Monthly Archives: February 2014

Further increase in the cost of U.S. plutonium disposition program

According to a Public Integrity report, a study by the U.S. Department of Energy concluded that the construction cost of the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) could be as high as $10 billion – almost 20% higher than the previous estimate of $7.7 billion. The total cost of the program to dispose 34 tonnes of weapons grade plutonium could be as high as $34 billion. Part of the increase is due to the fact that the utilities, who have been reluctant to use MOX fuel in their reactors, would likely ask DoE to pay a fee to do so.

In a recently issued report, “Plutonium Disposition Program: DOE Needs to Analyze the Root Causes of Cost Increases and Develop Better Cost Estimates”(GAO-14-231), the U.S. Government Accountability Office criticized NNSA for failing to perform a proper assessment of the cost of the program and analyze the causes that increased its cost.

A Literary Scholar’s Voice in the Wilderness

The Chronicle Review | February 17, 2014

Elaine Scarry fights American complacency 
about nuclear arms

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Elaine Scarry at Bostons John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

John Dear is a Catholic priest who has chosen an especially haunted place to keep vigil. For the past 12 years, he has lived alongside the Los Alamos National Laboratory, in New Mexico, birthplace of the atomic age and the country’s flagship nuclear facility, where he organizes regular protests. He has also written a steady stream of books and spoken widely, making him a troublesome man around town. After years of efforts to rein him in, the Jesuit order ejected Dear in December. His vocation is ever more that of a hermit.

“None of my friends are working on nukes anymore,” he says. “This is the most evil place on the planet, and nobody’s talking about it.”

One exception is Megan Rice, an 84-year-old nun and another longtime member of the Plowshares antinuclear movement. In 2012, with two fellow activists, Rice broke into the secure nuclear facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., where they splashed blood and hung protest signs. The security breach made headlines and prompted a Congressional investigation—into the breach, not the nuclear weapons themselves. Rice, who is expected to be sentenced this month, may spend the rest of her life in prison for the protest.

Nowadays, if nuclear weapons make a blip on the radar of public discourse, it is in reference to preventing their spread to nations such as Iran, although the United States still holds more than 5,000 warheads of its own. As an undergraduate, Barack Obama once wrote an article calling for nuclear abolition, but when his administration announced plans to build a new generation of such weapons, the outcry was mainly among those at the margins, like Dear and Rice.

“I’m just going to keep at it no matter what,” says Dear.

A no-less-remarkable kind of perseverance appears in print this month: the 640-page Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom, by Elaine Scarry, who holds a professorship in aesthetics and general theory of value at Harvard University. The seed of the book lies in Scarry’s first and best-known work, The Body in Pain, a literary, philosophical, and political analysis that since its publication, in 1985, has been a favorite source for those seeking the prohibition of torture.

“I realized that nuclear war much more closely approximates the model of torture than the model of war because there’s zero consent from the many millions of people affected by it,” Scarry recalls, nearly repeating a sentence that appears in the 1985 text. She began working on Thermonuclear Monarchy in earnest the year after The Body in Pain came out—28 years ago, with the Cold War still well under way.

The monarchy in her title denotes the assertion that “out-of-ratio” weapons such as nuclear warheads, like the perversions of torture, are inherently undemocratic. It is the nature of nuclear weapons to place the lives of billions of people in the hands of the minutely few individuals with access to the launch codes. Regarding U.S. presidents since 1945, she writes, “Louis XIV was powerless compared to each of these men”; future generations, as she put it in The Body in Pain, “may look back upon our present situation the way we now look back upon the slaves building the pyramids of Egypt.” The new book, published by W.W. Norton, implores its readers to undo this condition, to “reacquire our powers of self-government and dismantle the nuclear arsenal simultaneously.”

Those who have been following Scarry’s work the past few decades will find much that is familiar, even redundant. Several of Thermonuclear Monarchy’s arguments appeared in a 1991 University of Pennsylvania Law Review article, while other parts mirror her polemics against George W. Bush-era policies of torture and surveillance. A version of a chunk of it has already come out as a much shorter book with the same publisher. The fastidiousness of her research also resulted in a several-years-long detour more than a decade ago, expressed in a series of New York Review of Books articles, when she proposed electromagnetic interference from military vessels as a possible explanation for the crashes of several civilian airliners, including TWA Flight 800. Though investigators ultimately dismissed it, her theory prompted a federal study and was cited in a NASA report.

