Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating EarthquakeRoger BilhamQuakeland: New York and the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)Given 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.
North Korea’s resumed activity at Yongbyon has reawakened calls for Seoul to go nuclear.
Morten Soendergaard LarsenSeptember 9, 2021, 11:50 AM
SEOUL—Recent resumption of activity at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear complex, which is suspected of producing the plutonium needed for the country’s nuclear weapons, has fueled existing convictions among some conservative South Korean politicians that Pyongyang will never agree to give up its nukes so Seoul needs a nuclear deterrent of its own.
The issue has stormed into the early days of the upcoming presidential election, with primary candidates openly pushing for South Korea to host nuclear weapons. Yoo Seong-min, a former lawmaker and primary candidate for the People Power Party, said he would “persuade the U.S. government to sign a nuclear-sharing agreement” with Seoul if he became president. Such an agreement would again allow the deployment of tactical and nonstrategic nuclear weapons on South Korean soil for the first time since the end of the Cold War. Another conservative contender, Hong Joon-pyo, has also argued that a nuclear-sharing agreement is needed lest South Korea end up “slaves to North Korea’s nuclear weapons.”
For some in South Korea, it’s not just about hosting U.S. weapons but also about developing their own. Lee Jong-kul, a representative from the Liberal Party, has said South Korea should “choose tactical nuclear weapons as the last negotiating card” against North Korea. In 2017, a conservative group, the Korean Patriotic Citizens’ Union, organized protests that included chants like “South Korea should immediately begin to arm itself with nuclear weapons.” Nuclear boosterism has grown so much that the leading primary candidate for the Liberal Party, Lee Jae-myung, decried it as “dangerous populism.”
South Korea, which suffered an invasion by its northern neighbor in 1950, is regularly taunted by Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities, tests, and parades of increasingly capable missiles.
“The idea of nuclear weapons in South Korea, in contrast to Japan, has never been fringe. The argument is something like: If North Korea has it, we should have it too,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
According to polls, almost half of all South Koreans surveyed support the development of their own nuclear weapons to deter North Korea’s threat. The urge to unfurl their own nuclear umbrella has grown in recent years due to both Pyongyang’s fissile and missile advances and after four years of former U.S. President Donald Trump disparaging the Korean alliance and urging the country to develop its own nuclear shield.
But it’s not just politicians and polls. South Korea is the latest member of an exclusive club: countries that have successfully firedsubmarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). Seven other countries have done that, but they all have nuclear warheads to stick on top. So what are Seoul’s ambitions?
South Korea “is the only country to develop SLBMs without first developing nuclear weapons, so it makes one wonder,” said Vipin Narang, a professor of nuclear security and political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
SLBMs are hidden underwater, so they offer survivability that could ensure South Korea can hit back against a first strike. But hit back with what?
“Even with a heavy conventional warhead or multiple warheads on each SLBM, does six tubes on a submarine really provide a credible conventional retaliatory capability if all of South Korea’s land-based missiles were wiped out?” Narang asked.
It’s not the only nuke-adjacent technology being advanced. With the removal of the country’s range cap on its missiles, South Korea is pushing for missiles that can carry bigger payloads for longer distances. Those “would be good delivery vehicles” if Seoul ever thought about developing nuclear weapons, Narang said.
The problem is nuclear weapons would not actually deliver security for South Korea. Pyongyang has an arsenal of its own and knows it can poke and prod—whether through cyberattacks or other conventional provocations—with little fear.
“In terms of South Korea’s security, nuclear weapons do very little,” Lewis said. “A nuclear-armed North Korea can be much more aggressive in terms of conventional provocations because [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un knows he is safe from being invaded by the United States or South Korea. South Korean nuclear weapons don’t solve this problem.”
It’s much like the problem facing Israel, which is widely believed to have its ownnuclear capability yet has fought vehemently for years to constrain Iran’s ability to enrich enough uranium to build a bomb.
“Israel has nuclear weapons but is terrified of Iran getting them. Why don’t the Israelis believe deterrence will protect them? Because they are worried that a nuclear-armed Iran will be much more aggressive in terms of using proxies to attack them,” Lewis said. “It’s a very similar problem for South Korea.”
In addition to not delivering deterrence, South Korean nuclear weapons could end up blowing up the Korean economy. It’s one of the most trade-dependent countries on Earth, with trade making up about 70 percent of the country’s GDP; those export industries are dependent on its status as a proliferation-limiting state. A particular concern could be the country’s successful civilian nuclear energy program. South Korea is halfway through a 20-year plan to export 80 nuclear reactors worth $400 billion—deals that could be jeopardized if South Korea opts for proliferation.
