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?


In the news (August 21 – 27 2013)

Welcome back, dear readers. Atomic Reporters is building momentum ahead of launch. We’re pleased to report that page views and visits both reached records in August. Readers from 29 countries perused our compendium of links. In the weeks ahead, you can look forward to new website features including a regular “Ombudsman Column” that will endeavor to review accuracy in the nuclear realm. Thanks for your continued support. Here are your weekly links:

Nuclear Energy

News broke as Atomic Reporters went to press that Entergy would shut down its Vermont Yankee reactor by 2014. Here’s the statement in which Entergy cites the “transformational shift in supply” of natural gas as well as the high cost structure of the plant as reasons to decommission. The company further announced that it’s open to a settlement on the future of its Indian Point plant, Reuters reported.

As if Fukushima were not bad enough for Japan’s nuclear industry, there’s another battle brewing that could have adverse effects on Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the company that built the $680 million generators for the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. The Los Angeles Times’ Michael Hiltzik wrote that Edison International, while seeking damages from Mitsubishi, is also preparing ratepayers to share its pain over the shutdown so that Wall Street gets its 5.5% return on invested capital through 2022.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided the time was right to boost his nation’s nuclear industry by taking a six-day tour of Bahrain, Kuwait, Djibouti and Qatar, AFP reported. The trip follows an agreement between Japan and Hungary to boost nuclear-technology cooperation, according to Kyodo News. While Japan’s Foreign Ministry denies that the Fukushima meltdowns are having any impact on nuclear exports, a Bloomberg News editorial shows that the disaster does have an effect on public perception:

“If Abe wants to redeem Japan’s nuclear industry, jump-start its economy, and perhaps increase the odds of removing the radioactive pall over Tokyo’s bid to land the 2020 Olympics, he needs to start at ground zero and work up from there.”

In China, the Dongfang Electrical Machinery Company claims to have built the world’s biggest nuclear generator, Xinhua reported. The 1,750 MW generator will be used at the Taishan plant, jointly operated by French EDF and Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding.

India’s Kudankulam nuclear power plant may begin feeding 400 MW of electricity onto the grid by the end of this month, wrote The Hindu’s P. Sunderarajan, even as protests continue.

Saudi Arabia outlined ambitious plans to spend $100 billion to build 16 nuclear reactors by 2030, Dawn’s Syed Rashid Husain reported.

Questions:  The fortunes of nuclear power continue to ride a roller coaster and the challenge for reporters is to keep focus on the main issues: that atomic energy is among interim energy options on a planet choking in its own carbon emissions while its safety failures result from arrogance, impunity and plain greed.  

Fukushima & Nuclear Safety

The International Atomic Energy Agency will tell its membership in September that, despite Fukushima, nuclear power is safer than ever, wrote Reuters’ Fredrik Dahl.

Meanwhile at the stricken plant, Bloomberg’s Jacob Adelman reported that Japan’s government repeated its pledge to take the lead in managing the disaster and that Russia has reiterated offers of technical assistance. The Christian Science Monitor’s David Unger reported that Fukushima is eroding confidence in nuclear power.

Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun took issue with the Nuclear Regulatory Authorities discussion of a fault line running beneath the Kansai Electri Power Co.’s Oi nuclear plant and called for a “scientific approach” to determining risk. The lack of trust in Tepco and Japanese regulatory authorities has pushed citizens to try taking nuclear safety into their own hands. Eliza Strickland at National Public Radio produced a report on Safecast, the radiation-monitoring network trying to give people the information they need to feel safe in their environments.

Over at Vice, Brian Merchant reports on Japan’s troubled nuclear history by looking at Gojira, the atomic technology stand-in known as Godzilla to the West: “Perhaps the on-going disaster at Fukushima, concerns with US’s aging fleet of nuclear power plants, and the bluster over Iran’s nuclear program have rekindled our atomic anxiety …  so as long as we continue to experiment with nuclear technology, we can be sure another Godzilla will arise.”

Questions:  Is the nuclear industry capable of keeping its own house in order, or, does the continued Fukushima crisis merely show that Japan was too late in asking for help from the global “nuclear family?”

Nuclear Security

Nigeria is cracking down on the use of radioactive sources used in oil and gas exploration, Emeka Anuforo reported in The Guardian.  Russia has lost track of two strontium-powered radioactive thermal generators used for lighthouses, the Barents Observer’s Thomas Nilsen reported. The units have likely been washed out to sea, Russia told the IAEA.

David Waller, last seen as Deputy Director General at IAEA, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Times in which he stumps for muon tomography. The new detection technology developed at Los Alamos will reduce atomic-terrorism threats, he wrote.

