Trump Selling Nukes to the Saudis (Daniel 8)

The Trump administration wants to sell nuclear technology to the Saudis — without a nuclear agreement. That’s alarming.

Matthew FuhrmannFebruary 21 at 9:36 AM

President Trump, is flanked by his son-in-law, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

On Tuesday, a House oversight committee released an interim report sounding alarms about a secretive Trump administration effort to transfer sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. The plan to help the kingdom build nuclear power plants apparently dates from the early period of Trump’s presidency, before Congress soured on relations with Saudi Arabia after Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Yet the administration apparently discussed the plan as recently as last week, despite national security officials’ objections.

As the oversight committee report makes clear, the Trump plan is highly unusual. The United States and other countries that possess nuclear technology have transferred it to nonnuclear countries for decades. But that process, especially in the United States, is sensitive and closely regulated.

Here are three things to know about nuclear technology transfer — and what makes the Trump plan different.

1. The Trump plan would circumvent a long-standing process that includes Congress

Nuclear technology has both peaceful and military purposes; it can be used to produce electricity or bombs. As Nobel-winning physicist Hannes Alfvén once put it, the peaceful atom and the military atom are Siamese twins. Trade in nuclear technology can be dangerous because recipient countries gain the foundation for a nuclear weapons program.

Nuclear suppliers regulate the nuclear marketplace accordingly. In the United States, the process typically starts when presidents or other senior officials push for nuclear exports, despite their security risks, because they generate revenue for U.S. companies and may help Washington gain political influence with the receiving country. For example, then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger advocated for nuclear assistance to Iran in 1974 — when Washington and Tehran were allies — because he believed this would provide “concrete evidence of our … interest in developing closer ties” and show that we “attach highest value to a partnership” with Iran.

In the next step, U.S. diplomats negotiate a nuclear cooperation agreement (NCA) with their foreign counterparts. NCAs usually require the importing state to guarantee that it will use technology and materials only for peaceful purposes, and will accept international safeguards to verify compliance with this pledge.

According to Section 123 of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act, the diplomats’ finalized agreement must be submitted to the president, who must then send it to Congress. Without congressional approval of what’s commonly called a “123 Agreement,” U.S. firms are not authorized to export nuclear technology.

The United States has about two dozen 123 Agreements in force with countries that include Canada, Egypt, Japan and the United Arab Emirates — but not Saudi Arabia. The Trump administration has publicly expressed a desire to conclude such a deal. Selling nuclear technology to Riyadh before Congress signed off on a 123 Agreement would be illegal.

According to the House committee report, U.S. officials pushing for nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia have ignored the legal requirement for congressional approval.

2. The risk of nuclear weapons proliferation is high in the Saudi case

Does selling peaceful nuclear technology lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons? Researchers disagree.

According to one view, helping other countries develop peaceful nuclear programs increases the risk that they will ultimately pursue and obtain nuclear bombs. That’s what my own research has found — especially when, after receiving the nuclear technology, materials, and know-how, the recipient country finds itself in a military conflict.

By reducing the barriers to bombmaking, foreign nuclear aid makes nuclear proliferation less costly and therefore more likely.

For example, after Canada and the United States gave India nuclear technology and materials in the 1950s, India fought wars with China and Pakistan over disputed borders — and then used that assistance to build and test a nuclear explosive device in 1974. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein probably intended to use a French-supplied reactor for the same purpose before Israel destroyed it in a 1981 attack. And before J. Wynand de Villiers headed South Africa’s nuclear explosive program, the United States trained him in “peaceful” nuclear energy.

Other scholars dispute the notion that peaceful nuclear assistance leads to nuclear weapons proliferation. Researcher Nicholas Miller, for instance, argues that investments in nuclear energy make countries more vulnerable to economic sanctions, since those would withhold the materials needed to produce electricity — and so might be less willing to risk building bombs. Since nuclear assistance brings factors that push nations both toward and away from building nuclear weapons, he contends, the net effect is neutral.

Certainly, several countries — Belgium, Mexico, the Netherlands and others — have developed nuclear energy programs without seriously pursuing nuclear weapons. And researchers Matthew Kroenig and Alexander Montgomery show that peaceful nuclear assistance does not make weapons proliferation statistically more likely; it may actually decrease this danger.

So how would Saudi Arabia respond to nuclear assistance? So how would Saudi Arabia respond to nuclear assistance? With its vast oil and natural gas reserves, Saudi Arabia’s immediate need for nuclear power is not critical. But it is in a dangerous neighborhood and has already waged proxy wars with Iran and other regional rivals — and will likely have such conflicts again. If my research is correct, that combination of security threats and nuclear assistance would give the Saudis both the will and opportunity to build a nuclear arsenal.