“South Korea is very much a trade-dependent country, basically an economy based on the international economy, and the repercussions from developing nuclear weapons will damage this,” said Yim Man-sung, director of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Education and Research Center at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Seoul.
South Korea, a signatory to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, could withdraw from the accord. But that would create a cascade of legal liabilities, especially for the multibillion-dollar exports of civilian nuclear technology. And that, once realized, could take the wind out of the South Korean public’s push for nukes of their own.
“Initially, when people know nothing about the implications, they may say, ‘oh, we should develop nuclear weapons.’ But once they realize the implications, repercussions of that decision, most of them say no,” Yim said.
Opinion by John R. Bolton
August 23, 2021 at 4:49 p.m. EDT
The Taliban’s takeover next door immediately poses the sharply higher risk that Pakistani extremists will increase their already sizable influence in Islamabad, threatening at some point to seize full control.
A description once applied to Prussia — where some states possess an army, the Prussian army possesses a state — is equally apt for Pakistan. Islamabad’s “steel skeleton” is the real government on national security issues, the civilian veneer notwithstanding. Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, has long been a hotbed of radicalism, which has spread throughout the military, to higher and higher ranks. Prime Minister Imran Khan, like many prior elected leaders, is essentially just another pretty face.
During the Soviet war in Afghanistan, ISI extensively supported Afghanistan’s mujahideen against the Soviet military, for religious and national security reasons. Washington made the mistake of funneling much of its assistance to “the muj” through Pakistan, thereby relinquishing control over which politicians and fighters actually received the aid. Pakistan also enabledterrorist groups targeting India, its main regional rival, over Kashmir, a continuing flash point emanating from the 1947 partition and independence from Britain.
After Moscow exited Afghanistan in 1989, ISI unsurprisingly pirouetted to support the Taliban and others who subjugated the country in 1996. Pakistani military doctrine holds that a friendly Kabul regime ensures “strategic depth” against India, which Pakistani leaders believed the Taliban provided. When the U.S. coalition overthrew the Taliban in 2001, ISI provided sanctuaries, arms and supplies inside Pakistan, although Islamabad routinely denied it.
Now, again in power, the Taliban can return the sanctuary favor to Pakistani Taliban — the Pakistani counterpart of the Afghan Taliban — and other radicals. Obviously, the world doesn’t need another terrorist regime, but the risk in Pakistan is of an entirely different order of magnitude, even compared with the menace of al-Qaeda or the Islamic State gaining secure bases in Afghanistan.
While Iran still aspires only to nuclear weapons, Pakistan already has dozens, perhaps more than 150, according to public sources. Such weapons in the hands of an extremist Pakistan would dramatically imperil India, raising tensions in the region to unprecedented levels, especially given China’s central role in Islamabad’s nuclear and ballistic-missile programs. Moreover, the prospect that Pakistan could slip individual warheads to terrorist groups to detonate anywhere in the world would make a new 9/11 incomparably more deadly.
These dangers provided compelling reasons to sustain the U.S. and NATO military presence in Afghanistan. We could have continued overwatch not just of potential new terrorist threats in-country but also observed what was happening across the borders in Pakistan and Iran. Sadly, the Trump-Biden withdrawal policy canceled that insurance policy.
From Cold War conflict against the Soviets in Afghanistan to our own efforts since 9/11, Pakistani-U.S. cooperation has been essential. It led Washington to temper vigorous criticism of Islamabad’s nuclear and pro-terrorist polices. Now, after Kabul’s surrender, America is less dependent on Pakistan’s good will and logistical support. Acknowledging the enormous uncertainty, given Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities, the United States must now come down hard on Islamabad if it continues supporting the Taliban and other terrorists. It has been said that Pakistan is the only government consisting simultaneously of arsonists and firefighters. The firefighters need to step up their game. They must convince their fellow countrymen that the government’s recent path has made Pakistan less secure, not more.
Absent clear evidence that Pakistan has terminated assistance to the Taliban, the United States should eliminate its own aid to Islamabad; strike Pakistan from the list of “major non-NATO allies”; impose anti-terrorist sanctions; and more. Our tilt toward India should accelerate.
