November 30, 2004

Book Review: Engaging India

Book CoverOn May 11, 1988, three nuclear devices were detonated under the desert sands of India. News of these tests shook the world, as well as United States-India relations. The situation deteriorated further when Pakistan tested its own nuclear devices two weeks later.

Engaging India is a compelling and authoritative narrative of the diplomatic talks between these new nuclear powers over the next two and half years. Strobe Talbott, serving as Deputy Secretary of State, conducted the most extensive engagement between the United States and India. He and his counterpart, Minister of External Affairs Jaswant Singh, met fourteen times in seven countries on three continents between June 1998 and September 2000. This book explores these meetings, as they grappled with the issues of arms control and non-proliferation, and the larger picture of United States-India relations.

Talbott recounts his meetings with Singh and the personal rapport that developed between them. This dialogue was a key component in defusing the conflict between Pakistan and India during the summer of 1999. Tensions over the issue of Kashmir had reached a boiling point, and the potential for a nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India seemed a real possibility.

The book provides an insider's perspective into the complex nature of international diplomacy. As the region remains a flashpoint for the 21st century, Talbott's memoirs offer an engaging lesson in nuclear diplomacy. Available at
November 29, 2004

Book Review: Going Critical: The First North Korean Nuclear Crisis

Book Cover In Going Critical: The First North Korean Nuclear Crisis, three former United States officials who played key roles in the nuclear crisis recount the intense efforts that led to the signing of the 1994 Agreed Framework. United States intelligence had revealed evidence of a clandestine and robust nuclear weapons program. When confronted with this knowledge, North Korea responded by announcing its intent to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty. If left unconstrained, North Korea would be able to produce approximately thirty Nagasaki-sized nuclear weapons annually. These weapons would directly threaten the United States and its allies. There were additional worries that cash-strapped North Korea might be tempted to sell these devices to other countries or terrorist groups.

This book chronicles the intense and complex web of diplomacy that led North Korea to freeze - and ultimately dismantle - its plutonium production program. Throughout the entire process there was the threat of a second Korean War. The authors explore the challenges of weaving a multi-part strategy (military, economic, and diplomatic) to resolve this crisis. Their efforts led to the negotiations that produced the 1994 Agreed Framework.

Unfortunately, the Agreed Framework now lies abandoned. Currently, North Korea claims to possess nuclear weapons, while threatening to produce more. As our current administration deals with the second North Korean Nuclear Crisis, this book provides valuable insight in to the complex process of nuclear diplomacy. Available at

November 28, 2004

Iran Pledges Again to Halt All Enrichment Work

Under the terms of the deal, Tehran pledged to suspend all activities related to plutonium reprocessing and the enrichment of uranium, a process of purifying uranium for use as fuel in nuclear power plants or, when very highly enriched, in weapons.

In exchange, France, Britain and Germany have offered on behalf of the EU a package of economic and political benefits, including a promise to build a light-water nuclear reactor that is more difficult to use for weapons purposes than other types.

Iran had asked that 20 centrifuges -- which enrich uranium by spinning at supersonic speeds -- be exempted from the deal it reached with the EU's "Big Three" freezing its nuclear program on Nov. 7.

Under intense international pressure, it withdrew the demand, which had threatened to wreck the entire deal. [via Yahoo! News]
November 24, 2004

How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

With the recent release of U2's new album, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, one might ask how do you actually dismantle an atomic bomb?

From Dismantling U.S. nuclear warheads

For the United States, this activity is done at the Pantex Plant in Texas. Pantex is located 17 miles northeast of Amarillo, in the Texas panhandle near Highway 60.

It takes one to two weeks to dismantle an average warhead. Disassembly is essentially a reversal of the assembly process. The chemical high explosive is separated from the nuclear components and burned at Pantex. The separation is done in one of 13 assembly cells known as "Gravel Gerties," specially reinforced rooms able to withstand an explosion equivalent to 250 kilograms of TNT.

Subassemblies and components are further broken down in assembly bays for salvage or disposal. A wide variety of non-nuclear components are returned to the facilities where they were originally manufactured.

Thermonuclear secondaries (canned subassemblies) contain uranium and lithium-6 deuteride (the fusion material of a hydrogen bomb) and are returned to the Y-12 Plant at Oak Ridge for storage or processing. Tritium, a hydrogen isotope with a half-life of 12.3 years used for boosting the yield of the primary, is shipped to Savannah River Site in South Carolina. For the past 15 years, that tritium has been recycled into active warheads.

A modern pit is a hollow, spherical or aspherical shell of plutonium encased in stainless steel or other metal or alloy, that is, with its other components, a fission (atomic) bomb. In a thermonuclear weapon, the fission bomb acts as the first (primary) stage in triggering the fusion (secondary) stage. After removal, the plutonium pits are placed in drums or containers and stored in the Pantex igloos. A few pits are sent to Los Alamos and Livermore laboratories for research and analysis.

For more information read, Dismantling U.S. nuclear warheads

Iran Wants to Change Conditions of Freeze

Iran is seeking a last-minute exception to its commitment to stop all uranium enrichment activities by demanding the right to operate around two dozen centrifuges.

The Iranians have told the International Atomic Energy Agency - the U.N. nuclear watchdog - they want to operate about 24 centrifuges "for research purposes," diplomats told The Associated Press.

They have asked the IAEA to exempt that equipment from agency seals meant to ensure the enrichment program - which can be used to make nuclear weapons - is completely frozen, one diplomat said.

While the number of centrifuges was relatively insignificant, the request casts doubt on Iran's commitment to dispel international suspicions about its nuclear ambitions. [via Yahoo! News]
November 22, 2004

Congress Rejects New Nuclear Weapons Funds

The U.S. Congress denied the Bush administration funds to study a new generation of nuclear weapons, omitting the money from a huge mop-up spending bill it passed over the weekend, lawmakers said on Monday.

