White House Not Taking “Nobel” Approach On Nukes

The US and nuclear weapons: a turning of the tide?

 
Obama's New Nuclear Policy

Obama’s New Nuclear Policy

Given the intensity of media focus on a series of crises this year—Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Ebola, and the South China Sea to name just a few—readers may be forgiven for having failed to notice that another important, though more incremental, development has also occurred. With each passing month it becomes clearer that a mood of nuclear realism is unfolding in US strategic policy. While President Obama is still remembered most clearly in the public mind for the anti-nuclear language in his Prague speech of 2009, a string of events in 2013–14 suggest that a shift of emphasis is occurring in relation to nuclear weapons.

First, the administration has committed to the long-overdue modernisation of the US nuclear arsenal. True, the initial funding decisions are merely the opening salvoes of a program that will take decades to unpack, and key decisions about the shape and size of the arsenal remain unresolved. But the administration has signalled a commitment to renovate the strategic triad, and even to modernise its principal tactical weapon, the B-61 bomb.

Second, Washington has been busy putting its nuclear ‘house’ in order. By January this year, almost 20% of US Air Force officers in its nuclear weapons corps had been implicated in a proficiency-assessment cheating scandal. The Navy wasn’t immune either—earlier this month it expelled 34 sailors caught up in the nuclear cheating scandal. A senior naval officer was dismissed in October last year for inappropriate behaviour in Moscow. Some might even see the sacking of James Doyle by Los Alamos National Laboratory as part of that pattern. Certainly a more restrictive approach to nuclear information management and a more disciplined approach to command and control of the arsenal seem to be the flavour of the day.

Third, evidence points to a determination to rebuild the intellectual capital necessary to sustain the nuclear mission for another generation. A senior State Department official, at the Annual Deterrence Symposium in mid-August, spoke of the need to recruit a new wave of ‘political scientists, lawyers, physicists, geologists, engineers, and more’, in order to ‘bring the next generation into the nuclear deterrence enterprise’.

Fourth, what we might call the ‘three musketeers’ (Brent Scowcroft, Stephen Hadley and Franklin Miller) seem to have displaced—at least temporarily—the ‘four horsemen’ (George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry and Sam Nunn), as the media commentators of the day. The four horsemen have published a range of important op-eds since 2007 about the need to move away from nuclear weapons (see, for example, here, here, and here). Their arguments have generally gone unanswered. The musketeers’ recent article in the Washington Post, underlining the importance of forward-deployed nuclear weapons in Europe, was obviously written with one eye on the approaching NATO summit in Wales. But it has wider implications: after all, if forward-deployed nuclear weapons are so important in Europe, why aren’t they just as important in other theatres?

Fifth, the administration seems to have wound back slightly the significance it attaches to the imperative of ‘nuclear security’—a protracted exercise to round up insecure warheads and quantities of fissile material in the world. Clearly that mission’s still important: Washington continues to fund it during straitened budgetary times. But one gets the sense that, for the coming few years, rounding up stray quantities of fissile material is not as strategically important as resuscitating the US nuclear weapons arsenal.

And sixth, the administration seems to have gone back to taking seriously the nuclear policies of the other nuclear-weapon states: witness the State Department’s recent finding that Russia is in violation of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Now, some will argue that those are all just straws in the wind, and that if Obama wanted to shift his nuclear policy, he would just say so. But one year out from another NPT Review Conference, could he? Besides, has policy changed, or are we just seeing a shift of emphasis? In 2009 Obama said he thought a non-nuclear world would be safer and the US should work towards that goal. The goal, he said, might not be reached in his lifetime. And in the meantime, the US would need to ensure it could rely upon a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal. So a theme of continued reliance always sat side by side with the grander goal of nuclear disarmament.

I think the straws tell a story: that nuclear weapons are making a comeback in US strategic policy—driven by a growing mood of strategic realism in Washington. The strategic environment of 2014 looks different to that of 2009. True, the comeback will probably be limited. But when future historians look back on 2013–14, they’re likely to paint it as a turning of the tide on nuclear weapons policy, occurring—ironically—under the administration of one Barack Obama.

