Getting to Zero Update

In this issue:

United States

Submarine procurement

Global Security Newswire reported that advisers to US Strategic Command are slated to report in a closed-door meeting in November, their recommendations for what could become the Navy’s next nuclear weapons-carrying submarine. The Command, which is responsible for the nation’s nuclear force operations, has assigned its “Strategic Advisory Group” to develop a list of capabilities desired for a boat that might ultimately replace the service’s Ohio-class submarines and the Trident D-5 nuclear-armed ballistic missiles they carry.

Nuclear B-52 incident

This September 13 article in the Bulletin Online notes, in regard to the August 20 incident where a US B-52 bomber flew with six cruise missiles carrying nuclear warheads that:

The US military, correctly judging that nuclear missions don’t give them clout anymore, are trying to come up with different ways to give their nuclear systems some kind of “useful” conventional capability. With no political decision to cut the nuclear weapons forthcoming, they remain in place, sometimes dangerously side-by-side with conventional weapons, hidden from public scrutiny, and increasingly neglected.

For the best detailed report on this thus far see this Washington Post article. AmsControlWonk noted that the W80 warhead on the missiles did not have fire-resistant pits (FRP). See also this September 21 OpenDemocracy article.

Reliable Replacement Warhead

This op-ed in the September 16 Baltimore Sun by Bennett Ramberg, who served in the State Department’s Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs during the administration of George H. W. Bush, details why the Reliable Replacement Warhead is a bad idea. See also The Ridiculously Redundant Warhead in Science Progress and this FAS blog entry.

On Sep. 27 the US National Nuclear Security Administration said that the US Energy Department had certified a nuclear warhead rebuilt with the first replacement plutonium “pit” for entry into the US nuclear weapons stockpile. The W88 nuclear warhead employs the replacement plutonium core – the trigger for the nuclear weapon – and a replacement gas transfer system.

Nuclear cooperation with India

For details on the US-India nuclear cooperation agreement see this September 11 Hindustan Times article,
September 20 Reuters article, October 5 Washington Post article, and October 9 article in The Hindu.

Warheads dismantled under SORT

The Associated Press reported October 1 that US government officials claim the United States is dismantling unneeded nuclear warheads at a faster pace than forecast as it substantially reduces its atomic arsenal under terms of an arms control treaty with Russia. The Bush administration announced that it has taken apart three times as many reserve warheads in the just-completed budget year than it had projected and expects the rapid pace of dismantling to continue.

Assassination with radioactive poisons

The Associated Press reported October 9 that early in the Cold War, the US Army explored the potential for using radioactive poisons to assassinate “important individuals” such as military or civilian leaders, according to newly declassified documents.

Prompt Global Strike

The October 10 Global Security Newswire reports that a US Defense Department proposal to field a non-nuclear version of the Trident submarine-launched missile as early as next year has hit roadblocks in all four key congressional committees, forcing the Pentagon to focus increasingly on alternatives. See the June 2006 BASIC study on this issue here.

Proliferation studies

Inside the Pentagon reported September 20 that the International Security Advisory Board, an advisory panel to the US State Department, is preparing two reports on the threat of international nuclear proliferation. Among the
issues expected to be addressed in the studies are the implications of expanded use of nuclear power on the nonproliferation regime, the existing nonproliferation program for this sector, and new or revamped proposals to address the threat; and conditions that could promote nuclear proliferation; the functionality of treaties, diplomacy
and other existing measures in preventing proliferation; and new initiatives for preventing additional nations from developing atomic weapons.

Further reading

Cooperative Threat Reduction

On September 26 Harvard’s Project on Managing the Atom and the Nuclear Threat Initiative published their annual report on security of nuclear weapons and materials around the world. The good news in “Securing the Bomb 2007” is that much progress has been made toward upgrading security for nuclear stockpiles. The bad news is that the essential ingredients of nuclear weapons exist in hundreds of buildings in more than 40 countries, and terrorists are actively trying to get a nuclear bomb or the materials to make one.

