Unheeded cybersecurity threat leaves nuclear power stations open to attack

By Nasser Abouzakhar, University of Hertfordshire

There has been a rising number of security breaches at nuclear power plants over the past few years, according to a new Chatham House report which highlights how important systems at plants were not properly secured or isolated from the internet.

As critical infrastructure and facilities such as power plants become increasingly complex they are, directly or indirectly, linked to the internet. This opens up a channel through which malicious hackers can launch attacks – potentially with extremely serious consequences. For example, a poorly secured steel mill in Germany was seriously damaged after being hacked, causing substantial harm to blast furnaces after the computer controls failed to shut them down. The notorious malware, the Stuxnet worm, was specifically developed to target nuclear facilities.

The report also found that power plants rarely employ an “air gap” (where critical systems are entirely disconnected from networks) as the commercial and practical benefits of using the internet too often trump security.

In one case in 2003, an engineer at the Davis-Besse plant in Ohio used a virtual private network connection to access the plant from his home. While the connection was encrypted, his home computer was infected with the Slammer worm which infected the nuclear plant’s computers, causing a key safety control system to fail. A more serious incident in 2006 at the Browns Ferry plant in Alabama nearly led to a meltdown.

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Nuclear smugglers tried selling radioactive materials to ISIS

The Associated Press reports: In the backwaters of Eastern Europe, authorities working with the FBI have interrupted four attempts in the past five years by gangs with suspected Russian connections that sought to sell radioactive material to Middle Eastern extremists, The Associated Press has learned. The latest known case came in February this year, when a smuggler offered a huge cache of deadly cesium — enough to contaminate several city blocks — and specifically sought a buyer from the Islamic State group.

Criminal organizations, some with ties to the Russian KGB’s successor agency, are driving a thriving black market in nuclear materials in the tiny and impoverished country of Moldova, investigators say. The successful busts, however, were undercut by striking shortcomings: Kingpins got away, and those arrested evaded long prison sentences, sometimes quickly returning to nuclear smuggling, AP found.

Moldovan police and judicial authorities shared investigative case files with AP in an effort to spotlight how dangerous the nuclear black market has become. They say the breakdown in cooperation between Russia and the West means that it has become much harder to know whether smugglers are finding ways to move parts of Russia’s vast store of radioactive materials — an unknown quantity of which has leached into the black market.

“We can expect more of these cases,” said Constantin Malic, a Moldovan police officer who investigated all four cases. “As long as the smugglers think they can make big money without getting caught, they will keep doing it.”

In wiretaps, videotaped arrests, photographs of bomb-grade material, documents and interviews, AP found a troubling vulnerability in the anti-smuggling strategy. From the first known Moldovan case in 2010 to the most recent one in February, a pattern has emerged: Authorities pounce on suspects in the early stages of a deal, giving the ringleaders a chance to escape with their nuclear contraband — an indication that the threat from the nuclear black market in the Balkans is far from under control. [Continue reading…]


Stanislav Petrov and the day the world almost ended (really)

David Wright writes: Every day since Sept. 26, 1983 has to some extent been borrowed time.

That was when — during one of the most tense periods of the Cold War — Soviet warning systems announced an incoming attack by U.S. nuclear missiles. Urgent checks and rechecks of the warning system showed it was operating correctly and the attack was real. The Soviets kept their nuclear missiles on hair-trigger alert so in a situation like this they could launch them before incoming U.S. missiles landed and destroyed them. This left only minutes for the Soviet launch officers to decide what to do.

The officer on duty, Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov, knew this situation was what the entire Soviet nuclear weapons enterprise had been built for. His job as a launch officer was to follow orders and set in motion a retaliatory nuclear launch. It was what all his training was about.

He also knew that once the U.S. detected the launch of Soviet missiles, it would respond with whatever nuclear weapons it had left. The exchange would likely destroy both countries and, we now know, put enough soot into the atmosphere to disrupt global agriculture for years and add perhaps billions to the death toll.

We’re here today because — despite the data he was getting — Petrov had doubts and broke the rules: He told his superiors it was a false alarm before he actually knew that to be true.

Soon after Petrov’s decision it became clear that it had been a false alarm: The Soviet warning satellites had been fooled by reflections of sunlight no one had anticipated. Luckily, Petrov ignored protocol and literally saved the world.

A movie about this incident — The Man Who Saved the World — is now showing in New York City, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Portland (OR).

