Earthquakes May Endanger New York More Than Thought, Says StudyA study by a group of prominent seismologists suggests that a pattern of subtle but active faults makes the risk of earthquakes to the New York City area substantially greater than formerly believed. Among other things, they say that the controversial Indian Point nuclear power plants, 24 miles north of the city, sit astride the previously unidentified intersection of two active seismic zones. The paper appears in the current issue of the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.Many faults and a few mostly modest quakes have long been known around New York City, but the research casts them in a new light. The scientists say the insight comes from sophisticated analysis of past quakes, plus 34 years of new data on tremors, most of them perceptible only by modern seismic instruments. The evidence charts unseen but potentially powerful structures whose layout and dynamics are only now coming clearer, say the scientists. All are based at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, which runs the network of seismometers that monitors most of the northeastern United States.Lead author Lynn R. Sykes said the data show that large quakes are infrequent around New York compared to more active areas like California and Japan, but that the risk is high, because of the overwhelming concentration of people and infrastructure. “The research raises the perception both of how common these events are, and, specifically, where they may occur,” he said. “It’s an extremely populated area with very large assets.” Sykes, who has studied the region for four decades, is known for his early role in establishing the global theory of plate tectonics.The authors compiled a catalog of all 383 known earthquakes from 1677 to 2007 in a 15,000-square-mile area around New York City. Coauthor John Armbruster estimated sizes and locations of dozens of events before 1930 by combing newspaper accounts and other records. The researchers say magnitude 5 quakes—strong enough to cause damage–occurred in 1737, 1783 and 1884. There was little settlement around to be hurt by the first two quakes, whose locations are vague due to a lack of good accounts; but the last, thought to be centered under the seabed somewhere between Brooklyn and Sandy Hook, toppled chimneys across the city and New Jersey, and panicked bathers at Coney Island. Based on this, the researchers say such quakes should be routinely expected, on average, about every 100 years. “Today, with so many more buildings and people, a magnitude 5 centered below the city would be extremely attention-getting,” said Armbruster. “We’d see billions in damage, with some brick buildings falling. People would probably be killed.”Starting in the early 1970s Lamont began collecting data on quakes from dozens of newly deployed seismometers; these have revealed further potential, including distinct zones where earthquakes concentrate, and where larger ones could come. The Lamont network, now led by coauthor Won-Young Kim, has located hundreds of small events, including a magnitude 3 every few years, which can be felt by people at the surface, but is unlikely to cause damage. These small quakes tend to cluster along a series of small, old faults in harder rocks across the region. Many of the faults were discovered decades ago when subways, water tunnels and other excavations intersected them, but conventional wisdom said they were inactive remnants of continental collisions and rifting hundreds of millions of years ago. The results clearly show that they are active, and quite capable of generating damaging quakes, said Sykes.One major previously known feature, the Ramapo Seismic Zone, runs from eastern Pennsylvania to the mid-Hudson Valley, passing within a mile or two northwest of Indian Point. The researchers found that this system is not so much a single fracture as a braid of smaller ones, where quakes emanate from a set of still ill-defined faults. East and south of the Ramapo zone—and possibly more significant in terms of hazard–is a set of nearly parallel northwest-southeast faults. These include Manhattan’s 125th Street fault, which seems to have generated two small 1981 quakes, and could have been the source of the big 1737 quake; the Dyckman Street fault, which carried a magnitude 2 in 1989; the Mosholu Parkway fault; and the Dobbs Ferry fault in suburban Westchester, which generated the largest recent shock, a surprising magnitude 4.1, in 1985. Fortunately, it did no damage. Given the pattern, Sykes says the big 1884 quake may have hit on a yet-undetected member of this parallel family further south.The researchers say that frequent small quakes occur in predictable ratios to larger ones, and so can be used to project a rough time scale for damaging events. Based on the lengths of the faults, the detected tremors, and calculations of how stresses build in the crust, the researchers say that magnitude 6 quakes, or even 7—respectively 10 and 100 times bigger than magnitude 5–are quite possible on the active faults they describe. They calculate that magnitude 6 quakes take place in the area about every 670 years, and sevens, every 3,400 years. The corresponding probabilities of occurrence in any 50-year period would be 7% and 1.5%. After less specific hints of these possibilities appeared in previous research, a 2003 analysis by The New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation put the cost of quakes this size in the metro New York area at $39 billion to $197 billion. A separate 2001 analysis for northern New Jersey’s Bergen County estimates that a magnitude 7 would destroy 14,000 buildings and damage 180,000 in that area alone. The researchers point out that no one knows when the last such events occurred, and say no one can predict when they next might come.“We need to step backward from the simple old model, where you worry about one large, obvious fault, like they do in California,” said coauthor Leonardo Seeber. “The problem here comes from many subtle faults. We now see there is earthquake activity on them. Each one is small, but when you add them up, they are probably more dangerous than we thought. We need to take a very close look.” Seeber says that because the faults are mostly invisible at the surface and move infrequently, a big quake could easily hit one not yet identified. “The probability is not zero, and the damage could be great,” he said. “It could be like something out of a Greek myth.”The researchers found concrete evidence for one significant previously unknown structure: an active seismic zone running at least 25 miles from Stamford, Conn., to the Hudson Valley town of Peekskill, N.Y., where it passes less than a mile north of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. The Stamford-Peekskill line stands out sharply on the researchers’ earthquake map, with small events clustered along its length, and to its immediate southwest. Just to the north, there are no quakes, indicating that it represents some kind of underground boundary. It is parallel to the other faults beginning at 125th Street, so the researchers believe it is a fault in the same family. Like the