Most important, we must devote maximum attention to Pakistan’s nuclear stockpiles and weapons-production facilities. If a future terrorist regime in Islamabad (or even today’s government or like-minded successors) appears ready to transfer nuclear capabilities to terrorists, we should take preventive action. This is highly unpalatable, but the alternative of allowing these weapons’ use is far worse. China must be made very aware of our intentions and seriousness, including that Beijing’s long-standing, vital assistance to Islamabad’s nuclear efforts makes China responsible for any misuse.
Is President Biden sufficiently resolute to do the necessary? Probably not. In George Packer’s recent biography of diplomat Richard Holbrooke, he quotes from Holbrooke’s notes taken during an Obama administration Situation Room meeting on Afghanistan. “Among his notes were private interjections,” Packer writes. “Vice President Joe Biden said that every one of Pakistan’s interests was also America’s interest: ‘HUH?’”
Biden’s assertion was wrong when made and would be dangerously wrong today; Holbrooke was correct, and eloquent in his brevity. Let’s hope Biden has changed his mind.
New satellite images show development is underway at a uranium enrichment plant in North Korea, which might enable the regime to enhance manufacturing of weapons-grade nuclear materials.
Revealing the images, CNN reported Thursday that the latest renovations at the facility located within the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Facility complex, could allow the North to increase production of weapons-grade nuclear materials by as much as 25 percent.
Citing a weapons expert, it also noted the latest development is in line with the regime’s previous efforts to expand the facility’s floor space, so it can house more centrifuges.
This, CNN says, could ultimately enable the regime to enrich more uranium on a yearly basis.
The article also says U.S. government officials were aware of the latest activities, but the National Security Council, Department of Defense, Office of the Director of National Intelligence and CIA all declined to comment.
Signs that Pyeongyang is moving to ramp up production of nuclear material could also heighten concerns stemming from a recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which explained the regime appears to have restarted a nuclear reactor within the same complex.
Adding these were the first signals of activity at the reactor since late 2018, the report described the new developments as “deeply troubling.”
Kim Hyo-sun, Arirang News.Reporter : firstname.lastname@example.org
France, Britain, and Germany issued a statement Wednesday calling on Iran to return to the limits of its 2015 nuclear agreement by immediately ending the enriching uranium at or above 20 percent, and stopping developing or installing more advanced centrifuges.
Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor of the flagship hardliner Kayhan newspaper, in a commentary Wednesday advocated Iran leaving the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), as it had gained nothing from the 2015 deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), or from the NPT, which guarantees signatories access to a civil nuclear program.
While Shariatmadari has opposed nuclear talks over limiting the program for decades – he wrote an editorial in 2006 urging withdrawal from the NPT – his arguments have gained force since the United States, after signing the JCPOA and voting for it in the United Nations Security Council, left the deal in 2018 and imposed ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions on Iran.
Under the headline “IAEA Is An Irate Camel, Descend From It!” the veteran editor lambasted the United Nations monitoring body, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The three European signatories of the JCPOA – dubbed the ‘E3’ – have called in vain on Washington to return to the deal and also on Iran to reverse the measures it has taken since 2019 in expanding the nuclear program beyond JCPOA limits. The E3 have become increasingly concerned over Iran acquiring additional knowledge and experience that cannot simply be put back in the JCPOA box.
“Collectively, these steps present a pressing nuclear proliferation risk, have irreversible consequences for Iran’s nuclear capabilities, and undermine the non-proliferation benefits” of the JCPOA, said Wednesday’s statement, issued by the E3 to the IAEA Board of Governors.
Some principlists in Iran have this week reacted against a monitoring arrangement reached during IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Grossi’s visit to Iran Monday to replace memory cards in IAEA cameras in Iran’s nuclear site.
Mohammad Rashidi, a member of parliament’s presidium, said Wednesday that a motion had been proposed to amend existing legislation on the nuclear issue that would bar voluntary measures such as the latest IAEA agreement, which goes beyond Iran’s safeguards requirements as an NPT signatory.
The arrangement extends a temporary one Grossi reached in February under which IAEA cameras not required by safeguards were kept in place without the agency having immediate access. This followed parliament legislation passed December, after the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist, limiting IAEA monitoring to NPT safeguards if US sanctions were lnot removed within two months from ratification.
In their statement, the E3 accused Iran of deepening “systematic violations of the JCPOA at a time when all JCPOA participants and the United States are engaged in substantive discussions, with the objective of finding a diplomatic solution to restore the JCPOA.” Talks in Vienna with remaining JCPOA signatories − China, the E3, Iran and Russia – and the US indirectly have been underway since April but were suspended for the Iranian presidential election in June and no date has been set for resumption.
