New York Subways at the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6)

How vulnerable are NYC’s underwater subway tunnels to flooding?

Ashley Fetters

New York City is full of peculiar phenomena—rickety fire escapes; 100-year-old subway tunnelsair conditioners propped perilously into window frames—that can strike fear into the heart of even the toughest city denizen. But should they? Every month, writer Ashley Fetters will be exploring—and debunking—these New York-specific fears, letting you know what you should actually worry about, and what anxieties you can simply let slip away.

The 25-minute subway commute from Crown Heights to the Financial District on the 2/3 line is, in my experience, a surprisingly peaceful start to the workday—save for one 3,100-foot stretch between the Clark Street and Wall Street stations, where for three minutes I sit wondering what the probability is that I will soon die a torturous, claustrophobic drowning death right here in this subway car.

The Clark Street Tunnel, opened in 1916, is one of approximately a dozen tunnels that escort MTA passengers from one borough to the next underwater—and just about all of them, with the exception of the 1989 addition of the 63rd Street F train tunnel, were constructed between 1900 and 1936.

Each day, thousands of New Yorkers venture across the East River and back again through these tubes buried deep in the riverbed, some of which are nearing or even past their 100th birthdays. Are they wrong to ponder their own mortality while picturing one of these watery catacombs suddenly springing a leak?

Mostly yes, they are, says Michael Horodniceanu, the former president of MTA Capital Construction and current principal of Urban Advisory Group. First, it’s important to remember that the subway tunnel is built under the riverbed, not just in the river—so what immediately surrounds the tunnel isn’t water but some 25 feet of soil. “There’s a lot of dirt on top of it,” Horodniceanu says. “It’s well into the bed of the bottom of the channel.”

And second, as Angus Kress Gillespie, author of Crossing Under the Hudson: The Story of the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, points out, New York’s underwater subway tunnels are designed to withstand some leaking. And withstand it they do: Pumps placed below the floor of the tunnel, he says, are always running, always diverting water seepage into the sewers. (Horodniceanu says the amount of water these pumps divert into the sewer system each day numbers in the thousands of gallons.)

Additionally, MTA crews routinely repair the grouting and caulking, and often inject a substance into the walls that creates a waterproof membrane outside the tunnel—which keeps water out of the tunnel and relieves any water pressure acting on its walls. New tunnels, Horodniceanu points out, are even built with an outside waterproofing membrane that works like an umbrella: Water goes around it, it falls to the sides, and then it gets channeled into a pumping station and pumped out.

Of course, the classic New York nightmare scenario isn’t just a cute little trickle finding its way in. The anxiety daydream usually involves something sinister, or seismic. The good news, however, is that while an earthquake or explosion would indeed be bad for many reasons, it likely wouldn’t result in the frantic flooding horror scene that plays out in some commuters’ imaginations.

Horodniceanu assures me that tunnels built more recently are “built to withstand a seismic event.” The older tunnels, however—like, um, the Clark Street Tunnel—“were not seismically retrofitted, let me put it that way,” Horodniceanu says. “But the way they were built is in such a way that I do not believe an earthquake would affect them.” They aren’t deep enough in the ground, anyway, he says, to be too intensely affected by a seismic event. (The MTA did not respond to a request for comment.)

One of the only real threats to tunnel infrastructure, Horodniceanu adds, is extreme weather. Hurricane Sandy, for example, caused flooding in the tunnels, which “created problems with the infrastructure.” He continues, “The tunnels have to be rebuilt as a result of saltwater corroding the infrastructure.”

Still, he points out, hurricanes don’t exactly happen with no warning. So while Hurricane Sandy did cause major trauma to the tunnels, train traffic could be stopped with ample time to keep passengers out of harm’s way. In 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo directed all the MTA’s mass transit services to shut down at 7 p.m. the night before Hurricane Sandy was expected to hit New York City.

