NPT 40 Years Later and Beyond

On July 1, 1968 the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was opened for signature, codifying for the first time a legally binding obligation to achieve nuclear disarmament. This year marks the 40th anniversary of this historic arms control treaty, to which every state in the United Nations except three has been a party (India, Pakistan, and Israel have never been signatories – North Korea withdrew from the Treaty in 2003).

Much has been written about whether the NPT regime is failing, in need of revision, or simply outdated. The NPT regime faces many challenges: nuclear weapons now enjoy a prominent place in the security policies of nuclear weapon states and new plans have been designed for their use including preemptive and preventive actions; materials and technology obtained from the civilian nuclear cooperation promoted by the Treaty could be used to manufacture nuclear bombs; a black market in nuclear technology and materials has been discovered; and the global rise in energy demand has put nuclear energy into the mix of solutions to this emerging crisis, despite the proliferation risks associated with advanced fuel cycle technology. Some voices counter that, with very few exceptions, the principles of the Treaty have prevented the widespread proliferation of nuclear weapons envisaged in the 1960’s by President Kennedy. One thing is clear: renewed commitment from the highest levels of government will be necessary to achieve the goals of the NPT and enable the processes and norms associated with the Treaty to peacefully navigate through the challenges it is facing and maintain its relevance for the future. Continue reading

Dutch Government Rejects Blue Ribbon Review Findings

The nuclear base at Volkel is pixeled out on Google Earth (why, Google?). Click on image to download map of the base (note: 1 MB). Image: GoogleEarth (outline and label added)

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By Hans M. Kristensen

The Dutch Government today rejected the findings of the U.S. Air Force’s Blue Ribbon Review, saying the safety and security at the nuclear weapons base at Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands “are in good order.”

The Blue Ribbon Review final report in February concluded that “most” nuclear sites in Europe do not meet U.S. safety requirements and that it would take “significant additional resources” to bring them up to standard. The disclosure of the findings has led to calls in some European countries that the remaining tactical nuclear weapons should be withdrawn.

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U.S. Nuclear Weapons Withdrawn From the United Kingdom

More than 100 U.S. nuclear bombs have been withdrawn from RAF Lakenheath, the forward base of the U.S. Air Force 48th Fighter Wing.  Image: GoogleEarth

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By Hans M. Kristensen

The United States has withdrawn nuclear weapons from the RAF Lakenheath air base 70 miles northeast of London, marking the end to more than 50 years of U.S. nuclear weapons deployment to the United Kingdom since the first nuclear bombs first arrived in September 1954.

The withdrawal, which has not been officially announced but confirmed by several sources, follows the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Ramstein Air Base in Germany in 2005 and Greece in 2001. The removal of nuclear weapons from three bases in two NATO countries in less than a decade undercuts the argument for continuing deployment in other European countries.

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USAF Report: “Most” Nuclear Weapon Sites In Europe Do Not Meet US Security Requirements

Members of the 704 Munition Support Squadron at Ghedi Torre in Italy are trained to service a B-61 nuclear bomb inside a Munitions Maintenance Truck. Security at “most” nuclear bases in Europe does not meet DOD safety requirements, a newly declassified U.S. Air Force review has found. Withdrawal from some is rumored. Image: USAF

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By Hans M. Kristensen  [article updated June 26 following this report]

An internal U.S. Air Force investigation has determined that “most sites” currently used for deploying nuclear weapons in Europe do not meet Department of Defense security requirements.

A summary of the investigation report was released by the Pentagon in February 2008 but omitted the details. Now a partially declassified version of the full report, recently obtained by the Federation of American Scientists, reveals a much bigger nuclear security problem in Europe than previously known.

As a result of these security problems, according to other sources, the U.S. plans to withdraw its nuclear custodial unit from at least one base and consolidate the remaining nuclear mission in Europe at fewer bases. Continue reading

Extensive Nuclear Missile Deployment Area Discovered in Central China

Click on image to view higher resolution
More than 50 launch pads for nuclear ballistic missiles have been identified scattered across a 2,000 square kilometer (772 square miles) area of central China, according to analysis of satellite images. Click image for full size. Also download GoogleEarth KMZ file.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Analysis of new commercial satellite photos has identified an extensive deployment area with nearly 60 launch pads for medium-range nuclear ballistic missiles in Central China near Delingha and Da Qaidam.

The region has long been rumored to house nuclear missiles and I have previously described some of the facilities in a report and a blog. But the new analysis reveals a significantly larger deployment area than previously known, different types of launch pads, command and control facilities, and missile deployment equipment at a large facility in downtown Delingha.

