July 31, 2007

IAEA Inspectors Visit Arak Reactor

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors visited Iran's incomplete Arak nuclear reactor yesterday for the first time since Tehran barred the U.N. nuclear from the site in April, the Associated Press reported.

"The team visited the 40-megawatt research reactor in Arak," said an unnamed Iranian official, according to AP. "The inspection took some five hours." (Nasser Karimi, Associated Press/Washington Post, July 30)

An IAEA official in Vienna confirmed the visit, adding that inspectors had full access to the site, Reuters reported.

The official declined to elaborate, saying that details of the visit would be reported to a September meeting of the agency’s 35-nation governing board.

Arak, if completed, could be used to produce weapon-grade plutonium, one possible ingredient in nuclear weapons (Reuters/New York Times, July 30).

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North Korea Cooperating With Nuclear Inspectors, IAEA Says

U.N. inspectors completed the first stage of shuttering North Korea's main nuclear reactor without any resistance from Pyongyang, the Associated Press reported today.

"We have a full cooperation with the D.P.R.K. authorities," said departing International Atomic Energy Agency inspector Adel Tolba. Tolba and his nine-member team supervised the initial shutdown of the main Yongbyon nuclear reactor. They were replaced Saturday by a fresh group of six agency inspectors. [via Nuclear Threat Initiative]

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July 24, 2007

Anatomy of a Nuclear Sting

The GAO set out to procure enough radioactive material to build a dirty bomb. Suppliers were only too happy to help. How the agency did it. The story is online.

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U.S., India Finalize Nuclear Deal

The United States and India agreed to terms Friday for their nuclear trade deal, Agence France-Presse reported.

"The agreement has been finalized but it awaits review by both governments," said Rahul Chhabra, a spokesman for the Indian Embassy in Washington, said following high-level talks here last week on the implementation agreement for the deal.  The talks were extended into Friday as officials made headway through disputes that had stalled the agreement over the past several months.

India under the pact would have access to U.S. nuclear fuel and technology, in exchange for opening its civilian nuclear sites to international monitoring.

The deal would have to be approved by lawmakers in both countries, along with the international Nuclear Suppliers Group. [via Nuclear Threat Initiative]

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July 22, 2007

2007 Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference

Videos and transcripts from the recent Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference are now available online.

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New film coming on HBO

Today, with the world's arsenal capable of repeating the destruction at Hiroshima 400,000 times over, Steven Okazaki (the Oscar®-winning "Days of Waiting") revisits the bombings and their aftermath in the exclusive HBO presentation WHITE LIGHT/BLACK RAIN: THE DESTRUCTION OF HIROSHIMA AND NAGASAKI. Debuting MONDAY, AUG. 6 (7:30-9:00 p.m. ET/PT), the 62nd anniversary of the bombings, the powerful documentary provides a graphic, unflinching look at the reality of nuclear warfare through first-hand accounts of both survivors and American men who carried out the bombing missions.

Other HBO playdates: Aug. 7 (noon, 10:00 p.m.), 11 (noon), 13 (11:30 a.m., 11:00 p.m.), 19 (3:00 p.m.) and 22 (4:00 p.m.).

HBO2 playdates: Aug. 9 (6:00 p.m.), 16 (12:30 a.m.) and 20 (8:00 p.m.).

Time to figure out my DVR... For more on film, visit HBO.com]

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Iran-IAEA Agreement Postive Sign

The head of the UN's atomic energy agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, has welcomed Iran's decision to allow inspections of its heavy water reactor at Arak. He said that after recent talks with IAEA experts, Iran had for the first time agreed to discuss concerns which remain over its nuclear program.

More talks are expected at the agency's headquarters in Vienna this month. [via ]

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Russia Continues to Withhold Fuel From Iran

From Managing the Atom:
Haaretz's reports that while Russia opposes sanctions on Iran they continue to withhold nuclear fuel. This is interesting and shows that while Russia is against the sanctions it is clearly concerned with Iran becoming a nuclear weapons state.
[via Managing the Atom]

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North Korea: Nuclear talks end without timeline

Talks aimed at shutting down North Korea's nuclear weapons program ended Thursday with no concrete timeline and a host of difficult questions obscuring the road ahead.

