1. Russian nuclear authorities, SUAL agree on NPP, aluminum plant
(for personal use only)
Russia's nuclear industry authorities and SUAL [RTS: SUAL] aluminum producer signed a protocol Friday on constructing a nuclear power plant and an aluminum plant in the northern Murmansk Region.
The Federal Agency for Nuclear Power, Rosenergoatom - the state-run nuclear power generating monopoly - and SUAL cemented their intention to build two units at the second Kola Nuclear Power Plant, which will provide power for the Kandalaksha aluminum plant.
Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Power, said September 28 that his agency and SUAL could reach an agreement on constructing a nuclear power plant and an aluminum plant in northwestern Russia October 6.
"We cannot offer SUAL a share in the new NPP, but if SUAL is ready to invest in the NPP's construction we will supply it with electric power at a fixed price during 20 years," he said then.
Kiriyenko also said the capacity of the Kola NPP-1 would be increased by 400-600 MW.
2. Techsnabexport, Japan's Mitsui launch uranium project in Russia
(for personal use only)
Techsnabexport, Russia's state-controlled uranium supplier and provider of uranium enrichment services, and Japan's Mitsui & Co are starting a joint project to develop a uranium ore field in Russia, the Russian company said Friday.
"On October 5, Techsnabexport, which operates on the world market under the Tenex brand, and a major Japanese company, Mitsui & Co., signed an agreement by which the two companies will undertake a joint feasibility study on the development of a sector of the Yuzhnaya zone of the Elkon uranium ore field, in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)," the company said in a news release.
It said the agreement is unique, because for the first time a foreign company will be directly involved in preparing a feasibility study on a uranium development project in Russia.
Russia said in late September its estimated stock of uranium amounts to 615,000 tons, and that it accounts for 8% of the world's uranium output.
Russia's nuclear chief Sergei Kiriyenko said earlier the country's reserves of coal and natural gas will be depleted in 50 years, and in response Russia is planning to expand its nuclear energy sector and meet 60-70% of its uranium demand domestically by 2015.
He said Russia intends to extend its cooperation with all uranium-producing countries.
Techsnabexport provides about 35% of global uranium supplies and plans to expand its operations in Central Asia and the Asia-Pacific region.
The centralized storage of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) will be put into operation at full capacity by 2015, Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom), told a government meeting today. The dry storage at the mining and chemical works in Krasnoyarsk will be set to operate at 5,000 tonnes of fuel from the RBMK (high power reactor of channel type) by 2010 and at 29,000 tonnes from the RBMK and 9,000 from the water-water energy reactor by 2015. Also, Rosatom is planning to expand the storage to 9,000 tonnes in 2015, Kiriyenko said. Its current capacity is 6,000 tonnes and it is only half-full.
4. Kazakhstan to participate in nuclear center creation - Putin
(for personal use only)
Kazakhstan will participate in the creation of an international nuclear center in Russian territory, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
“President Nursultan Nazarbayev made a decision to plug Kazakhstan into the Russian initiative for creating an international nuclear center in Russian territory to provide nuclear fuel cycle services, including uranium enrichment,” Putin told a news conference.
He stressed the center’s ability “to provide non-discriminatory access to nuclear power for other countries and the compliance with the non-proliferation regime.”
The Russian atomic energy agency Rosatom last week launched the practical implementation of a project to create an international uranium enrichment center in Angarsk.
Rosatom’s deputy chief Nikolai Spassky said a number of other countries, alongside Kazakhstan, had declared their intention to join in.
“Consultations are underway with other countries, both eager to enjoy uranium enrichment services and those having the corresponding technologies and interested in taking part in the future center’s activities for purely commercial reasons,” the Rosatom deputy chief said.
Investments in the project will measure “billions of dollars.” As far as the deadlines are concerned, “at this point it is possible to contemplate the creation of the first unit in 4-5 years’ time after the decision has been made and formalized.”
The international nuclear center is to be based on the premises of the Angarsk Electrolysis and Chemical Complex.
Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko earlier said the yet-to-be created international uranium enrichment center might go in operation in Russian territory early next year under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Kazakhstan’s Prime Minister Danial Akhmetov earlier said his country would become the world’s leading uranium producer. It accounts for 25 percent of the world’s uranium reserves. In January-June 2006 Kazakhstan mined 2,336.7 tonnes of uranium. Annual production growth will average 12 percent.
The explored uranium reserves in Russia stand at 615,000 tonnes, Kiriyenko said. Last week he announced “a decision to create a mining company that would consolidate all uranium production inside and outside Russia.”
“We have been cooperating actively with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan along these lines. In January or February 2006 we shall be celebrating the production of the first tonne of uranium at the Zarechnoye joint venture we had created with Kazakhstan,” the Rosatom chief said.
Kazakhstan has declared the intention to build a nuclear power plant, but no bidding contests will be held. A Russian contractor will be invited to do the job.
The recent thwarted transatlantic terrorist attacks underscore the need to strengthen international defenses against catastrophic terrorism. At the July 2008 G8 summit in St. Petersburg, U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a global initiative to combat nuclear terrorism and opened negotiations on bilateral civil-nuclear-energy cooperation. These complementary steps toward enhancing global security deserve broad international support.
Despite their differences on other issues, Russia and the United States play a unique role in helping avert nuclear terrorism. In their February 2005 Bratislava summit declaration, Bush and Putin affirmed that their countries "bear a special responsibility for the security of nuclear weapons and fissile material." Along with existing threat-reduction projects, their recently announced collaboration on nuclear energy and nuclear terrorism demonstrates substantial progress toward meeting this commitment.
For several years, Russia has sought to become a core participant in a new network of global nuclear-fuel-service providers. At the mid-August 2006 summit of the Eurasian Economic Community, Putin again proposed that Russia (and other states that already possess advanced civil nuclear technologies) sell uranium fuel at modest prices to countries lacking their own enrichment facilities -- provided the recipients returned the fuel. The original suppliers would then store and reprocess the spent nuclear fuel under international oversight.
Although Taiwan, South Korea, and other countries have expressed interest in storing spent nuclear fuel in Russia, the provisions of their atomic-energy agreements with the United States forbid them from transferring U.S.-origin nuclear material elsewhere without prior American consent. U.S. law requires a separate Russian-American accord before such shipments may occur. Until recently, American concerns about Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation and Russian plans to reprocess the spent fuel into plutonium have blocked such an agreement. The need for enhanced multinational collaboration to counter nuclear proliferation, reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and provide additional energy sources has appropriately led the U.S. administration to reassess its position.
Requiring the return of spent nuclear fuel to its original suppliers would advance global nuclear-nonproliferation goals by depriving recipient countries of opportunities to reprocess it and extract plutonium. Guaranteeing developing states the right to purchase and store fuel internationally at modest cost would make it unnecessary for them to develop national uranium-enrichment and reprocessing capabilities. Without such sensitive technologies, Iran and other countries would find it much harder to use a civilian nuclear-power program to acquire nuclear weapons. Any government that persisted in developing a costly indigenous nuclear-fuel cycle -- despite assured access to international nuclear-fuel services -- would raise the alarm that they were driven by military rather than economic motives.
Iran has thus far declined to participate in such a fuel-leasing program. For the past month, Iranian leaders have claimed they have been too distracted by the war in Lebanon to address the issue. They continue to insist on their right to develop their own indigenous fuel-cycle services -- which would also conveniently allow Tehran to manufacture nuclear weapons. Even Russian policy makers express suspicion that their Iranian interlocutors are stringing them along while they advance their nuclear research
Russia's offer to provide uranium enrichment and spent-fuel disposal services to foreign countries could yield substantial nonproliferation benefits even without Iran's participation. For example, it would remove fissile materials from places that have less experience than Russia with such dangerous materials. Unlike most developing countries, which account for over half of the new nuclear reactors under construction, Russia has been receiving extensive international nuclear-safety and security assistance for years.
