• Iran dealIran nuclear deal: how to ensure compliance?

    By Kalman Robertson

    The U.S. and European countries lifted nuclear-related sanctions against Iran on 16 January as part of a deal in which the country agreed to limit its nuclear activities and accept a new system of international inspections. The issue now is how the international community can be confident that Iran is not violating the deal. Iran agreed never to develop nuclear weapons when it signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968. There’s no ironclad method to prevent Iran from breaking its promise and developing nuclear weapons, but this new agreement builds in a number of strong protections. In conjunction with U.S. and allied intelligence capabilities, these rules mean even a sophisticated and carefully executed secret plan would carry a high risk of detection.Looking at the deal as a whole, Iran’s best strategy for acquiring nuclear weapons would simply be to wait for restrictions on its declared enrichment program to be lifted. Assuming that the deal does not fall apart sooner, most of those provisions are scheduled to expire in 2030. In the meantime, the deal helps make a nuclear-armed Iran a less immediate prospect.

  • Nuclear proliferationSoftware helps detect nuclear tests

    When North Korea conducted its recent nuclear weapon test, it was not terribly difficult to detect. It was a fairly large blast, it occurred in a place where a test was not surprising, and the North Korean government made no effort to hide it. But clandestine tests of smaller devices, perhaps by terrorist organizations or other nonstate actors, are a different story. It is those difficult-to-detect events that the Vertically Integrated Seismic Analysis (VISA) — a machine learning system — aims to find.

  • Nuclear proliferationSeismologists "hear" the nuclear explosions in North Korea

    International experts are far from convinced that North Korea actually conducted its first H-bomb test, which was reported by the country last week.Seismology alone cannot tell whether it was a hydrogen bomb or not, but seismologists say that what emerges from the existing data is that last week’s seismic events in North Korea were slightly smaller than a similar event in 2013.

  • Nuclear weaponsNorth Korea claims to have tested miniaturized hydrogen bomb

    North Korea has conducted its fourth nuclear test in ten years – the previous tests took place in 2006, 2009 and 2013 – indicating that the country is further along in developing nuclear warheads which could be miniaturized and placed on a missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

  • SurveillanceNSA kept Benjamin Netanyahu under surveillance during Iran negotiations

    As part of the effort by the Obama administration earlier this year to make sure that the negotiations between the P5+1 powers and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program would not be derailed or obstructed, the National Security Agency (NSA) kept a close watch on Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The agency collected intelligence on Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders in an attempt to learn what moves the Israeli leader was planning as part of his campaign to have Congress reject the agreement the United States was negotiating.

  • IranIran ships enriched uranium to Russia as part of nuclear deal

    On Monday Iran took the most important step so far toward complying with the nuclear agreement it had signed with the P5+1 power by shipping 25,000lb of low-enriched uranium to Russia. Iran had until the end of 2015 to ship out all of its low-enriched uranium it has stockpiled – except 660lb which the agreements allows it to keep.

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  • Forensic seismologyPairing seismic data, radionuclide fluid-flow models to detect underground nuclear tests

    Underground nuclear weapon testing produces radionuclide gases that may seep to the surface, which is affected by many factors. These include fractures in the rock caused by the explosion’s shock waves that create pathways for the gas to escape plus the effect of changes in atmospheric pressure that affect the gases’ movement. Scientists have developed a new, more thorough method for detecting underground nuclear explosions (UNEs) by coupling two fundamental elements — seismic models with gas-flow models — to create a more complete picture of how an explosion’s evidence (radionuclide gases) seep to the surface.

  • Nuclear weaponsDesign competitions needed to maintain U.S. nuclear deterrent

    Preserving the U.S. nuclear weapon design skills is essential for sustaining a credible nuclear deterrent, understanding the status and direction of foreign nuclear weapons programs, and determining the best solutions to problems that arise during stockpile surveillance and maintenance. In the absence of nuclear explosion testing, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) should develop a series of design competitions that integrate the full end-to-end design process from novel design conception through production and non-nuclear testing of an engineered prototype, says a new report.

