A fourth-generation strategic nuclear submarine will be launched during a special ceremony at a shipbuilding yard in northern Russia Sunday, a first deputy prime minister said Monday.
The Yury Dolgoruky, a Borey-class nuclear missile submarine, was built at the Sevmash plant in the northern Arkhangelsk Region. It will be equipped with the Bulava ballistic missile, which is adapted from the Topol-M (SS-27).
Sergei Ivanov said at a government meeting that the submarine will undergo sea trials in 2007 and will be fully equipped with weaponry in 2008. After that, it will be commissioned by the Russian Navy.
The submarine has a length of 170 meters (580 feet), a body diameter around 13 meters (42 feet), and a submerged speed of about 29 knots. It can carry up to 16 ballistic missiles.
Two other Borey-class nuclear submarines, the Alexander Nevsky and the Vladimir Monomakh, are currently under construction at the Sevmash plant, with a fourth submarine on the future production schedule list.
President Vladimir Putin said in March last year that Russia's submarine fleet is a major component of Russia's defense policy, and that fourth-generation submarines armed with Bulava missiles would form the core of an entire fleet of modern submarines.
Iran's announcement Monday that it had achieved the capacity to enrich uranium on an "industrial scale" raises the fear that the Islamic Republic could manufacture a nuclear weapon within a year, but was met with deep skepticism from nuclear experts.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking here at an annual commemoration of his nation's nuclear program, described Iran as an established nuclear power.
"Iran is on the way to greatness, and nothing can stand in its way," he told the assembled crowd of 500 dignitaries, which included representatives from at least 45 countries.
But Iran's claim, including an assertion that it had fed gaseous uranium into 3,000 centrifuges to begin purifying nuclear material on an industrial scale, was quickly disputed by many experts and officials.
Independent experts largely portrayed the Iranian claim as a political statement designed to bolster both its international and domestic stature, rather than an indication that Tehran has reached a significant new milestone in its nuclear program.
A White House spokesman said the Bush administration was "very concerned" about the nuclear program. "Iran continues to defy the international community and further isolate itself by expanding its nuclear program, rather than suspending uranium enrichment," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
By presenting enrichment as an accomplished fact, Ahmadinejad can step back from his defiant statements and force a new starting point to negotiations with the West, analysts said.
"It's very clever," said George Perkovich, head of the nonproliferation program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think tank. "They're keeping their options open. They're saying, 'We've defied everyone. We've done it.' They're declaring victoryï¿½. That way they can suspend later and come into compliance. Or they can blast forward."
Iran's claim to be able to produce nuclear fuel on an "industrial scale" is purposefully vague, experts said, but it suggests that Iran is producing significant quantities of enriched uranium.
Asked by reporters whether all 3,000 centrifuges had been injected with uranium gas, nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani replied, "Yes." The oblique manner in which Larijani made the milestone public raised suspicions about its veracity.
Few outside experts believe Iran has successfully installed and is operating such a large system. Western experts suggest Iran has no more than 1,000 such devices, which it can operate only part time. A report in February by the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Iran was able to operate about 328 centrifuges.
In the past, Iranian scientists have built and installed new centrifuges at a rate of 100 a month. Experts said it was highly unlikely that Iran had increased that rate substantially in recent weeks or achieved other technical breakthroughs crucial to running the "cascades" of linked centrifuges at extremely high speeds.
The final plan for the Natanz enrichment facility calls for the installation of 54,000 centrifuges.
"Most people believe they have not mastered enrichment technology," said Matthew Bunn, a nuclear expert at Harvard University. "Nothing we heard today changes that."
"To call this an industrial capability is a gross exaggeration," said Joseph Cirincione, a nonproliferation expert at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank, and author of "Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons."
"It's a milestone, but it's far short for the kind of capability you need to produce either fuel for a reactor or a weapon," he said.
Iranian officials said it would be a few weeks before the number of centrifuges would be disclosed.
