April 28, 2005

North Korea Capable of Putting Nuclear Warheads on Missiles, U.S. Official Says

The head of the Defense Intelligence Agency said today that American intelligence agencies believe North Korea has mastered the technology for mounting a nuclear warhead on its missiles, an assessment that, if correct, means the country could build weapons to threaten Japan and perhaps the western United States. [The New York Times ] (registration required)

Rumsfeld Asks Congress to Fund Nuclear-Bomb Study

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pressed Congress on Wednesday to fund research into an earth-penetrating "bunker buster" nuclear bomb that U.S. lawmakers dropped from the budget last year.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California told Rumsfeld: "It is beyond me as to why you're proceeding with this program when the laws of physics won't allow a missile to be driven deeply enough" to prevent deadly radioactive fallout from spewing into the air after a nuclear detonation. [via Yahoo! News]

Iran issues fresh nuclear warning

Iran will resume nuclear enrichment if its talks with leading EU nations fail, says the country's foreign minister. The group, France, Germany and the UK, - known as the EU Three - want Iran to abandon its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities. They are offering Tehran economic, political and technological incentives for giving up the program.

A previous round of talks in March ended with no agreement. [via BBC NEWS]
April 26, 2005

Philip Morrison dies

Philip Morrison, 89, the American physicist who was one of the youngest participants in the Manhattan Project and then withdrew from weapons research to focus on a prolific writing and teaching career, died of respiratory failure April 22 at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was professor emeritus at MIT. A protege of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who recruited him to the atomic bomb project. Morrison was a group leader during the Manhattan Project, which launched the age of nuclear weapons, and was present for the detonation of the first atomic bomb on July 14, 1945 in New Mexico (Read his account). Morrison also helped assemble the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, and was part of a scientific team sent to assess bomb damage after Japan's surrender ended World War II.

After view the destruction of both the atomic and conventional bombings on Japan, he became a forceful advocate of international arms control, helping to found the Federation of American Scientists.

He is also know as the creator of the 1977 film "Powers of Ten," and its companion book. In 1987, PBS aired his six-part series, "The Ring of Truth."

During the 1950s, Morrison began to concentrate on theoretical astrophysics. In 1959 he and Guiseppe Cocconi proposed a "discriminating search" for radio signals emanating from extraterrestrial beings. Morrison was born in Somerville, N.J., on Nov. 7, 1915. He was stricken with polio, a development that led him to start tinkering with machinery. He is survived by a stepson, Bert Singer, of Cambridge. [via CBS News]
April 25, 2005

Conference: LIFTING THE SHADOW: Toward a Nuclear-Weapons-Free World

When: May 2, 2005
Where: The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue (at 34th St.) - City University of New York

REGISTRATION FEE (includes entry to evening event):
$25 ($15 students). Evening event only: $10 ($5 students).
Tickets can be purchased at the door. No one turned away if unable to pay.

TO REGISTER: 212-817-8215 or continuinged@gc.cuny.edu
FOR MORE INFO: kuznick@american.edu
Website: http://web.gc.cuny.edu/cepp/nuclearconference/
April 22, 2005

Review: American Prometheus

Book CoverMost will recognize J. Robert Oppenheimer as the scientific leader of the Manhattan Project and the "father" of the atomic bomb. However, few know about his life before this critical point in history. Authors Martin Sherwin and Kai Bird have teamed together to write one of the most comprehensive biographies on this American icon. Twenty-five years of research is reflected on every one of the 736 pages.

American Prometheus provides a rich and compelling account of Oppenheimer's life. We are given a solid understanding of his childhood living on Manhattan's Upper West Side and the influence of attending New York City's Ethical Culture School. Oppenheimer's genius began to shine even at this early age. But some of the cracks in his psyche are also exposed. Oppenheimer does not reflect the popular image of a magnetic personality and leader of the race to build the atomic bomb.

Sherwin and Bird paint a portrait of a troubled young man, and recount the troubles he encountered at Harvard and Cambridge. This sketch of Oppenheimer begins to change texture and shape as he begins to find his inner fire. Upon returning to America, the magnetic enigma of "Oppy" begins to emerge and continues to grow while teaching at Berkeley and Cal Tech.

