Archive for the ‘Nuclear Policy’ Category

Nuclear Arsenal

In Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on February 17, 2017 at 10:48 am

The Independent Newspaper
Thursday, February 16, 2017

I participated in the U.S. and international movements to ban nuclear weapons in the 1980’s. Progress was made at that time in the US/Russian commitment to decommission and destroy accumulated nuclear weapons, with the ultimate goal of a world without such weapons.
That commitment to disarm has deteriorated, and the world is now only two and one-half minutes from midnight according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. They have moved the hands of their iconic Doomsday Clock thirty seconds closer to the nuclear hour that marks the end of humanity.
The Bulletin cited several reasons for the darkening of the global security landscape including deteriorating relations between the US and Russia (together possessing more than 90% of world’s nuclear weapons), North Korea’s continuing weapons development, the march of arsenal modernization programs in nuclear weapons states, and new doubt over the future of the Iran Nuclear Deal, (though it proved successful in meeting goals in year one.)
These are all matters President Trump has signaled that he would make worse due to “ill-considered comments about expanding and even deploying the US Nuclear arsenal, a troubling propensity to discount or outright reject expert advice about international security, including the conclusions of intelligence experts ,” according to the Bulletin. I would add to this list his condoning of fake news and alternative facts.
I think that no problem is more urgent today than the militarization of politics and the new arms race. Stopping and reversing this ruinous nuclear race must be a priority. See trivalleycares.org or wagingpeace.org to take action.
Patricia Moore, MSW

The author of this artice is a member of Tri-Valley Cares of Livermore, CA, an affiliate of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability

Trump and the Doomsday Clock

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on February 13, 2017 at 11:06 pm

By Jeffrey D. Sachs FEBRUARY 12, 2017
The most chilling concern about Donald Trump is the worldwide fear that he puts our very survival at risk. This is not loose talk or partisanship. It was recently expressed by the most thoughtful experts who monitor the risks to our survival: The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, who are the keepers of the Doomsday Clock. These experts have just told the world it is “Two and a half minutes to midnight,” where midnight signifies the end of civilization. This is the closest to doom since 1953, when both the United States and Russia first possessed thermonuclear weapons capable of destroying the world.

Let’s not panic. Instead, let’s think, plan, and act. As President John F. Kennedy famously declared, “Our problems are manmade — therefore, they can be solved by man.” The problem of Donald Trump can be solved too, by the institutions of American democracy and the international rule of law.
The Doomsday Clock was created 70 years ago, in the early days of the Cold War and the nuclear weapons race between the United States and the Soviet Union. For the first time in human history, mankind possessed the means of causing not only great carnage and suffering, but also the very destruction of humanity. The early generation of atomic scientists recognized the profound and unprecedented dangers of the new weapons and sought to warn the world. In the first edition of the clock, in 1947, they set the it to seven minutes before midnight, nuclear Armageddon. As the Cold War intensified, and atomic bombs gave way to vastly more powerful thermonuclear bombs, the minute hand moved five minutes closer to midnight.

When JFK came into office he powerfully expressed the existential paradox of modernity. “For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.” We never came closer to the end than in the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, when mistakes by both the United States and the Soviet Union led the world to the very brink of nuclear war. In 1963, brilliant diplomacy by Kennedy, supported by the moral leadership of Pope John XXIII and the bold statesmanship of Nikita Khrushchev, led to the signing of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Humanity was spared. The minute hand of the Doomsday Clock moved back to 12 minutes before midnight, a margin of safety.

With America’s escalation of the Vietnam War under Lyndon Johnson, the minute hand began to move once again toward midnight, while Richard Nixon’s “detente” with the Soviet Union again reduced the tensions and put the minute hand back to 12 minutes before midnight. Then tensions escalated with Ronald Reagan’s new arms buildup, until Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev launched the process of political and economic reform, perestroika, that culminated in the end of the Cold War and the end of the Soviet Union itself in 1991. Humanity had, it seemed, reached a moment of relative safety; the minute hand stood at 17 minutes before midnight that year.

Yet if ever a historic opportunity for safety was squandered, this was it. Every US president since then — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama — has contributed to a decline of global safety, with the minute-hand moving from 17 minutes before midnight to just three minutes before midnight last year, even before Donald Trump became president. And after just a few days in office, Trump has contributed to another 30-second jump of the minute-hand toward midnight.

What went wrong between 1991 and now? Two grave mistakes. The first was the failure to capitalize on the end of the Cold War by establishing a trustworthy relationship between the United States and Russia. While most Americans would blame Vladimir Putin for that, they should follow the Gospel advice of Jesus: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Instead of working with Russia after 1991, the United States unilaterally asserted its military power, expanding NATO toward Russia’s borders and invading several countries in the Middle East. The Cold War was revived, not ended.
The second mistake was to turn a blind eye to the second existential threat: human-induced global warming. While the threat from nuclear weapons was easy enough to perceive (though also easy to forget day to day), the existential threat from human-induced climate change was far more difficult. To understand it requires at least a basic awareness of quantum physics, the Earth’s physical dynamics, and Earth’s climate and economic history. Our presidents and Congress have lacked that. They understand money from lobbyists — oil and gas companies — not quantum physics.

There are dire risks of our continued burning of coal, oil, and gas. When these fossil fuels are burned, they emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide has the special quantum-mechanical property that it absorbs infrared radiation and thereby acts as a kind of atmospheric “greenhouse” for Earth, causing the planet to warm. This is of course clear to atmospheric chemists but not to most politicians. The science and Earth history also make clear that we are recklessly gambling with future survival. The ocean level could rise by 20 feet or more as a result of even slight further increases in temperature. Only a fool would say that since such an outcome is not completely certain, we should simply continue to burn fossil fuels at the maximum rate.

After just a few days as president, Trump induced the atomic scientists to move the minute-hand another 30 seconds toward midnight. They explained their unprecedented move as follows:

“The board’s decision to move the clock less than a full minute — something it has never before done — reflects a simple reality: As this statement is issued, Donald Trump has been the US president only a matter of days. Many of his Cabinet nominations are not yet confirmed by the Senate or installed in government, and he has had little time to take official action. Just the same, words matter, and President Trump has had plenty to say over the last year. Both his statements and his actions as president-elect have broken with historical precedent in unsettling ways.’’

They then cite Trump’s recklessness both toward nuclear weapons and climate change. On nuclear weapons, Trump has casually suggested that Japan and Korea should become nuclear powers; that a new nuclear-arms race is welcome; and that the use of nuclear weapons (e.g., in regard to ISIS) is not “off the table.” Yes, for every statement such as these, there are equal and opposite statements as well. There is, in short, casualness, inconsistency, and incoherence.

On climate change, the inconsistencies are not the problem; denial is. Trump has completely turned his administration’s environmental policies over to the oil and gas industry. The State Department is now in the hands of ExxonMobil; the Environmental Protection Agency is in the hands of politicians like Scott Pruitt, long financed by the fossil-fuel industry. The word on Capitol Hill is simple: The mega-billionaire Koch brothers, who own the nation’s largest private fossil-fuel company, own Congress, or at least the Republican side.

