Nuclear weapons proliferation

  • Part Three: Bechtel and the Y-12 security breach

    With an annual security budget of $150 million, the Y-12 Nuclear Complex at Oakridge, Tennessee, prided itself on its high-tech security system built to protect more than 179 tons of uranium. After Sister Megan Rice, age 82, and two confederates, both senior citizens, too — the three were armed with nothing but wire cutters and flashlights — broke into the Y-12 facility on 28 July 2012, one security guard was fired. Numerous investigations and reports, however, show that last July’s incident was but one in a series of security failures and breaches at nuclear sites under the supervision of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). In May, Sister Rice and her aging collaborators will stand trial. Bechtel, a major contractor sharing responsibility for the documented security lapses at Y-12, has just received a federal nuclear plant security contract worth more than $22 billion.

  • Thorium holds promise of safer, cleaner nuclear power

    Thorium as nuclear fuels has drawbacks, but its main advantage includes generating far less toxic residue. The majority of the mineral is used during the fission process, and it can burn existing stockpiles of plutonium and hazardous waste, saving the need to transport it and bury the waste in concrete. If thorium becomes available as a source of energy in the future, the world will rely less on coal and gas, and wind turbines will become a thing of the past. The risk of a global energy crunch will decrease considerably.

  • Airborne pods tracing nuclear bomb’s origins

    If a nuclear device were to unexpectedly detonate anywhere on Earth, the ensuing effort to find out who made the weapon probably would be led by aircraft rapidly collecting airborne radioactive particles for  analysis; relatively inexpensive UAVs, equipped with radiation sensors and specialized debris-samplers, could fly right down the throat of telltale radiation over a broad range of altitudes without exposing a human crew to hazards

  • France is the forerunner in nuclear power generation – but for how long?

    France has been held up, worldwide, as the forerunner in using nuclear fission to produce electricity; a third of the nation’s nuclear reactors, however, will need replacing in the next decade, and public opinion has shifted toward reducing reliance on nuclear power; does France have the means or desire to unplug from nuclear power?

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  • Comparing boost-phase to non-boost-phase ballistic missile defense

    An expert panel set forth to provide an assessment of the feasibility, practicality, and affordability of U.S. boost-phase missile defense compared with that of the U.S. non-boost missile defense when countering short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic missile threats

  • Part Two: NNSA and private contractors’ “nuclear safety culture” responsible for Y-12 security breach?

    After Sister Susan Rice, age 82, and two other senior confederates allegedly broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex at Oak Ridge, Tennessee on 28 July 28th, initial spin on the breach at this highly secured facility focused upon blaming a lone security guard;the security breach at Y-12, however, should be more accurately understood as revealing a more systemic flaw: the breach was not the fault of a single guard, but as a security failure similar to other failures in a number of facilities under the purview of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) experiencing repeated security and safety lapses

  • U.S. cuts budget for nuclear monitoring at foreign ports

    In 2003 the United States decided to install radiation detection equipment in 100 large ports around the world, and train local personnel in using the equipment, so that ship containers could be scanned for nuclear material before the ship left for the United States; so far, equipment has been deployed in forty-two ports; after GAO criticism of the quality of the scanning equipment and of lack of coordination between two similar container scanning programs, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s 2013 budget will be cut by 85 percent, and further installations will be canceled

  • Israel accused of stealing, revealing IAEA Iran-related documents

    Sources within the IAEA complained that Israel, in its zeal to expose Iran’s nuclear-weapons related activities — and, by implication, its attempt to paint the IAEA as slow and indecisive in its scrutiny of Iran’s nuclear activities – has stolen IAEA secret documents about Iran’s nuclear program and, after editing, gave them to the Associated Press

  • IAEA: Iran finished removing evidence of illicit nuclear work at Parchin

    Iran, implausibly, may explain away its uranium enrichment activities by saying it needs the enriched material for civilian reactors and medical research (although the sheer quantities of uranium it enriches bear no relationship to either need); warhead design is done by a few engineers at secret locations; there is one activity – testing of the triggering mechanism for a nuclear bomb – that cannot be explained away (because these triggers do not have any other use) or hidden (because the testing leaves unmistakable traces); Iran has been conducting tests on a triggering mechanism for nuclear warheads at a military base called Parchin, south of Tehran, and has blocked access of UN inspectors to the site; detailed satellite imagery shows that Iran has been engaged in a frantic effort to scrub all evidence related to nuclear weapons testing activity at the military base by demolishing buildings and removing large quantities of soil that might hold traces of illicit nuclear work; the IAEA says that Iran has succeeded in its clean-up effort

  • Nuclear wonder fuel poses serious weapons proliferation risk

    Thorium is being touted as an ideal fuel for a new generation of nuclear power plants, but new study shows that it may pose a serious weapons proliferation risk; experiments to separate protactinium-233 show that it is feasible that just 1.6 tons of thorium metal would be enough to produce eight kilograms of uranium-233, which is the minimum amount required for a nuclear weapon; a nuclear reactor using thorium for fuel could produce that amount of thorium metal in less than a year

  • Critics: post-Fukushima nuclear power may be safer, but it is still not cost effective

    The Southern Company wants to show its customers that it has learned from the Fukushima disaster in Japan and has protected its nuclear reactors to make sure the same thing does not happen in the United .States’ critics of nuclear power are not convinced – and also, they say, alternative energy sources, such as natural gas, are much cheaper to produce

  • Powerful debugging program to help U.S. nuclear deterrence

    Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) researchers have used the Stack Trace Analysis Tool (STAT), a highly scalable, lightweight tool to debug a program running more than one million MPI processes on the IBM Blue Gene/Q (BGQ)-based Sequoia supercomputer; LLNL plans to use Sequoia’s impressive computational capability to advance understanding of fundamental physics and engineering questions that arise in the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) program to ensure the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear deterrent without testing

  • U.S.-Iran tensions rise as Iran tries to disrupt U.S. reconnaissance flights in Gulf

    Tensions between the United States and Iran increase as news emerged last week of an attempt by four Iranian fighter planes, on 1 November, to shoot down a U.S. Predator drone engaged in a surveillance mission over international water in the Persian Gulf

  • Twenty-year anniversary of U.S. last full-scale nuclear test

    The first U.S. nuclear test, code named Trinity, took place in southern New Mexico forty-seven years earlier, on 16 July 1945; in all, the United States conducted 1,030 nuclear tests – the last one, code-named Divider,  took place twenty years ago, on 23 September 1992

  • Two suspected 2010 North Korea nuclear “tests” probably never happened: study

    It is generally accepted that North Korea has carried out at least two nuclear test explosions, in 2006 and 2009, with the second test — thought to be in the range of about two to four kilotons — was five times more powerful than the first; this spring, a Swedish scientist sparked international concern when he said that radioactive particles detected in 2010 showed North Korea had set off at least two small nuclear blasts that year; now, a new paper says the tests likely never took place — or that if they did, they were too tiny to have any military significance