Dealing with thuggish dictators reluctant to relinquish their stockpiles of highly enriched uranium (HEU) is a necessary component in the global effort to secure vulnerable fissile materials by 2013. Unfortunately, nuclear deals are often tentative and prone to collapse if a dictator’s whims change. The successful nuclear deal with Libya and the stalled deal with Belarus are indicative of this dynamic, but it should not stop the United States and other nations from seeking deals to secure fissile materials that might otherwise be exploited by would-be nuclear terrorists.
Month: October 2011
Nuclear disarmament has taken center stage in most reports on the resumption of talks between North Korean and US diplomats in Geneva, but the nuclear issue may not be resolved unless other conflicts are addressed. Each side has its own goals in the negotiations: Washington wants arms control and security. Pyongyang has a wider agenda that includes not only economic assistance but also military and political security. A grand bargain could enhance each side’s objectives and help Northeast Asia become a zone of peace rather than a crucible for conflict.
On September 10, 2011, the London Observer newspaper carried a long, affectionate portrait of former US President Jimmy Carter. The author wrote of Carter’s life before, during, and after his presidency — noting approvingly, for example, that Carter didn’t start any wars while in office. But my attention was drawn to some of the work Carter embarked on with the Carter Center after he left office.
Anwar al-Awlaki was clearly not a nice person, but the manner in which he was killed on September 30 should trouble us all, regardless of our political orientation. Awlaki, a US citizen who once lived in Northern Virginia, was a Muslim cleric who took up residence in Yemen, where he incited anti-US sentiment — until he was executed by a drone.
Scientists estimate that 1,000 people will die from cancer as a result of their exposure to radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. This number is often contrasted with the 20,000 who died in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that caused the nuclear debacle — presumably to suggest that the 1,000 deaths are less significant and should not be used to justify a nuclear power shutdown.
When I first stood atop Nevada’s Yucca Mountain more than 16 years ago, the Energy Department was spending about $1 million a day to assess the feasibility of safely storing spent fuel and high-level nuclear waste there. A steel-toothed tunneling machine had already begun chewing its way into the ridge, and some 300 scientists were on-site studying the area’s underground trickles, its porous rock, its lumbering desert tortoises, and a few reddish-black cinder cones that dotted the landscape below — the ominous tombstones of ancient volcanic eruptions.
The need to revisit and revise regulations regarding financial responsibility for nuclear accidents has been clear and compelling for at least a quarter of a century (since Chernobyl) and has been made overwhelmingly obvious by Fukushima. The political opening to revise these regulations will vary from nation to nation, but is particularly small in the United States.