Finally, the Armenian News Agency assures the world that the U.S. sees “no basis to doubt” security of its nuclear power plant. Eleven DOE officials concluded a visit to Armenia.

Questions:  What’s a muon and how much does it cost to detect one at a port? After questions arose over the cost effectiveness of the last portal-monitor rollout, who is poised to profit from the next nuclear-security boondoggle? Who is policing the police?

Iran & Nuclear Safeguards

Iran’s President Rouhani continues to shake-up his nuclear negotiating team. IAEA stalwart Ali Asghar Soltanieh will be replaced by Reza Najafi. The disarmament-affairs diplomat seems groomed for the Vienna post, having weighed in not only on  nuclear issues, but also outer space affairs. Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei met with Omani King Sultan Qaboos in Tehran this week and reiterated calls for a Middle East weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone, Fars News Agency reported.

Iran-Contra reporter Robert Parry wrote for Consortium News that Bradley Manning may have helped avert war with Iran by exposing the U.S. relationship to IAEA director general Yukiya Amano. Manning, who leaked more than 200,000 U.S. State Department cables to Wikileaks, was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu of The Jewish Express wrote that recently declassified photos of the Dimona nuclear plant may mean Israel will become less secretive about its atomic program.

Down in southeast Asia, Robert Kelley and Francis Wade write in AlJazeera that Myanmar’s continued failure to sign an Additional Protocol agreement with the IAEA continues to be of concern.

Finally, from the archives of the truly bizarre, American media were gripped by a Sierra Leone man alleged to have brokered a uranium deal with Iran. Jim White at Empty Wheel and Nima Shirazi at Wide Asleep in America give the government sting a proper treatment.

 Questions: Has the political will to pursue the goal of a Middle East WMD-free zone been sacrificed to militarism in a region that continues to demonstrate all the stability of a dynamite-laden truck with poor brakes winding down a mountain pass? Is Iran’s support for the initiative genuine and will Myanmar really come clean about its own nuclear ambitions?

Other News of Note

Laura Poitras, writing in Germany’s Der Spiegel, revealed how the National Security Agency is eavesdropping on international decision makers. The International Atomic Energy Agency has been a visible target. Vienna is home to one of two CIA “Special Collection Service” outposts mentioned in the article: “The Americans are also highly interested in intelligence on the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA. The IAEA has been given a red “1” in the area of arms control.”

Questions:  What kind of changes will the latest revelations prompt in Vienna? Readers familiar with the IAEA say the agency isn’t very security conscious and that NSA wouldn’t have to work very hard to acquire information. Would not weekly conference calls on an open line to discuss safeguards-sensitive matters, including Iran plans, be a very easy target?

Tuesday Bonus

Uranium Rush was an “educator approved” game from the 1950s. Players begin with $15,000 and prospect for uranium in an area determined by a spinner (mountain, hills, or desert). Claims can be purchased for $1000 each and may be auctioned off or tested for uranium. This involves an electric “Geiger counter” that produces a buzzing sound if uranium is discovered. The claim is then sold to the federal government for $50,000. Players alternate turns until all claims have been staked and the person with the most money is declared the winner


In the News (August 13-20 2013)

Nuclear Energy

A U.S. appeals court affirmed a prior ruling that the Vermont Legislature overstepped its authority by passing a law calling for the early closure of the Yankee NPP in Vernon, Bob Audette at the Brattleboro Reformer reported. The court wrote that the federal Atomic Energy Act was improperly preempted in the 54-page decision found here.

South Africa is increasingly viewing nuclear energy as a necessity and  the “government appears to be building domestic support for an expansion,” wrote the Council on Foreign Relations‘ John Campbell.

CNN’s Geoff Hiscock reports that New Delhi may be hoping for a Tony Abbott victory on September 7 after the conservative politician has pledged to export uranium to India. “Uranium is the key energy commodity that differentiates how Rudd and Abbott approach relations with India,” he writes.

Questions: While Vermont’s attorney general weighs whether to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, what constitutional grounds could the reactor’s continued operation possibly violate? 

Nuclear Safety

Japanese officials are confronting yet another leak at its Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, wrote Bloomberg News reporters Jacob Adelman and Yuji Okada. The latest breach occurred because of an open valve in a containment barrier and released 300 tons of contaminated water onto the soil. National Geographic’s Patrick J. Kiger takes an in-depth look at Japan’s proposed ice wall to contain tainted water and writes that the plan is feasible.

Questions:  Now that Tepco has swung back into profitability ($4.48 billion in the 2nd quarter), might now be the face-saving opportunity for Japan’s government to assert its control over the site?

