Monthly Archives: March 2014

Ukraine and Nayarit: The humanitarian case for nuclear disarmament

Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy | Dr Rebecca Johnson | 14 March 2014

As the world looks on with trepidation at the growing crisis between Ukraine and Russia, does anyone think that the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States could play a constructive role?

Of course not.

At best they will be irrelevant. At worst—and many commentators fear the worst—military conflict would be complicated by the fact that Russia and NATO have nuclear weapons deployed in the region, with risks of crisis instability and escalation.

Some parliamentarians who favor updating the United Kingdom’s current Trident nuclear weapons system with new submarines and warheads have been quick to proclaim that Russia’s militaristic response to Ukraine’s domestic upheavals proves their case against nuclear disarmament. They claim that Britain must retain nuclear weapons in perpetuity because the future is full of unknowable threats and insecurities.

An alternative argument is that such unpredictable events prove it is all the more necessary to remove nuclear weapons—and all other weapons of mass destruction—from military arsenals. The risks that arise from the presence of nuclear weapons in or near conflict zones are real and formed the centerpiece of debates at the Second Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons that took place in Nayarit, Mexico, in February.

The Nayarit conference was the second multilateral meeting on what is being dubbed the “humanitarian initiative”—in which a large cross-regional group of states have been arguing for accelerated efforts to achieve universal nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, on the grounds that the “global and long-term consequences of any nuclear detonation” transcend national borders. Hence, nuclear disarmament is an urgent security issue that must be addressed by all.

The Norwegian government hosted the first conference on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons in Oslo in March 2013. Attended by 127 governments, international humanitarian agencies, and a broad cross section of civil society groups, the Oslo Conference looked mainly at the consequences of one or more nuclear detonations in urban areas, hearing evidence from the Red Cross and national and international response agencies. In his role as chair, the Norwegian foreign minister, Espen Barth Eide, noted: “The effects of a nuclear weapon detonation, irrespective of cause, will not be constrained by national borders, and will affect states and people in significant ways, regionally as well as globally.” The evidence discussed in both Oslo and Nayarit clearly demonstrated that non-nuclear governments must engage more fully in preventing the threats posed by nuclear weapons to the security of their own populations. That engagement is now happening, for not only did the Oslo and Nayarit Conferences attract more states than most Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) meetings, but they also engaged India and Pakistan, which are unlikely ever to join the 1968 treaty.

Despite intensive lobbying from some nuclear-weapon states against participation, delegations from 146 governments took part in the Nayarit conference. The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council—all nuclear-armed states—boycotted Mexico’s conference, as they had boycotted Oslo last year. In trying to undermine the growing humanitarian pressure, they veered between dismissing it as a “distraction” on the one hand, and on the other, accusing participants of raising humanitarian awareness with the sinister motive of starting a process to ban nuclear weapons.

Are they right in their critique that the humanitarian initiative will have a negative impact on the NPT and similar forums, such as the Geneva Conference on Disarmament?

A look at recent history suggests otherwise. The roots of the present humanitarian initiative can be found in the NPT and subsequent reviews. And in view of the failure of the 66-member disarmament conference to carry forward any substantive negotiations since 1996, it is ridiculous to suggest that discussions by 146 governments constitute a distraction. While some states attending the Nayarit Conference are not party to the NPT, and many more are not members of the Conference on Disarmament, the conference chair, Mexico’s Vice Minister for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo, noted that progress on disarmament and non-proliferation comes about from actions on multiple fronts—which are mutually reinforcing.

In contrast, traditional arms control efforts have gotten stuck, a result of focusing primarily on weapons numbers and conferring undue privilege to the sensitivities of a few nuclear-armed states. The United States and Russia still have many cuts to make in their nuclear arsenals, but—notwithstanding their increasingly hostile rhetoric over Ukraine—they both enjoy the power and prestige they derive from their bilateral arms control relationship too much to get anywhere near the level of zero nuclear weapons that is supposed to be the goal. On the contrary, every time they reduce the number of nuclear weapons, they inject billions more dollars and rubles into their nuclear establishments to modernize and maintain the thousands they intend to keep.

Other nuclear-armed states look at that never-ending game and insist that they too must keep and upgrade their arsenals—ranging from a handful to a few hundred weapons—as long as anyone else has any nuclear weapons. For far too long, the NPT regime and the arms control processes have served to reinforce the status of nuclear-haves at the expense of the nuclear-free. Continued proliferation is the pernicious, if unintended, consequence, as leaders seeking regional or international influence try to get on the bottom rung of the nuclear capabilities ladder, thereby threatening their neighbors’ security. Is it any wonder that nuclear-free governments want to change the terms of engagement?

The humanitarian approach addresses nuclear weapons from the perspective and concerns of everyone’s security. The first step in that approach is to convince governments that the threats and risks are not just a private worry of nuclear-wielding nations, but a real and serious problem for public health, humanitarian assistance, the world economy, development, the environment, climate change, and worldwide food security. Detonations, whether accidental or intentional, would cause suffering that would be “widespread, (with) the poor and vulnerable being the most severely affected,” Gómez Robledo said.

Britain and the United States may have stayed away from the Nayarit conference, but experts from those countries were well-represented on the panels, including Patricia Lewis and Heather Williams of London’s Chatham House; Bruce Blair of Princeton University and Global Zero; Alan Robock of Rutgers University; Ira Helfand, a Boston physician and a member of the Physicians for Social Responsibility (US affiliate of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War); and the American author Eric Schlosser—who presented a video statement to the conference that summarized key arguments from his newly published book on nuclear accidents, titled Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety.

Whether nuclear-armed states like it or not—and some clearly don’t—the humanitarian approach isn’t going away. In Nayarit, delegates from Ukraine and Belarus spoke eloquently of the terrible health and environmental legacies their people continue to suffer from the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Kazakhstan, which testified about the humanitarian consequences of years of Soviet nuclear weapons testing at Semipalatinsk, also spoke proudly of its decision to become nuclear free. All three countries expressed pride in the decisions they took in the early 1990s to remove nuclear weapons from their soil and join the NPT as non-nuclear states parties.