Unfortunately, this was not the only time the world came close to a nuclear war due to false warning, misperceptions, etc. And this problem is still with us since the U.S. and Russia each keep many hundreds of nuclear missiles on hair-trigger alert. [Continue reading…]


Krushnic and King: The corporate nuclear complex

They’ve run the most profitable companies in history and, to put it bluntly, they are destroying the planet.  In the past, given an American obsession with terrorists, I’ve called them “terrarists.”  I’m referring, of course, to the CEOs of the Big Energy companies, who in these years have strained to find new ways to exploit every imaginable reservoir of fossil fuels on the planet and put them into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide emissions.  One thing is certain: just as the top executives running tobacco companies, the lead industry, and asbestos outfits once did, they know what their drive for mega-profits means for the rest of us — check out the fire season in western North America this year — and our children and grandchildren.  If you think the world is experiencing major refugee flows right now, just wait until the droughts grow more extreme and the flooding of coastal areas increases.

As I wrote back in 2013:

“With all three industries, the negative results conveniently arrived years, sometimes decades, after exposure and so were hard to connect to it.  Each of these industries knew that the relationship existed.  Each used that time-disconnect as protection.  One difference: if you were a tobacco, lead, or asbestos exec, you might be able to ensure that your children and grandchildren weren’t exposed to your product.  In the long run, that’s not a choice when it comes to fossil fuels and CO2, as we all live on the same planet (though it’s also true that the well-off in the temperate zones are unlikely to be the first to suffer).”

Remarkably enough, as Richard Krushnic and Jonathan King make clear today, the profits pursued by a second set of CEOs are similarly linked in the most intimate ways to the potential destruction of the planet (at least as a habitable environment for humanity and many other species) and the potential deaths of tens of millions of people.  These are the executives who run the companies that develop, maintain, and modernize our nuclear arsenal and, as with the energy companies, use their lobbyists and their cash to push constantly in Washington for more of the same.  Someday, looking back, historians (if they still exist) will undoubtedly consider the activities of both groups as examples of the ultimate in criminality. Tom Engelhardt

Privatizing the apocalypse
How nuclear weapons companies commandeer your tax dollars
By Richard Krushnic and Jonathan Alan King

Imagine for a moment a genuine absurdity: somewhere in the United States, the highly profitable operations of a set of corporations were based on the possibility that sooner or later your neighborhood would be destroyed and you and all your neighbors annihilated.  And not just you and your neighbors, but others and their neighbors across the planet. What would we think of such companies, of such a project, of the mega-profits made off it?

In fact, such companies do exist. They service the American nuclear weapons industry and the Pentagon’s vast arsenal of potentially world-destroying weaponry.  They make massive profits doing so, live comfortable lives in our neighborhoods, and play an active role in Washington politics.  Most Americans know little or nothing about their activities and the media seldom bother to report on them or their profits, even though the work they do is in the service of an apocalyptic future almost beyond imagining.

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Why an apparent Israeli nuclear test in 1979 matters today

Leonard Weiss writes: At a time when the Iran agreement is in the headlines and other Middle Eastern countries — notably Saudi Arabia — are making noises about establishing their own programs for nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, it is worth giving renewed scrutiny to an event that occurred 36 years ago: a likely Israeli-South African nuclear test over the ocean between the southern part of Africa and the Antarctic. Sometimes referred to in the popular press as the “Vela Incident” or the “Vela Event of 1979,” the circumstantial and scientific evidence for a nuclear test is compelling but as long as many items related to the test are still classified, all the questions surrounding it cannot be resolved definitively. Those questions allow wiggle room for some observers (a shrinking number) to still doubt whether the event was of nuclear origin. But more and more information revealed in various publications over the years strongly supports the premise that a mysterious double flash detected by a US satellite in 1979 was indeed a nuclear test performed by Israel with South African cooperation, in violation of the Limited Test Ban Treaty. The US government, however, found it expedient to brush important evidence under the carpet and pretend the test did not occur.

The technical evidence — evidence that has been reviewed in earlier publications — led scientists at US national laboratories to conclude that a test took place. But to this should be added more recent information of Israeli-South African nuclear cooperation in the 1970s, and at least two instances — so far unverified — of individuals claiming direct knowledge of, or participation in, the nuclear event, one from the Israeli side and one from the South African. And information provided by national laboratory scientists regarding the state of the satellite’s detectors challenges the view given by a government panel that the flash was likely not that of a nuclear test.