The Russian government would earn an estimated $10-20 billion from supplying such fuel-cycle services. Congress should support the Russian-American nuclear accord if Moscow allocates some of this projected revenue to support nonproliferation projects. Russia must also limit its nuclear collaboration with problem states such as Iran.
A Russian-American civil-nuclear-energy accord would provide a core component of the administration's planned Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. The GNEP aims to enhance multinational cooperation on many important nuclear-security issues, including developing more proliferation-resistant fuel cycles. Limiting the spread of sensitive nuclear technologies and materials remains the most effective strategy for reducing the dangers of nuclear proliferation and catastrophic terrorism.
Six major powers were to meet here for crunch talks on whether to urge the UN to slap sanctions on Iran for failing to bow to international demands to rein in its suspect nuclear programme.
After months of talks with Iranian negotiators, international patience is running out with the EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana on Friday acknowledging that diplomacy may have run its course.
"It is up to the six countries -- the five countries of the Security Council (plus Germany) -- to decide whether the time has come to follow the second track: referring the case to the Security Council," he told reporters in Paris.
Solana has led a delicate diplomatic dance with the Islamic Republic over past weeks, holding a series of secretive talks in European capitals after Iran failed to meet a UN deadline to halt uranium enrichment by August 31.
"Iran today has not made the commitment to suspend," he said, after weeks of meetings with top Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.
While "the door to negotiations is and will be always open," Solana said "dialogue could not last forever."
Washington has long led charges that Iran's nuclear programme is a covert grab for atomic weapons, something that Tehran has hotly denied arguing that the nuclear programme is for civilian energy purposes.
The United States, and latterly Britain, are now leading moves to draft a resolution calling on the UN Security Council to impose sanctions which could go before the world body as early as next week.
Foreign ministers from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States were gathering in London Friday for the talks due to start at 1600 GMT.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who will attend Friday's meeting of the five veto-wielding permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany, said the Iran effort would now shift from negotiations to punishment.
"What the ministers are going to do... is to say 'We've done the Solana effort, and now we'll have to move to sanctions'," she said Thursday during a surprise visit to Baghdad.
The talks come after North Korea triggered global alarm by announcing it was ready to carry out a nuclear test, which analysts say could severely aggravate regional tensions.
Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, Emyr Jones Parry, said earlier Thursday that once the foreign ministers give the green light, discussions would begin at the UN next week on a sanctions resolution against Iran.
Britain "will be discussing with its partners and with members of the council the basis for action by the council to adopt measures under Article 41 against Iran," he said.
Article 41 of the UN Charter allows the Security Council to impose diplomatic and economic sanctions on member nations to enforce compliance with its resolutions.
But despite the confident statements from the United States and Britain, there were no indications from either Russia or China, both economic allies of Iran, that they had reversed their strong reticence to sanctions.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov late Thursday accused the United States of complicating efforts by the international community to resolve the standoff.
Sanctions were "extreme measures," he argued, saying Russia would "see what extra possibilities exist to pursue multiparty diplomatic efforts."
Rice has said the United States wants a graduated series of sanctions, to be implemented through multiple UN resolutions that would ramp up pressure on Iran if it persists with its nuclear programme.
The first set of measures is expected to focus on preventing the supply of materiel and funding for Iran's nuclear or ballistic missile programmes.
Other steps could include asset freezes and travel bans on officials linked to Tehran's weapons programs.
Even if China and Russia agree to the first set of sanctions, many analysts say the timid measures being considered would have little immediate impact.
"You can get a peanut of a sanctions resolution passed by the UN, but it won't be strong enough to significantly affect Iran's behavior," said Joseph Cirincione, a non-proliferation expert at the American Center for Progress in Washington.
2. An Old Letter Casts Doubts on Iran’s Goal for Uranium
New York Times
(for personal use only)
A forgotten letter in which the founder of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, cited a need for nuclear weapons has stoked a debate over whether to negotiate with the West and raised questions about Iran’s nuclear intentions today.
Within hours after the letter appeared Friday on the Web site of the news agency ILNA, the word “nuclear” was removed, apparently after a call from the Iranian National Security Council.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly insisted that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, sharply criticized the release of the letter. “Those who think they can weaken the will of the people for construction and development by questioning their values will fail,” he said Sunday, “and they only show their lack of wisdom and commitment.”
The letter, which had been previously published elsewhere, was written in 1988, near the end of Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq. It was brought to light again on Friday by the former Iranian president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, to defend himself against hard-line critics who accuse him of ending the war when Iran was on the brink of victory.
But the letter has also been used by moderates to bolster the case for nuclear talks with the West. Iran faces sanctions for defying the United Nations Security Council’s demand that it halt its uranium enrichment, which the United States says is part of a weapons program.
In the letter, Ayatollah Khomeini outlined the reasons Iran had to accept the bitter prospect of a cease-fire in the war, which had ground down to a stalemate, with about 250,000 Iranians dead and 200,000 disabled. It did not specifically call for Iran to develop nuclear weapons, but referred indirectly to the matter by citing a letter written by the officer leading the war effort, Mohsen Rezai.
“The commander has said we can have no victory for another five years, and even by then we need to have 350 infantry bridges, 2,500 tanks, 300 fighter planes,” the ayatollah wrote, adding that the officer also said he would need “a considerable number of laser and nuclear weapons to confront the attacks.”
Ayatollah Khomeini determined that the nation could not afford, politically or economically, to continue the war, and in a famous public statement compared the decision to “drinking a chalice of poison.”
ILNA, the Iranian Labor News Agency, removed the word “nuclear” within a few hours of putting the letter on the Web, after receiving a call from the Iranian National Security Council, according to a reporter with the agency. The reporter insisted on anonymity for fear of retribution.
The letter was released as part of a debate about who was most instrumental in persuading Ayatollah Khomeini to end the war. That argument, in turn, reflects growing tensions between moderates, led by Mr. Rafsanjani, and military figures, who are expanding their power in the government of President Ahmadinejad.
“The letter is purely part of a domestic argument,” said Mohammad Atrianfar, the director of the daily Shargh, an opposition paper that was shut down last month, and a close aide to Mr. Rafsanjani. “Mr. Rafsanjani is very worried because he feels that military and intelligence figures are coming to power and want to alienate the clergy by blaming them for the damages caused during the war.”
Hard-liners have criticized Mr. Rafsanjani for disclosing what they said was a classified document and casting doubt over what was termed by many a holy war. He has denied the accusations, saying the letter was made public in 1988 and later published in a book.
But the letter has provided an opportunity for moderate voices to warn about the risks Iran takes in defying the United Nations, comparing the consequences to what happened during the war with Iraq. They argue that, when confronted with the realities of the war, Ayatollah Khomeini decided that the confrontation was not sustainable.
On Saturday the daily Kargozaran, a paper aligned with Mr. Rafsanjani, called the letter evidence of “Iran’s realistic understanding of the international situation,” and concluded that the “experience should become a basis in the decision makings, including Iran’s nuclear plans.”
Mohsen Armin, a reformist politician, said hard-line politicians who welcomed confrontation with the West should learn a lesson from the letter so they would not have to “drink a chalice of poison” themselves, ILNA reported.
1. Unilateral U.S. sanctions beyond Iran-6 agreements - Lavrov
(for personal use only)
Unilateral actions by the United States against countries cooperating with Iran are beyond the agreements of the Iran Six and will complicate its work, Russia's foreign minister said Friday.
On October 1, President George W. Bush signed Iran Freedom Support Act, which extended sanctions against countries maintaining energy cooperation with Iran and supplying weapons to the Islamic Republic.
"I am forced to state that unilateral sanctions by the U.S. against [countries cooperating with] Iran, introduced several days ago, are far beyond the reached agreements [of the Six], both in terms of content and in the sense that we agreed to work together and not unilaterally," Sergei Lavrov said.
Russia is a country that has invested heavily in Iran's energy. It is building a nuclear power plant at Bushehr, 250 miles southwest of Tehran, under a $1 billion contract signed in 1995. The plant is to be commissioned in November 2007.