But a year-end deadline proposed by the US delegation for North Korea to come clean on its nuclear weapons stockpile, atomic research programs, stored components, secret facilities, and other capabilities proved elusive.

North Korea pledged in February to dismantle its atomic weapons capability in return for aid, trade, and diplomatic recognition.

US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said he still believed a full North Korean disclosure was possible by late December. "But obviously it's going to be difficult," Hill, the chief US negotiator, told reporters before leaving Beijing.
Chinese officials said the parties agreed to convene working groups on several technical issues by the end of August.
They also agreed to hold another round of six-nation talks by September and move to schedule a ministerial meeting as soon as possible thereafter in a bid to maintain momentum.

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China Reorganizes Northern Nuclear Missile Launch Sites

From the Strategic Security Blog,
China has significantly reorganized facilities believed to be launch sites for nuclear ballistic missiles near Delingha in the northern parts of Central China, according to commercial satellite images analyzed by the Federation of American Scientists.
The images indicate that older liquid-fueled missiles previously thought to have been deployed in the area may have been replaced with newer solid-fueled missiles. From the sites, the missiles are within range of three Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) fields and a bomber base in the southern parts of central Russia.

I'm currently reading Dr. Jeffery Lewis' , The Minimum Means of Reprisal so this post was very interesting. [via FAS]

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New CRS report

There is a new Congressional Research Service report entitled, Conventional Warheads For Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues for Congress. This June 1, 2007, report meticulously catalogues U.S. treaties and agreements concerning arms control, and includes information on treaties from SALT I to the modern Bush administration.

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July 19, 2007

National lab worker accused of stealing secrets

Federal prosecutors on Thursday accused a low-level contract worker at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory - birthplace of the nuclear bomb - with stealing highly classified information about how to make enriched uranium, a key ingredient in nuclear weapons.

The suspect was allegedly caught trying to sell it to someone he thought was representing another country, someone who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent. Federal officials will not say which country the agent was pretending to represent. [via MSNBC]

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New leak at Japanese nuclear plant

Japanese regulators discovered a fresh leak of radioactive material Thursday from a nuclear power plant damaged in an earthquake this week, news reports said, adding to criticism of the embattled plant operator.

Nuclear inspectors probed the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, which suffered a barrage of leaks and malfunctions in Monday's 6.8-magnitude quake in northwestern Japan. The plant was ordered shut down indefinitely on Wednesday.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency found radioactive iodine had leaked from an exhaust pipe at the plant, Kyodo News agency and national broadcaster NHK reported. Operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. already had announced the release of other radioactive materials from the exhaust vent previously. [via MSNBC]

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July 18, 2007

Book Review: The Fly in the Cathedral

Book CoverSo often, the story of the race to unlock the secrets of the atom focuses on the work of Lise Meitner, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann. To properly tell the history, however, one needs to look to Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory and the year 1932.

Brian Cathcart's The Fly in the Cathedral: How a Group of Cambridge Scientists Won the International Race to Split the Atom, retells the genesis of nuclear physics in this first rate book. He takes the reader back to the early research laboratories, where scientists toiled with homemade apparatus, sealing wax, and luck. It is hard to imagine what research was like before the era of "Big Science". In this 320 page book, Cathcart frames the discovery of atomic fission perfectly in this environment.

Before the world erupted into the second world war, labs across the globe raced to understand the atomic nucleus. Under the leadership of Sir Ernest Rutherford, two young scientists raced toward this goal. John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton lead the effort at Cavendish. Building upon the quantum mechanical theories put forth by the flamboyant Russian, George Gamow, they thought it was possible to drive either an alpha particle or a single proton into a larger nucleus, causing it to split, or fission.

Cathcart provides a wonderful insight to these future giants of the physics world. He draws the title of the book from a statement by Rutherford comparing the size of the nucleus to a fly on the ceiling of a cathedral.

The book reveals in rich detail the incredible story of this scientific breakthrough that won the pair a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1951. Although the end result of this discovery did lead to the creation of the atomic bomb, this by no means should dampen this achievement.