Rod Lyon is a fellow at ASPI and executive editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of The White House.

Iran Ramping Up Uranium Purification

Iran says testing new nuclear enrichment machine, may irk West

 
Iran Testing New Uranium Centrifuges

Iran Testing New IR 8 Uranium Centrifuges
Iran has conducted “mechanical” tests on a new, advanced machine to refine uranium, a senior official was quoted as saying on Wednesday, a disclosure that may annoy Western states pushing Tehran to scale back its nuclear programme.

Iran’s development of new centrifuges to replace its current breakdown-prone model is watched closely by Western officials. It could allow the Islamic Republic to amass potential atomic bomb material much faster.

Tehran says its nuclear programme is peaceful and that it produces low-enriched uranium only to make fuel for a planned network of atomic energy plants. If processed to a high fissile concentration, uranium can be used for nuclear weapons.

“Manufacturing and production of new centrifuges is our right,” Iranian atomic energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi said.

Iran’s Fars news agency also quoted him as saying that Iran had tested its latest generation of centrifuge, the IR-8, but had not yet fed it with uranium gas.

U.N. nuclear agency reports this year showed Iran testing four other models under development at an above-ground Natanz nuclear site – IR-2m, IR-4, IR-6 and IR-6s – with such gas.

Iran had informed the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency in December that it planned to install a single IR-8. The IAEA said in May that it had observed a new “casing” at the site, but that it was not yet connected.

An interim accord struck late last year in Geneva between Iran and six world powers – designed to buy time for talks on a final nuclear deal – stipulated that Iran could not go beyond the centrifuge research and development it has been conducting at the Natanz site, including testing of new models.

It was one of the thorniest issues to settle in technical talks on how to implement the preliminary deal.

In a comment that Western officials may dispute, Salehi said that “based on the Geneva agreement, research and development have no limit”, Fars reported.

“VERY TOUGH TOPIC”

Salehi said Iran had “introduced” the IR-8 centrifuge to the IAEA. “Mechanical tests have been done but gas has yet to be injected,” Salehi said. That would require President Hassan Rouhani’s permission.

The comments reported by Fars did not make clear when the tests were carried out. The IAEA, which regularly inspects Iran’s nuclear facilities, is expected to issue a quarterly report on the country’s nuclear programme around Sept. 3.

In a separate monthly update on Aug. 20 about the implementation of the Geneva accord, it did not suggest any new centrifuge development activities, only saying that Iran had “continued its safeguarded enrichment R&D practices”.

The negotiations between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, China, Britain and Russia – aimed at ending a decade-old dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme – were extended in July until Nov. 24 in view of persistent wide differences.

A senior U.S. official on July 18 said Iran’s nuclear R&D was a “very tough topic” in the discussions, among others.

Faced with technical hurdles and difficulty in obtaining parts abroad, Iran has been trying for years to replace the erratic, 1970s vintage IR-1 centrifuge it now operates at its underground Natanz and Fordow uranium enrichment facilities.

Although Iran’s progress so far appears limited, it is an issue that Western states will want to see addressed as part of any final settlement over Iran’s nuclear programme.

They want Iran to roll back uranium enrichment to a point where it cannot produce enough highly enriched material for a bomb before the outside world can detect it.

(Editing by Larry King)

Israel Nuclear Program Backfires On Iranian Negotiations

Nuclear standoff between the Arab League and the west

Israel's Dimona Nuclear Reactor

Israel’s Dimona Nuclear Reactor

Negev Nuclear Research Center at Dimona, Israel, photographed in 1968 by American reconnaissance satellite. US Government/Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

On 16 June the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna circulated a request backed by 18 members of the Arab League calling on Israel to place its nuclear facilities under the IAEA’s inspection regime and to formally commit to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

This Arab resolution, which has been something of a hardy annual for decades now, will also be supported by almost all Muslim states, many non-aligned states, and others. Although the IAEA cannot require Israel to join the NPT, its members can apply enormous political pressure on Israel through the IAEA’s premier decision-making body.