Those old Cold Warriors who now seek to use Ukraine’s present crisis to justify the perpetual retention of nuclear weapons should think carefully about how their arguments undermine the NPT. Instead, this crisis should focus collective efforts more firmly on the need for a practical process that will support the security needs of the nuclear-free nations who are, after all, the really responsible majority in the non-proliferation regime.

Much of civil society, working through the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) network, openly advocates for a multilateral treaty that would include all nations and enhance the current non-proliferation regime by clearly banning the use, deployment, production, and transport of all nuclear weapons, and ultimately require their total elimination. Meanwhile, governments are still in the process of considering how to act on the global threats posed by nuclear weapons. So nothing is yet decided, but the representatives in Nayarit signalled the need to accelerate nuclear disarmament.

By focusing on human impacts, the Nayarit conference demonstrated that preventing nuclear catastrophe is the responsibility and the right of all. Therefore, Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz’s announcement that Vienna would host a further conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons was warmly welcomed. Kurz explained his government’s motivation, noting: “Nuclear weapons are not only a permanent threat to all humankind but also a relic of the Cold War that we must finally overcome.”

This article was originally published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

US dictates India’s Iran ties

Russia & India Report | M K Bhadrakumar | March 13, 2014

The reality is that the Indian-Iranian relationship atrophied in the recent years in almost direct proportion to the rising US-Iranian tensions and is nowhere near its full potential.


Salman Khurshid shakes hand with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, before delegation level talks, in New Delhi on February 28, 2014. Source: AP

India once again has come under pressure from Washington to curb oil imports from Iran. However, mercifully, this time around the arms twisting is more like blackmail and in innuendos, which saves Delhi the embarrassment of being seen as subservient to US strategies toward Iran.

According to an exclusive report by the Reuters, India may have to cut down its crude oil imports from Iran in the coming months by as much as two-thirds so as to keep the quantum of its half-yearly imports below the threshold prescribed by the US for India. It appears that sometime last month a “top US energy policy official” conveyed to Indian ministries that the quota allocated for Washington for the six-month period upto July entails that India should not import from Iran more than 195,000 bpd between January and July this year. Of course, if India doesn’t comply with Washington’s directive, that will trigger US sanctions.

The Indian authorities have reportedly assured the American official that they will comply with the tolerance level prescribed by Washington. But then, Indian companies have already entered into contracts to import Iranian crude, which work out to an average of 322,000 bpd in the first quarter of the current year (January to March). This means that in the next quarter (April to June), India needs to cut its crude purchases from Iran to about 111,000 bpd so as to ensure that the ceiling prescribed by Washington – intake average of 195,000 – is not breached. This is notwithstanding the fact that Tehran is giving India a discount on crude and is offering free delivery.

What emerges is that Delhi jumped the gun sometime toward the end of last year, blithely assuming that the US-Iranian engagement implied a more relaxed attitude in Washington toward India’s oil trade with Iran. It turned out to be bad political judgment, however. As President Barack Obama claimed recently the US intends to keep “95 percent” of the sanctions against Iran in place until a nuclear deal is concluded. Unsurprisingly, the US is extra-vigilant that in the interim the top buyers of Iranian oil such as India do not erode its sanctions regime.

To be sure, Washington took note that India’s purchases of Iranian oil have been creeping up ever since the US-Iranian direct talks began. The US demarche with Delhi in February followed an estimation that time has come to remind the Indians of the “red line.”

However, that’s not the whole story. As it happens, Delhi is also vulnerable at the moment to US pressure on the energy front. On the one hand, Delhi hopes to get on to a fast track in regard of sourcing LNG from the US (despite competing claims from Europe and Japan.) Again, Delhi is seeking access for Indian oil companies to the US’ upstream oil and gas sector, especially shale gas sector, where foreign investment is strictly regulated under American laws.

One of India’s biggest companies, Reliance, has taken a 20 percent participatory interest in a shale gas asset in the US. The Reliance seems to pin hopes that through such participation, it can gain know-how about shale gas exploration and production, which in turn will enable it to get a jump-start in the Indian shale gas sector.

Washington would know Reliance wields tremendous “bipartisan” political influence in Delhi and also about Reliance’s keenness to get access to shale gas extraction technology in which the US enjoys monopoly, so that it can take over India’s shale gas sector and the vast retail market in a near future. And, in the American political culture, there is nothing like free lunch.

Suffice to say, the big question today is as regards the nature of the quid pro quo Washington would expect from India other than by curbing oil imports from Iran. Interestingly, a high-powered US-Indian “working group” on nuclear energy, which is co-chaired on the American side by none other than Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, is meeting in Mumbai on Wednesday. The meeting will profoundly impact the future trajectory of US-Indian energy cooperation. Washington has ben pressing for a dilution of India’s stringent nuclear liability law to facilitate the American nuclear industry to sell reactors in the highly lucrative Indian market.

The official Indian line is that Delhi won’t allow the US to dictate the terms of its ties with Iran. But the reality is that the Indian-Iranian relationship atrophied in the recent years in almost direct proportion to the rising US-Iranian tensions and is nowhere near its full potential. In essence, the US is insisting that Delhi should not develop energy cooperation with Tehran unless and until a level playing field is available also for Big Oil in Iran’s energy industry.

Indeed, Delhi is also at fault. It hasn’t taken pains to learn from smaller countries such as Turkey, Oman, Qatar, Iraq or Turkmenistan, which somehow are able to ignore the US’ sanctions against Iran and expand the vistas of their energy cooperation with Iran.

Crimea, Iran & Kremlinology

Atomic Reporters | March 14, 2014

“I don’t quite get it. Was that a punch at the U.S. or Iran?”
                                     –Russian President Vladimir Putin, June 12, 2013


Growing up during the Cold War, young Atomic Reporters were familiar with the word “Kremlinology.” That art of signal reading has steadily declined over time, as demonstrated by Google’s Ngram Viewer, which compiles the number of times authors use words in published literature.

