Category Archives: Nuclear Safeguards

Atomic Reporters to Improve its Game

Atomic Reporters is in business to help journalists bring a little more authority to covering nuclear issues by providing training and encouraging discussion. Among the schools of science, nuclear is a Cinderella yet it is pivotal to global security and safety.

To achieve  its goals Atomic Reporters links journalists with experts as it seeks to broaden understanding, a two way street indeed. It also offers comment on the hazards journalists may face in providing evidence based reporting for their readers and viewers because of the wide range of views being expressed.

Last week we posted an “Ombudsman Column” called “Curveballs, Sliders and the Little Pitches that Start Big Wars.” Because it drew on a wide community of experts and journalists it was bylined ‘ Atomic Reporters.’

This tongue-in-cheek effort seeking to illuminate some of the very real disagreements about matters of fact swirling around the Iran nuclear file was deemed too harsh and caused offence and upset to people named in the report, for which we express regret.

We are a newly minted organization unique in our commitment to supporting journalists covering this challenging file. We try to get it right but don’t always succeed. When style detracts from the serious content we are trying to address clearly we’ve not succeeded and we will strive to do better.

Thanks for your support: Peter Rickwood, Atomic Reporters founder & director

The SLC bronco bucks

State level concepts, or SLC, have been a burr under the IAEA’s saddle as it seeks to introduce a broader approach to its conduct of safeguards to verify states’ compliance with their obligations under the Treaty On The Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
The SLC is a comprehensive approach to implementing safeguards that emphasizes using all available and relevant information about a state’s nuclear program to guide the Agency’s safeguards activities in that state, instead of focusing on specific facilities.
A safeguards implementation plan for a specific state that uses this concept is called a state-level approach.
According to the IAEA, applying state-level approaches allows it to more efficiently use its limited resources and focus more on detection of possible undeclared activities.
The Agency says that the SLC approach is more efficient and makes better use of its resources by using all available and relevant information about a state’s nuclear program instead of focusing on specific facilities.
There has been resistance from several IAEA member states to SLC. At the start of its Safeguards Symposium, 20 – 24 October, regrettably closed to media, the following statement was delivered by the head of Russia’s delegation Grigory Berdennikov.

Reporter Tools: “… The Art of Crap-Detection”

“The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.”
Ernest Hemingway, May 1954

The summer hiatus is over and Atomic Reporters are back to work. The Iran nuclear negotiations are in overtime. The  International Atomic Energy Agency’s 58th General Conference is set to begin Sept. 22. A list of key documents, including the Director General’s report on Middle East safeguards, can be found here.

Elsewhere, open-source proponent Robert Steele, who runs the Phi Beta Iota Public Intelligence Blog, has an interesting post that resonates with Atomic Reporters. University of Las Vegas computer scientist Hal Berghel cites Neil Postman’s  1969 speech “Bullshit and the Art of Crap-Detection” in a new essay:


     “…Though worthy, the study of informal logic from one serious shortcoming: it assumes that truthful statements are the sine qua non of meaningful communication. Informal fallacies document the point at which serious reasoning foes awry. Even when embedded in a broader, over-arching “argumentation theory” or dialectic, informal logic assumes that traditional fallacies are departures from the conversational norm – but not the norm itself.
     “Violations of the rules of sound argument are red flags in any discussion worthy of serious attention. But propaganda, polemic, subterfuge, and trickery eschew sound argument. They seek to manipulate, maneuver, control the listener and obstruct paths from reflection to sound judgment. Rhetorical weaponry – like lying and deceit – assaults the sensibilities with false flags and distractions that informal logic just can’t handle. When it comes to criminals, politicians, and ideologues, we need to pull out the nuclear option…”

Unconditional Surrender – India’s Exceptional Protocol

• ” There is a serious danger inherent in the India Additional Protocol”

• ” The IAEA would be far better off to offer India a voluntary-offer agreement like it has with the official Nuclear Weapons States”

Robert Kelley, the former IAEA safeguards inspector with three decades of experience in the U.S. national laboratories, has been in the news lately. Writing for IHS Jane’s, Kelley and co-author Brian Cloughley showed that India appeared to be expanding its uranium enrichment program and that fissile material produced at the country’s Mysore facility may support its thermonuclear weapons program. Following publication of the Jane’s report, India moved to ratify its Additional Protocol with the IAEA after years of delay. A copy of India’s AP was published by the Arms Control Law website.  The following is Kelley’s analysis of India’s AP agreement with the agency:

Continue reading Unconditional Surrender – India’s Exceptional Protocol

The NPT PrepCom opens, and past and present European leaders warn of risk of serious damage to nuclear non-proliferation

The third Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) opened at the United Nations in New York on Monday 28 April.

Among interventions Atomic Reporters may find this statement from fifty serving and former senior European Leaders, including from Russia, of significance.  As the Ukraine standoff rolls into May it offers a road map for strengthening nuclear non-proliferation and warns of serious damage if necessary steps are not taken.

Group Statement Ahead of PrepCom_General Press Release2

We Wuz Wrong

We missed meeting Safecast’s two participants in the IAEA’s “International Experts’ Meeting on Radiation Protection after the Fukushima Daiichi Accident: Promoting Confidence and Understanding,” in Vienna last month, and without being able to put faces to names managed to incorrectly identify one of them in our post, “Hans Brinker & the IAEA.” Thanks to Azby Brown, who was in Vienna with Joe Morrosin, for pointing this out.

But our hiccup offers the opportunity to suggest Atomic Reporters readers check out the work of Safecast and see if you don’t agree with us that such crowd sourced citizen science is an important tool for fact checking ‘official’ findings. In the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, for example, ‘official’ data were frequently discredited because by trying to minimise concerns, and other errors in communicating the crisis, public suspicion was aroused.

For reporters, Safecast offers the assurance of independent oversight, and its growing acceptance – established experts from the global nuclear safety community rubbed shoulders with its delegates, self-declared hackers, at the IAEA conference – beggars the claim that laypersons should not have access to nuclear data because they don’t know how to manage it.

Increasingly, it is the citizen who is becoming the watchdog. The advent of available reliable and affordable tools is one of the catalysts for such change. And it raises fresh challenges for journalists who will be required to expand the scope of their skills too.

This doesn’t exclude the gut feeling that drives much of good reporting but it does require a familiarisation with the language of data in order to tell readers and viewers about it more effectively.

It is an irony that even as more high speed driven data distils reporting it will be old fashioned gum shoe approach that will be required to manage it, or what Dean Starkman in an excerpt from his book, The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism defines as accountability reporting.

We’ll be returning to some of these themes more often in future and are working on plans to turn some of them into support for reporters

Peter Rickwood

Opinion: Safeguards & Public Diplomacy

“We will have access to Fordow, a secret facility in a mountaintop that we’ve never been in.” – John Kerry to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dec. 10, 2013

“They have to allow inspection of the Fordow underground facility and of the Natanz nuclear plant. They didn’t have to do that before.” – John Kerry interview Jake Tapper of CNN, Feb. 5, 2014
IAEA headquarters in Vienna
IAEA headquarters in Vienna

Treaties are verified because people and nations are not necessarily trustworthy, especially when they act in the interests of power and wealth. The verification tool keeping watch over the world’s deadliest potential arsenal is called Safeguards. Just as the seeds of the European Union are found in counting steel that could be used for cannons, IAEA Safeguards keep track of nuclear-bomb material at proliferation risk. The base value of every gram of transmogrified uranium on Earth may be seen as the cost to deploy the people and machines needed to count it.

Continue reading Opinion: Safeguards & Public Diplomacy