And Gillespie, for his part, doubts even an explosion would result in sudden, dangerous flooding. A subway tunnel is not a closed system, he points out; it’s like a pipe that’s open at both ends. “The force of a blast would go forwards and backwards out the exit,” he says.

So the subway-train version of that terrifying Holland Tunnel flood scene in Sylvester Stallone’s Daylight is … unrealistic, right?

“Yeah,” Gillespie laughs. “Yeah. It is.”

Got a weird New York anxiety that you want explored? E-mail tips@curbed.com, and we may include it in a future column.

Injustice Leads to the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

The Indian Point nuclear power plant is on the banks of the Hudson River, just 38 miles from New York City.

Shut Down Indian Point & Resist AIM

Our Indian Point and AIM pipeline work are projects of BCJN’s Energy Solutions Working Group

BCJN, in its alliance with Bronx Climate Justice, South Bronx Unite, the NYC Grassroots Alliance, and other NYC and NYS groups, is an active proponent of permanently closing the Indian Point nuclear power plant. We are a coalition member of Shut Down Indian Point Now!

Please see our Open Letter to New York Elected Officials, “Close Indian Point,” published in The Riverdale Press on July 2, 2015, HERE. And please see U.S. Representative Eliot Engel’s response to our Open Letter on July 9, 2015, HERE.

We urge NYC Council members to lend their strong public support and co-sponsorship to Resolution 694, “calling upon the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission not to relicense Indian Point 2 and Indian Point 3, so that those reactors will cease operations.”

Alternet, Why on earth did the Feds approve a high-pressure gas pipeline near a nuke plant?, March 27, 2015

AIM PIPELINE

BCJN is also an active coalition member of Resist AIM and SAPE (Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion). The Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) expansion project of the Spectra Energy Corp. would sharply increase the dangers of a catastrophic “accident” at Indian Point by laying a highly explosive, 42″ fracked gas pipeline within 105 feet of critical infrastructure of the nuclear power plant. For an account of an important grassroots campaign to stop AIM based in Peekskill, NY, please go to the website of Sane Energy Project HERE. Governor Cuomo requested that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) suspend construction work until further safety studies are completed. FERC has refused to comply. Senators Schumer and Gillibrand oppose the pipeline.

Above: The proposed route of the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline.

The AIM pipeline, part of an enormous build-out of natural gas infrastructure in the U.S. Northeast, is being fought all along its path, including in the W. Roxbury section of Boston where a group of activist clergy called Clergy Climate Action, a project of climate activist Tim DeChristopher‘s Climate Disobedience Center, have joined with hundreds of citizens in multiple direct actions against the AIM pipeline leading to about 150 arrests as of the end of June, 2016. Please see story about the effort in W. Roxbury on the BCJN homepage (“We have entered the age of anticipatory mass graves.”)

BCJN strongly urges people to sign the online Resist AIM “Pledge of Resistance.”  In doing so, you will be added to the listserv of Resist AIM and receive notifications about the many ways to support the movement against the pipeline, including by risking arrest in well-organized, peaceful civil disobedience. Please note that there are many important roles to play in supporting this effort — if risking arrest is not comfortable or advisable for you, you can help in many other ways.

In addition, fundraising for Resist AIM is ongoing and essential in paying for the court and legal fees incurred by those able to risk arrest. To make a donation online or by check, please go to the Safe Energy Rights Group (SEnRG).

BCJN members have been involved in assisting Resist AIM in many ways, from engaging in civil disobedience, joining non-arrestable protests, providing court support, assisting with media outreach, and donating. One of our members engaged in non-violent CD as one of the Verplanck 11 on Februrary 29, 2016. If you are interested in risking arrest or becoming active in other ways with this extremely important effort to combat the twin dangers of fossil fuels and nuclear energy and would like to learn more, please email: bronxclimatejusticenorth@gmail.com. For an important media piece about civil disobedience and the grassroots anti-pipeline movement, go HERE.

Above: The Verplanck 11, joined by Resist AIM supporters, outside NY State Police headquarters in Cortlandt, NY on February 29, 2016, after being arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for blocking access to Spectra Energy work sites near the Hudson River location of Indian Point.

