America gets divorced: what about custody of the energy and the nukes?

Part three in a series.

First look at this map:

Now this one, which indicates the location of US military installations: Continue reading

Forces opposed to dangerous, extravagant nuke project get day in court

If you’re not a regular reader, you may be surprised to learn the federal government seeks to ram through a new nuclear facility that’s intolerable on a number of counts.

1. Its intended purpose is to build plutonium pits — the living, breathing heart of a nuclear weapon, where the chain reaction occurs. In other words, mad science at its most extreme.

2. Its projected cost is greater than all the work done on the Manhattan Project in New Mexico during World War II.

3. The land the building will occupy is seismically, uh, challenged. Continue reading

New nuclear project distracts from existing safety (read: seismic) issues

“The vastly ambitious CMRR project has greatly detracted from the attention needed to solve existing nuclear safety problems at LANL,” writes Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group (LASG) in its latest newsletter. LANL, of course, is the Los Alamos National Laoratory, one of the United States’ two nuclear weapons-design laboratories. The CMRR, about which I’ve often written about in conjunction with LASG’s attempts to retard its progress, is the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility, intended to expand production of plutonium pits (where the chain reaction occurs in a nuclear weapons). Continue reading

Imagine disarmament and nonproliferation talks that reward the state with more nukes

Nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation are based in part on the premise that if the states with the most nuclear weapons dial down their numbers that those with fewer will do the same. Just as important, states without nuclear weapons will no longer be tempted to develop them. Sounds like a simple matter of leadership, right?

But today, not only conservatives, but generic realists, make the case that whether or not the United States makes significant strides toward global zero is of no concern whatsoever to states aching to scratch the nuclear itch. It’s explained as well as anywhere in a 2009 paper for the Hudson Institute by Christopher Ford titled Nuclear Disarmament, Nonproliferation, and the “Credibility Thesis”. Continue reading

Thanks to Fukushima light shed on U.S. nuclear facility located on a volcano

The light shining on the safety of nuclear energy as a result of the Japanese nuclear crisis has been of such powerful wattage that it’s even flushing safety issues with nuclear weapons labs and manufacturing facilities out of hiding. Roger Snodgrass reports for the Santa Fe New Mexican.

On Friday, President Barack Obama asked the independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission to review the safety of American nuclear power plants. . . . At Los Alamos National Laboratory, nuclear safety issues have been complicated with seismic concerns, as geological studies have uncovered an increasingly precarious underground structure. Continue reading

Dirty bombs, despite their name, not sexy enough

You may never heard of a radiological dispersal device (RDD). That’s because it’s more often referred to as a dirty bomb. Come to think of it, many don’t even know it by that name, however provocative. (Think of it recited by the English woman in the Orbit gum commercial: Duh-ty Bomb.)

A dirty bomb, though, bears no resemblance whatsoever to a sex bomb. “Dirty” means it’s contaminated with radiation. Which is why you may not be familiar with it. Because it’s not a true nuclear weapon, the RDD is not accorded the level of attention it deserves as a threat comparable to terrorists detonating a nuclear bombs in a U.S. city. But, as long as it’s obscured by the threat of a nuclear explosion, its construction and transport, already much less challenging than with a nuclear weapon, can be expedited. Continue reading

What would end-timers do without the threat of nuclear annihilation?

On January 26, influential country musician Charlie Louvin died at age 83. He and his brother Ira performed and recorded as the Louvin Brothers, until they split up in the early sixties, when Charlie began a solo career. Perhaps because of the spare instrumentation of Charlie’s guitar and Ira’s mandolin, as well as their heart-felt harmonies, they influenced the Everly Brothers, the Byrds, and country rock legend Gram Parsons.

Another fan, Emmylou Harris, was quoted by the New York Times: “. . . there was something scary and washed in the blood about the sound of the Louvin Brothers.” In fact, simply “washed in blood” might better characterize one of their songs. Continue reading

Does the taboo against the use of nuclear weapons only increase their allure?

It’s only natural that highly charged words find themselves coupled with the word “nuclear.” It’s almost as if they’re attracted by a magnetic force. Three examples spring to mind.

Holocaust: Most frequently, of course, it’s used in reference to the slaughter of Jews in World War II. When appended to “nuclear,” it describes an earth ravaged to within an inch of its life by nuclear war.

Apartheid: Originally, as we all know, it was the word for segregation in South Africa from 1948 to 1993. When preceded by “nuclear,” it describes the perception of some states without nuclear weapons that those in possession of same are keeping them (as well as nuclear energy) for themselves. And yes, it is singularly sleazy, to link the word “apartheid” with nuclear weapons. Continue reading

Is "It's not fair" a childish response to being denied nuclear weapons?

