Monthly Archives: April 2015

Japan’s Disastrous “Safety Myth”: Ignoring the Lessons of Minor Nuclear Incidents

Nippon.com | Sassa Atsuyuki | 30 April 2015

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By denying the existence of risk, the myth of absolute safety, associated particularly with the nuclear power industry, has hampered much-needed improvements in crisis management. Yet over the years before the Fukushima crisis in 2011, there were a number of warnings in the form of minor incidents that should have been heeded. These included the farcical events associated with the launch of the Mutsu nuclear-powered ship in 1974 and a fire at the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in 1995.

Crisis Management Issues Exposed in 1995

At the end of the twentieth century there was much discussion of atomic, biological, and chemical (ABC) crises. Add natural disaster, or D, to the list, and you get ABCD crises. Japan suffered all of these crises in the twentieth century. Indeed, Japan experienced all four types in 1995 alone.

The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake (D), which hit the Kansai area of western Japan in January 1995, was followed by the Tokyo subway sarin gas attack in March, an act of biochemical terrorism (B, C) perpetrated by the Aum Shinrikyō cult. And although minor by comparison with the 1999 accident at Tōkaimura, which resulted in two deaths, and the 2011 crisis at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, there was also an atomic incident (A) in December when a sodium leak in the cooling system caused a fire at the Monju fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture.

As a result, the problems in Japan’s state-level crisis management became apparent in 1995. Unfortunately, however, no subsequent improvements were made based on the lessons of that year.

Fukushima Disaster Could Have Been Prevented

What exactly were the lessons of 1995? The first thing to note is that until then both the Japanese government and people had relied on the myth of absolute safety and had never considered coming face-to-face with a worst-case scenario. This became obvious in each and every one of the crises. Naturally, alarm bells were sounded in various quarters, but government offices in particular had established systems and proceeded generally based on the assumptions of the safety myth. It was taboo, at least internally, to call these assumptions into question.

Although the successive crises of 1995 flatly contradicted the safety myth, there were no later moves to construct a crisis management system allowing for the possibility of risk. A number of sectors continued to shelter under the umbrella of the safety myth, refusing to face up to reality.

The biggest offender was the nuclear industry. If it had learned from past accidents, freed itself from the myth of absolute safety, and taken reasonable countermeasures, the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, caused by the 2011 tsunami, might not have taken place. And that is not all. It was the nuclear industry’s continued stubborn insistence on the safety myth that triggered the extreme reaction in public opinion against nuclear power after the accident.

Establishment of the Safety Myth

As the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had created a strong aversion to anything nuclear among the Japanese people, the government’s basic nuclear policy was first to establish that use for peaceful purposes was acceptable through the Atomic Energy Basic Act of 1955 and then to defend this principle through the safety myth. Citizens were misled into believing that nuclear power was not at all dangerous, and any dissenting claims were denied. One might say that policymakers refused to consider safety measures to an almost extreme degree and put the question of nuclear crisis management entirely off-limits. This was their unscientific approach. As crisis management experts, we warned them several times, but they did not change their basic stance. For this reason, I think that successive Liberal Democratic Party administrations bear heavy responsibility.

The first time it became clear that the Japanese government and nuclear industry were not prepared to meet a crisis was in 1974 during the failed test voyage of the Mutsu nuclear ship. At the time I was security division chief at the National Police Agency, so I was able to observe all of the turmoil from behind the scenes.

Sticky Rice Farce

Locals mounted extraordinary opposition when the nuclear ship was to set out from its home port of Ōminato in Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture. They protested vigorously that pollution from the ship would harm rich scallop fishing grounds in the area, although there was no scientific evidence to back this claim. The lively demonstration developed a festive atmosphere, with the fishermen all drinking to the point where virtually all of the bottles of sake in the local liquor shops were sold out. Then, fortified by alcohol, the fishermen attached themselves to the Mutsu anchor with rope and lined up their boats in front of the bow of the vessel so that it could not leave port.