Trump is a bully whose bluster is designed to intimidate and wrong-foot a foe, and in Trump’s worldview, just about everybody is a foe. As he has famously explained, in an attitude inherited from his father, there are “killers” and there are “losers.” The bluster is designed to put Killer Trump ahead of the losers. The key to survival in the Trump era is to look past the bluster, face down the bullying, and prevent Trump’s poorly controlled emotions from guiding the policies of the United States on these life-and-death issues.

Despite the bravado of the flood of executive orders, most of them are mere statements of intent, not legally binding instruments. The courts will have their say; and the regulatory agencies must follow rigorous procedures to change existing regulations, all of which are subject to court review and congressional supervision. This is not to say that bullies do not get their way; they can. But bullies only get their way when others back down.

Trump’s recklessness can be checked in five ways.

First, the courts will scrutinize these poorly prepared and ill-considered executive orders; many will be quashed. The Muslim ban on entry to the United States is now on hold, perhaps never to be implemented. Every one of Trump’s early executive orders is likely to face court challenges and prolonged litigation.

Second, it will just take a few patriotic Republican senators joining with the Democrats to put a stop to Trump’s mad rush of recklessness. Will Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, Rob Portman, Lisa Murkowski, or Ron Paul, among others, really stand by if Trump acts recklessly brings us to the brink of nuclear war? Or would these and other senators allow the corruption and greed of the Senate to gut the Paris Climate Agreement? Of course, that’s possible, but these senators have children and grandchildren too, and most are not as stupid as their party’s official position on climate change.

Third, Trump is rapidly uniting the world — against the United States. Within just two weeks of office, Trump had the European Union president listing the Trump administration alongside Russia, China, and the Middle East as threats to the European Union. China’s President Xi Jinping has offered to take up the internationalist mantle that Trump is so eager to relinquish. Almost all of the world is also united in urging the handful of nuclear-weapons countries to honor their solemn obligations, under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to take concrete steps toward nuclear disarmament, and not to instigate a renewed and dangerous arms race.

Fourth, while consumers have little sway over nuclear weapons, they have considerable sway over climate change. America’s brand names need to be put on notice: If you cower to the Koch Brothers, American Petroleum Institute, and Chamber of Commerce, you will pay a price. General Electric, are you with us or against us on saving the planet? How about you, Pepsi, Walmart, IBM, Walt Disney, GM, and other companies on Trump’s “strategic and policy forum”? Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has already walked out of the forum because of Trump’s Muslim travel ban. For those who remain, the millennial generation of consumers will soon walk out on you if you are accomplices to Trump’s attempt to gut the treaty agreements restricting global warming and the domestic regulations to implement them.

Fifth, of course, is electoral politics. In moments of pessimism, it may seem that Trump will trample American democracy, thereby preventing a course correction in 2020 or earlier. Yet Trump is no Caesar or Augustus, and America is no republican Rome on the verge of succumbing to dictatorship. No doubt Trump can do great damage; our institutional checks and balances have been gravely weakened by decades of rule by the military-industrial-intelligence complex. Presidents indeed have the power to launch wars, even secret ones run by the CIA and special ops units that can kill vast numbers of innocents. Yet the first days of Trump’s mayhem show that the American people, and our political institutions, are not ready to accede to bullies. I’m counting on the millennials to lead the way.


Jeffrey D. Sachs is University Professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, and author of “The Age of Sustainable Development.”

What Trump Doesn’t Get About Nukes

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on February 12, 2017 at 11:05 pm

Will Trump come to his senses in time to avert an arms race and a nuclear war?

By Bruce Blair, Politico, February 11, 2017

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet premier, warned in an extraordinary article late last month that the “increasingly belligerent” tone of geopolitical debates looked to him “as if the world is preparing for war.” He urged the United Nations Security Council to “adopt a resolution stating that nuclear war is unacceptable and must never be fought.”

To almost everyone, this call from a far-sighted leader may seem self-evident, but what about President Donald Trump?

Trump has suggested he is willing to launch a new nuclear arms race, despite the costs and the risks. In his phone call with Vladimir Putin last month, Trump reportedly rebuffed the Russian president’s apparent offer to extend the New START agreement that otherwise expires in 2021. This extension was a key aim of President Barack Obama, whose administration negotiated the arms deal. It would enable the United States to continue to closely monitor Russia’s strategic nuclear deployments and prevent Russia from uploading huge numbers of warheads onto those forces. Without the extension, the U.S. intelligence community would need to spend billions of additional dollars to monitor Russia. And the uncertainty and unpredictability of each side’s deployments would likely spark a costly nuclear arms race and increase the instability of a nuclear crisis and the likelihood of nuclear conflict.

After reportedly checking with his advisers to learn what treaty Putin was talking about (the White House says he was asking for an opinion), Trump apparently told the Russian leader the entire agreement was just another bad deal signed by his predecessor, even though its provisions impose identical obligations on both sides, and even though it was supported by the U.S. Senate and all the key national security players, including the U.S. Strategic Command and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Instead of seizing upon a good offer (as well as an offer to convene talks on a range of other nuclear issues, including strategic stability, according to a former U.S. official familiar with the call) that would strengthen U.S. national security, Trump signaled a willingness to embark on an expensive, pointless new arms race that he boasts the United States would win.

This is a foolish, dangerous delusion. Trump seems to believe he can bend opponents to his will. And, although he evidently knows little about nuclear weapons, he seems to embrace the Dr. Strangelove view that they are for war-fighting and war-winning. During the presidential campaign, for instance, he refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons to fight the Islamic State, despite the absurdity of wielding them against a lightly armed terrorist group. Against a heavily armed nuclear state like Russia or China, the notion of nuclear war-fighting is beyond absurd. Once nuclear weapons are unleashed, a conflict would almost certainly escalate to all-out proportions and kill hundreds of millions of people.

Will Trump come to understand his folly in time to avert an arms race, a nuclear crisis and a nuclear war? His mindset recalls President Ronald Reagan, who also entered the White House intent on launching a nuclear buildup and believing that a nuclear war could be fought and won. Soon after taking office, Reagan signed a presidential directive calling upon the nuclear establishment to plan and prepare for prevailing in a nuclear conflict lasting as long as half a year.

Reagan intended to convince the Soviets that they would lose a nuclear war and therefore they had better not start one, but his aggressive rhetoric and nuclear build-up had the unintended effect of provoking the Soviets. The president was startled to learn from top secret reports based on intelligence from a KGB spy working for the British that the Soviet leadership so feared a U.S. nuclear first strike that it was seriously preparing to pre-emptively strike the United States. He also faced massive public pressure for a freeze on the arms race. Reagan quickly backpedaled. By the start of his second term, he sought arms-control talks with the Soviets and agreed with Gorbachev on the goal of banning nuclear weapons.

By then, Reagan and Gorbachev understood that the notion that a nuclear war can be fought and won is the height of self-delusion. The whole point of nuclear weapons, rather, is to deter their use. Believing a nuclear war can yield victory only creates incentives to strike first while inviting a breakdown of command and control and the abandonment of all restraint.

This still holds today. In the case of wars with Russia or China, escalation culminating in a civilization-ending nuclear exchange seems the most plausible outcome. Practically every U.S. nuclear force exercise involving a Russia scenario ends exactly this way—in a full-scale nuclear exchange that kills tens of millions of civilians.

