Monthly Archives: April 2014

U.S. expects about 10 pct of nuclear capacity to shut by 2020

HOUSTON, Tue Apr 29, 2014 (Reuters)

Lower natural gas prices and stagnant growth in electric demand will lead to the loss of 10,800 megawatts of U.S. nuclear generation, or around 10 percent of total capacity, by the end of the decade, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a report issued on Monday.

About 6,000 MW of nuclear capacity will shut by 2020 in addition to six reactors totaling 4,800 MW that have already shut or plan to shut in that time period, the EIA said in its 2014 annual electric output study.

“Retirements often are the result of unique circumstances, but some owners of nuclear power plants have voiced concerns about the profitability of their units,” the EIA said in its report.

Lower natural gas prices that have pared wholesale power prices will hurt profitability for nuclear units and some high-cost reactors will shut as economic challenges mount, the EIA said.

“When faced with declining profitability, plant owners may choose to retire their units rather than make additional investments to keep them operating,” the report said.

“Those projected retirements are represented by derating of existing capacity for plants in vulnerable regions, not by retiring specific plants,” EIA added.

Rising natural gas prices after 2020 may support continued operation of U.S. nuclear plants for several years, but many reactors will reach the end of their 60-year operating license beginning in 2029 and shut permanently.

The EIA outlook changed after four reactors shut in 2013 – Edison International’s San Onofre 2 and 3, Dominion Resources’ Kewaunee and Duke Energy’s Crystal River. A fifth reactor – Entergy Corp’s Vermont Yankee – is also set to retire by the end of 2014.

A sixth reactor, Exelon’s Oyster Creek, is scheduled to shut in 2019.

In its 2013 report, the EIA projected only 7,700 MW, or about 7 percent, of nuclear capacity would retire by 2040. The report did not mention the number of units that are likely shut after operating for 60 years after 2029.

(Reporting by Eileen O’Grady in Houston; editing by Andrew Hay)

 

US Navy: 10 new nuclear subs

Navy orders 10 nuclear subs for $17.6B in most lucrative contract ever

The Washington Times | Douglas Ernst | Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The U.S. Navy plans to build 10 new SSN 774 Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarines over the next five years. Price tag: $17.6 billion.

A contract with General Dynamics Electric Boat and chief subcontractor Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding was announced Monday, the Navy Times reported.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC.

Will Einhorn’s Proposals Help Iran’s Nuclear Talks?

Iran Review | Mohammad Hassan Daryaei | April 27, 2014

In a scholarly article, Dr. Mohammad Hassan Daryaei, senior researcher and university professor, has offered in-depth critique of a recent article written by the US State Department’s Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control Mr. Robert Einhorn on “Preventing a Nuclear-Armed Iran” What follows is a summarized version of his article.

1. Basic and structural flaws of Einhorn’s article

It seems that conditions governing the domestic environment in the United States, including lobbying activities by various pressure groups at rightist think tanks, where Einhorn has written this article, have profoundly affected his Article. It also seems that the main goal of Einhorn’s article is to cater to the demands of the most radical part of the US Congress, instead of offering pragmatic, legal and practical proposals. Einhorn believes and hopes that his article may provide answers to this part of the Congress. This is not an accurate understanding of the situation, since the rightist members of the Congress are unlikely to be convinced on this issue, no matter how radical and tough Einhorn proposal would be on Iran. The hardliner in the Senate are basically against nuclear talks with Iran. Therefore, it is not clear what could be the benefit of these proposals which transcend the boundaries of some of the existing and recognized international and legal frameworks with a perceived imaginary, unattainable goal.

2. Wrong assumptions about past nuclear activities of Iran

From the very beginning of his article, Einhorn has based his arguments on erroneous assumptions which cannot be proven; assumptions which have caused the conclusion of his report to err on the side of accuracy. The first wrong assumption, which has been actually mentioned in the opening part of the article, is that Iran has been seeking to build nuclear weapons in the past. The existing documents and evidence prove that this basic hypothesis of Einhorn’s report is not true and is just an allegation offered without any positive evidence to support it. After more than 30 years of uninterrupted inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and following about 7,000 person-days of inspections since 2003, which has no precedent or parallel anywhere else in the world, the IAEA has been never able to offer a report or a single shred of proof to prove that Iran’s nuclear energy program has been diverted toward military purposes.

Perhaps, he has taken the failures mentioned in a report by then Director General of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei in 2003, as sign of a possible military nuclear program in Iran. However, even in this case he is still mistaken because in its 2003 report to Board of Governors of the IAEA, the Director General had only pointed to Iran’s failures in complying with the Safeguards Agreement which were, in fact, the result of different interpretations of the Safeguards Agreement by Iran and the IAEA. The issue of failure is not in any way equal to the diversion. In 2003 Safeguard Implementation Report of the IAEA, 18 countries had some failures.

3. Miscalculation about Iran’s future programs

Another wrong assumption in Einhorn’s article is that he says Iran will finally choose to build nuclear weapons. Therefore, his solutions are also based on this erroneous assumption that Iran’s decision to build nuclear weapons should be both time-intensive and cost-intensive in order to give the international community enough time to give a proper response to Iran’s program.