Nuclear Security

The U.S. Air Force’s troubled recent history of managing its nuclear stockpile continued. The 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base failed an inspection for the third time in five years, wrote Brian Everstine at the Air Force Times. Details of the “tactical level errors” at the facility, which houses 150 Minuteman III ballistic missiles, weren’t disclosed. Meanwhile, Rick Montgomery at the Kansas City Star reported that airmen at the 131st Bomb Wing became the first reservists certified to drop nuclear weapons.

Questions:  Participating in nuclear forces of organizations like SAC used to be a badge of honor and a career enhancing assignment.  Now it would appear that nuclear launch and security details are reserved for the lower performance report officers.  Does this signal how the Air Force really feels about its nuclear mission? How do certified wings staffed by reservists impact nuclear security?

Nuclear Safeguards

Former Los Alamos National Laboratory director Siegfried Hecker spoke with Beth Duff-Brown about the Semipalatinsk clean-up project he helped launch in Kazakhstan. Alarm was raised over the former test site in 1998 when a visiting Kazakh scientist told Hecker that not only had radioactive hot spots been found but that the “metal scavengers” digging up the site were out of control. David E. Hoffman and Eben Harrell published a long-form account of the project at the Washington Post entitled “Saving the World at Plutonium Mountain.”

Questions: From the WP article: “Such hidden repositories might be found elsewhere, wherever nations have tested nuclear weapons or carried out other research on fissile materials such as plutonium. Will all that scientific collaboration and goodwill be readily available?”


This week marks the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-led coup toppling Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq. The National Security Archive published documents that for the first time show the CIA acknowledging its role in the affair. While researchers had sought the documents for decades, it’s unclear why the spy agency decided to officially admit its role now, reported Foreign Policy’s Malcolm Byrne. For an Iranian perspective of the overthrow, see Ibrahim Hadidi’s Farsi-language archives and photos over at the Iran Review.

Meanwhile, Iran named ex-Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi to head its Atomic Energy Organization. New Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the U.S. faces a “litmus test” on whether its willing to stand up to jingoistic groups seeking to derail talks, according to a translated copy of an interview conducted by Iranian Diplomacy. Former U.S. National Security Council official Gary Sick suggested in an interview that Iran and U.S. begin talking via back channels.

Questions: Now that the record is official, would the U.S. government consider issuing an apology for overthrowing Mosaddeq? Would a formal expression of regret signal the U.S. would henceforth refrain from meddling in Iran’s internal affairs? Why doesn’t Congress freeze funds earmarked for Iranian regime change democratization as long as negotiations run their course?

Nuclear Health

The linear no threshold (LNT) approach to assessing radiation risk came under fire from Edward Calabrese, Science 2.0 reported.  The University of Massachusetts scientist asserts in two papers published in this month’s Archives of Toxicology that LNT was adopted after 1950s researchers deliberately suppressed evidence supporting alternative models. Calabrese told the libertarian Cato Institute in March that data support his controversial “hormesis” theory, in which radiation exposure may be beneficial to human health. Meanwhile, BBC science reporter James Gallagher wrote that scientists are on the cusp of understanding what causes cancer by studying the “genetic graffiti’‘ left on mutated DNA.

Questions: In the immediate aftermath of Fukushima, Japanese officials pledged public-health studies on low-dose radiation effects? What is the status of the research? What are its parameters?

Other News of Note

In a move Amnesty International says “violates any principle of fairness,” David Michael Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was detained and questioned by police at Heathrow Airport for nine hours Monday. Miranda was held under Britain’s Terrorism Act and all of his electronics confiscated. While English authorities remained silent on the reason for his detention, it seems clear that the Brazilian national was held due to his relationship with Greenwald, who published leaked surveillance documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The New York Times sheds further light on Miranda’s detention by explaining that he had been sent to Berlin to exchange information with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, who also interviewed Snowden. Among the electronic devices taken by British officers were a set of encrypted USB drives containing Poitras’ documents.

Jesse Walker wrote a piece for the Washington Post about the U.S. government’s so-called Insider Threat Program. Launched near the end of 2011, the program includes a brochure encouraging national security employees to be on the lookout for “suspicious indicators” among co-workers including such nefarious activities as falling asleep at the desk.

Questions:  The intimidation of journalists is becoming more frequent. Are authorities aware of the chilling effect and implication of their actions? Is there an entrepreneurial opportunity for encryption tailored to journalists and their sources? How much would *you* be willing to pay for an encryption service? 