Too Little Too Late Before The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

Lowey: Indian Point Expert Evaluation Team Findings Must Lead to Nuclear Regulatory Commission Reform

Lowey secures public meeting for community around Indian Point to address IG Report and NRC Expert Evaluation Team findings

Expert Evaluation Team findings substantiate many in IG report: Approval for gas line near Indian Point was based on faulty analysis, NRC needs to better coordinate with federal agencies

WHITE PLAINS, NY – Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland), Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said that today’s report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Indian Point Expert Evaluation Team reflects concerns she and her constituents raised starting in October 2015 and substantiates many of the claims made in the NRC Inspector General (IG)’s February 2020 inquiry. In March, Congresswoman Lowey requested and secured a public meeting for community members to voice concerns and speak directly to the Expert Evaluation Team.

The Expert Evaluation Team’s report on the concerns pertaining to the Algonquin Incremental Market pipeline’s proximity to Indian Point Energy Center (IPEC) found that Entergy, the owner of the nuclear reactors, and the NRC made “optimistic assumptions” in analyzing the risk of the natural gas transmission pipeline. The team concluded the reactors would remain safe even if the pipeline were to rupture. The report also found that Entergy should do further analysis and that NRC processes and practices hindered cooperation and communication between and among agencies.

“I am grateful the NRC fulfilled its duty to investigate the IG’s findings, and I am relieved the experts working on its evaluation team found that the risk facing the communities surrounding Indian Point is very small,” said Congresswoman Lowey. “But this report cannot be the end of the story. The NRC must implement the recommendations outlined in the report and, if necessary, take regulatory action to ensure that Entergy does the same. I am particularly concerned that federal agencies such as the NRC and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission need to work much more closely on important safety and health issues regarding nuclear reactors and natural gas pipelines.”

Congresswoman Lowey has been a fierce advocate for the safety of the communities surrounding IPEC for more than two decades. Along with other stakeholders, she has repeatedly raised concerns about the safety of this pipeline project. In October 2015, Congresswoman Lowey wrote a letter to then-NRC Chairman Stephen Burns to disagree with NRC’s position that further study of the risks associated with the Algonquin pipeline was unnecessary. More than four years and multiple meetings with stakeholders later, many of the concerns raised in that letter have been validated by the NRC IG findings and the Expert Evaluation Team’s report.

On March 3, 2020, Congresswoman Lowey met with NRC Chairman Kristine Svinicki to discuss the NRC IG findings and the NRC’s failure to be a competent federal partner. Congresswoman Lowey called on the NRC to hold a public meeting following the public release of the Expert Evaluation Team’s findings.

“With the spread of the coronavirus throughout the Lower Hudson Valley, our community is focused on protecting our loved ones and saving lives,” said Congresswoman Lowey. “We can do that while continuing to ensure all operations and projects related to Indian Point Energy Center and its decommissioning do not put the surrounding communities at risk. I hope the past five years have taught the NRC that it should listen to stakeholders, because the Indian Point community’s concerns were valid. I’m glad the NRC has agreed to conduct the public briefing I requested and hope that it is conducted as soon as it is safe to do so.”

The NRC Expert Evaluation Team’s full report can be found here.

Trump Must Do Everything Possible To Avoid War With Iran

Here’s What You Need To Know: There’s still time to avoid a major conflict. But that would require Iranian and American leaders to do some stock-taking and get us off the road to war.

In the summer of 2019 Iran and the United States are “staggering toward war,” Jim Krane, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, wrote for Forbes.

And to a great degree, it’s the fault of U.S. president Donald Trump, who in 2017 withdrew the United States from a 2015 agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear-weapons program.

Four years ago Tehran suspended uranium enrichment in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. Trump reimposed many of those sanctions.

Since then at least six oil tankers have come under attack while sailing near Iran, several of them in recent weeks. The Trump administration blames Tehran for the attacks. But the tanker raids, if Iran indeed is responsible, make sense from an Iranian point of view, Krane wrote.

