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Nuclear News - 5/8/2009
PGS Nuclear News, May 8, 2009
Compiled By: Luke Wagoner

    1. North Korea Repeats Vows to Strengthen Nuclear Deterrent, Asia Pacific News (5/8/2009)
B.  Pakistan
    1. Pakistani Offers Assurances on Nuclear Control, Associated Press (5/7/2009)
    2. Pakistan, US in Talks on Nuclear Security, The Boston Globe (5/5/2009)
C.  Egypt
    1. Weapons Grade Uranium Found in Egypt, The Media Line (5/7/2009)
D.  Iran
    1. Report: Iran Could Have Enough Material for Nuke in Months, Charley Keyes, CNN (5/7/2009)
E.  Russia
    1. Lavrov Says New START to be Key Issue at Russia-US Summit, Itar-Tass News Agency (5/5/2009)
    2. Russia, Japan to Sign Banking, Nuclear Deals During Putin's Visit, RIA Novosti (5/5/2009)
    3. U.S. Negotiator Signals Flexibility Toward Moscow Over New Round of Arms Talks, Ellen Barry, New York Times (5/4/2009)
F.  Nuclear Energy
    1. The Future of Green: Nuclear Fusion, Paul Darin, The Epoch Times (5/8/2009)
    2. Obama Budget Seeks End to Yucca Nuclear Waste Dump, Reuters (5/7/2009)
G.  Nuclear Cooperation
    1. US and Russia Hold Nuclear Talks, Al Jazeera (5/7/2009)
    2. Nuclear Talks Get First Breakthrough in 10 Years, Louis Charbonneau, Reuters, Reuters (5/6/2009)
    3. Support for Nuclear Reductions Builds with Two New Bipartisan Reports, Kingston Reif, Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation (5/6/2009)
H.  Links of Interest
    1. Detecting Dirty Bombs from a Safe Distance, Brittany Sauser, Technology Review (5/5/2009)
    2. How the U.S.-UAE Nuclear Deal Could Set Off a Middle East Arms Race, Foreign Policy (5/1/2009)


North Korea Repeats Vows to Strengthen Nuclear Deterrent
Asia Pacific News
(for personal use only)

North Korea vowed on Friday to strengthen its nuclear deterrent because of what it called Washington's continuing hostile policy, as a US envoy toured the region to try to restart disarmament talks.

"The study of the policy pursued by the Obama administration for the past 100 days since its emergence made it clear that the US hostile policy toward the DPRK (North Korea) remains unchanged," a foreign ministry spokesman said.

"The DPRK will bolster its nuclear deterrent as it has already clarified," the spokesman said in a statement on the official Korean Central News Agency.

Stephen Bosworth, Washington's special envoy for North Korea, arrived in China on Thursday for talks and was due in South Korea Friday afternoon.

The North announced it was quitting six-party nuclear disarmament talks and restarting a programme to make weapons-grade plutonium, after the UN Security Council condemned its April 5 rocket launch and tightened sanctions.

Last week, Pyongyang vowed to conduct a second nuclear test and ballistic missile tests unless the UN apologises for its actions.

"Nothing would be expected from the US, which remains unchanged in its hostility toward its dialogue partner," the North said, denying suggestions its actions are aimed at pushing Washington to hold direct talks.

"The measures... are aimed not to draw attention of someone and have dialogue with it but to defend the security of the country and the sovereignty of the nation."

Bosworth will also visit Japan and Russia, the other members of the forum negotiating with North Korea. He has no current plans to visit Pyongyang.

South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper on Thursday reported brisk activity at the site where the communist state carried out its first atomic test in October 2006.

The North said its April launch put a satellite into orbit for peaceful research purposes. Other nations saw the exercise as a disguised test of a ballistic missile.

The North said Obama had called for punishment for the launch and termed it a challenge and a provocation.

It said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "is repeating such malignant vituperation let loose by the preceding government as slandering the system in the DPRK as 'tyrannical' and 'rogue regime' and the like".

Pyongyang also complained that Obama's administration had gone ahead with major joint military exercises with South Korea in March.

The exercises "threatened our security seriously", it said.

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B.  Pakistan

Pakistani Offers Assurances on Nuclear Control
Associated Press
(for personal use only)

Pakistan's president offered renewed assurances Thursday that his country, whose stability is threatened by a rising extremist insurgency, has full control of its nuclear weapons.

President Asif Ali Zardari told reporters after meeting with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that ''all of the responsible authorities'' in and out of Pakistan ''are availed of the situation.''

''I have attested to the fact that our nuclear capability is in safe hands,'' he added.

