1. Russiaï¿½s Missile Forces: Lower Quantity but Higher Quality
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The recent news conference given by Col. Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, the commander of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces (RSMF), did not cause a sensation. Specialists and experts on the Missile Forces heard only one piece of new information from the general.
This was the news that the command of the RSMF will, of course, react if Russia decides to withdraw from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty in reaction to U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense shield in Poland and radars in the Czech Republic. It is as ready to assume command of the medium range missiles now as it was before the INF treaty came into force, and there is a possibility that the missiles will be aimed at U.S. targets in Eastern Europe.
"At present nothing is deployed there", Solovtsov said. "But if Poland and the Czech Republic decide to change that, the Russian Strategic Missile Force will be able to consider these objects as targets." Asked by RIA Novosti about the Russian defense industry's ability to produce such missiles in sufficient number, the general said: "After the elimination of medium-range missiles, the designs and technology remained. It will not be difficult to resume production, but it will be with new technology, a new element base, and new guidance systems."
These statements can hardly be called a sensation after the recent statements about Russia's possible withdrawal from the INF Treaty made by President Vladimir Putin, Gen. Yury Baluyevsky, chief of the Russian General Staff, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. But one thing was hard to ignore amid all the talk about American missiles and radars.
Gen. Solovtsov said that this year, two regiments of Topol RS-12M ground-based missile systems in the Kannskaya missile division (which has sixteen launchers for SS-25 Sickle missiles) will be trimmed down, along with a missile regiment in the Kozelskaya division, stationed in the Kaluga Region. There are six regiments of UR-100 NUTTKh silo-based missile systems on combat duty (with 60 SS-19 Stiletto missile launchers capable of carrying six independently targetable nuclear warheads, each with a 750 kiloton yield). One regiment consisting of 10 missiles will be disbanded by the end of the year.
Will the planned reduction in the number of these missiles, as well as further reductions in other strategic missile systems, impair Russia's security? The commander of the RSMF answered unequivocally: "No." These reductions are part of Russia's obligations under the START-1 and SORT treaties. Under the latter, Moscow and Washington will reduce their respective number of nuclear warheads on existing missile systems to 1700-2200 by December 31, 2012. "And this will be accomplished," Gen. Solovtsov said. "Our missiles have many more warheads than that," he added. He did not specify the number, but according to publicly available sources, at the end of 2006 Russia had 762 strategic systems capable of carrying 3373 nuclear warheads. The RSMF alone has 503 strategic systems and 1853 warheads.
Russia's former defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, said at the State Duma on February 7 that the Russian Army will get 17 new strategic missile systems this year. As Gen. Solovtsov said at his news conference, the first division, armed with the ground-based Topol-M missile system consisting of three launch vehicles and one control vehicle, will be enlarged to a regiment with three more launchers. It is therefore clear that the rest of the missile systems will be both silo- and, probably, ground-based, but they will consist only of Topol-M missiles.
Gen. Solovtsov added that by 2016-2018, Topol-M missile systems, both in silos and ground-based, will constitute the backbone of the RSMF. Ivanov said that by 2015, 34 more silo-based missile systems (at present there are 42) and 66 ground-based systems will be supplied to the Armed Forces, bringing the total number of Topol-M missiles systems to nearly 150.
Today, both ground- and silo-based Topol-M missile systems have only one warhead. After 2009, when the START-1 treaty's restrictions on the deployment of ground-based missile systems with MIRVed warheads are lifted, there is a possibility that the new Topol missiles will carry those multiple warheads. Otherwise, Russia won't be able to fulfill its obligations under the SORT treaty.
Though Gen. Solovtsov's news conference caused no sensation, a careful analysis shows that it unveils the prospects for the development of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces. Russia will have fewer missiles than today, but its missiles will be of a higher quality, capable of penetrating both existing and future missile defense systems.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.
Iran continues to enrich uranium the U.N nuclear watchdog agency said Thursday - a finding that clears the path for harsher Security Council sanctions against Tehran.
``Iran has not suspended its enrichment-related activities,'' said the International Atomic Energy Agency, basing its information on material available to it as of Feb. 17.
The conclusion - while widely expected - was important because it could serve as the trigger for the council to start deliberating on new sanctions meant to punish Iran for its intransigence over its nuclear [program].
With the stage set for a fresh showdown between Iran and Western powers, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that the U.S. and its allies would use the U.N. Security Council and other ``available channels'' to bring Tehran back to negotiations over its nuclear program.