As recently as last month, the term “nuclear apartheid,” in all its unsavoriness, reared its ugly head again. Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency denounced the IAEA’s approval of a plan for a nuclear fuel bank as “nuclear apartheid” (because of the implied infringement on a state’s own nuclear fuel production). For his part, back in 2005 President Ahmadinejad said of nuclear technology, “We’re against ‘nuclear apartheid,’ which means some have the right to possess it, use the fuel, and then sell it to another country for 10 times its value.”

When applied to nuclear weapons, the phrase may have been first used by Jaswant Singh, an adviser on defense and foreign affairs to former Prime Minister Vajpayee. In a 1998 Foreign Affairs article titled Against Nuclear Apartheid, he spoke out against nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) enforcement of a regime that, in effect, permits United Nations Security Council states to reserve nuclear weapons for themselves. Continue reading

Thanks to New START, you too can "ride out" a nuclear attack

When you think of a nuclear treaty such as New START, a decrease in the number of nuclear weapons naturally comes to mind. While that’s been true in the past, New START leaves the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia more or less intact. In March 2010 Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists explained at it Strategic Security Blog that:

. . . the treaty does not require destruction of a single nuclear warhead and actually permits the United States and Russia to deploy almost the same number of strategic warheads that were permitted by the 2002 Moscow Treaty [thanks to, in part, a] new counting rule that attributes one weapon to each bomber rather than the actual number of weapons assigned to them. [In fact, this] “fake” counting rule frees up a large pool of warhead spaces under the treaty limit that enable each country to deploy many more warheads than would otherwise be the case. . . . Indeed, the New START Treaty is not so much a nuclear reductions treaty as it is a verification and confidence building treaty.

(As well as — anyone familiar with my writing knows — a mechanism by which Republicans squeezed an $85 billion commitment from the Obama administration to shore up the nuclear-industrial complex over the next decade.) Continue reading

Nuclear weapons just not sexy anymore

The incarnation of “sexy,” that is, that cropped up a few years ago: exciting or trendy in a general, not erotic, way. That settled, let’s move on to a paper that Christopher Ford wrote for the Hudson Institute in which he weighs, in classic nuclear-strategist mode (bearing in mind that Hudson was founded by its most notorious example, Herman Kahn), the merits of launch on warning (LOW).

To refresh your memory, LOW refers to a nuclear state launching a retaliatory strike when it believes that it has detected nuclear weapons headed towards it soil. In another words, the attacked state isn’t waiting around for the decisive confirmation that detonation constitutes. Needless to say, accidents happen. (The most famous was in 1983 when Soviet ballistics officer Stanislav Petrov was brave enough to act on his judgment that an alarm supposedly informing him that the United States had launched a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union was false.) Continue reading

Torture and the ticking time bomb (read: nuclear) scenario

When the subject of torture in the abstract is broached, the conversation tends to wend its way toward the terrorist and the ticking time-bomb scenario. You know how it goes: a terrorist group announces that a nuclear bomb it’s planted in a major American city will be detonated unless its demands are met. One of its members is captured. Time to take off the shackles on torture and let ‘er rip, right?

However, when a scenario hinges on not only the ultimate weapon, but one set to go off at a time that’s both predetermined and rapidly approaching, it’s no longer a test case for torture. Instead the debate slips down a peg in hierarchy to one about torture under highly specific circumstances. The option often poised in counterpoint to torture — becoming intimate with the subject and winning his or her trust over repeated interrogation sessions — is removed because of the time constraints. The scenario, in other words, becomes tantamount to the plot device of a movie. Continue reading

Are nonproliferation and disarmament, once joined at the hip, headed for divorce?

In the words of the old Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen song, as made famous by Frank Sinatra, nonproliferation and disarmament, like love and marriage, “go together like a horse and carriage.” Nonproliferation — preventing states that don’t currently possess nuclear weapons — works in tandem with disarmament — states with nuclear weapons divesting themselves of same. “You can’t have one without the other.” Right?

After all — continuing with the musical metaphor — that’s how the refrain goes in that old strain of a treaty, the NPT (nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty). Let’s all sing the sixth stanza (aka, article) together: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to 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.” (Actually, it would probably require a good rapper to do it justice.) Continue reading

Opposition to New START pits Republicans against traditional allies

It’s not just the Obama administration against which Republican senators under the guidance of Jon Kyl pit themselves when they oppose New START. In fact, perhaps bewitched by Tea Party-style incoherence, they’ve also placed themselves in the unlikely position of bucking the national defense establishment, to which traditionally they’ve been joined at the hip. New START, of course, enjoys the support of Secretary of Defense Gates and the Pentagon.