As a typhoon approached, the Mutsu took the opportunity to break through a gap in the blockade. Once in the open sea, testers began a controlled nuclear reaction. The Japan Nuclear Ship Development Agency, which was leading the experiment, and the Science and Technology Agency were brimming with self-confidence. However, a design flaw in the radiation shielding for the reactor resulted in a minor leak. Early failures are standard in the world of technological development, and if the testers had adopted some common-sense countermeasures, they could have dealt with the problem. In this case, all that was needed was to cover the radiation leak with lead plating. But the experimenters on the Mutsu had assumed there would be no technical problems, and they were not prepared for anything going wrong.

As the Mutsu wandered in the ocean, in want of other options, the experimenters tried to plug the leak using borates, to absorb the neutrons, mixed with sticky rice intended for the evening meal! At first they tried throwing it, as nobody wanted to approach the problem area. As might be expected, this did not work well, so low-ranking researchers were selected to block the leak by hand. It is said that they performed the ceremony of drinking farewell cups of water in case they did not survive. Considering that these were people involved in nuclear power development, it was a pathetic state of affairs.

The Telephone That Did Not Ring

Obviously the planners had shown a lack of foresight in failing to consider worst-case scenarios. But this was not the only problem. The overconfident belief that accidents were impossible also meant that the Mutsu was full of media representatives, who gave detailed accounts of the farcical events onboard, turning the affair into a completely unnecessary circus.

When the radiation leak occurred, I was in the office of Moriyama Kinji, then director general of the STA. The protests had been so fierce that the Maritime Safety Agency was unable to deal with them, and the ministers in charge had decided to dispatch Aomori Prefecture riot police and a Tōhoku chemical emergency team and to treat events as a police matter. That was why I was in Moriyama’s office representing the National Public Safety Commission.

There were around 10 telephones on his desk, including one that was red. He said to me, “Sassa, do you know what this phone is for?” “I don’t know,” I replied. “Is it to call the fire service or something like that?” “No,” he said. “This connects directly to the captain of the Mutsu. If there are any problems, the first report will come to me. And then we can think about how to handle whatever it is.” When I asked him later what happened with the direct line, he told me that it never rang. It was pathetic. The first reports of the accident came from the television news, before either the STA , the supervisory body, or the police knew anything about it.

Buying Silence

The Mutsu was refused reentry into Ōminato port, the site of the original demonstrations. As other ports understandably followed suit, the ship continued to drift in the sea, sparking unrest among dock workers and fishermen wherever it went. As security division chief, I remember being suddenly rushed off my feet because I had to dispatch a police unit each time this happened.

It was a disgraceful situation in which all the fishing cooperatives were demanding compensation. Kanemaru Shin, chair of the LDP’s General Council, dealt with it through blatant pork-barrel politics, throwing money at the fishing industry in an attempt to silence it. But there was no end to the demands from fishery representatives; they wanted the Mutsu to be scrapped and all related port facilities, including the designated quay, to be destroyed and returned to how they were before.

Despite this great commotion, however, the government’s nuclear power administrators made no attempts to step up crisis management, such as laying in specially equipped vehicles for emergencies or conducting general checks for defects at all nuclear facilities. The mist of the safety myth descended once again, obscuring any possibility of an accident. That was the outcome of the Mutsu episode.

People Not Responsible?

The STA continued to oversee the development of nuclear power, but it was incapable of handling serious incidents (jiken) and accidents (jiko) at nuclear facilities. For one thing, it had no designated teams to do so. And, given the nature of the agency, it had no concept of “incidents” or “accidents.”

This was vividly apparent after the December 1995 fire at the Monju fast-breeder reactor, caused by a leak of molten sodium. At a press conference, a councillor of the STA sparked an uproar when he talked about the jishō (“occurrence” or “phenomenon”) at Monju. “What do you mean, ‘occurrence’?” one reporter pressed. “You should call it an ‘incident’ or an ‘accident.’” But the councillor battled gamely on: “This is classed as an occurrence under the STA’s rules. An accident that causes injury or death is an incident, and if a machine had broken down or been destroyed by fire, that would have been an accident. But a sodium leak is considered to be an occurrence and not an incident or accident.”