The decline of Kremlinology has contributed to many people wondering whether the Crimean dispute is going to affect negotiations with Iran. While the U.S. insists that the two issues be kept separate and that the Ukraine spat shouldn’t jeopardize the Iran-nuclear negotiation, it’s far from clear whether Moscow sees the issue quite the same.

Enter Vladimir Putin in his RT interview last June. It didn’t receive much coverage among Western news outlets. Those that wrote about the interview did so derisively. That’s too bad, because if a person can get past the high-octane spin, there was some important signaling going on about how Russia interprets U.S. interest in keeping Iran on the hot seat.

Here’s a transcript of the parts that may be relevant for journalists and policymakers trying to figure out what may transpire following the March 16 Crimea vote, when Iran meets world powers in Vienna for their next round of talks:

 “Iran has the right to a peaceful nuclear program and it can’t be singled out for discrimination. Second, we need to be aware that Iran is located in a very challenging region. I’ve told our Iranian partners about that. That’s why Iranian threats made toward neighboring countries, particularly Israel — threats that Israel can be destroyed — are absolutely unacceptable. This is counterproductive. It’s best to avoid wording that could be improperly quoted or could be interpreted differently, that’s why the focus on Iran does have a reason behind it.

“I have no doubt that Iran is compliant with the rules, simply because there’s no proof of the opposite. According to the latest IAEA report, Iran has been abiding by the commitments it has taken up. True, there are some outstanding issues but with due patience and friendly attitudes they can be resolved. I have a great respect for Iran and a great interest in it. This is a great country indeed. You don’t often here this attitude mentioned in relation to Iran but it’s true. This is a country with a great culture, a great history and is a great nation. They’re very proud of their country. They have a great understanding of their place both in the region and in the world. That’s something you have to respect.

“Iranians are very smart and cunning politicians and to a certain degree they have exploited this confrontation with the U.S. They’re extremely crafty in this and they do it to tackle their domestic political issues. When there’s an external enemy it united the nation, but I guess the U.S. has been employing the same technique.

“After the collapse of the Soviet Union there have been no external threats that would allow Washington to dominate the West. There must be a threat so that the U.S. can protect its allies from it. This position yields political and economic benefits. If everyone relies on one country for protection, then this country is entitled to some preferential treatment. So its very important to possess this status as a global defender, to be able to resolve global issues, even beyond the realm of foreign policy and security issues. I think the U.S. has been using Iran for this very purpose, that it is to unite their allies in the shadow of a real or false threat.

“It’s quite a complicated issue but it’s not an issue for Russia. We’ve been complying with our international commitments, including on Iran’s peaceful nuclear program. As you know, Russia built the Bushehr nuclear power. plant in Iran. We’ve completed this project and are prepared for further cooperation. Yet, when we proposed to enrich uranium on Russian territory, our Iranian partners refused for reasons unknown to us. They argue they will enrich uranium on their own, in line with existing international regulation. As I said earlier, as long as they don’t break any rules, they’re fully entitled to do that. We will endorse this right but we will also remain aware of the concern that other states and the international community has with full compliance of these rules.

“To date, we don’t have any significant ideological differences but we have fundamental cultural differences. Individualism lies at the core of the American identity while Russia has been a country of collectivism. One student of Pushkin’s legacy has formulated this difference very aptly. Take Scarlet O’Hara from Gone With the Wind, for instance. She says “I’ll never be hungry again. This is the most important thing for her. Russians have different, far loftier ambitions, more of a spiritual kind. It’s more about your relationship with God. We have different visions of life. That’s why it’s very difficult to understand each other, but it’s still possible. 

“The U.S. is a very democratic state, there’s no doubt about that. It originally developed as a democratic state. When the first settlers set their foot on the continent, life forged them to establish a relationship and maintain a dialog with each other to survive. That’s why America was initially conceived as a fundamental democracy.

“With that in mind, we should not forget that America’s development began with a large-scale ethnic cleansing, unprecedented in human history. When Europeans arrived in America, that was the first thing they did and you have to be honest about it. There are not so many stories like it in human history.

“Take the destruction of Carthage by the Roman Empire. The legend has it that the Romans plowed over and sowed the city with salt so that nothing would ever grow there. Europeans didn’t use the salt because they used the land for agriculture, but they wiped out the indigenous population.

“Then there was slavery and that is something that is deeply ingrained in America. In his memoirs, Secretary of State Colin Powell revealed how hard it was for him as a black man, how hard it was for him to live with other people staring at you. It means this mentality has taken root in the hearts and minds of the people and is likely to still be there. 

“Now take the Soviet Union. We know a lot about Stalin now. We know him as a dictator and a tyrant. But still, I don’t think in the Spring of 1945 Stalin would have used a nuclear bomb against Germany had he had one. He could have done it in 1941 or 1942 when it was a matter of life or death but I really doubt he would have done it in 1945 when the enemy had almost given up and had no chance to reverse the trend. Now look at the U.S. They dropped the bomb on Japan, a country that was a non-nuclear state and one that was very close to defeat.

“So, there are big differences between us but it’s quite natural that people with such differences are determined to find ways to understand each other better. I don’t think there is an alternative. Moreover, it’s not by chance that Russia and the U.S. forged an alliance in the most critical moments of modern history. That was the case in World War I and World War II. Even if there was fierce confrontation, our countries united in the face of a common threat, which means there’s something that unites us. There must be some fundamental interest that brings us together. That’s something that we need to focus on first. We need to be aware of our differences but focus on a positive agenda that can improve our cooperation.”


B61-12 Nuclear Bomb Integration On NATO Aircraft To Start In 2015

FAS Strategic Security Blog | Hans M. Kristensen | March 13, 2014


Integration of the new guided B61-12 nuclear bomb will begin in 2015 on NATO Tornado and F-16 aircraft, seen here in 2008 at the Italian nuclear base at Ghedi Torre for the Steadfast Noon nuclear strike exercise. Image: EUCOM.

The US Air Force budget request for Fiscal Year 2015 shows that integration of the B61-12 on NATO F-16 and Tornado aircraft will start in 2015 for completion in 2017 and 2018.