The U.S. government often highlights China’s deployment of new mobile missiles as a concern but keeps the details secret, so the discovery of the deployment area provides the first opportunity for the public to better understand how China operates its mobile ballistic missiles.
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Nukes in the Taiwan Crisis

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Nuclear bombs in Asia at the time of the Taiwan Strait crisis are listed (red box) in this Strategic Air Command document obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Click on image above to download PDF copy of list.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Thanks to the efforts of Bill Burr at the National Security Archive, some of the veil covering U.S. nuclear war planning against China in the 1958 Taiwan Strait crisis now has been lifted by a declassified military study.

It shows that on the day after the Chinese began shelling the Quemoy islands on August 23, 1958, U.S. Air Force Headquarters apparently assured Pacific Air Forces “that, assuming presidential approval, any Communist assault upon the offshore islands would trigger immediate nuclear retaliation.” Yet President Dwight D. Eisenhower fortunately rejected the use of nuclear weapons immediately, even if China invaded the islands, and emphasized that under no circumstances would these weapons be used without his approval.

Caution against nuclear use didn’t mean not planning for it, however, and in the years after the Taiwan Strait crisis an enormous nuclear build-up occurred in the Far East. The numbers started to decline in the 1970s, and for a period during the 1980s and first half of the 1990s, nuclear planning against China was reduced to reserve force contingencies. In the past decade, however, China has again become a focus for U.S. nuclear strike planning.

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Thinking Big on Uranium and Iran

Iran continues to enrich uranium. Enrichment is the process that makes natural uranium useable in a nuclear reactor or, if carried further, a nuclear bomb. Iran claims that the motivation for its enrichment program is entirely peaceful but almost no one outside of Iran believes this. With the United States shouting from the sidelines, the Europeans are continuing the hard diplomatic work of persuading Iran to suspend its enrichment program, with little success.

The Iranians claim that they have just as much right as anyone to enrich uranium for their civilian nuclear reactors. This is not true but it is not entirely wrong. Part of the reason for on-going sanctions is that they lied to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for years. Iran could, in theory, make amends and satisfy the IAEA and then legally enrich uranium. Any country could. Enrichment, the process of preparing uranium for a nuclear reactor or, potentially, a nuclear weapon, is today a legitimate industrial enterprise. That is a problem.

The administration looks at the situation through the lens of an Iranian threat, but the problem is long-term, global, and fundamental. It is time to make a bold proposal that will apply to the Iranians but includes everyone else, even the United States. Continue reading

Russian Nuclear Missile Submarine Patrols Decrease Again

By Hans M. Kristensen

The number of deterrence patrols conducted by Russia’s 11 nuclear-powered ballistic missiles submarines (SSBNs) decreased to only three in 2007 from five in 2006, according to our latest Nuclear Notebook published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

In comparison, U.S. SSBNs conducted 54 patrols in 2007, more than three times as many as all the other nuclear weapon states combined.

The low Russian patrol number continues the sharp decline from the Cold War; no patrols at all were conducted in 2002 (see Figure 1). The new practice indicates that Russia no longer maintains a continuous SSBN patrol posture like that of the United States, Britain, and France, but instead has shifted to a new posture where it occasionally deploys an SSBN for training purposes.

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New Chinese SSBN Deploys to Hainan Island

By Hans M. Kristensen

The Chinese navy has deployed a Jin-class (Type 094) ballistic missile submarine to a new base near Yulin on Hainan Island on the South China Sea, according to a satellite image obtained by FAS. The image shows the submarine moored at a pier close to a large sea-entrance to an underground facility.

Also visible is a unique newly constructed pier that appears to be a demagnetization facility for submarines.

A dozen tunnels to underground facilities are visible throughout the base compound.

The satellite image, which has also been described in Jane’s Defense Weekly, was taken by the QuickBird satellite on February 27, 2008, and purchased by FAS from DigitalGlobe.

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Finally, Some Sense About Uranium and Dirty Bombs

The Columbian military recently raided FARC camps just across their borders. The Columbians confiscated lap top computers containing emails between the FARC and dealers offering to sell them explosives, which the emails suggested included uranium that the dealer was willing to sell for about one million dollars a pound. The press has several times bit on these types stories, sensationalizing them and getting the science all wrong.

There seems to be a widespread idea that uranium can be used for nuclear weapons. Well, it can. That is, one isotope of uranium can be, but natural uranium is less than 1% of that isotope and enriching it is a daunting technical challenge. (Many chemical elements have more than one isotope, atoms that have identical chemical properties but slightly different weights.) Since uranium can power nuclear weapons and nuclear bombs, it must be highly radioactive and could at least be used as a dirty bomb, right? Wrong, but you would never know by reading most such stories in the newspapers. So it is refreshing to read a story that gets it right and is properly skeptical. Kelly Hearn of The Washington Times has written that piece. Continue reading