The final $388 billion spending bill did not include the $36.6 million President Bush sought to study so-called bunker-busting nuclear weapons that would be used to destroy underground facilities as well as smaller nuclear arms with half the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

The White House said it had no plans to build such weapons, but wanted to keep the door open to their development to deal with emerging threats.

Democrats said just considering the weapons takes nuclear warfare out of the realm of the unthinkable and encourages adversaries of the United States to develop such weapons. [via]

Iran suspends uranium enrichment

"Iran announced the cessation in a brief statement on state-run radio earlier Monday. "To build confidence and in line with implementing the Paris Agreement, Iran suspended uranium enrichment (and related activities) as of today," it said.

In Vienna, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, said the suspension appeared confirmed.

"I think pretty much everything has come to a halt," the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency told reporters. [via MSNBC]

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists redesign

Thought I would mention that the team at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have recently redesigned thier website. It is a very nice clean look, so stop by and take a look. There is also a new weblog.

You also might be interested in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist's digital archive, offering convenient online access to every issue in the Bulletin's 60 years of publication. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
November 20, 2004

Chicago Pile 1 Photos

I was recently in Chicago for the National Science Digital Library's Annual meeting. While there I had a chance to view a few of the local sites. The Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum was amazing. I skipped the Shedd Aquarium, $23 to get in was a bit steep. I went down to Museum of Science and Industry, this was an incredible musuem (I'll have to visit once they reopen the U-boat). They had a model of Chicago Pile 1 in their energy exhibit.

I had also had a chance to visit the University of Chicago and the actual site of Chicago Pile 1. The staduim and Stagg field have since be demolished, in its place is a sculpture by Henry Moore, entitled "Nuclear Energy" was erected.
November 19, 2004

Iran Readies Uranium for Enrichment

Iran is preparing large amounts of uranium for enrichment, a process that can be used to make nuclear weapons, days before its promise to freeze all such activities takes effect, Western diplomats said on Friday.

"The Iranians are producing UF6 (uranium hexafluoride) like hell," a diplomat on the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told Reuters. "The machines are running."

UF6 is the form of uranium that is fed into gas centrifuges, which purify uranium for use as fuel in nuclear power plants or weapons, by spinning at supersonic speeds. Iran had promised the European Union it would freeze enrichment and all related activities as of Nov 22.

Iran announced in September that it would process 37 tons of raw "yellowcake" uranium at its uranium conversion plant at Isfahan. Iran began processing several tons of yellowcake, but only produced uranium tetrafluoride (UF4), a precursor to UF6.[via Yahoo! News and BBC News]
November 18, 2004

More Than Minutes Contest

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is delighted to announce a new contest and a call for entries consisting of designs for displays in a "virtual museum" that will be posted on the Bulletin web site. It's your opportunity to make a permanent contribution to the magazine's record of the Atomic Age. Plus, we're giving away more than $5,000 in prizes to the best entries! The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
November 17, 2004

Russia to acquire new nuclear weapons systems

President Vladimir Putin said that Russia would in the coming years acquire new nuclear weapon systems which other nuclear powers do not yet have and are unlikely to develop in the near future.

Putin failed to specify what type of systems he was referring to but Russia has been seeking to upgrade its nuclear arsenal after the United States announced plans in 2001 to develop a missile defense shield in abrogation of its 1972 ABM Treaty with Moscow. [via
Yahoo! News
November 14, 2004

UN Confirms Iran Pledge to Freeze Nuclear Enrichment

Iran has notified the IAEA in writing that it will suspend uranium enrichment and related activities to dispel suspicions it is trying to build nuclear arms, diplomats said Sunday.[ via Yahoo! News]
November 10, 2004

France to Replace Submarine-Based Missiles

France is expected to award contracts worth $1.55 billion this year for the first set of replacements for its submarine-launched nuclear missiles, the French defense procurement agency DGA announced yesterday.

The French government has spent nearly $3.6 billion on development of the new M-51 missile, according to Reuters.

The M-51 is scheduled to replace the existing M-45 missile on French submarines in 2010. Approximately 20 percent of France's annual defense equipment budget is spent on its nuclear arsenal, according to Reuters. [via NTI]]
November 08, 2004

Marie Curie and The Science of Radioactivity

New Web Site Explains Marie Curie's Life for Young People

MARIE CURIE opened up the science of radioactivity. She is best known as the discoverer of the radioactive elements polonium and radium and as the first person to win two Nobel prizes. The Center already has a major Web exhibit on "Marie Curie and the Science of Radioactivity," which is visited by nearly a thousand people a day. Although designed for the high school - to - retired audience, the exhibit has attracted complimentary e-mails from lower-school teachers, parents and students. A much larger audience in this age group is expected for the new exhibit, titled "Marie Curie in Brief." It has a shorter and more readable text, brighter colors and graphics, many striking illustrations, and interactive "mouseover" activity to sustain interest. [via Center for History of Physics]
November 07, 2004

Preliminary Pact Reached on Iran Nuclear Program

Iran and the European Union's three big powers reached a preliminary agreement over Tehran's nuclear program. If approved, the deal would be a major breakthrough after months of threats and negotiations and could spare Iran from being taken before the U.N. Security Council, where the United States has warned it would seek to impose economic sanctions unless Tehran gives up all uranium enrichment activities, a technology that can produce nuclear fuel or atomic weapons.

Diplomats in Austria familiar with the talks outcome declined to discuss details. "One or two points remain outstanding, and they hope to resolve those outstanding points by Wednesday," one diplomat in Austria told The Associated Press. [
Yahoo! News

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