U.S. Strategic Submarine Patrols Continue at Near Cold War Tempo

U.S. ballistic missile submarines conducted 31 nuclear deterrent patrols in 2008 at an operational tempo comparable to that of the Cold War.

By Hans M. Kristensen [updated]

The U.S. fleet of 14 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines conducted 31 nuclear deterrent patrols in 2008 at an operational tempo comparable to during the Cold War.

The new patrol information, which was obtained from the U.S. Navy under the Freedom of Information Act, coincides with the completion on February 11, 2009, of the 1,000th deterrent patrol by an Ohio-class submarine since 1982.

The information shows that the United States conducts more nuclear deterrent patrols each year than Russia, France, United Kingdom and China combined. Continue reading

U.S. Nuclear Weapons Withdrawn From the United Kingdom

More than 100 U.S. nuclear bombs have been withdrawn from RAF Lakenheath, the forward base of the U.S. Air Force 48th Fighter Wing.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

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The United States has withdrawn nuclear weapons from the RAF Lakenheath air base 70 miles northeast of London, marking the end to more than 50 years of U.S. nuclear weapons deployment to the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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Another Foot and Mouth Disease case in the UK

The the Institute for Animal Health has confirmed a positive test for foot-and-mouth in Surrey, just outside London. The latest report that I could find indicated that they had ordered the slaughter of 300 animals in the area of the outbreak and that all cattle movement and exports had been halted. The site of the infection is very close to the location of an August outbreak. British authorities are apparently also investigating a possible case in Norfolk. If positive, that would be even more devastating than the reemergence of the disease in Surrey because it is over 100 miles away.

What I find remarkable is the British response to the reports, which are rapid collection, identification and diagnosis immediately followed by the establishment of a 6 mile control region and, perhaps most unusual, clear communication with the public. We do not have as sophisticated a system in the US right now, mainly due to the size and nature of our cattle industry, which dwarfs the UKs. While 80 to 90 percent of U.S. cattle production is concentrated in less than 5 percent of the nation’s feedlots, it is unclear that we could respond this quickly. Also, our herds are vastly larger than those kept in the UK and an outbreak in even a moderately sized herd of cattle could be devastating to our beef industry.

Senator Burr (R-NC) introduced the National Agriculture and Food Defense Act in July. The bill takes Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9 (HSPD-9) and turns it into law, expanding and detailing how the 28 sections of the Presidential directive will be implemented. The overall goal of HSPD-9 and the bill are simply to establish a national policy to defend our agriculture and food system against terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies. The bill has not been marked up in committee yet, and there are some contentious issues surrounding some of its provisions, but on the whole it is sorely needed so we can move forward with the Herculean task of establishing a system as advanced as the UK system, here. The thought of an FMV outbreak in any major US herd in the feed-belt makes me shutter.

Uranium spill hidden from public because of NRC policy

A very disturbing report in yesterday’s Guardian details how the Nuclear Regulatory Commission sealed records for two companies that manufacture and store highly enriched uranium in 2004. This was after some “protected information” regarding the Navy’s nuclear program were found on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s website. I am not sure what “protected information” is, but it apparently included “papers about the policy itself and more than 1,740 documents from the commission’s public archive.” This in effect hid from the public both information regarding their Navy work and records unrelated to the Navy’s work including the plant’s safety records.

YIKES! One incident hidden from the public was a rather disturbing spill of 9 gallons of uranium in 2006 at privately owned Nuclear Fuel Services Inc located in Erwin, Tennessee. While it is unclear how concentrated the liquid was, it is unlikely that it was enough to spontaneously detonate at the kiloton level, but certainly could have caused a nuclear chain reaction and explosion. It really depends upon how much uranium was in the liquid. To the NRC’s credit they later decided that this was a significant enough of an incident that they overrode the policy to make sure that Congress was made aware of it in their annual report, which included reference to three “abnormal occurrences.” In total there were nine violations or test failures that were hidden from the public since 2005 at the company, which has been supplying nuclear fuel to the Navy since the 1960’s.

From the Guardian:

“While reviewing the commission’s public Web page in 2004, the Department of Energy’s Office of Naval Reactors found what it considered protected information about Nuclear Fuel Service’s work for the Navy. The commission responded by sealing every document related to Nuclear Fuel Services and BWX Technologies in Lynchburg, Va., the only two companies licensed by the agency to manufacture, possess and store highly enriched uranium.”

Not really an open book: What I find astonishing is that even after the cat was out of the bag, neither the NRC nor the Department of Energy posted information relating to the incident or the policy on their websites. I certainly understand the principle of not making bad news a bigger story than it already is, but if history tells us anything we know that it is much better to come clean about these things before you get embarrassed by the press.

History of violations: Nuclear Fuel Services seems to have a history of problems that go back some time. On July 30 of this year a “confirmatory order” was published in the Federal Register that details some of this history and the fact that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had to go into arbitration with the company over the issues.

From the Federal Register:

“Given the number and repetitive nature of some of the apparent violations, the parties acknowledged that: (1) Past disposition of violations via the enforcement policy had not resulted in NFS’s development of corrective actions capable of preventing recurrence of violations; (2) a deficient safety culture at NFS appeared to be a contributor to the recurrence of violations; and (3) a comprehensive, third party review and assessment of the safety culture at NFS represented the best approach for the identification and development of focused, relevant and lasting corrective actions.”

The order was originally issued in February of this year, but was not released because of the NRC policy. For what it is worth, the company issued a public response to the order on their web page.

Nuclear Arms Racing in the Post-Cold War Era: Who is the Smallest?

China and the Uniked Kingdom have started a new arms race over who has the smallest nuclear weapons arsenal.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Mine is smaller! No, mine is smaller!!