To an unusual degree for an English professor, Scarry has gotten into the habit of seeking to have an impact beyond the realm of pure discourse. While John Dear keeps his decade-long vigil and Megan Rice lives out the consequences of her break-in, Scarry’s assault on the reigning complacency about nuclear weapons rests on her belief in the capacity of an interpretation to reconfigure the world.

From time to time over the years, Scarry has visited the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, at the other end of Boston—in particular to study transcripts of Kennedy’s conversations in the White House for clues about nuclear-authorization procedures. As she browses the museum exhibits scattered across the airy building, her voracity for technical information is apparent; she identifies military airplanes and ships as easily, and with a similar degree of affection, as she recognizes a bush of rose hips shriveled by the cold in the parking lot. But the curve of her eyes and the lilt of her voice also convey a sense of melancholy, of mourning something. She seems just as much at home in the exhibit devoted to mementos of the president’s funeral.

Kennedy’s finest moment is generally thought to be his handling of the Cuban missile crisis, in which the middle course he charted may have saved the world from nuclear holocaust. In an exhibit about the incident, Scarry listens closely to the recordings in which the president talks down his advisers’ proposals for various sorts of aggression. One hears the calm and cool that make Kennedy so lionized. But for Scarry the whole setup is a problem from the outset—that the fate of the world was ever at his mercy in the first place. Or Truman’s, Eisenhower’s, Johnson’s, Nixon’s, Ford’s, Carter’s, Reagan’s, Bush’s, Clinton’s, Bush’s, or Obama’s. Decades after the fact, revelations have emerged that other presidents, too, had close calls.

“We think of the tremendous suffering that presidents have to go through in thinking about this,” she says. “It’s not that I don’t think their job is very hard, but it’s just no comparison to being burned and killed along with every other species on earth.”

For Scarry, confronting our suicidal tolerance for nuclear weapons begins with reconsidering two features of the Constitution. The first, and the more intuitively relevant, is the requirement for Congressional authorization of war, which the United States government and other nuclear-armed states have tended to relinquish in favor of executive authority. She chronicles, as others have in the past, how the existence of these weapons has systematically undermined the power of the legislature—and those who elect its members—at all levels of military policy. Thus there has not been a formal declaration of war by Congress since World War II, though there has been no lack of wars. The surest way to reclaim the spirit and purpose of this constitutional brake on monarchic executive power, Scarry believes, is to do away with nuclear weapons altogether.

The other constitutional resource she draws upon may be more surprising for one generally thought of as a liberal: the Second Amendment. “The right to bear arms” tends to be understood in public today—and in the Supreme Court—in terms of an individual right to possess whatever guns one pleases. But Scarry, drawing on her assessment of the framers’ intent, argues that the real purpose of the amendment was to spread out across the population the power to wield military force. The amendment’s “well-regulated militia” isn’t a bunch of hobbyists with AR-15s; it is meant as another democratic brake on the presidential power for war-making, and an opportunity for popular refusal.

“I absolutely think you have to have gun laws,” she explains. “Trying to understand the right to bear arms the way we usually talk about it is like trying to understand the First Amendment only through pornography.” Two hundred years ago, maybe this meant a musket in every household. Today, under the aegis of nuclear weapons that depend on the authorization of very few, holding true to the original intent is no longer feasible.

David A. Koplow, a scholar of national-security law at Georgetown University, finds Scarry’s strategy to be novel. “I’ve not previously seen a Second Amendment argument for nuclear disarmament,” he says. He also suspects that decades of precedent—of nuclear weapons existing alongside the Constitution unchallenged—amount to more inertia than legal reasoning like this can overcome on its own. “The fact that we’ve had nuclear weapons for now 60 years,” he says, “has become itself an important fact of constitutional life.”