Sen. Richard Lugar, the committee's top Republican and a chief advocate of persuading Pakistan to accept more U.S. assistance in securing its nuclear arsenal, declined during a joint news conference with Zardari and others to comment on the issue. Lugar said he was certain the matter was discussed during Zardari's meeting Wednesday with President Barack Obama, but he had no details.

A worry expressed by U.S. officials is that Pakistan's political collapse could give the Islamic extremists control of a nuclear weapon. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said recently that the Pakistanis have enough fissile material for between 55 and 90 nuclear weapons.

Lugar on Wednesday issued a statement saying an existing Pentagon program, authorized by the Nunn-Lugar Act of 1991 and focused mainly on weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union, should be applied in Pakistan to improve security not only of its nuclear weapons but also its collection of pathogens.

''Pakistan has many dangerous diseases and pathogens under its control,'' Lugar said in the statement. ''The Nunn-Lugar program can help secure the pathogen strains to ensure they do not fall into the wrong hands.''

Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met over lunch on Capitol Hill with members of the Senate committee to continue a dialogue that began Tuesday with three-way talks at the State Department, followed by meetings Wednesday at the White House. The talks focused mainly on ways to implement Obama's new Afghan war strategy and on ways to simultaneously fight the insurgency in Pakistan. The issue of nuclear weapons security is a central U.S. concern but not one that is often mentioned publicly in detail.

Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., who co-hosted the lunch with Lugar, told the news conference that Zardari and Karzai exhibited a realistic approach to the problem of defeating al-Qaida and allied extremist groups.

''All of the senators who were present today were encouraged by the reality with which both presidents addressed the questions and summarized the challenges,'' Kerry said.

Obama on Wednesday applauded Pakistan and Afghanistan for their commitment to helping the U.S. fight terrorists holed up in their territory, but he also cautioned that the path to success is slow and unsure.

''The road ahead will be difficult,'' Obama said. ''There will be more violence, and there will be setbacks.''

Obama added, ''The United States has made a lasting commitment to defeat al-Qaida, but also to support the democratically elected sovereign governments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan. That commitment will not waver, and that support will be sustained.''
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton held back-to-back meetings Thursday with her Afghan and Pakistani counterparts.

Obama's national security adviser, Gen. Jim Jones, told reporters Thursday that Obama was clear in his support for Zardari, who has come under heavy U.S. criticism for doing too little to combat a Taliban insurgency. Clinton, for example, told Congress last week that Pakistan was ''abdicating'' to the Taliban extremists.

''The president pledged to do whatever we could, to do what we can as quickly as possible to help the Pakistani government, and said this type of aid would not just be restricted to military,'' Jones said.

Wednesday's meetings had the added complication of reports that U.S. airstrikes on Sunday had killed dozens of civilians in western Afghanistan.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan suggested the Taliban might be to blame. Obama expressed U.S. regret, promising to ''make every effort'' to avoid further tragedies.

At Thursday's news conference on Capitol Hill, Karzai said, without referring directly to the latest controversy, that his country is eager for the U.S. military to find a way to avoid civilian casualties.

''It causes pain to Afghans,'' Karzai said. ''It's something we want to have addressed ... in a manner that will eventually -- rather sooner -- end casualties for the Afghan people.''

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Pakistan, US in Talks on Nuclear Security
The Boston Globe
(for personal use only)

Others have raised similar alarms. The Congressional Research Service, an arm of Congress, issued a report last month that stated US and Pakistani officials have begun behind-the-scenes talks aimed at achieving a greater US role in securing Pakistan's nuclear materials, including a proposal to ship some highly enriched uranium to the United States for disposal, according to two administration officials with direct knowledge of the discussions.

If successful, the talks between nonproliferation specialists at the State and Energy departments and their Pakistani counterparts would mark a breakthrough in efforts to persuade Pakistan to accept greater assistance in preventing terrorists from obtaining nuclear fuel or the technology to build a nuclear weapon.

"The Pakistanis take this very seriously," said a senior US official involved in the talks who asked not to be identified discussing the sensitive negotiations. "Pakistan faces some unique challenges."

The government of Pakistan, which is believed to have as many as 100 nuclear bombs, has been highly secretive about its nuclear activities for fear that the United States might try to destroy its arsenal or that its archenemy, nuclear-armed India, might launch a first strike. But the growing threat to the Pakistani government from the Taliban - and its allies in the Al Qaeda terrorist network - has given Pakistani leaders a new reason to cooperate with the United States, according to the officials.