The integration marks the beginning of a significant enhancement of the military capability of NATO’s nuclear posture in Europe and comes only three years after NATO in 2012 said its current nuclear posture meets its security requirements and that it was working to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.  

The integration will take place on Belgian, Dutch, and Turkish F-16A/B and on German and Italian PA-200 Tornado fighter-bombers. It is unknown if US and NATO F-16s happen simultaneously or US aircraft are first, but the process will last four years between 2015 and 2018. Integration of German and Italian Tornados will take a little over two years (see graph below).


The USAF budget request shows the timelines for integration of the B61-12 onto US and NATO legacy aircraft. Later the weapon will also be integrated onto the F-35A and LRS-B next-generation long-range bomber.

The B61-12 will also be integrated on USAF F-15E (integration began last year), F-16C/D, and B-2A aircraft, and later on the F-35A Lightning II. The F-35A will later replace the F-16s. The US Air Force plans to equip all F-35s in Europe with nuclear capability by 2024.

In addition to the US Air Force, the nuclear-capable F-35A will be supplied to the Dutch, Italian, Turkish, and possibly Belgian air forces.

From the mid-2020s, the B61-12 will also be integrated on the next-generation heavy bomber (LRS-B) planned by the US Air Force.

The integration work includes software upgrades on the legacy aircraft, operational flight tests, and full weapon integration. Development of the guided tail kit is well underway in reparations for operational tests. Seven flight tests are planned for 2015. The nuclear warhead and some non-nuclear components won’t be ready until the end of the decade. The first complete B61-12 is scheduled for 2020.

Through 2019, the integration efforts are scheduled to cost more than $1 billion. Another $154 million is needed to improve security at the nuclear bases in Europe.

Integration of US nuclear weapons onto aircraft of non-nuclear weapon states that have signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and promised “not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly,” is, to say the least, problematic.

The arrangement of equipping non-nuclear NATO allies with the capability and role to deliver US nuclear weapons was in place before the NPT entered into effect and was accepted by the NPT regime during the Cold War. But for NATO to continue this arrangement contradicts the non-proliferation standards that the member countries are trying to promote in the post-Cold War world.

How scattering enhanced nuclear bombs across Europe in five non-nuclear countries will enable “bold reductions” in US and Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe and help create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons is another question.

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.

Fukushima Updates 10

Three Years After Fukushima, Ex-Nuclear Chief Lobbies For Worldwide Phase-Out

This case recalls the libel suit that the head of a nuclear security systems company brought against freelance journalist Minoru Tanaka in 2012 in connection with his coverage of developments in the nuclear energy industry after the disaster. The suit was abandoned in August 2013.

Ever since the Fukushima-Daiichi disaster in 2011, freelance journalists and foreign news media trying to cover Japan’s nuclear energy industry have found their access to information being restricted.

Both Japanese and foreign reporters have described to Reporters Without Borders the various methods used by the authorities to prevent independent coverage of the disaster and its consequences.

They have been prevented from covering anti-nuclear demonstrations and have been threatened with criminal proceedings for entering the “red zone” declared around the plant. And they have even been interrogated and subjected to intimidation by the intelligence services.

Reporters Without Borders is previewing here a passage from the “Fukushima censored” video that will be posted on our website ( soon.

Japan has fallen 22 places in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index in the past two years, and is now ranked 59th out of 180 countries.

The six-place fall of the past year is partly attributable to the Japanese Diet’s adoption of a special intelligence protection bill on 26 November that will allow the government to classify any sensitive information as a “state secret.”

Support Mari Takenouchi, sign the petition here.

Peter’s Blog

TEPCO 2011 – 2014: A Systemic Failure
Sunday, March 9, 2014

Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO for short, is a utility serving roughly 29 million customers. No doubt such behemoth too big to fail provides challenges in organization and governance that are difficult to meet at best.

The company operates Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station with six reactors on the northeast coast of Japan 150 miles from Tokyo. In the aftermath of the Great Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami on March 11, 2011, the three operating reactors lost cooling, their fuel cores melted down, violent explosions devastated three reactor buildings, and vast amounts of radioactivity were released into the air and the Pacific Ocean, including isotopes of transuranic elements scattered as far as Tokyo (Sakaguchi and others, 2014; Yamamoto and others, 2014; Zheng and others, 2012). The ratios of the plutonium isotopes 240 and 239 Zheng and others (2012) determined in soil samples from the region were only slightly lower than those found in soil samples near the location of the 1986 Chernobyl reactor accident (Boulyga and Becker, 2002), providing strong evidence that the samples contained reactor fuel fragments from the stricken power station. Company and government were confronted with the greatest challenges of crisis management since WWII, exposing TEPCO’s crisis management to public scrutiny unprecedented in the company’s history. According to NHK WORLD (post with the title “Fukushima nuclear damage costs are mounting” published online Mar. 11, 2014, local time), the total cost of resolving the crisis will surmount 100 billion dollars.

Aerial view of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on March 24, 2011, after hydrogen explosions devastated the upper floors of the reactor buildings of Units 1 (background), 3 and 4 (foreground) in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Unit 4 was offline for inspection. TEPCO believes that hydrogen seeped into its building from Unit 3 via standby gas treatment system piping. The building of Unit 2 lost a blowout panel on the eastern side and was spared.

Without doubt TEPCO operators played a significant, heroic role in diminishing the impact of the radiological disaster in the first days and months after the accident. The operators took great personal risks to prevent explosions in the reactor vessels unleashing even more radioactivity rivaled only by the 1986 Chernobyl reactor disaster, despite the plethora obstacles posed by flaws in reactor design, the company’s negligence of safety upgrades and the resulting lack of emergency preparedness as last year’s investigative NHK WORLD News video below aptly documents.

NHK portrays impressively how the human condition may fail in epic proportion confronted with the evolution of a complex accident with a multitude of events racing at differing pace on a multitude of levels, particularly because consequences of seemingly isolated incidents interacted and impacts compounded. For example, the ineffectiveness of the fire engines pumping water into the reactors to cool the heated fuel was exacerbated by the hydrogen explosion at one reactor destroying the engines lined up to deliver coolant to another. The siting of multiple reactors in close proximity only aggravated the severity of the crisis.