In the meantime the Arab League Secretary General has “urgently” contacted all IAEA states, formally requesting them to support the Arab initiative.  The IAEA General Conference will open on 22 September.

Arab League, a historical commitment

All Middle Eastern states other than Israel have already joined the NPT. None of these states possesses nuclear weapons, while Israel is generally agreed to possess between 100 and 200 state-of-the-art nuclear warheads fitted to long-range ballistic missiles, and a handful of submarines armed with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, as well as nuclear-capable strike aircraft and powerful conventional armed forces.

If or when Israel eventually decides to accede to the NPT, it will be required to declare all nuclear weapons, to open them up to international inspection and eventually to destroy them.

It should be noted at this point that France, Norway, the UK, and the US all helped Israel to develop its clandestine nuclear program, at different times, under different governments. When the NPT entered into force in 1970, France, the UK, and the US knew that Israel already possessed at least one nuclear weapon. They did not request Israel to ratify the treaty, and have publicly covered for its expanding nuclear arsenal ever since. The treaty’s non-proliferation regime was accordingly still-born.

Bad faith and the regional WMD-free zone

Until the present day the west has paid lip service to the notion of a nuclear-free Middle East, while consistently turning a blind eye to Israel’s burgeoning nuclear capability.

Arab and Muslim states, often supported by members of the non-aligned movement, have long lobbied through international forums for the adoption of resolutions supporting a WMD-free Middle East. These initiatives were normally thwarted by the US and the west.

The US and Israel have so far ensured that only they may threaten the Middle East with the possible use of nuclear weapons.  They want it to stay that way.

Arab anger boils over

Arab frustration over western stonewalling of a regional nuclear weapons-free zone boiled over at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, when the west desperately wanted the NPT to be extended indefinitely.  If it had not been extended, governments worldwide could have participated in a nuclear lolly-scramble. A powerful coalition of Arab, Muslim and other states dug in and refused to back the treaty’s extension unless the west agreed to prioritise the creation of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

Sadly, Arab states and others then accepted wishy-washy undertakings dangled before them by the west. As soon as the indefinite extension of the NPT had been formally adopted, the west drove a horse and carriage through negotiated loopholes, and ceased to view a regional nuclear weapons-free zone as an ongoing commitment of high priority.

Israel’s formidable nuclear capability, coupled with the massive US military presence in the region, means that the US and Israel have overwhelming military superiority.  Ironically, decisions by all Arab governments to renounce the possession of nuclear weapons also played into the hands of the west and Israel, further strengthening their hand.

The US and Sunni states rethink their position on Iran

In 2011 and 2012 some leading Sunni Arab states were influenced by western-inspired concerns about the peaceful nature of Iran’s peaceful nuclear program to suspend their support within the IAEA for a regional nuclear weapons-free zone.

They were also persuaded that, if they backed such a resolution, Israel would boycott international consultations on the subject.  However, Israel has, unsurprisingly, refused to commit seriously to any diplomatic process that could lead to the destruction of its nuclear arsenal.

And in the meantime the west is suddenly singing from a different hymn book where Iran’s nuclear program is concerned. Although the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are divided over almost everything else, they are united in their resolve to pull off a nuclear deal with Iran.  No one really wants a war to end all wars in an already perilously unstable region of great strategic importance.  Moreover, Obama is craving a foreign policy legacy to match that of Nixon in China.

The startling speed with which the Middle East has recently descended into turbulence and fragmentation has encouraged Iran’s regional adversaries to accept that, whether they like it or not, they have to collaborate actively with Iran on core issues such as Iraq, the Islamic State, and a regional nuclear weapons-free zone.

These considerations, coupled with the balkanization of Syria and Iraq and the freeze in Israel-US relations following Israel’s barbaric bombardment of Gaza, have prompted the Arab League to seize this opportunity to push energetically for an IAEA affirmation of a regional WMD-free zone just one year before the impending 2015 NPT Review Conference, at which this will undoubtedly be the key issue.

If the IAEA adopts the Arab League resolution in September, this will have far-reaching consequences for the outcome of the 2015 review conference.