"We believe the command and control of the nuclear arsenal is a primary concern of the Pakistanis," said the US official. The United States now provides some basic assistance to Pakistan in nuclear security. Measures include training Pakistani officials on export control and providing detection equipment for its seaports, airports, and border crossings to help thwart nuclear smuggling.

However, the new measures under consideration would for the first time give the United States access to some of Pakistan's nuclear ingredients, though not the actual weapons, which are reportedly stored unassembled under the control of a 10,000-member security force headed by a two-star general.

Two of the key proposals under discussion are a joint program to secure or destroy radioactive materials that could be used to make a crude nuclear device, and shipment to the United States of some of the highly enriched uranium fuel used in Pakistani civilian power plants. The enriched fuel is believed to be sought by terrorists as possible material for a weapon of mass destruction, the officials said.

Pakistan's embassy did not respond to several requests for comment.

Top officials in both countries continue to express public confidence that Pakistan's nuclear materials are safe from theft. President Obama, who is scheduled to meet with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in Washington tomorrow, told a news conference last week that "we can make sure that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is secure because the Pakistani Army, I think, recognizes the hazards of those weapons falling into the wrong hands."

Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters yesterday that he, too, is "comfortable" that the nuclear weapons cannot be stolen. "I don't think that's going to happen," said Mullen, who visited Pakistan last week. "I don't see that in any way imminent whatsoever at this particular point in time."

Yet many nuclear specialists both inside and outside the US government expressed worry that such expressions of confidence do not reflect the full extent of Pakistan's nuclear vulnerability - which, they say, goes far beyond the weapons themselves.

In addition to its arsenal, Pakistan has a vast network of nuclear facilities, equipment, and scientists - the extent of which the United States and its allies know very little. Any of those elements could be pilfered by terrorists or their sympathizers inside the Pakistani government or military, the international nuclear specialists said.

They point to the fact that A.Q. Khan, the builder of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, oversaw a black market that sold nuclear materials and know-how to a variety of international customers, including Iran and North Korea, for years before the scheme was revealed by the CIA in 2004.

"What other society has leaked nuclear secrets like Pakistan?" asked David Albright, a former United Nations weapons inspector who is now president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, citing the documented evidence that classified bomb designs and centrifuges to enrich uranium into a bomb-making grade were sold to a variety of sources. "Why do people just sit there and say everything is fine?"

, "While nuclear weapons are currently under firm control, with warheads disassembled, technology could be sold off by insiders during a worsened crisis."

US officials hope to persuade the Pakistani government in the coming months that the importance given to the security of the weapons themselves must be extended to other parts of its nuclear industry, according to the officials. The US government official involved in the talks stressed, however, that there are legal restrictions on how far the United States can go in providing assistance. Because Pakistan is not a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the US government is limited in how much assistance it can provide to Pakistan on nuclear matters.

Yet specialists said that if Pakistan's government were willing to accept more help, the United States could - and should - find ways to overcome those restrictions.

Bernard Finel, a senior fellow at the American Security Project, a Washington think tank, said enhancing nuclear-security cooperation "would be a really valuable place for us to spend a lot of diplomatic energy."

"The worst-case scenarios in Pakistan are worse than anywhere else," he added.

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C.  Egypt

Weapons Grade Uranium Found in Egypt
The Media Line
(for personal use only)

A restricted report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says that in 2008 and 2007 traces of weapons grade uranium was found in Egypt.

The report, which has been obtained by an international news agency, did not say whether the material found was enriched enough to be used as fuel for a nuclear bomb, but did say that further tests were being conducted.

Egyptian officials have told the IAEA that the contamination was most likely carried onto the site on equipment purchased abroad, and that IAEA inspectors were investigating the source of the isotopes but had yet to verify the source, news organizations familiar with report said.

Isotopes can remain on equipment and at sites where nuclear material is created or stored for decades or longer. The IAEA maintains a detailed database of isotope samples that helps inspectors to trace isotopes to the reactor or site where they were created.

The head of the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority, Dr. Muhammad Al-Qulali, was quoted as saying that the traces of uranium found in Egypt did not indicate any nuclear activity and that the IAEA knew this.

The Egyptian nuclear program dates back to the era of president Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s under the auspices of the U.S.’s Atoms for Peace program under which nuclear know-how would be shared with other countries for peaceful purposes. Nasser established the Atomic Energy Establishment whose purpose was to research the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union helped out in establishing the Insha's Nuclear Research Center by providing equipment such as a radioisotope laboratory from the U.S. and a 2MW research reactor from the Soviet Union.

