1. Russian nuclear strategy: in search of amendments
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Since the U.S. State Department, three months after 9/11, said America was going to quit the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty - which it did half a year later - Moscow's response has been conspicuous by its nearly total absence.
At that point, no one among Russia's political elite offered a viable perspective of a future international nuclear arms control regime, heavily undermined by the U.S. unilateralism. Then, on May 26, 2002, the Russian and U.S. presidents signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, a move that sent a very clear signal - at least, to security experts' community - that bilateral and probably multilateral nuclear arms control, in its previous shape, was history. From that point on, a new national nuclear strategy has been a most urgent imperative.
Similarly to what we witnessed four years ago, we can see now that the Bush Administration is apparently not going to have its hands tied by any arms limitation or reduction treaties whatsoever. The U.S. military policies are being significantly reshaped - not so much by the war on terror but for other, deeper reasons.
The Treaty on Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, like the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, has not been ratified. Now both look completely forgotten. The Pentagon gets nearly $100 billion more a year than before. A recently adopted U.S. nuclear doctrine includes the upgrade of strategic offensive arms, the development of small nuclear munitions to be used together with smart weapons, and a premise that Washington might resort to nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state.
Many Russian experts believe the recent changes to the U.S. military policy do not mean that Russia's national security is going to be under threat, at least for 10 to 15 years to come, when the full deployment of the national missile defense system is expected. However, the abandonment of the ABM Treaty, in combination with other changes, puts the international arms control regime under question and probably sets the stage for a new international arms race.
The U.S. is making strategic moves that - naturally - call for strategic nuclear responses. In fact, the new U.S. strategy says that unprecedented terrorist attacks and a new prioritization of threats may well lower the go-nuclear threshold, which means that a nuclear capability, once used, can easily spiral out of control. The continuing proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction, as well as of means of delivery, and growing regional instability add little comfort.
Amid utterly unpredictable political momentum, the U.S. has chosen to further upgrade its nuclear force, to retain the means to quickly build up its nuclear capability in time of need, and to effectively put off the table any binding and verifiable agreements with Russia on the inconvertible reduction of strategic offensive arms. On the other side of the equation, recent tests and general U.S. technological potential suggest that a workable and consistently upgradable missile defense system could be deployed already in the medium term.
All this demonstrates that the only option for Russia is to retain a great nuclear power status for at least 15 to 20 years to come - which means to rethink its nuclear plans. What we have right now was drawn up on the assumption that both START II and ABM would be in place, and that the naval and air legs, like in the U.S. nuclear triad, will grow, while the ground component will be largely reduced.
The new strategic reality suggests that we should instead maintain our ground nuclear force as long as possible, while shaping the naval and air legs so that they could fulfill both nuclear and conventional tasks. Old plans, drawn up in response to radically different challenges, are no more viable - economically as well as militarily.
In his State of the Nation Address earlier this year, the President radiated confidence on a new nuclear reality. Let's hope it is really there.
1. Iran soon to take "final step" in atomic plan: report
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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday his country would soon take the "final step" in its nuclear program, Iran's official news agency reported without saying what that would involve.
The president did not explain what the "final step" was, but Iran has said it will press ahead with its atomic plans despite U.N. calls to halt uranium enrichment, which the West believes is part of a plan to build atomic bombs.
Tehran, which says its aims are peaceful, now faces possible sanctions for ignoring the U.N. demands, but there is still no agreement at the U.N. Security Council about possible penalties.
"The Iranian nation is about to take its final step in the nuclear issue," the official IRNA news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
The president has previously said Iran would celebrate its nuclear achievements by the end of the Iranian year, which falls in March 2007.
Iran now operates two experimental chains of 164 centrifuges, which can be used to make fuel for power plants or material for warheads.
2. Large-scale uranium enrichment probable in Iran - Russian expert
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Iran will be able to create powerful facilities to enrich uranium within a few years, a Russian nuclear expert said Wednesday.
Iran is at the center of an ongoing international dispute over its nuclear program, which it insists is aimed purely at producing nuclear-generated electricity, despite accusations that the program has military goals.
Viktor Mikhailov, Russia's ex-nuclear minister, said: "The country can build such facilities in five or six years, after overcoming a difficult path, full of obstacles."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced at a press conference in Tehran Tuesday the country is planning to build 60,000 gas centrifuges to enrich uranium.
Iran may face tough sanctions by the UN Security Council for its refusal to halt nuclear enrichment activities.
Russia, which is building a $1 billion nuclear power plant in Iran, has consistently supported the country's right to nuclear power under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
3. Time is on Iran's side on nuclear issue, Iran's president says
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Iran on Wednesday dismissed a U.N. report that inspectors found new traces of enriched uranium and plutonium at an Iranian nuclear waste facility, saying it has already explained the discovery.
Iran's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, insisted the West will gradually back down in its standoff with Iran and eventually accept its nuclear program.
"While the West tries to thwart the progress of our nation, time is on our side," Ahmadinejad told a crowd in Sanandaj, capital city of Iran's Kurdistan province, 500 kilometers (311 miles) west of the capital, Tehran.
"They would have to take one step back with every passing day and approve the right of the Iranian people," he said.
Ahmadinejad's comments came a day after the International Atomic Energy Agency report saying its experts have found unexplained plutonium and highly enriched uranium traces in a nuclear waste facility in Iran. Both materials can be used in building a nuclear warhead, though one U.N. official said the uranium was not enriched to weapons-grade level.
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the parliamentary committee on National Security and Foreign Policy, called the report "an old story."
"This is an old story and contains no new points," Boroujerdi told the official Islamic Republic News Agency on Wednesday. "Iran has submitted a comprehensive report on the issue to the IAEA. It will be convincing."
He did not elaborate on the source of the traces. Iran has said that previous traces of enriched uranium found by inspectors came from equipment that it bought from abroad without knowing of the contamination.
"What was mentioned in ElBaradei's report are issues that Iran has already answered many times. Tehran, based on the safeguards, has fully cooperated with the IAEA," the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Mohammed Ali Hosseini, spokesman of Foreign Ministry, as saying.
A senior U.N. official who was familiar with the report cautioned against reading too much into the new findings, saying Iran had explained both and they could plausibly be classified as byproducts of peaceful nuclear activities.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the report publicly, said that while the uranium traces were enriched to a higher level than needed to generate power, they were below weapons-grade.
The report, prepared for next week's meeting of the 35-nation IAEA, also faulted Tehran for not cooperating with the agency's attempts to investigate suspicious aspects of Iran's nuclear program that have led to fears it might be interested in developing nuclear arms.
"We are seeing a repeat of a few traditional sentences that Mr. ElBaradei regularly reiterates," said Boroujerdi.