The E3 called on Iran to “constructively reengage in negotiations without further delay.”
The statement was issued after Grossi reported Monday that Iran had increased its stockpiles of 60 percent and 20 precent enriched uranium to over 10kg and 84kg respectively. The E3 said in their statement that the production of highly enriched uranium – uranium enriched to 20 percent or more – was “unprecedented in a non-nuclear weapons state” and “a critical step for nuclear weapons production” that gave “irreversible nuclear weapons–related knowledge gains.”
The E3 noted in their statement that since the last IAEA board meeting in June, Iran had continued to producing uranium metal enriched to 20 percent, which is banned by the JCPOA. The metal is scheduled for use as fuel in the ageing Tehran Research Reactor, which Iran previously imported.
September 16, 2021
WASHINGTON/CANBERRA: China on Thursday denounced a new Indo-Pacific security alliance between the United States, Britain and Australia, saying such partnerships should not target third countries and warning of an intensified arms race in the region.
The United States and its allies are looking for ways to push back against China’s growing power and influence, particularly its military buildup, pressure on Taiwan and deployments in the contested South China Sea.
U.S. President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not mention China by name in the joint announcement and senior Biden administration officials, who briefed reporters ahead of time, said the partnership was not aimed at countering Beijing.
But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the three countries were “severely damaging regional peace and stability, intensifying an arms race, and damaging international nuclear non-proliferation efforts”.
“China always believes that any regional mechanism should conform to the trend of peace and development of the times and help enhance mutual trust and cooperation… It should not target any third party or undermine its interests,” he told a regular briefing in Beijing.
Johnson said the pact was not meant to be adversarial and said it would reduce the costs of Britain’s next generation of nuclear submarines.
“Now that we have created AUKUS we expect to accelerate the development of other advanced defence systems including in cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and undersea capabilities,” Johnson told parliament.
The three leaders stressed Australia would not be fielding nuclear weapons but using nuclear propulsion systems for the vessels to guard against threats.
“We all recognise the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term,” Biden said.
“We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region, and how it may evolve because the future of each of our nations and indeed the world depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead,” he said.
Morrison said Australia would meet all of its nuclear non-proliferation obligations.
One U.S. official said the partnership was the result of months of engagements by military and political leaders during which Britain – which recently sent an aircraft carrier to Asia – had indicated it wanted to do more in the region.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed the focus on the Indo-Pacific but said Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines would not be allowed in its territorial waters.
Singapore said it had long had relations with Australia, Britain and the United States and hoped their grouping would contribute to peace and stability.
Japan said the three countries’ strengthening of security and defence cooperation was important for peace and security.
A U.S. official briefing before the announcement said Biden had not mentioned the plans “in any specific terms” to Chinese leader Xi Jinping in a call last Thursday, but did “underscore our determination to play a strong role in the Indo-Pacific”. read more
U.S. officials said nuclear propulsion would allow the Australian navy to operate more quietly, for longer periods, and provide deterrence across the Indo-Pacific.
The partnership ends Australia’s 2016 deal with French shipbuilder Naval Group to build it a new submarine fleet worth $40 billion to replace its more than two-decades-old Collins submarines, a spokesperson for Morrison told Reuters. read more
“This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr Trump used to do,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told franceinfo radio. “I am angry and bitter. This isn’t done between allies.”
Biden said the three governments would launch an 18-month consultation period “to determine every element of this programme, from workforce, to training requirements, to production timelines” and to ensure full compliance with non-proliferation commitments.
Among the U.S. firms that could benefit are General Dynamics Corp and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc.
General Dynamics’ Electric Boat business does much of the design work for U.S. submarines, but critical subsystems such as electronics and nuclear power plants are made by BWX Technologies Inc.
U.S. officials did not give a time frame for when Australia would deploy a nuclear-powered submarine, or how many would be built. They said that since Australia does not have any nuclear infrastructure, it would require a sustained effort over years.
A U.S. official said Washington had shared nuclear propulsion technology only once before – with Britain in 1958.
“This is frankly an exception to our policy in many respects. I do not anticipate that this will be undertaken in other circumstances… We view this as a one-off.”
By Matthew Bunn | September 16, 2021
As Americans reeled after the 9/11 attacks 20 years ago, one question was at the front of many minds: Could even worse be coming? If the terrorists who attacked on September 11 had a crude nuclear bomb on the plane, it wouldn’t have been just the twin towers—the whole lower half of Manhattan could have been turned to rubble and ash, with hundreds of thousands dead and injured.