It should be noted that firstly, this way of thinking, which is based on guessing the intention of the opposite party and meting out punishments on the basis of unproven assumptions or prejudgment, is an unacceptable innovation. Secondly, the main assumption of this approach is founded on a mistaken calculation and assessment, which in turn, are based on wrong information because Iran has announced time and again that it has no plan to build nuclear weapons. There are three major obstacles which prevent Iran from moving in the direction of acquiring such weapons. Firstly, Iran is a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and in line with the obligations arising from its membership and the rules of the NPT, has been committed to avoid any effort aimed at building nuclear weapons. Secondly, strategic calculation on security of Iran is an important factor at present, Iran is the most powerful country in the region in terms of conventional weapons and also in view of other social and economic indices. There is no reason for Iran to lose this regional superiority by entering the enigmatic puzzle of nuclear weapons, which can also trigger a nuclear race in the region and make economic rivalries more complicated. Therefore, Iran is mature enough not to provide grounds for possible damage to its military and economic security by moving toward acquiring of nuclear weapons. Thirdly, moral and religious obligations, which especially arise from the fatwa (religious decree) issued by the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, block the way to any effort or even idea that would end in the proliferation of nuclear weapons because from this angle, production of nuclear weapons is a grave sin. This fatwa has drawn attention from leaders of other religious faiths as well as certain political figures in the United States.

I wish Mr. Einhorn would have noticed that these three obstacles have led to conditions, which differentiate Iran’s behavior from other countries. They have also affected political, economic and military equations in Iran as they make the move toward nuclear weapons almost impossible. If Einhorn had paid attention to this fact he would not have to offer imaginary solutions for impossible conditions.

4. Innovation in argument and disregard for legal basics of the existing nonproliferation regime

A major mistake in Einhorn’s article is disregard for the legal basics which have been instrumental during past decades in regulating nonproliferation of nuclear weapons because his arguments transcend the limits of these regulations. The proposal put forth in Einhorn’s article for preventing Iran from its internationally authorized nuclear capabilities and severely limit the peaceful activities of Iran by not allowing the country to obtain what he calls “rapid breakout capability,” is only an innovation in the legal system of nonproliferation regime, which has its roots in extreme pessimism. In addition to being at odds with the letter and spirit of the NPT, his proposal is practically impossible to implement and has no basis in nonproliferation regime. This innovation may erode seriously the foundation of the NPT structure.

5. Undermining and discrediting nonproliferation regime

The pessimism resulting from the ideas rife among pressure groups in the United States and Israel has made Einhorn take a politicized approach to the issue as a result of which he has based his arguments on wrong calculations. Also, due to inattention to realities and behavior of Iran, Einhorn has offered imaginary proposals ignoring the fact that such innovations as well as illegal and impractical proposals will, in the first place, undermine the existing nonproliferation regime and cast doubts on credibility of the NPT. Under present circumstances, the NPT will not be able to withstand another double discriminatory approach like what Robert Einhorn has proposed because it would pose serious threat to credibility and power of the nonproliferation regime as per the NPT. There is no doubt that Einhorn and other US officials are certainly not willing to put the NPT in such dire conditions and undermine it. On the other hand, the member states of the NPT will also reject such innovations in the treaty.

6. Offering unrealistic and impractical proposals

Robert Einhorn has ignored all the realities about Iran’s nuclear energy program and has merely expressed the aspirations and wishes of the most radical of the US and Israeli lobbies. It is a reality that Iran has so far installed about 20,000 centrifuges. There is also more than 8,000 kg of 5-percent enriched uranium in the country, Fordow facility and its cascade of centrifuges are active, and Arak heavy water reactor is being completed. Offering any solution which would not comply with the realities on the ground will amount to proposing something unrealistic and impractical. Perhaps, this is why Peter Jenkins has asked Einhorn to avoid putting extreme demands in front of Iran because offering similar proposals caused nuclear negotiations to fail in 2004 and 2005.

7. Offering contradictory and ineffective proposals which are not even compatible with Einhorn’s main goal

Proposals offered by Einhorn are by no means compatible with the goals of the NPT; neither form an organizational angle, nor from thematic and methodological standpoints. They even fall short of meeting his own imaginary goal because if a country is bent on following the policy of producing nuclear weapons, the number of centrifuges, the amount of nuclear materials, and even foreign restrictions will not be able to stop it. As put by John Sawers, the former head of the British secret service, MI6, the British government built all its nuclear weapons using only 16 centrifuges. (1)

On the other hand, the concept of buying necessary time to be able to react properly to Iran’s decision should the country choose to build nuclear weapons is an imaginary concept which can only come true through the decision of the UN Security Council. Even in that case, it would not go beyond imposing certain sanctions against the country. Experience gained in the past years has already shown that Iran will not abandon its nuclear energy program under foreign pressures and sanctions and restrictive measures will have no effect in this regard. Also, the threat to use military force against Iran will be illogical and useless in view of various factors that may affect such an action. Understanding this issue, Einhorn has offered a totally impractical proposal according to which two bills should be passed by the US Senate and the UN Security Council, which would then hover over Iran’s head like the Damocles’ sword. This proposal is not only impractical, but will also make further negotiations over Iran’s nuclear energy program very difficult and even impossible. In that case, conditions will change in favor of a lose-lose game as a result of lack of correct understanding of Iran’s culture of resistance to foreign force.