Egypt signed the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT) in 1968 but delayed ratifying it, presumably because the government had evidence that Israel had embarked on a nuclear weapons program. Subsequently, Egypt lost many of its nuclear experts who had to travel abroad to seek work opportunities. Some emigrated to Canada and others joined the Iraqi nuclear program.

Since 1974, Egypt has taken the initiative of proposing to render the Middle East a nuclear weapons-free zone, calling on all countries in the region without exception to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The call for a nuclear-free Middle East was initially directed towards Israel, which maintains a nuclear ambiguity by followed a policy of “nuclear ambiguity" – visibly possessing nuclear weapons, while denying their existence.

In recent years Egypt has become increasingly concerned over Iran’s nuclear program and the possibility that Iran might one day overtake Egypt as the most powerful country in the Middle East.

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D.  Iran

Report: Iran Could Have Enough Material for Nuke in Months
Charley Keyes
(for personal use only)

A U.S. Senate report released Thursday says some experts predict Iran could have enough material for a nuclear bomb in six months.

The staff report of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says efforts so far to stop Iran's nuclear program have failed and that the real status of Iran's nuclear program is unknown.

"There is no sign that Iran's leaders have ordered up a bomb. But unclassified interviews conducted by a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff make clear that Iran has moved closer to completing the three components for a nuclear weapon-fissile material, warhead design and delivery system," the report says. "... A foreign intelligence agency and some U.N. officials estimated that Iran could reconfigure its centrifuge cascades and produce enough weapons-grade material for a bomb within six months."

"Deadlines have come and gone with Iran, and so have predictions about when it might have a nuclear weapon," the report adds.

"The fact that it has enriched a significant quantity of reactor-grade uranium gives Iran the option of moving quickly if its leaders make a political decision to build a bomb. And even if Iran's current leaders do not proceed, the decision is inherently reversible as long as it retains its enrichment capability."

The United States, some European nations and Israel contend Iran's nuclear development is aimed at developing nuclear weapons. Iran has denied pursuing nuclear weapons and insists the country's nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Committee chairman Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, held a hearing Wednesday on Iran and said the report would provide the most up-to-date information about Iran's nuclear program.

In a letter introducing the report, he said resolving suspicions between the United States and Iran over Iran's nuclear program is one of the obstacles to the Obama administration's goal of new engagement between Washington and Tehran.
"Iran's leaders say that its ambitions are only to develop a civilian nuclear capacity to conserve the country's oil and gas reserves, but the United States and many of its allies have deep suspicions about the potential military aspects of the program," Kerry wrote.

The report says international efforts, including three rounds of United Nations sanctions against Iran, have failed to slow Iran's nuclear progress.

"Iran has gone from having no capability to enrich uranium six years ago to operating nearly 4,000 centrifuges at an underground facility near Natanz in the central part of the country," the report adds. "The centrifuges are enriching uranium to reactor-grade, with 1,600 more machines ready to go online."

And the report warns that even without a nuclear bomb, Iran can change the balance of power in the region.

"Many nations in the region already fear an ascendant Iran. Simply producing a large enough stockpile of low-enriched uranium for one or more weapons could confer on Iran new leverage over the critical region. It also could motivate some of its neighbors to seek their own nuclear capability," the report says.

The report also warns of the possibility of an Israeli attack against Iran and its nuclear facilities.

"A complicating factor is how Israel might respond if Iran continues to increase its uranium stockpile. There have been reports that Israel sought American support for an attack on Iran's nuclear installations in the last months of the Bush administration and was turned down.

"Israel's public stance has been that Iran must give up its enrichment capabilities, so a deal which allows Iran to continue to enrich would be expected to keep the possibility of an Israeli attack on the table," the report says.

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E.  Russia

Lavrov Says New START to be Key Issue at Russia-US Summit
Itar-Tass News Agency
(for personal use only)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a new strategic arms reduction treaty (START) will be the key issue at the upcoming Russia-US summit in Moscow in July and experts will work in the coming months to provide proposals for the Russian and US Presidents, Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama.

“The priority issue to be discussed at the summit will be the new treaty,” Lavrov said on Thursday in Carnegie Foundation. “We need a new treaty and we are actively working on it,” he added.

The provisions of START-1, which expires later this year, have been fulfilled and overfulfilled, according to Lavrov.

“It is no longer an efficient instrument in the sphere of strategic arms control. Therefore, we see no grounds to prolong the treaty,” Lavrov said.

He hopes common parameters acceptable for both parties may be designed by the end of the year. “Time is running fast,” the minister said, adding experts would work in May and June to provide a report for the presidents on prospects of a new treaty.