Legal arguments about the Constitution are only a particular instance of what Scarry proposes as a much broader way of seeing. The middle third of Thermonuclear Monarchy extends that reasoning to social-contract theory writ large—by means of a lengthy rehabilitation of the extremely pre-nuclear political thinker Thomas Hobbes. During the Cold War, Hobbes was made into a patron saint of the nuclear-arms race by those who, seeking a deterrent against his imagined “war of all against all,” justified handing over to a benevolent sovereign enough warheads to end the world many times over. But Scarry reclaims a Hobbes who knows the horrors of arbitrary violence firsthand and whose system, with peace as its goal, is meant to constrain a ruler’s ability to injure. Hobbes enjoins allegiance to the sovereign in all circumstances—except when one is in danger of injury or called upon to injure others. Then, consent is required, and dissent may be justified.

Her recovery of Hobbes reminds us how often the object of modern political thought has been to yoke government’s destructive capacity to the will of the people—at least until nuclear weapons came around and the launch codes, ensconced in a 45-pound suitcase, started following the president everywhere he goes. For Scarry, the nuclear-ready presidency contradicts the duty of democracy to interfere with executive power—to “clog.”

“Clogging is bad if it’s stopping an ambulance or it’s stopping lovemaking or it’s stopping reading,” she says. “Clogging is not bad if what you’re trying to stop is injuring.”

If the Constitution’s troubles with nuclear weapons are just a subset of the Enlightenment’s democratic notions more generally, in the last third of the book these weapons come into conflict with something even more basic: autonomy over our own bodies and minds. That we should allow anyone, even a person we elect, to wield something so powerful as a nuclear weapon is, for Scarry, to relinquish our essential integrity. Lost is our capacity to deliberate in an emergency—leave that to Kennedy and company—or to decide whether to expose ourselves to harm. (Fallout will reach the conscientious-objector camps, too.) The subtitle of The Body in Pain is The Making and Unmaking of the World, and this pair of options still guides Scarry’s grand metaphysic; nuclear weapons stand firmly on the side of unmaking, in opposition to creativity and self-rule.

Thermonuclear Monarchy includes detailed considerations of the history of military desertions, the town where Hobbes grew up, a mistranslation of the Iliad, marriage, CPR, the Swiss nuclear-shelter system, mutual-aid societies, and Benjamin Franklin’s ideas about habit. Scarry’s project is not merely legal, or historical, or technical, any more than it is solely about nuclear weapons. It is a testimony of what is worthy of value in human nature and social life, measured against the machines that remain an especially dire threat, however much we keep them out of sight and mind. It’s less an argument that nuclear weapons should be eliminated, or how, than an entire worldview in which they have no rightful place.

One might consider this book, for instance, alongside the recent Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State, by Garry Wills, another professor who knows no disciplinary bounds. Wills raises many similar concerns with executive power and constitutional law, and comes to similar conclusions, yet he leaves it at that. He saves the metaphysics for other books. Wills was simply trying to make a political point, it seems, while over the course of nearly 30 years Scarry spun the topic into an epic. (Neither of them cites the other.)

“Compared to the different avenues I’ve gone down, it’s comparatively stark, believe it or not,” Scarry says of Thermonuclear Monarchy. She considers her task, after all, to be intrinsically expansive. “We have to eliminate these weapons and may have to reinvent citizenship to do it.”

Jonathan Granoff has spent most of his life trying to pose legal challenges to nuclear weapons, most recently as president of the Global Security Institute. He traces this career back to a lunch he had with then-Sen. Robert Kennedy while interning on Capitol Hill. “He told us how close we came to ending civilization during the Cuban missile crisis,” Granoff remembers. “He basically quoted his brother and said either we’ll eliminate these weapons or they’ll eliminate us. He said it was a moral and practical litmus test of our time.”

For Granoff, as for Koplow, using the Second Amendment as a weapon against the nuclear arsenal is a new approach, though he says he’s willing to entertain Scarry’s logic. For him and other legal activists concerned with disarmament, however, the real headway these days has been in international law rather than domestic courts. Because these weapons cannot be used in a way that truly protects civilians from their effects, the argument goes, they are incompatible with the laws of armed conflict and should be banned, just as land mines and biological weapons have been in many cases. A 1996 opinion by the International Court of Justice affirmed parts of this reasoning, and the U.N. General Assembly held a high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament in 2013. The United States and other nuclear-armed nations insist on retaining the bulk of their stockpiles, but the legitimacy of doing so is slipping.