Conclusion

It is quite unlikely that Mr. Einhorn is actually trying to torpedo the ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran and the world powers. However, such proposals as have been offered by him in his article are possible to serve as a coup de grâce to all the efforts made by top diplomats from the six world powers, who have spent their time during the past six months to come up with a practical solution for Iran’s nuclear energy program through a win-win strategy. In addition, it will pose serious challenges to the NPT and, as a result, change the existing conditions into a full-blown lose-lose game. Einhorn’s report only reflects the needs and viewpoints of radical American figures and is devoid of strategic approach to this issue as well as adequate understanding of Iran’s positions and statements. It is also inattentive to the fundaments of international treaties that have given birth to nonproliferation regime and Iran’s nuclear realities. Such impractical, contradictory and unrealistic proposals and ideas embedded in them will only lead to distortion of the nonproliferation regime, which will only make nuclear talks more complicated. The positive points about his article are recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium on its soil, though on a limited scale, and offering an apparently constructive approach to maintaining the nuclear facility in Iran’s central city of Arak.

I wish instead of offering such innovations as well as impractical and unrealistic proposals, whose ineffectiveness has been already proven, Einhorn would accept the existing nuclear realities of Iran. This would have enabled him to come up with a practical solution in the light of strategic viewpoints and the three main obstacles that have barred Iran from moving toward production of nuclear weapons. Such a solution would respect Iran’s right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, encourage nondiscriminatory enforcement of the regulations of the nonproliferation regime, and foster more respect for international treaties which recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium in view of objective realities.

Considering the political will and the powerful momentum that has been created in negotiating countries, achieving such a solution is not out of reach. It would suffice to take the best advantage of the existing window of opportunity as long as it remains open. There is no doubt that this window of opportunity will remain open only for a short time. Therefore, time to be squandered over impractical proposals which are not legally sound and based on wrong assumptions is really rare.

I highly respect the level of expertise devoted to the drafting of his article and hope that Robert Einhorn would build up on the positive parts of the coin, putting aside some of his excessive pessimistic presumptions, so that we could take advantage of more balanced, practical and legally sound proposals from him on this issue, taking into account his vast knowledge on the negotiations.

Notes:

(1) See John Sawers’ remarks in a BBC documentary on Iran’s nuclear energy program, which has been frequently aired on this channel.

Dr. Mohammad Hassan Daryaei is one of the prominent Iranian experts and researchers in the field of disarmament and International security. He has worked on these issues for 20 years and has written numerous books and articles about them.

Israel’s Stolen Nuclear Materials: Why it Still Matters

Lobe Log | Marsha B. Cohen | April 28th, 2014

Once again revelations concerning the genesis of Israel’s undeclared nuclear weapons program are attracting notice.

Two nuclear experts, Victor Gilinsky and Roger J. Mattson, have again raised questions as to how Israel might have acquired the nuclear materials needed to build its nuclear bombs in a provocatively titled article, “Did Israel steal bomb-grade uranium from the United States?”  

Why now? The Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP), the nation’s highest classification authority, has released a number of top-level government memoranda that may provide additional grounds for suspecting that during the 1960s, bomb-grade uranium from the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC) reprocessing plant in Apollo, Pennsylvania made its way into Israel’s nuclear weapons program. “The newly released documents also expose government efforts, notably during the Carter administration, to keep the NUMEC story under wraps, an ironic twist in view of Jimmy Carter’s identification with opposition to nuclear proliferation,” write Gilinsky and Mattson in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

Four years ago, in March 2010, the two researchers wrote “Revisiting the NUMEC Affair” for the Bulletin. They contended there was abundant evidence available from declassified documents to support suspicions that at least some of the 337 kg. of radioactive materials that had gone missing from NUMEC in the 1960s from the plant in Apollo had been stolen and taken to the nuclear research reactor in Dimona, Israel. The cited documents also reveal that the FBI, CIA, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and members of the top echelons of the U.S. national security establishment were aware that NUMEC’s founder and president, Zalman Shapiro, not only had ties to Israeli intelligence officers and operatives with science-related job descriptions, but had also allowed them into the NUMEC plant.

Among them was Rafael Eitan, a “chemist” for Israel’s Defense Ministry who also happened to be a former Mossad officer, as well as the handler of naval intelligence spy, Jonathan Pollard, who has been in the news recently. Just how much was already known about Eitan’s role in NUMAC’s “diversion” of nuclear materials to Israel, and the extent of Israeli espionage activities conducted in the U.S. — second only to that of the KGB according to one top-level source quoted by name — is evident from a 1986 article by Washington Post reporter Charles Babcock about the Pollard case.