Unfortunately, that possibility was all too real. Investigations after the attacks uncovered focused al Qaeda efforts to get nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. The nuclear program reported directly to Ayman al-Zawahiri, now the leader of the group, and got as far as carrying out crude but sensible conventional explosive tests for the bomb program in the Afghan desert. Weeks before 9/11, Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri met with two senior Pakistani nuclear scientists and discussed how al Qaeda could get nuclear weapons.
But that was then. Today, both al Qaeda and another major jihadist terror group, the Islamic State, have suffered tremendous blows, with their charismatic leaders dead and many others killed or captured. A US-led counterterrorism coalition destroyed the Islamic State’s geographic caliphate in Iraq and Syria. In recent years, many terrorist attacks have not been much more sophisticated than driving a van into a crowd. Al Qaeda has not managed to carry out a single successful attack in the United States since 9/11. Is a terrorist nuclear attack still something to worry about?
The short answer, unfortunately, is “yes.” The probability of terrorists getting and using a nuclear bomb appears to be low—but the consequences if they did would be so devastating that it is worth beefing up efforts to make sure terrorists never get their hands on a nuclear bomb’s essential ingredients. To see the possibilities, we need to look at motive, capability, and opportunity.
Motive. Violent Islamic extremists desperately want to strike back at the “crusader forces” who have inflicted such punishing blows on their organizations. And both the Islamic State and al Qaeda would like a spectacular action to put them firmly back at the forefront of the violent Islamic extremist movement. Years ago, al Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith argued that because Western actions had killed so many Muslims, al Qaeda had “the right to kill four million Americans, one million of them children.” That kind of hatred still festers. (Abu Ghaith is serving a life sentence in a US prison.)RELATED: The US government’s comic approach to information warfareNuclear explosives are only one of the paths to mass slaughter that terrorists have pursued. Nuclear efforts must compete for terrorists’ attention with tried-and-true conventional weapons, biological weapons—whose dangers the pandemic has highlighted—chemical weapons, and more. Many of these other types of weapons would be easier for terrorists to acquire, and so their use may be more likely. But the history-changing power of a mushroom cloud rising over a major city has proved attractive to terrorists in the past and may again.Capability. Government studies make clear that if a sophisticated, well-funded terrorist group got hold of the needed plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU), they might well be able to put together a crude nuclear bomb. Unfortunately, it does not take a Manhattan Project to build a bomb, when you have weapons-usable fissile material. Indeed, the group needed to make a crude bomb might not have a footprint much bigger than the 9/11 attackers had. Despite the enormous destruction that has been rained on al Qaeda and the Islamic State over the last 20 years, a cell of terrorists could be working on a nuclear project even now, somewhere far from US attention and drone strikes.The intense counterterrorism campaigns of the last two decades have surely reduced terrorists’ ability to plan and carry out such a complex effort. But we simply do not know what capability might remain. The Taliban’s rapid return to power in Afghanistan could add to that capability, making that country a terrorist haven again—but there are many other largely ungoverned or terrorist-controlled places where such a project could be undertaken.And the capability side of the equation can change at remarkable speed. In January 2014, the US intelligence community did not mention the Islamic State in its annual assessment of threats to US security. By summer, the group had seized much of Iraq and Syria and declared a global caliphate.Opportunity. Fortunately, around the world, security for plutonium and HEU is far better than it once was, making it far harder for terrorists to get their hands on the needed ingredients for a bomb. More than half of all the countries that once had such material on their soil have gotten rid of it. While stolen HEU or plutonium was once showing up in parked cars and airplane luggage racks in Europe, there hasn’t been a major seizure of potential nuclear bomb material for a decade now.RELATED: Climate conversations neglect an essential component of a healthy planet: the oceanNevertheless, with the Obama-era nuclear security summits now far in the rearview mirror, the momentum of nuclear security improvement has slowed. There is still a need to ensure that nuclear weapons, materials, and facilities are protected against the full range of plausible threats—especially from insiders, who appear to pose the biggest nuclear security problem. The rise of domestic violent extremists in the United States and other advanced democracies makes the insider threat even more challenging. There is still a need for realistic tests and assessments of nuclear security systems’ real capabilities against intelligent adversaries looking for ways to beat them. And there’s still a need to strengthen nuclear security culture—to make sure the staff and guards at nuclear facilities are giving security the priority it needs, day-in and day-out.If terrorists ever did manage to turn the heart of a modern city into a smoldering radioactive ruin, they would change history. The economic, political, and social consequences would reverberate far and wide. Fears that it could happen again—possibly stoked by terrorist claims that they had more bombs already hidden in cities and would detonate them unless their demands were met—could lead people to flee major cities. The reactions after 9/11—a more aggressive US foreign policy, racist animosity, expanded government powers, cutbacks in civil liberties—would be expanded manyfold, particularly once people realized that the material for such a bomb could be hidden in any suitcase.President Biden has warned of these dangers. Now is the time for him to act. Despite the many other priorities on his desk, it is time for him to launch a new, expanded nuclear security initiative, working to ensure that nuclear stockpiles worldwide are secure and accounted for to the highest standards, that major obstacles are placed in the path of nuclear smugglers, that states are deterred from helping terrorists with nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, and that terrorist nuclear plots are found and stopped. The risk of a nuclear 9/11 will persist as long as high-capability terrorists and the materials needed to make a nuclear bomb both exist in the world.
