Category Archives: CTBTO

Business as Usual

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CHICAGO — January 14, 2014 — The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists today called on the United States and Russia to restart negotiations on reducing their nuclear arsenals, to lower alert levels for their nuclear weapons, and to scrap their missile defense programs.

The Board also implored world leaders to take immediate action to combat climate change as it announced that the minute hand of the Bulletin’s iconic Doomsday Clock will remain at five minutes to midnight because “the risk of civilization-threatening technological catastrophe remains high.”

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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 (August 6 – August 12 2013)

Letting the data flow

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced to the visiting new head of the  Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), Lassina Zerbo, that China will open the flow of data from CTBTO monitoring stations on its soil to the organization’s data centre in Vienna.  “Yesterday, the world’s main nuclear weapons monitoring organization announced that China has agreed to begin sharing data from 10 stations on its territory. Seven stations register seismic waves and infrasound waves; three stations in Beijing, Lanzhou, and Guangzhou detect radionuclide,” reports Richard Stone.

The Question:   Monitoring any possible future DPRK nuclear tests will certainly be enhanced by China’s decision; but does it reflect support for the new head of the CTBTO – and what’s the quid pro quo? Or does it suggest China may be considering taking a more prominent seat at the nuclear non-proliferation table?

Preparing for the worst

At the behest of the United States Air Force, defence industry juggernauts Boeing and Raytheon are competing to construct a failsafe satellite communications system that would prepare for the worst by allowing the  President to remain in touch with his military assets even in the event of a nuclear attack – this despite the Air Force facing the need to reduce its budget by $500 billion over the next decade a consequence of so-called sequestration that limits federal spending in the U.S.

The Question: Perhaps more than twenty years after the end of the Cold War it would not be eminently more sensible to find more productive investment opportunities and ring fence military anomie..

Energy

More than two years after the Fukishima Daiichi NPP’s disaster, the Japanese government has decided to take a more direct role in clean-up duty that previously had been left in the hands of the plant’s operators TEPCO. Following rat attacks, blackouts and evidence of contamination entering the ocean from the site Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with cabinet ministers last Wednesday, telling them that “We must deal with this at the national level.” Critics and analysts see this move as a belated admission of the flaw in letting the same company that is partially to blame for the power plant’s inadequate preparedness for the disaster itself manage the clean up. .

The Question: Trojan effort has been expended by a small army of workers in the ongoing clean up, often working under hazardous conditions, but would a response to the disaster have been better served by a crowd sourced response, i.e. unlimited international consultation and hands on support from international experts response, together with citizen oversight?

Nuclear Disarmament

The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence revealed that it has begun the process of dismantling Britain’s nuclear weapons stockpile. While the rate of three Trident warheads a year might seem rather leisurely, the end goal of “no more than 180 (weapons)” means that England is taking concrete steps to meeting its international disarmament obligations. What’s more, fewer of the nation’s missiles will remain operational aboard its four Vanguard-class submarines. Of course, the practical distinction between 160 and 120 seaborn warheads is still a little bit unclear. And we can only hope it will remain that way.

The Question:  Three down and more than two hundred to go. Do UK actions point to general reluctance among nuclear-weapon states (NWS) Nuclear Weapons States to pay little more than lip service to their NPT obligations.  

Iran

Iran’s newly appointed, Hassan Rouhani, continues to make moves towards conciliation with the West; on the nuclear front at least. The Guardian reports that the country’s new president is willing to negotiate with the US on aspects of its developing nuclear programme. Of course, the pall of US enforced sanctions would still hang over any proceedings, if they do actually happen. Rouhani himself has said that “There has been contradictory behaviour and messages. We never approved the US’s carrot and stick approach.” He’s also facing pressure from hardliners over his allegedly pro-western choice of picks for his proposed cabinet

The Question: Given the current impasse in U.S. politics will the hardliners in Washington and Tehran be the eventual winners?

Errata:

Citing perhaps the greatest putdown to a national-security journalist who over-relied on anonymous sources (he was “” A kind of official urinal in which ministers and intelligence and defense chiefs could stand patiently leaking“), filmmaker Adam Curtis examines the intelligence shibboleth. The story,   “Bugger: Maybe the real state secret is that spies aren’t very good at their jobs and don’t know very much about the world,” looks at the inaccuracies constructed and construed by Britain’s MI-5 before being punted to bumbling reporters. The read is interwoven with archive-video clips including a 7-minute shot of Kim Philby’s Soviet state funeral.