The International Atomic Energy Agency had been expected to report that Iran has expanded uranium enrichment efforts instead of meeting international demands to halt them. The finding could lead to Security Council sanctions broader than a limited set imposed by the council last month.
Even ahead of the report, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was ``deeply concerned ... that the Iranian government did not meet the (Wednesday) deadline set by the Security Council.''
``I urge again that the Iranian government should fully cooperate with the Security Council'' as soon as possible, he told reporters in Vienna, Austria, saying Iran's nuclear activities had ``great implications for peace and security, as well as nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.''
In addition to the sanctions, the Bush administration has been raising the pressure on Tehran on other fronts, from arresting Iranian officials in Iraq to persuading European governments and financial institutions to cut ties with the Islamic Republic.
Rice, speaking in Berlin, said that the United States, European and Russian diplomats all want Iran back at the bargaining table.
``We reconfirmed we will use available channels and the Security Council to try to achieve that goal,'' she said following a breakfast meeting with her counterparts from Germany, Russia and the European Union.
The Security Council is demanding an immediate and unconditional stop to uranium enrichment, after which European-led negotiations over an economic reward package could begin. Iran, which has long insisted it will not stop its nuclear activities as a precondition for negotiations, missed a Wednesday Security Council deadline to halt enrichment.
In moderate remarks Wednesday directed at Washington - the key backer of tougher U.N. action - Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the dispute ``has to be decided peacefully with the United States.''
But other top Iranian officials used harsher language, and none showed signs of compromise on the main demand of the U.S. and other world powers - a halt to enrichment and related activities.
``The enemy is making a big mistake if it thinks it can thwart the will of the Iranian nation to achieve the peaceful use of nuclear technology,'' Iranian state TV's Web site quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying Wednesday.
The IAEA planned to send its report on Iran's compliance Thursday to the agency's 35-nation board and to the Security Council.
Although any finding that Iran has ignored the deadline on enrichment would be a step toward additional sanctions, it was not clear whether U.N. Security Council members Russia and China would go along.
Rice said she and her counterparts made no decisions Thursday because they met before the report was released.
With the United States beefing up naval forces in the Gulf and cracking down on Iranians within Iraq it says are helping Shiite militias, concerns have grown that Washington might be planning military action.
In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said ``the only sensible way'' to solve the crisis was to pursue political solutions, but that he could not ``absolutely predict every set of circumstances.''
Still, ``I know of nobody in Washington that is planning military action on Iran,'' Blair told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. ``Iran is not Iraq. There is, as far as I know, no planning going on to make an attack on Iran and people are pursuing a diplomatic and political solution.''
Tehran's refusal to freeze all its enrichment-related activities prompted the Security Council on Dec. 23 to impose sanctions targeting its nuclear and missile programs and persons involved in them. Back then, it gave the country 60 days to halt enrichment or face additional measures.
Discussions on a new resolution aimed at stepping up pressure on Iran to suspend enrichment were expected to start next week, a Security Council diplomat said in New York, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Part of the sanctions target companies suspected of involvement in Iran's nuclear program - a measure that an Iranian dissident group said Tehran was circumventing by renaming the companies and otherwise disguising them, or setting up new ones.
In a list provided to The Associated Press on Thursday ahead of general publication, the National Council of Resistance in Iran said firms under sanctions that were renamed were the Farayand Technique Company and the Pars Thrash Company. It named new companies set up to work on Iran's enrichment programs while avoiding sanctions as Tamin Tajhizat Sanayeh Hasteieh, Shakhes Behbood Sanaat and Sookht Atomi Reactorhaye Iran.
All are headed by Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of Iran's atomic energy programs, and some involve others on the Security Council's list of those involved in Iran's nuclear program, said the group, the political wing of the People's Mujahedeen of Iran, which advocates the overthrow of Iran's Islamic government.
There was no independent confirmation of the information provided by the group, which the United States and the European Union list as a terrorist organization. But it has revealed past secret Iranian nuclear activities subsequently verified by the IAEA or governments.
1. Think Tank: North Korea Has Enough Plutonium for 4-8 Nuclear Warheads
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North Korea has enough plutonium to build an estimated four to eight crude nuclear warheads that could potentially be mounted on medium-range missiles, a Washington-based think tank said.
The amount of radioactive material in the communist nation is key to monitoring its compliance with a Feb. 13 agreement to disarm, under which the North is required to declare all nuclear programs and material to international inspectors.
The Institute for Science and International Security said in a report released Tuesday that as of this month North Korea had between 101 and 141 pounds of plutonium, of which between 62 and 110 pounds is estimated to be usable for weapons - enough to make four to eight crude warheads.