Last year the government of Norway convened a conference with representatives of 127 countries on the human impact of nuclear weapons, accompanied by a convergence of antinuclear activists organized by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. John Dear refers to it as “one of the greatest experiences of my life.” A follow-up is taking place this month in Mexico. Meanwhile, Scotland’s independence movement has been gaining momentum in part thanks to public outcry against the British nuclear arms stationed there.

While momentum builds abroad, the idea of serious disarmament still doesn’t have much of a foothold in the United States. The interests that stand to benefit from the status quo in the military, industry, and universities have steered the conversation elsewhere. “Fear is able to trump reason,” says Jonathan Granoff. “That’s why I think we need to put forward a new vision, because vision can trump fear.” He hasn’t read Thermonuclear Monarchy, but he’s glad to know it exists.

For all her sweeping vision, Elaine Scarry is the kind of writer who can seem most herself in her endnotes. A note attached to Chapter 5, for instance, alludes to the prospect that such an uncommon, boundary-crossing book might be dismissed simply for being so. In the main text, Scarry had cited approvingly an article by the legal theorist Daniel Farber: “The Case Against Brilliance.” Farber contends that surprising, “brilliant” legal theories are automatically less sound, even less democratic, than theories that don’t so much unsettle the way of things. If it takes a brilliant person to think of a given legal interpretation, it’s probably not fair to expect the nonbrilliant majority to be governed by it. It stands to reason that Scarry would like this—another democratic brake, more of that good kind of clogging.

In the endnote, however, her tone shifts. She rises to the defense of some of the scholars Farber criticizes, among whom are some she cites in her constitutional case against nuclear weapons. “I myself believe,” Scarry concludes, “their brilliance (and brilliance in general) is often compatible with accuracy and with the soundness of thinking that eventually comes to be regarded as canonical.” It’s a retort that gives the impression of being equally a defense of herself, of her own uncommon treatise about a scandal that most people would prefer to ignore.

Brilliant things have happened before. Scarry was living in Berlin as the Cold War was ending, and during that time she wrote an article with a remark that the Berlin Wall might soon open. When her article appeared in German, though, the remark had been removed; the editors considered the idea, as she puts it, “hopelessly naïve and hopelessly American.” Yet within a few months of publication, crowds of protesters had torn the wall down.

The nuclear arsenal could still go the way of the wall, Scarry says. “I think it is possible that it could just suddenly be gone.”

Nathan Schneider is the author of Thank You, Anarchy: Notes From the Occupy Apocalypse and God in Proof: The Story of a Search From the Ancients to the Internet, both published by University of California Press. He is also editor at large of WagingNonviolence.org .

Iran, powers seek to agree basis for final nuclear deal

REUTERS | VIENNA | Fredrik Dahl and Justyna Pawlak | Wed Feb 19, 2014

A cameraman films outside Palais Coburg hotel where nuclear talks are taking place in Vienna

A cameraman films outside Palais Coburg hotel where nuclear talks are taking place in Vienna February 19, 2014.    Credit: Reuters/Heinz-Peter Bader

Six world powers and Iran appeared to make some progress at a second day of talks in Vienna on Wednesday to hammer out an agenda for reaching an ambitious final settlement to the decade-old standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program.

The United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany want a long-term agreement on the permissible scope of Iran’s nuclear activities to lay to rest concerns that they could be put to developing atomic bombs. Tehran’s priority is a complete removal of damaging economic sanctions against it.

The negotiations will probably extend at least over several months, and could help defuse many years of hostility between energy-exporting Iran and the West, ease the danger of a new war in the Middle East, transform the regional power balance and open up major business opportunities for Western firms.

Both sides were relatively upbeat about the first meeting.

“The talks are going surprisingly well. There haven’t been any real problems so far,” a senior Western diplomat said.

A European diplomat said Iran and the world powers were “committed to negotiating in good faith” and that they had discussed the schedule for future meetings and other issues.

“Experts had detailed discussions on some of the key issues which would have to be part of a comprehensive settlement,” the diplomat added.

A senior Iranian official, Hamid Baidinejad, told Reuters: “Talks were positive and generally (were about) the framework for the agenda for further talks.”