Russia is also supplying Iran with air defense systems. At the end of 2005, Russia signed a $700-million contract on supplies of 29 Tor M1 air defense systems to Iran. Despite strong criticism from the United States, Russia has maintained that the systems could be used only to protect Iranian air space.
The U.S. has pressed for sanctions against Iran, which some countries suspect of pursuing a covert weapons program, though Tehran has consistently denied the allegation saying it needs nuclear energy for electricity. Russia and China, who hold vetoes on the UN Security Council, have said they oppose sanctions.
Earlier, Lavrov said the new U.S. law only made it more difficult for the international community to agree a collective approach to Iran's problem.
"It will seriously complicate our work," Lavrov said. "But we will apply all efforts to preserve the possibility of collective actions of the Six to prepare conditions for talks with Iran."
Negotiations between the six mediators on Iran - France, Germany, the United States, Russia, China and Britain - have stalled over Iran's failure to meet the UN Security Council's August 31 deadline for suspending its nuclear activities.
2. Tehran yet to make final decision on Russian enrichment proposal
(for personal use only)
The Iranian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Tehran was still considering a Russian proposal to set up a joint uranium enrichment and reprocessing venture with Iran on Russian soil.
Russian President Vladimir Putin floated the idea of an enrichment center at the beginning of the year to allay concerns in the West over uranium enrichment in Iran, and in September Russia proposed building it in Siberia. The top Russian nuclear industry official said the center could be set up under the control of the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"We have not made a final decision on the proposal to set up a joint consortium [on uranium enrichment] and who will be invited to participate in this project," a ministry spokesman said in a statement.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proposed at the 2005 UN general Assembly that foreign enterprises, both private and state-owned, take part in uranium enrichment activities on Iranian territory.
"This initiative was discussed at the latest round of talks between Ali Larijani and Javier Solana as a good way to guarantee that Iran's nuclear program is a peaceful one," Hosseini said in his statement.
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, recently held talks with Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, in an attempt to persuade Tehran to accept a package of incentives, offered by countries mediating the issue, and to suspend uranium enrichment. However, no deal has yet been reached.
Earlier, Russia's nuclear chief said that the proposal to set up a joint plant for uranium enrichment and reprocessing with Iran in Russia remained in force.
"If Iran is unable to enrich uranium on its territory, then Russia is ready to offer its territory to set up such a joint venture," Sergei Kiriyenko said.
Kiriyenko also said Russia had no commercial interest in the joint venture, and that the proposal should be seen as part of efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem.
"We have no need to set up such a joint venture, as, thank God, we have 40% of the world's enrichment capacity, and we do not need any investment in our enrichment industry," he said. "Our proposals are our contribution to a possible resolution of the situation."
After four years of bluster and buildup, North Korea has finally reached the nuclear finish line. On Tuesday, it announced its intention to step across. At every point along the way, Pyongyang has telegraphed its intentions, first announcing that it would withdraw from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and reprocess plutonium, then declaring that it already possessed a "deterrent force" and now, for the first time, proclaiming that it will conduct a weapons test. In this way, Pyongyang has probed the resolve of those seeking to stop it, extorting economic rewards for simply showing up at the negotiating table while at the same time forcing the world to adjust to the idea that it either already is, or soon will be, a member of the nuclear club.
In keeping with past practice, the North will probably not test right away, preferring instead to see what new concessions it can extract. Unless it encounters a tougher and more unified response than it has to date, however, Pyongyang will probably follow through eventually on its latest threat. On the nuclear issue, at least, Kim Jong Il has proved to be a man of his word.
What would be the effect of a successful North Korean nuclear test? The answer could turn out to be worse than many observers now seem to imagine.
For Kim, a nuclear blast would be a personal triumph, the crowning glory of a 20-year nuclear research program carried out under his direction that puts him at last on an equal footing with his father and sainted predecessor and promises to secure the Kim dynasty for decades to come. Success will boost the "Dear Leader's" already ample confidence in his own strategic genius, while putting him in a better position to deter external threats and to command the continued loyalty of his subordinates in the military and the security services. It may also convince him that he is freer to indulge his propensity for taking risks and his habit of extorting food, fuel and cash from his neighbors.
Instead of making Kim secure, and hence easier to deal with, nuclear weapons could well make him more aggressive and dangerous. The aftershocks of a nuclear test will reverberate in South Korea and could shake its society, economy and political system to their foundations. Critics of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun will accuse him of pursuing a failed policy of appeasement that has condemned the North's wretched masses to continuing enslavement while exposing the South to endless, escalating blackmail. Roh's defenders will, in turn, blame the U.S. for provoking Pyongyang and will urge a redoubling of economic assistance and diplomatic suasion.
In Washington, long frustrated by Seoul's unwillingness to step up pressure on the North, there will be sharp questions about the wisdom of continuing to deploy tens of thousands of U.S. troops to defend a country that has been subsidizing its own enemy with aid and trade. If Americans blame Seoul for having done too little to stop it, a nuclear test could well trigger an agonizing reappraisal of the U.S.-South Korea alliance. The resulting climate of uncertainty could damage investment and growth in the South, further heightening political tensions.
In Tokyo, a North Korean nuclear test would doubtless accelerate efforts by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to remove the pacifism clauses from Japan's constitution and expand its military capabilities. The question of whether Tokyo should acquire its own nuclear deterrent will move from speculation to serious political debate. Moreover, with Kim brandishing nuclear weapons, Abe would probably fear that any conciliatory gestures could be misinterpreted as signs of weakness, and so would be far less likely to heed the advice of those who are urging him to give ground on public acknowledgment of Japan's misdeeds during World War II. With Japan adopting a tougher defense posture, and probably faulting Beijing for not restraining its North Korean ally, any prospect of warmer relations with China will quickly evaporate.
If China's leaders believe they can sidestep blame for Pyongyang's actions, they are likely to be disappointed. If China fails to stop the North from crossing this last line, it will be humiliating for Beijing and will raise questions in Washington about the extent to which China has truly become a "responsible stakeholder" in the international system. The claim that Beijing is indispensable in keeping North Korea in check has helped the Bush administration fend off pressure for tough action on other issues, including China's alleged unfair trading practices. With this prop gone, U.S. policy toward China could become more sharply confrontational.
Finally, a North Korean test would mark a painful defeat for the Bush administration. Having said repeatedly that it would never tolerate a nuclear-armed North, Washington may find that it has little choice but to do so. American credibility will be weakened and the system of international agreements meant to stop nuclear proliferation will suffer a possibly fatal blow. Pyongyang's success will probably embolden Iran in its quest for nuclear capability while heightening Washington's resolve to use any means necessary to stop it. And this is to say nothing of the possibility that North Korea may follow through on yet another threat that it has made, albeit obliquely, in recent years: to sell or transfer nuclear weapons or material to whomever it chooses.
A North Korean nuclear test would damage the national interests of all the major northeast Asian powers They would be well advised to join ranks and finally apply the coordinated diplomatic and economic pressures that provide the last best hope for a satisfactory, peaceful solution to the current crisis.
Japan pressed on with efforts Thursday to secure a UN condemnation of North Korea's nuclear test threat after Washington, in its starkest warning so far, said it would not live with a nuclear-armed Pyongyang.
North Korea's neighbors, including China -- the closest the reclusive Stalinist state has to an ally -- hardened their response to Tuesday's announcement, in contrast to their disunity over missile tests carried out by Pyongyang three months ago.
Japan's Kyodo news agency reported from New York that Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing had warned North Korea it would face "serious consequences" if it made good on its pledge to test a nuclear device.
Quoting diplomatic sources, it said Li had conveyed the warning from China's top leadership to North Korea's ambassador in Beijing. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said she could not confirm the report. Publicly, the foreign ministry has called only for restraint on North Korea's part and for other countries to avoid actions that would heighten tensions.
But citing "informed sources," Kyodo said late Thursday that a U.S. military aircraft capable of collecting and analyzing airborne radioactive substances had earlier taken off from the Kadena base in Okinawa.