While I was listening to that explanation, I just kept thinking how idiotic it was. Shortly after, I made the point in newspapers and on television that it was inappropriate to use the word jishō, which put a sodium fire in the same class as natural phenomena like storms and thunder. It was akin to saying that people were not responsible. If the STA’s internal rules treated a sodium fire at a nuclear plant in the same way as they did storms or thunder, the agency needed to change its rules.

Later I received a long handwritten letter from the councillor who had spoken at the press conference. It showed a strange persistence in trying to justify the description, asking if I had read the internal rules and stating that the word used was fine because it was written like that in the rules.

A Lone Questioning Voice

Tanaka Makiko was director general of the STA when the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake struck less than a year before the Monju accident. She provided a lone voice to question whether nuclear plants really were totally prepared to withstand earthquakes and suggested carrying out surveys. But fearing that such surveys might stir rumors that nuclear plants were indeed vulnerable, thus fueling the antinuclear movement, all local authorities chorused that “there was no chance of a threat from earthquakes.” This line was also supported by the cabinet.

There should have been thorough earthquake preparedness surveys at nuclear plants. If they had been properly implemented, there is a strong chance that the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on March 11, 2011, might have been prevented.

Former U.S commander: Take nuclear arsenal off high alert

Chicago Tribune | AP Washington | April 29, 2015

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Gen. James Cartwright takes part in a news conference at the Pentagon on April 21, 2011. (Alex Brandon, AP)

Taking U.S. and Russian missiles off high alert could keep a possible cyberattack from starting a nuclear war, a former commander of U.S. nuclear forces says, but neither country appears willing to increase the lead-time to prepare the weapons for launch.

Retired Gen. James Cartwright said in an interview that “de-alerting” nuclear arsenals could foil hackers by reducing the chance of firing a weapon in response to a false warning of attack.

Essentially adding a longer fuse can be done without eroding the weapons’ deterrent value, said Cartwright, who headed Strategic Command from 2004 to 2007 and was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before retiring in 2011.

The Obama administration has considered and rejected the idea before of taking nuclear missiles off high alert. There appears to be little near-term chance that Moscow would agree to pursue this or any other kind of nuclear arms control measure, given the deteriorating U.S.-Russian relations after Russia’s intervention in eastern Ukraine.

The U.S. and Russia also are at odds over a U.S. accusation that Moscow is violating a treaty banning medium-range nuclear missiles.

Robert Scher, the Pentagon‘s top nuclear policy official, told Congress this month that “it did not make any great sense to de-alert forces” because the administration believes the missiles “needed to be ready and effective and able to prosecute the mission at any point in time.”

An example of the high alert level of U.S. nuclear weapons is the land-based nuclear force. These are the 450 Minuteman 3 missiles that are kept ready, 24/7, to launch from underground silos within minutes after receiving a presidential order.

A study led by Cartwright proposes to adjust the missile command and control system so that it would take 24 hours to 72 hours to get the missiles ready for launch.

Cartwright said cyberthreats to the systems that command and control U.S. nuclear weapons demand greater attention. While the main worry once was a hacker acting alone, today it is a hostile nation-state, he said, that poses more of a threat even as the Pentagon has improved its cyberdefenses.

“The sophistication of the cyberthreat has increased exponentially” over the past decade, he said Tuesday. “It is reasonable to believe that that threat has extended itself” into nuclear command and control systems. “Have they been penetrated? I don’t know. Is it reasonable technically to assume they could be? Yes.”

Cyberthreats are numerous and not fully understood, officials say.

Could a hacker spoof early warning networks into reporting attack indications that lead to overreactions by national leaders? Could they breach firewalls to transmit unauthorized launch orders to crews in nuclear missile launch control centers?

Defense officials are tight-lipped about countering this type of cyber threat.

Last week the No. 2 official at the National Nuclear Security Administration, Madelyn Creedon, was asked at a Senate hearing about progress against this threat to nuclear command and control. She said the government is “doing better,” but she declined to publicly discuss details.

Two years ago the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board, an advisory group, reported that “most of the systems” in the U.S. nuclear arsenal had not been fully assessed to understand possible weak spots in the event of an all-out cyberattack.