The talks had originally been expected to run for as long as three full days but might be adjourned as early as Thursday morning due to the crisis in Ukraine, according to Western diplomats.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who coordinates official contacts with Iran on behalf of the six, was due to attend an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Ukraine on Thursday afternoon.

Ashton’s deputy Helga Schmid chaired the Vienna talks during the day with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, flanked by senior diplomats from the six powers. Separately, Ashton met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The powers have yet to spell out their precise demands of Iran. But Western officials have signaled they want Tehran to cap enrichment of uranium at a low fissile concentration, limit research and development of new nuclear equipment, decommission a substantial portion of its centrifuges used to refine uranium, and allow more intrusive U.N. nuclear inspections.

Such steps, they believe, would help extend the time Iran would need to make enough fissile material for a bomb and make such a move easier to detect before it became a fait accompli. Tehran says its program is peaceful and has no military aims.

Graham Allison, director of Harvard University’s Belfer Center, said the aim should be to deny Iran an “exercisable nuclear weapons option”.

“Our essential requirement is that the timeline between an Iranian decision to seek a bomb and success in building it is long enough, and an Iranian move in that direction is clear enough, that the United States or Israel have sufficient time to intervene to prevent Iran’s succeeding,” he said.

COMPLEX PROCESS AHEAD

Highlighting wide differences over expectations in the talks, Araqchi was cited by Iran’s English-language Press TV state television on Tuesday as saying that any dismantling of Iranian nuclear installations would not be up for negotiation.

The talks could also stumble over the future of Iran’s facilities in Arak, an unfinished heavy-water reactor that Western states worry could yield plutonium for bombs, and the Fordow uranium enrichment plant, which was built deep underground to ward off any threat of air strikes.

“Iran’s nuclear sites will continue their activities like before,” the official IRNA news agency quoted Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi saying.

During a decade of on-and-off dialogue with world powers, Iran has rejected Western allegations that it has been seeking the means to build nuclear weapons. It says it is enriching uranium only for electricity generation and medical purposes.

As part of a final deal, Iran expects the United States, the European Union and the United Nations to lift painful economic sanctions on the oil-dependent economy. But Western governments will be wary of giving up their leverage too soon.

Ahead of the talks, a senior U.S. official said getting to a deal would be a “complicated, difficult and lengthy process”.

On the eve of the Vienna round, both sides played down anticipation of early progress, with Iran’s clerical Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, saying he was not optimistic – but also not opposed to negotiations.

The six powers hope to get a deal done by late July, when an interim accord struck in November expires.

That agreement, made possible by the election of relative moderate President Hassan Rouhani on a platform of relieving Iran’s international isolation by engaging constructively with its adversaries, obliged Tehran to suspend higher-level enrichment in return for some relief from economic sanctions.

Zarif, also quoted by Press TV on Tuesday, sounded an optimistic note. “It is really possible to make an agreement because of a simple overriding fact and that is that we have no other option.”

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Louis Charbonneau in Vienna; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Janet Lawrence)

China calls on Japan to return weapons grade plutonium to the United States

IPFM Blog | Shaun Burnie with Mycle Schneider | February 18, 2014

China has urged Japan to return over 300 kilograms of weapons grade plutonium to the Unites States and to explain how it intends to resolve its surplus plutonium problem. At a regular press briefing in Beijing on 17 February 2014, and in response to a question on Japan’s plutonium stocks, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman stated:

“China attaches great importance to nuclear proliferation risks and potential threats posed by nuclear materials to regional security. China has grave concerns over Japan’s possession of weapons-grade nuclear materials… Japan’s failure to hand back its stored weapons-grade nuclear materials to the relevant country has ignited concerns of the international community including China.”

As reported in January 2014, agreement has been reached between the United States and Japan for the return of plutonium used in the Fast Critical Assembly (FCA) in JAERI Tokai Research Establishment, Tokai-mura, Ibaraki Prefecture. The formal agreement is expected to be concluded at the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands in March 2014. In its latest declaration to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and in its 2012 plutonium management report Japan stated that the FCA facility has the total of 331 kg of plutonium, of which 293 kg is fissile plutonium. The largest share of this plutonium was supplied by the United Kingdom in addition to that supplied by the United States.