others, they say it is probably capable of producing at least a magnitude 6 quake. Furthermore, a mile or so on, it intersects the Ramapo seismic zone.Sykes said the existence of the Stamford-Peekskill line had been suggested before, because the Hudson takes a sudden unexplained bend just ot the north of Indian Point, and definite traces of an old fault can be along the north side of the bend. The seismic evidence confirms it, he said. “Indian Point is situated at the intersection of the two most striking linear features marking the seismicity and also in the midst of a large population that is at risk in case of an accident,” says the paper. “This is clearly one of the least favorable sites in our study area from an earthquake hazard and risk perspective.”The findings comes at a time when Entergy, the owner of Indian Point, is trying to relicense the two operating plants for an additional 20 years—a move being fought by surrounding communities and the New York State Attorney General. Last fall the attorney general, alerted to the then-unpublished Lamont data, told a Nuclear Regulatory Commission panel in a filing: “New data developed in the last 20 years disclose a substantially higher likelihood of significant earthquake activity in the vicinity of [Indian Point] that could exceed the earthquake design for the facility.” The state alleges that Entergy has not presented new data on earthquakes past 1979. However, in a little-noticed decision this July 31, the panel rejected the argument on procedural grounds. A source at the attorney general’s office said the state is considering its options.The characteristics of New York’s geology and human footprint may increase the problem. Unlike in California, many New York quakes occur near the surface—in the upper mile or so—and they occur not in the broken-up, more malleable formations common where quakes are frequent, but rather in the extremely hard, rigid rocks underlying Manhattan and much of the lower Hudson Valley. Such rocks can build large stresses, then suddenly and efficiently transmit energy over long distances. “It’s like putting a hard rock in a vise,” said Seeber. “Nothing happens for a while. Then it goes with a bang.” Earthquake-resistant building codes were not introduced to New York City until 1995, and are not in effect at all in many other communities. Sinuous skyscrapers and bridges might get by with minimal damage, said Sykes, but many older, unreinforced three- to six-story brick buildings could crumble.Art Lerner-Lam, associate director of Lamont for seismology, geology and tectonophysics, pointed out that the region’s major highways including the New York State Thruway, commuter and long-distance rail lines, and the main gas, oil and power transmission lines all cross the parallel active faults, making them particularly vulnerable to being cut. Lerner-Lam, who was not involved in the research, said that the identification of the seismic line near Indian Point “is a major substantiation of a feature that bears on the long-term earthquake risk of the northeastern United States.” He called for policymakers to develop more information on the region’s vulnerability, to take a closer look at land use and development, and to make investments to strengthen critical infrastructure.“This is a landmark study in many ways,” said Lerner-Lam. “It gives us the best possible evidence that we have an earthquake hazard here that should be a factor in any planning decision. It crystallizes the argument that this hazard is not random. There is a structure to the location and timing of the earthquakes. This enables us to contemplate risk in an entirely different way. And since we are able to do that, we should be required to do that.”New York Earthquake Briefs and Quotes:Existing U.S. Geological Survey seismic hazard maps show New York City as facing more hazard than many other eastern U.S. areas. Three areas are somewhat more active—northernmost New York State, New Hampshire and South Carolina—but they have much lower populations and fewer structures. The wider forces at work include pressure exerted from continuing expansion of the mid-Atlantic Ridge thousands of miles to the east; slow westward migration of the North American continent; and the area’s intricate labyrinth of old faults, sutures and zones of weakness caused by past collisions and rifting.Due to New York’s past history, population density and fragile, interdependent infrastructure, a 2001 analysis by the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranks it the 11th most at-risk U.S. city for earthquake damage. Among those ahead: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland. Behind: Salt Lake City, Sacramento, Anchorage.New York’s first seismic station was set up at Fordham University in the 1920s. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in Palisades, N.Y., has operated stations since 1949, and now coordinates a network of about 40.Dozens of small quakes have been felt in the New York area. A Jan. 17, 2001 magnitude 2.4, centered in the Upper East Side—the first ever detected in Manhattan itself–may have originated on the 125th Street fault. Some people thought it was an explosion, but no one was harmed.The most recent felt quake, a magnitude 2.1 on July 28, 2008, was centered near Milford, N.J. Houses shook and a woman at St. Edward’s Church said she felt the building rise up under her feet—but no damage was done.Questions about the seismic safety of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which lies amid a metropolitan area of more than 20 million people, were raised in previous scientific papers in 1978 and 1985.Because the hard rocks under much of New York can build up a lot strain before breaking, researchers believe that modest faults as short as 1 to 10 kilometers can cause magnitude 5 or 6 quakes.In general, magnitude 3 quakes occur about 10 times more often than magnitude fours; 100 times more than magnitude fives; and so on. This principle is called the Gutenberg-Richter relationship.
January 17 2021 – 12:32AM
European powers have warned Iran against working on uranium metal-based fuel for a research reactor.
The UN nuclear watchdog and Tehran said on Wednesday that Iran had started the work, in the latest breach of its nuclear deal with six major powers as the country presses for a lifting of US sanctions.
“We strongly encourage Iran to end this activity, and return to full compliance with its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran nuclear deal) without delay, if it is serious about preserving this agreement,” France, Britain and Germany said in a joint statement on Saturday.
Iran has been accelerating its breaches of the deal in the past two months. Some of those steps were triggered by a law passed in response to the killing of its top nuclear scientist in November, which Tehran has blamed on its arch-foe Israel.
They are also part of a process of retaliation Tehran started in 2019 in response to US President Donald Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from the deal and his reimposition of US sanctions that the deal lifted in exchange for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities.