The documentary reveals accurately that the senior decision-makers at Fukushima were working under sensory overload. Under profoundly adverse conditions, the shift manager in the main control room of units 1 and 2 was challenged to oversee the shutdown of two reactors of different generation with differing emergency core cooling systems. It must have been difficult for even the best trained expert to keep focused on analyzing the progress of the divergent developments at such different systems.

It remains even more difficult to conceive how plant manager Masao Yoshida in the crisis center was able to keep abreast of the simultaneous crisis developments at six reactors, particularly when plant parameters were relayed by word of mouth. Because of a station blackout, including the loss of emergency diesel generators and battery banks, almost no power was available. Accurate plant parameters could not be collected in a timely fashion. Operators had to be sent into the reactor buildings to collect data and work valves  [TEPCO press handout with the title “Appendix 2: List of Documents concerning the Response Status at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Station (June 2012 version)” dated Jun. 20, 2012]. Ancillary observations like the intensity of the ‘pig nose steam’ exhausted from unit 1’s isolation condenser could not be adequately evaluated because of a paucity of training and experience.

Despite, the plant manager tried his best to understand the state of affairs based on the scant and, largely indirect, observations available to him. The faults do not lie with the operators on the site. The faults were systemic. TEPCO ill-appreciated instrumental and structural risk a priori, and therefore the company was ill-prepared to reign in this crisis.

When organizing crisis management, more attention ought to be paid to the limits of information processing of our mind. Understanding how the brain works may help implement decision-making in large organizations that enables us to adequately address a crisis like the Fukushima reactor meltdowns.

It may be informative in this context to examine how the brain’s nerve cells process afferent input from sensory organs, how they interact and inform our actions. We may identify six fundamental principles of best practices in governance:

  • differentiation of intelligence,
  • redundancy, yet diversification, of lines of reporting,
  • distributed processing,
  • gain control,
  • feedback, and
  • plasticity.

Let us discuss some observations leading to these principles.

Parallel Pathways
During brain development, sensory input instructs form and function of the central nervous system (Melzer and others, 1994). Sensory pathways consist of multiple lanes crossing way stations of differing number that feed information from the sensory receptor cells in the periphery in a redundant, yet differentiated and distributed fashion to the nerve cells in the cerebral cortex, allowing for the parallel processing of diverse aspects of the data (Melzer and others, 2006a; Melzer and others, 2006b).

In addition, nerve cells embedded in our cerebral cortex known as interneurons terminate on other cortical cells that provide output. A subset, representing roughly a quarter of the nerve cells in our cerebral cortex, selectively dampens prolonged, excessive nerve cell excitation. Some, known as chandelier cells (Szentágothai, 1975), may suppress the activation hundred other cells in their immediate vicinity at great energy efficacy. Their output arbors branch into a dense overlapping mesh resembling the manifold arms of a chandelier. The arbors multiply terminate on target nerve cells at the location where the electrical signals that encode output information are generated [Inan and Anderson, 2014; demonstrative depictions of a chandelier cell were shown on the cover of Brain 122 (10), 1999]. Inhibitory interneurons control the gain of information, protecting nerve cell networks from excitatory overload without loss of functionality (Allison and others, 2000).

Feedback and Integration
Eventually, efferent feedback from nerve cells in the cerebral cortex modulate the activity of the nerve cells in subcortical way stations, enhancing some sensory inputs and diminishing others (Llinás and Steriade, 2006). After the comprehensive integration of the inputs, cortical cells arrive at activity-weighted decisions initiating a course of action (Jun and others, 2010; Lo and others, 2009).

Finally, one further strength of our brain is the plasticity of nerve cell connection. Nerve cell networks are able to reorganize their connectivity dependent on changes in input. Though less in maturity (Melzer and Smith, 1995) than in development (Melzer and others, 1993), this ability bestows a dynamic flexibility in response important to learning from failure and success.

Taken together, the intricate interactions between bottom-up feed-forward flow conveying diverse, differentiated aspects of sensory information and top-down feed-back filtering help us create an accurate image of our environment which, combined with the ability to mold nerve cell connectivity according to a changing world, results in the most appropriate actions available to improve our chances of survival. Therefore, redundancy, differentiation, diversification, control and plasticity constitute powerful tools for comprehensive information processing invaluable to adequate risk assessment and decision-making.

Based on the above principles of governance, even a simple creature like a toad performs adequately when confronted with its life’s challenges (see my post with the title “Professor Ewert’s Toad” published online Dec. 21, 2011). As prove, amphibians have survived for 370 million years. Our brain may be more complex than the toad’s brain. Yet it conforms to the same principles. The best practices that govern the toad’s actions as well as our own ought to apply to any human enterprise.

The Fukushima reactor disaster is entering its fourth year of mitigation. Complete decommissioning of the damaged reactors may take half a century. Roughly 90,000 former residents, who used to live in the vicinity of the stricken still nuclear power station, have not been able to return home permanently. The majority may not be able to move back for years to come (see Tetsuya Kasai’s report with the title “About 60 percent of Fukushima evacuees cannot return home by 2017” published online by The Asahi Shimbun Mar.11, 2013). Many elderly abandoned the idea all together (see Sophie Knight and Antoni Slodkowski’s report with the title “For many Fukushima evacuees, the truth is they won’t be going home” published online by Reuters Nov. 11, 2013). Examining TEPCO’s performance in its efforts of mitigating the consequences of the disaster over the past three years leaves a lot to wish for.

Shadowing TEPCO’s efforts at examining the causes of the accident over the past three years has been difficult at best. “Fukushima Ten Essays “compiles my own observations during the first year on the potential causes of the fuel meltdowns and the mishandling of the situation. My insights mainly draw on data collected.

The forensic investigation of the incident has made only little progress, though some crucial insights were quickly gained on the design weakness of the reactor’s emergency fuel core cooling systems. It still remains ill-understood whether quake damage played a role in the failure to shut down the three operating reactors safely. A litany of design flaws and glaring operator inexperience and lack of training for emergency shutdowns during a station blackout have come to light, more because of investigative journalism than through the company’s own revelations.

