Month: August 2011

Moving to passive designs

Moving to passive designs

For months, and perhaps years, lessons will be learned from the events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, which will serve as both a laboratory and a classroom. As the sequence of events leading to the accident continued through the accident response, at least one concept was made clear: When operating reactors, defense-in-depth — the technical concept of multiple layers of safety backup systems — must incorporate a series of active backup systems (meaning that they require human intervention) that must be operable to forestall single-point catastrophic failures.

A new way to detect secret nuclear tests: GPS

A new way to detect secret nuclear tests: GPS

When North Korea conducted its second known nuclear bomb test on May 25, 2009, the country’s leaders took extreme care to conceal the details of the event. They detonated the bomb a kilometer or so beneath the earth, so no radiation could escape; radiation clues could have enabled member countries of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization to more accurately determine the type and size of the bomb tested.

Fukushima and the Doomsday Clock

Fukushima and the Doomsday Clock

When dreadful events occur, reporters, readers, and interested citizens contact the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists asking whether we will move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock. The alarming nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Station on March 11 prompted e-mails and calls to our office seeking the Bulletin’s reaction as well as accurate information about what was happening in Japan.

A Presidential Policy Directive for a new nuclear path

A Presidential Policy Directive for a new nuclear path

The implementation of President Obama's Nuclear Posture Review is now occurring, out of public view but with potentially enormous implications, depending on the outcome. The Nuclear Posture Review was mandated by Congress to establish US nuclear policy, strategy, capabilities and forces for the next five to 10 years. In theory, it was intended to further President Obama's Prague agenda of reducing nuclear dangers and to work toward a world without nuclear weapons, but with global security.

Fort Calhoun and Indian Point: A tale of two nuclear sites

Fort Calhoun and Indian Point: A tale of two nuclear sites

Last year, Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors discovered design problems at the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant in Nebraska and the Indian Point nuclear plant in New York. In the former case, the NRC applied the most serious sanction levied against any reactor in 2010 and required the plant’s owner to correct the problem. But at Indian Point, the NRC essentially shrugged and allowed the safety problem to go unsanctioned and uncorrected.

What next: A Sunni bomb?

What next: A Sunni bomb?

The Islamic Republic of Iran stands at the threshold to the bomb. In 2010 it had more than enough low-enriched uranium (some 2,152 kilograms) to make its first bomb's worth of weapons-grade uranium. The LEU would have become highly enriched uranium in roughly 10 weeks had it been fed into the 4,186 centrifuges then operating. Thousands of other centrifuges are also known to be operating at the Natanz secret nuclear facility.

Jonathan B. Tucker, noted biosecurity expert, 1954-2011

Jonathan B. Tucker, noted biosecurity expert, 1954-2011

Jonathan B. Tucker, member of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board and leading biosecurity expert, died recently at his home in Washington, DC. His passing leaves an enormous void in the global community of experts on biotechnology, biological weapons, chemical weapons, nonproliferation, arms control, and disease.

Nuclear power and the public

Nuclear power and the public

On April 10 of this year, nearly a month after a disastrous earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Tokyo, calling for an end to nuclear power. In the city’s Koenji neighborhood, a large group of mostly younger protesters, many in costume, chanted and banged drums. In Shiba Park, an older and more sober group demanded the closure of the Hamaoka nuclear power plant, located near a fault line about 200 kilometers (125 miles) southwest of Tokyo.
 

Biosecurity 2.0: Enduring threats in the former Soviet Union

Biosecurity 2.0: Enduring threats in the former Soviet Union

The announcement sent ripples throughout the international health community: On April 23, 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that seven children suffering from paralysis in the poor former Soviet country of Tajikistan were victims of poliomyelitis. Genetic sequencing showed that the virus had probably arrived with a traveler from India. It was the first importation of polio into Europe since 2002, when the region was certified as polio-free.

Nuclear safety in Iran, post-Fukushima

Nuclear safety in Iran, post-Fukushima

Although the Fukushima disaster has stalled the ambitions of some developing countries to deploy new power reactors, the Japanese crisis has not seriously affected the expansion of Iran’s nuclear energy program. Among the 45 countries that are actively considering plans to build their first power reactors, Iran is farthest along in the process and claims it will connect its Bushehr nuclear power plant to the national grid and begin producing electricity in August.

Crisis management: A good lesson to learn?

Crisis management: A good lesson to learn?

Last month three terror attacks once again struck Mumbai, killing approximately 25 people. The attacks turned out to be the doing of an India-based Islamist outfit, the Indian Mujahedeen, and did not involve Pakistan-based Islamist militants.
In the media coverage since, terrorism experts on South Asia have posited that this attack was not a decisive shift in Islamist terrorism in India — their argument, instead, was that Pakistan-based militants, increasingly autonomous in their operations, still remain the most likely source of a large-scale attack on Indian soil.