U.S. will share nuclear submarine technology with Australia as part of new alliance, a direct challenge to China
Biden made the announcement alongside British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who joined the president virtually, as they unveiled a new three-way defense alliance, which will be known as AUKUS. Britain is the only other nation to share U.S. nuclear submarine propulsion technology, an agreement dating back decades and aimed largely at countering the old Soviet Union.
“We all recognize the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term,” Biden said Wednesday from the East Room of the White House. “We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and how it may evolve because the future of each of our nations, and indeed the world, depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific, enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead.”
None of the three leaders mentioned China in their remarks, but the objective of the new alliance was clear: challenging the country’s growing economic and military influence. The effort comes amid rising tensions with China over a range of issues including military ambitions and human rights, and Biden has made it clear he views China as the country’s most significant global competitor. The president spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week. Biden initiated that call, but one administration official said Wednesday that the Australian submarine plan was not discussed “in any specific terms.”
China on Thursday slammed the agreement for “seriously undermining” regional stability and accused the three counties of inciting an “arms race.” At a regular press briefing in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian criticized the United States and Britain for “extremely irresponsible” behavior.
The three countries will work over the next 18 months to hash out the details of submarine effort and will pay special attention to safeguards and nonproliferation measures, Biden said Wednesday.
Nuclear-powered submarines are faster, more capable, harder to detect and potentially much more lethal than conventional-powered submarines. The Chinese navy is thought to possess six nuclear attack submarines and many more conventional ones, with plans to expand the nuclear-powered fleet over the next decade.
The United States sails its own nuclear-powered submarines in the Indo-Pacific region, and those and other U.S. ships regularly engage in cat-and-mouse interactions with Chinese vessels that U.S. commanders have long feared could lead to an unintentional conflict.
The Navy’s three most powerful nuclear submarines were all deployed to the Pacific region over the summer. U.S. defense officials have warned of a Chinese naval buildup that challenges U.S. navigation in what the United States and its allies say is international water.
U.S. officials who spoke to reporters ahead of the announcement also avoided any direct mention of China and sidestepped questions about what message the United States was sending to its adversary with the new partnership. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the announcement ahead of the president’s remarks.
“I do want to just underscore very clearly this partnership is not aimed or about any one country,” one senior official said. “It’s about advancing our strategic interests, upholding the international rules-based order and promoting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.”
Biden declined to answer questions about China after he concluded his remarks.
Countries “should not build exclusionary blocs targeting or harming the interests of third parties. In particular, they should shake off their Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice,” Liu Pengyu, a spokesman at the Chinese embassy in Washington, told Reuters.
The announcement came as a surprise in Australia, where recent reports suggested France, not the United States, would be deepening military ties as it moved ahead with a plan to build $66 billion worth of diesel submarines for Australia. But then news broke late Wednesday in Australia that Morrison had convened top-secret cabinet meetings.
The arrangement could also lead to damaged relations with France, with one former French ambassador to the United States saying on Twitter the countries “stabbed” France in the back.
In a joint statement, the French minister of foreign affairs and minister of the armed forces said the decision was “regrettable” and “contrary to the letter and spirit of the cooperation that prevailed between France and Australia.”
“The American choice to exclude a European ally and partner such as France from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, whether in terms of our values or in terms of respect for multilateralism based on the rule of law, shows a lack of coherence that France can only note and regret,” the leaders said.
In response to the announcement, one Australian politician is calling for an inquiry into the agreement, saying it raised questions around nuclear nonproliferation.