Probable linkage between IAEA votes and seats on the UN Security Council

Three members of the IAEA – New Zealand, Spain, and Turkey – are currently locked in a hard-fought battle for two seats on the UN Security Council.  Spain is regarded as being a certainty for one of the two seats, with New Zealand and Turkey fighting it out for the remaining second seat.

In October the UN General Assembly will vote to decide which two of these three states is deemed most suitable to represent world opinion. New Zealand is widely perceived as another follower of the US in the Asia/Pacific region, although its profile is lower than that of the current hard-right Australian government, which already has a seat on the security council. New Zealand is also generally identified with the policies of the west worldwide. In the context of the UN General Assembly this is not necessarily advantageous.

Just one year ago Turkey would have had the upper hand where New Zealand is concerned. But its recent inglorious record in brutally putting down domestic opposition has seriously dented its standing on the international stage. New Zealand is undoubtedly trying to capitalize on this.

Given the key role to be played in the IAEA vote by the Arab League, Muslim states, and the non-aligned movement – key constituencies of opinion within the UN General Assembly – the way in which the three contenders vote on the highly contentious question of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East could well predetermine the outcome of their battle for places on the UN Security Council.

Uranium Only Reliable For One Thing: THE END (Revelation 16)

Nuclear power: reliably unreliable

Blogpost by Justin McKeating – 26 August, 2014 at 12:42 5 comments
With wind power filling the energy gap left by shutdown nuclear reactors in the UK, and police investigating allegations of sabotage at a reactor in Belgium, the myth of “reliable” nuclear energy is being exposed like never before.

Uranium Reliably Unreliable

Uranium Reliably Unreliable

The nuclear industry tells us that nuclear power is a reliable energy source, that it offers “energy security”. Tell that to Belgium and the UK who are seeing significant parts of their nuclear fleet shutdown.

It’s been confirmed that the major damage that shut down Belgium’s Doel 4 reactor was caused by sabotage. Meanwhile, cracks found in two other reactors – Tihange 2 and Doel 3 – means they may never reopen. The three reactors make up over half of the country’s nuclear power output.

(Worryingly, there are 22 other reactors around the world that share the same design as Tihange 2 and Doel 3.)

In the UK, four nuclear reactors – at Heysham and Hartlepool – are out of action while defects are investigated.

There have previously been issues with nuclear power plants being closed in EU and USA at times of drought because of water shortages.

What fills the energy gap while these “reliable” nuclear reactors are shut down?

Belgium is having to rely on electricity from its neighbours. So much for nuclear power giving the country energy security.

In the UK, things are much more optimistic. Renewable energy has come to the rescue. “Demand is low at this time of year, and a lot of wind power is being generated right now,” said the UK’s National Grid. Electricity supplies have been unaffected.

What lessons can we learn here?

Firstly, the idea that nuclear power is a reliable energy source that offers energy security is a myth, particularly in a world where aging nuclear reactors are coming to the end of their lives.

Secondly, we see a reversal of the view that renewables need to be supported by nuclear power. Although nuclear and wind power do not have the same generation characteristics, nuclear reactors now needing to lean on renewables means the nuclear industry has a big problem.

More and more nuclear reactors will be closing in the coming years as they reach retirement age. The nuclear industry simply can’t build replacement reactors quickly or cheaply enough to fill the gap.

That’s a gap that renewables and energy efficiency can exploit safely and reliably. As the recently released 2014 World Nuclear Industry Status Report says

[B]ig thermal plants running whenever they’re available are replaced by cheaper-to-run portfolios of renewables, mostly variable renewables, that add up to “virtual baseload” supply—collectively providing reliable electricity from a shifting mix of resources. This way of operating the grid is analogous to a symphony orchestra (as Rocky Mountain Institute’s Clay Stranger puts it): no instrument plays all the time, but with a good score and conductor, beautiful music is continuously produced. This approach is unfamiliar to traditional utilities, but it works.

The wind across the UK is playing some beautiful music right now.

Here we have yet more reasons to abandon nuclear power. It’s not reliable and does not guarantee energy security. It’s not your friend and is going to let you down sooner or later.

Justin McKeating is a nuclear blogger for Greenpeace International, based in the UK.