-find, nuclear-related research in need of a home online. Our first submission, “LC 16/INF.2” comes via the International Maritime Organization, where it was submitted by Russian authorities in 1993. The document, posted in three parts due to its size, provides a comprehensive view of Soviet and Russian disposal of radioactive wastes at sea. It was presented to the IMO in the wake of the 1993 incident in which Russia dumped 900 tons, or less-than 3 curies, of liquid waste into the Sea of Japan.

“Matters Related to the Disposal of Radioactive Wastes at Sea”
Submitted to the Russian Federation to the IMO Sept. 14, 1993

LC 16_INF.2 part 1

LC 16_INF.2 part 2

LC 16_INF.2 part 3

In the news (September 25 – September 30 2013)

Power to the people

Online petitions have their appeal; empowerment at the click of a button. But despite its good intentions the Move on Fukushima petition demonstrates a certain naiveté when it calls on the UN (albeit the IAEA) to take on an oversight role in the Fukushima clean up.

Question: Has the IAEA demonstrated any willingness roll up its sleeves and plunge into the Fukushima mess in the two and a half since the accident, and if it can’t provide oversight to manage the task who can?  Nuclear industry accidents know no borders and the appropriate response should be an international effort – so what would be the spark plug to get such an effort going?

Are Journalists in Danger of Prosecution for Espionage?                                        

Word on the hill at the time of the North Korean leak for which Fox reporter James Rosen has been hounded is that it had really, really, really, grave consequences. Rosen has been labeled an “unindicted co-conspirator” in a leak investigation conducted by the Justice Department. Gabriel Schoenfeld writes that the institutional press in this instance is demanding a privilege that no functioning democracy can bestow. Marty Lederman sniffs at Schoenfeld’s hang ‘em high proposition: “a course of action Schoenfeld has been urging for years,” he writes.

Question: The Obama administration does appear to have declared open season on journalists in the name of protecting national security, and the espionage threat  casts a pall over Grub Street;  but is the shadow of the gallows the result of too fevered an imagination?

Estimate for uranium facility goes from $600 million to $11.6 billion

The cost of a proposed uranium processing facility for nuclear weapons in Oakridge, Tennessee, has soared as high as $11.6 billion — 19 times the original estimate — even as critics accuse the Energy Department of overstating the need for spare bomb parts.

Question: Could this herald the end of the US nuclear weapons program?  While the Department of Defence plans new nuclear weapons systems, the Department of Energy has become completely dysfunctional and is unable to coherently plan for the modernisation of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.  The South the River mixed oxide fuel (MOX) plant and the Los Alamos plutonium plant all show incredible cost overruns and demonstrate incompetence and the inability to move forward realistically.  If these facilities are not built, will the capability of the U.S. to build nuclear weapons in a modern environmentally responsible complex simply disappear?

Serendipity, Syria and Putin

The Bush administration in its Middle East policy blunders seemed wedded to the Latin term casus belli, meaning justification for war. The Obama administration’s recent actions in the region may be better summed up by casus, meaning chance, accident. See David Bromwich’s version of how more Middle East blunders may have been avoided by…..more blunders. The Syria issue is about chemical weapons but nuclear is always on the menu in the Middle East.

Question: What else could U.S. foreign policy goals accomplish by accident in Syria, resolution of outstanding questions about the alleged reactor bombed by Israel at in 2007 at Dair Alzour?

Nuclear extravagance in Washington

And from Chennai , Madras, where The Hindu has its corporate office, some cold water gets poured on a possible deal between the Indian Government and the struggling U.S. nuclear power industry. And an interesting perspective on the possible deal from Papri Sri Raman.

Question: Why are the benefits to the U.S. that were touted  for signing the so-called 123 deal with India in 2005 still proving to be elusive?

Nuclear Now

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists remains an important source of opinion and discussion about the state of nuclear – 17,000 warheads remain in their arsenals – and the steps to consider towards achieving global stability. Two current pieces address the past, present and future of nuclear weapons. The first  addresses the inevitability of nuclear disarmament and the second  challenges the notion that technology and careful management will keep us safe.

Question: The Bulletin addresses key issues that will only be resolved by a response from the public; yet it’s hardly the media of choice for most readers and is it realistic to consider that journalists can take the vital issues it addresses and craft them into clear and compelling stories for wider audiences?