Cartwright is the lead author of a report published Wednesday by the Global Zero Commission, an international group co-founded by a former Air Force nuclear missile launch control officer, Bruce Blair, now a research scholar at Princeton. The report calls for a phased approach to taking U.S. and Russian missiles off high alert, with 20 percent of them off launch-ready alert within one year and 100 percent within 10 years, under a legal or political agreement.

The report argues that lowering the alert levels should be preceded by both Russia and the U.S. eliminating a strategy known as a “launch on warning” — being prepared to launch nuclear missiles rapidly after early warning satellites and ground radar detect incoming warheads. It says this presents an unacceptable level of nuclear risk, and argues that vulnerability to cyberattack against the warning systems or the missile control systems is “a new wild card in the deck.”

“At the brink of conflict, nuclear command and warning networks around the world may be besieged by electronic intruders whose onslaught degrades the coherence and rationality of nuclear decision-making,” the report says.

Obama Administration Releases New Nuclear Warhead Numbers

FAS | Hans M. Kristensen | April 28, 2015

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In a speech to the Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in New York earlier today, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry disclosed new information about the size of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.

Updated Stockpile Numbers

First, Kerry updated the DOD nuclear stockpile history by declaring that the stockpile as of September 2014 included 4,717 nuclear warheads. That is a reduction of 87 warheads since September 2013, when the DOD stockpile included 4,804 warheads, or a reduction of about 500 warheads retired since President Obama took office in January 2009.

The September 2014 number of 4,717 warheads is 43 warheads off the estimate we made in our latest FAS Nuclear Notebook in March this year.

Disclosure of Dismantlement Queue

Second, Kerry also announced a new number we have never seen in public before: the official number of retired nuclear warheads in line for dismantlement. As of September 2014, the United States had approximately 2,500 additional warheads that have been retired (but are still relatively intact) and awaiting dismantlement.

The number of “approximately 2,500” retired warheads awaiting dismantlement is close to the 2,340 warheads we estimated in the FAS Nuclear Notebook in March 2015.

Increasing Warhead Dismantlements

Kerry also announced that the administration “will seek to accelerate the dismantlement of retired nuclear warheads by 20 percent.”

“Over the last 20 years alone, we have dismantled 10,251 warheads,” Kerry announced.

This updates the count of 9,952 dismantled warheads from the 2014 disclosure, which means that the administration between September 2013 and September 2014 dismantled 299 retired warheads.

Under current plans, of the “approximately 2,500” warheads in the dismantlement queue, the ones that were retired through (September) 2009 will be dismantled by 2022. Additional warheads retired during the past five years will take longer.

How the administration will accelerate dismantlement remains to be seen. The FY2016 budget request for NNSA pretty much flatlines funding for weapons dismantlement and disposition through 2020. In the same period, the administration plans to complete production of the W76-1 warhead, begin production of the B61-12, and carry out refurbishments of four other warheads. If the administration wanted to dismantle all “approximately 2,500″ retired warheads by 2022 (including those warheads retired after 2009), it would have to dismantle about 312 warheads per year – a rate of only 13 more than it dismantled in 2014. So this can probably be done with existing capacity.

Implications

Secretary Kerry’s speech is an important diplomatic gesture that will help the United States make its case at the NPT review conference that it is living up to its obligations under the treaty. Some will agree, others will not. The nuclear-weapon states are in a tough spot at the NPT because there are currently no negotiations underway for additional reductions; because the New START Treaty, although beneficial, is modest; and because the nuclear-weapon states are reaffirming the importance of nuclear weapons and modernizing their nuclear arsenals as if they plan to keep nuclear weapons indefinitely (see here for worldwide status of nuclear arsenals).

And the disclosure is a surprise. As recently as a few weeks ago, White House officials said privately that the United States would not be releasing updated nuclear warhead numbers at the NPT conference. Apparently, the leadership decided last minute to do so anyway. [Update: another White House official says the release was cleared late but that it had been the plan to release some numbers all along.]

The roughly 500 warheads cut from the stockpile by the Obama administration is modest and a disappointing performance by a president that has spoken so much about reducing the numbers and role of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, the political reality has been an arms control policy squeezed between a dismissive Russian president and an arms control-hostile U.S. Congress.

