In this issue
Previous editions of Washington Nuclear Update are
available at: https://basicint.org/update/wnu.htm.
On January 17 the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists advanced
their Doomsday Clock to five minutes to midnight. This statement
by their board explains why.
In late January the Chicago Tribune published a fascinating series on past and present US efforts to
secure vast amounts of nuclear bomb-grade material scattered across the globe.
On February 7 Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), chairman of
the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, introduced legislation to support the
creation of an international nuclear fuel bank so that any country seeking to
develop civil nuclear power-producing capability will not have to enrich
uranium. H.R. 885 proposes authorizing US monies to help create an
internationally administered nuclear fuel bank to help dissuade states without
indigenous enrichment or reprocessing facilities not to develop or build them.
Given the positioning of two US carrier strike groups near
Iran, along with other military preparations and the forthcoming deadline for
UN Security Resolution 1737 demanding Iran cease uranium enrichment efforts
speculation continues to mount that either the United States or Israel will
attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. See this for
the view of the British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett on the resolution.
Asia Times reports that
some Iranian officials are calling for a review of their country’s adherence to
the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if the country is
Concern over what the Bush administration might be planning
has lead members of Congress to introduce legislation
disavowing the doctrine of preemption.
On January 15 Iran said
it is installing 3,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium at its facility in Natanz,
effectively confirming that its nuclear program is running behind schedule, as
the devices were to have been in place two weeks previously.
On January 22 Iran said it had barred
entry to 38 inspectors from the IAEA after hardliners demanded retaliation
for UN sanctions imposed on Tehran the previous month.
In the latest edition of its annual Military
Balance, released January 31 the International Institute for Strategic
If and when Iran does have 3,000 centrifuges operating smoothly, the
IISS estimates it would take an additional 9-11 months to produce 25 kg of
highly enriched uranium, enough for one implosion-type weapon. That day is
still 2-3 years away at the earliest. Meanwhile, however, Iran has continued to
make progress in the production of feed material for enrichment. It has
stockpiled 250 tonnes of uranium hexafluoride, enough, when enriched, for 30-50
weapons. The main bottleneck to producing such weapons remains learning how to
run UF6 through the cascades for extended periods. If Iran overcomes the
technical hurdles, the possibility of military options to stop the programme
will increase. There are signs, however, that political and financial pressure
is having an impact in Tehran. A growing number of opponents of President
Ahmadinejad castigated his economic leadership and the rhetorical excesses that
contributed to Iran being at the losing end of a 15-0 Security Council vote.
On February 1 a group of prominent US physicists urged
Congress to limit the president’s ability to use nuclear weapons against
non-nuclear-weapon nations. The 22 scientists, including 12 Nobel laureates,
said in a letter
to Congress that they were concerned that President George W. Bush was
considering a nuclear first strike against Iran, even though Iran had no
nuclear weapons and posed no immediate threat to the United States.
In January there were claims
that North Korea was preparing another nuclear test, although this was thought
unlikely. However, the Center for Nonproliferation Studies notes that North
Korea would need to conduct at least one or two more tests to have confidence
in its nuclear deterrent.
The Washington Post reported
on how the use of polonium-210 to murder Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian
internal security agent living in London has focused new concern among
regulators that the substance might be used as an instrument of murder by
On January 25 the Washington Post reported
on the arrest in January 2006 in Georgia of a Russian man, who was trying to
sell four and a half to six and a half pounds of enriched uranium, which in
expert hands is enough to make a small bomb.
The January/February issue of Arms Control Today featured Enforcing
International Standards: Protecting Nuclear Materials From Terrorists Post-9/11.
On January 18 the media reported
that a researcher at Sandia National Laboratory had developed a simulation
program that can track the illicit trade in fissile and non-fissile
For all the news on the UK Trident replacement debate, see
the BASIC Website.
BASIC’s 31 January 2007 update includes evidence to the Defence
Committee inquiry and subsequent commentary, particularly in Nature magazine, Defence Secretary Des Browne’s speech at King’s College
justifying the retention of nuclear weapons and BASIC’s new report on
alternative employment for UK shipyards. Also further warning shots from Labour
politicians Charles Clarke and Glenys Kinnock and notable developments in
A new poll
showed that some 64 percent of the British public believes their government
should back an international agreement banning all nuclear weapons. The poll
was published as the House of Commons Defence Select Committee began studying
the government’s case for modernizing its Trident nuclear missile deterrent
ahead of a full parliamentary vote in March.