The reported hardening of Beijing's tone came as Japan -- perhaps ceding ground to China -- signalled a willingness to accept a less formal UN Security Council warning than the "presidential statement" it had sought along with the United States and France.
The proposed statement would warn North Korea that if it went ahead with a test, the council would impose consequences, although it does not specify what those should be.
China, however, wants the issue resolved through six-country talks set up to end North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
Analysts and officials said Pyongyang's nuclear test announcement Tuesday could be an attempt to push the United States into direct talks on ending the crackdown.
But U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill on Wednesday warned Pyongyang, which has said it has nuclear bombs, "it can have a future or it can have these weapons, it cannot have both."
"We are not going to live with a nuclear North Korea, we are not going to accept it," Hill told the U.S.-Korea Institute, which is part of Johns Hopkins University.
Hill refused to say what steps Washington might take to ensure that North Korea did not succeed in testing a weapon.
"We would have no choice but to act resolutely to make sure that the DPRK [North Korea] understood -- and to make sure that any other country understands -- that this [nuclear test] is a very bad mistake," Hill said.
Here’s a scenario to keep you up nights. North Korea tests a nuclear weapon, and Japan, South Korea and Taiwan start thinking they need one too. Meanwhile, over in the Middle East, Iran’s neighbors start asking themselves why they should even wait for Tehran to go nuclear before starting their own programs.
Which is why the Bush administration, and other critical players, need to do a lot more to talk North Korea back from the nuclear ledge — and to keep it there.
It has been months since negotiators even sat down at a table. And the two countries with the most potential leverage — China and the United States — have found it easier to play down the urgency of the threat than to do what’s needed to deal with Pyongyang’s undeniable craziness.
In China’s case, that means delivering an unambiguous warning to its longtime client that a nuclear test will be followed by an immediate and painful reduction in Chinese subsidies and aid. And President Bush will have to make his own unambiguous commitment that the United States will not try to overthrow the North Korean government — if it gives up its weapons program.
Experts still debate whether China got the North Koreans to the table by briefly cutting off oil deliveries — or doling out cash. There’s no doubt China has the leverage. But China’s autocrats are so enamored of any status quo — and so nervous about having to house and feed the North’s refugees — that they have resisted using it. Instead, Chinese officials say that the North probably hasn’t built a weapon, or if it has, wouldn’t ever use it. That’s what we call being in denial. It is a luxury Beijing can no longer indulge.
Mr. Bush cannot indulge his own ambivalence over whether it would be better to negotiate with Kim Jong-il or try to overthrow him. North Korea may have the most erratic, brutal and opaque leadership in the world. And it’s impossible to know whether the “dear leader” would really trade away his weapons program for any price. But this White House has yet to test him. In the most recent whipsaw, Mr. Bush agreed to offer economic and security incentives to Pyongyang but then undercut the offer by imposing new sanctions on North Korean banks. Pyongyang has refused to come back to the table ever since.
While you’re contemplating nuclear dominoes, here’s another reason to stay up at night. In its search for cash, North Korea has become expert at selling pretty much anything to anyone: counterfeit dollars, bootlegged cigarettes, ballistic missiles. Can plutonium be far behind?
The dangers are very real. What’s needed now is real pressure and real diplomacy to get the North out of the nuclear weapons business — preferably before a nuclear test shows potential buyers just how well its weapons work.
North Korea’s threat to conduct a nuclear test is first and foremost a threat to its closest neighbors, China and South Korea. Pyongyang's emergence as a nuclear power would create a grave danger for their people and would probably transform regional security in East Asia in ways that both Beijing and Seoul would find harmful. Among other consequences, Japan might choose to build its own nuclear arsenal. South Korea's policy of seeking closer relations with the North and China's complementary strategy of propping up the totalitarian dictatorship of Kim Jong Il will have produced not stability but a potentially far-reaching destabilization.
The United States would be threatened, too, because of the 30,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. But North Korea appears to be a long way from developing a missile that can reach the United States. Its provocative test in July, like a previous one in 1998, was a flop. A North Korean bomb test, meanwhile, is likely to empower those in the Bush administration who have been arguing for much tougher steps to isolate the North.
It follows that the South Korean and Chinese governments ought to be leading the effort to stop North Korea from going forward. They, more than the United States or the United Nations, have the means to exert pressure. Without the energy and food aid they supply, and China's willingness to close its borders to North Korean refugees, the Kim dictatorship would almost certainly collapse. Most experts believe the North is not bluffing when it says it could detonate a nuclear warhead, but whether it does will probably depend on international reaction to this week's threat.
So far the Chinese and South Korean responses look weak. A spokesman in Seoul said a test would cause a "shift" in the government's engagement policy but hastened to add that it wouldn't abandon the policy altogether. Beijing, meanwhile, seemed to resist a U.S. and Japanese effort to have the U.N. Security Council issue a strong warning to Pyongyang. It's not hard to imagine Mr. Kim reading such reactions as a virtual green light.
The North's latest provocation produced the usual claims that the United States was somehow at fault for failing to "engage" the dictatorship. Yet the Bush administration has made it clear that it will be open to a broad security dialogue if the North returns to the multiparty negotiations it has boycotted for the past year. Just last month the senior U.S. negotiator again offered to meet his North Korean counterpart to discuss how talks could resume. There was no response.
Instead of demanding that Washington answer the threats of a criminal regime with appeasement or bribery, those who want to prevent a North Korean bomb test should be insisting on action by the governments that now shirk their responsibility to stand up to that regime -- South Korea and China.
A North Korean nuclear test is now a just matter of time, a growing number of analysts say, as an increasingly desperate Pyongyang tries to ease the external pressures that are crippling the economy and might even be threatening Kim Jong-il’s leadership.
A nuclear test has always been considered North Korea’s trump card, a last-ditch option that would invite the strongest of responses, not just from the US and Japan but potentially from benefactors China and South Korea.
Although Mr Kim’s regime has often made provocative threats without following through, many observers were confounded by the test launch of seven ballistic missiles in July and are now reluctant to dismiss Pyongyang’s latest threat, made on Tuesday.
“The reality is that US policies over the last decade have failed to stop North Korea from becoming a nuclear state and now they are ready to take the next step and prove it,” said Jon Wolfsthal, a nuclear specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, predicting a test would take place within two years.
North Korea’s neighbours on Wednesday urged restraint. But many analysts said it was a case of when, not if, a test was carried out, some saying there was an even chance it would come this year.
Daniel Pinkston of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, said, if it was this year, a test would almost certainly have to take place before mid-November to avoid heavy snow falls.
“I think they have been pretty clear in describing what they will do,” Mr Pinkston said. “As this crisis has been stretching out over time, they have taken the opportunity to use salami tactics,” he said, referring to Nobel prizewinner Thomas Schelling’s theory for defeating threats by incremental escalation.
North Korea’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday that the US’s “threat of a nuclear war and its vicious sanctions and pressure” had put the state in danger, its boldest declaration yet.
North Korea’s leadership is under severe economic pressure. Financial sanctions imposed by the US in September last year appear to have had a tougher than expected effect.
Pyongyang has condemned the sanctions, refused to return to six-party talks, conducted the missile tests, and threatened to extract more spent plutonium fuel rods from its Yongbyon reactor.
“They look at this as an act of war,” Mr Pinkston said. “They are unhappy with the US strategy of imposing sanctions and the impact that is having on legitimate trade.”
But analysts said pressure had increased on North Korea in other ways since July. The missile tests came despite public warnings from Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister. This prompted Beijing, Pyongyang’s closest ally, to express its displeasure in several ways, including giving its support to a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning North Korea and imposing limited sanctions.
According to an official from the World Food Programme, China has cut back food deliveries to North Korea this year by as much as two-thirds. This comes on top of widespread food shortages following floods, a worse than expected harvest, and other aid cutbacks.