In addition to updating the stockpile history, the most important part of the initiative is the disclosure of the number of weapons awaiting dismantlement. This is an important new transparency initiative by the administration that was not included in the 2010 or 2014 stockpile transparency initiatives. Disclosing dismantlement numbers helps dispel rumors that the United States is hiding a secret stash of nuclear warheads and enables the United States to demonstrate actual dismantlement progress.

And, besides, why would the administration not want to disclose to the NPT conference how many warheads it is actually working on dismantling? This can only help the United States at the NPT review conference.

There will be a few opponents of the transparency initiative. Since they can’t really say this harms U.S. national security, their primary argument will be that other nuclear-armed states have so far not response in kind.

Russia and China have not made public disclosures of their nuclear warhead inventories. Britain and France has said a little on a few occasions about their total inventories and (in the case of Britain) how many warheads are operationally available or deployed, but not disclosed the histories of stockpiles or dismantlement. And the other nuclear-armed states that are outside the NPT (India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan) have not said anything at all.

But this is a work in progress. It will take a long time to persuade other nuclear-armed states to become more transparent with basic information about nuclear arsenals. But seeing that it can be done without damaging national security and at the same time helping the NPT process is important to cut through old-fashioned excessive nuclear secrecy and increase nuclear transparency. Hat tip to the Obama administration.

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

Statement by NSC Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan Regarding the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia

The White House | April 27, 2015

Today, the President submitted the Protocol to the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia to the U.S. Senate for its advice and consent to ratification.  This is the latest step demonstrating the U.S. commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and to reducing nuclear dangers worldwide. The President looks forward to working closely with the Senate to secure early ratification of this Protocol, as well as the previously submitted Protocols to the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty and the South Pacific Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty.

Regional nuclear-weapon-free zone agreements reinforce both the commitment of nations not to pursue nuclear weapons and the nearly 70-year record of their non-use.  This protocol, upon entry into force, would obligate the United States not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon States within the regional zone who are Party to the Central Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (CANWFZ) Treaty and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations.

In order to continue to build upon this commitment to nonproliferation and international peace and security, the United States will also continue to work toward the signing of the Protocol to the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty.  In the context of this month’s NPT Review Conference and beyond, the United States will continue to aggressively pursue practical measures to advance all of the NPT’s fundamental pillars, disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear technology.

U.S-Japan Joint Statement on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)