The US government’s use of classification and other means to suppress public information about the event, in the face of the totality of technical and non-technical evidence supporting a nuclear test, could be characterized as a cover-up to avoid the difficult international political problems that a recognized nuclear test was assumed to trigger. [Continue reading…]


Fukushima: The price of nuclear power

Michael Ignatieff writes: Four years ago, the fishing town of Namie, on the northeast coast of Japan, lived through an experience of malediction biblical in scope. Beginning at 2:46 PM on March 11, 2011, without warning, the town’s population of 23,000 was struck by a triple disaster in quick succession: an earthquake measuring nine on the Richter scale that severely damaged the upper town, a fifteen-meter tsunami that carried away the entire lower town, and finally, in the days that followed, a blanket of radioactivity, from explosions in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant just six miles away, that settled over the town’s ruins.

Today grass grows on the sidewalks in Namie. There are no cars, no people, anywhere. Through shop windows you can still see goods that tumbled off the shelves and remain on the linoleum floors gathering dust. Everything is as it was left in the panicked evacuation. In one building, the earthquake has left behind a three-inch fissure in a wall, a vase lies in pieces on the floor of a sitting room, and the windows of a sunroom have collapsed in shards. Nearby a store sign—in English—“Suzuki watch, jewelry, optical”—lies collapsed on the sidewalk; the bus shelter where the municipal buses turned around is empty; a sign saying “Louer: Total Beauty Salon” still hangs over a shuttered shop; and at the town’s main intersection, the single traffic light is still blinking on and off.

Four years after the calamity, no one from Namie can return home. It remains in the “red zone,” a contaminated area fifty miles by ten where the winds and rains carried a plume of radioactivity in the days after the disaster. Today there are parts of town where radiation measures twenty-six times the Tokyo level. Caesium-137 is washed down by the rains and accumulates in the weeds that grow near the gutters. Yet Japan — along with much of the world — still considers nuclear power an essential part of the energy mix necessary to meet the challenge of climate change. [Continue reading…]


Noam Chomsky: Rogue states and nuclear dangers

The first prime-time Republican primary debate of 2015 was an eye-opener of sorts when it came to the Middle East. After forcefully advocating for the termination of the pending nuclear deal with Iran, for example, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker unleashed an almost indecipherable torrent of words. “This is not just bad with Iran,” he insisted, “this is bad with ISIS. It is tied together, and, once and for all, we need a leader who’s gonna stand up and do something about it.” That prescription, as vague as it was incoherent, was par for the course.

When asked how he would respond to reports that Iranian Qods Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani had recently traveled to Russia in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution, GOP billionaire frontrunner Donald Trump responded, “I would be so different from what you have right now. Like, the polar opposite.” He then meandered into a screed about trading Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl for “five of the big, great killers leaders” of Afghanistan’s Taliban, but never offered the slightest hint that he had a clue who General Soleimani was or what he would actually do that would be “so different.” Questioned about the legacy of American soldiers killed in his brother’s war in Iraq, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush replied in a similarly incoherent fashion: “To honor the people that died, we need to — we need to stop the Iran agreement,” and then pledged to annihilate ISIS as well. Senator Ted Cruz seemed to believe that merely intoning the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” opened a surefire path to rapidly defeating ISIS — that, and his proposed Expatriate Terrorist Act that would stop Americans who join ISIS from using their “passport to come back and wage jihad on Americans.” Game, set, match, ISIS. 

Of the 10 candidates on that stage, only Senator Rand Paul departed from faith-based reality by observing that “ISIS rides around in a billion dollars’ worth of U.S. Humvees.” He continued, “It’s a disgrace. We’ve got to stop — we shouldn’t fund our enemies, for goodness sakes.” On a stage filled by Republicans in a lather about nonexistent weaponry in the Middle East — namely, an Iranian A-bomb — only Paul drew attention to weaponry that does exist, much of it American. Though no viewer would know it from that night’s debate, all across the region — from Yemen to Syria to Iraq — U.S. arms are fueling conflicts and turning the living into the dead.  Military spending in the Middle East reached almost $200 billion in 2014, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks arms sales. That represents a jump of 57% since 2005.  Some of the largest increases have been among U.S. allies buying big-ticket items from American weapons makers. That includes Iraq and Saudi Arabia ($90 billion in U.S. weapons deals from October 2010 to October 2014), which, by the way, haven’t fared so well against smaller, less well-armed opponents. Those countries have seen increases in their arms purchases of 286% and 112%, respectively, since 2005.