International safeguards would make it more difficult for Saudi Arabia to use its nuclear knowledge and supplies into weapons. But a Saudi Arabia with a well-developed peaceful nuclear program is probably more likely to behave like Iraq or India than Belgium or the Netherlands.

[After Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia’s economic future is uncertain]

3. Transferring nuclear technology can send a signal to allies

So why would the Trump administration want to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia?

Peaceful nuclear assistance can be an effective tool of statecraft. Such aid sends the message: “You are important to us; you are one of the select few countries we’re willing to trust with nuclear technology.” This can make the recipient act in ways that serve the supplier’s political and economic interests. As I showed in my 2012 book “Atomic Assistance,” countries use nuclear programs to shore up relationships with allies, politically strengthen strategically important countries and gain access to oil.

Now that the relationship between Washington and Riyadh is rocky, the Trump administration might be looking to signal to the Saudis that they remain an important ally. It may see nuclear assistance as the perfect remedy for a frayed bilateral relationship. Selling nuclear technology to the kingdom would also line the pockets of close Trump associates, as the House committee report mentions. Yet this comes with a risk: It could lead to a Saudi nuclear bomb.

Matthew Fuhrmann (@mcfuhrmann) is professor of political science at Texas A&M University and author of “Atomic Assistance: How Atoms for Peace Programs Cause Nuclear Insecurity” (Cornell University Press, 2012) and the co-author of “Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy” (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Preparing For The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6)


Preparing for the Great New York Earthquake

by Mike MullerinShare

Most New Yorkers probably view the idea of a major earthquake hitting New York City as a plot device for a second-rate disaster movie. In a city where people worry about so much — stock market crashes, flooding, a terrorist attack — earthquakes, at least, do not have to be on the agenda.

A recent report by leading seismologists associated with Columbia University, though, may change that. The report concludes a serious quake is likely to hit the area.

The implication of this finding has yet to be examined. Although earthquakes are uncommon in the area relative to other parts of the world like California and Japan, the size and density of New York City puts it at a higher risk of damage. The type of earthquake most likely to occur here would mean that even a fairly small event could have a big impact.

The issue with earthquakes in this region is that they tend to be shallow and close to the surface,” explains Leonardo Seeber, a coauthor of the report. “That means objects at the surface are closer to the source. And that means even small earthquakes can be damaging.”

The past two decades have seen an increase in discussions about how to deal with earthquakes here. The most recent debate has revolved around the Indian Point nuclear power plant, in Buchanan, N.Y., a 30-mile drive north of the Bronx, and whether its nuclear reactors could withstand an earthquake. Closer to home, the city adopted new codes for its buildings even before the Lamont report, and the Port Authority and other agencies have retrofitted some buildings. Is this enough or does more need to be done? On the other hand, is the risk of an earthquake remote enough that public resources would be better spent addressing more immediate — and more likely — concerns?

Assessing the Risk

The report by scientists from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University at summarizes decades of information on earthquakes in the area gleaned from a network of seismic instruments, studies of earthquakes from previous centuries through archival material like newspaper accounts and examination of fault lines.

The city can expect a magnitude 5 quake, which is strong enough to cause damage, once every 100 years, according to the report. (Magnitude is a measure of the energy released at the source of an earthquake.) The scientists also calculate that a magnitude 6, which is 10 times larger, has a 7 percent chance of happening once every 50 years and a magnitude 7 quake, 100 times larger, a 1.5 percent chance. Nobody knows the last time New York experienced quakes as large as a 6 or 7, although if once occurred it must have taken place before 1677, since geologists have reviewed data as far back as that year.

The last magnitude 5 earthquake in New York City hit in 1884, and it occurred off the coast of Rockaway Beach. Similar earthquakes occurred in 1737 and 1783.

By the time of the 1884 quake, New York was already a world class city, according to Kenneth Jackson, editor of The Encyclopedia of New York City.”In Manhattan,” Jackson said, “New York would have been characterized by very dense development. There was very little grass.”

A number of 8 to 10 story buildings graced the city, and “in world terms, that’s enormous,” according to Jackson. The city already boasted the world’s most extensive transportation network, with trolleys, elevated trains and the Brooklyn Bridge, and the best water system in the country. Thomas Edison had opened the Pearl Street power plant two years earlier.