Moreover, TEPCO failed to inform the public accurately about the radioactivity released from the station into air and water and the resulting doses of exposure to the public. TEPCO’s management of radioactively contaminated water has been inadequate.

Despite the construction of a sprawling farm of storage tanks, tons of contaminated water still escape into the ground and the ocean every day.

In addition, the government has failed to provide rigorous oversight, seemingly ignoring the severity of crisis and overtly playing down risks and consequences to public health.

The removal of thousands of spent fuel rods has only begun late last year. To date, contractor Toshiba-General Electric accomplished to remove roughly one third of the fuel rod assemblies stored in the spent fuel pool of only one of the six reactors, that is from unit 4 which was shut down for inspection with the fuel unloaded into the pool at the time of the accident (see TEPCO handout with the title “Progress Status and Future Challenges of Mid-and-Long-Term Roadmap toward the Decommissioning of TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Units 1-4 (Outline)” released Jan. 30, 2014).

Clearly, the management of the Fukushima reactor disaster will leave a lasting blemish on Japan because principles of best practice, like those that successfully govern the brain, were not heeded.


Between the Marshall Islands and Fukushima [by Prof. Robert Jacobs]

Dianuke | March 11, 2014

This week I travelled from the Marshall Islands to my home in Japan. In many ways it seemed like a long journey between two places that couldn’t be more different. One an ultra modern society of tall buildings, bright lights and mountains and the other a developing society on coral atolls less than a few meters above the ocean with small populations and no shopping malls.

I had been in the Marshall Islands during the 60th anniversary of the Bravo nuclear test in 1954. This was the largest nuclear weapon ever tested by the United States. The resulting fallout cloud covered an immense area and irradiated many populated atolls in the northern Marshall Islands. Whole populations were hastily evacuated from atolls in a panicked emergency by the US military, but not before they had been exposed to very high levels of radiation. This was followed by waves of sickness and death among the exposed populations. Thyroid cancers were rampant. Traditional foods were contaminated and became forbidden. Many people were “temporarily” relocated to small islands that had far less room and resources than the atolls that had been their homes, leading to near starvation and poverty. The US attempted to “decontaminate” several of these atolls and returned the populations to their homes with restrictions that they could not go to certain designated areas, or fish from those areas—as though the fish obeyed these imaginary borders. They were told that it was now safe to live there, that their homes had been made normal. However, many people began to get sick again from the remaining contamination and were evacuated a second time. They have lived as refugees, occupying inferior housing as guests on the atolls of others. Their lack of access to traditional foods has led to diets of processed foods subsidized by the US, with a resulting rise in diabetes and other health problems. Not being able to fend for themselves in traditional modes has led to a deterioration of other aspects of culture as well. The radiation on Enewetak Atoll has stopped traditional grasses from growing and ended centuries of woven crafts that were essential to daily life. This has taken away a source of work and income from the population still living on the atoll, the site of numerous nuclear tests.

60 years later, the people have become accustomed to the negligence and deterioration to quality of life that accompanied their irradiation. The US government that inflicted this radioactive nightmare upon them has done its best to rid itself of any obligation to those whose lives were upended. March 1st, the date of the Bravo test, is now a national holiday—Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day—in the Marshall Islands.


Sign commemorating Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day at the capital building of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, March 1, 2014 – See more at:

Day at the capital building of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, March 1, 2014

A week after the anniversary I left the Marshall Islands and returned to my home in Hiroshima. By all accounts Japan is the opposite of the Marshall Islands. It is sleek and modern and affluent. There is a convenience store on every corner and sometimes two. You can leap frog from shopping mall to shopping mall. But only a few days after my return was an anniversary here in Japan: the 311 anniversary of the giant earthquake and tsunami three years ago that claimed so many lives. And the anniversary of the nuclear disaster the natural disasters triggered that has devastated so many more lives. While the triple meltdowns of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, the three explosions that dispersed plumes of radiation across parts of Northern Honshu were triggered by a natural disaster, there was negligence in the planning, construction, maintenance and especially in the regulation of these plants that facilitated and exacerbated the disaster. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been devastated by the nuclear disaster, separate from the almost twenty thousand that were killed by the natural disaster that set it in motion.

In the three years since March 11, 2011 events eerily reminiscent of the history of the Marshallese nuclear victims has befallen the residents of Fukushima. Many have been displaced from their homes to “temporary” housing that feels more and more permanent every year. Some are now being told that they will be returned to their former homes in towns that have been “decontaminated” even as that has proved nearly impossible at other sites of nuclear disasters. Traditional diets have been replaced with prepared foods, and traditional forms of work have been lost and substituted with meager payouts to those displaced. Medical problems have been denied, and emotional distresses are simply not recognized or dealt with in any organized manner. The victims are told that soon these minimal forms of “assistance” will be cut off and they will have to fend for themselves. Those responsible have sought to rid themselves of the burden of responsibility to those whose lives they have torn apart.

Maybe the journey across all that ocean and social contrast wasn’t such a big journey after all. Although I doubt that 60 years from now the “nuclear victims” of the Fukushima disaster will have a holiday honoring their plight.

Dr. Robert Jacobs, Hiroshima Peace Institute


NATO and Russia Caught in New Nuclear Arms Race

By Julio Godoy* | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

BERLIN (IDN) – The U.S. government is unofficially accusing Russia of violating the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, by flight testing two-stage ground-based cruise missile RS-26.

Although the U.S. government has not officially commented on the alleged Russian violation of the INF, which prohibits both countries to producing, testing and deploying ballistic and cruise missiles, and land-based missiles of medium (1,000 to 5,500 kilometres) and short (500 to 1,000 kilometres) range, high ranking members of the government in Washington have been leaking information to U.S. media, in a moment of particular tense relations with Moscow.

In 1987, after years of negotiations, both the NATO and the then Soviet Union agreed to destroy and to stop production of all missiles and related weapons, for instance the U.S. Pershing Ib and Pershing II and the BGM-109G Gryphon arsenals. Moscow, on its part, eliminated the whole SS missile series, including the SSC-X-4, in 1987 its most modern, land-based cruise missile with a nuclear warhead.