The White House | April 28, 2015

  1. Japan and the United States reaffirm our commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons and to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). We commit to work together for a successful Review Conference in New York that strengthens each of the Treaty’s three pillars: nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.  The NPT remains the cornerstone of the global non-proliferation regime and an essential foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament. In this 70th year since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we are reminded of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use.  Hiroshima and Nagasaki will be forever engraved in the world’s memory. Concerns over the use of nuclear weapons underpin all work to reduce nuclear dangers and to work toward nuclear disarmament, to which all NPT parties are committed under Article VI of the Treaty. We affirm that it is in the interest of all States that the 70-year record of non-use should be extended forever and remain convinced that all States share the responsibility for achieving this goal.
  2. We reaffirm our commitment to a step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament, and recognize the progress made since the height of the Cold War. We recognize that further progress is needed. Immediate next steps should include further negotiated nuclear reductions between the United States and Russia, the immediate start of multilateral negotiations of a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and the protocols to the existing nuclear weapon free zone treaties, and the continued reduction of all types of nuclear weapons, deployed and non-deployed, including through unilateral, bilateral, regional and multilateral measures.  We further emphasize the importance of applying the principles of irreversibility, verifiability and transparency in the process of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. In this regard, the United States welcomes Japan’s leadership in the Non-proliferation and Disarmament Initiative and Japan’s role as the Co-Chair Country for the Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the CTBT, and Japan welcomes the U.S. initiative to launch the International Partnership on Nuclear Disarmament Verification. We affirm our readiness to cooperate closely on this new initiative, which will facilitate further cooperation between the nuclear-weapon States and non-nuclear-weapon States with respect to nuclear disarmament efforts.
  3. We further note the positive role played by civil society, and hope that activities such as the UN Conference on Disarmament Issues and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty’s Group of Eminent Persons Meeting, both to be held in Hiroshima in August, and the Pugwash Conference to be held in Nagasaki in November, will strengthen momentum toward disarmament and non-proliferation.
  4. We unequivocally support access to nuclear technology and energy for peaceful purposes by states that comply with their non-proliferation obligations.  We are especially pleased to announce that both the United States and Japan which strongly support the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in promoting the benefits of the peaceful uses of nuclear technology have pledged to extend their financial support to the IAEA Peaceful Uses Initiative over the next five years.  The U.S. pledge of $50 million and Japan’s pledge of $25 million will ensure that applications of nuclear science and technology continue to advance medical care and health improvement including cancer treatment and Ebola diagnosis, food and water security, clean oceans and disease eradication in regions of the world most in need.
  5. The IAEA safeguards system is a fundamental element of that framework and plays a critical role in preventing and addressing challenges to the global non-proliferation regime, by verifying that states are not diverting peaceful nuclear energy programs to develop weapons, and by responding to cases of non-compliance.  We call on all states that have not yet done so to adhere to a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and the Additional Protocol as the recognized IAEA safeguards standard, and renew our willingness to assist states to implement safeguards agreements. We support the evolution of IAEA safeguards at the State level, and emphasize the importance of maintaining the credibility, effectiveness and integrity of the IAEA safeguards system. To preserve the future integrity of the NPT, action is needed to discourage any state from withdrawing from the Treaty as a way to escape its responsibilities or to misuse the fruits of peaceful cooperation with other states, as well as to encourage States Parties to remain in the Treaty by demonstrating tangible progress in all three pillars of the Treaty.
  6. We underscore the imperative of addressing challenges to the integrity of the NPT and the non-proliferation regime posed by cases of noncompliance.  We welcome the EU/E3+3 deal with Iran and encourage completion of the work that remains to fully resolve the international community’s concerns regarding the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program as well as to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons.  We also remain committed to a diplomatic process to achieve North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. We urge North Korea to take concrete steps to honor its commitments under the 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks, fully comply with its obligations under the relevant UNSC Resolutions, refrain from further provocation including nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches, return to the NPT and IAEA safeguards, and come into full compliance with its nonproliferation obligations.
  7. We also underscore the importance of promoting stringent export control in Asia and globally. We are determined to continue to work together to conduct outreach activities for Asian countries with a view to further enhancing their export control capacity as well as to promoting recognition that rigorous export controls foster confidence of trade or investment partners, and create a favorable environment for further economic growth rather than impeding trade and investment.

Iran: Hypocrisy of Nuclear Proliferation Highlighted by Israel’s Undeclared Arsenal

eNews – Park Forest | Lauren McCauley, staff writer | New York | April 28, 2015

Citing imminent humanitarian consequences, non-nuclear weapon states call for total elimination of stockpiles at NPT summit in New York

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addresses the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, in the United Nations General Assembly, Monday, April 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Speaking before the Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty on Monday, Iran demanded that countries possessing nuclear weapons halt all plans to modernize their arsenals, while warning that the atomic stockpile of Israel, which is not a signatory, poses a “serious and continuous threat” to the Middle East.

Addressing the assembly in New York City, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose country is still undergoing negotiations over its development of nuclear power capabilities, told NPT signatories that nuclear-weapon states should “immediately cease their plans to further invest in modernizing and extending the life span of their nuclear weapons and related facilities.”

According to Reuters, Zarif argued that “cuts in deployment were not the same as cuts in stockpiles, adding that Iran and the other 117 non-aligned nations that are parties to the NPT are concerned about security policies of nuclear-weapon and NATO states that allow the use, or threat of use, of atomic weapons.”

Further, Zarif said the non-aligned nations viewed Israel’s assumed nuclear weapons as “a serious and continuing threat to the security of neighboring and other states, and condemned Israel for continuing to develop and stockpile nuclear arsenals.” The Federation of American Scientists estimates that Israel currently holds 80 nuclear weapons.

Iran is one of 120 non-nuclear weapon states that on Tuesday issued an open letter (pdf) warning that they are “deeply concerned about the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons.”

The statement continues: “It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances. The catastrophic effects of a nuclear weapon detonation, whether by accident, miscalculation or design, cannot be adequately addressed. All efforts must be exerted to eliminate the threat of these weapons of mass destruction.”

