UPDATES

Getting to Zero Update

In this issue

Previous editions of Washington Nuclear Update are available at: http://www.basicint.org/update/wnu.htm.

 

Arms Control

On January 17 the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists advanced their Doomsday Clock to five minutes to midnight. This statement by their board explains why.

In late January the Chicago Tribune published a fascinating series on past and present US efforts to secure vast amounts of nuclear bomb-grade material scattered across the globe. See here, here, here, and here.

On February 7 Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, introduced legislation to support the creation of an international nuclear fuel bank so that any country seeking to develop civil nuclear power-producing capability will not have to enrich uranium. H.R. 885 proposes authorizing US monies to help create an internationally administered nuclear fuel bank to help dissuade states without indigenous enrichment or reprocessing facilities not to develop or build them.

 

Iran

Given the positioning of two US carrier strike groups near Iran, along with other military preparations and the forthcoming deadline for UN Security Resolution 1737 demanding Iran cease uranium enrichment efforts speculation continues to mount that either the United States or Israel will attack Iran's nuclear facilities. See this for the view of the British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett on the resolution.

Asia Times reports that some Iranian officials are calling for a review of their country's adherence to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if the country is "threatened".

Concern over what the Bush administration might be planning has lead members of Congress to introduce legislation disavowing the doctrine of preemption.

On January 15 Iran said it is installing 3,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium at its facility in Natanz, effectively confirming that its nuclear program is running behind schedule, as the devices were to have been in place two weeks previously.

On January 22 Iran said it had barred entry to 38 inspectors from the IAEA after hardliners demanded retaliation for UN sanctions imposed on Tehran the previous month.

In the latest edition of its annual Military Balance, released January 31 the International Institute for Strategic Studies said:

If and when Iran does have 3,000 centrifuges operating smoothly, the IISS estimates it would take an additional 9-11 months to produce 25 kg of highly enriched uranium, enough for one implosion-type weapon. That day is still 2-3 years away at the earliest. Meanwhile, however, Iran has continued to make progress in the production of feed material for enrichment. It has stockpiled 250 tonnes of uranium hexafluoride, enough, when enriched, for 30-50 weapons. The main bottleneck to producing such weapons remains learning how to run UF6 through the cascades for extended periods. If Iran overcomes the technical hurdles, the possibility of military options to stop the programme will increase. There are signs, however, that political and financial pressure is having an impact in Tehran. A growing number of opponents of President Ahmadinejad castigated his economic leadership and the rhetorical excesses that contributed to Iran being at the losing end of a 15-0 Security Council vote.

On February 1 a group of prominent US physicists urged Congress to limit the president's ability to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon nations. The 22 scientists, including 12 Nobel laureates, said in a letter to Congress that they were concerned that President George W. Bush was considering a nuclear first strike against Iran, even though Iran had no nuclear weapons and posed no immediate threat to the United States.

 

North Korea

In January there were claims that North Korea was preparing another nuclear test, although this was thought unlikely. However, the Center for Nonproliferation Studies notes that North Korea would need to conduct at least one or two more tests to have confidence in its nuclear deterrent.

 

Nuclear terrorism

The Washington Post reported on how the use of polonium-210 to murder Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian internal security agent living in London has focused new concern among regulators that the substance might be used as an instrument of murder by terrorists.

On January 25 the Washington Post reported on the arrest in January 2006 in Georgia of a Russian man, who was trying to sell four and a half to six and a half pounds of enriched uranium, which in expert hands is enough to make a small bomb.

The January/February issue of Arms Control Today featured Enforcing International Standards: Protecting Nuclear Materials From Terrorists Post-9/11.

On January 18 the media reported that a researcher at Sandia National Laboratory had developed a simulation program that can track the illicit trade in fissile and non-fissile radiological material.

 

United Kingdom

For all the news on the UK Trident replacement debate, see the BASIC Website.

BASIC's 31 January 2007 update includes evidence to the Defence Committee inquiry and subsequent commentary, particularly in Nature magazine, Defence Secretary Des Browne's speech at King's College justifying the retention of nuclear weapons and BASIC's new report on alternative employment for UK shipyards. Also further warning shots from Labour politicians Charles Clarke and Glenys Kinnock and notable developments in Scotland.