The three powers, who remain in the deal with China and Russia, said they were “deeply concerned” and that Iran’s production of uranium metal had no civilian credibility and had potentially serious military implications.
The nuclear deal imposes a 15-year ban on Iran producing or acquiring uranium metal, a sensitive material that can be used in the core of a nuclear bomb.
The Iranian breaches raise pressure on US President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office next week and has pledged to return the United States to the deal if Iran first resumes full compliance. Iran wants Washington to lift sanctions first.
January 16, 2021
Russia’s top-tier unmanned nuclear-powered submarine Project ‘Poseidon’ seems to be on track as the country is set to establish a dedicated coastal base for this by next year.
According to The Moscow Times, the construction of required infrastructure to maintain and carry out operations of this new strategic deterrent would be completed by 2022. The unmanned submarine’s launch was expected in 2020 but was postponed until 2021 probably due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Izvestia, another Russian news agency, said that the crew members of the Belgorod submarine have already begun ‘practical training’ on the drone submarine. The agency also quoted senior officials mentioning that a coastal base is imperative for the weapon’s efficiency in combat duty and operations.
“Throwing such equipment directly in the water is like throwing it away and turning it into a piece of scrap metal,” Izvestia quoted Rear Adm. Vsevolod Khmyrov as saying.
What Is ‘Poseidon’?
It is an underwater unmanned vehicle being developed by Russia’s Rubin Design Bureau. Poseidon is a nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed autonomous vehicle and can be used as a nuclear deterrent against hostile bases and naval stations.
Its launch and functioning are synonymous with an advanced, sophisticated nuclear-armed torpedo with a speculated blast yield of 2-100 megatons (Mt). It is also capable of delivering conventional payloads.
In an article written by H. I. Sutton for Forbes in November 2019, he mentioned Poseidon as one of the most disruptive weapons currently being developed.
“It is also one of the least well understood. Each new report and image provides intelligence that improves our understanding. It is designed to hit coastal cities with a 2-megaton warhead, around 133 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima,” he wrote.
Two vessels that are speculated to carry the Poseidon, the Project 09852 Oscar-class submarine Belgorod and the Project 09851 Khabarovsk submarines, are new boats launched in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
Oscar-class submarines could carry four Poseidon torpedoes at the same time for a total yield of up to 400 Mt.
According to some reports, the Poseidon may also have a seabed or mobile site launch option. In the seabed option, known as Skif, Poseidon can wait on the seafloor in a special container for as long as necessary.
It is known that the Russian auxiliary vessel ZVEZDOCHKA 600 (Project 20180) with ice-breaking capability is being used for testing of the Poseidon drones. Thus, it’s believed the ship can be also used as the platform for deploying and retrieving a seabed version of the drone.
The seabed launch option was patented (RU 2135929 patent) by the Poseidon designer Alexander Shalnev.
While the specifications remain confidential, experts have stated that Poseidon appears to be a torpedo-shaped robotic mini-submarine that can travel at speeds of 185 km/h (100 kn). More recent information suggests a top speed of 100 km/h (54 kn), with a range of 10,000 km (5,400 nmi; 6,200 mi) and a depth maximum of 1,000 m (3,300 ft).
The typical depth of the drone may be about 50–100 meters for increased stealth features on low-speed stealth mode. Low depth on stealth mode is preferred because sound waves move to the ocean floor and reduce the radius of detection. Submarines use the same strategy on silent running mode.
Israeli tanks infiltrating Gaza and destroying land near the border. (File photo)
GAZA, Saturday, January 16, 2021 (WAFA) – Israeli occupation forces stationed on the southern border with the Gaza Strip today opened fire at Palestinian farmers working in their lands near the border, forcing them to leave the area, reported WAFA correspondent.
He said that the soldiers at the military watchtowers overlooking the border area east of Khan Yunis fired several rounds at the farmers, who fled the area to avoid being shot.
Israel does not allow Palestinians to reach their lands along the Gaza border with Israel and often infiltrate the borders to either destroy the land and level it or to build dirt mounds causing serious damage to fertile agricultural land in the area that goes more than 300 meters deep into the Gaza Strip.
With US in transition, the IDF sees Tehran as less likely to retaliate, and is making hay by expanding and intensifying its air campaign against Iranian forces across the border
By Judah Ari Gross 14 Jan 2021, 1:23 pm
Over the past two and a half weeks, Israel has reportedly conducted at least four rounds of airstrikes on Iran-linked sites in Syria, including a major bombardment in the predawn hours of Wednesday morning according to media outlets there, in a major step up from the normal scope and frequency of attacks.
Wednesday’s attack was a major operation against Iran’s efforts to establish a permanent military presence in the country, one of the largest reported Israeli airstrikes in years, with over 15 sites bombed in eastern Syria some 500 kilometers (300 miles) from Israel, according to Syrian reports.
The bombing was both more intense than normal — in comparison, the Israel Defense Forces said it struck some 50 targets in Syria in all of 2020 — and took place much farther from Israel than most attacks attributed to the Jewish state. The three other rounds of airstrikes in last few weeks took place in areas closer to Damascus and the Syrian Golan.
The IDF had no comment on the late-night strikes, in accordance with its policy to neither confirm nor deny its operations in Syria save for those in retaliation to an attack on Israel from the country.
The significant increase in the frequency and scope of the attacks stems from an assessment by the Israel Defense Forces, shared with The Times of Israel, that Iran is unlikely to retaliate in a major way to these strikes in the short term.
In general over the past year, Iran has not responded to Israeli airstrikes — either not finding a way to do so or being stopped by Israel from doing so — and currently Tehran appears to be preparing to enter into negotiations with US President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration, which would be more difficult were it to be actively engaged in fighting with Washington’s key ally in the region. While Iran takes a wait-and-see approach, Israel is taking advantage.