Anyone who enjoyed the first portion of Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb will greatly enjoy The Fly in the Cathedral.

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July 14, 2007

North Korea shuts down Yongbyon reactor

North Korea has told the United States it has shut down its Yongbyon nuclear facilities, the State Department said on Saturday.

"We welcome this development and look forward to the verification and monitoring of this shutdown by the International Atomic Energy Agency team that has arrived in" North Korea, said spokesman Sean McCormack.

North Korea said last week it would consider suspending the operation of its nuclear facilities as soon as it received the first shipment of oil from South Korea under the February 13 aid-for-disarmament deal. [via Yahoo! News]

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July 09, 2007

IAEA and North Korea - Inspection Plan

The United Nations nuclear agency is set to approve an inspections plan for North Korea, a key step in turning the Korean Peninsula into an atomic weapons-free zone.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-member board of governors convened an extraordinary meeting today in Vienna. The diplomats will approve the agency's budget and details of the inspection team's mission in North Korea.

"Following the board's approval, we hope that IAEA inspectors will be able to return quickly to North Korea," U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA Gregory Schulte said today in a briefing. "The shutdown of the facilities at Yongbyon, together with IAEA monitoring and verification, will be an important step toward achieving the common goal of a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons." [via IAEA and Bloomberg.com]

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New Chinese Ballistic Missile Submarine Spotted

Hans M. Kristensen over at the Federation of American Scientists' Strategic Security Blog, talks about the new submarine that was photographed by the commercial Quickbird satellite in late 2006 and the image is freely available on the Google Earth web site.

A commercial satellite image appears to have captured China's new nuclear ballistic missile submarine. The new class, known as the Jin-class or Type 094, is expected to replace the unsuccessful Xia-class (Type 092) of a single boat built in the early 1980s. He goes through a very good analysis of the imagery. [via Strategic Security Blog]

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Iran Slows Centrifuge Work, Starts New Tunnels

Recent satellite photos show that Iran has begun to excavate a tunnel facility within a mountain next to its Natanz centrifuge facilit. These images were released today by the Institute for Science and International Security. Photographs of the area taken in January showed no activity in the mountains, but images taken June 11 show new roads leading to possible tunnel entrances, the ISIS analysis says.

The construction has raised concerns at the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Vienna-based U.N. watchdog that monitors Iran's nuclear program. On Friday, an IAEA spokeswoman confirmed that the agency has broached the subject with Iranian officials. "We have been in contact with the Iranian authorities about this, and we have received clarifications," said Melissa Fleming, the spokeswoman. She declined to elaborate.

For more analysis, visit armscontrolwonk.com. [via Washington Post]

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July 05, 2007

Book Review: Oppenheimer: The Tragic Intellect

Book CoverOppenheimer: The Tragic Intellect is a not a typical biography. Within the past few years, there have been many notable books written about the life and times of J. Robert Oppenheimer, and this book provides another fine chapter to the story of this complex man.

Author Charles Thorpe, drawing upon his doctoral dissertation, weaves together a study of Oppenheimer from the viewpoint of a sociologist. The book focuses on the broader social context of Oppenheimer's life. As David Cassidy, author of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the American Century commented; "Thorpe provides new perspective on Oppenheimer's evolution as a scientific intellectual and cultural icon..."

Thorpe explores the way that Oppenheimer shaped himself, but also how society affected him as well. Oppenheimer is often portrayed as both a hero and a martyr, but this work portrays Oppenheimer as a bridge between different worlds. The Manhattan Project ushered in the era of “Big Science”, where scientists, industry and the military all began to intersect closer than ever before. It is here at this nexus that Oppenheimer found his primary role, as leader of the team of scientists racing to develop the atomic bomb and the military who wished to use it.

Even after the war, Oppy kept this role, this time acting as a bridge between the world of science and the world of policy. Although the events of the 1954 security hearings changed many aspects of this role, he continued to be the voice of many scientists until his death.

Oppenheimer: The Tragic Intellect is a deep and thoughtful work, and should be read along with the other studies on the 'father' of the atomic bomb.

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