Nuclear crises involving coercion and threats meant to subdue an adversary are likewise fraught. Bullying the other side in a nuclear confrontation might succeed, but it just as easily could provoke escalation to the brink of war and possibly beyond. The definitive study of the effectiveness of nuclear blackmail during the Cold War finds it had mixed results, even when the United States enjoyed overwhelming nuclear superiority. In some cases, the United States forced the Soviet Union or China to back down, but in others the threats were counter-productive. Hubris in this arena today, too, threatens to fuel escalation and yield a nuclear war instead of a diplomatic victory.

By the end of the Cold War, both the United States and Soviet Union had learned that arms races are expensive and dangerous. Far better to stave them off through mutual agreements based on equal security. Thousands of nuclear weapons on each side have been disarmed and dismantled since the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty 30 years ago.

Trump needs a crash course on the probable consequences of a nuclear exchange with our nuclear rivals, especially Russia because of its vast arsenal. His education should include a thorough repudiation of the delusion of U.S. nuclear primacy. No matter what armchair strategists may claim, U.S. strategic nuclear forces and missile defenses are not capable of blocking Russian retaliation to a U.S. first strike. Not by a long shot.

Even if the United States could surreptitiously raise its nuclear readiness to a war footing and launch a surprise, full-scale nuclear strike that caught Russia flat-footed, the U.S. would suffer massive casualties. At least 145 Russian warheads could be delivered by surviving Russian mobile nuclear missiles alone, according to a new study by Global Zero. If those missiles were allocated one to every American city with a population above 172,000, nearly 150 cities would be utterly destroyed in retaliation. Twenty-two million people would die.

Trump’s hometown would suffer the most. Nearly 2 million people would be killed by a single nuclear detonation above Times Square in New York City. His newly adopted home of Washington, D.C., would suffer more than half a million fatalities.

After Trump received the nuclear codes, he described the experience as “very sobering” and “a very, very scary thing.” He could offer proof by announcing, together with Putin, that “nuclear war is unacceptable and must never be fought.”

Bruce G. Blair is a nuclear security expert and a research scholar at the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton and the co-founder of Global Zero.

Pentagon Panel Urges Trump Team to Expand Nuclear Options — Report suggests ‘tailored nuclear option for limited use’

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on February 10, 2017 at 10:51 am

John M. Donnelly, Roll Call

A blue-ribbon Pentagon panel has urged the Trump administration to make the U.S. arsenal more capable of “limited” atomic war.

The Defense Science Board, in an unpublished December report obtained by CQ Roll Call, urges the president to consider altering existing and planned U.S. armaments to achieve a greater number of lower-yield weapons that could provide a “tailored nuclear option for limited use.”

The recommendation is more evolutionary than revolutionary, but it foreshadows a raging debate just over the horizon.
Fully one-third of the nuclear arsenal is already considered low-yield, defense analysts say, and almost all the newest warheads are being built with less destructive options. But experts on the Pentagon panel and elsewhere say the board’s goal is to further increase the number of smaller-scale nuclear weapons — and the ways they can be delivered — in order to deter adversaries, primarily Russia, from using nuclear weapons first.

Critics of such an expansion say that even these less explosive nuclear weapons, which pack only a fraction of the punch of the bombs America dropped on Japan in 1945, can still kill scores of thousands of people and lead to lasting environmental damage. They worry that expanding the inventory of lower-yield warheads — and the means for delivering them — could make atomic war more thinkable and could trigger a cycle of response from adversaries, possibly making nuclear conflict more likely. And, they say, such an expansion would cost a lot of money without necessarily increasing security.

The issue will gain greater prominence in the next several years as an up-to-$1 trillion update of the U.S. nuclear arsenal becomes the biggest Pentagon budget issue. That update, as now planned, mostly involves building new versions of the same submarines, bombers, missiles, bombs and warheads. Support for the modernization effort is bipartisan.

But any effort to create new weapons, or even to modify existing ones, in order to expand the arsenal of potentially usable nuclear weapons is likely to trigger opposition.

“There’s one role — and only one role — for nuclear weapons, and that’s deterrence. We cannot, must not, will not ever countenance their actual use,” said Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. “There’s no such thing as limited nuclear war, and for the Pentagon’s advisory board to even suggest such a thing is deeply troubling.”

“I have no doubt the proposal to research low-yield nuclear weapons is just the first step to actually building them,” she added. “I’ve fought against such reckless efforts in the past and will do so again, with every tool at my disposal.”
Conservatives on the congressional defense committees generally support exploring new nuclear options.

“We know from testimony that Russia, among others, are fielding new nuclear weapons with new capabilities for new employment doctrines,” said Alabama Republican Rep. Mike D. Rogers, the chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee. “We would be irresponsible not to evaluate what these developments mean for the U.S. and our modernization programs.”

Dustin Walker, a spokesman for Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, chairman of Senate Armed Services, said, “It has been the policy of Republican and Democratic presidents since the end of the Cold War to retain a range of nuclear capabilities, both in terms of explosive yield and method of delivery. Such a range of capabilities strengthens deterrence by signaling to potential adversaries that we can respond to a wide range of scenarios.”

Worries about Trump
The Defense Science Board’s nuclear recommendation is buried inside a report titled “Seven Defense Priorities for the New Administration,” which also addresses homeland security, protecting information systems and more. The board has made similar nuclear recommendations before, but the new report adds volume to a growing chorus of hawkish experts calling for a nuclear arsenal they say is more “discriminate.”

The board’s latest statement comes at a pivotal time because Trump rattled many Americans with comments during the campaign about nuclear weapons. He suggested that atomic arms might be an appropriate response to an Islamic State attack and that it’s good for a president to be “unpredictable” about nuclear weapons. He also said, referring to nuclear weapons in general, that “the power, the destruction is very important to me.”

Thirty-four former nuclear launch control officers wrote an open letter during the campaign arguing that Trump “should not have his finger on the button.” And lawmakers are weighing legislation this year that, for the first time, would give Congress, not just the president, authority to launch a nuclear first strike, though those bills’ chances of passing either chamber are scant.

Last month, Trump mandated a new “nuclear posture review,” an assessment of the way forward aimed at ensuring the U.S. nuclear deterrent. The memorandum contained echoes of the Defense Science Board’s language. Trump said the review would ensure a nuclear arsenal that is “modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st century threats and reassure our allies.”

Lawmakers from both parties said last week that the debate over more lower-yield warheads should be part of the upcoming review.

New forms of deterrence
The Defense Science Board’s position is that Russia, under Vladimir Putin, has threatened to use tactical nuclear weapons first in a war in order to deter the United States from further escalating the conflict — a posture Moscow calls “escalate to de-escalate.” China, North Korea, Iran and other potential foes may take a similar tack, this group of experts fears.

The concern is that enemies may not perceive America’s massive nuclear arsenal as a credible threat, because neither foes nor friends believe the U.S. would use it. Moreover, the group says, if countries such as South Korea and Japan don’t believe America’s nuclear umbrella will protect them, they may consider building their own atomic arsenals.

The hawks also say the U.S. military’s conventional firepower is not sufficient to deter or respond to a growing Russian and Chinese nuclear threat, because those countries’ increasingly long-range air defenses and missiles have neutered much of America’s conventional clout.