Although there is no proof of nuclear weapons capability, North Korea has the material and claims to have already “weaponised” the 8,000 rods initially withdrawn from its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. By most estimates, the rods would yield enough fissile material for six to 10 nuclear devices, a number that would probably give North Korea the freedom to test one without worrying about significantly diminishing its arsenal.
Bruce Klingner of the Eurasia Group, a political consultancy, said: “North Korea is feeling cornered so there is a greater chance than in the past of something happening. It’s an internationally nerve-wracking time.”
Marcus Noland, senior analyst at the Institute for International Economics, wrote recently: “North Korea could suffer a noticeable, self-inflicted and direct trade shock from a nuclear test.”
However, Pyongyang may calculate that additional sanctions would be short-lived. Noting how the international community quickly backpedalled after Pakistan’s nuclear test in 1998, Mr Noland said China and South Korea, fearing mass instability and regime collapse in the North, might “encounter both domestic and diplomatic motivations to ease such restrictions”.
Chris Hill, US assistant secretary of state and chief negotiator at the stalled six-party talks, last night warned North Korea that “we are not going to live with a nuclear North Korea. We are not going to accept it.”
The US would “have no choice but to act resolutely”, he told the School of Advanced International Studies of John Hopkins University in Washington.
He refused to say what the US would do in the event of a nuclear test, but indicated the response could be some kind of blockade, saying the top US priority was to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
1. Russia talking 'directly' with N Korea over nuclear test
(for personal use only)
Moscow is 'holding direct talks with the leaders of North Korea' to try to prevent Pyongyang carrying out a test of a nuclear weapon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said here.
'We are all very worried about this. We are talking about moves we can take and working directly with the leaders of North Korea to try to convince them to hold back from committing any act which could worsen the situation,' Lavrov told reporters.
'The entire situation has to be weighed without bringing in any emotion. We must think of the security of the entire Korean peninsula and of the necessity to uphold the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons,' he said.
Yesterday, Lavrov held talks by telephone with his South Korean counterpart Ban Ki-moon on North Korea's announcement that it would conduct a nuclear weapons test.
During the phone conversation, Lavrov and Ban agreed on 'the unacceptable nature of acts like this, which can only serve to worsen the situation and complicate the resumption of six-party talks', the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
Russia and South Korea have been engaged, along with China, Japan and the US, in negotiations with North Korea designed to reduce international tensions over its nuclear ambitions.
Just over four years ago, the United States and Russia joined with Serbia, the IAEA and other partners to remove nearly 50 kilos of high-enriched uranium - the kind classed as "weapons-grade" - from Serbia´s shutdown research reactor at the Vinca Institute of Nuclear Sciences. Last month, they took another big step to rid the reactor site of old "spent" nuclear fuel that´s posing a serious radiological hazard.
For Serbia, it´s a welcome milestone on a long and winding road. The Vinca research reactor was built in 1958 and started operations using fuel supplied by the former USSR. The reactor was shutdown in 1984, more than two decades ago, but no arrangements were settled then for managing the old Soviet fuel. The breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, and later Yugoslavia, exacerbated the picture.
Mr. Aleksandar Popovic, Serbia´s Minister of Science and Environmental Protection, addressed issues in his statement to the IAEA General Conference in September 2006. At Vinca, he said, "assistance of the international community is of paramount importance to resolve outstanding issues, including the removal of the spent nuclear fuel, safe management of radioactive waste and complete decommissioning of the nuclear reactor."
The big step last week was finalizing a multi-million contract to package and ship just over two metric tonnes of spent nuclear fuel, returning it back to Russia. Through its technical cooperation programme, the IAEA concluded a US $4.3 million contract with a Russian consortium and Serbia to start the work, which initially involves preparing about 8000 old fuel elements for shipping casks. Another contract of nearly $5.5 million is being negotiated to cover transport and related tasks.
The contract is one of the biggest involving the IAEA technical cooperation programme, a sign of what lies ahead. The planned operation is no quick or easy job - the fuel contains uranium enriched to varying levels and a good part of it is degrading, making it more dangerous to handle. Michael Durst, the IAEA's special programme manager for Vinca, estimates that about 30% of the fuel could be contaminating the pool where it´s stored underwater.
"The fuel is highly radioactive, it´s leaking, so everything will have to be done remotely." he explains. He says the fuel must be removed from containers using special tools designed for remote control. Once repackaged, the fuel will be put into heavily shielded shipping containers that are specifically licensed for international transport.
"The sooner we get this done, the better for everyone," he says.
The IAEA is leading an international funding drive to obtain the funds urgently needed to complete the job. The first of a series of donor conferences was held 21 September in Vienna, in cooperation with Serbia and more than a dozen countries, including the United States and Russia.
The Vinca project is part of IAEA-supported efforts to upgrade nuclear safety and security at the world´s research reactors. The efforts involve more than 50 countries that collectively house some 350 research reactors, including shutdown facilities, that were once supplied and fueled mainly by the United States and Russia. The IAEA is involved in various initiatives to minimize the reliance on highly enriched uranium and encourage the "take back" of spent fuel to the country of origin. See Story Resources for more information.
At Vinca, IAEA support stretches back over decades. The condition of the reactor´s spent fuel raised safety concerns in the mid-1990s, following the results of Agency fact-finding missions of international experts. Since then, the IAEA´s technical cooperation with Serbia has intensified in areas of safety, and more recently, security. Projects so far have primarily focused on issues related to managing the spent fuel, improving radioactive waste management and decommissioning of the research reactor, an initiative known as "Green Vinca".
Over the coming months, the IAEA is planning a series of donor conferences to solicit additional funding for the work ahead. Initial funding has been provided by the US Department of Energy and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a private U.S. based non-governmental firm, owned and operated by the Ted Turner Cooperation.
Among the threats to world security is the possible development or the possession of weapons of mass destruction in some states “of concern,” notably Iran and North Korea (DPRK). The program for enrichment of uranium in Iran and the production of plutonium and possible enrichment of uranium in the DPRK take place in tense areas and constitute acute political problems.
In both cases, there are fears that the production of enriched uranium and plutonium may lead – and in the case of the DPRK has led – to production of nuclear weapons that may be used. The concerns are acute in the neighborhoods of these countries: South Korea and Japan; Israel and the Middle East.
Linked to these concerns are fears about possible domino effects. The aversion to nuclear weapons is deep-rooted in Japan, and it would take much to provoke Japan to move toward such weapons. If that were to happen, tensions with China would dramatically increase.
The efforts of the US and other states taking part in the six-power talks in Beijing have wisely aimed at removing the incentives of the DPRK to develop and possess nuclear weapons: A common understanding was reached in September 2005, envisaging that the whole DPRK nuclear program would be eliminated with strict verification introduced. The North and the South would confirm an agreement made in 1992 to have neither enrichment nor reprocessing plants. The government of the North was further told that it would receive economic assistance and assurance that it would not be subject to armed attacks from the outside. It was also told that normalized relations could be opened with the US and Japan.
In the course of one year, the welcome understanding has gradually vanished. Incentives have given place to invectives. The US has inflicted economic punishment on the DPRK for alleged participation in counterfeiting. The DPRK has refused to return to talks unless the punishment is lifted. DPRK has performed missile tests – and now threatens a nuclear test. A de-escalation is acutely needed on both sides – perhaps through action similar to that taken by former US President Jimmy Carter when he flew to see President Kim Il Sung in June 1994.
In the case of Iran, the risk of a domino effect seems less clear. The Arab states would worry about a nuclear non-Arab Iran. So would perhaps Turkey. Unlike Japan, however, these states have a long way to go to acquire nuclear capability.
Unlike the DPRK, Iran has declared that it only seeks a capacity to enrich uranium to supply power reactors with fuel. The IAEA and intelligence agencies around the world have examined the Iranian contention. While the IAEA has not – yet – concluded that the aim of the Iranian program is to make a weapon, others declare this conclusion with as much conviction as they showed about an Iraqi nuclear-weapon program in 2003.