Commenting further, the Chinese Foreign Ministry declared:

“China believes that Japan, as a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, should strictly observe its international obligations of nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear security. The IAEA requires all parties to maintain a best possible balance of supply and demand of nuclear materials as contained in the Guidelines for the Management of Plutonium. Japan’s large stockpile of nuclear materials including weapons-grade materials on its territory is an issue concerning nuclear material security, proliferation risks and big supply-demand imbalance.”

In addition to the call for the return of the weapon’s grade plutonium, the Chinese statement also raises a question over Japanese fuel cycle policy and its inability to use its existing plutonium stocks. With all 48 nuclear power reactors shutdown there is currently no demand for its separated plutonium as mixed oxide (MOX) fuel. However, Japanese policy continues to plan the commercial operation of the Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant as early as October 2014, following a safety assessment by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA). In its latest declaration to the IAEA, Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission reported that as of 31 December 2012, Japan held 44,241 kg of separated unirradiated plutonium, of which 9,295 kg was stored in Japan and 34,946 kg was stored abroad. Japan’s plutonium program, its challenges and alternatives was recently addressed at a Tokyo symposium and in detailed analysis by IPFM.

As yet, there has been no official response from the Japanese government to the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement, which has been extensively reported through Chinese media outlets.

China concerned at Japan holding weapons-grade plutonium

REUTERS | BEIJING Mon Feb 17, 2014

China said on Monday it was “extremely concerned” by a report that Japan has resisted returning to the United States more than 300 kg (660 lb) of mostly weapons-grade plutonium, the latest dispute between the two Asian neighbors.

Japan’s Kyodo news agency said that Washington had pressed Japan to give back the nuclear material which could be used to make up to 50 nuclear bombs. Japan had resisted, but finally given in to U.S. demands, it added.

The material was bought for research purposes during the 1960s and the two governments will likely reach an official agreement on its return at the Nuclear Security Summit at The Hague in March, an official at Japan’s Education Ministry said.

China is involved in a bitter territorial dispute with Japan and has warned Japan is trying to re-arm.

“China believes that Japan, as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, ought to rigorously respect its international commitments to nuclear safety and non-proliferation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.

“For a long time, Japan has not returned the stored nuclear materials to the relevant country, which has caused concern in the international community. China is of course very concerned.”

Japan, the world’s only victim of nuclear attacks in the final stages of World War Two, does not have nuclear weapons, unlike China, and it is the government’s stance that it will not obtain them.

Deteriorating relations between Beijing and Tokyo have been fuelled by a row over a chain of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Ships from both countries frequently shadow each other around the islets, raising fears of a clash.

Ties have worsened further since China’s creation of an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine honoring war criminals among Japan’s war dead.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Linda Sieg and Kiyoshi Takenaka in TOKYO; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Nuclear weapons are not safe in the US

The Express Tribune | Yasir Hussain | February 16, 2014

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In the US, 34 nuclear missile officers were implicated in a cheating scandal and were later stripped of their credentials. PHOTO: REUTERS

The world is once again taken aback by the news coming from print and electronic media about the safety and security of nuclear arsenals of the United States. The surprise is intensified because the US keeps warning other nuclear states about safety measures.

The largest breach of security in US’s nuclear force took place on January 15, 2014, when 34 nuclear missile officers were implicated in a cheating scandal and were later stripped of their credentials. However, within a matter of 10 days the number of officers implicated reached 90, more than double of the original number.

This means that more than one-third of the certified launch officers at Malmstrom and approximately 14% of the entire air force cadre of nuclear missile launch control officers were involved in the scandal. Malmstrom is considered home to the 341st Missile Wing, which is one of three Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles ICBM groups.

Lt Col John Sheets, a spokesman for air force Global Strike Command, who manages the nuclear air force, refused to comment on the number of additional officers associated with the cheating scandal.

Reports further revealed that these officers used unfair means to pass the monthly test on their knowledge of how to operate the missiles. They texted the answers to each other during the assessment test. It is pertinent to note that these officers maintain and operate 450 of the nation’s nuclear missiles.

