Debating New Biosecurity Research Regulations

US Senate consideration of a new biosecurity bill has been delayed to accommodate requests for additional information from the Administration.  The Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2009 (S.1649), introduced by Senators Lieberman and Collins at the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, seeks to overhaul the US response to biosecurity threats.  In particular, the legislation focuses on research into potentially dangerous infectious diseases.

Highly infectious diseases are currently designated as select agents and regulated by the Departments of Agriculture (diseases of plants and livestock) or Health and Human Services (human pathogens).  The new legislation would replace this single list with three “tiers”, and research using the most dangerous agents would be overseen by the Department of Homeland Security.  An amendment by Senator Claire McCaskill would allow DHS to shut down labs that do not comply with safety regulations.  However, the bill would also implement so-called personnel reliability programs, common in nuclear research, as a condition for researchers to access the labs.  Recent reports by the government’s National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity and the National Academies’ Board of Life Sciences did not recommend such measures at this time.

Though Lieberman, who chairs the committee, has made the bill a top priority, it is unclear when time would permit consideration of the legislation on the Senate floor.

Germany and NATO’s Nuclear Dilemma

Security personnel monitor nuclear weapons transport at German air base. Image: USAF

By Hans M. Kristensen

The new German government has announced that it wants to enter talks with its NATO allies about the withdrawal of the remaining U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany.

The announcement coincides with the Obama administration’s ongoing Nuclear Posture Review, which is spending an unprecedented amount of time pondering the “international aspects” of to what extent nuclear weapons help assure allies of their security.

Germany and many other NATO countries apparently don’t want to be protected by U.S. forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons, which they see as a relic of the Cold War that locks NATO in the past and prevents it’s transition to the future. Continue reading

Waiting for Answers on Fordo: What IAEA Inspections Will Tell Us

by Ivanka Barzashka and Ivan Oelrich

After a cascade of disclosures and official announcements, followed by a great deal of conjecture from experts and the media, the Fordo enrichment plant, Iran’s newest enrichment facility located in the mountains near Qom, opened its doors on October 25 to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. The US, France, and Britain accuse Iran of building the facility covertly and “challenging the basic compact at the center of the non-proliferation regime.” Iran claims the accusations are “hypothetical” and “fantasy” and are part of a conspiracy against Iran’s nuclear program. The Agency has an indispensable role of providing an objective technical account of the facility and ultimately determining whether Iran violated its Safeguards Agreement. But how much can we expect to learn from the first visit to the facility and would that provide sufficient information to resolve the accusations made against Iran?

The text under the Iranian flag with the atom symbol says, "Nuclear power is our undeniable right."
The text under the Iranian flag with the atomic symbol says, "Nuclear power is our undeniable right."

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