Both the U.S. and the U.K have recently called on Iran to cease enrichment ï¿½ a process that can also produce material for nuclear bombs.
The U.S. and its European allies are currently negotiating with Russia and China over a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would penalize Iran for its refusal to respect an Aug. 31 deadline for a cessation of enrichment.
Russia and China ï¿½ which have extensive trade with Iran ï¿½ are rejecting the harsh sanctions that the Western allies want to impose.
U.S. President George Bush, eager for Russian help in ongoing nuclear disputes with North Korea and Iran, visited President Vladimir Putin Wednesday in Moscow at an airport stopover on his way to Asia.
The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton said he hoped the leaders had a chance to discuss Iran's nuclear program and warned that reluctance to impose sanctions on Iran to preserve bilateral trade was misguided.
"However simple it is to say, there are a lot of people who think the commercial aspect of their relationship with Iran and North Korea is more important, Bolton told Fox News Wednesday, alluding to continued calls by Security Council members Russia and China for a diplomatic solution to the impasse with Iran. "Other countries are watching and if those two countries succeed in getting and keeping nuclear weapons, other countreis will draw a bad conclusion."
Bolton also explained why the U.S. is so concerned about Iran's nuclear program. "We don't believe that Iran has the weapons yet, but there's simply no explanation for the amount of things they're doing other than that they want nuclear weapons. This goes well beyond civil nuclear power."
Iran showed its ability to enrich uranium last February, when it produced a small batch of low-enriched uranium using a first set of 164 centrifuges at its pilot complex in Natanz. It installed a second cascade of centrifuges in October, but needs tens of thousands to produce fuel for a reactor and more to produce a weapon.
The world has been increasing concerned about Iran's nuclear program since more than three years ago when it was revealed that the country had kept secret for many years certain aspects of its nuclear development.
4. Official says U.S. may mull pre-emptive Iran strike
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The United States or other countries will one day be forced to consider pre-emptive action if Iran and North Korea continue to seek nuclear weapons, a senior U.S. government official said on Tuesday.
The United States and its allies have accused Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian energy program and are pushing for United Nations' sanctions. Tehran denies the accusation.
North Korea conducted an underground test of what was believed to have been a small nuclear weapon last month.
If North Korea refused to renounce its nuclear program and Iran developed a nuclear weapons capability, it would lead other countries in their regions to seek nuclear weapons, said the U.S. official, speaking on condition he was not identified.
"We, the United States, and others who might be threatened by these developments will have to look at how to respond and inevitably I think people will have to look at the question of pre-emption," the official told reporters.
"I think it's inevitable that any American administration, not just this administration but future administrations, will have to look at pre-emptive strategies," he said.
He was not saying that the United States was going to launch a pre-emptive strike "tomorrow", he said.
He said there could be uncertainty, for example, over whether a missile in the hands of one of the countries had a nuclear warhead attached.
"Under those circumstances some people might be inclined to pre-emption, and not just the United States ... Others who might feel threatened in the region might feel more inclined to pre-emption as a defense," he said.
"It's a challenge for the international community." He urged the world to think hard about the cost of allowing Iran to "continue to move down the road it's been on".
President Bush says he backs a diplomatic solution in the case of Iran but has refused to rule out a military strike.
A U.S. attack against Iran would set back Tehran's suspected quest for nuclear arms by less than four years, U.S. officials and independent experts say.
Some analysts have speculated Israel could consider a strike against Iran if it felt threatened. An Iranian official said this week Iran would respond swiftly if Israel attacked it.
1. Russia amendments to help IAEA talks with Iran - Lavrov
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The amendments proposed by Russia to the UN Security Council on the Iranian nuclear programme aim at assisting the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in re-starting talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday.
ï¿½Russia has tabled the amendments in the Security Council on Iranï¿½s nuclear programme in order to help the IAEA resume the talks. Namely, not to allow pathsï¿½ being crossed,ï¿½ Lavrov said.
Russia will continue ï¿½to seek the speedy resumption of the talks on the Iranian nuclear programme, and not punishment of Iranï¿½, he said after his talks with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
ï¿½An understanding has been reached that the Security Council should help the IAEA clarify remaining questions in Iranï¿½s nuclear programme. The Security Council should secure Iranï¿½s cooperation with the IAEA, and not substitute this organisation,ï¿½ Lavrov said.
1. French authorities inspect North Korean ship in Indian Ocean
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Authorities in the French Indian Ocean territory of Mayotte are carrying out a "complete and thorough" inspection of a North Korean ship under sanctions adopted against Pyongyang, the foreign ministry said.
"The customs services are currently proceeding with the complete and thorough examination of the cargo and crew of a North Korean ship which called at Mayotte," spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said Thursday.
He said the inspection was being carried out under UN Security Council Resolution 1718 declaring an arms embargo on North Korea in the wake of its October 9 nuclear test.
"We particularly exercise vigilance towards cargo transported by North Korean ships, as well as those coming from or going to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)," he said.
"France immediately took restrictive measures regarding the DPRK on visas and bilateral cooperation" after the nuclear test, Mattei said.
"This inspection shows France's determination in the area of surveillance of proliferation activities," added a French diplomat, requesting anonymity.
"This applies to North Korea as well as to other countries."
The diplomat said that the inspection of the North Korean freighter could last "a very long time".
Neither gave details of the vessel or its cargo.
The French foreign ministry underlined that the European Union was soon due to adopt a "common position" on restrictive measures being taken against North Korea.
Mayotte is the only island of the Comores archipelago that remained French after the former colony gained independence in 1975.
2. U.S. Seeks Action by North Korea Before New Talks
New York Times
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The United States is working with China and other Asian allies to pressure North Korea to take a visible step toward dismantling its nuclear program before launching into the next round of long-running but inconclusive nuclear talks, American officials said today.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that while she is hopeful that the talksï¿½begun back in 2003 with numerous interruptions sinceï¿½will restart in December, it would be pointless to return to the bargaining table without a show of good faith from both sides.
Speaking to reporters in Hanoi today after a breakfast meeting with some of her counterparts here for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, Ms. Rice refused to expand on what exactly those steps should be, saying she didn't want to negotiate in the press. But American officials said that such a step could include the dismantling of one of the North's many nuclear facilities and the readmission of international inspectors.
U.S. officials said they would like to see the dismantling begin with a facility like North Korea's five-megawatt reactor, which is continuing to produce nuclear fuel, or its plutonium reprocessing center, where spent reactor fuel can be turned into material for weapons.
"I do think that after setting off a nuclear test, the North Koreans need to do something to show they're committed to denuclearization that goes beyond words and just saying that they're committed to denuclearization," Ms. Rice said, "because after having set off a nuclear test, I think there's some skepticism about that."