“It’s looking like Iran had something to do with the reckless attacks on civilian shipping, probably in response to what Tehran unsurprisingly views as U.S. economic warfare.”

By risking war, is Trump’s brinkmanship somehow dissuading Iran from seeking nuclear weapons?

Wishful thinking. U.S. hostility has a better chance of doing the exact opposite.

There is no question that Iran abided by the commitments it made in 2015. It opened its nuclear sites to inspection, dismantled most of its centrifuges, handed its uranium stocks to Russia, and even poured concrete into the reactor core that might have given it weapons-grade plutonium.

Trump’s re-imposition of sanctions – despite Iran’s compliance – was a major strategic blunder. It reinvigorated Iranian hardliners, who now have evidence that Washington can only be counted on for one thing: betrayal.

Iranian hardliners are finding a receptive audience for their more worrying message. Until it develops a nuclear weapon like North Korea’s, Iran will be unable to deter a U.S. attack or embargo, or even win the respect of its neighbors.

Sure enough, Iran is expected to announce an increase in its stockpile of uranium above what the 2015 deal allowed.

“Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said that within days it expects that the country will have produced and kept in its stockpiles more low-enriched uranium — the sort used to fuel power plants — than allowed by the 2015 deal, which the Trump administration withdrew from last year,” The New York Times reported on June 17, 2019.

“The agency also left open the possibility that it might soon begin enriching the uranium to much higher levels of purity, edging it closer to what would be necessary to produce a nuclear weapon.”

“Is there anything the Trump administration can do to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran?” Krane asked.

A better question might be: Is America willing to invade Iran and kill, capture or disarm the Iranians who support a nuclear deterrent, including the 750,000 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and other forces, along with their supporters in government?

Such an invasion and occupation would take decades and make the $2-trillion Iraq war look trivial.

War also could block the Strait of Hormuz, with potentially devastating consequences.

An interstate war in the Gulf would leave the Strait of Hormuz partially shut,” Krane warned.

It would halt at least four million barrels per day of exports, perhaps double that amount.

The outage could last from a month to a year and a half.

Ravaged oil markets could be worse off than we imagined.

We hadn’t considered that Houthi rebels in Yemen might simultaneously send drones to attack and shut Saudi Arabia’s east-west pipeline, which allows the kingdom to export five million barrels per day via the Red Sea, avoiding the Strait of Hormuz.

There’s still time to avoid a major conflict, Krane wrote. But that would require Iranian and American leaders to “do some stock-taking and get us off the road to war.”

David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels  War Fix, War Is Boring and Machete Squad. This first appeared in June 2019.

Image: Wikipedia.

Babylon the Great Puts Pressure on China

Arms talks must include China: Pompeo

April 19, 2020

WASHINGTON US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has told his Russian counterpart that any future arms control talks must focus on an American proposal for a new arms control accord that includes Russia and China, the State Department said. Pompeo emphasized in a telephone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that “any future arms control talks must be based on President (Donald) Trump’s vision for a trilateral arms control agreement that includes both Russia and China,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. China, whose arsenal of an estimated 300 nuclear weapons is far smaller than those of Russia and the United States, has rejected such talks. Ortagus said Pompeo’s comments came as he and Lavrov discussed “next steps in the bilateral Strategic Security Dialogue, taking into account the Covid-19 pandemic”. Trump last year proposed that the United States, Russia and China negotiate a new pact to replace the 2010 New START accord that cut deployed U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads and the bombers and land and submarine-based missiles that carry them to their lowest levels in decades. New START will expire next February unless the sides agree to extend it for up to five years. Russia has said it would be willing to extend the accord, but the Trump administration has declined to state a position. The Russian foreign ministry said Lavrov had “reiterated the Russian proposal to extend the START treaty, due to expire in February 2021”, in his conversation with Pompeo. — Reuters

The Threatening China Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Possible Chinese Nuclear Testing Stirs U.S. Concern

Beijing might secretly be conducting small nuclear tests at its Lop Nur site, report says

A satellite photo taken March 29 of the Chinese nuclear test site at Lop Nur. A cement truck is near the tunnel entrance and piles of dirt are on the spoil pile.