Syrian Air defenses respond to alleged Israeli missiles targeting south of the capital Damascus, on July 20, 2020. (AFP)
Even if the frequency of IDF strikes decreases in the coming weeks, it would more likely be due to operational restrictions than the incoming Biden administration trying to curb Israel. The same window of opportunity is expected to remain as long as Tehran holds out hopes of talks with the new president, allowing Israel to continue its efforts in Syria, which are intended to keep Iran from entrenching itself militarily in the country and using it to move weapons that would threaten the Jewish state.
“The Biden administration won’t stop Israel from striking [in Syria],” Amos Yadlin, a former Military Intelligence chief, told the Times of Israel.
According to Israeli officials, the campaign against Iran in Syria has been on the whole successful, stymieing Tehran’s plans for the country and largely keeping the bulk of its forces further from Israel’s borders.
“They wanted to shape [Syria] in the model of Hezbollah, to have masses of soldiers there, with missiles, with the ability to strike Israel, to exhaust Israel,” Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told the Kan broadcaster Wednesday.
“In the past four years… they failed to turn Syria into something like the second Hezbollah. They tried to build there a military force and Israel — time after time — destroyed those attempts and that infrastructure. They haven’t given up, they haven’t quit, but they have failed,” he said.
Last month, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi made a similar claim, telling reporters in a year-end briefing that the IDF has noted a marked drop over the previous two years in the number of Iran-backed fighters in Syria, an increase in the number of Iranian military bases being closed in the country, and a significant decrease in the amount of weaponry being transported into and through Syria.
“Iranian entrenchment in Syria is in a clear trend of slowing down as a direct result of IDF activities, though we still have a way to go to reach our goals on this front,” Kohavi said.
Yet the Islamic Republic has not thrown in the towel and still maintains a significant military presence in the country, even if it is smaller than it desires.
According to Syrian media reports, the targets of the Wednesday strike were primarily weapons warehouses around the Deir Ezzor and Boukamal regions, areas known to contain significant numbers of Iran-backed militias, which are more difficult for Israel to strike due to their greater distance from the border.
Jan 13, 2021
Replying to @QalaatM
E. #Syria: the military Security (Intelligence)’s HQ in #DeirEzzor-city is among the targets bombed today by #Israel. One dead identified so far (from Masyaf). Multiple wounded too.
E. #Syria: more evidence showing aftermath of #Israel|i airstrikes today in #DeirEzzor province:
– ammo warehouse W. of DeZ-city (1)
– informal border crossing with #Iraq, near #AbuKemal (2-3)
Death toll of 50+ (SOHR) is however fabricated.
11:06 AM · Jan 13, 2021
20 are Tweeting about this
Israeli and Western intelligence officials, as well as Syrian opposition media, have said that these areas are used by Tehran as part of a so-called land corridor to transport weapons from Iran through Iraq into Syria and, in some cases, on to Lebanon, where its most significant proxy, Hezbollah, is based.
Boukamal was also targeted multiple times in 2018 and 2019 in a failed bid to block the construction of the infrastructure likely used to transport missiles into Syria in recent weeks.
This file photo released Sept. 3, 2017, by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen standing next to a sign in Arabic which reads, “Deir el-Zour welcomes you,” in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, Syria. (SANA via AP)
“The other side, as I understand, is not prepared to surrender because they invested a huge fortune and massive resources in the success of Assad and they want to collect their fee from Assad, which is their ability to operate freely from within Syria, which they saved from falling into the hands of the rebels,” Hanegbi said.
According to Omar Abu Layla, a Europe-based activist who runs DeirEzzor24, a pro-opposition media collective with researchers on the ground in eastern Syria, these warehouses contained a particularly large shipment of missiles that had been brought into the area by the Iran-backed Fatimiyeon militia in recent weeks.
In a highly irregular move, a senior US intelligence official confirmed to the Associated Press that Israel was behind the Wednesday strikes. The official said the intelligence behind the attack was provided by the US. It’s unlikely, though, that Israel would launch such a significant raid based solely on American intelligence, based on its standard operating procedure.
More curiously, the official also claimed the warehouses that were targeted were used to transport components that support Iran’s nuclear program — though not that these materials were themselves targeted in the strikes. This is an eyebrow-raising proposition, given the fact that Deir Ezzor was the site of Syria’s own nuclear reactor before it was destroyed by the Israeli Air Force in 2007.
Yadlin, the current head of the influential Institute for National Security Studies, dismissed this claim as “fake news” and said that these were simply not the supply lines used by Iran for its nuclear program.
Asked if the attribution to a senior US intelligence official didn’t lend some credence to the claim, Yadlin told The Times of Israel: “A former senior Israeli intelligence official is saying this report has no logical [basis].”
Recent months have seen rising tensions between Iran and the US and Israel, amid speculation that outgoing US President Donald Trump would use his final week in office to launch a military strike against Tehran.
The US has deployed B-52 heavy bombers to the Middle East, sent an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf and sought to diplomatically challenge Iran by releasing intelligence tying the Islamic Republic to the Al-Qaeda terror group earlier this week. The US has also stepped up its sanctions on Iranian entities.
The head of Iran’s military nuclear program, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was also killed in November in an attack that was widely attributed to Israel.
In a somewhat subtler move, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen traveled to Washington, DC, this week, meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a public space, prompting widespread speculation on what the two discussed.
Iran, in turn, has taken a number of provocative steps on the nuclear front, announcing that it was beginning to enrich uranium to 20 percent, a major breach of the 2015 nuclear deal, which it has been steadily violating since Trump abandoned the agreement in 2018. On Wednesday, Tehran announced it was also advancing research into uranium metal, a key component of nuclear weapons, with limited civilian uses.
