Monthly Archives: March 2014

Western powers vs Iran: The fabricated nuclear threat of the Islamic Republic

Helsinki Times | Johannes Hautaviita | 27 Mar 2014

As the second round of talks between Iran and the Western powers have drawn to a close, it may be useful to take a step back and look at the big picture of the Iranian nuclear dispute. There is a set of myths about Iran, including its foreign policy and nuclear program, that dominate the Western narrative of the nuclear issue. It is the responsibility of Western journalists to do their job and set the record straight on Iran in order alleviate the threat of yet another US/Israeli-initiated war in the Middle East.

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Johannes Hautaviita is a journalist and a columnist for Helsinki Times. He specialises in international politics, in particular the Middle East. His commentaries and analyses on international affairs are regularly published in  the Finnish, Swedish and English-language media.
One troubling media omission in the saga of the Iranian nuclear dispute is that there has never been credible and hard evidence presented to support the claims of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. In a groundbreaking and important new book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iranian Nuclear Scare, Gareth Porter, award-winning investigative journalist and historian, reveals that a part of the evidence supposedly pointing to “possible military dimensions” in Iran’s nuclear program came from the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), an Iranian anti-regime armed group. MEK participated in Saddam Hussein’s, US-supported invasion of Iran in the 1980s. According to Porter, German foreign intelligence “did not consider the source to be reliable” and alerted the Bush administration of its concerns in 2004. Porter argues that similar fraudulent claims of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that were used as a pretext for the US war against Iraq in 2003 have been used to try to justify a war with Iran.

The idea of an Islamic Republic hell-bent on acquiring WMDs is utterly false. During the war in the 1980s, when Iraq was engaging in extensive chemical warfare against Iranian soldiers and civilians, Iran’s supreme leader Khomeini refused to weaponise the stockpiles of chemical agents in order to retaliate. During the war, the US repeatedly blocked the UN Security Council from acting to stop Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against Iranian civilians. The Islamic Republic had inherited the ability to develop WMDs from the era of the Shah, a US-ally, whose nuclear program the West incidentally supported.

During the last decade, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has spent more resources on inspections in Iran than in any other country in its history. Iran is not in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and its nuclear facilities are operating under international safeguards as required by the NPT. Despite IAEA’s suspicions, its reports confirm that Iran has not diverted any of its nuclear material for military purposes. In January 2014, the US intelligence community issued its annual Worldwide Threat Assessment to the US Senate. The report states: “We do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons. . . we assess that Iran would not be able to divert safeguarded material and produce enough WGU for a weapon before such activity would be discovered.”

In November 2011, the IAEA corroborated the accusations of “possible military dimensions” in its report on Iran. This was due to the change in the leadership of the IAEA. The former director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, had refused to corroborate the claims because he, like the German foreign intelligence, did not find the evidence trustworthy. ElBaradei’s successor, Yukiya Amano, who, according to cables made public by WikiLeaks, told US officials that he is “solidly in the US court”, reversed Elbaradei’s decision.

According to Porter, the “record of negotiations between Iran and the IAEA shows Tehran has been ready for the past two years to provide detailed responses to all the charges of an Iranian nuclear weapons work, and that the problem has been the refusal of the IAEA to share with Iran the documentary evidence on which those allegations have been based.”

Keep Calm: IAEA’s JPOA Update – Iran

Atomic Reporters, March 21, 2014

IAEA GOV/INF/2014/6
Date: 20 March 2014
Status of Iran’s Nuclear Programme
in relation to the Joint Plan of Action

keep-calm

“…The Agency confirms that since 20 January 2014, Iran has:

i. not enriched uranium above 5% U-235 at any of its declared facilities;
ii. not operated cascades in an interconnected configuration at any of its declared facilities;
iii. diluted 74.6 kg3 of UF6 enriched up to 20% U-235 down to an enrichment level of no more than 5% U-235 at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP);4
iv. fed 31.7 kg5 of UF6 enriched up to 20% U-235 into the conversion process at the Fuel Plate Fabrication Plant (FPFP) for conversion into uranium oxide…”

Full document here: IRAN JPOA 3-14 UPDATE

Dirty Bombs & Nuclear Security: NSS Time

Atomic Reporters | March 21, 2014

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The 3rd Nuclear Security Summit kicks off in the Hague March 24. The final communique is expected to be released about 4:00 p.m. on March 25. While most reporters congregating at the event will do so in anticipation of a G7 meeting (minus Russia), Atomic Reporters may still glean insight on the state of today’s nuclear-security debate (key words Rokkasho & Ukraine).