Grant W. Smith, Director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy (IRmep) followed up Gilinsky and Matson’s 2011 disclosures with a report based on documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other documentary evidence including corporate filings, office diaries and unguarded interviews. The report was published in January 2012 as a book titled, Divert! NUMEC, Zalman Shapiro and the diversion of US weapons grade uranium into the Israeli nuclear weapons Program. According to Smith, former CIA Tel Aviv station chief John Hadden claimed that NUMEC was “an Israeli operation from the beginning.”

Gilinksy and Mattson, initially more circumspect in drawing conclusions than Smith — in part because the released documents are highly redacted – credited Smith with having kept up the pressure for the release of more declassified documents. On March 18 the ISCAP released 84 additional pages (PDF) of previously classified documents related to concerns about the illegal diversion of weapons-grade nuclear material from NUMEC to Israel’s nuclear weapons program. The new documents include:

  • A letter dated April 2, 1968 from CIA Director Richard Helms to Attorney General Ramsey Clark about a large loss of uranium from NUMEC. In 1965, the AEC had acknowledged the possibility of missing nuclear materials having been diverted, but had tried to play it down.
  • An FBI memorandum (03/09/1972) discussing “the distinct possibility” that NUMEC’s director, Zalman Shapiro, had been responsible for the diversion of special nuclear materials.
  • Notes from a briefing of President Jimmy Carter’s National Security (07/28/1977) by Theodore Shackley, the CIA’s Associate Deputy Director, revealing that then-CIA Director George W. Bush had briefed President-elect Jimmy Carter about “the NUMEC problem” in December 1976, even before Carter had taken office.
  • A memorandum to Carter from National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski (08/02/1977) that expressed dismay not only about careless accounting practices used to keep track of uranium in NUMEC’s possession and lax AEC oversight, but even more at the considerable interest in NUMEC’s loss of nuclear materials among certain members of Congress, which Brzezinski considered  “dangerous.” Determined to broker a peace deal between Israel and Egypt, the last thing Carter wanted were revelations confirming Israel had nuclear weapons, particularly if they had been created with materials from the U.S., so Carter shut down the NUMEC investigation.
  • Declassified wiretap transcripts of conversations between Shapiro and venture capitalist David Lowenthal that reveal illegal storage practices, which led to a dangerous nuclear spill.

In their most recent article for the Bulletin, Gilinsky and Mattson sum up what the various declassified documents, including those most recently released, confirm about NUMEC’s probable role in providing Israel with highly enriched uranium with which to produce nuclear weapons:

NUMEC’s unexplained losses were a significantly larger proportion of its output of highly enriched uranium than was the case for other firms that dealt with nuclear materials. Sloppy accounting and lax security made the plant easy to rob without detection. NUMEC had commercial relationships with Israel’s defense and nuclear establishments and regularly made sizeable nuclear shipments to Israel, which at that time were not checked by the AEC.  NUMEC’s owners and executives had extremely close ties to Israel, including to high Israeli intelligence and nuclear officials. Israel had strong motives to obtain the highly enriched uranium before it was producing enough plutonium for weapons. High-level Israeli intelligence operatives visited the NUMEC plant. Israeli intelligence organizations were used to running logistically complicated, risky operations to support nuclear weapons development, and it would have been very much out of character for them to pass up an opportunity like this.

Why does it matter now?

Despite its continuing denials, it is almost universally recognized that Israel possesses nuclear weapons, and there’s next to zero likelihood Israel will give them up. Does it matter how Israel got its nuclear materials half a century ago, and if so, why?

1.  The environmental disaster NUMEC left behind. NUMEC’s carelessness in handling its toxic nuclear waste left behind an environmental disaster that has barely been addressed. Cleaning up the Shallow Land Disposal Area in Parks Township, Pennsylvania, contaminated by radioactive leakage from drums of toxic chemical and radioactive waste dumped by NUMEC and its successors — the Atlantic Richfield Co. and BWX Technologies (also known as Babcock & Wilcox) – may cost as much as half a billion dollars, according to the Army Corps of Engineers and the Wall Street Journal. The cleanup began in 2011 but was halted soon afterwards, and it won’t resume until 2015. In the hands of a new contractor, the cleanup may last a decade, and even then the chances of success are uncertain. Declassification of more NUMEC-related documents could facilitate the cleanup and even reduce its cost by disclosing details about where and how the toxic nuclear materials were discarded.

2. The proposed release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. A CIA damage assessment of the Pollard case was declassified in December 2013. Although Pollard himself was only a small cog in the Israeli espionage network, Smith points out that none of the files handed over by Pollard to his handler, Rafael Eitan, part of the Israeli team visiting NUMEC in 1968, have ever been returned. He recommends that “if President Obama releases Pollard, it should be preceded by the belated return of the massive trove of classified documents he stole for Israel as well as all purloined nuclear materials and technologies.”