PHOTO: MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES

By Michael R. Gordon

Updated April 15, 2020 5:35 pm ET

China might be secretly conducting nuclear tests with very low explosive power despite Beijing’s assertions that it is strictly adhering to an international accord banning all nuclear tests, according to a new arms-control report to be made public by the State Department.

The coming report doesn’t present proof that China is violating its promise to uphold the agreement, but it cites an array of activities that “raise concerns” that Beijing might not be complying with the “zero-yield” nuclear-weapons testing ban.

The concerns stem from the high tempo of activity at China’s Lop Nur test site, extensive excavations at the site, and Beijing’s purported use of special chambers to contain explosions.

Another factor feeding U.S. suspicions is the interruption in past years of data transmissions from monitoring stations on Chinese territory that are designed to detect radioactive emissions and seismic tremors.

The Trump administration’s allegation is included in an unclassified summary of an annual review of international compliance with arms-control accords. The review has been in preparation for some time and is likely to add to existing strains over China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, its militarization of the South China Sea and trade disputes.

It also comes as President Trump is seeking to open nuclear-arms talks with Beijing in the hope of negotiating a new nuclear deal that also includes Russia and covers all nuclear weapons.

China’s Embassy in Washington didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Some former arms-control officials said that the Trump administration appeared to be more concerned with scoring points against China than resolving potential disputes through diplomacy.

“If the United States has concerns that nuclear-yield producing testing has been done by China, we should discuss our concerns with Beijing—and discuss ways to build confidence that such tests are not happening,” said Steven Andreasen, who was the top National Security Council official on arms control during the Clinton administration.

The agreement at the core of the dispute is the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which was concluded in 1996. The accord allows a range of activities to assure the safety and reliability of nuclear weapons, including experiments involving fissile material, as long as they don’t produce a nuclear-explosive yield.

The treaty isn’t legally in force because not enough nations have ratified it, though major powers, including the U.S. and China, say they are abiding by its terms. While the U.S. and China have signed the agreement, neither has ratified it.

One activity that has fed U.S. suspicions has been interruptions in the flow of data in past years from monitoring stations in China that measure radioactive particles and seismic tremors.

The stations are part of an international network of hundreds of sites set up to verify compliance with the test-ban treaty. Participating nations are responsible for running the stations and have been voluntarily transmitting data to the Vienna-based organization that is to oversee the accord as the agreement has yet to formally go into effect.

A spokeswoman for the body—the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization—said there has been virtually no interruption in the data transmissions by the Chinese since September 2019.

Data transmissions were interrupted previously, she said, but that was the result of the negotiating process between the CTBT organization and the Chinese government on arrangements for putting the stations in operation.

“Data transmission from all certified stations was interrupted in 2018 after the testing and evaluation and certification process was completed,” she said. “In August 2019, ongoing negotiations on post-certification activity contracts with Chinese station operators were concluded and data transmission resumed for all five certified stations.”

In contrast, the administration’s report accuses China of “blocking the flow of data from the monitoring stations.”

China will likely double the size of its nuclear stockpile over the next decade, Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley Jr., the director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, said in a May 2019 appearance at the Hudson Institute, a Washington think tank.

Antitank missile units took part in a military parade in Beijing last year.

PHOTO: LUO XIAOGUANG/XINHUA/ZUMA PRESS

Gen. Ashley noted then that progress China was making “raised questions” whether it was strictly adhering to the test ban treaty. China’s arsenal is estimated to be about 300 nuclear warheads, according to the Federation of American Scientists. The U.S. has a stockpile of 3,800 nuclear warheads that could be carried on long-range and short-range delivery systems, but only 1,700 are deployed, the group says.