These concerns mirrored those of millions of civilians who signed petitions calling on the United Nations to take urgent action towards the complete elimination of the world’s nuclear arsenals.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech in which he disclosed new information about the size of the United States’ nuclear weapon stockpile. As of September 2014, the U.S. holds 4,717 nuclear warheads, Kerry said, which denotes a reduction of roughly 500 warheads since President Obama took office in January 2009. Further, 2,500 additional warheads have been retired, though according to the Federation of American Scientists, they are still relatively intact and awaiting dismantlement.

“Despite significant reductions, the United States and Russia still possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons,” Kerry acknowledged.

Also Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told the assembly that his country “consistently complies with all the provisions of the NPT,” announcing that Russia has “reduced our nuclear arsenal to a minimum level which is a significant contribution to the overall and full disarmament.” However, details about the actual size of the reduction were not forthcoming.

On Monday, Zarif met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss efforts to secure a final agreement by a June 30 deadline between Iran and the member states of the UN Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—as well as Germany.

“We are, in fact, closer than ever,” Kerry told the assembled NPT parties. “If finalized and implemented, (an agreement) will close off all of Iran’s possible pathways to the nuclear material required for a nuclear weapon and give the international community the confidence that it needs to know that Iran’s nuclear program is indeed exclusively peaceful.”

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Source: www.commondreams.org

Iran is sending a clear message while the US ‘looks like a helpless giant’

The Washington Post | Jennifer Rubin | April 29, 2015 (UK Business Insider)

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The MV Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller, the world’s biggest container ship, arrives at the harbour of Rotterdam August 16, 2013.                                                                                                    Reuters

The New York Times reports: Iran on Tuesday took control of a Marshall Islands-flagged ship and its crew of 34 people after accusing the ship of trespassing on its territorial waters, American defense officials said, and the United States Navy sent a destroyer toward the Persian Gulf in response.

The report further suggests, “The episode could affect already fragile nuclear negotiations among the United States, five other world powers and Iran over efforts to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.” I highly doubt it; the administration has not broken off talks because of Yemen or because Americans are being held hostage.

Further reporting from Bloomberg tells us: “When asked if his country would request that the U.S. rescue the cargo ship from Iran, Junior Aini, the charge d’affairs for the Marshall Islands Embassy in Washington, told us he was still awaiting guidance from his foreign ministry. But he also suggested that his country had no other recourse than to hope the U.S. responds.” These days that is a risky proposition.

So what does the administration do.

As the Bloomberg report points out, “The incident seems a direct response to President Barack Obama’s decision last week to send warships to the Arabian Sea.

screenshot 2015-04-28 16.47.52.pngPentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said at the time that the warships were meant on ‘a very clear mission to ensure that shipping lanes remain open, to ensure there’s freedom of navigation through those critical waterways, and to help ensure maritime security.'”

Indeed the timing seems aimed at President Obama and Congress: “By taking a non-U.S. ship under questionable circumstances at a moment of high tension in the region, Iran has again put Washington in a tough spot. Given that the U.S. Senate is simultaneously debating its bill on oversight of Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, the repercussions are going to spread far beyond the Strait of Hormuz.”

Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams tells Right Turn, “Iran is throwing its weight around in a way that expresses contempt for the United States and for President Obama. They know full well that Congress and the nation are weighing the nuclear deal, but that doesn’t constrain them because they know the administration will do literally anything to keep the deal alive.”

If we do not act, we are, in effect, telling Iran and other rogue powers inclined to take similar aggressive actions that we will not lift a finger even on something as vital as freedom of the seas. “So even in these weeks when the deal hangs in the balance they charge Jason Rezaian of The Washington Post with espionage, and now they interfere with freedom of navigation in the Gulf,” Abrams observes.

“The U.S. looks like a helpless giant, which is precisely Iran’s goal. Our allies and friends in the region are cringing and so should Americans be. Is there any conduct at all that will awaken the administration to the nature and intentions of that vicious regime?” It’s becoming hard to think of one — or of any concession at the bargaining table we won’t make for the sake of a deal.