With the United States feeding the fires of war and many in its political class frothing about nonexistent nukes, leave it to the indomitable Noam Chomsky, a TomDispatch regular and institute professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to cut to the quick when it comes to Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, the regional balance of power, and arms (real or imagined). He wades through the spin and speechifying to offer a frank assessment of threats in the Middle East that you’re unlikely to hear about in any U.S. presidential debate between now and the end of time. Nick Turse

“The Iranian threat”
Who is the gravest danger to world peace?
By Noam Chomsky

Throughout the world there is great relief and optimism about the nuclear deal reached in Vienna between Iran and the P5+1 nations, the five veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany. Most of the world apparently shares the assessment of the U.S. Arms Control Association that “the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action establishes a strong and effective formula for blocking all of the pathways by which Iran could acquire material for nuclear weapons for more than a generation and a verification system to promptly detect and deter possible efforts by Iran to covertly pursue nuclear weapons that will last indefinitely.”

There are, however, striking exceptions to the general enthusiasm: the United States and its closest regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. One consequence of this is that U.S. corporations, much to their chagrin, are prevented from flocking to Tehran along with their European counterparts. Prominent sectors of U.S. power and opinion share the stand of the two regional allies and so are in a state of virtual hysteria over “the Iranian threat.” Sober commentary in the United States, pretty much across the spectrum, declares that country to be “the gravest threat to world peace.” Even supporters of the agreement here are wary, given the exceptional gravity of that threat.  After all, how can we trust the Iranians with their terrible record of aggression, violence, disruption, and deceit?

Opposition within the political class is so strong that public opinion has shifted quickly from significant support for the deal to an even split. Republicans are almost unanimously opposed to the agreement. The current Republican primaries illustrate the proclaimed reasons. Senator Ted Cruz, considered one of the intellectuals among the crowded field of presidential candidates, warns that Iran may still be able to produce nuclear weapons and could someday use one to set off an Electro Magnetic Pulse that “would take down the electrical grid of the entire eastern seaboard” of the United States, killing “tens of millions of Americans.”

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Mikhail Gorbachev: U.S. military an ‘insurmountable obstacle to a nuclear-free world’

Der Spiegel: Mikhail Sergeyevich, during your inaugural speech as general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in March 1985, you warned of nuclear war and called for the “complete destruction of nuclear weapons and a permanent ban on them.” Did you mean that seriously?

Gorbachev: The discussion about disarmament had already been going on for too long — far too long. I wanted to finally see words followed by action because the arms race was not only continuing, it was growing ever more dangerous in terms of the number of weapons and their destructive capacity. There were tens of thousands of nuclear warheads on different delivery systems like aircraft, missiles and submarines.

SPIEGEL: Did you feel the Soviet Union was under threat during the 1980s by the nuclear weapons of NATO member states?

Gorbachev: The situation was that nuclear missiles were being stationed closer and closer to our adversary’s borders. They were getting increasingly precise and they were also being aimed at decision-making centers. There were very concrete plans for the use of these weapons. Nuclear war had become conceivable. And even a technical error could have caused it to happen. At the same time, disarmament talks were not getting anywhere. In Geneva, diplomats pored over mountains of paper, drank wine, and even harder stuff, by the liter. And it was all for nothing.

SPIEGEL: At a meeting of the Warsaw Pact nations in 1986, you declared that the military doctrine of the Soviet Union was no longer to plan for the coming war, but rather to seek to prevent military confrontation with the West. What was the reason behind the shift in strategy?

Gorbachev: It was clear to me that relations with America and the West would be a lasting dead end without atomic disarmament, with mutual distrust and growing hostility. That is why nuclear disarmament was the highest priority for Soviet foreign policy.

SPIEGEL: Did you not also push disarmament forward because of the financial and economic troubles facing the Soviet Union in the 1980s?

Gorbachev: Of course we perceived just how great a burden the arms race was on our economy. That did indeed play a role. It was clear to us that atomic confrontation threatened not only our people but also all of humanity. We knew only too well the weapons being discussed, their destructive force and the consequences. The nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl provided us with a rather precise idea of what the consequences of a nuclear war would be. Decisive for us were thus political and ethical considerations, not economic ones.