There’s no love lost on New START by this author, in part because its cuts are token, but, more to the point, because it’s come at too high a cost — a commitment to spend $86.2 billion on maintaining current operations of the nuclear weapons complex along with modernization of the stockpile and infrastructure. The Republicans and the Obama administration, in fact, are making it more and more difficult to pin the label “paranoid” on left-wing disarmament advocates who suspect New START is just a smokescreen that they’re both using to ensure that the nuclear weapons industry continues in perpetuity. Continue reading

The front line of disarmament: blocking a nuclear facility six times the cost of the Manhattan Project

That is, six times the cost of the division of the Manhattan Project (to develop nuclear weapons during World War II) that was based in New Mexico. The heart of it — what later became known as Los Alamos National Laboratory. Odds are, with the Cold War consigned to history, you couldn’t have imagined that a nuclear weapons facility of such immensity was still on the table.

Greg Mello is the executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group (LASG), which, since 1989, has been spearheading nuclear disarmament in New Mexico, and, consequently, the nation. Since 1999, it has concentrated on halting or, failing that, downsizing a building project at Los Alamos called the Chemical and Metallurgical Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR). The intended function of this facility is to increase the capacity to produce new plutonium pits. The actual site of the nuclear fission, they’re the beating heart of the warhead. Continue reading

Republican go-to guy on nukes keeps Obama administration twisting in the wind on New START

Along with Richard Lugar (R-IN), Jon Kyl, the Republican Senate whip from Arizona, is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (KY) go-to guy on nuclear issues. We wrote yesterday at Focal Points:

After Republicans picked up six seats in the Senate earlier this month, prospects for the passage of the new START began to diminish (not that this author minds). Barron YoungSmith at the New Republic writes that last week “chief of staff to Senator Bob Corker — a key vote on the treaty — said that it should not be considered during the lame-duck Congress, and the Republican Policy Committee released a memo urging a similar delay.”

Kyl is known as a staunch supporter of nuclear weapons who made his mark as a freshman senator in 1999 when he blew up passage of the Comprehensive (nuclear) Test Ban Treaty. But, writes YoungSmith in the article I cited yesterday, “bizarrely enough, he seems to want [new START] to go through.” I continued: Continue reading

Republican Senate rejection of START could actually work in disarmament's favor

The New York Times saw fit to provide valuable op-ed space to John Bolton and John Yoo on November 9. You’d think the latter, especially, best known for providing the Bush administration with legal justification for torture, would be reluctant to show his face — or byline — in public again. In this instance Bolton and Yoo are turning their collective wisdom to the new START treaty. Continue reading

What if nuclear terrorism were just a mouse click away?

Excuse the sensationalistic head: the subject lends itself to hyperbole both because of its urgency and the imperative to draw reluctant readers. Of course, the “What if” doesn’t actually figure to materialize any time soon. Still, it hints at what a Pandora’s box the development of nuclear weapons has been for over six decades. Actually, it’s starting to look more like a clown car — an evil-clown car. Continue reading

Would sweeping disarmament on our part impress Iran?

When it chose to post We Can’t Stop Iran From Going Nuclear, So Stop Pretending That We Can, the New Republic no doubt thought it was a quintessentially moderate piece on U.S.-Iran relations. The author, Barry Gewen, an editor at the New York Times Book Review who sometimes writes about foreign affairs, writes:

Just about every major publication in America and England (and no doubt Israel as well) has contributed to the debate. All possible viewpoints and positions have been expressed. . . . Yet [as] someone who has reached the conclusion that military action against Iran would be a bad idea . . . I worry that the way the argument has been framed makes military action all but inevitable.

So far, it sounds like the article the New Republic had hoped for. After quoting writers and statesmen, Gewen writes, “Taken together, all these statements add up to a consensus that if sanctions don’t work, the U.S. or Israel will move to the next step and bomb Iran.” Continue reading

No mean feat: justifying Israel's nukes without acknowledging them

What’s it like to be one of the principal keepers of “The Worst-Kept Secret” (as Israel bomb historian Avner Cohen calls it in his new book)? David Danieli, the deputy director general and head of the policy division of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, was recently interviewed by Yossi Melman for Haaretz. Some background: at this year’s General Conference of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), the Arab states, along with Iran, sought to pass a resolution calling for Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In the process, Israel would place its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards and, oh yeah, finally admit to possession of nuclear weapons. The resolution failed to pass as narrowly as it succeeded in passing last year (though obviously to little effect that time). First, Washington’s response. Continue reading