A number of circumstances are invoked to show that Iran’s intention is to make weapons, including that the program was kept secret for many years in violation of Iran's obligations to the IAEA; that a research reactor under construction is an excellent producer of plutonium; and that a nuclear-weapon design was obtained from the Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan, not only centrifuges for uranium enrichment.
Iran likely had inconsistent aims during the some 20 years before achieving the ability to enrich gram or milligram quantities of uranium to some 5 percent. Also, the Iranian government is likely more divided than united behind the enrichment program.
It is not meaningful to conjecture about Iran's "real" intentions. After all, even if purely peaceful today, these could change in the future. What is certain is that Iran – and any other country – would be a couple of years closer to a weapons option if it were to have an industrial capability for enriching uranium. Notably, the intense concern about Iran is part of a more general concern about the possibility that more countries may seek enrichment capability and thereby be years closer to a weapons option.
Some factors could persuade Iran to suspend, at least for a while, its program for enrichment:
The European states, while arguing that Iran does not need a capability to enrich uranium, wisely seek to demonstrate that they understand and endorse Iran's ambition to move into high technology – including nuclear. They declare themselves ready to assist Iran in this ambition by facilitating investments; offering advantages for trade and finance, including support for membership in World Trade Organization; and transferring nuclear technology for peaceful uses and assuring a nuclear-fuel supply, thereby acknowledging the legitimacy of an Iranian program for peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Missing in the negotiation are two elements that only the US could contribute and that were put on the table for North Korea: assurances about security, because holding out a promise about a dialogue is not enough; and assurances about official relations.
One may assume that the Iranian government is concerned about the huge US military presence in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region and remembers the US actions that toppled Iran’s democratically elected Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953. The Iranians may also conclude that the US and Israel will be reluctant – after Iraq and Lebanon – to use military force, and that on balance Iran could be safer from armed attacks and subversion if it suspended enrichment.
Such a conclusion would be more likely if security assurances were part of the package offered to Iran in return for suspension of enrichment. Yet any readiness to make such an offer is not apparent.
Further, the Iranian government may well feel that it was treated unjustly by the industrialized world, when Iran was the victim of Saddam Hussein's aggression in the 1980s, and that it has been unfairly ostracized. The US has offered to participate in discussions with Iran, provided that the country first suspends its enrichment program.
This may not look as magnanimous in Teheran as it does in Washington. In the case of North Korea, the US does not ask for any payment to sit down and talk, but instead seems ready to offer normal official relations as a part of a negotiated settlement. A similar offer might be a valuable chip for Iran.
Three other points regarding negotiations:
First, the UN Security Council and negotiating powers have demanded that Iran suspend its enrichment program prior to any talks. This may look like a technical negotiation matter, but which player in a game is willing to give up its trump card before play begins? Perhaps a time-limited suspension starting with the talks would offer a way out of this self-inflicted dilemma.
Second, what is the reason for the haste? I do not exclude the possibility that the Iranian side wants to drag its feet, seeking to increase its leverage by building another cascade of centrifuges – just as North Korea may increase world anxiety by reprocessing more plutonium.
Nevertheless, it would be several years before Iran could enrich enough material to make bombs. There’s time for talks. Waving the sanctions card might not facilitate negotiations. It is by no means axiomatic that carrots must be coupled with the waving of sticks. The latter may simply provoke a national wish in Iran to stand tall.
Those who say that one should not lose time should remember that, with the DPRK, the world does not seem so impatient. Yet, in that case, the world is dealing with a country that may already have nuclear bombs.
Finally, there is a crying need for a revival of global-disarmament efforts, with further development of and respect for the United Nations. There might be a better chance to dissuade others – including North Korea and Iran – from developing nuclear weapons, if the nuclear states began, themselves, to move away from these weapons and, thereby, strengthen world security.
2. Balancing Nuclear 'Rights' and Responsibilities
Daryl G. Kimball
(for personal use only)
Since the beginning of the nuclear age, efforts to exploit nuclear technology for energy and for profit have complicated the task of reducing the nuclear weapons threat. Now, as states such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Iran, and South Africa either pursue or consider moving into the business of enriching uranium, the complexities and dangers could significantly deepen.
The 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) grants states the “right” to pursue nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, so long as states forswear nuclear weapons and comply with safeguards against the diversion of nuclear technology and materials for weapons purposes.
International safeguards can help detect and deter cheating, but they cannot prevent “breakout” scenarios. Yet, if current trends continue, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei has warned that we could “have 20-30…virtual nuclear weapons states, meaning countries that could move within months into converting their civilian capacity or capability into a weapons program.”
About 12 states already possess uranium enrichment or plutonium separation facilities, or both. These technologies can be used to produce fissile material for bombs. Government- affiliated and subsidized entities in the United States, Russia, and France, as well as a British-Dutch-German consortium, provide an enrichment capacity sufficient to meet current and projected future nuclear energy demands. As President George W. Bush noted in 2004, “enrichment and reprocessing are not necessary for nations seeking to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”
Even though they have small domestic nuclear energy sectors, Argentine, Brazilian, and South African officials, like Iran’s leaders, cite domestic nuclear fuel needs and the possibility of cutoffs in external supply as the rationale for exploring new, multibillion-dollar centrifuge- enrichment facilities. Prime Minister John Howard has called for Australia to enter the uranium-enrichment market although it is also economically infeasible for his country.
However, supply interruptions are only likely—and would be appropriate—if the recipient state violates its nonproliferation commitments. That is not likely, given that these states are members in good standing with the NPT and have supported action toward global nuclear disarmament. But if they insist on having enrichment capabilities, others such as Iran or South Korea, with weaker compliance records and stronger motives to pursue nuclear weapons, are sure to insist on having them too.
To reverse the trend, several states and a leading nongovernmental organization have offered ideas to create assured nuclear fuel supplies for states that forgo enrichment and reprocessing. At a special IAEA conference last month, a range of schemes were discussed. A “global nuclear fuel bank” is an old idea that may someday become a reality and could address the supply concerns, real or imagined, of many states.
Meanwhile, tighter restrictions on the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technology and on the construction of new facilities are in order. Bush’s 2004 proposal that Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) states not sell enrichment and reprocessing equipment to any state that does not already have the capability is good but is not enough. It would allow Japan to move ahead with a major plutonium reprocessing plant and the construction of new U.S. and French centrifuge-enrichment plants. Not surprisingly, the NSG has not endorsed this discriminatory approach.
If we are to succeed in limiting the number of states capable of producing nuclear bomb material, all states must be willing to provide responsible leadership and restraint. In the near future, there is no economic rationale for new states to enter the civil uranium-enrichment or plutonium-separation arena. The further pursuit of plutonium separation by states such as Japan, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and especially the United States will only lead to more proliferation risks.
As supplier and buyer states explore options to deal with potential market shortages and interruptions in fuel supply, they must also all agree that recipient states meet basic nonproliferation standards. Otherwise, the growing trade in nuclear fuel and technology could facilitate weapons production. At the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, member states endorsed a policy requiring “full-scope” safeguards as a condition of nuclear supply.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration, along with France, Russia, and the United Kingdom, is moving to weaken the existing safeguards regime by pursuing full civil nuclear trade with India, which refuses safeguards on all its facilities and produces fissile material for weapons. The leaders of Australia, Brazil, and South Africa have become a part of this problem too. All three have recently said they are prepared to reverse nonproliferation policies in order sell their uranium supplies to New Delhi.
Speaking for many nonaligned, non-nuclear-weapon states, South African officials have resisted restrictions on enrichment and plutonium separation technology that infringes on what they call their “inalienable right” to nuclear energy. Such interpretations of the NPT are dangerous and out of touch. Just as the nuclear powers have an obligation to agree to verifiably halt fissile production and dismantle their weapons stocks, non-nuclear-weapon states must exercise their “rights” in a way that helps avoid the further proliferation of nuclear weapons related technology and the nuclear anarchy that would ensue.
