Nuclear weapons proliferation

  • Cost of plutonium disposal facility skyrockets

    The Mixed Oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel factory at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, being built to help dispose of cold war-era weapon-grade plutonium, would cost up to $30 billion in addition to the $4 billion spent on construction so far. The staggering cost overruns have led many to call for a new, less expensive solution. Matthew Bunn, a former Clinton White House official who helped develop the plutonium disposal program, agrees that the cost of the MOX factory is excessive. “The things we’re trying to accomplish aren’t worth that amount of money,” he said.

  • IAEA: Iran's stockpile of 20% enriched uranium shrunk under interim nuclear agreement

    The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports in its quarterly inspections assessment that the quantity of 20 percent enriched uranium in Iran’s hands has been reduced since last November, when the world’s six powers (P5+1) and Iran have reached an interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear activities. Iran now has 354 pounds of the material — or about one-fifth less than what it had in November. With the right type of centrifuges, it is quicker to enrich uranium from 20 percent to weapon-grade 90 percent than it is to enrich uranium from 1 or 2 percent to 20 percent, so that the smaller the amount of 20 percent uranium a country has, the longer the “breakout” time — the time it would take a country to assemble a nuclear bomb once a decision to do so has been made.

  • Iran-Russia oil deal threatens nuclear negotiations

    Iran said that in exchange for Iranian oil, Russia could build a second reactor at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant. Russia could also provide Iran with trucks, railroad tracks, mini-refineries, grain, and other goods for Iranian oil. In a deal worth $1.5 billion a month, Iran would export 500,000 barrels of oil per day to Russia. The deal would increase Iran’s oil exports, which have been reduced to about one million barrels a day by American and European sanctions aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program.

  • Sandia Lab leading multidisciplinary effort to counter WMD

    Threats of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction do not seem as imminent today as they did after the 9/11 attacks, but Jill Hruby, vice president of International, Homeland, and Nuclear Security at Sandia Labs, says that scientists, industry, and universities working on technological solutions to national security challenges must anticipate what could come next. Speaking at AAAS annual meeting, Hruby said that in an environment of lower public interest — due, in part, to the success of early efforts to combat terrorism that resulted in fewer major incidents in recent years — continued collaboration between national security laboratories, academia, and industry is needed.

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  • Security of dirty bomb materials in U.S. inadequate: experts

    There are more than 5,000 medical and research devices in the United States containing high-activity radiation sources, including 700 with category-1 sources. Category-1 radiation material could be used by terrorists in dirty bombs. The security measures developed by the industry were written with accident prevention in mind, not in order to thwart a deliberate, forcible effort by terrorists or criminals to gain control of the toxic material. In addition, radioactive materials were considered to be “self-protecting,” because it was assumed that the powerful radiation would deter anyone thinking of tampering with these devices. Terrorist bomb-makers, however, showed themselves to be more technologically-savvy than earlier thought, and, in any event, suicide bombers would not be deterred by the risk of radiation poisoning.

  • First full-system mechanical environment test of B61-12 nuke completed successfully

    The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced the successful completion of the first full-system mechanical environment test of the B61‑12 as part of the NNSA’s effort to refurbish the B61 nuclear bomb. This first full-system mechanical environment test is one of several critical milestones for the B61-12 Life Extension Program (LEP). The B61-12 will replace the existing B61-3, -4, -7, and -10 bombs. Fielding the B61-12 will also enable the retirement of the B83, the last U.S. megaton class weapon, in the mid-to-late 2020s.

  • Chemical, physical traits of post-nuclear detonation fallout identified

    Post-detonation nuclear forensics relies on advanced analytical techniques and an understanding of the physio-chemical processes associated with a nuclear detonation to identify the device type and the source of the nuclear material in the device. Researchers have begun to develop a technique that provides a practical approach for looking into the complex physical and chemical processes that occur during fallout formation following a nuclear detonation.

  • USAF nuclear-missile officers alleged to have regularly cheated on readiness tests

    Three former U.S. Air Force officers have alleged that USAF officers responsible for operating nuclear-armed missiles at Malmstrom Air Base in Montana have, for many years, been cheating on monthly readiness tests, and were never punished for it. The former officers claim that cheating is the norm and that officers who did otherwise are the exception.The officers who made the allegations added, though, that misconduct on tests did not impair the safety of the nuclear weapons or the Air Force’s ability to launch missiles if ordered.