According to a report by the New York Times, the tested missile RS-26 aims at filling “the gap left in the missile potential of Russia as a result of the limitation of INF.” The newspaper also indicated that mid-January, the acting Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller informed the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) of the U.S. data.

U.S. military experts, such as Dan Blumenthal and Mark Stokes of the American Enterprise Institute, say that the main Russian problem with the INF is that China is not bound by it and continues to build up its own Intermediate-Range forces. In a comment for the Washington Post, Blumenthal and Stokes wrote that “Moscow has already threatened to pull out if China does not sign the treaty.”

If the U.S. reports are true, the Russian tests would confirm what numerous peace and anti-nuclear weapons activists have been warning about since several years, that the NATO and Russia are engaged in a new nuclear arms race, despite all the bilateral talk about disarmament.

For the NATO has also been “filling the gaps” of its nuclear capability, in particular with the ongoing plan to “modernise” its arsenal of B61 nuclear weapons, stationed all over Western Europe.

Additionally, practically all nuclear states, including India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan have at one time or other in recent years improved their arsenal on middle range rockets and nuclear weapons.

The formidable B61 arsenal stationed in Europe is a remnant of the Cold War. The actual number of such weapons of mass destruction is a top military secret, but some 20 of these are reported to be deployed in Germany, in the military basis near the village of Buechel, in the southwest of the country. Another undetermined number, up to 200 such weapons, are deployed in Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey, all members of the NATO.

According to the NATO, or, rather, to the U.S. government, the modernisation of this nuclear arsenal is necessary given the archaic character of the B61 weapons. They are so-called dumb or “gravity” weapons, to be dropped from war planes over target zones, and be guided by a radar that, according to U.S. senate hearings, was constructed in the 1960s and originally designed for “a five-year lifetime”.

Dropping such dumb nuclear weapons from an airplane would mean that, even in case they operate as expected, vast areas would be obliterated from the face of the earth.

Additional dangers

The old B61 nuclear bombs manifest several additional dangers, especially for the own NATO armies and European populations: In 2005, a U.S. Air Force review discovered that procedures used during maintenance of the nuclear weapons in Europe held a risk that a lightning strike could trigger a nuclear detonation.

In 2008, yet another U.S. Air Force review concluded that “most” nuclear weapons locations in Europe did not meet U.S. security guidelines and would “require significant additional resources” to bring these up to standard.

All these risks were confirmed during several hearings at the U.S. congress late last year, and during which military officials explained the range of modernisation the B61 arsenal is expected to go through.

Officially, the U.S. government has dubbed this modernisation of the B61 arsenal “a full-scope Life Extension Program (LEP)”, as Madelyn R. Creedon, assistant secretary of defence for global strategic affairs, told a session of subcommittee of the House of Representatives last October. [Read more:]

During the session, Creedon described the B61 as “the oldest warhead design in the U.S. nuclear stockpile, with several components dating from the 1960s.” She added that its modernisation “will meet military requirements and guarantee an extended service life coupled with more affordable sustainment costs; and it will incorporate the upgrades that (the National Nuclear Security Administration) NNSA deems mandatory to provide a nuclear stockpile that is safe, secure, and effective.”

During the same hearing, General C. R. Kehler, head of the U.S. strategic command, told the representatives what many peace activists have been saying since years, but the NATO always and only until recently denied. “The average B61 is over 25 years old, contains antiquated technology, and requires frequent handling for maintenance,” Kehler said. “Only through extraordinary measures has this aging family of weapons remained safe, secure and effective far beyond its originally planned operational life.”

If the schedule for the modernisation is to be respected, the new B61-12 weapons will be ready by 2020, and the programme would have cost at least eight billion U.S. dollars, according to the NNSA’s current estimate.

However, as the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a Washington, D.C.-based, non-partisan research organisation, has pointed out, an independent U.S. Defence Department assessment found that the actual cost could be higher than $10 billion. At this price, the LEP will cost $25 million per bomb. The Centre recalls too, that the Ploughshares Fund complained that at this cost each refurbished B61 will be worth more than its weight in gold.

According to critics of the LEP, the modernisation won’t mean only “a life extension programme”, but instead a formidable increase of the weapons’ capabilities.

Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, and one of the most distinguished civil experts on nuclear weapons, says that new features of the weapons contradict early pledges by U.S. authorities that the LEP “will not support new military missions (n)or provide for new military capabilities.”

However, new information about the LEP indicates precisely the contrary.

“The addition of a guided tail kit will increase the accuracy of the B61-12 compared with the other weapons and provide new warfighting capabilities,” Kristensen says. “The tail kit is necessary, officials say, for the 50-kilotons B61-12 (with a reused B61-4 warhead) to be able to hold at risk the same targets as the 360-kilotons B61-7 warhead. But in Europe, where the B61-7 has never been deployed, the guided tail kit will be a significant boost of the military capabilities – an improvement that doesn’t fit the promise of reducing the role of nuclear weapons.”

For comparison, the ‘Little boy’ nuclear bomb with which the U.S. destroyed on August 6, 1945 the Japanese city of Hiroshima had an explosive yield of between 13 and 18 kilotons. The ‘Fat man’ bomb that destroyed Nagasaki three days later had a yield of up to 22 kilotons.

During the October 2013 hearings at the U.S. House of Representatives, it became also clear that B61-12 would replace the old B61-11, a single-yield 400-kiloton nuclear earth-penetrating bomb introduced in 1997, and the B83-1, a strategic bomb with variable yields up to 1,200 kilotons.

For Kristensen, “The(se) military capabilities of the B61-12 will be able to cover the entire range of military targeting missions for gravity bombs, ranging from the lowest yield of the B61-4 (0.3 kilotons) to the 1,200-kiloton B83-1 as well as the nuclear earth-penetration mission of the B61-11.”

Such upgrading of the destruction capabilities would make the new arsenal an “all-in-one nuclear bomb on steroids, spanning the full spectrum of gravity bomb missions anywhere.”