Nuclear security has experienced a renaissance since the 1990s, when the U.S.-Russian Cooperative Threat Reduction program managed to remove and/or secure fissile materials from former Soviet countries. Following September 11, 2001, security discussions tended to focus on re-purposed nuclear material for a “dirty bomb.” The conversation about nuclear safety, which shares a silo with security at the IAEA, fell softer for more than a decade leading to 2008, the last year of our data.

How do we know this? We’re testing our experiences and memories against Google computational linguistics. The company’s Ngram tool looks for word patterns among 5.2 million books scanned by the company up until 2008. Sometimes its a helpful tool to gauge how technical conversations develop over time.

Of course, most of the time as a journalist, it’s easier to simply pick up the phone and talk with an expert. That’s why we’re pleased to post the Fissile Materials Working Group’s offer of nuclear-security experts available to journalists:

FMWG NUCLEAR SECURITY SUMMIT EXPERTS LIST

Japanese Government Squelching Efforts to Measure Fukushima Meltdown

The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 12, No. 2, March 24, 2014

David McNeill

TOKYO — In the chaotic, fearful weeks after the Fukushima nuclear crisis began, in March 2011, researchers struggled to measure the radioactive fallout unleashed on the public. Aoyama Michio’s initial findings were more startling than most. As a senior scientist at the Japanese government’s Meteorological Research Institute, he said levels of radioactive cesium 137 in the surface water of the Pacific Ocean could be 10,000 times as high as contamination after Chernobyl, the world’s worst nuclear accident.

Two months later, as Mr. Aoyama prepared to publish his findings in a short, nonpeer-reviewed article for Nature, the director general of the institute called with an unusual demand — that Mr. Aoyama remove his own name from the paper.

“He said there were points he didn’t understand, or want to understand,” the researcher recalled. “I was later told that he did not want to say that Fukushima radioactivity was worse than Chernobyl.” The head of the institute, who has since retired, declined to comment for this article. Mr. Aoyama asked for his name to be removed, he said, and the article was not published.

The pressure he felt is not unusual — only his decision to speak about it. Off the record, university researchers in Japan say that even now, three years after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, they feel under pressure to play down the impact of the disaster. Some say they cannot get funds or university support for their work. In several cases, the professors say, they have been obstructed or told to steer clear of data that might cause public “concern.”

“Getting involved in this sort of research is dangerous politically,” said Otaki Joji, a biologist at Japan’s Ryukyu University who has written papers suggesting that radioactivity at Fukushima has triggered inherited deformities in a species of butterfly. His research is paid for through private donations, including crowdfunding, a sign, he said, that the public supports his work. “It’s an exceptional situation,” he said.

The precise health impact of the Fukushima disaster is disputed. The government has defined mandatory evacuation zones around the Daiichi plant as areas where cumulative dose levels might reach 20 millisieverts per year, the typical worldwide limit for nuclear-power-plant workers. The limit recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection is one millisievert per year for the public. Some scientists argue that below 100 millisieverts the threat of increased cancers is negligible. But as Ian Fairlie, an independent consultant on radiation risk and a former scientific secretary to Britain’s Committee Examining Radiation Risks from Internal Emitters documents here, there are numerous instances in which lower levels of emission have produced cancers.

In an effort to lower radiation and persuade about 155,000 refugees to return home, the government is trying to decontaminate a large area by scraping away millions of tons of radioactive dirt and storing it in temporary dumps. Experts at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology put the cost of this project at $50 billion — widely considered an underestimate.

The chance to study in this real-life laboratory has drawn a small number of researchers from around the world. Timothy A. Mousseau, a professor of biological sciences at the University of South Carolina who has written widely on Chernobyl, studies the impact of radiation on bird and insect life. He has published papers suggesting abnormalities and defects in some Fukushima species. But he said his three research excursions to Japan had been difficult.