The scandal emerged during drugs investigation that included two of the 34 officers. The drug investigation encompassed 11 air force officers across six bases in the US and England.

The six air bases are:

1) Edward Air Force Base, California,

2) Malmstorm Air Force Base, Montana,

3) Vandenberg Air Force Base, California,

4) F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming,

5) Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado and

6) RAF Lakenheath in England.

Among these, the first two bases are the ones where the current drugs and cheating scandal took place. The most threatening issue is that nearly 450 ICBMs are currently deployed at these six airbases. The ICBMs are considered the most vulnerable to mishandling, accidental launch and unauthorised instigation.

According to a map issued by the Public Emergency Management Agency, these ICBMs are pointed towards Russia. Any destruction caused by an accidental or unauthorised launch by these apparent, drugs addicted officers, will be catastrophic.

Recently, the Associated Press has reported a lack of security and morale amongst the crew that is deployed on these bases. The crew is unsure regarding their careers and see it as unpromising.

Nuclear security issues in the US are not just limited to the lower level; the issue exists at the top as well. In October 2013, Major General Michael Carey, commander of all land-based US missiles, was relieved of his duties for being drunk during an official visit to Russia. Interestingly, in his speech, General Michael Carey, said that,

“We save the world from war every day.”

Ironically, he said this in a drunken state and the reality is that his crew would have led the world towards devastation had he remained in-charge.

Deborah James, the new air force secretary said this was the failure of a few officers, not the failure of the entire nuclear mission. This, however, I don’t seem to understand, it won’t take a mission to fail, it would take just one officer to make that happen.

Earlier in 2008, the US Defence Department, by mistake, shipped ballistic missile components to Taiwan. The global community was flabbergasted and raised concerns on such a major security lapse from the United States but, instead of taking pre-emptive measures, the US continues to point fingers on other states for their security structures, all the while ignoring its own shortcomings.

Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, last week, gave authoritative instructions to complete the review of ICBM forces in order to find additional lapses in safety and security.

Many questions come to mind at this point.

Are the US Missiles safe from its own officers?

Is it necessary for the US to keep 450 ICBMs?

For these answers, we’ll wait for the review of the ICBM forces structure. The review will be all about examining the health of the nuclear force and to pin point issues that affect the morale, professionalism and performance of the people who make up that force.

Unfortunately, the dream of the Global Zero hasn’t materialised in its true essence yet.

According to latest estimates, the US possesses an active stockpile of approximately 4,650 nuclear warheads. The presence of having more powerful nuclear weapons, 50 times more destructive than the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is alarming.

Very few nuclear weapons are enough to destroy an entire planet; the US alone possesses thousands, and disturbingly enough, these nukes are left in the hands of unprofessional drugs addicts. The level of irresponsibility, coupled with recent events, makes one wonder about the vulnerable position in which the US has placed our world.

Mexico conference marks turning point for nuclear weapons

Point of no return: Mexico conference marks turning point for ban on nuclear weapons

14 February 2014

The Second International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, concluded today with overwhelming agreement that consequences of any use of these weapons would be more acute and more widespread than ever recognised before.

With a large group of countries calling for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons the meeting marked a turning point in the process to outlaw and eliminate these weapons of mass destruction. Austria announced that it would host the next meeting in Vienna later this year.

In his closing summary, the Chair called for the development of new international standards on nuclear weapons, including a legally binding instrument. The time has come, he noted, for a diplomatic process to reach this goal, within a specified timeframe, identifying the most appropriate forum and on the basis of a clear and substantive framework. Calling for this process to conclude by the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Chair described Nayarit as “the point of no return”.

The meeting in Nayarit saw presentations from UN agencies, renowned academics, former military officers and the UK’s Chatham House on the likely impact of a nuclear weapon detonation on the planet’s climate, agriculture, human health and social and economic infrastructure. Yet whilst other weapons of mass destruction – chemical and biological – have already been clearly declared illegal, the same is not true for nuclear weapons. In response to the evidence presented on humanitarian impact, many states recognized the need to put in place a ban as the next step towards elimination.

A ban on nuclear weapons is long overdue and the conferences in Oslo and here in Mexico have created an opportunity for us to put it in place. States must take this opportunity when they meet in Vienna.

ends

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