All of this infrastructure withstood the quake fairly well. A number of chimneys crumbled and windows broke, but not much other damage occurred. Indeed, the New York Times reported that people on the Brooklyn Bridge could not tell the rumble was caused by anything more than the cable car that ran along the span.

Risks at Indian Point

As dense as the city was then though, New York has grown up and out in the 124 years since. Also, today’s metropolis poses some hazards few, if any people imagined in 1884.

In one of their major findings, the Lamont scientists identified a new fault line less than a mile from Indian Point. That is in addition to the already identified Ramapo fault a couple of miles from the plant. This is seen as significant because earthquakes occur at faults and are the most powerful near them.

This does not represent the first time people have raised concerns about earthquakes near Indian Point. A couple of years after the licenses were approved for Indian Point 2 in 1973 and Indian Point 3 in 1975, the state appealed to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Appeal Panel over seismic issues. The appeal was dismissed in 1976, but Michael Farrar, one of three members on the panel, dissented from his colleagues.

He thought the commission had not required the plant to be able to withstand the vibration that could occur during an earthquake. “I believe that an effort should be made to ascertain the maximum effective acceleration in some other, rational, manner,” Farrar wrote in his dissenting opinion. (Acceleration measures how quickly ground shaking speeds up.)

Con Edison, the plants’ operator at the time, agreed to set up seismic monitoring instruments in the area and develop geologic surveys. The Lamont study was able to locate the new fault line as a result of those instruments.

Ironically, though, while scientists can use the data to issue reports — the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission cannot use it to determine whether the plant should have its license renewed. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission only considers the threat of earthquakes or terrorism during initial licensing hearings and does not revisit the issue during relicensing.

Lynn Sykes, lead author of the Lamont report who was also involved in the Indian Point licensing hearings, disputes that policy. The new information, he said, should be considered — “especially when considering a 20 year license renewal.”

The state agrees. Last year, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo began reaching out to other attorneys general to help convince the commission to include these risks during the hearings.

Cuomo and the state Department of Environmental Conservation delivered a 312-page petition to the commission that included reasons why earthquakes posed a risk to the power plants. The petition raised three major concerns regarding Indian Point:

• The seismic analysis for Indian Point plants 2 and 3 did not consider decommissioned Indian Point 1. The state is worried that something could fall from that plant and damage the others.

• The plant operators have not updated the facilities to address 20 years of new seismic data in the area.

• The state contends that Entergy, the plant’s operator, has not been forthcoming. “It is not possible to verify either what improvements have been made to [Indian Point] or even to determine what improvements applicant alleges have been implemented,” the petition stated.

A spokesperson for Entergy told the New York Times that the plants are safe from earthquakes and are designed to withstand a magnitude 6 quake.

Lamont’s Sykes thinks the spokesperson must have been mistaken. “He seems to have confused the magnitude scale with intensity scale,” Sykes suggests. He points out that the plants are designed to withstand an event on the intensity scale of VII, which equals a magnitude of 5 or slightly higher in the region. (Intensity measures the effects on people and structures.) A magnitude 6 quake, in Sykes opinion, would indeed cause damage to the plant.

The two reactors at Indian Point generate about 10 percent of the state’s electricity. Since that power is sent out into a grid, it isn’t known how much the plant provides for New York City. Any abrupt closing of the plant — either because of damage or a withdrawal of the operating license — would require an “unprecedented level of cooperation among government leaders and agencies,” to replace its capacity, according to a 2006 report by the National Academies’ National Research Council, a private, nonprofit institution chartered by Congress.Indian Point Nuclear Plant

Entergy’s Indian Point Energy Center, a three-unit nuclear power plant north of New York City, lies within two miles of the Ramapo Seismic Zone.

Beyond the loss of electricity, activists worry about possible threats to human health and safety from any earthquake at Indian Point. Some local officials have raised concerns that radioactive elements at the plant, such as tritium and strontium, could leak through fractures in bedrock and into the Hudson River. An earthquake could create larger fractures and, so they worry, greater leaks.

In 2007, an earthquake hit the area surrounding Japan’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, the world’s largest. The International Atomic Energy Agency determined “there was no significant damage to the parts of the plant important to safety,” from the quake. According to the agency, “The four reactors in operation at the time in the seven-unit complex shut down safely and there was a very small radioactive release well below public health and environmental safety limits.” The plant, however, remains closed.

Shaking the Streets

A quake near Indian Point would clearly have repercussions for New York City. But what if an earthquake hit one of the five boroughs?