In addition, the Iranian military has staged two large exercises, one focusing on drones and the other on the navy.
Iran also seized a South Korean oil tanker that had been sailing through the Persian Gulf, an apparent act of revenge for some $7 billion in Iranian assets that were frozen by Seoul.
Despite these growing signs of tensions, Hanegbi said Israel did not anticipate some kind of attack in the coming week.
“The [Israeli] assessment is that nothing dramatic will happen during this week,” he said. “This is the calm before the storm.”
The minister, who is considered a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, explained that the “storm” would be what comes as the United States negotiates a new nuclear deal with Tehran, saying that if Israel did not feel such an agreement ensured its security, it would attack Iran’s nuclear program.
The exterior of the Arak heavy water production facility in Arak, Iran, 360 kilometers southwest of Tehran, October 27, 2004. (AP Photo)
Biden has publicly stated his intention to rejoin the accord — known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — provided Iran also returns to the terms of the deal and use that agreement as a jumping off point for further negotiations.
Those opposed to the JCPOA, as well as some proponents of it, argue that a simple return to the deal would give up the considerable leverage that Trump’s sanctions regime has achieved. Instead, those people argue, Biden should attempt to negotiate a far stronger deal, one that does not have the expiration dates of the JCPOA, with greater access for international inspectors, and also addressing Iran’s ballistic missile program and malign influence in the region. Supporters of Biden’s plan maintain that a significantly more robust deal is not feasible now, but could be negotiated going forward.
This is the calm before the storm
“If the United States government rejoins the nuclear deal — and that seems to be the stated policy as of now — the practical result will be that Israel will again be alone against Iran, which by the end of the deal will have received a green light from the world, including the United States, to continue with its nuclear weapons program,” Hanegbi said.
“This of course we will not allow. We’ve already twice done what needed to be done, in 1981 against the Iraqi nuclear program and in 2007 against the Syrian nuclear program,” he said, referring to airstrikes on those two countries’ nuclear reactors.
BERLIN (AP) — The United Nations’ atomic watchdog agency confirmed Thursday that Iran has informed it the country has begun installing equipment for the production of uranium metal, which would be another violation of the 2015 landmark nuclear deal with world powers.
Iran maintains its plans to conduct research and development on uranium metal production are part of its “declared aim to design an improved type of fuel,” the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said.
Uranium metal can also be used for a nuclear bomb, however, and research on its production is specifically prohibited under the nuclear deal — the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — that Tehran signed with Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia and the United States in 2015.
Since the unilateral American withdrawal from the deal in 2018, the other members have been working to try and preserve the accord, and Germany slammed the new Iranian move as a “completely wrong signal and not likely to build trust.”
The Foreign Ministry told The Associated Press that as the other members are committed to the deal and the “future American government has also expressed its willingness to return” to it, Iran “must not continue to undermine the core provisions” of the accord.
“It is long overdue for Iran to return to full compliance with its commitments,” the ministry said.
The ultimate goal of the deal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, something Iran insists it does not want to do. Iran now has enough enriched uranium to make a bomb, but nowhere near the amount it had before the nuclear deal was signed.
On Sunday, IAEA inspectors visited the Isfahan plant where Iran has said it plans to conduct the research, and officials were informed by Tehran on Wednesday that “modification and installation of the relevant equipment for the mentioned R&D activities have been already started,” the agency said.
Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, repeated that in a tweet on Wednesday, adding that “natural uranium will be used to produce uranium metal in the first stage.”
He told Iran’s official news agency IRNA that the move will elevate Iran to the level of “progressive nations in production of new fuels.”
Although uranium metal in theory can be geared toward generating electricity, experiments with metal alloys are prohibited under the nuclear deal because uranium metal is a key material in the making of nuclear weapons. The process involves converting high-enriched uranium gas into metal that provides the cladding, or outer covering, for the fuel rods that power a nuclear reaction.
“Iran had not previously experimented with this step in the process, but in order to make a bomb, you would have to,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, based in Washington.
It was the latest in a string of violations of the nuclear deal that Iran has undertaken since President Donald Trump pulled the United States out in 2018, saying it needed to be re-negotiated.
Tehran has been using the violations to put pressure on the other signatories to provide more incentives to Iran to offset crippling American sanctions re-imposed after the American pullout. President-elect Joe Biden, who was vice president when the deal was signed during the Obama administration, has said he hopes to return the U.S. to the deal.
The timing of the uranium metal announcement, Kimball said, left little doubt about Iran’s intentions.
“They know there’s someone named Biden who’s going to be in the White House next week and they want him to act as soon as possible to waive nuclear-related sanctions,” he added. “They are looking for ways to underscore that their patience has run out.”
Britain, France and Germany said last week that Iran “risks compromising” chances of diplomacy with Washington after Tehran announced another violation — that it was starting to enrich uranium to 20% purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.
The foreign ministers of the three European nations said in a joint statement then that the Iranian activity “has no credible civil justification.” They said the enrichment was a clear violation of the deal and “further hollows out the agreement.”
Those working to save the deal also note that despite the violations, Iran continues to allow inspectors to access all sites in the country.
Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, and Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.
Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating EarthquakeRoger BilhamGiven recent seismic activity — political as well as geological — it’s perhaps unsurprising that two books on earthquakes have arrived this season. One is as elegant as the score of a Beethoven symphony; the other resembles a diary of conversations overheard during a rock concert. Both are interesting, and both relate recent history to a shaky future.Journalist Kathryn Miles’s Quakeland is a litany of bad things that happen when you provoke Earth to release its invisible but ubiquitous store of seismic-strain energy, either by removing fluids (oil, water, gas) or by adding them in copious quantities (when extracting shale gas in hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, or when injecting contaminated water or building reservoirs). To complete the picture, she describes at length the bad things that happen during unprovoked natural earthquakes. As its subtitle hints, the book takes the form of a road trip to visit seismic disasters both past and potential, and seismologists and earthquake engineers who have first-hand knowledge of them. Their colourful personalities, opinions and prejudices tell a story of scientific discovery and engineering remedy.Miles poses some important societal questions. Aside from human intervention potentially triggering a really damaging earthquake, what is it actually like to live in neighbourhoods jolted daily by magnitude 1–3 earthquakes, or the occasional magnitude 5? Are these bumps in the night acceptable? And how can industries that perturb the highly stressed rocks beneath our feet deny obvious cause and effect? In 2015, the Oklahoma Geological Survey conceded that a quadrupling of the rate of magnitude-3 or more earthquakes in recent years, coinciding with a rise in fracking, was unlikely to represent a natural process. Miles does not take sides, but it’s difficult for the reader not to.She visits New York City, marvelling at subway tunnels and unreinforced masonry almost certainly scheduled for destruction by the next moderate earthquake in the vicinity. She considers the perils of nuclear-waste storage in Nevada and Texas, and ponders the risks to Idaho miners of rock bursts — spontaneous fracture of the working face when the restraints of many million years of confinement are mined away. She contemplates the ups and downs of the Yellowstone Caldera — North America’s very own mid-continent supervolcano — and its magnificently uncertain future. Miles also touches on geothermal power plants in southern California’s Salton Sea and elsewhere; the vast US network of crumbling bridges, dams and oil-storage farms; and the magnitude 7–9 earthquakes that could hit California and the Cascadia coastline of Oregon and Washington state this century. Amid all this doom, a new elementary school on the coast near Westport, Washington, vulnerable to inbound tsunamis, is offered as a note of optimism. With foresight and much persuasion from its head teacher, it was engineered to become an elevated safe haven.Miles briefly discusses earthquake prediction and the perils of getting it wrong (embarrassment in New Madrid, Missouri, where a quake was predicted but never materialized; prison in L’Aquila, Italy, where scientists failed to foresee a devastating seismic event) and the successes of early-warning systems, with which electronic alerts can be issued ahead of damaging seismic waves. Yes, it’s a lot to digest, but most of the book obeys the laws of physics, and it is a engaging read. One just can’t help wishing that Miles’s road trips had taken her somewhere that wasn’t a disaster waiting to happen.Catastrophic damage in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1964, caused by the second-largest earthquake in the global instrumental record.In The Great Quake, journalist Henry Fountain provides us with a forthright and timely reminder of the startling historical consequences of North America’s largest known earthquake, which more than half a century ago devastated southern Alaska. With its epicentre in Prince William Sound, the 1964 quake reached magnitude 9.2, the second largest in the global instrumental record. It released more energy than either the 2004 Sumatra–Andaman earthquake or the 2011 Tohoku earthquake off Japan; and it generated almost as many pages of scientific commentary and description as aftershocks. Yet it has been forgotten by many.The quake was scientifically important because it occurred at a time when plate tectonics was in transition from hypothesis to theory. Fountain expertly traces the theory’s historical development, and how the Alaska earthquake was pivotal in nailing down one of the most important predictions. The earthquake caused a fjordland region larger than England to subside, and a similarly huge region of islands offshore to rise by many metres; but its scientific implications were not obvious at the time. Eminent seismologists thought that a vertical fault had slipped, drowning forests and coastlines to its north and raising beaches and islands to its south. But this kind of fault should have reached the surface, and extended deep into Earth’s mantle. There was no geological evidence of a monster surface fault separating these two regions, nor any evidence for excessively deep aftershocks. The landslides and liquefied soils that collapsed houses, and the tsunami that severely damaged ports and infrastructure, offered no clues to the cause.“Previous earthquakes provide clear guidance about present-day vulnerability.” The hero of The Great Quake is the geologist George Plafker, who painstakingly mapped the height reached by barnacles lifted out of the intertidal zone along shorelines raised by the earthquake, and documented the depths of drowned forests. He deduced that the region of subsidence was the surface manifestation of previously compressed rocks springing apart, driving parts of Alaska up and southwards over the Pacific Plate. His finding confirmed a prediction of plate tectonics, that the leading edge of the Pacific Plate plunged beneath the southern edge of Alaska along a gently dipping thrust fault. That observation, once fully appreciated, was applauded by the geophysics community.Fountain tells this story through the testimony of survivors, engineers and scientists, interweaving it with the fascinating history of Alaska, from early discovery by Europeans to purchase from Russia by the United States in 1867, and its recent development. Were the quake to occur now, it is not difficult to envisage that with increased infrastructure and larger populations, the death toll and price tag would be two orders of magnitude larger than the 139 fatalities and US$300-million economic cost recorded in 1964.What is clear from these two books is that seismicity on the North American continent is guaranteed to deliver surprises, along with unprecedented economic and human losses. Previous earthquakes provide clear guidance about the present-day vulnerability of US infrastructure and populations. Engineers and seismologists know how to mitigate the effects of future earthquakes (and, in mid-continent, would advise against the reckless injection of waste fluids known to trigger earthquakes). It is merely a matter of persuading city planners and politicians that if they are tempted to ignore the certainty of the continent’s seismic past, they should err on the side of caution when considering its seismic future.