Richard Garwin, an American physicist, who worked on the
design of the first hydrogen bomb, told Members of Parliament that moves to replace
Britain’s nuclear submarine fleet are “highly premature.” Garwin
said they could keep going into the 2030s. “I think the government is
hastening into this decision before the facts are really available to it,”
For more on the Trident replacement debate see Future of the
British Nuclear Deterrent: An Assessment of Decision Factors.
The New York Times reported
January 7 that the Bush administration was expected to announce a major step
forward in the building of the country’s first new nuclear warhead in nearly
two decades. It will propose combining elements of competing designs from two
weapons laboratories in an approach that some experts argue is untested and
risky. For detail on the technical arguments justifying the need for new
nuclear weapons see this Arms Control Today article.
The Bush administration is pressing forward with plans to
recycle spent nuclear fuel in the United States and supply nuclear fuel to
other countries that refrain from building nuclear enrichment or recycling
facilities to make their own nuclear fuel. The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced January 4 that it intends
to prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the Global Nuclear
Energy Partnership (GNEP) Initiative. Under the GNEP, the Energy Department
proposes to design, build, and operate three facilities in the United States.
On January 10 DOE released the GNEP
The New York Times reported
January 11 that Divine Strake, the twice-postponed non-nuclear bomb test in the
middle of the Nevada desert may face additional legal challenges over its
potential to propel dangerous radioactive particles from the soil into the air
over four states. See also this February 7 Washington Post article.
On January 15 the New York Times published this editorial
opposing the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program. This San Francisco
details opposition to the RRW by influential members of Congress.
On February 2 the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear
Security Administration (NNSA) released a report that further outlines its
2030” plan to modernize the nation’s aging, Cold War-era nuclear
Global Security Newswire reports
that the Bush administration’s spending plan for fiscal 2008 includes a more
than three-fold increase in funds for the development of a next-generation
nuclear warhead. The Washington Post reported
February 7 that the NNSA said that they hope to receive administration and
congressional authorization by the end of 2008 for the development and
production of a warhead that could be deployed on submarine-launched
intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The Federation of American Scientists reports that the
interagency Nuclear Weapons Council (NWC) has formally decided to endorse the
proposed RRW concept as the basis of the future US nuclear arsenal, according
to a new Congressional Research Service report.
Charles D. Ferguson and Peter Van Ham, Beyond the NRA Doctrine, National
Interest, Winter 2007.
OB Toon, RP Turco, A Robock, C.Bardeen, L Oman, GL
effects and societal consequences of regional scale nuclear conflicts and acts
of individual nuclear terrorism,” Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., 6, 11745-11816, 2006.
Arms Control: The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, Congressional
Research Service, January 3, 2007.
Control Regimes: Background and Status, Congressional Research Service,
December 26, 2006.
Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Development and Diplomacy, Congressional Research
Service, January 3, 2007.
Peter Crail, Implementing UN
Security Council Resolution 1540: A Risk-Based Approach, Center for
Jack Boureston and Jennifer Lacey, Shoring
Up a Crucial Bridge: South Africas Pressing Nuclear Choices, Arms
Control Today, January/February 2007.
David Albright and Paul Brannan, Chashma Nuclear
Site in Pakistan with Possible Reprocessing Plant, January 18, 2007.
David Albright and Susan Basu, India’s
Gas Centrifuge Enrichment Program: Growing Capacity for Military Purposes,
January 18, 2007.
George Perkovich, Five
Scenarios for the Iranian Crisis, Carnegie Endowment for International
Peace, Proliferation Papers, Winter 2006.
Dr Yong-Chool Ha, Dr Beom-Shik Shin, Russian
Nonproliferation Policy and the Korean Peninsula, Strategic Studies
Institute, US Army War College, December 2006.
To Talk: The Case For Diplomatic Solutions On Iran, February 2007.