China and the United Kingdom have started a new type of nuclear arms race for the honor to have the smallest number of nuclear weapons.

In April 2004, the Chinese Foreign Ministry declared in the fact sheet China: Nuclear Disarmament and Reduction of: “Among the nuclear-weapon states, China…possesses the smallest nuclear arsenal.”

In May 2007, British Defense Minister Des Browne stated in a written response to a parliamentary question that the United Kingdom has “the smallest stockpile of any of the nuclear weapon states recognised under the NPT.”

Apparently, the race is on for who is the smallest.
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Update on UK Foot and Mouth Disease Outbreak

Most Strategic Security Blog readers are probably already aware of the recent outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in the UK, but I thought it might be useful to post summary information on what we know to date. In short, it appears as if the virus was found on two farms, that the likely source of the virus was a research and vaccine production facility located nearby, and that there will be hell to pay if it is determined that someone at that facility is responsible for the outbreak and subsequent shut down of beef exports from the UK. The good news is that the response to this outbreak was vastly improved from a 2001 outbreak, which resulted in close to 7 million animals being destroyed. The bad news is that it was probably released from a laboratory and will no doubt spark new concerns about animal disease research.


An out break of FMD was confirmed on August 3rd on a farm in Surrey, according to the British Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). A second case was found at a nearby farm, but tests at two other farms were negative. The owner of the Woolford Farm, where the first disease outbreak was found, reported symptoms to his veterinarian and then DEFRA on the 2nd. DEFRA said in a statement that the strain is a 01 BFS67-like virus, isolated in the 1967 FMD outbreak in the UK. That strain was being used this past July for vaccine production at a nearby facility run by Merial Animal Health, which is jointly owned by Merck and French pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis.

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Small Fuze – Big Effect

“It is not true,” British Defence Secretary Des Browne insisted during an interview with BBC radio, that a new fuze planned for British nuclear warheads and reported by the Guardian will increase their military capability. The plan to replace the fuze “was reported to the [Parliament’s] Select Committee in 2005 and is not an upgrading of the system; it is merely making sure that the system works to its maximum efficiency,” Mr. Browne says.

The minister is either being ignorant or economical with the truth. According to numerous statements made by US officials over the past decade, the very purpose of replacing the fuze is – in stark contrast to Mr. Browne’s assurance – to give the weapon improved military capabilities it did not have before.

The matter, which is controversial now because Britain is debating whether to build a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines, concerns the Mk4 reentry vehicle on Trident D5 missiles deployed on British (and US) ballistic missile submarines. The cone-shaped Mk4 contains the nuclear explosive package itself and is designed to protect it from the fierce heat created during reentry of the Earth’s atmosphere toward the target. A small fuze at the tip of the Mk4 measures the altitude and detonates the explosive package at the right “height of burst” to create the maximum pressure to ensure destruction of the target. The new fuze will increase the “maximum efficiency” significantly and give the British Trident submarines hard target kill capability for the first time.
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No Need to Replace UK Nuclear Subs Now, FAS Board Member Tells Brits

(Updated January 26, 2007)

British Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines have at least 15 years more service life in them, and the U.K. government does not have to make a decision now on whether to replace them with a new class of submarines, Richard Garwin told BBC radio Tuesday.

Garwin, who is a member of the Federation of American Scientists Board of Directors and a long-term adviser to the U.S. government on defense matters, is in Britain to testify before the House of Commons Defence Select Committee on the future of Britain’s nuclear deterrent.

The U.K. government announced on December 4, 2006, that it had decided to replace its current Vanguard-class sea-launched ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) with a new class to enter operation in 2024. If approved by the parliament, the plan would extend Britain’s nuclear era into the 2050s.

According to the U.K. government, a decision to build a new new class must be made now because the Vanguard-class SSBNs only have a have a design life of 25 years. But Garwin says that the submarines have a minimum design life of 25 years, which can be extended by at least another 15 years. A decision made now is premature and unwise, Garwin told BBC, because the large Trident missiles may not be necessary 15 years from now.

New additions: Garwin testimony / House of Lords debate

Background: BBC Today | Garwin Archive at FAS | Britain’s Next Nuclear Era

Nuclear Missile Testing Galore

(Updated January 3, 2007)

North Korea may have gotten all the attention, but all the nuclear weapon states were busy flight-testing ballistic missiles for their nuclear weapons during 2006. According to a preliminary count, eight countries launched more than 28 ballistic missiles of 23 types in 26 different events.

Unlike the failed North Korean Taepo Dong 2 launch, most other ballistic missile tests were successful. Russia and India also experienced missile failures, but the United States demonstrated a very reliable capability including the 117th consecutive successful launch of the Trident II D5 sea-launched ballistic missile.

The busy ballistic missile flight testing represents yet another double standard in international security, and suggests that initiatives are needed to limit not only proliferating countries from developing ballistic missiles but also find ways to curtail the programs of the existing nuclear powers.
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Britain’s Next Nuclear Era

After having spent the last several years sending diplomats to Teheran to try to persuade Iran not to develop nuclear weapons, the British government announced Monday that it plans to renew its own nuclear arsenal.

If approved by the parliament, Monday’s decision means that the United Kingdom will extend its nuclear deterrent beyond 2050, essentially doubling the timeline of its own nuclear era.

Doing so is entirely consistent with the United Kingdom’s international obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and with a policy that favors complete elimination of nuclear weapons, the government insisted in a fact sheet, because the British nuclear arsenal today is smaller than during the Cold War, and because the Treaty does not say exactly when nuclear disarmament has to be accomplished. In fact, the new plan has “the right balance,” the government claims, between working for a world free of nuclear weapons and keeping those weapons.
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