"To know of the number of centrifuges, one should wait for the next 20 days when IAEA inspectors present their reports," Mohammed Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, told reporters on the sidelines of the ceremony in Natanz, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
But Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of the Atomic Energy Organization, also said that Iran has "entered the phase of mass manufacturing of centrifuges," which could indicate that the nation's nuclear program is continuing to grow on several fronts.
Not a surprise
The day's announcements, punctuated by patriotic songs in the windowless hall accommodating the hundreds of guests, came as no surprise. Iran said months ago it would continue its headlong drive into the nuclear age despite growing financial pressure and diplomatic isolation. Iran had said it would reach what it called an industrial scale by late May.
The United Nations Security Council imposed limited sanctions on Iran in December, after it refused to halt its enrichment program and allow inspection of some parts of its facilities. Last month, the council imposed stricter sanctions.
On the heels of Tehran's release of 15 British sailors and marines it detained in the Persian Gulf, Ahmadinejad continued to talk tough, threatening to withhold future cooperation with the IAEA if the West continued to try to thwart Iran's ambitions.
"If the pressure from our enemies keeps up, we may revise our cooperation with the IAEA," he said in his speech marking the second annual National Day for Nuclear Technology.
Under the terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to which Tehran is a signatory, Iran has the right to produce enriched nuclear material provided its activities remain under the observation of international inspectors and don't veer off into a weapons program.
But many Western officials and international nuclear inspectors suspect Iran is exploiting treaty loopholes to acquire nuclear weapons capability.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Iran to comply with Security Council resolutions demanding an immediate suspension of uranium enrichment. "I sincerely hope that, even at this time, when the Iranian government is undergoing Security Council sanctions, that they should engage in dialogue," he told reporters.
Under close guard
Though open to inspectors and occasional visits by journalists, Iran's nuclear program remains under close guard by three separate security forces. Antiaircraft guns and missile batteries surround the enrichment facility.
Engineers at the Natanz site, which was established less than a decade ago, said they are cut off from the outside world except for telephone calls during their month long stays at the facility. Support staff live in Natanz and other neighboring villages.
Pine and eucalyptus trees as well as red, white and green Iranian flags line the main boulevard of Natanz, about 150 miles south of the capital, Tehran. Gray, concrete single-story buildings serve as housing for Natanz employees, each unit equipped with chessboards, ping pong and foosball tables.
Iranian officials said they had little fear of an attack on the facility.
"Why on Earth should they attack?" said Mosa Ghorbani, a member of parliament close to Ahmadinejad. "We are doing scientific work. They will certainly not attack, though they keep bragging and intimidating Iran."
1. North Korea ï¿½Unlikelyï¿½ to Shut Down Reactor by Saturday
(for personal use only)
The U.S. chief nuclear envoy Christopher Hill has admitted that it is improbable North Korea will shut down its nuclear facilities by a mid-April deadline due to the delayed transfer of assets frozen in the Macau-based Banco Delta Asia, AP reported. A Feb. 13 agreement reached in six-nation talks in Beijing requires the North to shut down its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon by April 14 in return for a first shipment of energy aid.
ï¿½Clearly, we're aiming for the complete implementation of the February agreement by day 60 ... but that timeline is becoming difficult,ï¿½ AP quoted Hill as saying in Tokyo. The U.S. has given the green light to unfreezing the Northï¿½s US$25 million bank accounts, but banks are reluctant to handle the transfer since the U.S. designated the funds as illegal.
North Koreaï¿½s chief negotiator Kim Kye-gwan on Monday said Pyongyang will allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit the North as soon as the money is unfrozen. He was quoted by an AP reporter who accompanied New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson on his visit to North Korea.
But he added it was difficult to completely shut down the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon by Saturday, AP said. "They can make a beginning, but whether they can completely shut down a nuclear reactor in such a short time would be very difficult,ï¿½ said former U.S. secretary of veterans affairs Anthony Principi, who met Kim with Richardson. Richardson told Kim that North Korea should demonstrate willingness to implement its obligations under the Feb. 13 agreement. He also reportedly asked for talks between concerned countries before Saturday.