But that's been the rub of the disarmament talks, which have dragged on inconclusively for three years, and the chances for rolling back Pyongyang's now-proven nuclear capability remain uncertain. Two weeks ago, China announced the six-nation talks would reconvene shortly after a hiatus of more than a year, and U.S. officials said at the time that they would take place in November or December.
But Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, has participated in many rounds of talks over the past several years even as he accelerated his pursuit of nuclear weapons. Some analysts suspect that he agreed to restart talks now to forestall tough enforcement of sanctions which were put in place after Pyongyang's nuclear test, and to persuade China and South Korea to ease his government's growing economic woes.
In fact, earlier this week, South Korea said it would not join a United States-led effort to intercept North Korean ships suspected of carrying unconventional weapons or related cargo. Even after the nuclear test, Seoul has continued to hew to its policy of avoiding confrontation with the North.
In Hanoi, when asked if Seoul's announcement was undermining U.S. American efforts to pressure Pyongyang to disarm, Ms. Rice refused to publicly criticize South Korea. "Their context is different," she said, adding that "I don't have any doubt that they are committed and know they have to stay committed."
Privately, U.S. officials have expressed frustration with South Korea, and say they are well aware of growing skepticism about whether the talks will succeed. "The issue is, we really need this next round to be successful," one senior U.S. official said. "We can't emerge saying we set up a working group."
Ms. Rice acknowledged that the United States will have to give a little to get a little. "There are principles on both sides: On de-nuclearization, and on movement toward the easing of tensions in economic and other relations, so I think obviously people will want to look at both," she said.
It remains unclear how far the United States will go to get North Korea to take a first step towards dismantlement. Last year, America hobbled North Korea's international financial transactions when it imposed financial penalties on a Macao bank. The Bush administration accused the Macao bank, Banco Delta Asia, of helping North Korea to launder money from drug smuggling and other illicit activities and to pass counterfeit $100 bills manufactured by the North Korean government. In September 2005, the Treasury Department ordered United States banks to sever relations with the bank, a move that had broad ripple effects, curtailing North Korean access to the international banking system and further isolating the government in Pyongyang.
America's top North Korea negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, said that he agreed to discuss the financial crackdown as part of the nuclear talks -- perhaps in a special working group that would convene at the same time as the main negotiations -- but that he had made no promises.
Two weeks ago, the Treasury Dept. reiterated its stance on Banco Delta Asia, a move which could limit Mr. Hill's room to maneuver.
A delegation of four American experts who visited North Korea recently describe a renewed confidence among North Korea's leaders as a result of its successful nuclear test -- and a clearer idea of why North Korea has agreed to return to the six-party talks.
The group says that North Korea's nuclear weapons program is still small and limited, and is not capable of large-scale growth in the next few years.
Because the North Koreans tested a small bomb, some experts worry that it might have been designed to be placed on a missile, but Siegfried Hecker, former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, says he does not believe the North Koreans have reached that point.
Hecker estimates that North Korea has produced enough plutonium to date for six to eight small weapons. The American experts had the opportunity to question North Korean experts about their ongoing plutonium production program, said Hecker, who also visited North Korea three years ago. His conclusion: that the country can produce enough material for one bomb a year.
"Their plutonium production is at a steady but low level," Hecker says, "and they do not have the capacity to increase that for some time to come."
Hecker's group, which included a former CIA analyst and a former State Department special envoy, also found evidence of renewed vitality in North Korea's economy, especially in Pyongyang. They describe new shopping markets that cater to thousands of customers a day.
The American group questioned North Korea's leaders about their willingness to revive the so-called six party talks, involving the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia. The talks on nuclear disarmament on the Korean peninsula have been stalled for more than a year.
The North Koreans claim the United States agreed to lift financial sanctions put in place a year ago. The U.S. government has put pressure on a Chinese bank in Macao, the Banco Delta Asia, which the leaders of North Korea had used to carry out key foreign-currency transactions.
The ripple effect from this pressure has made it difficult for North Korea to operate in the global financial system, says John Lewis, a Stanford University professor who has been visiting North Korea for 20 years.
"The North Koreans say they expect the financial sanctions to be dealt with promptly," Lewis says, "and primarily by the Chinese, since it's, quote, 'their bank.'" Then, Lewis says, the talks will resume.
That account differs sharply from the stated U.S. position, which holds that the financial sanctions will only be lifted over time, as the North Koreans start the process of ending their nuclear weapons program, which is the goal of the six-party talks.
The wide gap between the two viewpoints is causing great concern among the Chinese leadership that when the six-party talks resume, they could collapse again quickly. Those talks are expected to take place in early December in Beijing.
In addition to Hecker and Lewis, the group included Jack Pritchard, former U.S. special envoy for North Korea; and Bob Karlin, a former CIA analyst.
1. Blair backs new generation of nuclear power stations
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Prime Minister Tony Blair has backed a new generation of nuclear power stations here, saying the industry has a "very bright future".
On a tour of the Sellafield nuclear site, on the northwest English coast, Blair said Thursday he believed "there will be a new generation of nuclear power stations in the country."
The issue of nuclear power has been a divisive one in Britain in recent months after an energy review published by the government in July said that nuclear power "could" make a significant contribution to Britain's energy needs.
Blair wants Britain to rely more on nuclear power rather than expensive and dirty carbon fuels in a bid to combat climate change and reduce the country's dependence on often volatile foreign energy imports.
Environmental groups argue that there are better ways to do this, such as greater investment in renewable energy and a reduction in consumption.
"The nuclear industry is an industry of the future, just as it has provided us with a lot of power and electricity in the past," Blair said on Thursday.
"In the next ten to fifteen years we are going to decommission most of our existing nuclear power stations.
"We need a new generation of nuclear technology to provide our energy security."
Britain has about a dozen nuclear power stations, most of them built in the 1960s and 1970s. They provide around 25 percent of the country's electricity.
2. Romania To Build More Nuclear Reactor To Limit Energy Dependence On Russia
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Romania, set to join the European Union January 1, will build more nuclear reactors and may reopen coal mines to slash its reliance on natural gas amid concerns Russia is using its dominance of the fuel for political ends.
Romania is accelerating plans to complete three nuclear reactors, President Traian Basescu said November 11 in the Romanian mountain resort of Sinaia. Europe may also lose out if Russia decides to sell more gas to China, he said. The country imports about a half the gas it uses, mainly from Russia's OAO Gazprom, the world's biggest gas producer and exporter. ï¿½Europe has an energy problem because Gazprom has a problem from the point of view of guaranteeing gas deliveries,ï¿½ the 55 year-old president told journalists. ï¿½We believe that Europe's highest priority is that of seeking alternatives. We wonder when Gazprom will start telling us that if we're not good children it'll start giving the gas to China?ï¿½ Gazprom, the state-controlled gas-export monopoly, supplies a quarter of Europe's gas and ships about 80% of that through Ukraine. The company cut supplies for three days in January in response to Ukraine's rejection of a fourfold increase in prices. That caused shortages in European countries including Romania, Italy and Hungary.
