Month: August 2009

U.S.-Russian nuclear energy cooperation: A missed opportunity

U.S.-Russian nuclear energy cooperation: A missed opportunity

The July Moscow summit didn’t produce any significant breakthroughs in U.S.-Russian relations. In fact, it really only highlighted that the problems Moscow and Washington are ready to cooperate on are international, not bilateral, in nature (e.g., nuclear nonproliferation, terrorism, drug trafficking). On further strategic arms reductions–the most anticipated topic at the summit–the early results aren’t as impressive as advertised.

Reprocessing is the answer

Reprocessing is the answer

When you combine the country’s addiction to oil to its mounting concern over global warming you have a clear-cut case for expanded nuclear power. The issue has been clouded, however, by the recent decision to stop work on the Yucca Mountain permanent spent fuel repository in Nevada, so far the only real solution the United States has for its accumulating spent fuel from its 104 light water reactors (LWR).

Local priorities vs. national interests in arms control

Local priorities vs. national interests in arms control

While beliefs about national sovereignty and international law matter, when it comes to arms control treaties, ideological considerations rarely trump pork-barrel politics. Would a senator from a state dependent on the nuclear weapons complex oppose an arms control treaty not on the basis of ideology, but because the treaty would mean the loss of jobs or funding in their home state? Absolutely.

An interview with Joshua Pollack

An interview with Joshua Pollack

What can be expected from the upcoming Nuclear Posture Review (NPR)?

It’s unwise to ask too much of any formal, coordinated review, whether it’s the Nuclear Posture Review, the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), or the forerunners of the QDR–to say nothing of the new QDR-like activities at the State Departments and Department of Homeland Security. In any bottom-up product of this sort, a series of organizational interests must be accommodated, so the track record of these affairs isn’t terribly exciting.

Avoid hyperbole, oversimplification when climate and security meet

Avoid hyperbole, oversimplification when climate and security meet

The impact of climate change on national security has finally moved above the fold. And as the December Copenhagen climate change negotiations approach, politicians and experts alike are being forced to examine the complex effects of natural and social change on security. They must also walk a linguistic tightrope between hyperbole and uncertainty, working to present the facts without exaggerating their meaning.

Britain’s reprocessing boondoggle

Britain’s reprocessing boondoggle

Britain’s worst nuclear accident in recent years occurred in 2005 at its Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) at the country’s Sellafield nuclear complex. A subsequent investigation found that 83,000 liters of spent nuclear fuel had dissolved in nitric acid (some 22 tons worth) and leaked undetected from a fractured pipe for nine months. While the spill was isolated within the plant, cleanup and repair kept THORP closed for almost three years.

Stephen Hawking awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

Stephen Hawking awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

Stephen Hawking, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge and member of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, was awarded the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama on August 12. Hawking was among 16 recipients of the award.

America’s highest civilian honor, the medal recipients were chosen by Obama because of their remarkable achievements as “agents of change.” The president added, “Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way.”

A brief history of climate change and conflict

A brief history of climate change and conflict

In recent years, many foreign affairs experts have attempted to demonstrate the linkages between climate change and the social tensions that can lead to conflict. While critics may believe this is simply a fad in international affairs, history suggests otherwise. Over the last few millennia, climate change has been a factor in conflict and social collapse around the world. The changing climate has influenced how and where people migrate, affected group power relations, and provided new resources to societies while taking away others.

Limited options: Deterring North Korea and Iran

Limited options: Deterring North Korea and Iran

Over the course of the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, the United States has tried a host of strategies to stop or slow the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs–and in the end, none of them have worked.
The question today is no longer whether the United States can still prevent the emergence of nuclear-armed regional adversaries, but instead, how to prevent them from being empowered by their nuclear weapons. This won’t be easy.

Thinking creatively about the North Korean stalemate

Thinking creatively about the North Korean stalemate

We all know the saying that you can’t be a little bit pregnant–either you are or you aren’t. According to Henry Kissinger, getting nuclear weapons is like getting pregnant. In a Washington Post op-ed published on Nagasaki Day, Kissinger wrote, “The root cause of our decade-old controversy with Pyongyang is that there is no middle ground between North Korea being a nuclear-weapons state and a state without nuclear weapons.”

Reprocessing isn’t the answer

Reprocessing isn’t the answer

There are 104 commercial nuclear power reactors in the United States, which supply about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. These are light water reactors (LWR) fueled with low-enriched uranium (LEU), containing initially about 5 percent of the fissile isotope uranium 235. Each nuclear plant receives about 25 tons of LEU fuel annually, in the form of long pencil-thin rods of uranium oxide ceramic enclosed in thin metal “cladding”, that are bundled together (in bunches of 300) to form fuel elements.

Hiroshima and the power of pictures

Hiroshima and the power of pictures

Sixty-four years ago this week the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by atomic bombs. Whether we endorse or condemn the bombings, how do we grasp the enormity of the destruction that befell those two unfortunate Japanese cities? The last survivors of the bombings are passing into history, taking with them the power of their living witness. But for me, the full force of the bombings has always come from pictures more than words.

Hiroshima, (re)visited

Hiroshima, (re)visited

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, my father, who had struggled through the Great Depression to become a surgeon, volunteered with the U.S. Army. He was stationed in the United States for some time, but eventually sought an overseas assignment. In March 1944 he shipped out of San Francisco to join the 35th General Hospital in New Guinea and then, one year later, transferred to the 1st Portable Surgical Hospital at Leyte Island in the Philippines where he operated on wounded soldiers in an active combat zone.