3.  Undermining assertions of  U.S. commitment to transparency in governance. “Nearly 50 years have passed since the events in question,” Gilinsky and Mattson contend. “It is time to level with the public. At this point it is up to the president himself to decide whether to declassify completely the NUMEC documents, all of which are over 30 years old. He should do so. We know that is asking a lot given the president’s sensitivity about anything involving Israel, and especially anything relating to Israeli nuclear weapons. But none of his political concerns outweigh his responsibility to tell the US public the historical truth it deserves to know.”

4.  Undermining U.S. commitment to nuclear nonproliferation. “We’ve lost a great deal of respect around the world on the subject of nonproliferation,” Gilinsky told Global Security Newswire (GSN) in an e-mail interview. “The president doesn’t even acknowledge that Israel has nuclear weapons, which means no one in the government can…Leveling on [this] affair, painful as it might be in the short run, would be a step toward what you might call a reality-based policy in this area.”

5. Future relations with Iran and North Korea. Mattson opined to GSN that disclosure of whatever the U.S. knows about the disappearance and diversion of nuclear materials from NUMEC would be to Washington’s advantage in dealing with Iran and North Korea, irrespective of whether or not Israel was the perpetrator of nuclear theft. In negotiating with Iran and North Korea, “it is important for all sides to come to the table openly and honestly, as they declare their various interests in the deal they are trying to strike.” U.S. credibility would be enhanced by the full declassification of documents from the 1960s and 70s, especially if  these documents were to reveal that the U.S. has been frank and forthright about NUMEC. If the U.S. hasn’t been honest up until now, Mattson sees the NUMEC document declassification as an opportunity to “atone for past mistakes and go back to the negotiating table refreshed by the experience” thereby setting an example for states that it accuses of duplicity.

Interfaith Leaders Jointly Call to Abolish Nuclear Arms

IPS | Michelle Tullo

U.S. Pres. Barack Obama chairs the Security Council Summit on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament

U.S. President Barack Obama chairs the U.N. Security Council Summit on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament in September 2009. Credit: Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

WASHINGTON, Apr 25 2014 (IPS) – On the eve of next week’s meeting at the U.N. headquarters in New York on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), more than 100 representatives of 11 faith groups from around the world have pledged to step up their efforts to seek the global abolition of nuclear weapons.

Gathered at the U.S. Institute of Peace here Thursday, the participants, composed of influential representatives of the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, among others, said their traditions teach that the threat posed by nuclear weapons was “unacceptable and must be eliminated”.

Soka Gakkai, an international grassroots Buddhist organisation based in Japan, hosted the event.

“The continued existence of nuclear weapons forces humankind to live in the shadow of apocalyptic destruction,” according to a statement issued at the end of the one-day conference.

“The catastrophic consequences of any use of nuclear weapons cannot be fully communicated by numbers or statistics; it is a reality that frustrates the power of both rational analysis and ordinary imagination.”

Signatories of the statement include representatives from the Muslim American Citizens Coalition and Public Affairs Council, the Friends Committee on National Legislation and Pax Christi International.

The conference, the latest in a series on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, came as delegates from around the world prepared to convene in New York for the NPT PrepCom, set to run Apr. 28 through May 9. That meeting will help lay the groundwork for the 2015 Review Conference, also slated for New York, on implementing the NPT’s goals of non-proliferation and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.

“Nuclear deterrence theory does not work like it used to. In order to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons, the only way is to create an era in which there are no nuclear weapons,” Hirotsugu Terasaki, vice-president of Soka Gakkai and executive director of Peace Affairs of Soka Gakkai International, told IPS.

“The president of our organisation has said, ‘Nuclear weapons are not a necessary evil, they are an absolute evil.’”

Prodding the process

One goal of Thursday’s symposium was to flesh out the fatal consequences of nuclear weapons, including ramifications that go well the immediate fallout of a nuclear strike.

For instance, keynote speaker Dr. Andrew Kanter, former director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, told the participants of scientific findings that even a small detonation could cause a widespread deadly famine by accelerating climate change and disrupting global agriculture.

Others discussed the need to engage the Permanent Five members of the U.N. Security Council in the broader conversation. As a first step, Thursday’s statement will be presented next week to the chair of the NPT PrepCom.

“We need to think again about what we mean by security and how we experience security,” Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, said. “As faith-based communities, we are in a position to ask those kinds of questions.”

Since 1970, when the NPT became effective, its regular review conferences have produced few successes other than the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bars all nuclear explosions – including those, such as took place in the Marshall Islands, for testing purposes.

Additionally, the five nuclear-armed signatories have met annually since 2009. Last week, they met in Beijing where they reaffirmed past commitments and solidified a reporting framework to share national progress on meeting treaties.

Also present at Thursday’s symposium was Anita Friedt, an official on nuclear policy at the U.S. State Department. She described some of the reasons that nuclear abolition has been such a frustratingly slow process.

“Why can’t we just stop and give up nuclear weapons? This is really hard work,” Friedt said.