In 2003, public and private officials, under the banner of the New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation, released a study of what would happen if a quake hit the metropolitan area today. Much of the report focused on building damage in Manhattan. It used the location of the 1884 quake, off the coast of Rockaway Beach, as its modern muse.

If a quake so serious that it is expected to occur once every 2,500 years took place off Rockaway, the consortium estimated it would cause $11.5 billion in damage to buildings in Manhattan. About half of that would result from damage to residential buildings. Even a moderate magnitude 5 earthquake would create an estimated 88,000 tons of debris (10,000 truckloads), which is 136 times the garbage cleared in Manhattan on an average day, they found.

The report does not estimate possible death and injury for New York City alone. But it said that, in the tri-state area as a whole, a magnitude 5 quake could result in a couple of dozen deaths, and a magnitude 7 would kill more than 6,500 people.

Ultimately, the consortium decided retrofitting all of the city’s buildings to prepare them for an earthquake would be “impractical and economically unrealistic,” and stressed the importance of identifying the most vulnerable areas of the city.

Unreinforced brick buildings, which are the most common type of building in Manhattan, are the most vulnerable to earthquakes because they do not absorb motion as well as more flexible wood and steel buildings. Structures built on soft soil are more also prone to risk since it amplifies ground shaking and has the potential to liquefy during a quake.

This makes the Upper East Side the most vulnerable area of Manhattan, according to the consortium report. Because of the soil type, the ground there during a magnitude 7 quake would shake at twice the acceleration of that in the Financial District. Chinatown faces considerable greater risk for the same reasons.

The city’s Office of Emergency Management agency does offer safety tips for earthquakes. It advises people to identify safe places in their homes, where they can stay until the shaking stops, The agency recommends hiding under heavy furniture and away from windows and other objects that could fall.

A special unit called New York Task Force 1 is trained to find victims trapped in rubble. The Office of Emergency Management holds annual training events for the unit.

The Buildings Department created its first seismic code in 1995. More recently, the city and state have adopted the International Building Code (which ironically is a national standard) and all its earthquake standards. The “international” code requires that buildings be prepared for the 2,500-year worst-case scenario.

Transportation Disruptions

With the state’s adoption of stricter codes in 2003, the Port Authority went back and assessed its facilities that were built before the adoption of the code, including bridges, bus terminals and the approaches to its tunnels. The authority decided it did not have to replace any of this and that retrofitting it could be done at a reasonable cost.

The authority first focused on the approaches to bridges and tunnels because they are rigid and cannot sway with the earth’s movement. It is upgrading the approaches to the George Washington Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel so they will be prepared for a worst-case scenario. The approaches to the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 42nd Street are being prepared to withstand two thirds of a worst-case scenario.

The terminal itself was retrofitted in 2007. Fifteen 80-foot tall supports were added to the outside of the structure.

A number of the city’s bridges could be easily retrofitted as well “in an economical and practical manner,” according to a study of three bridges by the consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff. Those bridges include the 102nd Street Bridge in Queens, and the 145th Street and Macombs Dam bridges, which span the Harlem River. To upgrade the 155th Street Viaduct, the city will strengthen its foundation and strengthen its steel columns and floor beams.

The city plans upgrades for the viaduct and the Madison Avenue bridge in 2010. The 2008 10-year capital strategy for the city includes $596 million for the seismic retrofitting of the four East River bridges, which is planned to begin in 2013. But that commitment has fluctuated over the years. In 2004, it was $833 million.

For its part, New York City Transit generally is not considering retrofitting its above ground or underground structures, according to a report presented at the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2004. New facilities, like the Second Avenue Subway and the Fulton Transit Center will be built to new, tougher standards.

Underground infrastructure, such as subway tunnels, electricity systems and sewers are generally safer from earthquakes than above ground facilities. But secondary effects from quakes, like falling debris and liquefied soil, could damage these structures.

Age and location — as with buildings — also add to vulnerability. “This stuff was laid years ago,” said Rae Zimmerman, professor of planning and public administration at New York University. “A lot of our transit infrastructure and water pipes are not flexible and a lot of the city is on sandy soil.” Most of Lower Manhattan, for example, is made up of such soil.

She also stresses the need for redundancy, where if one pipe or track went down, there would be another way to go. “The subway is beautiful in that respect,” she said. “During 9/11, they were able to avoid broken tracks.”

Setting Priorities

The city has not made preparing its infrastructure for an earthquake a top priority — and some experts think that makes sense.

“On the policy side, earthquakes are a low priority,” said Guy Nordenson, a civil engineer who was a major proponent of the city’s original seismic code, “and I think that’s a good thing.” He believes there are more important risks, such as dealing with the effects of climate change.