In one case, a Japanese professor and two postdoctoral students dropped out of a joint research paper, telling him they could not risk association with his findings. “They felt it was too provocative and controversial,” he said, “and the postdocs were worried it could hamper their future job prospects.”

Mr. Mousseau is careful to avoid comparisons with the Soviet Union, which arrested and even imprisoned scientists who studied Chernobyl. Nevertheless, he finds the lukewarm support for studies in Japan troubling: “It’s pretty clear that there is self-censorship or professors have been warned by their superiors that they must be very, very careful,” he said.

The “more insidious censorship” is the lack of funding at a national level for these kinds of studies, he added. “They’re putting trillions of yen into moving dirt around and almost nothing into environmental assessment.”

Long before an earthquake and tsunami triggered the Fukushima meltdown, critics questioned the influence of Japan’s powerful nuclear lobby over the country’s top universities. Some professors say their careers have been hobbled because they expressed doubts about the nation’s nuclear policy and the coalition of bureaucrats, industrialists, politicians and elite academics who created it.

Mr. Aoyama, who now works at Fukushima University, sees no evidence of an organized conspiracy in the lack of openness about radiation levels — just official timidity. Despite the problems with his Nature article, he has written or co-written eight published papers since 2011 on coastal water pollution and other radiation-linked themes.

But stories of problems with Fukushima-related research are common, he said, including accounts of several professors being told not to measure radiation in the surrounding prefectures. “There are so many issues in our community,” he said. “The key phrase is ‘don’t cause panic.”’

He is also critical of the flood of false rumors circulating about the reach of Fukushima’s radioactive payload.

Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s department of marine chemistry and geochemistry, in Massachusetts, who has worked with Mr. Aoyama, said he has spent much of his professional energy fighting the rumor mill. The cause is not helped, he added, by institutional attempts to gag Japanese professors.

“Researchers are told not to talk to the press, or they don’t feel comfortable about talking to the press without permission,” Mr. Buesseler said. A veteran of three post-earthquake research trips to Japan, he wants the authorities to put more money into investigating the impact on the food chain of Fukushima’s release of cesium and strontium. “Why isn’t the Japanese government paying for this, since they have most to gain?”

One reason, critics say, is that after a period of national soul searching, when it looked as if Japan might scrap its commercial reactors, the government is again supporting nuclear power with plans moving ahead to open several reactors in 2014. Since the conservative Liberal Democrats returned to power, in late 2012, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has begun trying to sell Japan’s nuclear technology abroad.

Much of the government funding for academic research in Japan is funneled through either the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science or the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Proposals are screened by government officials and reviewed by an academic committee.

Shoji Yusuke, a spokesman for the ministry, cannot say how many proposals for studying the impact of radiation had been greenlighted, but he insists that the application system is fair. ‘‘The screening is conducted by peer review, so we don’t direct or don’t favor one particular research field,’’ he said. ‘‘We assess applications purely from the scientific point of view.’’ The Japan Society also says its applications process is not politicized.

Many independent scientists, however, contend that rather than simply defend what is a piecemeal approach to studying the disaster, the government should take the lead in creating a large, publicly financed research project.

That lack of official commitment pushes the responsibility for research and analysis entirely onto struggling professors, said a Japanese biologist – one of several who demanded anonymity for fear of reprisals from their university and the government. “It’s not that there is not funding for research into Fukushima. It’s that the state has not shown much support for research into evaluating the impact on living things,” he said.

Mousseau agrees: “If we’re ever going to make any headway into the environmental impact of these disasters, statistical power, scientific power, is what counts,” he said. “We get at it with massive replication, by going to hundreds of locations. That costs money.”

Recommended citation: David McNeill, “Japanese Government Squelching Efforts to Measure Fukushima Meltdown”, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 12, No. 2, March 24, 2014.