“If we just say today we’re just going to give up nuclear weapons, there’s no incentive for other countries to do so, necessarily. Unfortunately, it is more complex than it may seem at the surface.”

There are also significant bureaucratic challenges to the ongoing NPT negotiations. The U.S. Congress, for instance, failed to ratify the CTBT in 1999 and only barely ratified President Barack Obama’s New START Treaty – a strategic arms-reduction agreement between the U.S. and Russia – in 2010.

“It’s a slower pace than I would like; it’s a slower pace than our president would like,” Friedt said.

Yet SGI’s Terasaki says global faith communities are well placed use their broad leverage to try to influence, and speed up, this process. Thursday’s event, he noted, was the first time such a discussion had come to the United States.

“We want to help re-energise the voice of faith communities,” he said, “and explore ways to raise public awareness of the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons.”

Obligation to disarm

The conference occurred on the same day that the Marshall Islands filed an unprecedented lawsuit before the International Court of Justice against the United States and eight other nuclear-armed countries for not upholding their commitments to the NPT and international law.

“Article VI [of the NPT] defines an obligation to negotiate in good faith for an end to nuclear arms and disarmament,” David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and a consultant to the Marshall Islands lawsuit, filed Thursday, told IPS.

“This lawsuit indicates that each of the nuclear armed states are modernising their nuclear arsenal. You can’t modernise your arsenal and say you’re negotiating in good faith.”

Five countries are currently party to the NPT: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. However, the Marshall Islands is also suing India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan, claiming that those countries are bound to the same nuclear disarmament provisions under international law.

The small island nation, in Micronesia in the Pacific Ocean, is not suing for monetary compensation. Rather, its government wants the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to declare the nine countries in breach of their treaty obligations and to issue an injunction ordering them to begin negotiating in good faith.

Krieger says the Marshall Islands have “suffered gravely” as a result of nuclear testing carried out by the United States between 1946 and 1958.

“They don’t want any other country or people to suffer the consequences that they have,” he said, noting that the residents of the Marshall Islands have suffered health effects in the generations since the testing stopped, including stillborn babies and abnormally high rates of cancer.

Out of the nine nuclear-armed countries, only the United Kingdom, India and Pakistan accept the ICJ’s jurisdiction. The other six countries, including the United States, are to be invited to the court in order to state their reasons for not fulfilling their obligations under the NPT.

Still, just to be sure that the United States answers for its responsibility to the NPT, the Marshall Islands has also filed a lawsuit in a U.S. federal court in San Francisco.

Disarmament – Marshall Islands

U.S.-Dependent Pacific Island Defies Nuke Powers

marshall-islands-640-629x418
A Patriot interceptor missile is launched from Omelek Island Oct. 25, 2012 during a U.S. Missile Defense Agency integrated flight test. Credit: U.S. Navy

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 25 2014 (IPS) – The tiny Pacific nation state of Marshall Islands – which depends heavily on the United States for its economic survival, uses the U.S. dollar as its currency and predictably votes with Washington on all controversial political issues at the United Nations – is challenging the world’s nuclear powers before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, is being described as a potential battle between a puny David and a mighty Goliath: a country with a population of a little over 68,000 people defying the world’s nine nuclear powers with over 3.5 billion people.

John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy and the U.N. Office of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA), told IPS the Marshall Islands and its legal team strongly encourage other states to support the case, by making statements, and by filing their own parallel cases if they qualify, or by intervening in the case.

Burroughs, who is a member of that team, said the ICJ, in its 1996 advisory opinion, held unanimously that there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations on nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.

And these cases brought by the Marshall Islands nearly 18 years after the ICJ advisory opinion “will put to the test the claims of the nine states possessing nuclear arsenals that they are in compliance with international law regarding nuclear disarmament and cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date.”

The nine nuclear states include the five permanent members (P5) of the U.N. Security Council, namely the United States, the UK, France, China and Russia, plus India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

Burroughs said three of the respondent states – the UK, India, and Pakistan – have accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court, as has the Marshall Islands.

For the other six states, he said, the Marshall Islands is calling on them to accept the Court’s jurisdiction in these particular cases.

“This is a normal procedure but the six states could choose not to do so,” said Burroughs.

Between 1946 and 1958, the United States conducted 67 nuclear weapons tests, triggering health and environmental problems which still plague the island nation.

Tony de Brum, the foreign minister of Marshall Islands, was quoted as saying, “Our people have suffered the catastrophic and irreparable damage of these weapons, and we vow to fight so that no one else on earth will ever again experience these atrocities.”

The continued existence of nuclear weapons and the terrible risk they pose to the world threaten us all, he added.

The suit also says the five original nuclear weapon states (P5) are continuously breaching their legal obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Article VI of the NPT requires states to pursue negotiations in good faith on cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and nuclear disarmament.

India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea are not parties to the treaty.

But the lawsuit contends that all nine nuclear-armed nations are still violating customary international law.

Far from dismantling their weapons, the nuclear weapons states are accused of planning to spend over one trillion dollars on modernising their arsenals in the next decade.