Russia in March agreed to supply China with 80 billion cubic meters of gas a year starting in 2011. Gazprom is considering three routes for those supplies, including a project to take gas from eastern Siberia. ï¿½To me it's clear that Gazprom will never be able to fully satisfy both the needs of China and those of the European Union,ï¿½ Basescu said. Basescu, a former Bucharest mayor and transport minister, said Russia can pressure countries by allowing Gazprom to charge different prices. ï¿½Some countries get the gas for $120 per 1,000 cubic meters, some for $220, some for $180, and others for $280 or $300, in line with the interests that Moscow manifests one way or another through Gazprom,ï¿½ Basescu said. Gazprom's pipelines also run through some areas where there is conflict, adding to concerns about supply disruptions, the president said, without naming any countries. Romania, a former communist country that was part of the area dominated by the former Soviet Union until 1990, will start its second nuclear reactor in Cernavoda, in the east of the country, in spring next year. It will then build two more reactors, Basescu said.
1. Putin Says Russia Needs High End Nuclear Forces
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The countryï¿½s nuclear forces must remain capable of guaranteeing the destruction of any potential aggressor, President Vladimir Putin said Thursday, as he addressed a meeting of senior military officials, The Associated Press reports.
ï¿½Maintaining a strategic balance means that our strategic deterrent forces must be capable of destroying any potential aggressor, no matter what modern weapons systems it has,ï¿½ Putin said at a meeting of senior military officials.
He said Russia needed to build ï¿½principally new strategic weapons systemsï¿½ to maintain the balance of forces. ï¿½Weï¿½re not going to keep comparing quantities of strategic forces in nuclear powers as we have been doing for decades, although it still makes some sense,ï¿½ Putin said in televised remarks. ï¿½In the modern world, itï¿½s the quality of weapons that is more important than the number of nuclear warheads.ï¿½
He said that along with a strong nuclear deterrent, the military should also preserve efficient conventional forces.
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said a strong military power was essential for Russia to ï¿½protect the nationï¿½s security and territorial integrity, firmly defend our national interests and, if necessary, adequately respond to any attempts of political pressure and blackmail,ï¿½ Itar-Tass reported.
In his state-of-the-nation address in May, Putin emphasized that Russia needed a strong military to resist foreign pressure. Windfall oil revenues over recent years have allowed the government to increase weapons purchases and fund the development of new weapons.
ï¿½The period of patching holes and elementary survival is over,ï¿½ Putin said Thursday in a reference to a cash shortage that followed the Soviet collapse. ï¿½The Army and the Navy are again acquiring power and self-confidence.ï¿½
Ivanov said that of the militaryï¿½s budget of 820 billion rubles ($30.7 billion) next year, 300 billion rubles would be spent on new weapons, including 17 new intercontinental ballistic missiles. That is a significant increase over recent years, when the military was buying just several new strategic missiles per year. Ivanov added that a state weapons program for 2007 to 2015 envisaged spending the total of 5 trillion rubles ($188 billion) on the development and production of new weapons.
In response to broad criticism of poor conditions and rampant bullying of young conscripts by older soldiers, Ivanov pledged Thursday to punish officers who allowed abuses and open the military to more public scrutiny. Ivanov said there were 473 noncombat deaths in the military in the first 10 months of the year, compared with 876 during the same period last year. Of that number, 20 deaths resulted from bullying compared with 26 during the same period last year, and 167 were suicides, compared with 206 in 2005, he said.
He said the military this year would disband all construction battalions, notorious for the most vicious bullying and other abuses. He added that three generals were fired this year for assigning to soldiers tasks unrelated to service.
A highly anticipated government study has found that radioactive plutonium, which provides the immense explosive force in nuclear weapons, has a useful lifespan far longer than previously estimated, potentially undermining part of the Bush administration's argument for manufacturing a new generation of warheads.
The study, mandated by Congress and conducted by scientists at the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national weapons laboratories, is scheduled for release in the next few weeks. Scientists and government officials familiar with its findings said the report's authors have about doubled the previous estimates of the time plutonium remains potent as a weapons fuel, to 90 years, at a minimum, and perhaps much longer. The previous estimate was a 45-to-60 years minimum life.
The findings are highly technical, several experts said, but they could inspire a tough debate on the Bush administration's aggressive push to scrap the existing stockpile of more than 5,000 warheads -- on the grounds that they are aging and growing less reliable -- and to spend tens of billions of dollars producing new generations of nuclear weapons.
Bush's new program -- the Reliable Replacement Warhead program, or RRW -- already is in the design phase. The National Nuclear Security Administration, the Energy Department agency responsible for maintenance, security and performance of U.S. nuclear weapons, has been pushing to move on to engineering studies, and then to rebuild the entire complex for manufacturing warheads, which was partly dismantled after the Cold War.
Questions about the aging of plutonium, a rare, manmade substance, have been cited by agency officials as one of the reasons older weapons could not be relied on. But the new study suggests that aging is not likely to be a concern for decades.
"They've been running with RRW like you wouldn't believe," Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, chairman of the House subcommittee on water and energy appropriations, which oversees annual spending on nuclear weapons work, said of the National Nuclear Security Administration and the weapons design laboratories. "They see this as a big pot of money to get into. This shows we can take a breather for a while."
Hobson said that the government's weapons experts had been "panicked" about the claimed deterioration of plutonium and other aspects of the old warheads, some of which are now more than 20 years old, and had tried to rush Congress into paying for a massive new weapons production complex at a total cost that could run to the hundreds of billions of dollars.
"If we'd have listened to the NNSA, we'd have spent billions of dollars" on a new facility for producing the plutonium core components, called pits, Hobson said. "This study should now give us some time to reassess and think about where we are going."
One scientist who asked that his name be withheld and who has followed the plutonium aging studies said, "There are still some technical questions and things we don't completely understand, but it's pretty clear that the plutonium is just not a concern for a long, long time."
When the Cold War ended, the U.S. government still had more than 10,000 nuclear weapons, but it shut down some parts of the weapons production complex and stopped underground testing. It also ramped up a large program, called stockpile stewardship, under which it spends billions of dollars every year maintaining, refurbishing and studying the existing weapons.
