Prime Minister Arseniy Yatesenyuk has flown over the area in the north of the country.
There was a warning that high winds were blowing the flames towards Chernobyl where, 29 years ago this week, a reactor fire led to the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
A 30 kilometre exclusion zone remains in place around the plant, which is still contaminated by radioactive particles.
“Our state emergency services are actively trying to localise the fires. Three planes, one helicopter and several vehicles have been deployed. A lot of resources are being used to prevent the fires from spreading,” said Yatsenyuk.
The fire is described as the largest of its kind to hit Ukraine in more than two decades.
In February, international experts warned that a large amount of dangerous isotopes remained in the forests near Chernobyl, which could be spread by forest fires.
Chernobyl’s Reactor 4, the epicentre of the 1986 blast, has been encased in concrete.
The Scottish First Minister says conventional forces should take priority
Big Question: The enthusiasm for nuclear disarmament has waned in recent years – but progress is being made, even if it is out of the limelight
Photo: US AIR FORCE
In March, The Economist cast a critical eye on developments in the area of nuclear weapons and the prospects for future conflict involving these weapons of mass destruction. The assessment made for ominous reading.
A leader article, titled ‘The new nuclear age‘, described a world characterised by rising instability where nuclear weapons seem to be regaining prominence. In the West, the United States will, over the next 30 years, spend one trillion dollars on maintaining and upgrading its considerable nuclear arsenal.
France is engaged in a similar process – President Francois Hollande has committed some 180 billion euros by 2019 to upgrading France’s nuclear weapons and, in the UK, the renewal of Trident looks almost certain to go ahead.
To the East, China has invested much of its defence budget in expanding its nuclear options, including work on a submarine-based deterrent that can deliver a secure second-strike capability. For its part, Russia is modernising existing forces and reviving old delivery systems. Moscow is increasing the number of warheads carried on submarines, and recently announced its intention to reintroduce rail based intercontinental ballistic missiles in a move designed to make its nuclear forces harder to target. This also bolsters the Russian policy of ‘de-escalation’, the idea that faced with an overwhelming conventional attack, Moscow could respond with a limited nuclear strike that would restore the status quo.
Issues of deterrence and nuclear strategy are once again in vogue as nuclear powers consider the new challenges posed by a complex and multipolar security landscape.
North Korean missiles truck
And there is no shortage of problems. From China’s power projection in Asia, to Russia’s thinly-veiled nuclear threats over what is perceived as western interference in Moscow’s affairs in Ukraine, there is a range of issues vying for priority on the international security agenda.
What, then, does this mean for disarmament? Is this, as The Economist claims, an idea ‘whose time has gone’?
- North Korea ‘offers to discuss nuclear disarmament’
- Hassan Rouhani says Iran wants global ‘nuclear disarmament’
In 2007, a letter calling for global nuclear disarmament published in the Wall Street Journal by four former US statesmen reinvigorated the debate on disarmament and led to the emergence of the high-profile ‘Global Zero’ movement the following year.
The initiative had a range of high profile backers including former US president Jimmy Carter and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and it sought to give new momentum to disarmament activism.
This was followed, in 2009, by Mr Obama’s famous Prague speech in which he stated unequivocally that the United States would take ‘concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons’. Indeed, Obama’s apparent commitment to disarmament was a factor behind the Nobel Prize Committee’s decision to award him the Peace Prize later that year. The salience of disarmament in the political sphere gave new hope to disarmament advocates.
Yet the enthusiasm of recent years has waned and the prospect of achieving a significant breakthrough in disarmament is as remote as ever. The number of strategic warheads deployed by the US and Russia increased last year, Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear weapons programme in the world, and India’s indigenously developed ballistic missile submarine is due to be deployed this year.
This is the part of the context that frames the forthcoming Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.
So amid all this pessimism, is there any cause for optimism?
While recent geopolitical developments appear to have diluted hope for disarmament, there have been some positive developments. Over the past few years, for example, the number of international initiatives and projects seeking to develop the technical capacity to verify nuclear disarmament have multiplied.
Somewhat paradoxically, these efforts are acknowledged and funded by nuclear states, among others, even as they continue to modernise and upgrade their arsenals.
Work on verification does not attract the media attention that proliferation does. It is a complex and lengthy process, and there are no immediate answers. Yet it holds great value, contributing to the development of an architecture that will provide the technical means to support disarmament, should the political context ever reach that point.