Over at the Middle East Policy Council, Gareth Porter has written a baroque analysis about why the IAEA’s so-called “Alleged Studies” documents may be bunk. His list of eight red herrings that should trigger the agency’s smell-test alarm may be only accessible to Total Wonkerrs.

The Questions:  Do databases and predictive algorithms reduce or increase the resource intensity of intelligence gathering? Computation was hailed to improve economic efficiency. How has security-clearance proliferation undermined stability? Why are the “Alleged Studies” documents assumed to be the element that “overwhelmingly” has shifted American public opinion toward confrontation with Iran, according to Porter? What percentage of the American public (or Congress for that matter) knows what IAEA stands for? 

No Comment

Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Photos From the Ruins

In the news this week (20-26 July 2013)

Nuclear Energy – Nuclear Safety

The story:  ““Who Could Trust Such A Company?” – The Big Fat Lies About Radiation Exposure Of Workers At Fukushima” is just another compilation of TEPCO’s failures and bad calls during and in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. The interesting thing though is that this comes from Peak Oil, an outlet dedicated on news from the oil industry.

The question:  How does the oil industry view the recent maladies of the nuclear industry really?  Would it be in their interest to affront the nuclear energy sector in the eyes of public opinion and policy makers?

More, much more in the news this week on TEPCO:

TEPCO admitted that water contaminated with radiation has been leaking into the ocean. It was everywhere in Japanese and international media this last week. I.e. see reports by Tsuyoshi Inajima and Jacob Adelman for Bloomberg, Japan Today carrying an AFP report and The Mainichi carrying the story from Kyodo News.

Lucas Hixson of Enformable Nuclear News reports here that TEPCO workers used an infrared-thermographic camera over the weekend to capture images of the top floor of the Unit 3 reactor building. This was to detect the causes of the water vapor detected in the facility last week, on 18 July, as reported here by Hiroko Tabuchi of the New York Times.

Mari Fujisaki reported on 20 July for the Asahi Shimbun that morale is low among TEPCO’s managers causing some to resign and look for other jobs. In an effort to boost morale and stop the brain-drain TEPCO announced it will make a one-time payment of 100,000 yen ($997) to each of the company’s managers with approximately 5,000 people being eligible. See the news report here.

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Iran: New President Rohani set to appoint new negotiator

The story:  A view from Iran on the new Iranian President’s possible picks for his team of nuclear negotiators. See here an analysis by Nader Bagherzadeh on the Iranian news outlet Payvand. See also a news report here by the pan-Arab news outlet Asharq Al-Awsat.

The question: Any insights on the names discussed in the articles? Any ideas of other hopefuls?   [Remember, you can add your comments here.]

Further coverage: There were many articles and even more op-eds this week on where the new Iranian President might go with nuclear negotiations and how the United States and the P5+1 should seize the opportunity to achieve some sort of a breakthrough. Iran’s Ambassador in Algeria Mahmoud Mohamamdi wrote this op-ed here. Cliff Kupchan, director for the Middle East at Eurasia Group and a former U.S. State Department official, wrote this op-ed for the New York Times. An op-ed from the BBC here and another one from Pakistan’s The News International here.

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US – India civil nuclear cooperation

The story: U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden visited India this week and met with PM Manmohan Singh. High on the agenda according to this report here by the Times of India: “Ways to take forward the commercial aspects of the civil nuclear agreement between the US and India.”

And all this just one month after US Secretary of State John Kerry was there to discuss the same issue.

The quote:  “The reactors that India has authorized its nuclear company to purchase in — I hope I pronounce it right — Gujarat would generate as much as 6,000 megawatts of power.  To put that number in perspective: that would be enough energy to power two cities the size of Mumbai.” – Joe Biden in his remarks at the Bombay Stock Exchange.

The question: So we know the megawatts. How much is that in megadollars?  (BTW Are 6,000 megawatts really what it takes to power two cities the size of Mumbai?)

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United Kingdom: ‘Trident’ replacement debate continues

It seems now this debate has been dragging on for ever and everybody who’s anybody in British politics have made their views public. Two more pieces from this week:

Trident: MPs want replacement deal signed soon, by David Maddox (The Scotsman)

The UK’s Trident Program: Sink or Swim? By Sam Kane (Nukes of Hazard)

The question: Where exactly does the buck stop with the Trident case? And when? And of course, the $1,000,000 question, how much pressure is the U.S. applying on the U.K. on Trident?

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See also

Praful Bidwai is getting all philosophical but right on the point on India and Pakistan in his piece “The dangers of nuclear hubris

For the techy, and rather futuristic, article of the week, Power Engineering International reports on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in this article entitled “The most difficult project on earth