The U.S. team, which also includes Victor Cha, director for Korea and Japan at the National Security Council, is scheduled to leave Pyongyang and travel to Seoul via the truce village of Panmunjom on Wednesday. The remains of six U.S. soldiers exhumed in North Korea will apparently be returned at the same time.
1. Uranium Rises to Record $113 a Pound in U.S. Auction
(for personal use only)
Uranium prices rose 19 percent to a record $113 a pound at a U.S. auction because of increasing demand for the fuel used in nuclear power plants, industry consultant TradeTech LLC said.
Mestena Uranium LLC, a uranium producer based in Corpus Christi, Texas, offered 100,000 pounds of yellowcake at last week's auction, TradeTech said. Yellowcake is the concentrated oxide of uranium, formed in the milling of uranium ore.
``The competition between utilities, traders and funds has increased,'' Peter Wood, a TradeTech representative based in London, said in a telephone interview today. The percentage jump, from $95 a pound a week earlier, was the biggest since prices were first reported in 1968, Denver-based TradeTech said in its weekly Nuclear Market Review.
Uranium prices have surged 57 percent this year, according to TradeTech. That's more than any of the industrial metals traded on the London Metal Exchange, such as nickel, or precious metals, including gold. Concerns that the use of fossil fuels is increasing global warming and the potential scarcity of oil and natural gas is spurring international demand for nuclear power.
``Last year, the uranium price increased by approximately 70 U.S. cents a week,'' Greg Barnes, an analyst at TD Newcrest Inc. in Toronto, said today in a note to clients. ``So far this year, the spot price has increased by $2.73 a week.''
Privately held Mestena Uranium, which has a mine in Texas, produces about 1 million pounds a year of the radioactive metal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Potential disruptions in uranium supplies have helped raise prices. Energy Resources of Australia Ltd., which produces more than 10 percent of the world's uranium, said on April 2 that its Ranger mine may have as much as a third less output next year because of heavy rainfall.
Cameco Corp., the world's biggest uranium miner, has said that a flood in October at its Cigar Lake uranium project will delay production from the unfinished Canadian mine until 2010, two years later than expected.
Shares of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based Cameco rose 95 cents, or 1.8 percent, to C$54.06 on the Toronto Stock Exchange. They have gained 25 percent in the past year.
Shares of USEC Inc., a seller of uranium fuel enrichment services, rose $1.08, or 6.2 percent, to $18.61 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, the highest closing price since the Bethesda, Maryland-based company first sold shares to the public in 1998. The shares have risen 47 percent in the past year.
India is putting its missile reach to test again. Agni-3, India's most potent nuclear capable missile will be test-fired next week. This will test India's capability to demonstrate just how far it can deliver its nuclear weapons, if attacked.
The Cabinet Committee on Security has cleared the test firing of the 3,000-km range, nuclear capable Agni-3 missile on April 11 from Wheeler's Island in the Bay of Bengal. If successful, it will extend the range of its nuclear weapons beyond India's immediate neighbourhood.
Missile technologists are now hoping to put behind them the disappointment of a failed first launch in July 2006. A defective heat shield was said to be the cause.
ï¿½These failures will have to be fed back into the design process to make the system more rugged,ï¿½ says K Santhanam Ex-Chief Adviser, DRDO.
Inter-continental missile reach is considered the benchmark in establishing nuclear weapons capability. The last time we fired Agni 3 and failed, it became clear to the world that India is still far away from being a credible nuclear weapon power. Its missile capability is on test again and India has to prove that it has the bite to back its bark.
A successful Agni-3, which is designed to carry a 1.5-ton nuclear bomb, can put India within a threshold of this reach. So far, it has a proven range of just over 2,000 km with the Agni-2. Greater reach can give it a more assured secondike capability.
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.