SPIEGEL: What was your experience with US President Ronald Reagan, who many saw as a driving force in the Cold War?

Gorbachev: Reagan acted out of honest conviction and genuinely rejected nuclear weapons. Already during my first meeting with him in November of 1985, we were able to make the most important determination: “Nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” This sentence combined morals and politics — two things many consider to be irreconcilable. Unfortunately, the US has since forgotten the second important point in our joint statement — according to which neither America nor we will seek to achieve military superiority. [Continue reading…]


Five ways that nuclear weapons could still be used

Alex Wellerstein writes: On 6 August 1945, the first atomic bomb to be used in anger detonated over the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, it was Nagasaki’s turn. That was the last such attack. Despite the worst of the cold war’s close calls, like the Cuban missile crisis, no other nuclear weapons have ever been used outside of testing. Seven decades later, it is worth asking: could it happen again? Here are five possible nuclear use scenarios. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post: At 8:15 a.m., Little Boy dropped. The fall to the burst altitude of 1,968 feet lasted 43 seconds. At that moment, Little Boy was moving faster than the speed of sound.

The bomb exploded with a blinding flash above the center of the city.

The burst temperature was estimated at more than 1 million degrees Celsius. It ignited the surrounding air, forming a fireball about 900 feet in diameter.

Thirty seconds after the explosion, the Enola Gay circled to get a better look at what was happening. The city itself was engulfed in black smoke and, although the bomber was flying at 30,000 feet, the mushroom cloud had already risen above it, eventually reaching almost 56,000 feet.

The bomb, which exploded near its target over the center of the city, leveled two square miles. A firestorm incinerated everything within 6,000 feet of ground zero.

The blast wave shattered windows within 10 miles and was felt as far away as 37 miles. More than two-thirds of Hiroshima’s buildings were demolished. The heat ignited fires as far as two miles from ground zero.

The nuclear fireball and the ensuing blast killed 60,000 to 80,000 people in the time it has taken you to read this paragraph, and mortally wounded or seriously injured an estimated 50,000 more. [Continue reading…]


Susan Southard: Under the mushroom cloud — Nagasaki after nuclear war

The nuclear age. Doesn’t that phrase seem like ancient history? With the twin anniversaries of the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki coming around again, this is its 70th birthday. Just a year younger than me, it was my age-mate, my companion all those years I was growing up. Those unshakeable fears, the “unthinkable,” turned out to be eminently translatable into the world of dreams. I still vividly recall my own world-ending nightmares from my teen years and I know I’m not alone. Thoughts of nuclear destruction were then part and parcel of our lives. Once, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, it felt as if we might not even make it out of this lifetime.

The byproducts of that moment — raging dinosaurs, world-ending death rays, giant ants, and destroyed planets — ran rampant in pop culture, the classic stuff of B-movies. In those years, when the U.S. and the USSR were each building their arsenals to unimaginable heights and planning for something like world’s end, all of us were, in a sense, “on the beach.” Who didn’t read Neville Shute’s classic novel (or see the movie) and think about that vast cloud of fallout from the ultimate apocalyptic battle of the Cold War heading south or experience what curtains might mean, even in Australia? Who didn’t read the burgeoning post-apocalyptic mutant pulp fiction of that era even as, with A Canticle for Leibowitz, it became “literature”?

And doesn’t all of that, the fearful and the eerily fun-filled, seem the product of another time, long gone and half-forgotten? And yet here’s the eeriest thing of all: on this very day, nine countries with nuclear arsenals of varying sizes still possess, according to the latest estimates, a total of more than 15,000 such weapons, enough, that is, to obliterate countless Earths. And as it happens, 93% of those weapons are in the hands of either the United States or Russia, both of which are proudly and openlymodernizing” their nuclear stocks — in the case of the U.S. at a planned cost of a trillion dollars over the next three decades. Consider that a reminder that, in August 2045 on the 100th anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the former Cold War rivals still have every intention of being nuclear powers.

Most unnerving of all, the planners in those countries simply refuse to acknowledge the most basic nuclear facts — or at least they are utterly unmoved by them and by the thought of the eradication of humanity. It evidently matters little that if those “modest” nuclear powers, India (a mere 110 nuclear weapons) and Pakistan (a mere 120 of them), were to release just part of their arsenals in a South Asian nuclear exchange, the planet would enter “nuclear winter” and humanity would be decimated.