A new poll showed that some 64 percent of the British public believes their government should back an international agreement banning all nuclear weapons. The poll was published as the House of Commons Defence Select Committee began studying the government's case for modernizing its Trident nuclear missile deterrent ahead of a full parliamentary vote in March.

Richard Garwin, an American physicist, who worked on the design of the first hydrogen bomb, told Members of Parliament that moves to replace Britain's nuclear submarine fleet are "highly premature." Garwin said they could keep going into the 2030s. "I think the government is hastening into this decision before the facts are really available to it," he said.

For more on the Trident replacement debate see Future of the British Nuclear Deterrent: An Assessment of Decision Factors.

 

United States

On January 4 the Bush administration announced it had replaced Linton Brooks, the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration. For details see this Slate article.

The New York Times reported January 7 that the Bush administration was expected to announce a major step forward in the building of the country's first new nuclear warhead in nearly two decades. It will propose combining elements of competing designs from two weapons laboratories in an approach that some experts argue is untested and risky. For detail on the technical arguments justifying the need for new nuclear weapons see this Arms Control Today article.

The Bush administration is pressing forward with plans to recycle spent nuclear fuel in the United States and supply nuclear fuel to other countries that refrain from building nuclear enrichment or recycling facilities to make their own nuclear fuel. The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced January 4 that it intends to prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) Initiative. Under the GNEP, the Energy Department proposes to design, build, and operate three facilities in the United States. On January 10 DOE released the GNEP Strategic Plan.

The New York Times reported January 11 that Divine Strake, the twice-postponed non-nuclear bomb test in the middle of the Nevada desert may face additional legal challenges over its potential to propel dangerous radioactive particles from the soil into the air over four states. See also this February 7 Washington Post article.

On January 15 the New York Times published this editorial opposing the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program. This San Francisco Chronicle article details opposition to the RRW by influential members of Congress.

On February 2 the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) released a report that further outlines its "Complex 2030" plan to modernize the nation's aging, Cold War-era nuclear weapons complex.

Global Security Newswire reports that the Bush administration's spending plan for fiscal 2008 includes a more than three-fold increase in funds for the development of a next-generation nuclear warhead. The Washington Post reported February 7 that the NNSA said that they hope to receive administration and congressional authorization by the end of 2008 for the development and production of a warhead that could be deployed on submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The Federation of American Scientists reports that the interagency Nuclear Weapons Council (NWC) has formally decided to endorse the proposed RRW concept as the basis of the future US nuclear arsenal, according to a new Congressional Research Service report.

 

Publications

Charles D. Ferguson and Peter Van Ham, Beyond the NRA Doctrine, National Interest, Winter 2007.

OB Toon, RP Turco, A Robock, C.Bardeen, L Oman, GL Stenchikov, "Atmospheric effects and societal consequences of regional scale nuclear conflicts and acts of individual nuclear terrorism," Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., 6, 11745-11816, 2006.

Nuclear Arms Control: The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, Congressional Research Service, January 3, 2007.

Proliferation Control Regimes: Background and Status, Congressional Research Service, December 26, 2006.

North Korea's Nuclear Weapons Development and Diplomacy, Congressional Research Service, January 3, 2007.

Peter Crail, Implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1540: A Risk-Based Approach, Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Jack Boureston and Jennifer Lacey, Shoring Up a Crucial Bridge: South Africas Pressing Nuclear Choices, Arms Control Today, January/February 2007.

David Albright and Paul Brannan, Chashma Nuclear Site in Pakistan with Possible Reprocessing Plant, January 18, 2007.

David Albright and Susan Basu, India's Gas Centrifuge Enrichment Program: Growing Capacity for Military Purposes, January 18, 2007.

George Perkovich, Five Scenarios for the Iranian Crisis, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Proliferation Papers, Winter 2006.

Dr Yong-Chool Ha, Dr Beom-Shik Shin, Russian Nonproliferation Policy and the Korean Peninsula, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, December 2006.

Time To Talk: The Case For Diplomatic Solutions On Iran, February 2007.

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