“If it’s a U.S. submarine, they have highly enriched uranium in their reactors and that creates a proliferation issue in terms of Australia standing up saying, no one should have this sort of fuel available to them,” Australian Sen. Rex Patrick, a former submariner in the Australian navy, told his country’s ABC.
Nuclear propulsion is different from nuclear weaponry, and Morrison said Australia remains committed to remaining a nonnuclear weapons state.
“Let me be clear,” he said. “Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability, and we will continue to meet all our nuclear nonproliferation obligations.”
But some experts worry about how the new arrangement will impact the global nuclear power landscape.
“I think if Australia goes down this route and builds nuclear-powered submarines and removes nuclear material from safeguards, it sets a very damaging precedent,” said James Acton, the co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Acton said he is particularly concerned about how Iran will react to the announcement and whether the country will attempt to skirt safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by saying it is using nuclear material to build a submarine. Before the U.S. announcement, Acton said he would expect China and Russia to vehemently oppose any efforts by Iran to take such actions, but he said the calculus could change after the United States shares nuclear propulsion technology with Australia.
“I do believe the damage to the nuclear nonproliferation regime will be very significant, and I strongly believe it will outweigh the defense benefits of Australia acquiring nuclear-powered submarines,” he said.
The Biden administration said the United States has informed the IAEA about the announcement and will pay close attention to any nonproliferation implications from the effort.
“I do want to underscore that the Biden administration remains deeply committed to American leadership in nonproliferation,” the senior official said. “This is nuclear propulsion. Australia has no intention of pursuing nuclear weapons, and Australia is, in fact, the leader in all nonproliferation efforts in the NPT and elsewhere.”
The agreement also marks an expansion of U.S. military cooperation with Australia. The country has long been a close military ally, but it is now more on a par with Great Britain, America’s foremost military ally. The United States and Australia have an existing military and diplomatic partnership known as Ausmin, short for the annual ministerial level meetings among the four defense and foreign secretaries. Australia and Britain are also part of the select intelligence grouping known as the Five Eyes.
“This new architecture is really about deepening cooperation on a range of defense capabilities for the 21st century and again these relationships with Great Britain and Australia are time-tested, our oldest allies generally,” the senior administration official said. “This is designed not only to strengthen our capabilities in the Indo-Pacific but to link Europe and particularly Great Britain more closely with our strategic pursuits in the region as a whole.”
Matt Pottinger, the former deputy national security adviser in the Trump administration and chairman of the China program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, praised the new effort.
“We are going to be pooling technological advances in important defensive capabilities,” he said, making “the sum of the alliance greater than its parts.”
Pottinger, who was briefed by the White House ahead of the announcement, added the new alliance also fulfills Biden’s promise to make the Indo-Pacific region a priority of his foreign policy.
“It adds more teeth to our collective deterrence and that helps give confidence to countries in the region to stand up for their sovereignty and push back against coercion from Beijing,” he said.
Biden and Xi have only spoken twice since Biden took office, the second call taking place last week. The 90-minute call, which an administration official described as familiar and candid, did not yield any specific announcements, including whether Biden and Xi would hold an in-person summit later this fall.
Both leaders had been expected to travel to Europe for a climate summit in Scotland, but whether Xi still plans to attend remains unclear. Biden has confirmed his attendance, which will come just after a Group of 20 meeting in Rome.
Michael Miller in Sydney and Lily Kuo in Taipei contributed to this report.
Rutgers University-New BrunswickReleased: 15-Sep-2021 11:45 AM EDT
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Newswise — New Brunswick, N.J. (Sept. 15, 2021) – Nuclear war would cause many immediate fatalities, but smoke from the resulting fires would also cause climate change lasting up to 15 years that threatens worldwide food production and human health, according to a study by researchers at Rutgers University, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and other institutions.
The study appears in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres.
Scientists have long understood that nuclear weapons used on cities and industrial areas could initiate large-scale fires whose massive amounts of smoke injected into the stratosphere could cause global climate change, leading to the term “nuclear winter.”
But in the new study, researchers for the first time used a modern climate model, including aerosols and nitric oxide emissions, to simulate the effects on ozone chemistry and surface ultraviolet light caused by absorption of sunlight by smoke from regional and global nuclear wars.
This could lead to a loss of most of our protective ozone layer, taking a decade to recover and resulting in several years of extremely high ultraviolet light at the Earth’s surface and further endangering human health and food supplies.