Any future disarmament process will require a robust verification regime to ensure that those who agree to disarm live up to their commitments. At present, however, 100 per cent verification is technically impossible given the secrecy surrounding nuclear warheads because of security and non-proliferation concerns. Consequently, this is an area where much work must be done to prepare the technical ground if the possibility of disarmament is ever to become a political reality. This work is already under way.
Last year, the US government awarded a multi-million dollar grant to a consortium of US universities to conduct research and development into new nuclear arms control verification technologies. Washington is also funding a new international partnership for nuclear disarmament verification, an initiative launched in December 2014 with the aim of increasing cooperation and understanding around the technical obstacles to disarmament.
China has also invested in the field. In its 2014 national report ahead of the NPT Review Conference, China reported research on a range of verification technologies, from the authentication of nuclear warheads and components to dismantlement monitoring tools.
In Europe, the UK and Norway have, since 2007, been collaborating on a range of projects exploring the practical and technical challenges associated with verification of nuclear warhead dismantlement. And these initiatives often produce surprising results.
At King’s College London, for example, we have been conducting research into the role of human factors such as trust in the verification process. Verification is often considered as a data-driven and dispassionate process. In theory, the work of inspectors is grounded in evidence and there should be a direct and exclusive relationship between evidence and conclusions. In this context, human factors are static variables that sit outside the verification equation.
Yet the evidence indicates that this view of verification is flawed and does not fully account for the complexity of the dynamics of verification. Our research demonstrates the need for trust to be considered an integral part of the verification process. Trust is an unavoidable interactional variable, that is to say a moderating condition for a causal relationship. It has a subtle but powerful influence on perceptions, usually despite considerable efforts by inspectors to base their judgments purely on evidence.
This has significant implications, not least for the training of inspectors as part of any disarmament regime. Ignoring the influence of trust could potentially distort the interpretation of verification outcomes.
This is just one area of activity, but it gives a flavour of the complexities involved in arms control and disarmament research. Clearly, these developments, on their own, will not deliver a world free of nuclear weapons. Indeed cynics will likely view the resources invested in these practical initiatives by nuclear powers as nothing more than an attempt to give credence to false claims of progress towards disarmament.
Yet this view is reductive.
These practical initiatives that often go unacknowledged are the ones that will provide the foundations upon which any future disarmament process will rest.
Moreover, the value of verification technologies being explored across the world is not limited to disarmament. Many of these tools have broader arms control applications and they should be supported and encouraged.
Ultimately, while the current geopolitical climate has undermined the political momentum that disarmament has gathered in recent years, this should not detract from the expanding research and development agenda in the field.
Disarmament is a broad sphere of activity and progress is being made, even if it is out of the limelight.
Washington Post | Dina Esfandiary and Ariane Tabatabai | April 28, 2015
This post is part of the “Iran and the Nuclear Deal” symposium.
When the P5+1 and Iran announced their framework agreement earlier this month, some analysts reiterated that a final deal would result in a proliferation cascade in the Middle East. This widely held and long-standing assumption remains largely unchallenged. But a careful look at the actual technical capability, political and security context, and intentions of potential contenders confirms that much of this hype is baseless.
Those who invoke the proliferation cascade theory often confuse both the cause and the actual result. Would a nuclear agreement with Iran or nuclear-armed Iran cause a cascade? Does the regional spread of civilian nuclear programs count as a proliferation cascade, or is it restricted to the spread of the bomb?
On their own, civilian nuclear programs are not a threat. They are permitted under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are pursuing or exploring nuclear power to address growing energy demands – needs that have been growing irrespective of Iran’s nuclear program or plans.
But developing nuclear power is neither easy, nor cheap. There are a number of technical, legal and political hurdles regional states need to overcome.
Should they do so, then the fear is that aspects of their civilian nuclear programs will pave the way for the bomb. But that, too, is implausible.
First, the entire region, except for nuclear-armed Israel, is party to the NPT. This means that they’ve already legally given up the nuclear weapon option. Moreover, nuclear weapon states can’t legally provide them nuclear weapons either. Second, many countries have safeguards agreements and some, the additional protocol, in place. This means that their programs are under close International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) scrutiny.
None of these states have expressed an interest in reprocessing, which closes the plutonium path to the bomb. Some have even foregone enrichment, which blocks the uranium path to the bomb. That’s the case for the UAE. But some states, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, want to reserve “the right” to enrich. Riyadh went further and stated it wanted whatever Iran got out of the negotiations, including enrichment.
Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE are all dependent on foreign suppliers and expertise for their programs. They lack the human capacity for the programs. Foreign involvement makes it difficult, though not impossible, to covertly develop a nuclear weapon. This means that suppliers also need to do their due diligence and ensure that buyers use their equipment for purely peaceful purposes.
One explanation as to why Tehran went so far in developing its indigenous nuclear technology, including enrichment, is that international suppliers weren’t as involved and reliable after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Following the revolution, Iran’s original suppliers, the United States, France and Germany, dumped the country, which then looked East. It went to Pakistan, including the illicit nuclear procurement network led by Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan, Russia and China. But Iran’s government believed it could not rely on any of these partners. Without a strong involvement in its program by foreign suppliers committed to nonproliferation, Iran was able to pursue indigenous nuclear technology. This diminished the international community’s leverage on Tehran.
The Iranian context, however, is different from other countries in the region, which depend on the West and U.S. allies for their nuclear programs. Today’s nuclear newcomers must comply with certain international requirements for their programs to be completed by these suppliers. This means that suppliers can and should try to limit the further proliferation of enrichment and reprocessing.
But technical constraints aside, there are political obstacles to the proliferation cascade theory. Countries like Turkey and Saudi Arabia are dependent on Western allies for their security. Washington can leverage this influence to stop them from going nuclear. The United States showed its willingness to do just that in 1988, when it learned that Riyadh purchased Chinese missiles and it threatened to block the sale of military equipment.
A final agreement on the Iranian nuclear program would be a win for the region. A regional proliferation cascade is an unlikely result. There are too many barriers to it. It is time to remove the cascade assumption from the policy equation. Most importantly, killing a diplomatic process and negotiated deal for the sake of yet another ill-founded “domino theory” would be a grave mistake.
Dina Esfandiary (@DEsfandiary) is a McArthur Fellow in the Centre for Science and Security Studies at King’s College London. Ariane Tabatabai (@ArianeTabatabai) is a visiting assistant professor in the Security Studies Program at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a columnist for The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
A man arrested for landing a drone with radioactive sand on top of the prime minister’s office might have targeted a U.S. diplomatic housing facility in Tokyo for the stunt and tried to film a nuclear power plant in Kagoshima as well, sources close to the matter said Monday.
Yasuo Yamamoto, 40, who was arrested Saturday on suspicion of obstructing duties at the prime minister’s office by landing a drone with a slightly radioactive payload on top of it, has said he did it to protest Japan’s use of nuclear power, police said, adding they are investigating his plans for other attempted fights.
According to a blog posts written by Yamamoto, a resident of Obama, Fukui Prefecture, which hosts several nuclear power plants, he used a drone to take close look at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture last October.
He attempted to take aerial footage of the complex but his drone failed to reach a reactor building, one blog post says.
In another post last November, Yamamoto pondered whether Washington was meddling with Japanese nuclear power policy, writing, “Is the United States an enemy, too?” and “It’s unclear whether the United States is applying pressure to resume operations of nuclear power plants now.”
He also detailed an apparent reconnaissance visit to the American Embassy housing compound, a gated facility in Roppongi, writing, “I should check out a takeoff point so that I can release it here instead of at the prime minister’s office, depending on the situation.”
A small four-rotor drone carrying a container of sand with trace amounts of cesium was found on the roof of the prime minister’s office on Wednesday, sparking concerns that terrorist attacks could be made via the small, unmanned aircraft.
Yamamoto, who turned himself in to Fukui police on Friday, said he planted the drone on the prime minister’s office on April 9, meaning it sat on the roof unnoticed for nearly two weeks.
Police think he began preparing for the flight last fall and initially attempted to do it on Dec. 24, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched his new Cabinet, to apparently protest the government’s push to restart nuclear power plants idled in the wake of the triple core meltdown in Fukushima in 2011.
“The launch of the new Cabinet is set for Dec. 24″ Yamamoto blogged in November. “I should carry it out this day.”
Yamamoto said he actually tried to fly a drone to a park near Abe’s office on Dec. 24 but gave up because it was too stressful.
He also appeared to be wrestling with his conscience.
“Should I do that again?” he wrote before turning himself in, followed by “No . . . I wouldn’t.”
All 48 of Japan’s commercial reactors remain offline ever since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis shattered Japan’s nuclear safety myth. Kyushu Electric plans to restart one of the two reactors at the Sendai plant in July.
