Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Measuring progress on securing nuclear weapon-usable material

In his op-ed Thwarting Terrorists: More to Be Done appearing today’s Washington Post, Dr. Matthew Bunn, Senior Research Associate in the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and also Member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, announces the publication of his annual report Securing the Bomb 2007.

He notes in the op-ed that:

-“While this is a global threat, Russia, Pakistan and research reactors using
fuel made from highly enriched uranium pose the most urgent dangers of nuclear
-“Roughly 140 research reactors fueled by highly enriched uranium exist in dozens of countries -- some of them on university campuses -- and many have only modest security measures in place.”
-While “U.S.-funded security upgrades have been completed for more than half of the Russian buildings with potential bomb material and more than half of Russia's warhead sites…there is still a dangerous gap between the urgency of the threat and the scope and pace of the U.S. and international response. No binding global nuclear security standards are in place. Many nuclear facilities around the world do not have
security measures that could protect against demonstrated terrorist and criminal
-“Only about a quarter of the world's HEU-fueled research
reactors have had all their highly enriched uranium removed, leaving a major gap
to be closed.”

Bunn’s recommendations include:
-"We urgently need a high-priority global campaign to make sure every nuclear
weapon and every significant cache of potential bomb material is locked
-"We need to forge effective global nuclear security standards."
-"We need stronger efforts to get countries to sustain upgraded security for the long
haul, and to help those individuals who work with nuclear materials to understand that corners can never be cut on security."
-"And we need to expand efforts to completely remove nuclear weapons and potential nuclear bomb material from as many facilities worldwide as possible."
-"To get all this done, President Bush should appoint a senior White House official to take full-time responsibility for policing these efforts, overcoming the obstacles to progress, and keeping the issue a priority at the White House."

Friday, September 21, 2007

One step forward, two steps back

Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman announced this week at the International Atomic Energy Agency that the United States would declare another 9 metric tons of plutonium as excess material, “enough to make over 1,000 nuclear weapons.” The material from dismantled nuclear weapons will be removed over “the coming decades” and will be used to make mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel at the controversial MOX facility in Savannah River, South Carolina.

These 9 MT will be added to the 45 MT tons of plutonium that the United States has declared excess material (34 MT of which is already slated for fuel fabrication at the Savannah River Site [SRS]).

While this announcement is a useful step in further reducing the amount of excess plutonium and furthering the objectives of Article VI of the NPT, Secretary Bodman in the same breath touted the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) which has been one of the Bush Administration’s top energy and foreign policy priorities. The GNEP program would resume commercial spent fuel reprocessing in the United States, separating out tens of metric tons of weapons-usable material per year. The United Kingdom for example has a stockpile of over 100 MT of plutonium as a result of thirty years of reprocessing, and France has accumulated about 80 MT.

Reprocessing is not a necessary part of the fuel cycle, and unnecessarily producing weapons-usable material undermines U.S. efforts to convince other states not to engage in plutonium reprocessing. Another proliferation concern is that reprocessing would create additional stockpiles of plutonium or a plutonium mix that might be diverted by terrorists. In fact, due to proliferation risks and costs, the United States has not reprocessed spent fuel from commercial power plants for over thirty years, when President Ford and then President Carter stopped U.S. commercial reprocessing after India diverted reprocessed plutonium for its first nuclear explosive test in 1974.

So far, the Department of Energy will not make the commitment that the material extracted from nuclear waste will not be weapons-usable.

So while we should celebrate the declaration of additional excess plutonium, it is difficult to ignore that at the same time as Secretary Bodman defends U.S. contribution to non-proliferation, he is promoting the expansion of Department of Energy’s GNEP efforts that will lead to a new plutonium economy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Norwegian Leadership toward a Nuclear Weapon Free World

"Nuclear proliferation is not yesterday's news," Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told an audience organized by the Norwegian Red Cross, "it's a burning question for both today and the future,” Aftenpoften reported today.

The Foreign Minister’s remarks celebrated the 10th anniversary of the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer or Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, also known as the Ottawa Treaty. Recalling complex and stalled efforts to regulate landmines, Foreign Minister Støre observed that:

“The Ottawa process turned these dynamics upside down. Instead of a ‘race to the bottom,’ the participants found themselves in a process where they were constantly being challenged by civil society actors – not on the streets, but in conference halls, at roundtables, in the day-to-day negotiations.”