David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, which is strongly supportive of the law suit, said, “The Marshall Islands is saying enough is enough.”

He said it is taking a bold and courageous stand on behalf of all humanity, “and we at the foundation are proud to stand by their side.”

In a statement released Thursday, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa said, “The failure of these nuclear-armed countries to uphold important commitments and respect the law makes the world a more dangerous place.

“We must ask why these leaders continue to break their promises and put their citizens and the world at risk of horrific devastation. This is one of the most fundamental moral and legal questions of our time,” he added.

Burroughs told IPS the United States maintains that it is committed both to the international rule of law and to the eventual achievement of a world free of nuclear weapons.

“The United States should defend the case and widen the opportunity for the Court to resolve the wide divide of opinion regarding the state of compliance with the disarmament obligations,” he added.

The other five states which have not accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court are being asked to do likewise.

As to the case against the UK, a key issue is whether the UK has breached the nuclear disarmament obligation by opposing General Assembly efforts to launch multilateral negotiations on the global elimination of nuclear weapons, said Burroughs.

For India and Pakistan, because they are not parties to the NPT, the case will resolve the question of whether the obligations of nuclear disarmament are customary in nature, binding on all states.

He said it will also address whether the actions of India and Pakistan in building up, improving and diversifying their nuclear arsenals are contrary to the obligation of cessation of the nuclear arms race and the fundamental legal principle of good faith.

Former U.S. test site sues nuclear nations for disarmament failure

WASHINGTON Thu Apr 24, 2014

(Reuters) – The tiny Pacific republic of the Marshall Islands, scene of massive U.S. nuclear tests in the 1950s, sued the United States and eight other nuclear-armed countries on Thursday, accusing them of failing in their obligation to negotiate nuclear disarmament.

The Pacific country accused all nine nuclear-armed states of “flagrant violation of international law” for failing to pursue the negotiations required by the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It filed one suit specifically directed against the United States, in the Federal District Court in San Francisco, while others against all nine countries were lodged at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, capital of the Netherlands, a statement from an anti-nuclear group backing the suits said.

The action was supported by South African Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation said.

“The failure of these nuclear-armed countries to uphold important commitments and respect the law makes the world a more dangerous place,” its statement quoted Tutu as saying.

“We must ask why these leaders continue to break their promises and put their citizens and the world at risk of horrific devastation. This is one of the most fundamental moral and legal questions of our time.”

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation is a U.S.-based non-partisan advocacy group working with the Marshall Islands and its international pro-bono legal team.

The Marshall Islands, a grouping of 31 atolls, was occupied by Allied forces in 1944 and placed under U.S. administration in 1947.

Between 1946 and 1958, the United States conducted repeated tests of hydrogen and atomic bombs in the islands.

One, on March 1, 1954, was the largest U.S. nuclear test, code-named Bravo. It involved the detonation of a 15-megaton hydrogen bomb on Bikini Atoll, producing an intense fireball followed by a 20-mile-high mushroom cloud and widespread radioactive fallout. The Marshallese government says the blast was 1,000 times more powerful than that at Hiroshima.

The lawsuits state that Article VI of the NPT requires states to negotiate “in good faith” on nuclear disarmament.

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation said the five original nuclear weapons states – The United States, Russia, Britain, France and China – were all parties to the NPT, while the others – Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea – were “bound by these nuclear disarmament provisions under customary international law.”

A copy of the suit against the United States made available to Reuters says that it is not aimed at seeking compensation from the United States for the testing in the Marshall Islands, which became an independent republic in 1986.

Under agreements between the United States and the Marshall Islands, a Nuclear Claims Tribunal was established to assess and award damages to victims of the nuclear tests. But it has never had the cash to compensate fully for the damage done.

The suit against the United States said it should take “all steps necessary to comply with its obligations … within one year of the date of this Judgment, including by calling for and convening negotiations for nuclear disarmament in all its aspects.”

“Our people have suffered the catastrophic and irreparable damage of these weapons, and we vow to fight so that no one else on earth will ever again experience these atrocities,” the statement quoted Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum as saying.

“The continued existence of nuclear weapons and the terrible risk they pose to the world threaten us all.”

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Dan Grebler)

‘…disarmament in its classic “meaning” is more and more of the past’

Atomic Reporters readers may have missed this announcement earlier in April from Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

PRESS RELEASE

Regarding a structural change in the headquarters of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

768-04-04-2014

On the 3 April, a structural change was made to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Department for Security Affairs and Disarmament (DSAD) was abrogated. A Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control (DNPAC) was created on the basis of it instead.

This change is related to the fact that a significant extension of functions and the area of responsibility of this structural unit has taken place during the last few years.

Now it is more important that in the work this department is dealing with, issues of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and arms control come to the fore more and more noticeably, while disarmament in its classic “meaning” is more and more of the past.

4 April 2014

Possible Deal With Iran On Arak: What Does It Mean?