So, on a 70th anniversary in which the madness shows no sign of ending, it’s good to turn to Susan Southard’s monumental new book, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War, which offers a riveting, if chilling plunge into nuclear realities. Among other things, it reminds us that, unbelievably enough, humanity’s nuclear fate was never just prospective, never just a matter of thoughts, or plans, or dreams, or fantasies. Nuclear destruction of an almost unimaginable sort was the initial reality of the atomic age, with such weaponry actually used on two utterly defenseless cities. Thanks to the kindness of the editors of Viking, TomDispatch today takes you directly beneath the mushroom cloud in an excerpt from Southard’s book that follows five teenage nuclear survivors of the Nagasaki bomb through the very first moments of what has become an unending nuclear age. Tom Engelhardt

Entering the nuclear age, body by body
The Nagasaki experience
By Susan Southard

[This essay has been adapted from chapters 1 and 2 of Susan Southard’s new book, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War, with the kind permission of Viking.]

Korean and Chinese workers, prisoners of war, and mobilized adults and students had returned to their work sites; some dug or repaired shelters, others piled sandbags against the windows of City Hall for protection against machine-gun fire. In the Mitsubishi sports field, bamboo spear drills in preparation for an invasion had just concluded. Classes had resumed at Nagasaki Medical College. Streetcars meandered through the city.

Hundreds of people injured in the air raids just over a week earlier continued to be treated in Nagasaki’s hospitals, and at the tuberculosis hospital in the northern Urakami Valley, staff members served a late breakfast to their patients. One doctor, trained in German, thought to himself, Im Westen nichts neues (All quiet on the western front). In the concrete-lined shelter near Suwa Shrine that served as the Nagasaki Prefecture Air Defense Headquarters, Governor Nagano had just begun his meeting with Nagasaki police leaders about an evacuation plan. The sun was hot, and the high-pitched, rhythmic song of cicadas vibrated throughout the city.

[Read more…]


Iran has signed a historic nuclear deal — now it’s Israel’s turn

Javad Zarif writes: We – Iran and its interlocutors in the group of nations known as the P5+1 – have finally achieved the shared objective of turning the Iranian nuclear programme from an unnecessary crisis into a platform for cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation and beyond. The nuclear deal reached in Vienna this month is not a ceiling but a solid foundation on which we must build. The joint comprehensive plan of action, as the accord is officially known, cements Iran’s status as a zone free of nuclear weapons. Now it is high time that we expand that zone to encompass the entire Middle East.

Iran’s push for a ban on weapons of mass destruction in its regional neighbourhood has been consistent. The fact that it precedes Saddam Hussein’s systematic use of WMDs against Iran (never reciprocated in kind) is evidence of the depth of my country’s commitment to this noble cause. And while Iran has received the support of some of its Arab friends in this endeavour, Israel – home to the Middle East’s only nuclear weapons programme – has been the holdout. In the light of the historic nuclear deal, we must address this challenge head on.

One of the many ironies of history is that non-nuclear-weapon states, like Iran, have actually done far more for the cause of non-proliferation in practice than nuclear-weapon states have done on paper. Iran and other nuclear have-nots have genuinely “walked the walk” in seeking to consolidate the non-proliferation regime. Meanwhile, states actually possessing these destructive weapons have hardly even “talked the talk”, while completely brushing off their disarmament obligations under the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and customary international law. [Continue reading…]


U.S. nuclear weapons could soon return to Europe

Der Spiegel reports: It’s been more than three decades since the vast peace protests took over Bonn’s Hofgarten meadow in the early 1980s. Back then, about half a million protesters pushed their way into the city center, a kilometer-long mass of people moving through the streets. It was the biggest rally in the history of the German Federal Republic.

Today, the situation isn’t quite that fraught, but it seems feasible that a similar scene may soon play out in front of the Chancellery in Berlin. For some time now, the Americans have once again been thinking about upgrading Europe’s nuclear arsenal, and in the past week, a rhetorical arms race has begun that is reminiscent of the coldest periods of the Cold War.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned of an “accelerating spiral of escalating words and then of actions.” He described them as “the old reflexes of the Cold War.” [Continue reading…]


Double standards on reporting about nuclear weapons in the Middle East

Dan Drollette, Jr. writes: A country in the Middle East has a clandestine nuclear development program, involving facilities hidden in the desert. After several years, the country is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons, even though the United States has been using all its resources to prevent that from happening. Frantic communications fly behind the scenes, between Washington and Tel Aviv.