Most problematic

This extraordinary improvement of the B61 arsenal’s mass destruction potential is the most problematic, for the European governments concerned, in particular in Germany, have since at least 2009 openly expressed their wishes to dismantle the weapons.

In reaction to the historic speech U.S. president Barack Obama made in the Czech capital Prague in April 2009, where he called the nuclear weapons spread across the world “the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War”, the Berlin government of the time argued in favour of the dismantling the archaic  B61 stationed on German soil.

In what it was called “an unprecedented statement”, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Social Democratic German foreign minister of the time, called for the withdrawal of the U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in his country. In April 2009, only days after Obama’s speech in Prague, Steinmeier told the German magazine Der Spiegel that “the (B61 nuclear) weapons are militarily obsolete today” and promised that he would take steps to ensure that the remaining U.S. warheads “are removed from Germany.”

In the two years that followed, the next German conservative government, represented by its new foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, continued to make the case for dismantling the B61 arsenal. Like his predecessor Steinmeier, Westerwelle, serving for the Christian Democratic-Liberal ruling coalition, made the arguments of the anti-nuclear weapons activists his own, and recalled that such arsenal is in many ways obsolete, for it was conceived to be used in conjunction with other armament that itself is out of use, and it aimed at an enemy – the Soviet bloc – that had ceased to exist.

On March 2010, a large majority of the German parliament, the Bundestag, passed a resolution unequivocally demanding the withdrawal of the “U.S. nuclear weapons from German soil.”

But both Steinmeier and Westerwelle failed at convincing the NATO in general, and the U.S. government in particular, to follow. Instead, they had to kowtow before the fait accompli decided in Washington, that the B61 arsenal be modernised to become, to again use Hans Kristensen’s aptly description, an “all-in-one nuclear bomb on steroids.”

Steinmeier is again foreign minister, but he long ago ceased to discuss the matter in public. He may have “gotten shell-shocked by the pushback from the old nuclear guard in NATO,” as Kristensen said of Westerwelle on the same question.

At least, Steinmeier less than two years ago signed a declaration by a group of German parliamentarians representing all political parties, in which they insisted that the U.S. nuclear arsenal be removed from Germany. In the declaration, Steinmeier, at the time leader of the social Democratic parliamentarian group, and colleagues accused the then ruling conservative Christian Democratic-Liberal coalition of having failed at reaching the same goal. “Worst still: By now it seems as if the government has said goodbye to this goal.”

The same accusation can be made this time against Steinmeier, again German foreign minister: He has not lived up to his own conviction, that the NATO nuclear weapons must be removed from European soil. The new NATO-Russia crisis caused by the turmoil in Ukraine will certainly help him to argue his change of mind.

*Julio Godoy is an investigative journalist and IDN Associate Global Editor. He has won international recognition for his work, including the Hellman-Hammett human rights award, the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Investigative Reporting Online by the U.S. Society of Professional Journalists, and the Online Journalism Award for Enterprise Journalism by the Online News Association and the U.S.C. Annenberg School for Communication, as co-author of the investigative reports “Making a Killing: The Business of War” and “The Water Barons: The Privatisation of Water Services”. [IDN-InDepthNews – March 6, 2014]

Top image: Russia and USA measure their missiles | Credit:

Bottom Picture: Julio Godoy – Credit: ICIJ

The writer’s other IDN articles:

2014 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Experts See Russian Strides on Nuclear-Force Updates

Global Security Newswire | Diane Barnes | March 6, 2014

Analysts say Russia achieved “important steps” over the last year in modernizing submarines, aircraft and missile forces critical to its nuclear deterrent.

Moscow’s new weapons-development initiatives — as well as its recent progress in updating aging combat systems — have added “to growing concern in other countries about Russian intentions and help justify nuclear modernization programs and political opposition to reductions in other nuclear-weapon states,” issue experts Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

“Those developments are not in Russia’s long-term interest,” they asserted in a 2014 edition of their longtime data-and-analysis series on “Russian nuclear forces,” published this week.

The analysts said Russia is closing in on its goal of phasing out long-range nuclear missiles dating back to the Cold War, in favor of newer technology. The country has finished fielding a more modern force of Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missiles, while its deployment of even newer road-mobile RS-24 Yars ballistic missiles is “well under way,” the report states.

Separately, Moscow appears set this year to begin manufacturing its new Sarmat long-range ballistic missile, according to the analysts. They added, though, that it is unclear whether the forthcoming weapon will be of an entirely new design or a more minor modification to its predecessor, the Cold War-era SS-18.

Meanwhile, the analysts saw what they described as a worrying reduction in Russia’s overall missile count of favor of placing more nuclear warheads on fewer delivery systems. They said Moscow is on track by 2022 to decrease to between 220 and 250 long-range nuclear missiles, a fraction of the 400 land-based nuclear missiles that the United States is expected to still hold at that time.

“That trend is unhealthy for strategic stability because relatively few warheads on more U.S. ICBMs can threaten many warheads on fewer Russian ICBMs,” Kristensen and Norris wrote. The dynamic could make Russia more inclined to pre-emptively launch its ground-based nuclear missiles in a crisis, if Moscow leaders believe they might otherwise lose their weapons to a U.S. strike, according to nuclear strategists.

Russia’s missile activities ran parallel to its progress toward fielding eight planned new-generation Borei-class submarines, according to the report. However, the analysts said Moscow has faced continued technical setbacks tied to the Borei vessel’s planned key weapon, the Bulava missile.

Russia’s sea-based nuclear deterrent will continue to rely on half-dozen Delta 4 submarines for the remainder of this decade, and reports have conflicted on whether a planned update to the vessel’s Sineva missiles would revamp the entire missile or just its warhead, the analysts wrote.

They added that Russia in November approved plans to develop and build a “a subsonic stealthy flying wing aircraft” to serve as a future nuclear bomber.

Kristensen and Norris added that a Russian missile test allegedly conducted in breach of an arms-control pact with Washington “probably involved” the developmental R-500 Iskander-K cruise missile. The analysts did not take a position on whether the reported trial constitutes a violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, but they attributed arguments in the affirmative to U.S. security “hardliners.”