“Our position is based on the balance of strategic offensive armaments and strategic defensive armaments,” he said.

Further strategic arms reduction will promote nuclear non-proliferation, according to Lavrov, who called on the United States to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is a key element of modern international security system, Lavrov said, adding “it is no secret that the non-proliferation regime is living through hard times.”

“The fate of the global non-proliferation system greatly depends on the positions of our countries, which are the main nuclear powers,” the minister said adding US ratification of CTBT would be “an extremely important step”.

“It is well known that some key countries do not ratify the document because they follow the US position. Therefore, if Washington ratifies it, there will be something real that can be submitted for exacting consideration of the Non-Aligned Movement in the framework of the upcoming NPT conference next spring,” the minister said.

“Joint US and Russian efforts can promote NPT productiveness and strengthen its three components (non-proliferation, peaceful use of nuclear energy and disarmament),” Lavrov specified.

Russia is ready to assist the United States in reaching mutual understanding with Iran. Lavrov said Iranian nuclear problem can be resolved only by multilateral effort.

Russia “welcomes the message of President Obama to the leader and the people of Iran, which expressed intention to normalize relations”, he said.

Joint effort is also necessary to settle the nuclear problem of North Korea and the situation in Afghanistan.

Both Russia and the United States are interested “in stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan as soon as possible and in securing a lasting peace in the country and in the whole region”, Lavrov said, adding Pakistani assistance in the effort is becoming a very viable factor.

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Russia, Japan to Sign Banking, Nuclear Deals During Putin's Visit, RIA Novosti, 5/5/2009
Russia and Japan will sign a number of deals during Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's upcoming visit to Tokyo, a deputy government chief of staff said Thursday.

Yury Ushakov said on top of five banking documents, four intergovernmental agreements - on criminal cases, customs affairs, the civilian use of nuclear power and fighting illegal fishing - would be signed in Putin's presence.

Putin arrives in Japan on May 11, and the deals will be signed the following day.

The Russian premier will also take part in a business forum, as well as attend a presentation of the Japanese edition of a book on judo that he co-wrote. Former Russian president Putin has a black belt in judo.

Ushakov also said Putin would discuss the North Korean nuclear problem in the context of resuming six-party talks, adding that Russia would support any possible UN Security Council proposals for sanctions against North Korea.

He also said last year's trade turnover between Russia and Japan totaled almost $29 billion.

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Russia, Japan to Sign Banking, Nuclear Deals During Putin's Visit
RIA Novosti
(for personal use only)

Russia and Japan will sign a number of deals during Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's upcoming visit to Tokyo, a deputy government chief of staff said Thursday.

Yury Ushakov said on top of five banking documents, four intergovernmental agreements - on criminal cases, customs affairs, the civilian use of nuclear power and fighting illegal fishing - would be signed in Putin's presence.

Putin arrives in Japan on May 11, and the deals will be signed the following day.

The Russian premier will also take part in a business forum, as well as attend a presentation of the Japanese edition of a book on judo that he co-wrote. Former Russian president Putin has a black belt in judo.

Ushakov also said Putin would discuss the North Korean nuclear problem in the context of resuming six-party talks, adding that Russia would support any possible UN Security Council proposals for sanctions against North Korea.

He also said last year's trade turnover between Russia and Japan totaled almost $29 billion.

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U.S. Negotiator Signals Flexibility Toward Moscow Over New Round of Arms Talks
Ellen Barry
New York Times
(for personal use only)

The top arms control negotiator for the United States said on Monday that the government was willing to agree to count both nuclear warheads and their delivery vehicles when renegotiating the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or Start — addressing one of Russia’s longstanding concerns.

In an interview with the Russian news service Interfax, the negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, also said the United States was open to a Russian proposal to use radar based in Azerbaijan or Southern Russia, rather than Eastern Europe, for the proposed missile defense system.

Officials from the administration of President George W. Bush had not followed up on the idea of relocating the radar from Eastern Europe, where Russia fears it would be part of a missile defense system that would be used against it. American officials have contended that the system is meant as a deterrent to Iran.

“I understood from talking to Russian counterparts that the offer is still on the table,” Ms. Gottemoeller was quoted by Interfax as saying. “I think, personally, that it is an offer that the United States should be willing to explore.”

The comments clarified Washington’s position ahead of the first full talks on replacing Start, which are scheduled this month in Moscow, and set aside several problematic issues for later. With the landmark 1991 agreement due to expire on Dec. 5, the two sides have agreed to make significant further cuts in the number of nuclear warheads they have deployed, likely to a ceiling of between 1,000 and 1,500 each.