“There are many hazards, and any of these hazards can be as devastating, if not more so, than earthquakes,” agreed Mohamed Ettouney, who was also involved in writing the 1995 seismic code.

In fact, a recent field called multi-hazard engineering has emerged. It looks at the most efficient and economical way to prepare for hazards rather than preparing for all at once or addressing one hazard after the other. For example, while addressing one danger (say terrorism) identified as a priority, it makes sense to consider other threats that the government could prepare for at the same time (like earthquakes).

Scientists from Lamont-Doherty are also not urging anybody to rush to action in panic. Their report is meant to be a first step in a process that lays out potential hazards from earthquakes so that governments and businesses can make informed decisions about how to reduce risk.

“We now have a 300-year catalog of earthquakes that has been well calibrated” to estimate their size and location, said Sykes. “We also now have a 34-year study of data culled from Lamont’s network of seismic instruments.”

“Earthquake risk is not the highest priority in New York City, nor is dog-poop free sidewalks”

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Risk of War Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11:2)

Hamas heightens risk of war with violent nights on Gaza border – Israel News –

Yaniv Kubovich20.02.2019 | 04:58

A masked Gazan demonstrator pulls a burning tire near the border fence, February 11, 2019. AFP

The Israeli army has increased its use of live fire during the nighttime demonstrations, which are more violent than the weekly Friday protests

Yaniv Kubovich

20.02.2019 | 04:58

Violent nighttime incidents along the Gaza-Israel border are creating a new risk of a broader conflict with Hamas and are different in nature than the weekly protests that have been carried out on the border on Fridays for almost a year.

On Monday evening, another violent nighttime demonstration took place across the border from Kibbutz Nahal Oz. These protests are led by a Hamas special night forces unit and are aimed at harassing Israeli soldiers and residents of Israeli border communities near the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. The nighttime unit is comprised of older, more experienced operatives, in contrast to the young men who are prominent at the Friday protests, and the level of violence is much higher at the nighttime demonstrations.

On Monday, dozens of Palestinians began arriving at the border fence shortly before dark, at around 5 P.M., equipped with tires to burn and other gear. As soon as darkness fell, they began burning the tires and tried to roll them as close as possible to the fence to make it harder for Israeli snipers to spot and to target key operatives on the Gaza side.

About an hour later, the demonstrators began throwing homemade explosives at the Israeli soldiers from behind a screen of black smoke produced by the burning tires. Most of the dozens of explosive charges were fairly small and landed on the Gaza side of the border, but some were powerful and set off explosions that could be clearly heard in Israeli border communities.

Most of the more powerful bombs were deployed far from the fence. They were apparently intended mainly to sow fear among Israeli soldiers and civilians nearby. In the course of the demonstration, the Palestinians also blasted the sound of prayers and music through loudspeakers to harass Israelis living near the border.

The Israeli army is handling the nighttime demonstrations differently from the weekly Friday protests, which take place during the day. The combination of the darkness, the extreme violence, the fear of Palestinian infiltrations and the bombs thrown at soldiers have all led officers to order increased use of live fire.

This increases the risk of Palestinian casualties, which in turn could elicit a violent response from Hamas or Islamic Jihad in Gaza. And that point, the path to broader escalation is short.

At about 7:30 P.M. on Monday, an on-site manager whose workers are building a new barrier along the border was asked by his workers to call in a military force to come protect them. The workers said they were afraid of the bombs and the protest, which was taking place a short distance away. About half an hour later, a decision was made to remove the workers from the site. The army also issued an order that nobody approach the border fence while the protests were in progress.

The army usually considers nighttime incidents worthy of note only if there is an exceptionally high level of violence or if soldiers are wounded or killed. But for the residents of communities near the border, the recent nighttime demonstrations are very significant. They sometimes occur several times a week and affect the residents’ sense of security.

Residents said their children are now afraid to go out in the evenings because of the explosions and are demanding that the army take more aggressive action to stop the protests.

In another development, on Tuesday the firefighting service reported that an incendiary balloon from Gaza had set a field on fire on the Israeli side, the first such incident for a considerable period of time. Although the Palestinians had never stopped launching incendiary balloons, the balloons haven’t ignited any fires in recent months due to the rainy weather and the fact that the vegetation is damp.

But the army expects the incendiary balloons to continue to be launched even if the demonstrations die down. As a result, once the rainy season ends and the vegetation dries out, fires will likely resume again be a constant fact of life near the Gaza border.