Event: Conference on Using Satellite Imagery to Monitor Nuclear Forces and Proliferators

This satellite imagery analysis from my conference briefing illustrates upgrade of Chinese mobile nuclear missile launch garrison at Qingyang (30°41’52.64″N, 117°53’36.25″E). Such analysis is becoming more important as the U.S. government is curtailing what it releases about Chinese (and Russian) nuclear forces. Click on image for large image version.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Earlier today we convened an exciting conference on use of commercials satellite imagery and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to monitor nuclear forces and proliferators around the world. I was fortunate to have two brilliant users of this technology with me on the panel:

  • Tamara Patton, a Graduate Research Assistant at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, who described her pioneering work to use freeware to creating 3D images of uranium enrichment facilities and plutonium production reactors in Pakistan and North Korea. Her briefing is available here.
  • Matthew McKinzie, a Senior Scientists with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Nuclear Program and Lands and Wildlife Program, who has spearheaded non-governmental use of GIS technology since commercial satellite imagery first became widely available. His presentation is available here.
  • My presentation focused on using satellite imagery and Freedom of Information Act requests to monitor Chinese and Russian nuclear force developments, an effort that is becoming more important as the United States is decreasing its release of information about those countries. My briefing slides are here.

In all of the work profiled by these presentations, the analysts relied on the unique Google Earth and the generous contribution of high-resolution satellite imagery by DigitalGlobe and GeoEye.

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

Letter Urges Super Committee to Reduce Nuclear Weapons Spending

FAS joined 48 organizations in signing a letter to United States Representatives asking them to cosign Representative Markey’s letter to members of the Super Committee. Markey’s letter urges Super Committee members to increase U.S. security by reducing spending on outdated and unaffordable nuclear weapons programs.

Additionally, this support letter offers specific suggestions to Congress on how to scale back new nuclear weapons programs and help close the budget deficit. Continue reading

2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul: Achieving Sustainable Nuclear Security Culture

By Igor Khripunov

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), nuclear security culture is “the assembly of characteristics, attitudes and behavior of individuals, organizations and institutions which serves as a means to support and enhance nuclear security.”[1]  The concept of security culture emerged much later than nuclear safety culture, which was triggered by human errors that led to the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents. Much as these incidents confirmed the importance of nuclear safety, security culture has gained acceptance as a way to keep terrorist groups from acquiring radioactive materials and prevent acts of sabotage against nuclear power infrastructures. Safety and security culture share the goal of protecting human lives and the environment by assuring that nuclear power plants operate at acceptable risk levels.

The 2010 Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington, DC, emphasized the importance of culture as a critical contributing factor to nuclear security:

Continue reading

New START Delay: Gambling With National and International Security

A few Senators are preventing US inspectors from verifying the status of Russian nuclear weapons.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The ability of a few Senators to delay ratification of the New START treaty is gambling with national and international security.

At home the delay is depriving the U.S. intelligence community important information about the status and operations of Russian strategic nuclear forces. And abroad the delay is creating doubts about the U.S. resolve to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons, doubts that could undermine efforts to limit proliferation.

New START may not be the most groundbreaking treaty ever, but it is a vital first step in moving U.S.-Russian relations forward and paving the way for additional nuclear reductions and nonproliferation efforts. Essentially all current and former officials and experts recommend verification of New START, and after more than 20 hearings and nearly 1,000 detailed questions answered it is time for the Senate to ratify the treaty. Continue reading

New Fuel Deal with Iran: Getting Back to Basics

by Ivanka Barzashka

After a year-long stalemate, Iran and the P5+1 seem to have agreed on a day for holding political talks – December 2. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed last week that the meeting “will not include discussions on fuel swap” – the deal with France, Russia and United States, also known as the Vienna Group, to refuel the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR).

In principle, both Washington and Tehran agree that the fuel deal is still on the table, but the Iranians have been critical of the delay in setting a date for talks, which they interpret could be a lack of “willingness to enter peaceful nuclear cooperation.”

A successful fuel deal is a necessary condition for further engagement. However, circumstances have changed since October 2009, when the Vienna Group first made the fuel offer. Now, the State Department maintains that “any engagement [should be] in the context of that changed reality.” (Most of the Vienna Group’s outstanding concerns were listed in a confidential document to the IAEA, published by Reuters on June 9.)