A short-term agreement, signed by Mr. Bush in 2002, requires each country to reduce its arsenal to fewer than 2,200 warheads by 2012. The agreement does not apply to delivery vehicles, which is a particular concern of the Russian side because of fears that nuclear warheads removed from delivery systems would simply be replaced by conventional weapons.

Ms. Gottemoeller said Washington would not agree to count warheads that are in storage, another Russian proposal, saying it would mean “a new phase and a very different approach to the strategic arms reductions we have ever had in the past.”

“I think we have to consider it as something for the future,” she said.

She said the United States would happily consider cuts in the number of nonstrategic, or tactical, nuclear weapons after the December deadline, saying Russia “has not been too keen to engage in those negotiations.” Russia has four to six times as many tactical nuclear weapons as the United States, and has looked at them as a way to offset the gap in their conventional capabilities, according to Steven Pifer, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. The comments — particularly those on missile defense, delivery systems and tactical nuclear weapons — are “more in Moscow’s favor,” said Peter Crail, an analyst at the Washington-based Arms Control Association.

“That doesn’t mean there aren’t going to still be some pretty hairy issues to deal with,” Mr. Crail said. “It’s certainly a bit of a move in their direction.”

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F.  Nuclear Energy

The Future of Green: Nuclear Fusion
Paul Darin
The Epoch Times
(for personal use only)

Before we can begin talking about nuclear fusion we need to briefly address the potential green-ness of nuclear fission and their historical relation. Does nuclear fission have the potential to be extremely green? The answer is without a doubt yes.

First, nuclear energy produces slightly more energy than a normal fossil fuel plant but without the harmful greenhouse gasses that are produced (CO2). However, nuclear fission reactions produce waste in the form of very radioactive spent fuel rods (Pu 239), which need to be taken to special containment facilities to await several thousand or million of years before becoming unharmful.

So, the energy from these plants is attractive but the waste goes into the complete opposite direction that a green-minded person would desire. How do we solve this? Easy, eliminate the harmful spent fuel, and that is exactly the current trend in nuclear fusion right now.

Is nuclear fusion even possible? That sounds like science fiction! Not only is it possible, but nuclear fusion has already occurred in experimental reactors over seas and new experimental reactors are being constructed as this article is being produced that will lead the way towards commercial fusion reactors.

Nuclear fusion has been successful in several Tokamak style reactors that use magnetic fields to confine and manipulate plasma (high-temperature ionized gas) in order to basically create a miniature sun inside a container. For years, fusion was deemed impractical because the energy required to sustain the magnetic field as well as heat the plasma to a fusion-able degree was drastically more than the amount of energy produced from the small fusion reactions. This can actually be measured in what is called a factor of “Q”.

Such successful experiments occurred at the Joint European Torus (torus meaning ring-shaped) experimental nuclear fusion reactor in Oxfordshire, England. JET started their experiments in 1983 and worked with the fusion of materials called Deuterium and Tritium (both isotopes of Hydrogen), which could be fused into either harmless Helium or a radioactive isotope of Helium which would have a half-life of several minutes compared to the several thousand years of current nuclear waste.

JET has paved the way for ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, which is designed to bridge the gap between plasma studies and commercial fusion. The reactor is still in its construction phase overseas and will be officially operational in 2018. This nuclear reactor will take the next step into the nuclear future producing an expected output of 500 Mega Watts for a sustained 1000 seconds compared to JET’s 16 MWs for about a second. The ultimate goal of ITER is to produce at Q-levels of 10. Or, 10 times the amount of energy needed to start the reaction.

But, is nuclear fusion truly green? The answer is a complicated yes and no. Nuclear fusion is a realistic view of producing vast quantities of energy without the harmful green-house gases and radioactive waste. But, there are other environmental problems with fusion. Nuclear fusion produces thermal neutrons that bombard the inner plating of the Tokamak, which can have a radioactive effect over a period of time. The result is the production of materials that are not as abundant as fission-spent fuel, but still needs to be disposed of in the same fashion. However, we must remember the nuclear fusion is still in the extremely experimental stages. One of ITER’s objectives is to design and test special superconducting magnets and components able to withstand these thermal neutrons and extremely high temperatures.