In a statement, it said Indian troops initiated “unprovoked” cease-fire violation in Dewa sector, killing a soldier along the Line of Control, a de facto border that divides the disputed Kashmir valley between India and Pakistan.
The nuclear-armed rivals hold Kashmir in parts but claim it in full. China also controls a part of the contested region, but it is India and Pakistan who have fought two wars over the Himalayan region since partition in 1947.
Meanwhile, three soldiers were killed in exchange of fire during an operation against militant hideouts in North Waziristan, a northwestern district near the Afghan border.
Two terrorists including an IED [Improvised Explosive Device] expert were also killed in the intelligence-based operation, the army said.
North Waziristan, once dubbed as the heartland of militancy, is one of seven former semi-autonomous tribal regions in Pakistan where the army has conducted a series of operations since 2014 to eliminate the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Successive operations have pushed the TTP towards neighboring Afghanistan, and Islamabad claims the terrorist network has now set up bases across the border to attack Pakistani security forces and civilians.
In 2018, the tribal agencies were given the status of districts and merged with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
NEW YORK: Security Council members on Friday approved the appointment of veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis as the UN’s special envoy to Libya.
It came as UN officials said significant progress has been made in Geneva this week during the inaugural meeting of the advisory committee for the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres nominated Kubis to be his envoy, a position that has been vacant since early March last year, when Ghassan Salameh resigned due to stress after less than three years in the job.
A number of replacements were suggested but members of the Security Council failed to agree on one. In December they overcame their differences and approved the choice of Bulgarian diplomat Nikolai Mladenov — only for him to surprise everyone by turning down the offer for “personal and family reasons.”
Kubis is currently the UN’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon. He previously held similar positions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric hailed what the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) described as significant progress during the first meeting of the LPDF’s advisory committee, which began in Geneva on Jan. 13 and concludes on Jan. 16.
“The mission hopes shortly they will be able to narrow down the major differences and reach near consensus on many of the contentious issues concerning the selection-mechanism proposals,” Dujarric said.
The formation of the advisory committee was announced on Jan. 3. Its 18 members, including women, young people and cultural figures, were chosen to reflect the country’s wide geographical and political diversity.
The secretary-general’s acting special representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams, had indicated that the main task for the committee would be to deliberate on the contentious issues that have plagued the selection of a unified executive authority. The aim is to develop solid recommendations the LPDF can consider in line with the political roadmap agreed by its 75 members during their first round of talks in Tunis last year.
This roadmap represents a rights-based process designed to culminate in democratic and inclusive national elections Dec. 24 this year. The date is also that of Libya’s 70th Independence Day. The elections will mark the end of the transitional phase for the country and chart a new way forward.
“This unwavering achievement, this date to return the sovereign decision to its rightful owners, is our top priority,” said Williams in her opening remarks at the advisory committee meeting in Geneva this week.
She also rejected claims that UNSMIL will have any say in the selection of the new executive authority. “This is a Libyan-Libyan decision,” Williams said, adding that the interim authority is intended to “shoulder the responsibility in a participatory manner and not on the basis of power-sharing, as some believed.”
She added: “We want a participatory formula where there is no victor, no vanquished; a formula for coexistence for Libyans of various origins for a specific period of time until we pass on the torch.
UNSMIL spokesman Jean Alam said the Geneva talks have already overcome some major hurdles. This builds on the political accomplishments since the Tunis meeting at which a consensus was reached on the political roadmap, the eligibility criteria for positions in the unified executive authority, and the authority’s most important prerogative: setting a date for the elections.
He also reported “very encouraging progress” in military matters since the signing of a ceasefire agreement in October by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC), the members of which include five senior officers selected by the Government of National Accord and five selected by the Libyan National Army.
“This includes the recent exchanges of detainees conducted under the JMC’s supervision, as part of wider confidence-building measures; the resumption of flights to all parts of Libya; the full resumption of oil production and export; as well as the proposed unification and restructuring of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, in addition to the ongoing serious talks on the opening of the coastal road between Misrata and Sirte, which we hope will take place very soon,” said Alam.
He also hailed “promising developments” relating to the economy, including the recent unification of the exchange rate by the Central Bank of Libya, a step that requires the formation of a new authority for it to be implemented.
“The recent meeting between the ministries of finance was an important effort to unify the budget and allocate sufficient funding to improve services and rebuild Libya’s deteriorating infrastructure, particularly the electrical grid,” Alam said.
“All of these reforms are steps that will bring national institutions together to work in establishing a more durable and equitable economic arrangement.”
Williams added that without a unified executive authority, it would difficult to implement these steps.
China building ‘greatest expansion of a nuclear arsenal’ since Cold War, State Department warns
Tripled production may violate arms pact, says special presidential envoy for arms control
By Bill Gertz – The Washington Times – Thursday, January 14, 2021
China has rapidly expanded its nuclear and conventional missile forces over the past decade, nearly tripling its ballistic missile production capability and deploying a wide array of nuclear and conventional missile systems, according to an intelligence assessment released by the State Department.
The department also notified Congress on Thursday that it believes Beijing is close to violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by refusing to join the United States in nuclear arms reduction talks underway with Russia.
“As of the writing of this letter, China appears to not be in compliance with its Article VI obligations under the NPT and it will be essential that the next administration continue to apply the full range of diplomatic, economic and defensive measures to bring Communist China to the negotiating table,” said Marshall Billingslea, special presidential envoy for arms control.
The warning, contained in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, noted the status of New START arms control talks with Russia.
“In the case of China, we are witnessing the single greatest expansion of a nuclear arsenal since the dawn of the Cold War,” Mr. Billingslea stated in his Jan. 14 letter.