The U.S. military has significantly scaled back its inventory of low-yield nuclear weapons but still retains about 1,500, said Hans Kristensen, a nuclear arms expert with the Federation of American Scientists. The explosive energy of low-yield warheads is generally 10 kilotons or less, which is two-thirds the power of the Hiroshima bomb that killed perhaps 150,000 people.

All current and future low-yield U.S. weapons would be delivered by aircraft. But more options are needed, the nuclear advocates say. America’s ballistic missiles — both ground-based and submarine-launched — are not equipped to carry lower-yield nuclear warheads, nor are drones, experts say. Missiles might be able to reach targets faster and without getting anywhere near an enemy’s territory. And drones would not risk pilots’ lives and can fly for long periods of time.

“The world has moved on from Cold War deterrence concepts, but alas, the U.S. debate has not,” said William Schneider, a defense expert at the Hudson Institute think tank and a veteran member of the Defense Science Board.

Fears of expanded arms race
Those who oppose development or production of more small-scale nuclear weapons argue that U.S. conventional capabilities are unmatched. They also say there’s no reason to believe that Russia, for all its bluster, would go nuclear in a conflict, because it would never assume the United States wouldn’t respond either with overwhelming conventional force or nuclear weapons.

Moreover, they say, the United States has or will have plenty of lower-yield nuclear bombs to drop if necessary. And, they add, there are few scenarios in which missiles would be needed to deliver such warheads, because aircraft will suffice, particularly if they can launch atomic-tipped cruise missiles from long distances.

There are potentially serious disadvantages to expanding the lower-yield arsenal, the critics also contend.

First, there’s the cost — expected to be in the billions. Then there’s the concern that any such U.S. moves would be matched by Russia and China in a new low-yield arms race that would increase tensions and heighten the risk of deadly miscalculation. What’s more, these analysts say, the U.S. military would need to present the president with options for using these weapons in a crisis, and those options may prove attractive. That’s because the president might believe he could use these weapons without necessarily starting a global nuclear war.

Kingston Reif, an expert on atomic weaponry with the Arms Control Association, fears that proponents of expanding the number and variety of lower-yield nuclear weapons may get the upper hand in the Trump administration.

“The pursuit of new types of nuclear warheads for limited-use scenarios is strategically and technically unwise,” Reif said. “We should be looking to strengthen the dividing line between nuclear and conventional, not blurring that line.”

It’s fair to say that a new nuclear arms race is already underway. But questions remain as to whether it will expand, in what ways and how dangerously.

“This was a game we played during the Cold War, and it took us a while to get out of it,” said Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, referring to America’s reduced reliance on tactical nuclear weapons in the 1980s.

In 1993, Congress enacted legislation that would ban development of new types of nuclear weapons. That ban was overturned about a decade later. But the defense board report notes that neither the Pentagon nor the Energy Department has actually begun such development work. That could change soon, if only via modifications to existing warheads.


EXCLUSIVE-In call with Putin, Trump denounced Obama-era nuclear arms treaty – sources

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on February 10, 2017 at 8:51 am

by Reuters
Thursday, 9 February 2017 17:05 GMT
By Jonathan Landay and David Rohde

WASHINGTON, Feb 9 (Reuters) – In his first call as president with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump denounced a treaty that caps U.S. and Russian deployment of nuclear warheads as a bad deal for the United States, according to two U.S. officials and one former U.S. official with knowledge of the call.

When Putin raised the possibility of extending the 2010 treaty, known as New START, Trump paused to ask his aides in an aside what the treaty was, these sources said.

Trump then told Putin the treaty was one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration, saying that New START favored Russia. Trump also talked about his own popularity, the sources said.

The White House declined to comment. It referred Reuters to the official White House account issued after the Jan. 28 call, which did not mention the discussion about New START.

It has not been previously reported that Trump had conveyed his doubt about New START to Putin in the hour-long call.

New START gives both countries until February 2018 to reduce their deployed strategic nuclear warheads to no more than 1,550, the lowest level in decades. It also limits deployed land- and submarine-based missiles and nuclear-capable bombers.

During a debate in the 2016 presidential election, Trump said Russia had “outsmarted” the United States with the treaty, which he called “START-Up.” He asserted incorrectly then that it had allowed Russia to continue to produce nuclear warheads while the United States could not.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he supported the treaty during his Senate confirmation hearings.

During the hearings Tillerson said it was important for the United States to “stay engaged with Russia, hold them accountable to commitments made under the New START and also ensure our accountability as well.”

Two of the people who described the conversation were briefed by current administration officials who read detailed notes taken during the call. One of the two was shown portions of the notes. A third source was also briefed on the call.

Reuters has not reviewed the notes taken of the call, which are classified.

The Kremlin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


The phone call with Putin has added to concerns that Trump is not adequately prepared for discussions with foreign leaders.

Typically, before a telephone call with a foreign leader, a president receives a written in-depth briefing paper drafted by National Security Council staff after consultations with the relevant agencies, including the State Department, Pentagon and intelligence agencies, two former senior officials said.

Just before the call, the president also usually receives an oral “pre-briefing” from his national security adviser and top subject-matter aide, they said.

Trump did not receive a briefing from Russia experts with the NSC and intelligence agencies before the Putin call, two of the sources said. Reuters was unable to determine if Trump received a briefing from his national security adviser Michael Flynn.

In the phone call, the Russian leader raised the possibility of reviving talks on a range of disputes and suggested extending New START, the sources said.

New START can be extended for another five years, beyond 2021, by mutual agreement. Unless they agree to do that or negotiate new cuts, the world’s two biggest nuclear powers would be freed from the treaty’s limits, potentially setting the stage for a new arms race.

New START was ratified by the U.S. Senate in December 2010 by a vote of 71 to 26. Thirteen Republican senators joined all of the Senate’s Democrats in voting for the treaty, although Republican opponents derided it as naive.

The call with Putin was one of several with foreign leaders where Trump has turned to denounce deals negotiated by previous administrations on trade, acceptance of refugees and arms control.

In a phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Trump questioned an agreement reached by the Obama administration to accept 1,250 refugees now being held by Australia in offshore detention centers. (Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammad and John Walcott; Editing by John Walcott, Kevin Krolicki and Ross Colvin)

Flatlining: Exploring hidden toxic landscapes and the embodiment of contamination at Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, USA.

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Public Health, Workplace exposure on February 9, 2017 at 9:44 am

Stephanie Malin, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Colorado State University and Becky Alexis-Martin, Senior Research Fellow in Human Geography at The University of Southampton, February 8, 2017

Within the boundaries of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, black bears prowl, elk tussle, prairie dogs burrow and porcupines forage. A diverse array of wildlife, wedged between the cities of Boulder and Denver. Within this diverse habitat, small animals nestle into the grass and burrow into the dusty alluvial soil. Superficially, this site has been transformed from military industrial complex into an ordered wilderness. However, the heart of this refuge contains a burden of atomic mass, for this bleakly lovely space encircles a Superfund site with a startling and intrusive legacy of nuclear pollution. Welcome to Rocky Flats, a disquieting relic of the American military industrial complex.
Originally, Rocky Flats was occupied by swathes of pastoral farmland. It was selected for weapons manufacturing due to its underlying geological stability and its proximity to uranium sources and other nuclear installations, and was therefore purchased by the US Atomic Energy Committee. Beginning in 1952, Rocky Flats became an all-American home for manufacturing plutonium pits, which are the triggers that detonate nuclear weapons. Local residents were grateful to have well-paid jobs and production quietly ensued, the site itself wrapped in the furtiveness of Cold War industry. Within this culture of secrecy, little transgressions gradually emerged on-site at Rocky Flats. These grew in severity, and complete technological failure eventually occurred as human errors were silenced, accidents were hidden and toxicity was concealed.