When it comes to nuclear energy and living green, there are other areas to explore as well. Fusion may produce high levels of energy in the future which could replace all our fossil and fission plants 50-100 years down the road. But, what if they never solve the radioactive waste problem? In fact, what about the waste that is already produced? Well, it just so happens that scientists and physicists at the University of Texas at Austin, Texas have design a machine and a process that combines nuclear fusion and fission and would break down radioactive waste into nuclear energy. The beautiful part of this is that this machine would destroy waste at the same time as producing energy. It is based on the Tokamak design and uses the concepts of fusion wrapped in a blanket of fission to stabilize the reaction. Nuclear waste is then fed into the reactor and “incinerated” at extremely high temperatures. The waste then becomes the fuel that perpetuates the reaction. According to Mike Kotschenreuther, a senior research scientist with the Institute for Fusion Studies (IFS) and Department of Physics, "We have created a way to use fusion to relatively inexpensively destroy the waste from nuclear fission. Our waste destruction system, we believe, will allow nuclear power—a low carbon source of energy—to take its place in helping us combat global warming."

As living green becomes more of a necessity than a life choice and at the same time the need for energy increases, fusion may be a big part of the not-too distant future. For the most part it is green. But, all the problems are not quite worked out of the system. There are many options and paths to take in this field. But, only time can tell us what types of energy we will be using in the future.

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Obama Budget Seeks End to Yucca Nuclear Waste Dump
(for personal use only)

The Obama administration said Thursday it wanted to officially terminate the Yucca Mountain nuclear storage waste site and instead spend $197 million to phase out the project and "explore alternatives" for nuclear waste disposal.

"All funding for development of the (Yucca Mountain) facility would be eliminated, such as further land acquisition, transportation access, and additional engineering," the administration said in its proposed government budget for the 2010 spending year that begins this October 1.

In its budget proposal, the White House said President Barack Obama believes "that nuclear power is -- and likely will remain -- an important source of electricity for many years to come and that how the Nation deals with the dangerous byproduct of nuclear reactors is a critical question that has yet to be resolved."

The White House pointed out that Energy Secretary Steven Chu plans to set up a blue ribbon commission of experts to evaluate storage options for nuclear waste and make recommendations to the administration.

The Yucca Mountain storage site, planned about 90 miles from Las Vegas, has endured years of bureaucratic delays and scientific foul-ups.

Yucca Mountain was designed to store millions of pounds of radioactive waste from 104 U.S. nuclear power reactors along with tons of leftovers from the country's nuclear weapons program.

Currently, spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste are stored at 121 temporary locations in 39 states across the country.

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G.  Nuclear Cooperation

US and Russia Hold Nuclear Talks
Al Jazeera
(for personal use only)

The US and Russia are keen to act on preventing nuclear proliferation and safeguarding nuclear facilties, the US secretary of state has said.

Hillary Clinton said following talks with Sergei Lavrov, her Russian counterpart, that both nations aimed to "set a standard and example" on nuclear issues and work at raising the country's relationship to "a new level".

Both Clinton and Lavrov also said on Thursday in Washington DC that the two countries' disgreements over Georgia would not affect work on nuclear disarmament.

"I believe Minister Lavrov and the Russian government recognise that stability and a peaceful resolution to the tensions in Georgia is in everyone's interest," Clinton said.

"But it's old thinking to say that if we disagree in one area that we shouldn't work on something else that is of overwhelming importance."

Clinton and Lavrov's meeting follows anger in Moscow over the Nato alliance's month-long military exercises in Georgia which began on Wednesday, a move Russia has called an "overt provocation".

Georgia has in turn accused Russia of backing a mutiny at one of its military bases.

Remaining tensions

US and Russian negotiators recently began negotiating to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start), which expires this year.

The talks were launched after the first meeting between Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, last month.

Disagreements between the US and Russia also remain over how to deal with Iran's nuclear programme and the US's missile system plans in Europe.

Later on Thursday Lavrov will also hold talks with Barack Obama, the US president.

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Nuclear Talks Get First Breakthrough in 10 Years
Louis Charbonneau, Reuters
(for personal use only)

Delegates meeting on the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty struck their first agreement on the anti-nuclear arms pact in a decade on Wednesday, which diplomats said was largely due to U.S. President Barack Obama.

Three days into a two-week meeting on the landmark arms control agreement, delegates from its 189 signatories agreed on an agenda for a major conference next year, where member states hope to adopt an action plan to overhaul the treaty.

"Amazing," Ambassador John Duncan, head of the British delegation, wrote on a website he updates regularly. "We just agreed the agenda for the 2010 review conference. It may seem boring but we haven't done so for a decade."

Other diplomats described the agreement as modest but significant, because member states have been unable even to agree on what they should talk about for 10 years. They said Obama's new tone was probably the decisive factor.

NPT signatories have tried for years to overcome sharp divisions, with developing countries complaining that the big nuclear powers have reneged on obligations to disarm while denying them access to nuclear technology.