  • The basis for a permanent deal: deep, verifiable changes to Iran’s nuclear program

    A new study says that only broad and verifiable changes to Iran’s current nuclear program could serve as a basis for a permanent nuclear deal between Iran and the international community. Among the changes: reducing the number of Iran’s uranium-enrichment centrifuges from the current 19,500 to no more than 4,000, and limiting Iran to one enrichment site; converting the heavy-water reactor being built in Araq to a light-water reactor fueled by low-enriched uranium; and imposing a tight, intrusive inspection regime for at least twenty years.

  • NRC: storing spent nuclear fuel in cooling pools is safe

    The nuclear reactors now in service in the United States were built with the assumption that the spent fuel would be removed from nuclear the facilities after a few years, but because the government has failed to provide a centralized place to store the spent fuel, utility companies have had to store an ever-growing quantity of it in spent fuel pools on the grounds of the facilities. Scientists argue that it would be safer to move some of the spent fuel into giant steel and concrete casks, where it can be stored dry, with no reliance on water, pumps, or filters to keep them cool. The nuclear industry and the NRC do not agree.

  • Surviving a nuclear explosion in your city

    During the cold war, scientists modeled every imaginable consequence of a nuclear explosion. Michael Dillon, a Lawrence Livermore Lab mathematician, found a gap in the sheltering strategies for people far enough from ground zero to survive the initial blast but close enough to face deadly radioactive fallout. Dillon’s model’s addresses the most vulnerable people, those who found shelter from the blast in lightweight buildings, or buildings lacking a basement (these buildings are more easily penetrated by deadly radioactive dust). His recommendations:  if adequate shelter is fifteen minutes away, people should remain in their initial, poor-quality shelter no longer than thirty minutes after detonation. If the better shelter is only five minutes away, however, individuals should move there immediately, leaving the closer but unsafe buildings altogether.

  • Iconic Doomsday Clock remains at five minutes to midnight

    Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: It is still five minutes to midnight — and much too close to doomsday. The minute hand of the Bulletin’s iconic Doomsday Clock has been at five minutes to midnight since January 2012. In explaining why the hand would remain so close to figurative doomsday, the Bulletin’s science and security experts focused on the failure of world leaders to take action which would reduce the possibility of catastrophe related to nuclear weapons and climate change.

  • B61-11 earth-penetrating weapon tested for first time in seven years

    One of the main purposes of the U.S. nuclear stockpile is deterrence, and one important way to assure deterrence is to have a successful surveillance test that shows that the systems in the stockpile work. Sandia’s annual surveillance program for each weapon type consists of flight tests, lab tests, and component and material tests. On 20 November 2013, researchers conducted a rocket-driven impact test of the nonnuclear components of the B61-11 earth-penetrating weapon, the first such test in seven years. Flight tests subject the weapon to shock, vibration, temperature, rotation, weather, and more. Sandia pulls random units from the stockpile for tests.

  • Interim nuclear agreement with Iran goes into effect 20 January

    The United States and the EU announced Sunday that on 20 January Iran will start implementing November’s “comprehensive agreement.” One of the main clauses in the agreement calls for Iran to begin eliminating its stockpile of highly enriched uranium – that is, uranium enriched to 20 percent or higher — in eight days’ time from the start date. In addition to eliminating its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium before the end of January, Iran will also freeze other aspects of its nuclear program, accept more rigorous inspections of its nuclear facilities, and disable the cascade that produces 20 percent-enriched uranium. In exchange, Iran would receive some the relief from the sanctions, providing a $7 billion boost to the Iranian economy. The bulk of relief is in the shape of $4.2 billion in restricted Iranian assets which will be repatriated to Tehran in regular instalments throughout the six months until the deal concludes in July.

  • Nations' nuclear ambitions not discouraged by few suppliers

    Twenty-nine countries are considering constructing their first nuclear power plant. There are doubts as to which of these nuclear “newcomer” countries can actually succeed and join the thirty-one countries that already operate nuclear reactors. If even half of the national plans for nuclear power plants materialize, the geography of nuclear energy would radically change and could revitalize a stagnant industry. But given the obstacles to starting a national nuclear power program even for rich and stable countries, it’s not likely to happen quickly elsewhere.