The stewardship program has been regarded as an enormous success, keeping the stockpile of thermonuclear weapons in what experts say is perfect working order. Most experts agree that if there is a weak link in the reliability of the U.S. arsenal, it is not the bombs themselves -- each of which is far more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II -- but the missiles and bombers that would deliver the warheads to their targets.
Bob Peurifoy, a scientist who spent decades developing nuclear warheads at the Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico, said that more warheads have been damaged by faulty forklift handling or other accidents than from unexpected deterioration of components, and he said concerns over the aging of plutonium had been wildly overblown.
He described the concerns over rapid aging as an attempt by the Bush administration to force Congress to finance a renaissance for the nuclear complex, even though there is little military need for the weapons.
"The current stockpile is healthy and it is showing no near-term aging," said Peurifoy. "It has been well built and well maintained."
Senior government officials confirm every year that the weapons are almost 100 percent reliable and safe. A number of reports have stated that most weapons, and especially the plutonium used in them, have been found to be almost pristine many years after they had been produced.
Two weapons scientists, Joseph Martz and Adam Schwartz, wrote an article for a technical publication in 2003, saying, "Experience from stockpile surveillance programs reflects this point: Pits have remained remarkably pristine and free of corrosion, especially since the adoption of modern cleaning and sealing methods."
In the post-Cold War years, the United States has been focusing on disarmament and preventing other countries from obtaining nuclear weapons technology, especially North Korea and Iran. But the Bush administration has argued from the time it came into office that the nation needed new types of nuclear weapons, such as powerful bunker busters to destroy deeply buried targets.
The administration has conceded that it has no actual targets in mind, but contends that the U.S. simply needs new capabilities in case threats emerge in the future.
After Congress rejected that proposal as unnecessary, the administration followed up with the RRW -- an ambitious new program that would scrap all the existing weapons over the next several decades, and construct an entirely new manufacturing complex, and then build all new weapons.
The Congress has provided a low level of initial funding for the RRW program, writing into the legislation that the new weapons had to be reliable without new underground testing, and that they could not add any new military capabilities.
The administration has argued that the old weapons, which use a number of sensitive radioactive materials, were never meant to remain stockpiled for decades. The plutonium, which is fashioned into hollow spheres known as pits, has been a particular concern because of uncertainties over the deterioration of this unusual metal over time.
"We know that plutonium pits have a limited lifetime," Bryan Wilkes, the spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the weapons complex, said in comments to the Las Vegas Sun in 2002. If the aging pits in the warheads were not replaced, Wilkes said, "we could wake up and find out half our stockpile is gone to waste."
Wilkes would not comment on the contents of the aging-plutonium report, but said Tuesday that it would be released by year's end. Congress had mandated that the report be delivered by the end of October.
Thomas D'Agostino, deputy administrator of the NNSA, said in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee in April that the overall aim was to "restore us to a level of capability comparable to what we had during the Cold War."
Under the Moscow Treaty with Russia, the United States has promised to reduce the number of deployed warheads to 2,200 or fewer by the year 2012.
What the Bush administration has proposed is creating a smaller stockpile with warheads that are more reliable, safer and easier to produce.
Also, the administration has said it wants to have the ability to quickly expand weapons production again if needed, even though there is no current threat that would require such production.
Philip Coyle, who spent decades as a senior weapons scientist at the government labs and is now a senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information, a Washington research institute, said he believed there were valid reasons for at least considering production of new weapons in the future, but that the supposed deterioration of plutonium should not be a rationale.
"While no one would expect plutonium or any other metal to last forever, it appears that properly alloyed plutonium is a remarkably robust material, and under carefully controlled conditions can have a lifetime of decades," he said. "Based on what we know today, the aging of plutonium metal, per se, is not sufficient justification for the near-term development and production of a new class of U.S. nuclear weapons."
Hobson, who will turn over chairmanship of his subcommittee to a Democrat in January, said he believed that the government wanted to rush Congress into a decision to boost budgets and avoid cutbacks.
"They have their own agenda to get us to send more money," Hobson said.
A new radiation detector that could improve the screening of U.S.-bound cargo containers for nuclear weapons will undergo full-scale testing in the Port of Oakland, developers of the technology announced this week.
VeriTainer Corp., a Bay Area firm, will equip the Matson Navigation Co. terminal with scanners that attach to the hoisting mechanism of towering cranes that serve container ships.
The device screens cargo for radiological materials as it is loaded and unloaded, reducing the need to place detectors on busy docks and wharves where they can complicate harbor operations.
If successful and widely applied, the detectors will give domestic and foreign ports the potential to scan virtually every container arriving in the United States, VeriTainer executives say.
Today, many shipping containers arriving in the U.S. are checked for nuclear materials as they leave port terminals by truck, sometimes days, even weeks, after they are unloaded.
At foreign ports, many containers aren't screened for radiation before they leave for the U.S., creating a potential opening for terrorists to smuggle in weapons.
"The key to our technology is that we are in the workflow," said VeriTainer Chief Executive John Alioto. "Our goal is to install detectors around the world, making every container crane a security checkpoint."
Matson, which owns the terminal along with Stevedoring Services of America, has agreed to install scanners on one of the facility's three cranes for a 60-day trial run.
The VeriTainer system screens for neutrons as well as gamma rays and gamma energy, a product of radioactive decay. Company officials say the readings then are transmitted from the crane via wireless technology to computer monitors used by inspectors.
Unlike current scanners, the device can detect shielding used to conceal nuclear materials and determine if the emissions are a type associated with radiological weapons, which would reduce false alarms, developers say. More than 1% of cargo ï¿½ including bananas, kitty litter, ceramics and building materials ï¿½ naturally emits radiation.
Rather than sell the detectors, VeriTainer plans to enter into agreements with ports and terminal operators to install the devices and then charge $20 per inspection.
The equivalent of 7 million 40-foot cargo containers arrive in the U.S. every year from foreign ports. Almost half are unloaded in Los Angeles and Long Beach, the largest harbor complex in the nation. There are about 2,500 large port cranes worldwide.
Alioto said the system could help ports and the federal government meet new container inspection goals required by the federal Safe Port Act, which is designed to reduce the vulnerability of U.S. harbors to terrorist attack.
Signed by President Bush in October, the measure requires that almost all containers entering through the nation's top 22 ports must be scanned for radiation by the end of next year.
The law further calls for pilot programs in three foreign ports where all containers bound for the U.S. must be screened.
"If the testing comes out positive and the technology is reliable, it will make a lot of headway in tactical planning and securing containers," said Noel Cunningham, a maritime security consultant and former chief of the Los Angeles Port Police.
Cunningham, who works for the Marsec Group, said the potential to prevent false alarms could save time and money by reducing the number of containers that might have to be fully inspected, a tedious undertaking.