Major fires occurred in 1957 and 1969, whilst unsealed barrels of radioactive waste leached and dispersed across the surrounding hinterland (Krey and Hardy, 1970). In 1972, US Congress authorised the purchase of a buffer zone of land around the site, when traces of plutonium and elevated levels of radioactive tritium were discovered within local reservoirs (Krey, 1976). Elevated levels of plutonium were identified within the topsoil beyond this zone, and so further land was purchased to expand this buffer zone. On-site regulation was used as a technology of control, to ensure that off-site contamination was never recognised.

Protests began when local residents became concerned about the safety of the facility. Activist mobilization escalated throughout the 1970s and 1980s, as several thousand people showed up to organized protests and sit-ins. Eventually, a large-scale protest occurred in August 1989, which attracted thousands of participants. This sustained public outcry was ignored by the nuclear sector. However, it was not possible to stifle the covert material that was provided by Rocky Flats workers to the Environmental Protection Agency, and a case was gradually built up through FBI agent Jon Lipsky’s extensive work with informants. The whistleblowing reached an apogee by June 6th 1989. Operation Desert Glow was implemented by the US Department of Justice to investigate the Rocky Flats plant. This raid issued a search warrant to the manager of Rocky Flats, and led to the discovery of multiple toxic violations of anti-pollution legislation.

An array of contaminants has been discovered at the Rocky Flats site, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chromic acid, beryllium and radionuclides. Whilst chromium metal has little toxicity, chromic acid and similar hexavalent chromium compounds are both toxic and mutagenic (Barnhart, 1997; Baruthio, 1992). Symptoms of human exposure to hexavalent chromium can include: dermatitis, allergic and eczematous skin reactions, skin and mucous membrane ulcerations, allergic asthmatic reactions, bronchial carcinomas, and gastro-enteritis (Baruthio, 1992). Hexavalent chromium compounds also have ecological impacts, due to toxicity to plant life (Singh et al., 2013). Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are organochlorine compounds, and also have detrimental environmental and human health effects (Robertson and Hansen, 2015, Longnecker et al., 1997). PCB compounds are toxic and can cause abnormalities of liver function; skin and the nervous system; neonatal hypotonia or hyporeflexia; and increase the likelihood of exposed persons developing cancer. The detrimental effects of heavy radionuclides, including isotopes of plutonium, americium and curium, are also well documented within medical and environmental literature (Bair, 1974, Nénot and Stather, 2013, Newman, 2014). This includes genotoxic and stochastic effects that can increase the likelihood of the development of solid body tumours and blood cancers (Durakovic, 2016).
Unfortunately, it is not possible to access the final records of contamination for Rocky Flats. Like other places that have been squatted by the Cold War military-industrial complex, there is a notable absence of publically available information that documents the exact times, quantities and conditions of contaminant release. Even when the first special Grand Jury in Colorado’s history was convened in 1989 to hear the post-raid federal case against Rocky Flats’ corporate facility operators, Rockwell, the company paid fines amounting to less than they had earned in federal bonuses for operating the plant. The Grand Jury itself contested the trial and sentencing outcomes and felt that their recommendations had been illegally ignored (McKinley and Balkany 2004).

Rocky Flats has received relatively little international attention as a significant place of atomic and industrial toxicity. Somehow, its messy atomic history has been redacted, swallowed up alongside that of many other military nuclear installations and laboratories worldwide. Whilst the wildlife flourishes across Rocky Flats, despite a legacy of contamination, the local communities suffer invisibly.

A contaminated community?

Tiffany Hansen is a member of the down-winder community and founder of Rocky Flats Downwinders. She grew up in the shadow of the Rocky Flats plant. She remembers her father and brother working there. However, Tiffany did not realise the nuclear and covert nature of manufacturing, the military significance of the work that was undertaken, or the potential health effects that surrounded the site. She remained unaware of these risks until she developed ovarian and thyroid cancers as a young woman, and became acutely aware that her experience was not unique. She soon began organizing a community of people impacted by potential environmental health impacts of living near Rocky Flats. As Tiffany explains:

“It was a challenge to connect with former residents, there was no support, the research available was limited and difficult to find, and there was no organized advocacy… Since launching our website in 2015, I have heard from thousands of people, many like myself, who felt there was a strong connection between our health problems and the close proximity to the facility… I hear from people whose entire families are sickened, many lost loved ones, others are fighting or lost the fight for their lives.”
Tiffany’s observations echo the contested yet compelling evidence of cancers associated with toxic exposure, clustered within the communities that surround the site. These communities are the embodiment of their experiences of exposure (Brown, 2016).

It is challenging to design statistically significant epidemiological studies of the health effects of long-term, low-level toxic exposure to local communities due to confounding lifestyle factors, a neoliberalized, privatized healthcare system that cannot provide answers, and the economic migration of populations away from the plant after its closure. Whilst occupational health studies of exposure to Rocky Flats employees exist, they do not reflect community health, especially that of local women and children (Gilbert et al., 1989, Viet et al., 2000, Brown et al., 2004). Further, broader environmental and community health concerns highlight the related losses of livelihood, contamination concerns, anxieties, and somatic conditions associated with trauma such as those experienced by residents around Rocky Flats, steeped in uncertainty.

Thus, public health risks remain stressfully uncertain and undefined. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recently released a study showing elevated rates of certain cancers in the communities surrounding Rocky Flats, but without the community-based component that people have requested. The study did not examine cancers such as thyroid, despite community-based requests to do so, and some critics assert that the agency works with large state-wide samples that dilute evidence of cancer clusters and hot spots due to the chosen methodological approach.

Access to information about the site has been difficult to acquire – particularly for people moving in to new homes on and around the former plant grounds. To some, this is the most significant concern. Dedicated community activist, Alesya Casse, who co-founded the group Candelas Glows, leads actions and community meetings to educate the community and speaks regularly about keeping new construction and the public off of the site and the Wildlife Refuge. Casse states:

“It’s disheartening to see government agencies continue with their legacy of turning ‘weapons into wildlife’ in the face of community opposition and concern. People have a right to know the history of the area and to make informed decisions for themselves and their families. What happened at Rocky Flats is both tragic and unfortunately common, but we have an opportunity to make it right by informing the public of the risks and doing comprehensive testing to address ongoing concerns and questions that continue to arise.”

The future is unwritten

It has been 28 years since the FBI first raided Rocky Flats, and eleven years since the US Environmental Protection Agency announced the completion of on-site remediation activities. Whilst some of its clandestine toxic secrets have been unveiled, many mysteries still surround the on-going and long-term effects of this multi-contaminant environmental and social disaster. It is impossible to say what the future holds for the local community of Rocky Flats in the face of landscape regeneration, contested diagnoses, unmedicalised conditions, and denial of people’s experiences. Importantly, the long-term outcomes for this community could still yet be affected by the presidency of Donald Trump, as he has already called for sites such as Rocky Flats to be repurposed yet again as repositories for nuclear waste or even revitalized nuclear production.