1. Seizures of radioactive materials fuel 'dirty bomb' fears
(for personal use only)
Seizures of smuggled radioactive material capable of making a terrorist “dirty bomb” have doubled in the past four years, according to official figures seen by The Times.
Smugglers have been caught trying to traffick dangerous radioactive material more than 300 times since 2002, statistics from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) show. Most of the incidents are understood to have occurred in Europe.
The disclosures come as al-Qaeda is known to be intensfiying its efforts to obtain a radoactive device. Last year, Western security services, including MI5 and MI6, thwarted 16 attempts to smuggle plutonium or uranium. On two occasions small quantities of highly enriched uranium were reported missing. All were feared to have been destined for terror groups.
Scientists responsible for analysing the seizures have given warning that traffickers are turning to hospital X-ray equipment and laboratory supplies as an illicit source of radioactive material.
Investigators believe that the smugglers, who come mainly from the former Eastern bloc, are interested only in making a swift fortune and believe that they may have no compunction in selling to jihadist groups. Most undercover operations and recent seizures have been kept secret to protect the activities of Western security services.
Rigorous controls on nuclear processors, especially with Russia co-operating to stop the trafficking of enriched plutonium and uranium, have limited smugglers’ access to weapons-grade nuclear materials. But medical and laboratory sources, including waste, remain vulnerable. Such radioactive waste can be used to make a dirty bomb.
A dirty bomb combines a conventional explosive, such as dynamite, with radioactive material such as spent nuclear fuel like highly enriched uranium and plutonium. In most instances the conventional explosive would kill more bystanders but the dispersion of the radioactive material would have a hugely damaging “fear” factor.
There were 103 cases of illicit trafficking last year, compared with fewer than 30 in 1996. Fifty-eight incidents were reported in 2002, rising to 90 in 2003 and 130 in 2004. Experts point out that seizures in the past three years equal the same amount of trafficking in the previous seven years.
Olli Heinonen, deputy director-general of the IAEA, which monitors trafficking and inspects nuclear plants to audit their radioactive materials, said that while weapons-grade nuclear material smuggling was now rare there were serious concerns about other radioactive substances.
“A dirty bomb is something that needs to be taken seriously. We need to be prepared for anything because anything could happen,” he said. “Terrorists look for the weakest link. We need to be alert and we need to be prepared.”
Al-Qaeda makes no secret of its desire to obtain a dirty bomb. Last month its leader in Iraq, Abu Hamza alMuhajer, called for scientists to join it and experiment with radioactive devices for use against coalition troops. Even before 9/11, Osama bin Laden invited two Pakistani atomic scientists to visit a training camp in Afghanistan to discuss how to assemble a bomb using stolen plutonium. Captured al-Qaeda leaders have since confessed to the CIA of their attempts to smuggle a radioactive device into the US.
Professor Klaus Lützenkir-chen, who helps to analyse the seized substances, said that even small quantities of radio-active material could be of use to terrorists.
“If someone gets hold of it, it is possible it could be used in a dirty bomb,” he said. He added that if such a dirty bomb were detonated in a town centre the physical effect would be comparatively small and unlikely to cause huge loss of life but would have an enormously damaging “fear factor”.
One of the most serious seizures since 9/11 was that of several kilograms of a radioactive substance known as yellow cake that was found in a consignment of scrap metal at the port of Rotterdam in December 2003.
Professor Lützenkirchen said that seizures have been made across Europe, usually at borders and sea ports. Most of the trafficked material originated from the Caucasus region where he said that there was “considerable activity” among smugglers.
Seizures have continued this year, though overall figures for 2006 are not yet available. They include the discovery in Germany of a small quantity of highly enriched uranium.
A Pentagon project to modify its deadliest nuclear missile for use as a conventional weapon against targets such as North Korea and Iran could unwittingly spark an atomic war, two weapons experts warned Thursday.
Russian military officers might misconstrue a submarine-launched conventional D5 intercontinental ballistic missile and conclude that Russia is under nuclear attack, said Ted Postol, a physicist and professor of science, technology and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Pavel Podvig, a physicist and weapons specialist at Stanford.
"Any launch of a long-range nonnuclear armed sea or land ballistic missile will cause an automated alert of the Russian early warning system," Postol told reporters.
The triggering of an alert wouldn't necessarily precipitate a retaliatory hail of Russian nuclear missiles, Postol said. Nevertheless, he said, "there can be no doubt that such an alert will greatly increase the chances of a nuclear accident involving strategic nuclear forces."
Podvig said launching conventional versions of a missile from a submarine that normally carries nuclear ICBMs "expands the possibility for a misunderstanding so widely that it is hard to contemplate."
Mixing conventional and nuclear D5s on a U.S. Trident submarine "would be very dangerous," Podvig said, because the Russians have no way of discriminating between the two types of missiles once they are launched.
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the project would increase the danger of accidental nuclear war.
"The media and expert circles are already discussing plans to use intercontinental ballistic missiles to carry nonnuclear warheads," he said in May. "The launch of such a missile could ... provoke a full-scale counterattack using strategic nuclear forces."
Accidental nuclear war is not so far-fetched. In 1995, Russia initially interpreted the launch of a Norwegian scientific rocket as the onset of a U.S. nuclear attack. Then-President Boris Yeltsin activated his "nuclear briefcase" in the first stages of preparation to launch a retaliatory strike before the mistake was discovered.
The United States and Russia have acknowledged the possibility that Russia's equipment might mistakenly conclude the United States was attacking with nuclear missiles.
In 1998, the two countries agreed to set up a joint radar center in Moscow operated by U.S. and Russian forces to supplement Russia's aging equipment and reduce the threat of accidental war. But the center has yet to open.
A major technical problem exacerbates the risk of using the D5 as a conventional weapon: the decaying state of Russia's nuclear forces. Russia's nuclear missiles are tethered to early warning radars that have been in decline since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. And Russia, unlike the United States, lacks sufficient satellites to supplement the radars and confirm whether missile launches are truly under way or are false alarms.
The scenario that worries Postol, Podvig and other weapons experts is what might happen if the United States and North Korea come to blows and a conventional D5 is launched against a target there from a submerged Trident submarine. Depending on the sub's location, the flying time to Russia could be under 15 minutes so the Russians would have little time to confirm the trajectory -- using decaying equipment -- before deciding to launch a nuclear strike on the United States.
The D5 missile project involves the removal of nuclear warheads from as many as two dozen D5 ICBMs that are carried aboard the U.S. fleet of 12 Ohio-class Trident submarines.
The Pentagon has the project on an accelerated schedule, with the goal of fielding the weapons alongside their nuclear variants in two years. Each Trident submarine carries 24 D5 missiles, and the plan calls for using two of those as conventional weapons in each sub.
The rocket fired by a submerged submarine would barrel up through the ocean powered by its three-stage engine and rapidly ascend through the atmosphere at speeds up to 20,000 feet per second into outer space.
The warhead compartment of the missile would then plummet back to earth, guided to its target within about 50 feet by sophisticated sensors. Defense officials believe it would gain enough speed and force to penetrate underground command bunkers.
1. Russia ready to cooperate with Belarus in NPP construction
(for personal use only)
Russia is ready to cooperate with Belarus in a project to build a nuclear power plant in its territory, Director of Russia's Rosatom Federal Agency for Atomic Energy Sergei Kiriyenko told reporters on Wednesday.
"The Belarussian government has announced the possibility of building a nuclear power plant in its territory, and Atomstroiexport has carried out a presentation and submitted the necessary documents," he said.
"If Belarus has such interests, we are ready to interact; it's possible," Kiriyenko underlined.
The White House said on Monday it was disappointed the US Senate failed to approve a landmark US-India nuclear deal before adjourning but expressed optimism it would be approved during a "lame duck" session in November.
The initiative, which would allow nuclear-armed India access to US nuclear fuel and reactors for the first time in three decades, "continues to be a top priority for the administration," a spokesman said in a statement.