This is a revised and expanded version of an article that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

David McNeill writes for The Independent and other publications, including The Irish Times, The Economist and The Chronicle of Higher Education. An Asia-Pacific Journal coordinator, he is a coauthor of Strong in the Rain: Surviving Japan’s Earthquake, Tsunami and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

Related articles

•Yasuhito ABE, Safecast or the Production of Collective Intelligence on Radiation Risks after 3.11

•Kyle Cleveland, Mobilizing Nuclear Bias: The Fukushima Nuclear Crisis and the Politics of Uncertainty

Presentations: Nuclear Security Summit and Verification

Presentation Slides: 2014 Nuclear Security Summit and Verification Capabilities

The FAS Blog | Katie Colten | March 27, 2014

FAS President Dr. Charles Ferguson and Senior Fellow for Nonproliferation Law and Policy Mr. Chris Bidwell spoke at the Radiological and Nuclear Detection Symposium hosted by VIP GlobalNet LLC on March 25-26, 2014 at the Mason Inn at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.

Dr. Ferguson’s presentation was on the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit that was held this week in the Netherlands. Ferguson discussed progress with securing dangerous nuclear materials (such as hundreds of tons of HEU that have been downblended to LEU and research and isotope production reactors that have been shut down) and remaining international challenges to securing fissile materials. Dr. Ferguson’s presentation slides are available here (PDF).

Mr. Bidwell spoke about the recent Defense Science Board (DSB) report from January 2014 on monitoring and verification and how they will be used with Iran in the wake of the deal with the P5+1. The DSB report found that nuclear verification and monitoring capabilities  have atrophied, “are either inadequate, or more often, do not exist.” New monitoring technologies need to take into account many factors including: ability to detect smaller programs, monitor for proliferation vs. monitoring for compliance, and issues of crowd sourcing. Mr. Bidwell spoke about other verification concerns and provided recommendations on how to improve current verification tools. Presentation slides are available here (PDF).

 

Chomsky: From Hiroshima to Fukushima, Vietnam to Fallujah, State Power Ignores Its Massive Harm

Video

Professor Noam Chomsky traveled to Japan last week ahead of the three-year anniversary of the Fukushima crisis.

Posted March 11, 2014

NATO Nuclear Weapons Security Costs Expected to Double

FAS Strategic Security Blog | Hans M. Kristensen |  March 11, 2014

Volkel-BradyMUNSS-061108

Former US Air Force Europe commander General Rodger Brady shakes hands with 703 Munitions Support Squadron personnel at Volkel Air Base in June 2008 during security upgrades to U.S. nuclear weapons storage sites in Europe. More expensive security upgrades are planned.

The cost of securing U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons deployed in Europe is expected to nearly double to meet increased U.S. security standards, according to the Pentagon’s FY2015 budget request.

According to the Department of Defense NATO Security Investment Program , NATO has invested over $80 Million since 2000 to secure nuclear weapons storage sites in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey.

But according to the Department of Defense budget request, new U.S. security standards will require another $154 million to further beef up security at six bases in the five countries.

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DOD budget document says more expensive security upgrades are needed for nuclear bases in Europe.

After a US Air Force Blue Ribbon Review in 2008 discovered that “most” U.S. nuclear weapons sites in Europe did not meet U.S. security requirements, the Dutch government denied there were security problems.

Yet more than $63 million of the over $80 million spent on improving security since 2000 were spent in 2011-2012 – apparently in response to the Blue Ribbon Review findings and other issues.

The additional $154 million suggests that the upgrades in 2011-2012 did not fix all the security issues at the European nuclear bases.

The budget document – which also comes close to officially confirming the deployment of nuclear weapons in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey – states:

“NATO funds infrastructure required to store special weapons within secure sites and facilities. Since 2000, NATO has invested over $80 million in infrastructure improvements in storage sites in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. Another $154 million will be invested in these sites for security improvements to meet with stringent new U.S. standards.”

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The US Air Force still deploys about 180 nuclear B61 bombs at six bases in five European countries. Despite tight security, the bases are not secure enough.

In addition to the growing security costs, the United States spends approximately $100 million per year to deploy 184 nuclear B61 bombs in the five NATO countries. And it plans to spend an additional $10 billion on modernizing the B61 bombs and hundreds of millions on integrating the weapons on the new F-35A Lightning fighter-bomber.

No doubt the United States and NATO have more urgent defense needs to spend that money on than non-strategic nuclear weapons.

Additional background: Briefing on B61 bomb and deployment in Europe

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.