Tuesday Bonus: 


Míšov, Czech Republic – what is claimed to be the only surviving tactical nuclear weapon warhead bunker in a former Warsaw Pact member state opened to the public as a museum on Sunday, 18 August 2013.  South west of Prague in the rolling hills and forests of Bohemia, the bunker survived in a restricted military zone as a vault for the former Czechoslovakia’s currency (in 1992 the Czech Republic and Slovakia separated peacefully) and the remains of 4,000 dead from the pre-World War Two German speaking  enclave of  Sudetenland.  Preservation of the bunker, remarkably intact, was spearheaded by the Czech organization “Iron-curtain Foundation Worldwide” (in Czech). Daniel Kostoval, the Czech Republic’ss First  Deputy Minister of Defense who attended the inauguration said that the area where the bunker is located will be demilitarized in 2016 and passed over to local control.

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..


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’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?


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 (July 29 – August 5 2013)

Welcome back to the AR’s weekly links. Today marks the 68th anniversary of the U.S. decision to drop the “Little Boy” nuclear bomb over Hiroshima killing 140,000 people. Our condolences are enduring.

Nuclear Safety & Security

Japan’s Fukushima disasters continue to drive nuclear safety coverage. We think it appropriate here to use the plural, “disasters,” when reviewing the devastation at Fukushima. Tepco’s workers have to fight separate and distinct dragons smouldering in containment chambers 1-3 alongside unit-4’s potentially more dangerous spent-fuel pond. The tragedy is still unfolding.

Reactor meltdowns were previously seen as discrete and terrible events. Fukushima has sharpened nuclear-safety views by showing a huge disaster that develops at a snail’s pace with continuing bad revelations nearly two-and-a-half years after the accident.

RT cited plant operator Tepco in reporting that “Fukushima radiation levels are as high as 2011” The Asahi Shimbun’s Miki Aoki meanwhile wrote that 9,640 workers at Fukushima have been exposed to 5 millisieverts or more of radiation and are therefore eligible for workers’ compensation if they develop leukemia. Andrew DeWit, a professor at Rikkyo University, writes in the Asia-Pacific Journal that “the best hope lies with nationalizing the nuclear assets and providing them with competent management, relieving the utilities of their burdens and the rest of us of some portion of risks.” The plant remains in a state of “emergency,” Reuters Antoni Slodkowski and Mari Salto wrote Aug. 5, following Tepco’s admission that Fukushima’s toxic waters had entered the ocean.

Nuclear safety fears ripple elsewhere in the region.South Koreans have been scandalized by revelations of bribery and fake test results, reported NYT’s Choe Sang-Hung. Taiwanese legislators came to blows over whether the island should start a fourth reactor in the wake of the Fukushima meltdowns, reports the South China Morning Post.

The Questions: Has the full impact of Fukushima yet been felt on the nuclear industry? Will the disaster aid the public in understanding nuclear time, in which material efficacy is measured by centuries, from human time, measured among decision makers in election cycles? Can Tepco devise a responsible way of releasing the built-up waste into the sea without facing dumping claims?

Nuclear Power

Regulatory fallout from Fukushima, along with the uptick in shale-gas extraction, are challenging nuclear power in the U.S. The Colombia Journalism Review’s John Mecklin reviews press coverage on Edison International’s decision to shut San Onofres and determines the closure “was at base economic; its majority owner decided that the probable costs and regulatory uncertainty were too great to risk going forward with the repair and replacement of the plant’s steam generators.” While the World Nuclear News reports there is a correlation between the reactors closure and higher California power prices, other nuclear projects are being dropped amidst low prices for natural gas, wrote the NYT’s Matthew Wald about Duke Energy’s choice to halt a reactor project in Florida.

Time’s Bryan Walsh reports that nuclear advocates are banking on next-generation reactor technologies to drive investments.

The Questions: Beyond Bill Gates, which private-sector actors are financing the next generation? How have the actuarial tables shifted following Fukushima to weigh sovereign risks from nuclear accidents? How might the shale-gas “boom” augur a period of nuclear-industry reflection and more accurate measure of atomic energy’s risk-weighted costs?

Nuclear Nonproliferation

Robert Einhorn in Foreign Policy and Yousaf Butt in The National Interest exchanged views over nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty interpretation in the context of Iranian negotiations.

Einhorn controversially writes that “Lawyers can debate whether a right to enrich is included in the treaty, but what is not debatable is that Iran has forfeited — at least temporarily — any right to enrichment (and reprocessing) until it can demonstrate convincingly that it is in compliance with its NPT obligations,” wrote Einhorn.

The former White House advisor’s piece begs the question: “If it is not debatable,” then why even bother to talk? Butt ripostes that “if U.S. policymakers are interested in making headway towards a negotiated solution with Iran, they must clarify their understanding of the NPT.”