It said most of the separated plutonium for bombs - possibly as much as 99 percent - was produced since late 2002, when the latest nuclear crisis with North Korea began after the U.S. accused it of running a secret uranium enrichment program.
The alleged uranium program wasnï¿½t addressed in the report, which the ISIS said was based on scientific estimates and other publicly available information, along with visits to the actual facilities by ISIS experts.
The report said North Korea had likely obtained designs for a nuclear warhead from the nuclear black market run by Pakistanï¿½s A.Q. Khan. Such a bomb could possibly be mounted on North Koreaï¿½s Nodong missile, which has an estimated range of about 620 miles, it said.
No confirmed information is available about the Northï¿½s arsenal given its refusal to disclose such information publicly.
The ISIS report speculated about North Koreaï¿½s possible nuclear strategy in the event of a crisis, saying it would first likely conduct another nuclear test in an attempt to head off a further escalation. After that, the North could detonate a warhead over the ocean or explode one on a ship as a further warning, it said.
If war broke out, North Korea would be expected to use nuclear weapons against South Korea or Japan and possibly even keep bombs inside the country to be detonated when enemy forces arrive, the institute said.
After more than three years of talks, North Korea agreed earlier this month with the U.S. and other regional powers to take its first steps toward disarming since the latest nuclear standoff began. Under the pact it is required to shut down its main nuclear reactor by mid-April and eventually would receive the equivalent of 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil for disarming.
1. U.S. Tries to Ease Concerns in Russia on Antimissile Plan
New York Times
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Bush administration officials tried Wednesday to tamp down Russian concerns, voiced in strikingly harsh terms, over American plans to base missile defenses in Eastern Europe. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the missile defense proposal, which calls for deploying 10 interceptors in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic, was solely intended to counter the possible development of long-range Iranian missiles.
ï¿½I think everybody understands that with a growing Iranian missile threat, which is quite pronounced, that there need to be ways to deal with that problem,ï¿½ she said, adding that the system would not ï¿½diminish Russiaï¿½s deterrent of thousands of warheads.ï¿½
The debate escalated this week when the Russian missile commander, Gen. Nikolai Y. Solovtsov, threatened to aim Russian weapons at states in Eastern Europe that might join the program.
ï¿½If the government of Poland, the Czech Republic and other countries make this decision ï¿½ and I think mutual consultations that have been held and will be held will allow avoiding this ï¿½ the strategic missile troops will be able to have those facilities as targets,ï¿½ he said.
And on Wednesday, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, who has a prickly relationship at best with Ms. Rice, was quoted in Rossiiskaya Gazeta, the Russian state newspaper, wholly contradicting the American position.
ï¿½We must acknowledge that these objects are fully suitable to intercept missiles fired from Russian territory,ï¿½ he said.
His colleague, the departing Russian defense minister, Sergei B. Ivanov, has said that Russia could easily overwhelm the American defenses with a far cheaper system of countermeasures to blind or confuse an antimissile system.
During a stopover in Brussels on Wednesday on his way to Moscow, President Bushï¿½s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, said a missile defense system against Iran ï¿½is a reasonable thing to do, itï¿½s something Europe ought to be interested in, itï¿½s something that Russia ought to be interested in.ï¿½ Iran might even decide not to try to build long-range missiles once the system was in place, he suggested.
Ambassador Victoria Nuland, the United States representative to NATO, said Russia had no cause to express surprise, as representatives from Moscow and the European allies were briefed regularly on the project over the past year.
In November, the NATO-Russia Council received what Ms. Nuland called ï¿½a full technical briefingï¿½ from Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering III, director of the Missile Defense Agency, and Eric S. Edelman, the under secretary of defense for policy.
But the administration is concerned about growing criticism of the program. Officials scheduled a briefing by General Obering on Thursday for foreign reporters based in Washington. Joining him will be Daniel Fried, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.
The antimissile interceptors, General Obering said last month, ï¿½are geared toward and are directed toward rogue nation capabilities, obviously not sophisticated ballistic missile fleets such as the Russians have.ï¿½ He said they ï¿½cannot physically catch the Russian ICBMs even if we were trying to target those missilesï¿½ because of the short distances and flight times from Russian silos in relation to Poland.
The debate began this month with a caustic speech by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who told an audience in Munich that the United States was provoking a new nuclear arms race. He also criticized the expansion of NATO.