In response, collaborative social science and public health research by Metropolitan State University and Colorado State University aims to discern the social and cultural impacts to health of being a Rocky Flats downwinder. Already, the health survey component of this study has found that 46% of the reported cancers are defined as ‘rare’ and are often directly related to radiation exposure. Whilst we cannot anticipate if this unique community will ever truly gain environmental or social justice, we continue to develop our understanding of the significant influence that nuclear accidents and nuclear defence has had upon their lives. In the meantime, the Rocky Flats downwinders continue to exist, without a true understanding of the future implications of their toxic fate.


BAIR, W. J. 1974. Toxicology of plutonium. Advances in radiation biology, 4.

BARNHART, J. 1997. Chromium chemistry and implications for environmental fate and toxicity. Soil and Sediment Contamination, 6, 561-568.

BARUTHIO, F. 1992. Toxic effects of chromium and its compounds. Biological trace element research, 32, 145-153.

BROWN, K. 2016. The Last Sink: The Human Body as the Ultimate Radioactive Storage Site. Mauch, Christof (Hg.), Out of Sight, Out of Mind. The Politics and Culture of Waste, RCC Perspectives, München, 41-47.

BROWN, K. L. 2013. Plutopia: Nuclear families, atomic cities, and the great soviet and American plutonium disasters, Oxford University Press, USA.

BROWN, S. C., SCHONBECK, M. F., MCCLURE, D., BARÓN, A. E., NAVIDI, W. C., BYERS, T. & RUTTENBER, A. J. 2004. Lung cancer and internal lung doses among plutonium workers at the Rocky Flats Plant: a case-control study. American journal of epidemiology, 160, 163-172.

DURAKOVIC, A. 2016. Medical effects of internal contamination with actinides: further controversy on depleted uranium and radioactive warfare. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 21, 111-117.

GILBERT, E. S., FRY, S. A., WIGGS, L. D., VOELZ, G. L., CRAGLE, D. L. & PETERSEN, G. R. 1989. Analyses of combined mortality data on workers at the Hanford site, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant. Radiation research, 120, 19-35.

KREY, P. W. 1976. Remote plutonium contamination and total inventories from Rocky Flats. Health Physics, 30, 209-214.

KREY, P. W. & HARDY, E. P. 1970. PLUTONIUM IN SOIL AROUND THE ROCKY FLATS PLANT. New York Operations Office (AEC), NY Health and Safety Lab.

LONGNECKER, M. P., ROGAN, W. J. & LUCIER, G. 1997. The human health effects of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and an overview of organochlorines in public health 1. Annual review of public health, 18, 211-244.

MALIN, S. A. 2015. The Price of Nuclear Power: Uranium Communities and Environmental Justice, Rutgers University Press.

NÉNOT, J.-C. & STATHER, J. W. 2013. The Toxicity of Plutonium, Americium and Curium: A Report Prepared Under Contract for the Commission of the European Communities Within Its Research and Development Programme on Plutonium Recycling in Light Water Reactors, Elsevier.

NEWMAN, M. C. 2014. Fundamentals of ecotoxicology: the science of pollution, CRC press.

ROBERTSON, L. W. & HANSEN, L. G. 2015. PCBs: recent advances in environmental toxicology and health effects, University Press of Kentucky.

SINGH, H. P., MAHAJAN, P., KAUR, S., BATISH, D. R. & KOHLI, R. K. 2013. Chromium toxicity and tolerance in plants. Environmental chemistry letters, 11, 229-254.

VIET, S. M., TORMA-KRAJEWSKI, J. & ROGERS, J. 2000. Chronic beryllium disease and beryllium sensitization at Rocky Flats: a case-control study. AIHAJ-American Industrial Hygiene Association, 61, 244-254.

Should Trump have sole authority to use nukes?

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on February 9, 2017 at 7:45 am
    On Jan. 20, President Donald Trump got the keys to the U.S. nuclear arsenal, the most deadly killing machine ever created. The President said it was “a very sobering moment, yes. It’s very, very scary, in a sense.”

    President Trump now has the same frightening power as all presidents since Eisenhower. President Richard Nixon boasted in 1974: “I can go back into my office and pick up the telephone and in 25 minutes 70 million people will be dead.”

    Within minutes, President Trump could unleash up to 1,000 nuclear weapons, each one many times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. Short of mutiny, no one can stop him. Once launched, the missiles cannot be recalled.
    But never before have so many openly questioned the authority of the commander-in-chief to have his finger on the nuclear button. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said we simply could not give “the nuclear codes of the United States to an erratic individual.” President Barack Obama “still doesn’t think Donald Trump can handle the nuclear codes or safely protect America from attack.”

    Adding to this unease, Trump tweeted recently that the United States “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability” and reportedly said, “Let it be an arms race … we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

    Many would say that Trump should be the last person to entrust with the authority to launch nuclear weapons. In fact, he is the only one that is.

    The reality is that when it comes to using the bomb, the president has almost complete autonomy with no institutional checks and balances. There are no interagency meetings, congressional hearings, Supreme Court decisions, or UN votes. As Bruce Blair, a former Air Force nuclear missile launch officer, has said, “the presidency has evolved into something akin to a nuclear monarchy.”

    Yes, there are many systems in place to prevent nuclear weapons from being launched by an unauthorized person or by accident. But currently there is no way to prevent a president from starting nuclear war.

    How can we remedy this situation? It is long past time to bring democracy to decisions about the bomb. It no longer makes sense, it if ever did, to have so much power in the hands of one person. It is just too dangerous.

    For decades, Americans have ceded the authority to start a nuclear war to a single person. Congress has no voice in the most important decision the United States government can make. As it stands now, Congress has a larger role in deciding on the number of military bands than in initiating nuclear catastrophe. This situation completely contradicts the checks and balances created by the U.S. Constitution.

    Even though they could not imagine the dangers of nuclear war, the Framers of the Constitution understood the dangers of tyranny and gave the power to declare war to Congress—not to the President. With British rule fresh in their minds, they believed that ceding such power to the executive would result in a state of perpetual conflict, and that the only way to check that power was citizen participation in any decision to go to war.

    “Our Founding Fathers would be rolling over in their graves if they knew the President could launch a massive, potentially civilization-ending military strike without authorization from Congress,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said last year.

    On Jan. 24, Rep. Lieu and Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a bill that would prohibit the president from launching nuclear weapons without a declaration of war from Congress, except in response to a nuclear attack. The bill would effectively block the president from using nuclear weapons first in a crisis, without authorization from the people’s elected representatives.

    Some might argue that Congress would never provide this authority, and thus the president could never use nuclear weapons first. Fine. As then-Vice President Biden announced Jan. 11, “it’s hard to envision a plausible scenario in which the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States would be necessary. Or make sense.”

    And as Sen. Markey said recently, “Neither President Trump, nor any other president, should be allowed to use nuclear weapons except in response to a nuclear attack. By restricting the first use of nuclear weapons, this legislation enshrines that simple principle into law.”

    Without congressional deliberation and citizen participation in the gravest decisions of life and death, our democracy is greatly diminished. Citizens are treated as children who don’t deserve a voice in how our country’s nuclear weapons are deployed. That is not how the world’s greatest democracy should work.