  • Nuclear weaponsW80-4: Sandia California works on nuclear weapon Life Extension Program

    Sandia National Laboratories is doing what it has not done in decades: extending the life of a nuclear warhead at the same time the U.S. Air Force develops a replacement cruise missile that will carry the weapon. The goal of the W80-4 Life Extension Program (LEP) is refurbishing the W80 warhead with replacement components for aging technology and components that have limited lifespans.

  • Nuclear weaponsU.S. to clean up site of a 1966 nuclear weapons accident in Spain

    On 17 January 1966, a B-52 bomber carrying four hydrogen bombs collided with a KC-135 tanker plane during mid-air refueling off the coast of Almería, Spain, killing seven of the eleven crew members. Two of the bombs were recovered intact from the sea, but the other two leaked radiation into the surrounding countryside when their plutonium-filled detonators went off, strewing 3kg of radioactive plutonium 239 around the town of Palomares. Following the accident, the U.S. military shipped 1,700 tons of contaminated soil to South Carolina, and the whole thing was forgotten. On Monday in Madrid, Secretary of State John Kerry and the Spanish foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo, signed an agreement to clean up the site after tests showed that 50,000 cubic meters of soil were still contaminated.

  • Nuclear weaponsU.S. tries to persuade Pakistan not to deploy small tactical nuclear weapons

    Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is coming to the United States next week on an official visit, and ahead of the visit the Obama administration is holding talks with Pakistani officials about Pakistan’s plan to deploy a small tactical nuclear weapon which would be more difficult to monitor and secure than Pakistan’s arsenal of larger weapons. U.S. officials fear that the smaller weapons are easier to steal, or would be easier to use should they fall into the hands of a rogue commander. “All it takes is one commander with secret radical sympathies, and you have a big problem,” said one former official.

  • Nuclear materialsFBI helps foil several plots to sell nuclear material in Moldova’s black market

    Over the past five years, four attempts by Russian gangs in Moldova to sell nuclear material have been thwarted by the FBI and Moldovan authorities. The most recent case was in February when a smuggler, who specifically sought a buyer from Islamic State, offered undercover agents a large amount of radioactive caesium. The would-be smuggler wanted €2.5 million for enough radioactive material to contaminate several city streets.

  • Nuclear verificationUpholding disarmament agreements with engineering

    By Julia Sklar

    Arms control agreements face a problem: how to ensure that countries with nuclear weapons abide by disarmament agreements. The linchpin of these agreements is being able to verify that the signers are following the rules — but the trick is for both sides, or a third party, to be able to police weapons in a way that doesn’t give out too much information about them, for example, how these weapons were built. An MIT project, called Zero Knowledge Warhead Verification, tackles this problem with a beam of light, a scrambler, and a detector.

  • Nuclear weaponsNuclear weapons workers at DOE Texas plant vote to strike

    Workers at Consolidated Nuclear Security Pantex in Amarillo, Texas are responsible for the nuclear weapons life extension programs; weapons dismantlement; development, testing, and fabrication of high explosives components; and storage and surveillance of plutonium pits. On Friday, after more than seven months at the bargaining table with CNS Pantex, 87 percent of the unionized workers at the Amarillo facility voted to strike.

  • Nuclear eventWhat if it happened again? What we need to do to prepare for a nuclear event

    By Cham Dallas

    As we observe the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it may seem like the threat from nuclear weapons has receded. But it hasn’t; the threat is actually increasing steadily. This is difficult to face for many people, and this denial also means that we are not very well-prepared for nuclear and radiological events. Any nuclear weapon exchange or major nuclear plant meltdown will immediately lead to a global public health emergency. The Ebola outbreak taught the world that we should have resources in place to handle a major health emergency before it happens. What would a Nuclear Global Health Workforce need to be prepared to manage? For that we can look back at the legacy of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the nuclear accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima.