Monthly Archives: April 2015

Book alleges India cash swayed Hillary’s nuclear stance

Clinton’s campaign dismisses the claims by author Peter Schweizer as conspiracy theory.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton smiles at India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh  during a luncheon speech November 24, 2009 inside the Benjamin Franklin room of the US State Department in Washington, DC.  AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton smiles at India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a luncheon speech November 24, 2009 inside the Benjamin Franklin room of the US State Department in Washington, DC. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton changed her position on a 2008 nuclear agreement between the United States and India after Indian business and government interests flooded various Clinton enterprises with cash, a highly anticipated new book alleges in a chapter obtained by POLITICO.

The book — “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Help Make Bill and Hillary Rich” — has become a major point of contention as Clinton kicks off her 2016 bid for the White House. She addressed the controversy surrounding it at a campaign stop in New Hampshire earlier this month, calling it one of many “distractions and attacks,” and her team has aggressively fought to both discredit its conservative author, Peter Schweizer, and to debunk its claims before publication.

Due for release on May 5, while Clinton is scheduled to hold campaign events in Nevada, the book promises a look at allegedly inappropriate financial arrangements between foreign entities and the Clintons, in particular focusing on the family’s $2 billion foundation and the Democratic front-runner’s years as secretary of state. Clinton’s team has responded to a series of reports about the book’s contents – including one in POLITICO about a chapter alleging that Clinton’s diplomatic role directly affected the business of major foundation donor Frank Giustra — by pointing out that Schweizer briefed GOP officials on his research, and that some of his sources have been proven false.

The newly obtained chapter, titled, “Indian Nukes: How to Win a Medal by Changing Hillary’s Mind,” details a series of donations and overtures from Indians who supported the nuclear deal to the Clintons, and points to one case of an Indian-American Clinton donor — who in April 2014 pleaded guilty in an illegal contribution scheme for Clinton’s 2008 run — receiving an award from the Indian government for his work in securing the agreement.

“In 1998 the Indian government conducted nuclear tests, Bill Clinton imposed restrictions on the export of U.S. nuclear technology, because this violated the nonproliferation treaty — Hillary Clinton supported that position,” Schweizer said Tuesday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, outlining the chapter. “In 2005, the Indian government wanted those restrictions lifted. Hillary Clinton at that time supported a killer amendment to stop that from happening. After 2005, a number of Indian interests, including an Indian politician that admits now that his donation to the Clinton Foundation wasn’t even his money, those donations flowed. In 2008, she reverses course, and supports the export of U.S. nuclear technology.”

While Clinton’s stance toward India evolved over the years, a review of then-Sen. Clinton’s statements and votes while the Indian nuclear deal was under debate shows that two key facts in Schweizer’s argument on the topic are false, as Clinton actually publicly stated her support for the deal in 2006 and in fact voted against a “killer amendment” that the book reports she supported.

Asked about the allegations by POLITICO, Clinton campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin said, “Clinton Cash is attempting to rewrite history to fit a pre-determined partisan narrative. It only takes a quick look at Hillary’s actual voting record and statements to see that this conspiracy theory doesn’t even come close to passing the smell test.”

Schweizer writes in the chapter that in 2006, “Hillary was still a reluctant and questionable supporter of the bill.” But in June of that year Clinton, a founding member of the Senate India caucus, issued a press release announcing her intention to vote for the legislation, and praising Sens. Richard Lugar and Joe Biden, who she said improved upon the Bush administration’s initial proposal.

“As India continues to grow stronger and to shoulder more of the responsibilities that come with being a leading nation in the world, we must continue to work towards greater cooperation with our Indian friends to deal with our common challenges in security, energy, economics and health,” she wrote. “I hope that this agreement is just the first step on that journey that our countries, and our people, will take together.”

Schweizer also alleges that in 2006 Clinton supported a “‘killer amendment’ that would have effectively gutted the bill by capping India’s fissile production.” However, while Clinton did support a measure that would have forced India to comply with non-proliferation and disarmament agreements, and another that insisted the deal “does nothing to directly or indirectly assist, encourage, or induce India to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices,” she voted against the so-called “killer amendment,” which was introduced by Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.

Implying that a group of influential Indians directed money and attention to the Clintons in order to get them to support the nuclear deal, the book details the activities of Sant Chatwal, the New York hotelier who in December was sentenced to three years probation for his campaign finance violations.

Chatwal allegedly helped arrange one of Bill Clinton’s most lucrative public speeches — a $450,000 affair in London — and once said, “Even my close friend Hillary Clinton was not in favor of the deal [in 2006] … But when I put the whole package together, she also came on board. … In politics nothing comes free. You have to write cheques in the American political system.”

FILE- In this Jan. 3, 2006 file photo, Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former US President Bill Clinton, stands with businessman Sant Singh Chatwal during a private visit, in New Delhi, India. Chatwal, a hotel executive who raised at least $100,000 for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign against Barack Obama, on Thursday, April 17, 2014 pleaded guilty in New York to witness tampering and conspiracy to evade campaign finance laws. (AP Photo/File)

FILE- In this Jan. 3, 2006 file photo, Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former US President Bill Clinton, stands with businessman Sant Singh Chatwal during a private visit, in New Delhi, India. Chatwal, a hotel executive who raised at least $100,000 for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign against Barack Obama, on Thursday, April 17, 2014 pleaded guilty in New York to witness tampering and conspiracy to evade campaign finance laws. (AP Photo/File)

Schweizer writes that Chatwal arranged a dinner for Clinton in 2007 featuring Indian billionaires who soon thereafter donated to the Clinton Foundation, and that Chatwal played a large role in steering other money toward the Clintons. The Indian government gave him one of the country’s highest civilian honors in 2010, Schweizer writes, largely thanks to his role in getting Clinton to support the deal. Chatwal’s lawyer did not respond to POLITICO’s request for comment.

The chapter also examines the case of Indian politician Amar Singh, who hosted what an Indian newspaper called “a mega bash for former U.S. President Bill Clinton” in Lucknow in September 2005 and had a two-hour dinner with Hillary Clinton before an important vote on the bill in September 2008, Schweizer writes. Singh drew attention when the Clinton Foundation revealed in 2008 that he had donated between $1 million and $5 million — between 20 and 100 percent of his entire net worth — and then he insisted the money was not his.

Asked about the money as recently as this week, Singh told India’s Economic Times, “That is not my donation, I have not given that money to the Clinton Foundation.”

Some of Schweizer’s reporting has recently been called into question as chapters of the book have fallen into reporters’ hands. On Tuesday, for example, BuzzFeed reported that Bill Clinton was not, in fact, paid for a series of speeches that are identified by Schweizer as coming in return for a favor in Haiti. And a talking points memo circulated by the Clinton camp to its allies last week noted that one of Schweizer’s sources in the book is a TD Bank news release that was revealed as fake two years ago.

But Clinton continues to face scrutiny over her involvement with her family’s foundation, which has come under fire this year for accepting donations from foreign governments. The organization’s acting CEO admitted over the weekend that it had “made mistakes, as many organizations of our size do,” in disclosing its donors, but that it would likely review and refile some of its tax forms. The admission came less than two weeks after the foundation said it would limit — but not eliminate — donations from foreign governments while Clinton is pursuing the presidency.

Meanwhile Bill and Chelsea Clinton this week embarked on a foundation trip to Africa, where they are expected to remain, with an entourage of donors, until next Thursday — two days after the book is released.

Ukraine: massive forest fire threatens abandoned Chernobyl nuclear plant

Euronews | 29 April 2015

Emergency crews in Ukraine are trying to stop a massive forest fire from spreading towards the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

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.

Trident nuclear weapons system is a ‘status symbol’ for the British establishment, says Nicola Sturgeon

The Independent | Jon Stone | 29 April 2015

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The Scottish First Minister says conventional forces should take priority

The Trident nuclear weapons system is a “status symbol” and will not help keep the UK safe, Scotland’s First Minister has said.

Nicola Sturgeon this morning accused the UK establishment of having an “obsession” with the weapons and suggested the project was sapping resources from more useful military investments.

“What I believe we need are strong conventional forces and I believe conventional forces have been compromised because of the obsession with Trident, which I think is a status symbol rather than a device to genuinely protect the country,” she told BBC Breakfast this morning.

“Britain is an island nation, a maritime nation, and yet Britain’s forces don’t have a single maritime patrol aircraft. When Russian submarines were thought to be patrolling in our territorial waters a few months ago, Britain had to call in other countries to check that out.

“We need strong conventional forces, not new nuclear weapons.”

Ms Sturgeon noted that of 200 countries in the world, 190 do not have nuclear weapons.

The SNP leader was commenting on an intervention by former defence chiefs in this morning’s Times newspaper.

The figures have written a letter arguing it would be an “irresponsible” folly to downgrade or end the system.

“In an uncertain world where some powers are now displaying a worrying faith in nuclear weapons as an instrument of policy and influence, it would be, in our opinion, irresponsible folly to abandon Britain’s own independent deterrent,” they wrote.

The letter was signed by Lord Robertson, a former Labour defence secretary and head of Nato, and Lord Hutton, another former Labour defence secretary.

Labour, Ukip, and the Conservatives have both committed to renewing the project, which has never been used in battle.

The Liberal Democrats say they would “end continuous nuclear weapon patrols” by reducing the number of submarines in the system.

The Green Party, SNP, and Plaid Cymru all oppose renewing the project, which is estimated to cost £100bn over its lifetime.

What are the prospects for progress in nuclear disarmament

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

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Hiroshima A-bomb blast photographed by the U.S. military on 6 August 1945 Photo: US AIR FORCE

The Telegraph | Hassan Elbahtimy and Matthew Moran, King’s College London | 29 April 2015

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’?

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.

Why an Iran deal won’t lead to nuclear proliferation

Washington Post | Dina Esfandiary and Ariane Tabatabai | April 28, 2015

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An Aug. 26, 2006 file photo shows a general view of the heavy water plant in Arak, Iran, 198 miles south of Tehran. (Atta Kenareatta/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

Drone flyer surveilled American Embassy housing facility, buzzed Sendai nuclear plant: blog

The Japan Times | Kyodo | April 27, 2015

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.

MOX costs rise, could hamper nonproliferation agreement

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.”

Comments

TClements 04/25/15 – 11:12 pm
MOX albatross is a cooked goose

Nobody with any serious analysis of the MOX project is questioning the DOE report of the costs of the program. Politicians who are complaining about the report have absolutely no cost report of their own to present. If they or AREVA has a validated life-cycle cost estimate, release it now. As workers see that the handwriting is on the wall, the current 50% turnover rate in staff at the MOX project will only increase and construction problems, which NNSA has now admitted, will only multiply. Indications are that the Russians no longer care what the US does with it surplus plutonium, especially given that the US allowed the Russian to make changes to the plutonium disposition agreement in 2010. If MOX boosters Lindsey Graham and Joe Wilson have a solid, validated plan as to how MOX can survive over the next 30+ years they better present it now or the MOX albatross around their necks is a cooked goose.

Tom Clements, Savannah River Watch, Columbia, SC –please keep those calls coming in about MOX construction problems and possible fraud in signing off on work orders: 803-834-3084)