Terminal operators and shipping line representatives say the VeriTainer system could streamline the inspection system in port and make it increasingly possible to screen most containers bound for U.S. ports.
"Conceptually, this sounds pretty positive. The farther from our ports you can detect things the better, and anything we can do to push that boundary back the better," said Jim McKenna, chief executive of the Pacific Maritime Assn., which represents shipping companies and terminal owners on the West Coast.
In the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, U.S. Customs and Border Protection operates 85 stationary radiation detectors near the exit gates of 14 port terminals.
Earlier this month, the agency added 18 mobile radiation detectors, part of a group of 24 that will be deployed by January. In addition, customs officers use small hand-held detectors on the docks and wharves to check a small fraction of the cargo containers that arrive daily.
Patrick Jones, a Customs spokesman in Washington D.C., said the agency might consider the VeriTainer device if it is successful and addresses the difficulties inspectors face in foreign and domestic ports.
"Theoretically this would go a long way toward solving problems that exist in some seaports," Jones said. "It can be very cumbersome today moving containers around the docks to subject them to radiation scans."
1. China to begin operating new neutron source reactor in 2007
Xinhua News Agency
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A new research reactor to be used as neutron source will start operation from next year, Chinese scientists have told a workshop in Beijing.
The China Advanced Research Reactor (CARR) was still being established and would be put into use in the second half of 2007, said Zhao Zhixiang, president of the China Institute of Atomic Energy, at the US-China Workshop Series on Neutron Scattering Science and Technology.
Neutron scattering would help scientific research by probing the microstructures of matter and help the advance of industrial technologies.
It is used in fields, like the study of mineralization and decomposition of bones to help develop medicine. Isotopes created by neutrons help treat one third of hospital inpatients every year. Neutron scattering is used in physics, chemistry, life sciences and materials science, and in the making of discs, credit cards, tapes, windscreens and geological maps.
The workshop's U.S. co-chair, senior physicist Chun-Keung Loong, hoped China could make better use of neutron scattering and the CARR.
Chinese researchers had developed neutron scattering with a heavy-water research reactor since the 1960s. In the 1990s, they started establishing the CARR at the power of 60 megawatts.
In recent years, neutron scattering has drawn more attention from the United States, Japan and Germany, who have raised investment in developing the technology.
Experts from China, Chinese Taiwan, the U.S., Republic of Korea, Germany, France and Japan gathered in Beijing from Nov. 12 to 15 to discuss China and U.S. neutron source projects and the impact of neutron scattering on research and development communities.
2. Former White House aide says China considering PSI participation
Yonhap News Agency
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China is actively considering participation in the U.S.-led counter-proliferation interdiction program as a means to press its neighbor and ally North Korea to give up its nuclear program, a former White House aide said.
Michael Green, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said U.S.-China coordination on North Korean issues is "going extremely well," backed by an angry Beijing that is willing to press Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.
In an interview late Monday with Yonhap, Green predicted the South Korea-U.S. summit this weekend will be difficult.
"I think it's going to be a hard one because the nuclear test galvanized thinking in all of the capitals. But in Seoul, it seems to have the least effect," said Green.
Leaders of 21 countries gather in Hanoi this week for the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). It will be the first and largest gathering of the leaders since the Oct. 9 nuclear test by Pyongyang, which led to sanctions by the U.N. Security Council under Resolution 1718.
U.S. officials have said that North Korea will be a major topic at APEC bilateral and regional summits and is likely to be mentioned in a joint statement by member states.
Green, who until last year was senior director for Asia at the National Security Council (NSC), suggested there has been a major turnaround by China in dealing with North Korea, including Beijing's position on the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI).
"Chinese scholars close to the government are increasingly saying China should participate in the PSI... because they need to send North Korea a signal and they need to deter North Korea from developing nuclear weapons," he said.
There is "much more of an open attitude" among Chinese intellectuals, especially using PSI as a tool to press the North Koreans, he said.
Beijing is already cooperating, not yet concretely but quietly, according to Green.
"For now, China is being very cooperative in case-by-case interdictions, and the U.S. and China, the governments, are increasingly sharing perspectives, or sharing assessments, analysis of the situation," he said.
Organized by the U.S. to prevent proliferation, the PSI allows inspection of vessels suspected of transporting material related to weapons of mass destruction. More than 70 countries currently participate in the effort, including Russia.
A similar practice was put in the Security Council resolution on North Korea, "calling on" U.N. members to stop and search suspicious cargo in and out of the country.
The U.S., however, has been pushing the PSI itself, which, through bilateral agreements, allows inspectors to board vessels on the high seas. Despite strong exhortations by the U.S., South Korea announced Monday it will not participate in the initiative, given its unique relationship with North Korea.
"PSI is not an act of war or aggression," Green emphasized.
His views on the planned resumption of six-party talks were that there has to be concrete action from North Korea.
Such actions would have to include cessation of activities at the North's Yongbyon facility that is believed to be producing weapons-grade plutonium, a declaration of what the North has in nuclear material, including the uranium enrichment program, and an agreement on a timeline and process for nuclear dismantlement, said Green.
"Some of these concrete steps, I think, would be enough to consider relaxing some of Security Council resolution sanctions," he said.
Here again, China is adamant that the resumption of talks is not enough, he stressed.
"I don't think the Chinese have any intention to remove sanctions (under) 1718 just because North Korea shows up at the talks," said Green.
"China has been quite clear about that with the U.S. government and the North Koreans." On the U.S. Treasury's punitive measures against North Korea's alleged illicit activities, Green expected them to be separated completely from the nuclear talks.
The Treasury in September last year designated Macau's Banco Delta Asia (BDA) as a primary money-laundering concern operating for North Korea, which led to a freeze of funds traced to Pyongyang.
"I don't see any explicit trade-off between the BDA sanctions and progress in the nuclear talks. They are not connected," said Green.
The North Koreans, once they do come back to the six-party talks, could provide information to help distinguish between legal and illegal funds, but this is not so easy, according to Green.
The North Koreans apparently mixed the money, he said. "It's like pouring water in a bowl. You can't say which is which so easily."
While at NSC, Green wrote various papers and reports on various possible scenarios on North Korea, including what the U.S. would do if Pyongyang tested a nuclear weapon.
He declined to elaborate on those reports but indicated Washington's actions are what were written in those reports.
"Essentially, that's what the administration is doing," he said.
1. Next U.S. vote on India nuclear deal may be December
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The U.S. Congress, following a strong Senate vote, aims to complete work in early December on legislation to allow nuclear cooperation with India for the first time in three decades.
An overwhelming majority has now endorsed separate versions of the bill in both the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, although different wording, including on nuclear-armed India's ties to Iran, could cause problems.