The deal has been hailed by President George W Bush and others as the core of building a new US relationship with India after years of estrangement and a financial boon to American business.
But despite more than a year of upbeat assessments by administration officials and the intervention of Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Republican-led Senate let the India bill languish when the session ended on Saturday.
The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the Bill in July.
Ron Somers, head of the US-India Business Council, part of the US Chamber of Commerce, said, "When we all look back at this historic opportunity of aligning our two great democracies for the 21st Century, we will recognize that delays like these, though unfortunate, amount to small bumps in the road."
He and other lobbyists pledged to regroup and push anew for passage in the "lame duck" legislative session after the November 7 election, but the outcome is not guaranteed.
China could siphon off Australian uranium for military purposes because a bilateral agreement lacked proper safeguards, the Australian Conservation Foundation told a federal parliamentary inquiry in Adelaide today.
ACF spokesman David Noonan said claims that if Australia didn't supply uranium to China somebody else would amounted to "the drug dealers' defence".
The inquiry is examining the Howard government's April 2006 agreement to export uranium to China, reversing a long-standing policy not to supply uranium to the nuclear weapons state.
Mr Noonan said Australian yellowcake would be enriched and converted at facilities in China jointly run by the military.
He said there was no way international or Australian authorities could adequately monitor or check whether uranium was used for nuclear weapons.
China's appetite for uranium for non-military purposes is rapidly increasing. Ten of the world's 442 nuclear power reactors are in China with plans to build a further 13 and proposals for another 50, the Association of Mining and Exploring Companies (AMEC) said in its submission.
China's uranium demands would be "significant," and establishing treaties the "optimal" method of securing influence to monitor its use, the AMEC said.
BHP Billiton, which owns the Olympic Dam uranium mine, gave evidence behind closed doors, requesting a private briefing.
Joint Standing Committee on Treaties chairman Dr Andrew Southcott said the private briefing was necessary to secure the information.
A $7 billion proposed expansion for the mine, to triple output to 15,000 tonnes of uranium oxide annually, would make the mine the world's largest and BHP Billiton the major beneficiary of China uranium sales.
The inquiry will hear evidence in Perth tomorrow, Melbourne later this month with a report and recommendations would be prepared by year's end, Mr Southcott said.
1. North Korean Nuclear Test Would Be "A Very Provocative Act"
U.S. Department of State
(for personal use only)
Should North Korea make good on its threat to test nuclear weapons, it would be regarded as “a very provocative act” that would “create a qualitatively different situation on the Korean Peninsula,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said October 3.
Speaking at a press availability in Egypt, Rice said a potential North Korean nuclear test and its continuing nuclear activities present “a quite serious issue for the entire neighborhood,” as well as the United States.
“They have not yet done it, but I think it would be a very provocative act,” she said, and if Pyongyang’s threat is carried out, “a number of states in the region would need to reassess even where they are now with North Korea.”
The White House said it is “seriously concerned” by the announcement, made earlier in the day, and said it would be a “reckless action,” according to a statement by deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino.
“Such an action would be directly contrary to the interests of all of North Korea's neighbors and to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region,” she said, as well “as severely undermine our confidence in North Korea's commitment to denuclearization.”
North Korea’s interlocutors in the Six Party Talks -- Japan, South Korea, China, Russia, and the United States, are seeking the elimination of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula “through peaceful, diplomatic means,” she said,
The five countries are continuing to push for the implementation of the September 19, 2005, Joint Statement offering North Korea “a clear path to a positive future and concrete benefits in return for carrying out its commitment to denuclearize,” and encourage Pyongyang to return to talks, “most recently offering a Six Party Ministerial meeting in Malaysia to allow the North Koreans a high-level venue in which to express their concerns,” Perino said.
However, “To our disappointment, North Korea continues to reject these efforts, refuses to carry out its commitment in the September 2005 Joint Statement to denuclearize, and has refused to return to the Six Party Talks for 11 months,” Perino said.
State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said there is “real consensus in the international community” against North Korea’s nuclear activities and its threat to test nuclear weapons.
On July 15, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1695 with a unanimous 15-0 vote in response to North Korea’s ballistic missile tests earlier that month.
Casey said that the resolution included a requirement for states to take action “to do what they could to prevent activities that would support the development not only of North Korea's … missile program but of North Korea's nuclear weapons and [weapons of mass destruction] program as well.”
“Clearly everyone wants to see a denuclearized Korean peninsula. And anything that takes us further away from that goal is obviously unhelpful and certainly, if it takes the form of an actual nuclear test, would be provocative and something that would be a threat to peace and security in the region,” Casey said.
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns has spoken with Japanese, Korean and European officials about the issue, he said, and “I suspect he'll soon be speaking with his Russian and Chinese counterparts.”
AMBASSADOR BOLTON CALLS FOR “PREVENTATIVE DIPLOMACY”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton held talks at the Security Council October 3 and said afterward that he had urged the council to engage in “preventative diplomacy.” He said the United States wants a “coherent strategy” developed to convince North Korea that its proposed nuclear testing is not in the country’s interest.
“North Korea should be more concerned about silence from the Security Council today than if we had issued a four-sentence press statement, because I hope it indicates that we will take very seriously what we said in Resolution 1695 about North Korea's programs and weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles,” Bolton said.
The ambassador said the Security Council must decide if it will have a “value-added” approach that builds on Resolution 1695, which already has called on North Korea to refrain from further provocative acts and to resume its participation in the Six-Party Talks.
North Korea has yet to comply with Resolution 1695, to return to the Six-Party Talks, or to move away from their pursuit of nuclear weapons. “If anything, the announcement today shows exactly the opposite,” he said.
He added that the council members had agreed to hold a “brainstorming session” in New York October 4 to develop a coherent policy, after consulting with their respective capitals.
HOUSE ASIA PANEL CHAIRMAN LEACH CALLS FOR CHINESE ACTION
Congressman James Leach (Republican from Iowa), who is chairman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, said a North Korean nuclear test “would have ramifications for strategic stability in northeast Asia as well as for arms control,” and called for the international community to “assess options.”
“At issue is North Korean intent; also at issue are the potential domino effects on the nuclearization of other countries,” he said in an October 3 statement.
Leach said China is the “only country that can put credible economic pressure” on North Korea.
“It will be interesting to see how China responds to the prospect of North Korean nuclear testing. The implications for U.S.-Chinese as well as Chinese-North Korean relations are large,” he said.
He also called on the international community to find a way to “defuse the paranoid mindset of the North,” and suggested “widespread dialogue, preferably including the North.”
Leach expressed his support for pursuing the agreement of September 19, 2005, but warned against “escalat[ing] the rhetoric of confrontation.” He questioned the Bush administration’s refusal to engage North Korea in bilateral talks, as opposed to operating “exclusively in the six-party process.”
But he also questioned whether “any kind of diplomatic initiative make[s] a difference with the North?”
2. Russian MFA Information and Press Department Commentary Regarding DPRK Foreign Ministry Announcement of Pyongyang's Intention to Conduct Nuclear Tests
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation
(for personal use only)
The Russian Foreign Ministry has received with deep concern the October 3, 2006 announcement of the DPRK Foreign Ministry reporting Pyongyang's intention to conduct nuclear tests. We believe that such a step, whatever its motive, would not correspond to Pyongyang's declared striving for denuclearization of Korea and would only lead to a still greater complication of the military-political situation in and around the Korean Peninsula as well as to a further erosion of the international system of nuclear nonproliferation.
Although we treat with respect and understanding the DPRK's anxiety over its security, we hold that this problem should be tackled via the six-party negotiations. The Russian side calls on Pyongyang to be restrained and expresses hope that the DPRK will be able to make the right choice.
DISCLAIMER: Nuclear News is presented for informational purposes only. Readers are encouraged to visit the websites from which the source material originates. Views presented in any given article are those of the individual author or source and not of RANSAC. RANSAC takes no responsibility for the accuracy of information contained in any article presented in Nuclear News.