The last NPT review conference in 2005 descended into procedural bickering and accomplished nothing. Washington tried to focus attention on the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, while Iran condemned the failure to disarm and Egypt pointed to Israel's presumed nuclear weapons.


The agenda agreed on Wednesday includes a review of disarmament commitments made by the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia in 1995 and 2000. It also includes a discussion of "nuclear-weapons-free-zones" -- which diplomats said would mainly be about Israel's presumed nuclear arsenal.

The disarmament commitments have been very divisive in recent years after former President George W. Bush decided he was not bound by those pledges and insisted they be dropped from the agenda. The French supported that position.

"The Obama administration did an about-face and agreed to bring those commitments back on the agenda," a diplomat said, asking not to be be named. "The French were still trying to block it but gave in overnight when they realized they were alone and isolated."

Western diplomats said they were worried that Egypt and Iran would keep trying to divide the conference by focusing on Israel. But they said they were pleased that Tehran and Cairo were not finding it so easy now to divide signatories.

Iran denies Western charges that it wants atomic weapons.

"Huge obstacles remain, but the clear change of tone coming from the Obama administration has changed the equation," said one Western diplomat involved in the talks. "The U.S. is now willing to engage on disarmament. It's willing to engage with Iran. It mentions Israel. That's all new and it's helping."

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller read a message from Obama to the delegates on Tuesday in which he reiterated his vow to take new disarmament steps while urging delegations to bridge differences on strengthening the NPT.

Although she did not mention Iran in her speech, Gottemoeller said Washington wanted Israel, India and Pakistan to join the NPT and North Korea, which pulled out of it in 2003 and tested a nuclear device in 2006, to return to the pact.

Israel on Wednesday dismissed Gottemoeller's comments.

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Support for Nuclear Reductions Builds with Two New Bipartisan Reports
Kingston Reif
Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation
(for personal use only)

Two recent bipartisan reports strongly endorsed the importance of reducing the size of the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals. Both reports clearly demonstrated that there is broad and wide support for a START follow-on agreement and that the United States and Russia have an important obligation to reduce the size and role of nuclear weapons in their national security policies.

The first report, from a Task Force led by the Council on Foreign Relations, was released on April 30. Co-chaired by former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, the report “supports efforts to renew legally binding arms control pacts with Russia by seeking follow-on agreements to START and the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT).” Besides Scowcroft, the Task Force included such high-profile Republicans as Linton Brooks, former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, and Franklin C. Miller, former Senior Director for Defense Policy and Arms Control on the National Security Council staff.

According to the Task Force, “U.S.-Russia arms control agreements have been invaluable in helping stabilize strategic relations, developing a shared understanding of activities involving nuclear weapons, and lending predictability to reductions in American and Russian strategic nuclear forces.” Furthermore, the report stated that since the United States and Russia were the first countries to develop nuclear weapons and possess the largest arsenals, “they clearly have the responsibility and a mutual interest to lead global efforts to reduce nuclear arms, increase prospects for the use of nuclear energy, and strengthen the nonproliferation regime.”

The second report, from the congressionally-mandated Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, released its final report on May 6. Perry also chaired this Commission, along with another former Secretary of Defense, James R. Schlesinger, who served as vice-chair. Chartered by Congress to examine and make recommendations on the long-term strategic posture of the United States, the Commission noted that “the moment appears ripe for a renewal of arms control with Russia, and this bodes well for a continued reduction in the nuclear arsenal. The United States and Russia should pursue a step-by-step approach and take a modest first step to ensure that there is a successor to START I when it expires at the end of 2009.”

In addition to Schlesinger, the Republican delegation included John Foster, Director Emeritus of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Keith Payne, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Forces; Fred Ikle, former Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency; James Woolsey, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency; and Harry Cartland, a former physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

According to the Commission, “substantial stockpile reductions need to be done bilaterally with the Russians, and at some level of reductions, with other nuclear powers. But some potential reductions in non-deployed weapons need not await Russia.”

Furthermore the commission states that arms control is useful and essential because it “may provide assurances to each side about the intentions driving modernization programs. It may lend predictability to the future of the bilateral relationship, a benefit of value to the United States but also its allies and friends. U.S.-Russian arms control can also reinforce the NPT.”

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H.  Links of Interest

Detecting Dirty Bombs from a Safe Distance
Brittany Sauser
Technology Review
(for personal use only)

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How the U.S.-UAE Nuclear Deal Could Set Off a Middle East Arms Race
Foreign Policy
(for personal use only)

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