The Augusta Chronicle | Meg Mirshak | April 25, 2015
U.S. efforts to fulfill a nuclear nonproliferation agreement with Russia were challenged last week by a shocking new price tag for the mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility at the Savannah River Site.
A federal report estimating $47.5 billion more is needed to complete the plant intended to dispose of surplus nuclear weapons-grade plutonium fed arguments from critics who say the MOX project exemplifies government mismanagement and wasteful spending.
Republican politicians and nuclear proponents, however, question the accuracy of the report by Aerospace Corp., a federally funded research center they say stands to benefit if MOX is shuttered and its funds redirected to other projects.
Meanwhile, the consortium building the facility for the National Nuclear Security Agency, a semi-autonomous branch of the Department of Energy, remains committed to finishing the facility and says the MOX program has been unfairly analyzed and criticized.
David Del Vecchio, the president of the plant’s contractor, CB&I Areva MOX Services, said in a memo to employees that the Aerospace report estimates “lifecycle” costs for the MOX program, which includes costs for associated plutonium disposition operations, some at other DOE sites. Other government programs aren’t measured this way, he said.
“One thing to keep in mind when you read the report’s estimated lifecycle numbers is that DOE and NNSA use a different standard for other projects, currently built or being built,” Del Vecchio said. “In other words, we have been singled out for this enormous lifecycle cost standard and cost figure, which includes all the things I mentioned above, while other projects only have the cost to construct the facility itself as its total cost.”
Construction on the MOX facility began in 2007. In 1999, the MOX plant was projected to cost $1.7 billion to build. The estimate rose to $4.9 billion, and in 2013 the cost was revised to $7.7 billion. Previous reports estimated the lifecycle cost at $30 billion.
Bryan Wilkes, a spokesman for CB&I Project Services Group, one of the companies building the MOX facility, said the contractor estimates an additional $3.3 billion to complete the plant in five to nine years and $8 billion to operate it over 20 years. About $4.4 billion has been spent so far on the plant, which is about 65 percent complete.
NNSA spokesman Derrick Robinson said Aerospace, which performs work for the NNSA’s office of defense programs, does not have a conflict of interest.
“The Department of Energy selected Aerospace … because it has broad experience in estimating the risks of technically complex, first-of-a-kind, multi-year projects,” Robinson said in an e-mail.
The lifecycle costs have increased since previous reports because of reduced annual federal appropriations, Robinson said. The Aerospace report also considered risks associated with the remaining work, he said.
The MOX plant has faced continual federal funding drawbacks. It received $345 million in fiscal year 2015 after a battle in Congress for more funds than the $221 million the Obama administration proposed to place construction on standby. Another $345 million was proposed for 2016.
Aerospace declined to comment on the report until it is released to the public. The NNSA said it could take months to remove proprietary information.
The report also estimated it would cost $17.2 billion for an alternative plutonium disposition method called downblending, according to the NNSA. Downblending requires diluting plutonium, packaging it in containers and shipping it to a repository for permanent disposal.
Clint Wolfe, the executive director of Aiken-based Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, said downblending does not remove threats posed by plutonium, nor does it fulfill the U.S.-Russian agreement.
“With the MOX plant, it can no longer be used as a weapon,” he said. “Even though you put it (downblended plutonium) in a hole, you could dig it back up and use it again.”
Rep. Joe Wilson’s spokeswoman, Jennie Caven, said Congress is working to ensure the MOX program survives. The U.S. House energy and water appropriations committee has written into its budget for next year that construction will continue, she said.
“Congress looks forward to determining the true cost to complete the project, and Congressman Wilson believes MOX will be funded so that costs are not further escalated by delays in schedule,” Caven said in an e-mail.
MOX has received bipartisan support in Congress. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., showed his support for completing the facility by holding a briefing for Democratic staff members last week on MOX construction progress.
Tom Collina, the director of policy for Ploughshares Fund, a group that advocates against nuclear weapons, said the massive cost of the MOX program has diverted taxpayer money from more suitable plutonium disposition options.
The latest cost estimate shows the program is unaffordable, he said. That will lead to more calls to shut down MOX although that doesn’t guarantee the government will abandon it, he said.
“Even the most unjustifiable programs have a way of hanging around,” Collina said. “The American taxpayer is losing because its money for a program that ultimately won’t be built.”