An Assessment of the Extent of Projected Global Famine Resulting From Limited, Regional Nuclear War

Black Market

On September 11, the South African government said parts of a global nuclear smuggling ring initiated by A.Q. Khan may remain active and nations must do more to crack down on the network. The plea followed the conviction by a South African court of a German engineer for his part in the network run by Khan.

More than 250 incidents involving unauthorized possession and related criminal activities, theft or loss of nuclear or other radioactive materials, and unauthorized disposal were reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Illicit Trafficking Database (ITDB) last year, of which 150 occurred last year and the rest mainly in 2005.

Global cooperation between law enforcement agencies and a coordinated nuclear detection network is needed if the world hopes to prevent terrorists from acquiring WMD material, according to a report released in September by the National Defense University. Such global coordination should be organized through an existing international
institution, take authority from U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540 and involve the expertise of both Interpol and the IAEA, according to experts working with the university’s Center for Technology and National Security Policy.


On September 10, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei called on the UN Security Council to take a “timeout” from sanctions and for Iran to pause its uranium enrichment to avert a crisis over the country’s nuclear program. “A double timeout of all enrichment-related activities and of sanctions could provide a breathing space for
negotiations to be resumed,” ElBaradei told the IAEA’s 35-member board of governors in Vienna. “The earlier we move from confrontation and distrust to dialogue and confidence- building, the better for Iran and the international community.”

On September 17 John Abizaid, the retired Army general who headed the US Central Command for nearly four years said every effort should be made to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, but, failing that, the world could live with a nuclear-armed government in Tehran. He said he was confident that if Iran should gain nuclear arms, the United States could deter it from using them.

On September 27 the New America Foundation held an event, Countering a Nuclear-Armed Iran: Can We Change the Current Trajectory?, with Gary Samore vice president, director of studies, at the Council on Foreign Relations. To watch the video or listen to the audio click here.

Further reading


  • Nuclear Iran, IISS Strategic Comment, Vol. 13, Issue 7, September
  • On-the-Record Briefing with R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, after Secretary Rice’s Meeting with the P-5 Plus Germany Plus EU, September 28, 2007
  • “The Case for Bombing Iran” – An Exchange: Norman Podhoretz And Critics,
    Commentary Magazine, October 2007
  • The Bank Behind Iran’s Missles
    ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY, WMD Insights, October 2007
  • European Missile Defense: Assessing Iran’s ICBM Capabilities

North Korea & Syria

Was Syria working with North Korea to receive nuclear technology?
See this discussion: A Syria-North Korea Nuclear Relationship? and this article in the New York Times.

At the beginning of October a joint six-nation statement released by China confirmed that North Korea had endorsed an agreement to dismantle all of its nuclear facilities by the end of the year. Read the coverage in the New York Times here.

The agreement sets out a timetable for North Korea to disclose all its nuclear programs and disable all facilities in return for 950,000 metric tons of fuel oil or its equivalent in economic aid. The United States has provided more than US$2 million for UN nuclear monitoring in North Korea, the US ambassador, Gregory Schulte, told a meeting of the IAEA in Vienna on September 11.

United Kingdom

Britain has stockpiled enough plutonium to replicate the nuclear bomb attacks on Japan in 1945 thousands of times over, the Royal Society said September 21. The Society said the amount of separated plutonium,
most of which is the by-product of reprocessed spent fuel from nuclear power stations, has almost doubled in the last 10 years to more than 100 tons and that the government lacked any coherent strategy for either its long-term use or disposal. See also this September 21 Guardian article.

See also: Strategy options for the UK’s separated Plutonium, The Royal Society, September 2007.

Global Nuclear Energy Partnership

On September 16, sixteen nations signed the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, a US-initiated pact, to help meet soaring world energy demand over coming decades by developing nuclear technology less prone to diversion into atomic bomb-making. Eleven nations joined five nuclear fuel-producing powers – the United States, Russia, China, France and Japan – in a GNEP statement of principles at a ministerial ceremony in Vienna.

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