A chart based on intelligence data made public Thursday by the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance concluded that Chinese missile production capacity grew by 180% since 2010. The chart was first presented during a briefing for America’s NATO allies three weeks ago.
Additionally, the intelligence indicates that 80% of Chinese missiles were conventionally armed and just 20% were nuclear-tipped in 2010. By contrast, 40% of China’s current missile force today is nuclear-capable with the remaining 60% armed with conventional explosives. The expansion of missile forces accelerated under President Xi Jinping, who took power in 2012.
Missile production increased by 30% from 2010 to 2015 and accelerated exponentially from 2015 to 2020. The growth rate in 2020 was 180% higher than it was a decade earlier.
“It is important for the American people and the international community to better understand the size and scope of the Chinese missile force, its rapid expansion, and the need to take steps to mitigate the danger to regional and global stability,” said Mr. Billingslea, who is also acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.
Chinese officials have long resisted U.S. pressure to join arms control talks. They argued that Beijing’s nuclear arsenal is for self-defense and is dwarfed by the missile stocks of Washington and Moscow.
“Given the huge gap between the nuclear arsenals of China and those of the U.S. and the Russian Federation, it is unfair, unreasonable and infeasible to expect China to join in any trilateral arms control negotiation …,” Geng Shuang, China’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, told the U.N. General Assembly in October. “The U.S. intention is to find an excuse to shirk its own special and primary responsibility for nuclear disarmament and seek a pretext to free its hands and gain absolute military supremacy.”
Missiles of concern
The missiles of greatest concern to the United States are China’s “carrier-killer” DF-21 and DF-26 missiles. The unique missiles can be fired from long ranges with enough precision to attack a moving ship at sea.
China has called the DF-26 a “Guam killer” because of its ability to range the major U.S. military hub on the U.S. South Pacific island. The People’s Liberation Army carried out flight tests of four DF-21s and at least one DF-26 during large-scale military exercises in the South China Sea in August.
“The missiles impacted in the South China Sea between Hainan Island and the Paracel Islands,” a Pentagon official said at the time.
What also worries American military planners is China’s new hypersonic DF-17 missile, a maneuverable glider that flies between the upper atmosphere and outer space at extremely high speeds.
The DF-17 is designed to penetrate increasingly sophisticated American missile defenses, such the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense that protects the U.S. from limited long-range attack.
The Pentagon stated in its annual report on the Chinese military that long-range missiles under development “will significantly improve its nuclear-capable missile forces and will require increased nuclear warhead production” for multiwarhead missiles like the DF-41, which is being deployed on road and rail mobile launchers.
In addition to stepped-up production, China last year tested 250 missiles, more than were carried out in 2019, when Beijing was credited with more missile tests than all other nations combined.
Flight tests reached into the hundreds despite the pandemic, which limited the U.S. military’s ability to conduct missile testing.
Additionally, China is ramping up production of ballistic missile submarines that the Pentagon said provide Beijing with a significant capability to strike the American homeland with nuclear missiles.
“We’re seeing a China that is rapidly accelerating its nuclear-tipped missile force, both long-range, submarine-launched and short- and medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles,” Mr. Billingslea told The Washington Times. “This comes as we already highlighted the massive increase in China’s nuclear weapons production sites.”
The Chinese missile buildup is being highlighted as the United States works to catch up to China’s large scale deployment of intermediate-range missiles. For decades, China built 18 types of intermediate-range ballistic missiles, those with ranges of 1,864 to 3,418 miles. The United States and Russia were prohibited by treaty from building similar missiles.
China now has an estimated 1,200 midrange missiles that are part of a missile force estimated to be 2,000 total ballistic missiles and hundreds of ground-hugging cruise missiles.
The Trump administration quit the Intermediate-Range Missile Treaty in 2019 after it said Russia had deployed a ground-launched cruise missile that violated the 1987 accord.
The Trump administration has moved to support the Army and the Marine Corps in fielding ground-launched capabilities and is in discussions with Asian and NATO allies on how to best deter Chinese and Russian aggression, Mr. Billingslea told The Washington Times.
In November, the State Department released four previously classified briefing slides revealing a rapid expansion of Chinese plutonium and uranium production plants, highlighting what the department called a secretive crash program to build up its nuclear arsenal.
Earlier details were released on China’s nuclear testing site at Lop Nur in western China. The site recently began round-the-clock operations, an indication that nuclear testing work has been stepped up.
On the question of China’s NPT noncompliance, Mr. Billingslea said, the Senate notification “relates to China’s refusal to negotiate in good faith with the United States.” China signed the treaty in 1992.
Article 6 of the treaty states that signatories must “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
President Trump directed that any extension of the New START treaty with Russia include China, which has been engaged in the large-scale buildup of nuclear forces and missile delivery systems unconstrained by arms control treaties. The New START treaty is set to expire Feb. 5 and will be one of the first national security decisions the Biden administration will face.
Mr. Billingslea, in his letter to the Senate, stated that progress had been made in a short treaty extension. Under the proposed deal, Russian would agree to place a cap on its nuclear warhead arsenal in exchange for a one-year extension of New START.
“Unfortunately, it appears that Russia has concluded that it can get a better deal from the next administration,” Mr. Billingslea said in his letter.
The Pentagon report on the Chinese military stated that China is adding two more missile submarines to its fleet of four Jin-class missile submarines. Additional attack submarines also are being built.
The Navy disclosed Monday on Twitter that the USS Ohio, a nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine, recently sailed into Apra Harbor, Guam.
The disclosure of the Ohio’s deployment is unusual as missile submarine deployments are usually kept secret.
The strategic submarine activity near Guam comes amid heightened tensions with China over Taiwan and the transition of presidential administrations next week.