The book provides a basic account of the development of the atomic bomb, and like other recent biographies on Oppenheimer, does not dwell on this stage of his life. However, the authors do provide a detailed examination of Oppenheimer's left wing influences and the repercussions in his later life.

Like the legendary Prometheus who stole fire from the gods and was punished, Sherwin and Bird chronicle the events that cause this American one to fall. As Oppenheimer's career chased the atom's inner fire and its control, this quest was not without costs. Oppy's brisk personality, coupled with his left-wing past, provided the catalyst for his fall. During the hysteria of the McCarthy-era, Oppenheimer became a prime target. These events culminated in the review of his security clearance by the Atomic Energy Commission. The authors reveal the shameful actions undertaken by Oppenheimer's enemies and present a convincing portrayal of the events inside the "kangaroo-court".

After his fall from grace, Oppenheimer retreated to being the Director of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton. Although he received some redemption, when he was awarded the Enrico Fermi award, Oppenheimer never recovered. Oppenheimer retired from Princeton in 1966 and died of throat cancer on February 18, 1967. Bird and Sherwin have written a rich, detailed, and enjoyable biography of one of the great scientists of the 20th century. Available at amazon.com

April 20, 2005

North Korea admits it suspended operation of nuclear reactor

North Korea has for the first time confirmed it has suspended the operation of its nuclear reactor and intends to retrieve fuel rods from it for obtaining weapons grade plutonium, which will be used for the production of nuclear warheads and "strengthening of the deterrent forces," against the United States, North Korea's Deputy Permanent Representative to the U.N. Hang Song Ryol said. [via ITAR-TASS]
April 15, 2005

Nuclear Terrorism Treaty adopted by U.N.

After a seven-year struggle, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a global treaty Wednesday to prevent nuclear terrorism, making it a crime to possess radioactive material or weapons with the intention of committing a terrorist act.

The treaty is meant to be a new safeguard to make sure that nuclear material does not fall into the hands of terrorist groups. Based on an instrument originally proposed by the Russian Federation in 1998, the Convention provides for a definition of acts of nuclear terrorism and covers a broad range of possible targets, including those against nuclear power plants and nuclear reactors. Under its provisions, the alleged offenders must be either extradited or prosecuted. It also encourages States to cooperate in preventing terrorist attacks by sharing information and assisting each other in connection with criminal investigations and extradition proceedings. The treaty requires that any seized nuclear or radiological material is held in accordance with IAEA safeguards, and handled in regard to the IAEA's health, safety and physical protection standards. The treaty's full text. [via MSNBC]
April 11, 2005

Al-Qaida sought nuke, IAEA chief says

The head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, IAEA, said in an interview that al-Qaida and other extremist groups had sought to obtain a nuclear weapon, Norwegian television reported on Saturday.

"They were actively looking into acquiring a nuclear weapon and other weapons of mass destruction," Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in an interview in Vienna with Norway's commercial TV 2 channel.

He said there was a "race against time" to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and plug gaps in the security of atomic weapons and materials.

"The more nuclear weapons that exist, the more threat we are facing. And the more countries that have nuclear weapons, the more danger we are facing," ElBaradei said.

"We can’t afford one single lapse in the system of security of nuclear material or nuclear weapons," he said. [via MSNBC.com]

Teaching Nonproliferation Summer Institute Abstracts Available

For those planning to attend the Teaching Nonproliferation Summer Institute: Integrating Science & Politics in the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction, the abstracts and schedule are now available. We are looking forward to attending. Hope to see you there. For more information visit http://wmd.wlu.edu/
April 08, 2005

Experts outline steps to halt spread of nuclear weapons

The nine nations that possess nuclear weapons have enough plutonium and high-enriched uranium collectively to build more than 100,000 additional nuclear weapons, according to a new report aimed at controlling the spread of such weapons and the materials to make them. The full text of the report is available. [ via Center for International Security and Cooperation]
April 06, 2005

Government will move nuclear waste piled near Colorado River

The Department of Energy announced Wednesday it will move millions of tons of radioactive uranium processing waste off the banks of the Colorado River near Moab.The radioactive tailings are from the the only decommissioned uranium mill overseen by the Energy Department that hasn't yet been cleaned up. [via SignOnSanDiego.com]

Report - Nuclear Plants May Be Vulnerable

A panel of nuclear experts gathered by the National Academy of Sciences called for a plant-by-plant examination of the fuel storage pools at nuclear power reactors, declaring the material may be vulnerable to a potential terrorist attack and deadly release of radiation.