However, the alleged terms of Washington’s new proposal seem to be muddled and will not have the claimed threat-reduction benefits (for a detailed discussion, see this Oct 29 post.) A technically-grounded analysis of what the fuel deal today can, cannot and ought to achieve is available in “New fuel deal with Iran: Debunking common myths,” published on Nov 2 in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Some highlights of these two assessments are provided below. Continue reading

Iran’s New Dual Track: A Challenge to Negotiations?

by Ivanka Barzashka and Thomas M. Rickers

Coaxed by Turkey and Brazil, Iran seems to be actively pursuing fuel talks. France, Russia and the U.S. (also known as the Vienna Group) claim that they, too, are interested in a deal, even as the U.S. and EU passed their own tougher sanctions against the Islamic Republic as part of a dual-track approach. Now Tehran may even be willing to address what was once the major hindrance to a deal: its 20 percent enrichment. Yesterday, Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s atomic energy head, said his country “will not need to enrich to 20 percent if [their] needs are met.”  And yet on July 18, the Majlis passed a law requiring the government to continue 20 percent enrichment and manufacture own fuel, which is an apparent contradiction to negotiations for foreign fuel supply. Clearly, Iran is sending mixed messages. But does this mean there is an internal disagreement about nuclear policy? Or is Iran not serious about a fuel deal? Continue reading

Will Iran Give Up Twenty Percent Enrichment?

by Ivanka Barzashka

In response to sanctions, Iran’s parliament adopted the Nuclear Achievement Protection Bill on July 18. Among other things, the law requires the government to continue 20 percent enrichment and provide fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). Although this aspect of the legislation has largely fallen below the news radar, it raises important questions about the future of nuclear talks, which Iran has postponed until September as “punishment” of the West.

Iran says it is enriching to higher concentrations to manufacture its own fuel for the TRR, but a stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium will reduce by more than half Iran’s time to a bomb (when compared to its current stockpile of 3.5 percent LEU). Now Iran’s higher-level enrichment may have become the connection between sanctions and a fuel deal that will hinder any engagement options. However, there is still time to explore resolutions to the impasse.

Ivan Oelrich and I have co-authored an FAS issue brief that traces the history of Iranian higher-level enrichment efforts in an effort to understand Tehran’s nuclear intentions. We were driven by the question: Will Iran, at this stage, give up twenty percent enrichment? Three distinct periods were analyzed: (1) from the beginning of 20 percent enrichment to the Tehran Declaration, (2) from the Tehran Declaration to the passing of UN sanctions, and (3) after sanctions. Continue reading

NPT RevCon ends with a consensus Final Document

by Alicia Godsberg

The NPT Review Conference ended last Friday with the adoption by consensus of a Final Document that includes both a review of commitments and a forward looking action plan for nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and the promotion of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.  In the early part of last week it was unclear if consensus would be reached, as states entered last-minute negotiations over contentious issues.  While the consensus document represents a real achievement and is a relief after the failure of the last Review Conference in 2005 to produce a similar document, much of the language in the action plan has been watered down from previous versions and documents, leaving the world to wait until the next review in 2015 to see how far these initial steps will take the global community toward fulfilling the Treaty’s goals. Continue reading

Iran Beat Us to It.

Ivan Oelrich and Ivanka Barzashka

Back in October, when Iran put in a request to the IAEA for a new load of fuel for its medical isotope reactor in Tehran, the United States proposed that Iran ship out an equivalent amount of its low enriched uranium (LEU) in exchange. It turns out, purely coincidentally, that the amount of LEU equivalent to about 20-years worth of fuel for the reactor was almost exactly the amount that Iran would need as feedstock to produce  a bomb’s worth of material.  No one seems to question Iran’s right to purchase fuel, but the purpose of the swap was two-fold:  to get the bomb’s worth of LEU out of Iran, which would have left Iran with less than a bomb’s worth of LEU feedstock, and to provide a seed for improved cooperation and trust. Continue reading

FAS side events at the RevCon

by Alicia Godsberg

Yesterday FAS premiered our documentary Paths To Zero at the NPT RevCon.  The screening was a great success and there was a very engaging conversation afterward between the audience and Ivan Oelrich, who was there to promote the film.  As a result of some suggestions, we are hoping to translate the narration to different languages so the film can be used as an educational tool around the world.  You can see Paths To Zero by following this link – we will also be putting up the individual chapters soon.

This morning I spoke at a side event at the NPT RevCon entitled “Law Versus Doctrine: Assessing US and Russian Nuclear Postures.”  I was asked to give FAS’s perspective on the New START, NPR, and new Russian military doctrine.  Several people asked me for my remarks, so I’m posting them below the jump.   Continue reading