Lobe Log | Derek Davison | April 24th, 2014

Arak_Heavy_Water4-620x350

Although it hasn’t been officially confirmed, Iran’s Vice-President Ali Akbar Salehi declared April 19 that Iran and the P5+1 (the US, Britain, France, China, and Russia plus Germany) had “virtually resolved” a dispute over Arak. What does this mean for the continued negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program?

What is Arak?

Arak, or araq, is an anise-flavored alcoholic beverage that is especially popular throughout the Levant. It is closely related to the Turkish beverage rakı and the Greek ouzo. 

Arak and water over ice

Not that Arak.

Oh, right, the nuclear talks. Sorry.

Arak is a city of over 500,000 people, located in the Markazi province in central Iran. It’s about 150 miles southwest of Tehran. Modern Arak was incorporated in 1795 by a Georgian lord who got on Catherine the Great’s bad side and offered himself and his army to the Qajar ruler of Iran, Mohammad Khan, in exchange for sanctuary. This makes Arak almost as old as the United States of America, but for an Iranian city that’s still pretty new.

What does Arak have to do with the nuclear talks?

Iran informed the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) in 2003 that it would begin construction on a “pressurized heavy water” nuclear reactor (PHWR), named IR-40 (40 because it was designed to run at 40 megawatts), at Arak. PHWRs are generally seen as greater proliferation risks than the more common “light water” reactors (LWR), so the status of the planned Arak reactor has become one of the primary issues in talks over Iran’s nuclear program.

What is a PHWR and why do they raise proliferation concerns?

A sustained nuclear reaction uses the free neutrons produced when one atom of uranium is split (fission) to strike other uranium atoms and cause them to split, but those neutrons have to be “moderated,” or slowed down, so that they will interact with fissile U-235 (the more common uranium isotope, U-238, is not fissile). Where LWRs just use regular water (H20) as coolant and neutron moderator, PHWRs use deuterium oxide (D20). Deuterium is a hydrogen isotope that contains a neutron in the nucleus (the added weight of the neutron is the reason why it’s called “heavy” water); in nature it accounts for less than 0.02% of all hydrogen in water, but the solution used in a PHWR will be nearly 100% D20.

Heavy water absorbs far fewer free neutrons from nuclear reactions than regular/light water, making it a more efficient neutron moderator. This means that it’s possible to run a PHWR using natural uranium, because all those neutrons that aren’t being absorbed are available to strike enough U-235 to sustain a reaction even in natural uranium (which contains very little U-235). LWRs require enriched uranium, which has been altered in centrifuges to artificially increase the percentage of U-235. This is the first reason why PHWRs are a proliferation concern, because while enriched uranium is subject to monitoring safeguards in how it is bought, sold, and transported on the world market, natural uranium is not. But the far greater concern is that PHWRs can produce significant amounts of plutonium as waste product, which can then be reprocessed into weapons-grade material. For example, India’s first tested nuclear weapon, Pokhran-I, was fueled by plutonium reprocessed from its heavy water CIRUS reactor, whose design is similar to IR-40’s.

Why does Iran want a heavy water reactor?

Reactors that are intended to be used for research (for example, to produce medical isotopes) rather than for power generation, often need to use uranium enriched to 20% U-235 or more, which in addition to being costly to produce is also itself a proliferation concern. PHWRs, again because D20 is such an efficient moderator, are an alternative in such applications. Iran insists that IR-40 is intended only to replace its aging Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes for cancer patients, but the P5+1 has expressed concern about its potential use in developing a weapon. The Joint Plan of Action that was signed in Geneva in November 2014 stipulated that Iran would take no steps toward bringing Arak online for its duration.

For all the P5+1’s supposed concern about Arak, it must be noted that, as Gareth Porter has pointed out, Iran has made no move to build the kind of reprocessing facility that would be needed to convert IR-40’s plutonium waste into weapons fuel. While it could build such a facility in the future, that would take considerable time and would not be easily concealed from IAEA inspectors, so Arak is not an imminent threat from a proliferation standpoint.

What is involved in this agreement that’s been reached, and what are its implications?

To be clear, so far there is no official confirmation that any deal has been reached. But while Iranian officials have ruled out converting IR-40 to a LWR, they have suggested a willingness to modify its design. Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen reports that the compromise is likely very similar to a proposal laid out by a group of Princeton University scientists in the journal Arms Control Today, whereby IR-40 would be modified to run on lightly enriched uranium, rather than natural uranium, and would run at a lower temperature, 10-30 megawatts rather than 40. Both of these modifications would substantially reduce the amount of plutonium waste produced by the reactor (to about the same amount as if it were converted to a LWR) without compromising its effectiveness as a research reactor.

Arak has been a prominent element in the negotiations, so if a deal over its status has been reached, then it’s likely that the negotiators are now on the last few major disputes that need to be ironed out for a comprehensive agreement. These undoubtedly revolve around the issues of uranium enrichment and IAEA monitoring, which arms control expert Robert Einhorn has argued are the biggest issues in the talks.

Photo: Iran’s IR-40 (Arak) heavy water reactor.