“Although we suspected that ozone would be destroyed after nuclear war and that would result in enhanced ultraviolet light at the Earth’s surface, if there was too much smoke, it would block out the ultraviolet light,” said one of the study’s authors Alan Robock, a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. “Now, for the first time, we have calculated how this would work and quantified how it would depend on the amount of smoke.”
The study’s results showed that for a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan that would generate five megatons of soot, the enhanced ultraviolet light would begin within a year. For a global war between the United States and Russia generating 150 megatons, it would only begin after about eight years. For intermediate amounts of smoke, the effects would fall between these extreme cases.
For a global nuclear war, heating in the stratosphere and other factors would cause a 15 year-long reduction in the ozone column, with a peak loss of 75% globally and 65% in the tropics. This is larger than predictions from the 1980s, which assumed large injections of nitrogen oxides but did not include the effects of smoke.
For a regional nuclear war, the global column ozone would be reduced by 25% with recovery taking 12 years. This is similar to previous simulations but with a faster recovery time due to a shorter lifetime for soot in the new simulations.
“The bottom line is that nuclear war would be even worse than we thought, and must be avoided,” Robock said. “For the future, in other work, we have calculated how agriculture would change based on the changes of temperature, rain and sunlight, but have not yet included the effects of ultraviolet light. In addition, the ultraviolet light would damage animals, including us, increasing cancer and cataracts.”
The study, which included Rutgers Research Associate Lili Xia, also included researchers from the University of Colorado, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Columbia University, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and Autonomous University of Barcelona.
ABOUT RUTGERS—NEW BRUNSWICK Rutgers University–New Brunswick is where Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, began more than 250 years ago. Ranked among the world’s top 60 universities, Rutgers’s flagship is a leading public research institution and a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. It has an internationally acclaimed faculty, 12 degree-granting schools and the Big Ten Conference’s most diverse student body.
In a worst-case scenario, the Islamic Republic of Iran has produced enough weapons-grade uranium to produce one nuclear weapon in as little as one month, a non-proliferation thin tank, Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said in a report released on September 13.
ISIS based it estimate on a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on September 7 that listed the amount of enriched uranium Iran has stockpiled since 2019 after it disregarded limits set by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Iran’s decision was a retaliation against US sanctions, when the Trump administration pulled out of the agreement in May 2018.
“Iran has enough enriched uranium hexafluoride in the form of 2 to 5 percent low enriched uranium (LEU), near 20 percent enriched uranium, and 60 percent enriched uranium, to produce weapon-grade uranium (WGU) for over two nuclear weapons without using any natural uranium as feedstock, a fact that reduces breakout timelines,” ISIS said in its report.
To produce a second nuclear bomb, Tehran would need just three months. IAEA’s estimate is that as of August 30, Iran produced 10 kilograms of near 60 percent enriched uranium, while it would need 40 kilograms to make one bomb. It takes longer to purify uranium to 60 percent than to achieve 90 percent enrichment needed for a nuclear weapon.
ISIS says in its report says that Iran is learning shortcuts in its uranium enrichment process by directly enriching from low levels (below 5%) to 60 percent in one cascade of centrifuges, instead of first enriching to 20 percent and then increasing purity to 60 percent.
In the meantime, Iran has also increased its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium to 84 kg, which it can continue to purify to 60 and then 90 percent. But what is also important is that Iran has been able to produce uranium metal which is essential in making a nuclear weapon.
An explosion, which was apparently a sabotage attack on its Natanz enrichment facility in April, slowed down operations, but the report says Iran has recovered the number of IR-1 and IR-2 centrifuges and the enrichment cycle has not suffered a permanent damage.
The estimate by ISIS is not about Iran producing a weapon in one month but its ability to produce sufficient fissile material to do so. Making a deliverable weapon needs a different set of skills and technology than enriching uranium. A rough comparison would be with producing gunpowder and making a rifle that can use it to fire a bullet at a target.
The Israeli Defense Forces have estimated that the process would take at least several months and potentially as long as one year. On the other hand, once a country has the fissile material for a bomb, it is a matter of time before it can master the know-how to make a weapon and fit it on a missile.
Meanwhile, Iran has limited IAEA’s monitoring access to its nuclear facilities that can prevent detection of diverting material from enrichment locations to other installations.
“Overall, the IAEA’s latest report shows Iran’s rapidly advancing nuclear activities and steps to limit IAEA monitoring, while inspectors have a diminishing ability to detect Iranian diversion of assets to undeclared facilities. The IAEA is sounding an alarm to the international community accordingly,” the ISIS report concluded.