    Congress must end the nuclear monarchy, exercise its constitutional responsibility and demand its rightful role in nuclear weapons policymaking. The likely outcome is a greatly reduced chance that any president, including President Trump, would push the button. The certain outcome is a restoration of our democratic institutions.

    Kennette Benedict is Senior Advisor at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and Tom Z. Collina is Director of Policy at Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation in Washington, D.C. Benedict contributed to and Collina edited the recent Ploughshares report, Ten Big Nuclear Ideas for the Next President.

A Way Forward for Trump’s Mixed Nuclear Message

In Democracy, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on February 8, 2017 at 10:58 pm

By James E. Doyle, The National Interest, February 2, 2017

On December 22, 2016 Donald Trump tweeted “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” On January 15, 2017 he stated in an interview with British and German journalists “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially.” He floated the idea that Russia might join the U.S. in negotiating reductions to nuclear forces in exchange for sanction relief. These contrasting statements appear to purposely shroud the negotiating hand of the President Trump when it comes to nuclear weapons.

But very soon the Trump Administration must adopt some policy objectives and begin taking actions to achieve them. It is likely that Trump wants it both ways, to modernize aging U.S. nuclear forces and reduce their size, a reasonable goal consistent with the desires of all past U.S. administrations since the end of the Cold War. Whichever way Trump trends on nuclear issues he will face formidable challenges.
With respect to strengthening and expanding U.S. nuclear forces the biggest obstacles are cost and the likely reactions of America’s nuclear rivals. Current U.S. plans call for replacing or updating the full triad of nuclear weapons (bombers, submarines and missiles) at a cost of more that $1 trillion over the next 30 years. This plan will strain defense budgets and reduce funding available for other national security imperatives such as naval shipbuilding, conventional force modernization, cybersecurity and counterterrorism. It will also create incentives for Russia and China to strengthen and expand their own nuclear forces. Negotiating reductions to the size of future U.S. nuclear forces could ease these fiscal pressures and add stability to major power nuclear competition, benefitting all sides.

Achieving this foreign policy outcome will be difficult. The Obama administration tried for years to get Russia back to the table on nuclear arms following the 2010 New Start Treaty. While the U.S. was open to greater cuts in strategic nuclear arms, it also wanted reductions to non-strategic or tactical nuclear forces of shorter ranges, a category of weapons in which Russia maintains a large numerical advantage over the U.S and its NATO allies.

Russia’s demands for such reductions have simply been to onerous, or politically impossible to meet. For example, Moscow has claimed that other nuclear nations such as China (and perhaps Britain and France) must join the negotiations on nuclear arms, that U.S. missile defense plans must be scaled back and that advanced conventions weapons must also be part of the deal. It also consistently declared that further reductions were impossible unless U.S. nuclear weapons were withdrawn from NATO bases in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey. Such complex conditions excluded the chances of diplomatic progress with the Obama Administration.

Now President Trump wants to improve the strategic relationship with Russia and there is a chance that a simplified nuclear deal could be struck with a more flexible Russia that benefits all parties. First, Russia must drop the condition that a new treaty directly covers the nuclear forces of third parties. The United States and Russia maintain nuclear arsenals much larger than any other nation and between them possess more than 90% of all nuclear weapons in the world. Bringing other states into the nuclear reduction process can await a final round of bilateral U.S.-Russian cuts.

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Defense concluded that the deterrence needs of America and its allies could be met with an arsenal of 1,100 strategic nuclear weapons or less, roughly a one-third reduction from the limits set by the New Start Treaty. Such limits could be acceptable, even desirable for Russia, which faces its own fiscal constraints for nuclear modernization. A deal could be struck along these lines, especially if both sides committed to improved relations and pledged not to undermine a lower strategic nuclear balance.

Second, the Trump Administration must convince NATO to put U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe on the negotiating table. With terrorism on the rise in Turkey, Belgium, Germany and elsewhere in Europe the U.S. nuclear weapons stationed with NATO present far more risk than benefit to the alliance. Moscow may be willing to make nuclear concessions of its own for their removal. These should include a pledge to abide by the 1987 INF Treaty, verifiably cease its development of ground-launched nuclear cruise missiles, reduce its inventory of tactical nuclear weapons and pledge never to deploy them in Crimea or Kalinigrad.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on January 16 that a new dialogue on nuclear reductions could also cover future development of hypersonic weapons, U.S. missile defenses in Europe, space weapons and nuclear testing. Again, these are complex conditions and the devil is in the details, but some of these goals could also serve U.S. and NATO interests, especially the entry into force of the CTBT signed decades ago by both nations and already ratified by Russia.

Japanese nuclear plant just recorded an astronomical radiation level. Should we be worried?

In Cost, Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Public Health on February 8, 2017 at 10:50 pm

By Anna Fifield and Yuki Oda, Washington Post, February 8, 2017

TOKYO — The utility company that operated the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan — the one that went into triple meltdown after the enormous 2011 earthquake and tsunami — has released some jaw-dropping figures.

The radiation level in the containment vessel of reactor 2 has reached as high as 530 sieverts per hour, Tokyo Electric Power Co. — or Tepco, as it’s known — said last week. This far exceeds the previous high of 73 sieverts per hour recorded at the reactor following the March 2011 disaster.

That was the world’s worst nuclear disaster since the one at Chernobyl, in Ukraine, in 1986. Almost 16,000 people were killed along Japan’s northeastern coast in the tsunami, and 160,000 more lost their homes and livelihoods. The cleanup is taking much longer than expected.
At this level of radioactivity, a person could die from the briefest of exposures.

Tepco recorded the radiation near the reactor core, suggesting that some melted fuel had escaped, using a long, remote-controlled camera and radiation measurement device. It was the first time this kind of device has been able to get into this part of the reactor. There it found a three-foot-wide hole in a metal grate in the reactor’s primary containment vessel.

So, how dangerous is this?

At this level of radiation, a robot would be able to operate for less than two hours before it was destroyed, Tepco said.

And Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences said medical professionals had never even thought about encountering this level of radiation in their work.

According to the Kyodo news agency, the institute estimates that exposure to one sievert of radiation could lead to infertility, loss of hair and cataracts, while four sieverts would kill half the people exposed to it.

This measuring device hasn’t even gone into reactors 1 and 3 yet — that’s still in the works.

Robot explores damaged nuclear plant reactor in Japan Embed Share Play Video
Plant operators for Tokyo Electric Power company used a small cable-operated robot to film inside a damaged reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. (Reuters)
So should the people who live in Japan, who live on the Pacific basin be freaking out?

Not yet, some analysts say.

Although the radiation level is “astoundingly high,” says Azby Brown of Safecast, a citizen science organization that monitors radiation levels, it doesn’t necessarily signify any alarming change in radiation levels at Fukushima. It’s simply the first time they have been measured that far inside the reactor.

Here’s what Brown wrote on Safecast’s website:

It must be stressed that radiation in this area has not been measured before, and it was expected to be extremely high. While 530 Sv/hr is the highest measured so far at Fukushima Daiichi, it does not mean that levels there are rising, but that a previously unmeasurable high-radiation area has finally been measured. Similar remote investigations are being planned for Daiichi Units 1 and 3. We should not be surprised if even higher radiation levels are found there, but only actual measurements will tell.