Stay tuned…

Meanwhile in Jammu, Happymon Jacob writes in Greater Kashmir that India continues to strengthen its international standing outside the NPT: “India will eventually gain membership in these organisations (namely the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Australia Group, Missile Technology Control Regime and the Wassenaar Arrangement). What is significant here is not only India’s potential entry into these exclusive clubs, but doing so without giving up its nuclear weapons. None of these cartels admit into its membership those who have not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).”

India’s non-proliferation record is reasonably clean, giving it some credibility to be an outside member of the club. Not so in neighboring Pakistan, where the nuclear black-market network established by AQ Khan is still being unraveled. Following U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit, Pakistan’s Energy Minister, Khawaja Asif, said “the Secretary has indicated about the possibility of a civil nuclear deal between the two countries akin to the Indo-US Agreement 123,” The Nation reported.

The Wilson Center’s Dani Nedal has published a fascinating account of Brazil’s covert nuclear-fuel-cycle program in the 1970s: “As once-secret documents and oral history interviews with key former Brazilian scientists and officials show, Brazil sought to circumvent international legal and political obstacles by clandestinely purchasing crucial materials and know-how on the nuclear black market, and from countries such as China.” Read more here.

The Questions: How are the Arms Control Lawyers holding up against the Arms Control Wonkers? There’s been something of an insurrection among arms-control theologians. Why are NPT and IAEA-CSA literalists cast as apologists? What lessons might be gleaned from the Brazilian experience of the 1970s to the Iran challenges of today? How does recognition of India as a de facto nuclear-weapons state affect the NPT? What utility would the NPT continue to serve were Pakistan to receive the same dispensation as India?


Iran inaugurated new President Hassan Rohani on August 4. The country’s former top nuclear negotiator offered an olive branch to the west, wrote MSNBC’s Dafna Linzer, by appointing Javad Zarif foreign minister: “Perhaps no other Iranian has had the kind of access to the corridors of U.S. power as Zarif has had, from members of Congress to nuclear experts and policy makers. As Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations in the early 2000s, Zarif was granted special waivers to travel to Washington for private meetings with some of the same people who have since become top Middle East diplomats in the Obama administration.” Reuters Marcus George and Paul Taylor reported the appointment of Zarif may be a bellwether for an attempted “Grand Bargain.”

The Bloomberg News editorial department welcomed Rohani’s inauguration by urging U.S. President Barack Obama, so long as negotiations continue, to veto additional Congressional sanctions, define security guarantees and desist from regime change.

Finally, Iran’s tit-for-tat with the International Atomic Energy Agency took a new turn in a July 10 Information Circular requested by Ambassador Aliasghar Soltanieh. The Islamic Republic threatened to sue IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano for damages caused by overstepping his mandate: “Defining unilateral obligations on a sovereign state is beyond the mandate of the Director General. As clearly described above, the DG has deviated from his mandate. Iran reserves its right to file claims against his acts on the damages arising,” INFCIRC/853 says. The document provides a spectacularly different view of the negotiations between Iran and the West than heretofore reported.

The Questions: Who is going to write the table-napkin history of Zarif’s time in NYC now that he’s Foreign Minister? His charm and sophistication precede him. How much is Director General Amano worth and will Iran really go for the throat? Iran’s Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA allows it to request arbitration to settle disputes. Is Iran ready to push back on what it deems IAEA excess?


Press freedom continues to come under pressure in the U.S. and elsewhere, wrote NYT public editor Margaret Sullivan. A U.S. appeals court decision compelling fellow Times reporter James Risen to break confidentiality afforded his sources has already damaged the paper’s ability to report the news, she writes.

Over at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Hugh Gusterson probes the reasons why so-called “public secrets” cause so much discomfort to those in power: “In the final analysis, the reason there will be more Mannings and Snowdens is that so many American secrets are not strict military secrets but scandalous public secrets pertaining to ways the US national security state behaves that are at odds with national or international law, or in conflict with fundamental national values. Whether one condones what Snowden did or not, it is clear that he was motivated by a deep sense of indignation that his government was doing something profoundly wrong. “If you want a secret respected,” said Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of the country’s greatest commentators on secrecy, “see that it’s respectable in the first place.”

The Questions: Why is the fear of public embarrassment so deeply imbued in the quest to keep “public secrets?” How long can an economic culture built on taking risks be controlled by a system that needs total-information awareness to ensure security? At what point does the cost of total-information awareness begin to burden free-market innovation?

Tuesday bonus: Did you know that Lee Majors TV series “Six Million Dollar Man,” aired from 1973 to 1978, was called “The Nuclear Man” in its Spanish-language incarnation?

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

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