Senior Bush administration officials attending the security conference in Munich and those back in Washington conferred on the proper response, and they decided to push back ï¿½ but only gently.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates rewrote his own speech, delivered a day after Mr. Putinï¿½s, to say that the Russian presidentï¿½s comments brought a certain nostalgia for a simpler time, but that ï¿½one cold war was quite enough.ï¿½
Angela E. Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University, said the Bush administration had ï¿½already been reassessing our policy toward Russia, as we have understood at least since January of 2006 or even before that there is a newly self-confident Russia, a Russia that is awash in petrodollars and a Russia that really feels it can say no and pursue its own interests.ï¿½
Ms. Stent said the Bush administration was well aware that the Russian agenda on Syria, Hamas, Venezuela and a number of issues parted with Washingtonï¿½s. But she said it was worth seeking cooperation, in particular on counterterrorism.
Before he left for Moscow, Mr. Hadley said there were ï¿½a number of areas where Russia and the United States and Europe can cooperate productively, where we have common interests, where we can cooperate and are cooperating.ï¿½ These include terrorism and nuclear proliferation.
But the administration is pressing Moscow on other issues of concern, including its use of its energy resources as a political tool, its crackdown on civil liberties and press freedoms and its pressure on Russiaï¿½s southern neighbors, in particular Georgia.
1. Record-low Productions Costs, Near-Record Output Mark Stellar Year for U.S. Nuclear Power Plants
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U.S. nuclear power plants in 2006 supplied the second-highest amount of electricity in the industryï¿½s history while achieving record-low production costs, according to preliminary figures released today by the Nuclear Energy Institute. The 103 commercial nuclear plants operating in 31 states generated 787.6 billion kilowatt-hours (kwh) of electricity last year, second only to the record-high of 788.5 billion kwh of electricity produced in 2004.
Nuclear energy supplies electricity to one of every five homes and businesses. It also supplies nearly 75 percent of the electricity that comes from sources - including renewable technologies and hydroelectric power plants - that do not emit controlled pollutants or greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The industryï¿½s average production costsï¿½encompassing expenses for uranium fuel and operations and maintenanceï¿½were an all-time low of 1.66 cents/kwh in 2006, according to preliminary figures. Average production costs have been below 2 cents/kwh for the past eight years, making nuclear power plants highly cost competitive with other electricity sources, particularly those that are capable of reliably producing large amounts of electricity.
ï¿½The consistent safe, high performance and efficient operation of the nationï¿½s nuclear plants provides overwhelming evidence that our business model is working and buttresses the case for building a new generation of advanced-design plants to help America meet its energy needs,ï¿½ said Frank L. (Skip) Bowman, NEI president and chief executive officer.
Electricity production at nuclear power plants has increased 36 percent since 1990, adding the equivalent of more than 26 large power plants to the electrical grid and preventing the emission of massive amounts of controlled air pollutants and greenhouse gases if that increase in baseload, or around-the-clock, electricity production instead had been met by fossil-fired power plants.
Amid concerns about future energy security and the threat of global climate change, and with the nationï¿½s electricity needs projected to increase 40 percent over the next 25 years, a growing chorus of supportersï¿½spanning policymakers, leading environmentalists, business leaders and the public at largeï¿½is advocating the construction of new nuclear power plants. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 included incentives for a limited number of advanced-design nuclear plants among its provisions encouraging improved energy efficiency and the construction of renewable energy sources and cleaner fossil-fired power plants.
The average production cost dropped to a record-low even though prices for uranium fuel have increased considerably over the past three years. Production costs are a key measure of an electricity sourceï¿½s competitiveness in the market because generating companies typically dispatch their low-cost electricity to the grid first.
Even when expenses for taxes, decommissioning and yearly capital additions are added to production costs to yield a total electricity cost, nuclear-generated electricity typically clears the market for less than 2.5 cents/kwh. By comparison, production costs alone for natural gas-fired power plants averaged 7.5 cents/kwh in 2005, according to Global Energy Decisions data.
The industryï¿½s average capacity factorï¿½a measure of efficiencyï¿½was 89.9 percent last year, according to preliminary figures. That is slightly higher than 2005ï¿½s 89.3 percent; the industryï¿½s record-high of 90.3 percent was set in 2002.
ï¿½Itï¿½s going to take a collaborative effort of all forms of electricity generation, as well as much-improved efficiency, to meet the sizable energy needs that our nation faces,ï¿½ Bowman said. ï¿½Still, the exceptional performance achieved at U.S. nuclear power plants in 2006 shows that the nationï¿½s future energy security hinges in part upon increased reliance on clean, safe and affordable nuclear energy.ï¿½
Final figures on the industryï¿½s 2006 performance are expected within about two months.
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