Still, supporters are optimistic the bills can be reconciled in negotiations between the two chambers and given final passage before the "lame duck" Republican-led Congress surrenders power to Democrats in January.
"I am confident that we can now work closely with our colleagues in the House to get this important measure to the President (George W. Bush) as swiftly as possible," Senate Majority leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, said in a statement after Thursday's 85-12 Senate vote.
The 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group and the International Atomic Energy Agency still have to approve the agreement that would allow New Delhi to purchase U.S. nuclear fuel, reactors and related technology.
The U.S. Congress gets another chance to vote on the deal, probably next year, because it must approve technical details.
Bush and his administration argue nuclear cooperation is essential to relations between the world's largest democracies that will be pillars of security in the 21st century.
Opponents contend the agreement harms U.S. security by allowing New Delhi to expand its nuclear weapons arsenal, by fostering an arms race in Asia among India and nuclear rivals Pakistan and China and by undermining decades of U.S. non-proliferation policy.
Thursday's vote approved changes in U.S. law to allow nuclear cooperation with India, which never signed the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. The House had voted last July.
Rep. Jim Crowley, a New York Democrat who expects to be a House negotiator with the Senate, said New Delhi is unhappy with a Senate provision requiring Bush to certify that India is "fully and actively" participating in efforts to contain Iran's nuclear program before U.S.-India nuclear cooperation could proceed.
The House version addresses the issue in a way that is "less offensive to the Indians and yet serves the same purpose," he told Reuters.
But, he added: "I think we will be able to work something out."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she looked forward to the House-Senate negotiations "when remaining issues of concern to the U.S. government can be addressed." She did not specify those concerns.
"This initiative will help India meet its growing energy needs, enhance cooperation on energy security and nonproliferation, and increase economic investment opportunities," she said in a statement.
She also stressed the need for both sides to fully meet their commitments.
Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association and a leading opponent of the nuclear deal called the Senate bill a "great mistake for security and non-proliferation policy."
But the Senate version is better than the House version because it bars transfers of technology related to uranium enrichment, reprocessing and heavy water production, which can aid nuclear weapons production, he told Reuters.
He said the nuclear agreement still faced substantial hurdles. "This is far from over." Kimball said.
The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly endorsed a plan allowing the United States to ship civilian nuclear fuel and technology to India, handing President Bush an important victory on one of his top foreign policy initiatives.
Senior lawmakers from both political parties championed the proposal, which reverses decades of U.S. anti-proliferation policy, saying it strengthens a key relationship with a friendly Asian power that has long maintained what the United States considers a responsible nuclear program. The vote was 85-12.
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., called the plan "a lasting incentive" for India to shun future nuclear weapons tests and "to cooperate closely with the United States in stopping proliferation."
Bush, in a statement issued during a trip to Asia, praised the Senate for endorsing his plan, saying it will "bring India into the international nuclear nonproliferation mainstream and will increase the transparency of India's entire civilian nuclear program."
His remarks were echoed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in Vietnam with the president for a meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders. "This really does open up an extraordinary new era, both in U.S.-Indian relations, but also I think for the many interests that will served, from the economic point of view, from an energy point of view and from a nonproliferation point of view," she said.
Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware said the endorsement pushes America "a giant step closer" to a "major shift in U.S.-Indian relations. "If we are right, this shift will increase the prospect for stability and progress in South Asia and in the world at large," he said.
Even with the strong approval by the Senate, however, several hurdles loom before India and the United States could begin civil nuclear trade.
First on that list, lawmakers in the House, which overwhelmingly endorsed the plan in July, and the Senate must now reconcile their versions into a single bill before the next congressional session begins in January. That bill would then be sent to Bush for his signature.
Critics argued that the plan would ruin the world's nonproliferation regime and boost India's nuclear arsenal. The extra civilian nuclear fuel that the deal would provide, they say, could free India's domestic uranium for use in its weapons program. Pakistan and China could respond by increasing their nuclear stockpiles, sparking a regional arms race.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., called the agreement "a horrible mistake" that "provides a green light" for India to produce more nuclear weapons. "I believe one day we will look back at this with great regret," he said.
During debate Thursday, supporters beat back changes they said would have killed the proposal by making it unacceptable to India. Critics said the changes were necessary to guard against nuclear proliferation.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., unsuccessfully proposed a condition that would have required India to cut off military-to-military ties with Iran before allowing civil nuclear cooperation.
Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, a Democratic critic in the House, said the Senate's endorsement of the proposal "sends the wrong signal at a time when the world is trying to prevent Iran from getting" a nuclear bomb. The plan, he said, would set "a precedent that other nations can invoke when they seek nuclear cooperation with countries that also refuse to abide by nonproliferation rules."
The bill carves out an exemption in American law to allow U.S. civilian nuclear trade with India in exchange for Indian safeguards and inspections at its 14 civilian nuclear plants; eight military plants would be off-limits.
Congressional action is necessary because U.S. law bars nuclear trade with countries that have not submitted to full international inspections. India built its nuclear weapons program outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which provides civil nuclear trade in exchange for a pledge from nations not to pursue nuclear weapons.
There are other necessary steps before U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation could begin. An exception for India must be made by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an assembly of nations that export nuclear material. Indian officials also must negotiate a safeguard agreement with the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
And once technical negotiations on an overall cooperation agreement are settled between India and the United States, the U.S. Congress would then hold another vote on the overall deal.
3. Arms Control Experts Urge Senate to Change US-India Nuclear Deal
Voice of America
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A group of prominent arms control experts has sent letters to U.S. senators urging them not to approve legislation relating to the Bush administration's nuclear deal with India unless significant changes are made to the bill. The measure is expected to come before the Senate as early as this week.
Senate action on the U.S-India nuclear cooperation agreement is a top priority for President Bush before the outgoing Republican-led Congress ends its session next month.
"On the foreign policy front we need to complete legislation that will allow us to cooperate with India on civilian nuclear technology," said President Bush.
The agreement received a boost from the Senate's top Democrat, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada.
"I think it is important that we do something with the India nuclear agreement,ï¿½ he said. ï¿½This is important. India is the largest democracy in the world. We want to work with them."
Under the accord, reached during President Bush's visit to India earlier this year, India would be allowed access to U.S. civilian nuclear technology in return for a pledge to open its nonmilitary nuclear facilities to international inspections.
The House of Representatives has already approved the legislation, which would change U.S. law to allow nuclear trade with India despite its development of nuclear weapons. India has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Many arms control experts are concerned that the agreement could harm efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
But the Bush administration says the nuclear accord would strengthen nonproliferation efforts by putting a majority of India's nuclear plants under international inspections.
Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Henry Stimson Center, an independent nonprofit public policy research institute that examines security issues, sees it differently.
"Anyone who thinks in any depth about the problems of proliferation that we face will have misgivings about this deal. It is wholly unsupportable to argue, as this administration does in public, that this is a net plus for nonproliferation. It is not so," he said.
Krepon spoke Tuesday at a forum in Washington, sponsored by the Arms Control Association. The association released a letter, signed by 18 arms control advocates, that was sent to U.S. senators this week, urging them to make changes in the legislation before senate action.
The arms control experts are calling for the bill to be amended so that before nuclear cooperation begins, the United States would determine that India had stopped producing fissile material and that civil nuclear trade would not assist India's nuclear weapons program. They also are proposing that the United States end cooperation if India tests a nuclear weapon.
Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, agrees with the experts' recommendations. He told VOA he plans to introduce an amendment that will ensure that U.S. nuclear assistance to India will not be used to further develop India's nuclear weapons capability.
"Without that kind of assurance, a certification by the president that this is the case, I will not be able to support it [the accord],ï¿½ he said. ï¿½I agree with the letter that there are serious concerns, and without change I am not comfortable with the agreement."
Skeptics of the nuclear accord also are concerned about India's cooperation with Iran.
Congressman Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, is calling on the Senate not to act on the legislation until it investigates weapons-related transfers between India and Iran.
In a report released this month, the Congressional Research Service says companies in India and Iran appear to have engaged in limited nuclear, chemical and missile-related transfers over the years. It notes that U.S. sanctions have been imposed on Indian companies for transfers to Iran as recently as July of this year.
1. Aso, Rice to put missile shield on fast-track status
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Foreign Minister Taro Aso told reporters Thursday the he and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice agreed to speed up their ballistic missile defense quest to secure regional security.
During their meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Hanoi, the two also agreed it is important to see concrete achievements at the six-party talks on denuclearizing North Korea that are expected to resume next month, Aso said.
Aso and Rice confirmed that five nations involved in the multilateral talks -- China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States -- need to maintain their solidarity to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear arms program, he said.
"I also made clear that Japan will not respond to any negotiations to provide support to North Korea unless the issue of abductions of Japanese nationals is resolved," Aso said.
1. Pakistan reports new nuclear-capable missile test
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Pakistan has successfully tested a new missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads, its news media said Thursday.
Quoting army officials, Pakistani television channels said the test of a Hatf V/Ghauri missile, with a range of 300 kilometers (186 miles), was conducted as part of a national Hatf upgrading program.
In February this year, Pakistan test fired a new surface-to-surface Hatf II/Abdali nuclear-capable missile with a range of 120 miles. In March, it conducted a test launch of a Hatf VII/Babur cruise missile, with a 500-kilometer (311-mile) range.
Pakistan officially joined the club of nuclear powers in May 1998 when it detonated five nuclear devices in a mountain desert area in its Balochistan province.
It is believed to have started building its nuclear capability in the 1970s, in response to nuclear tests in neighboring India. A long-standing conflict between the two countries over the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir put the subcontinent on the brink of a nuclear war several times in the past.
Pakistan, like India, is not a signatory to either the Non-Proliferation Treaty or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
1. Report on Iran Nuclear Safeguards Sent to IAEA Board
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IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei has circulated his latest report to the upcoming meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors on the Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Its circulation is restricted, and unless the IAEA Board decides otherwise, the Agency can not authorise its release to the public.
The report focuses on activities since 31 August 2006, the date of the Director Generalï¿½s previous report. On 31 July, 2006 the Security Council (in resolution 1696) requested "by 31 August a report from the Director General of the IAEA primarily on whether Iran has established full and sustained suspension of all activities mentioned in this resolution, as well as on the process of Iranian compliance with all the steps required by the IAEA Board and with the above provisions of this resolution, to the IAEA Board of Governors and in parallel to the Security Council for its consideration.
The November report was circulated to the Agencyï¿½s Member States on 14 November 2006. The IAEA Board is scheduled to consider the implementation of safeguards in Iran at meetings beginning 23 November 2006 at the Agencyï¿½s headquarters.
2. World Climate Change Conference Hears Nuclear Side
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Nuclear power is not a "fix all" but it can help to reduce the risk of climate change, a United Nations Climate Change Conference in Kenya has heard. Speaking at a session on Global Status and the Outlook for Nuclear Power, the IAEAï¿½s Alan McDonald said nuclear power had a place among the mix of solutions for those countries interested in making it part of their sustainable development strategies. The conference concludes this week in Nairobi.
With expectations for nuclear power rising, Mr. McDonald, a senior officer in the IAEA Department of Nuclear Energy, emphasised that it was economics that would drive the energy technologyï¿½s future. "Whether nuclear power lives up to rising expectations will depend on how cheap it is compared to alternatives," he said.
Mr. McDonald noted that the Kyoto Protocol changes the economic picture, bringing to fore some real financial benefit to avoiding greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear power, for example, is more attractive in countries with rapidly growing energy demands, like China and India; and where alternatives sources are scarce or expensive, like in Japan and South Korea. "Nuclear energy plants are expensive to build but cheap to run," he said.
The conference runs from 6 to 17 November in Nairobi and has attracted some 6,000 participants worldwide. It comes amid news that China is on course to surpass the US in 2009 as the biggest emitter of the main gas linked to global warming, a projection noted in a report released last week by the Paris-based International Energy Agency of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. China also stands among countries voicing interest in pursuing or expanding nuclear energy programmes for electricity generation.
Scientists point to carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides as being three of several gasses that, in excess, forms a barrier in the atmosphere that traps heat from the sun to raise the earthï¿½s temperature. The resulting global warming is linked to increasing droughts, floods, hurricanes and forest fires, posing a serious threat to sustainable development.
Mr. McDonald said nuclear power was "on par" with solar and wind energy when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. The full nuclear power chain, from resource extraction to waste disposal, emits 1-6 grams of carbon per kilowatt-hour ï¿½ about the same as wind and solar power and well below coal, oil and natural gas.
Are more nuclear plants on the horizon? The IAEA is holding a workshop in early December with representatives from countries expressing interest in nuclear energy for electricity production.
Right now, there are 442 operating nuclear power plants around the world, with current expansion centred in Asia. The United States has the most nuclear plants with 103. France is next with 59, followed by Japan with 55 plus one under construction, and Russia with 31, and four more under construction.
"The main message is that nuclear power is still a big developed country game," says Mr. McDonald. "If todayï¿½s rising expectations are met, it will be because the countries that already use nuclear power will have built more, not because a lot of new countries ï¿½ developed or developing ï¿½ have decided to start new programs."
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.