The panel in a largely classified 130-page report concluded that if terrorists succeeded in partially draining water from a reactor spent-fuel pool an intense fire likely would release large amounts of radiation into the environment. [CBS News]

Hiroshima and Nagasaki for College Teachers

Hiroshima and Nagasaki for College Teachers, a one week workshop will be held from June 27 through July 1. The workshop is presented by Raymond G. Wilson, Ph.D., Emeritus Associate Professor Physics Department, Illinois Wesleyan University.

For more information, visit http://titan.iwu.edu/~physics/Hiroshima.html.
April 05, 2005

Review: Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe

Book CoverThe issue of nuclear terrorism is not a new one to the world community. In 1995, we published an example scenario of a terrorist-detonated nuclear weapon in the heart of New York City. That scenario was based on a complete stolen device, however the ingredients for a nuclear device - fissile nuclear material - are easily available. In many cases this material is not carefully guarded nor accounted for. The technology is not very complicated, and a graduate-level physics student would have the necessary science background to develop a weapon.

Nuclear weapon states are now up to eight with Iran and North Korea on the verge of joining the nuclear club. Terrorists are also striving to acquire and then use nuclear weapons. The proliferation of nuclear weapons is one of the greatest threats that the world faces.

A founding dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, Graham Allison's Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe addresses all the big questions: who could be planning an attack; how might they acquire a device; and how such a weapon could be delivered.

Allison explores biological and chemical attacks, but focuses on the stronger nuclear threat: non-nuclear radiological bombs ("dirty bombs") and traditional nuclear devices. To put this danger into perspective, a chemical, biological or radiological attack would kill in the thousands. A 15-kiloton nuclear bomb could kill up to one million people.

Allison provides several examples of a nuclear explosion on New York City, San Francisco, Houston, Washington DC, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Charlotte, North Carolina. The book's companion website, http://www.nuclearterror.org , has a Java-based tool to allow you to visualize the effects of a device on your home town.

After painting a bleak picture of the real possibility of nuclear terrorism, the book turns to provide solutions. He lays out a systematic program of "three no's"

  1. no unsecured nuclear weapons
  2. no new countries capable of enriching uranium or reprocessing plutonium
  3. no more states with nuclear weapons

Allison also outlines "seven yeses" ways to provide solutions to this crisis. He argues that we must increase our funding and attention to programs like the Nunn-Lugar Nuclear Threat Reduction Program.

The book also presents a program to reduce the United States' vulnerability to a nuclear terrorist attack. Given that a retired four-star general, formerly in charge of the nuclear anti-terror programs at the Department of Energy stated, "It is not a matter of if, it's a matter of when."with respect to the chance of a terrorist attack with a nuclear device, this book should be read by everyone.

April 04, 2005

U.N. Committee Approves Nuclear Terrorism Treaty

A treaty designed to improve international cooperation to prevent and punish nuclear terrorism was adopted by consensus Friday by the U.N. committee that had been negotiating the text since 1998.

The nuclear convention outlaws any use or threat of use of a nuclear weapon or other radiological device and would require all states to cooperate in prosecuting individuals accused of committing these crimes. 

The treaty will go to the General Assembly within two weeks for formal adoption and will be open for signature by nations on Sept. 14, when the summit marking the 60th anniversary of the United Nations begins.

[via NTI: Global Security Newswire]

Atomic Firsts | Physics at the turn of the century

Here is an online exhibit from the British Science Museum that explores some famous discoveries that helped determine the structure of the atom. Science Museum

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