Month: December 2011

Radiological materials and the Nuclear Security Summit

Radiological materials and the Nuclear Security Summit

With the second Nuclear Security Summit fast approaching, it is a good moment to reflect on one of the new issues with which the Seoul summit will attempt to grapple: radiological security. The first Nuclear Security Summit in Washington focused on weapons-usable nuclear materials — highly enriched uranium and plutonium. The rationale behind a strictly defined agenda was to attract attention to the materials that pose the gravest dangers, as they can be used in a nuclear weapon.

Climate change in 2050: Where’s the beef?

Climate change in 2050: Where’s the beef?

“What will a day in the life of a Californian be like in 40 years? If the state cuts greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 — a target mandated by a state executive order — a person could wake up in a net-zero energy home, commute to work in a battery-powered car, work in an office with smart windows and solar panels, then return home and plug in her car to a carbon-free grid.”

Restructuring defense R&D

In view of the United States’ massive budget deficits, there is growing, bipartisan recognition that the current level of defense spending — about $700 billion per year — is no longer sustainable. The Obama administration has made a variety of proposals to reduce the defense budget; cuts to big-ticket weapons programs like the F-22 or the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are routinely mentioned.

Nunn-Lugar: 20 years of Cooperative Threat Reduction

Nunn-Lugar: 20 years of Cooperative Threat Reduction

December 12 marked the 20th anniversary of the Cooperative Threat Reduction legislation introduced by US Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar to aid Russia in dismantling its nuclear arsenal after the end of the Cold War. The program created by that initial legislation is the most significant and successful postwar effort since the German Marshall Plan helped Europe recover from World War II.

How the reset was upset

How the reset was upset

President Barack Obama’s much celebrated “reset” with Russia was upset recently.  In late November, President Dmitry Medvedev announced the end of negotiations on missile defense cooperation, and threatened to withdraw from the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) if the United States remained committed to its missile defense program in Europe. Though it hasn’t quite reached the

The legacy of Reykjavik and the future of nuclear disarmament

The legacy of Reykjavik and the future of nuclear disarmament

After two exhausting days of debate, negotiation, and concession in Reykjavik, Iceland, US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev had come to a dead end. An improbable agreement for nuclear disarmament was in jeopardy because the delegations quibbled over one word: “laboratory.” Could the United States test its Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) — an embryonic antiballistic missile system known as “Star Wars” — in space, or should research and development stay grounded?

International humanitarian law and nuclear weapons: Irreconcilable differences

International humanitarian law and nuclear weapons: Irreconcilable differences

There are more than 22,000 nuclear weapons in existence today, and their destructive capacity is of a magnitude that dwarfs imagination. Most deployed nuclear weapons would detonate with a force more than 10 times that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and some would be hundreds of times more destructive. Experts agree that even a limited exchange of, say, 100 nuclear weapons, a fraction of the world’s stockpile, could devastate the global climate and trigger widespread famine, resulting in a cascade of horrific consequences.

What the super committee’s failure means for nuclear weapons

What the super committee’s failure means for nuclear weapons

On November 21, the 12-member congressional super committee announced that it failed to approve a plan to shrink the budget deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over the next decade, triggering an automatic sequester that, if implemented, could result in reductions of $500 billion to planned defense spending over the next decade. These cuts would be in addition to the more than $450 billion in reductions the Pentagon has planned over the next decade.

Second life: The questionable safety of life extensions for Russian nuclear power plants

Second life: The questionable safety of life extensions for Russian nuclear power plants

In response to the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, countries such as Germany and Switzerland are preparing to phase out aging nuclear power plants. The Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom), however, is taking a very different approach. In 2001, Rosatom began extending the operation of nuclear power plants that had surpassed their projected life spans.

Hold your fire: Nuclear forces without counterforce

Hold your fire: Nuclear forces without counterforce

In April 2009, President Barack Obama outlined his vision for a world free of nuclear weapons before thousands of enthusiastic people in Prague’s Hradcany Square. Development of the nation’s new nuclear doctrine, documented in the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), was subject to intense speculation in the popular press and, when the document was finally released — for the first time unclassified in its entirety — it became, if only briefly, a hot topic of political debate.

Politics, bureaucracy, and the proliferation of nuclear knowledge

Politics, bureaucracy, and the proliferation of nuclear knowledge

In October of 1996, Vladimir Nechai committed suicide. His death was newsworthy, but not because of the means; suicide was not so unusual in Russia, largely due to the widespread financial deprivation in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nechai’s act was reported by the Western news media because of his position as director of one of the Soviet Union’s premier nuclear weapons research and design facilities. According to the note he left behind, Nechai took his own life partially out of shame.

Fukushima and the inevitability of accidents

Fukushima and the inevitability of accidents

The March 11, 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan replicates the bullet points of most recent industrial disasters. It is outstanding in its magnitude, perhaps surpassing Chernobyl in its effects, but in most other respects, it simply indicates the risks that we run when we allow high concentrations of energy, economic power, and political power to form. Just how commonplace — prosaic, even — this disaster was illustrates just how risky the industrial and financial world really is.

Dealing with advances in science at the Seventh BTWC Review Conference

Dealing with advances in science at the Seventh BTWC Review Conference

Ahead of the Seventh Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) Review Conference, which will be held December 5-22 in Geneva, Switzerland, the United Nations published 26 advance papers produced by state parties to inspire serious and spirited discussion for the event — and at least six of these papers focused on how advances in science and technology impact the BTWC and how, in the future, these advances should be considered by the stat