Hiroshi Miyano, nuclear expert and visiting professor at Hosei University, also warned against overreacting. He said the radiation reading might not be particularly reliable since it was only an estimation based on the image analysis. (Tepco said there was a margin of error of 30 percent.)

“It’s not something new to worry about,” he said, although he added that it underscored how difficult the next steps would be.

But some think there is cause for concern.

Fumiya Tanabe, nuclear safety expert and former chief research scientist at the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute, said while experts expected the radiation reading inside the Daiichi reactors to be high, it was still “shocking” to learn how high it was six years on.

“It will be very difficult to operate robots in there for a long time to come, and to remove the melted fuel. So the finding might greatly affect the decommissioning time schedule,” he said.

Tepco had been hoping to start taking out the fuel out in 2021.

Japan now estimates Fukushima nuclear cleanup cost at $180 billion Embed Share Play Video0:54
Japan’s trade ministry has almost doubled the estimated cost of compensation for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and decommissioning of the damaged Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant to more than 20 trillion yen. (Reuters)
Could the radiation level be even higher?

Possibly. The 530 sievert reading was recorded some distance from the melted fuel, so in reality it could be 10 times higher than recorded, said Hideyuki Ban, co-director of Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center.

He agreed with Tanabe, saying that the findings underscore how difficult the decommissioning process will be.

“It definitely shows the path towards decommissioning will be very difficult, and the time frame to start taking out the fuel in 2021 will most likely be delayed as more investigations will be necessary,” Ban said.

Still, he cautioned against overreacting, saying, like Brown, that Tepco had simply not been able to measure this close to the fuel before.

So what does this news portend?

Tanabe said that the level of the reading should give pause to proponents of nuclear power in Japan, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been pushing to restart reactors shut down after the 2011 disaster.

“It’s unbelievable that anyone would want to restart nuclear plants when Japan hasn’t learned how and why the Fukushima Daiichi accident happened, or learned lessons from it,” he said.
Indeed, Ai Kashiwagi, an energy campaigner at Greenpeace Japan, said the findings showed how little the government and Tepco knew about what was happening inside the reaction.

“The prime minister said everything was under control and has been pushing to restart nuclear plants, but no one knew the actual state of the plant and more serious facts could come out in the future,” she said. “It’s important to keep an eye on radiation-monitoring data and how Tepco’s investigations go.”

Anna Fifield is The Post’s bureau chief in Tokyo, focusing on Japan and the Koreas. She previously reported for the Financial Times from Washington DC, Seoul, Sydney, London and from across the Middle East.

Welcome to America’s ‘Nuclear Sponge’

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on February 7, 2017 at 10:45 pm

By Ton Z. Collina, Defense One, Feb. 3, 2017

If ICBMs are meant to draw enemy missiles toward American soil, it’s time to rethink our nuclear strategy.

The United States currently deploys hundreds of nuclear missiles across Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming. Each missile carries a nuclear payload many times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, capable of killing hundreds of thousands of people. The Pentagon is now planning to build a new, deadlier generation of these missiles, which are housed in underground silos.

But these intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, are not meant to be launched, ever. Not even in a nuclear war. Their primary mission is to be destroyed in the ground, along with all the people that live anywhere near them. Their main purpose is to “absorb” a nuclear attack from Russia, acting as a giant “nuclear sponge.” Such is the twisted logic of atomic warfare.

But it never made sense to draw a nuclear attack toward the United States, rather than away from it. Even during the Cold War, analysts challenged this plan, claiming it was “madness to use United States real estate as ‘a great sponge to absorb’ Soviet nuclear weapons.”

Yet the nuclear sponge is still with us. Not only that, the Trump administration is planning to spend $100 billion to do it all over again.

Newly minted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis defended the ICBM and the nuclear sponge mission, although he did not call it that. Testifying before the Senate on Jan. 12, Mattis said, “It’s clear they are so buried out in the central U.S. that any enemy that wants to take us on is going to have to commit two, three, four weapons to make sure they take each one out. In other words, the ICBM force provides a cost-imposing strategy on an adversary.”

And: Despite Objections, Pentagon Takes Step Toward Buying New Nuclear Weapons

Cost-imposing for whom? Yes, attacking U.S. ICBMs would be very costly for Russia, mainly because the United States would retaliate with hundreds of nuclear weapons launched from submarines at sea. But what about the costs to Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming? Of course we want to prevent nuclear war, but do we need to throw the upper Midwest under the bus to do it?

No, we do not. In fact, the five ICBM states and the entire country would be better off if we did not have ICBMs at all. They are expensive, redundant, and above all, dangerous.

The United States can safely phase out the existing ICBMs without replacing them. This would save a boatload of money and take the missile states out of the crosshairs. And, as former Defense Secretary Bill Perry has written, it would also address the concern that ICBMs “could trigger an accidental nuclear war.”

Last year, before he became defense secretary, Mattis asked if it was time to remove the land-based missiles, as “This would reduce the false alarm danger.”

What are Perry and Mattis talking about? Nothing less than a nuclear nightmare, in which atomic weapons are used by mistake.

U.S. land-based missiles are highly vulnerable. They sit out in the open and everyone, including Vladimir Putin, knows exactly where they are. So if Russia attacks them (no other country could), President Trump has only two options: launch the missiles before the attack arrives (and destroy Russia), or wait and let them be destroyed in the ground. Either way, Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming are toast.

But here is the rub: President Trump would have about 10 minutes to make this fate-of-the-world decision. And the only sane decision is not to launch. Why? Because there is no way to know for sure (and you want to be sure) that the feared Russian attack is real.

There have been at least three false alarms in the United States that could have led to a mistaken nuclear war. Forty years ago, Perry himself was awakened in the middle of the night and told that Pentagon computers were showing 200 ICBMs on their way from the Soviet Union. Luckily, it was not the end of the world, but just a computer glitch.

How would President Trump respond if he were told at 3 a.m. that hundreds of Russian nuclear missiles were landing in minutes? Would he have the temperament to realize that it could be a false alarm, or would he impulsively launch a counter attack? No one else has the authority to make this call, and once the missiles fly they cannot be called back.

It is shocking that senior officials in the nuclear weapons business do not take the risk of false alarms seriously. They reassure us that the chance of a false alarm is “at an all-time low” and that “the statistical probability that the United States would launch ICBMs as a result of a false alarm is close to zero.” Such language is dangerously irresponsible. One can imagine the same bromides being used before the Titanic sank or the Space Shuttle exploded.

The honest truth is that the probability is low but not zero. And the consequences would be astronomical. When it comes to nuclear weapons, it only takes one. Human errors and machine errors do occur. It is only a matter of time before the odds add up to a catastrophic failure. As Perry writes, “we do not have to take that terrible risk anymore. We should not rebuild our ICBM arsenal.”

Moreover, ICBMs are redundant. The United States is rebuilding its nuclear-armed submarines that can hide under the oceans, able to survive a Russian nuclear attack. That is all we need to keep Moscow in check. In the unlikely event that new threats emerge that could put the subs at risk, the Air Force is rebuilding the insurance policy: nuclear-capable bombers. The ICBMs are an extra insurance policy that we can do without.

Which brings us back to Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming. There is no good reason why these fine states should have a larger nuclear target on them than other states. It’s time to get rid of ICBMs, and throw away the nuclear sponge.


Tom Z. Collina is the policy director for Ploughshares Fund.