And where is the nuclear program located? Israel.

Although Iran’s nuclear program dominates the headlines now (and did apparently have a military dimension at one time), that program has yet to produce a nuclear weapon, judging from the available public evidence. Meanwhile, the country pushing most aggressively for complete elimination of any prospect of an Iranian bomb—Israel—has an unacknowledged nuclear arsenal of its own. Although others project higher numbers, nuclear arsenal experts Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris estimate that Israel has roughly 80 warheads, built in secret.

It is noteworthy that while negotiations over limiting Iran’s enrichment program have taken center stage in news coverage—and will likely dominate the headlines as a final agreement is or is not reached at the end of this month—the history of Israel’s covert nuclear program draws relatively little media attention. [Continue reading…]


Sorry, Fareed: Saudi Arabia can build a nuclear weapon any time it likes

Jeffrey Lewis writes: Fareed Zakaria has written a predictably buzzy article suggesting that, whatever Saudi officials might say, Riyadh is simply too backward to build a nuclear weapon. “Whatever happens with Iran’s nuclear program,” Zakaria writes, “10 years from now Saudi Arabia won’t have nuclear weapons. Because it can’t.”

While I don’t think it is terribly likely that Saudi Arabia will choose to build nuclear weapons, I think it is deeply misguided to conclude that Saudi Arabia (or pretty much any state) cannot do so. Simply put, Zakaria is wrong — and it’s not all that hard to demonstrate why.

Zakaria isn’t explicit about what he believes to be the technical requirements for building a nuclear weapon, but he clearly thinks it is hard. Which was probably true in 1945 when the United States demonstrated two different routes to atomic weapons. Since then, however, the technologies associated with producing plutonium and highly enriched uranium have been developed, put to civilian use, and spread around the globe. The fact that most states don’t build nuclear weapons has a lot more to do with restraint than not being able to figure it out.

Zakaria’s argument that Saudi Arabia can’t build nuclear weapons is pretty shallow and relies largely on two assertions: a flip comment about Saudi Arabia lacking even a domestic automotive industry, and a superficially data-driven claim about Saudi Arabia’s “abysmal” math and science ranking.

First, automobile production is a terrible indicator of whether a state can build a nuclear weapon. The technologies are really not at all similar — or at least they don’t have to be. India, Pakistan, and North Korea all succeeded in building nuclear weapons despite not having much of an auto industry at home. And the Soviets were really good at building nuclear weapons, even though their cars famously sucked.

And, anyway, Saudi Arabia is investing in a domestic auto industry. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry is hoping the Meeya will be on the market by 2017. So, there’s that.

More importantly, Saudi Arabia is investing in a civil nuclear industry. “Where would Saudi Arabia train the scientists to work on its secret program?” Zakaria wonders. Oh, I don’t know, how about the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy? Somehow Zakaria never mentions that Saudi Arabia is building a dedicated city for training nuclear scientists. I can’t predict whether this investment will pay off, but then again neither can Zakaria — if he even knows it exists. [Continue reading…]


Israel built, exploded ‘dirty bomb’ in nuclear test

Haaretz reports: Israel recently carried out a series of tests in the desert in conjunction with a four-year project at the Dimona nuclear reactor to measure the damage and other implications of the detonation of a so-called “dirty” radiological bomb by hostile forces. Such a bomb uses conventional explosives in addition to radioactive material.

Most of the detonations were carried out in the desert and one was performed at a closed facility. The research concluded that high-level radiation was measured at the center of the explosions, with a low level of dispersal of radiation by particles carried by the wind. Sources at the reactor said this doesn’t pose a substantial danger beyond the psychological effect.

An additional concern stems from a radiological explosion in a closed space, which would then require that the area be closed off for an extended period until the effects of the radiation are eliminated. [Continue reading…]


Top U.S. negotiator warns of dangers of failing to lock down Iran deal

Foreign Policy reports: America’s top negotiator in the Iran nuclear talks offered a surprisingly detailed assessment of Tehran’s existing nuclear capabilities on Monday as she warned that failing to secure a final deal with the longtime adversary would seriously threaten American national security.