The Foreign Minister discussed landmines, small arms, and cluster munitions, but expanded significantly on the potential to bring more international voices into the nuclear disarmament discussion:

“In the field of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, Norway is leading a seven-nation initiative to bring states together, on a cross-regional basis, to deal with common challenges. All stakeholders are needed, and in this particular process we have succeeded in mobilising the UK - a nuclear-weapon state - and South Africa - a member of the Non-Aligned Movement.”
Could this effort grow into an “Oslo Process,” broadly engaging global civil society in an effort to promote prudent and verifiable progress toward a world free of nuclear weapons? Many important building blocks of such an effort are already in place or under development, including the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the Campaign for a Nuclear Weapon Free World, the call for a 2010 World Summit to eliminate nuclear weapons, the Mayors for Peace Program to Promote Solidarity of Cities Toward the Total Abolition of Nuclear Weapons, the Middle Powers Initiative, the New Agenda Coalition, former Senator Sam Nunn’s vision of “The Mountaintop,” and, of course, the stunningly progressive “Hoover Plan” articulated in a January 4, 2007 Wall Street Journal op-ed by George Schultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Jimmy Carter in Defense of Arms Control

In a September 12, 2007 article in the Taipei Times titled, “Nuclear Steps Undermine Peace,” former President Jimmy Carter argues “By abandoning many of the nuclear arms agreements negotiated in the last 50 years, the US has been sending mixed signals to North Korea, Iran and other states with the technical knowledge to create nuclear weapons.”

Senator Roche on the Need for Resilience on the Path to a Nuclear Weapon Free World

This weekend, former Canadian Senator Douglas Roche, OC, who advises the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations on issues related to nuclear disarmament, made a stand out presentation to a conference co-hosted by the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

He encouraged listeners to recover the absolute horror of the subject of the use of nuclear weapons and to awaken to the fact that half of the world’s population lives in a nuclear weapon state and that $12 trillion has been spent on nuclear weapons. He called for new resilience in response to nuclear dangers, observing a paradox of momentum and indifference with regard to these dangers, emphasizing that “by adopting a resilient attitude we can withstand the power politics that force nuclear weapons upon us.” Recalling the Hibakushas’ warning that “no one else should suffer as we did,” he held out hope that an emerging global consciousness would subvert the temptation to rely on threats of indiscriminate mass destruction.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Three Cheers for the Dominican Republic!

The Associated Press reports (and the website of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization [CTBTO] confirms) that the Dominican Republic has ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, becoming the 140th state to have done so. This is particularly great news two weeks ahead of the Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the CTBT (also called Article XIV Conference, which will take place from 17 to18 September 2007 in Vienna, Austria).

Six months ago, the Committee on Hemispheric Security of the Organization of American States held a special meeting celebrating the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Tlatelolco. The Dominican Republic was represented at this meeting commemorating the establishment of the first nuclear weapon-free zone in a populated region. CTBTO Executive Secretary Tibor Tóth, Randy Rydell of the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, President of the Global Security Institute Jonathan Granoff, and Nuclear Age Peace Foundation President David Krieger, and I all spoke to the need for nuclear disarmament progress building on the leadership exhibited by the Tlatelolco signatories. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to emphasize that:

“your governments should sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Barbados, Cuba, Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago have not yet signed and the Bahamas, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala have not yet ratified the Treaty. There is no reason any civilized nation should remain outside the nuclear test ban club. This image depicts the global network of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban’s International Monitoring System, by joining the Treaty, your government contributes to an increasingly respected global norm of nonproliferation and disarmament.”
Coincidence? Almost certainly. But this historic step by the Government of the Dominican Republic to support a legally-binding end to nuclear explosions anywhere underscores the potential in the other nine states mentioned above.

Come on, Bahamas, I know you’ve got it in you!

Accidental Airborne Alert

Michael Hoffman of the Military Times reports that:

“A B-52 bomber mistakenly loaded with five nuclear warheads flew from Minot Air Force Base, N.D, to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., on Aug. 30.”
While Dean Steve Fetter of the University of Maryland observes in Mr. Hoffman’s story that there was no specific risk of detonation or diversion associated with this incident, it does once again underscore the question: why does the U.S. retain so many nuclear weapons?