Tim Morrison, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who served as lead arms-control official on President Trump’s National Security Council, said the activity at the Lop Nur site appeared to indicate that China is cheating. “It is not arms control when only the U.S. adheres to a commitment,” he said.

But Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, a nongovernmental group, said activity at Lop Nur isn’t proof the Chinese have been engaging in low-yield testing.

“The most effective way to resolve concerns about very low-yield nuclear explosions and enforce compliance with the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is for the United States—and China—to ratify the treaty and help bring it into force,” Mr. Kimball said. “When it does, states have the option to demand intrusive, short-notice on-site inspections.”

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency asserted last year that Russia had violated the zero-yield standard at its nuclear test site in Novaya Zemlya, a remote archipelago above the Arctic Circle, though it didn’t say when this might have occurred.

The new State Department report, which is based on U.S. intelligence, says that the U.S. doesn’t know if this occurred in 2019. But it asserts that some  Russian’s activities since 1996 “have demonstrated a failure to adhere to the U.S. ‘zero-yield’ standard, which would prohibit supercritical tests.”

Write to Michael R. Gordon at michael.gordon@wsj.com

Russia’s Fearful Hypersonic Nukes (Daniel 7)

Meet Russia’s Underwater Hypersonic Cruise Missiles

Russia is testing hypersonic cruise missiles—and launching them underwater from submarines.

Delay, Delay, Delay

Russia is planning to launch its hypersonic Zircon anti-ship missile from underwater at some point this year, though the launch date seems to have been pushed back at least once.

The Russian state-owned Tass news agency quoted a Russian defense industry source as saying that “As part of the continued state trials of the Tsirkon [or Zircon] shipborne missile system, the hypersonic missile’s firings are planned from the submerged position from the submarine Severodvinsk.”

Yasen-class

The launch platform for the missile will apparently be Russia’s nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine, the improved Yasen-class, which is Russia’s newest and most advanced. The improved Yasen-class has a low or non-magnetic steel hull that either greatly reduces or altogether eliminates its magnetic signature.

The improved Yasen-class is “on par with older U.S. Seawolf-class SSNs, built by the U.S. Navy from 1989 to 2005, although the underwater top speed of the Russian subs is reportedly much lower than that of U.S. boats.” It is thought to be not as capable as America’s Virginia-class and is also somewhat slower.

Both the Yasen and improved Yasen-class have eight vertical launch tubes for launching either Kalibur anti-ship/anti-land missiles or P-880 Onyx anti-ship missiles.

Zircon

The Zircon hypersonic missile is alleged to be a variant of Russia’s P-880 Onyx. At Mach 2.9, the Onyx is fast, but nowhere near as fast as the Zircon, which is propelled to hypersonic speeds—in excess of Mach 5. The Zircon has a two-stage propellant system that uses a solid-fuel propellant to bring it up to speed, then is powered by a scramjet combustion engine.

Launching submarine-based hypersonic missiles is a potent ability. Submarines can stay underwater for weeks or months, undetected and protected. Though the Zircon is thought to be armed with conventional explosives, it hardly matters.

Traveling in the Mach 5+ range generates so much kinetic energy that even a concrete-filled warhead would create a massive explosion if it hit the ground—or a massive hole in an aircraft carrier.

Moreover, hypersonic missiles are incredibly hard to defend against. As I previously wrote, “evasive maneuvers are difficult against hypersonic weapons because the weapons themselves are highly maneuverable. Using kinetic interceptors to shoot down a hypersonic missile would be like shooting a bullet with a bullet”—a complex operation.

“Further complicating the problem is the fact that most missile defense systems are generally optimized to counter specific, existing threats and hypersonics traveling close to two miles a second are just not on their menu.”

Silent Killers

Two advanced Russian systems are coming together in a potent new way—advanced nuclear submarine design coupled with advanced under-water-launched hypersonic cruise missiles. Could this be the great underwater equalizer?

Caleb Larson holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics, and culture

Image: Reuters