The remarks by Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary for political affairs at the State Department, come at a pivotal juncture in U.S. politics as Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill wrangle over provisions in a new bill allowing Congress to review a final agreement.

Sherman, speaking at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, said that failing to reach an agreement would leave Tehran closer than ever to acquiring a bomb.

Without a deal, Sherman said, Iran would expand its nuclear enrichment program to 100,000 centrifuges in the next few years instead of shrinking that figure to 5,000 as agreed in the framework agreement brokered in Lausanne, Switzerland on April 2.

She also said Iran could produce enough weapons grade plutonium to produce two bombs each year. And in terms of uranium enrichment, the country could expand its already significant stockpile of 10 tons of enriched uranium.

In dealing with both of the emerging pathways to a bomb, she said an agreement would result in Iran having “zero weapons grade plutonium” and a stockpile of enriched uranium that is reduced by 98 percent. She added that if the U.S. backs out of a deal widely viewed as fair, international support for sanctions will whither away. [Continue reading…]


How to avert a nuclear war

James E. Cartwright and Vladimir Dvorkin write: We find ourselves in an increasingly risky strategic environment. The Ukrainian crisis has threatened the stability of relations between Russia and the West, including the nuclear dimension — as became apparent last month when it was reported that Russian defense officials had advised President Vladimir V. Putin to consider placing Russia’s nuclear arsenal on alert during last year’s crisis in Crimea.

Diplomatic efforts have done little to ease the new nuclear tension. This makes it all the more critical for Russia and the United States to talk, to relieve the pressures to “use or lose” nuclear forces during a crisis and minimize the risk of a mistaken launch.

The fact is that we are still living with the nuclear-strike doctrine of the Cold War, which dictated three strategic options: first strike, launch on warning and post-attack retaliation. There is no reason to believe that Russia and the United States have discarded these options, as long as the architecture of “mutually assured destruction” remains intact.

For either side, the decision to launch on warning — in an attempt to fire one’s nuclear missiles before they are destroyed — would be made on the basis of information from early-warning satellites and ground radar. Given the 15- to 30-minute flight times of strategic missiles, a decision to launch after an alert of an apparent attack must be made in minutes. [Continue reading…]


How Israel hid its secret nuclear weapons program

Avner Cohen and William Burr write: For decades, the world has known that the massive Israeli facility near Dimona, in the Negev Desert, was the key to its secret nuclear project. Yet, for decades, the world — and Israel — knew that Israel had once misleadingly referred to it as a “textile factory.” Until now, though, we’ve never known how that myth began — and how quickly the United States saw through it. The answers, as it turns out, are part of a fascinating tale that played out in the closing weeks of the Eisenhower administration—a story that begins with the father of Secretary of State John Kerry and a familiar charge that the U.S. intelligence community failed to “connect the dots.”

In its final months, even as the Kennedy-Nixon presidential race captivated the country, the Eisenhower administration faced a series of crises involving Cuba and Laos. Yet, as the fall of 1960 progressed, President Dwight D. Eisenhower encountered a significant and unexpected problem of a new kind — U.S. diplomats learned and U.S. intelligence soon confirmed that Israel was building, with French aid, a secret nuclear reactor in the Negev Desert. Soon concluding that the Israelis were likely seeking an eventual nuclear weapons capability, the administration saw a threat to strategic stability in the Middle East and a nuclear proliferation threat. Adding fuel to the fire was the perception that Israel was deceitful, or had not “come clean,” as CIA director Allen Dulles put it. Once the Americans started asking questions about Dimona, the site of Israel’s nuclear complex, the Israelis gave evasive and implausible cover stories.

A little anecdote about an occurrence sometime in September 1960 sheds light on the development of U.S. perceptions that Israel was being less than honest about Dimona. That month, Addy Cohen, then the young director of the Foreign Aid Office at the Israeli Finance Ministry, hosted U.S. ambassador to Israel Ogden Reid and some of his senior staff for a tour of the Dead Sea Works — a large Israeli potash plant in Sdom, on the Dead Sea coast of Israel. The Israeli Air Force provided a Sikorsky S-58 helicopter to fly the American group from Tel Aviv to Sdom. As they were returning on the helicopter, near the new town of Dimona, Reid pointed to a huge industrial site under heavy construction and asked what it was. [Continue reading…]