Archive | March, 2012

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U.S. Secures, Reduces, and Manages World Nuclear Materials

Posted on 30 March 2012 by Jerry

There is much attention given to North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons (See blog post, “Iran’s Perilous Path”, 11-25-11) and strategic arms reduction agreements between the U. S. and Russia (See blog post “Reducing the Deficit: A Nuclear Benefit”, 10-16-11).  Unfortunately not enough attention is given to successful efforts of the U.S. to secure, reduce, and manage nuclear materials around the world.  While there are numerous efforts underway, this article will touch on cooperation between the U.S., Russia, and former Soviet Union block states of Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. This cooperation with Russia is what may contradict the leading Republican presidential candidate who recently declared Russia “our number one geopolitical foe”.

When the Soviet Union disintegrated on December 25, 1991, the world was thrown into turmoil. Governments questioned what was going to happen to all of the nuclear weapons and materials that had been based in the former Soviet Union but were now in independent countries. Who owned the weapons and how would they be secured so they would not be sold on the black market to terrorists or rogue countries, was an open question.  Who was going to be responsible for their safety?  How would the world keep former Soviet Union nuclear scientists from selling their capabilities to the highest bidders.

Fortunately, the former Soviet Republics of Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan decided to be non nuclear countries and agreed to return all weapons to Russia and/or allow other countries to be responsible for security of materials on their sites. The United States provided security to many, if not all, of these sites including a nuclear testing site near Kurchatov, Kazakhstan.

The governments of Russia and the United States had to find a way to secure, reduce, and manage these excess nuclear materials.  To this end in 1993, Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin negotiated and signed the U.S.-Russia Highly Enriched Uranium Agreement. Both countries set up government owned corporations, the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC) and Tekhsnabeksport (Tenex) to execute the deal. The plan was to take surplus nuclear materials and weapons, decommission them, and down-blend their highly enriched uranium (HEU, weapons grade uranium is enriched to 90%) and reduce its enrichment to that needed for nuclear power reactors, or turning it into low-enriched uranium (LEU) which is enriched to only 4-5% U235.  Generally under this agreement, Tenex down-blends the HEU to LEU which is then sold and delivered to USEC for resale to companies or countries running nuclear power reactors.  The arrangement called for shipments over the 20 year lifetime of the agreement which ends in 2013.  This 2013 termination of the program raises questions of whether a new agreement will be agreed to and ratified or whether the two countries will continue to provide the functions they now perform for each other but on the broader stage of the rest of the world without a formal agreement between them.

As of March 1, 2012 the U.S. has monitored the elimination of 442 metric tons of Russian weapons-origin HEU, the equivalent of approximately 17,680 nuclear warheads.  This same down-blending process has been used to eliminate U.S. surplus HEU (some 127 metric tons by 2012) as a result of our own retirement of nuclear warheads. As of now, the Russian down-blending sites obtain excess HEU from around the world and convert it to LEU.  This LEU is returned to the country of origin as a part of the U.S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI).

In addition, because the U.S. feared the former scientists of the Soviet Union might begin selling their capabilities around the world, the U.S. State Department manages the International Science and Technology Centers in Moscow and Kiev.  These centers provide research grants to Russian scientists and engineers so that they will not sell their knowledge to other nations or terrorist groups.  The U.S. Department of Energy funds programs that seek to provide these scientists and engineers with help to find employment in commercial enterprises around the world.

This kind of cooperation between Russia and the United States is all the more rare because the two countries have been constructively cooperating for almost two decades.  The two countries working closely together for so long would indicate a constructive partnership to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and would contradict some Republican presidential candidate perceptions of rivalry between the two countries.

Use the following links for more information about these topics:

 http://www.cdi.org/friendlyversion/printversion.cfm?documentID=2210

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/01/world/europe/01ukraine.html

http://www.rferl.org/content/giving_up_nukes_is_the_post_soviet_experience_a_model_for_others/24530211.html

http://www.state.gov/t/isn/rls/fs/186679.htm

http://www.wise-uranium.org/eudb.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/22/world/asia/22kazakhstan.html?pagewanted=all

 

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CA Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act

Posted on 28 March 2012 by Jerry

Since the July 5, 2011 reversal of the U.S. position opposing labeling of genetically modified foods internationally (see August 5, 2011 post “Speed/Slow/Stop…or LABEL Genetically Modified Foods”), pressure for mandatory labeling of GM foods in the U.S. has been building.  While there are efforts nationally to produce petitions (see www.justlabelit.org ) and to pass laws to require mandatory labeling, many are not optimistic these efforts will be successful in the near term.  The situation in the State of California may be dramatically different however (see www.carighttoknow.org )

As you probably know California has a history of leading and pioneering in forward looking health and safety issues.  California also has a well developed voter initiative process in which citizens groups can qualify proposed laws for inclusion on the state election ballot once a specific number of voter signatures have been secured.  In the November elections of 2012 California voters will have a unique opportunity to pass ground breaking legislation that requires mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods offered for sale in California.

Called the “California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act” the proposed legislation requires mandatory labeling when a food is:

  • “any genetically engineered raw agricultural commodity”
  • a “processed food that is made with or derived from any genetically engineered ingredient” or
  • any “processed food that is made with or is derived from any ingredient that may be genetically engineered” shall include a conspicuous statement which says “MAY CONTAIN GENETICALLY ENGINEERED INGREDIENT(S)”

While this legislation has elements which do not go far enough, it does represent a landmark step.  An example of an area that could be strengthened is its failure to call for labeling of food from any animal that has not itself been genetically engineered but has been fed or injected with genetically engineered food or any drug that has been produced though means of genetic engineering.  The proposed law also excludes labeling of food solely because it includes one or more genetically engineered processing aids or enzymes.

In any case, this is a ballot initiative you should support with your contributions and votes. Quoting Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, “Successful activists take the progress that is offered and demand more.”  Let us pass this law as written as a beachhead for the rest of the nation.  For voters from other states use this as a template for your own local initiatives. 

Remember, this legislation does not change the food choices you are given in your local store.  It also does not limit the genetic engineering the industy performs.  It merely gives you more information about what you may consume yourself or serve to your family.  It only equips you to make a more informed choice.

 Use the following links to review the actual wording of the voter initiative and visit the websites of organizations driving this issue:

To read the initiative after accessing carighttoknow.org, select “About”, then select “The Initiative”:

http://carighttoknow.com 

www.labelgmos.org

http://justlabelit.org

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Climate Change Awaits Obama & Democratic Congress Reelection

Posted on 20 March 2012 by Jerry

The most recent world climate change summit in Durban, South Africa failed. The summit once again postponed meaningful agreement on an extension of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol where developed nations are legally required to meet emission reduction targets.  With political gridlock in the United States and economic woes in the European Union, there was no major power capable of assuming world leadership on climate change. None of three roadblocks was overcome; the U.S. continues to refuse to sign the Protocol, the Protocol still imposes no mandates on the developing nations of China, India, Brazil and South Africa, and poorer nations continue to believe their financial needs are being neglected by the major economic powers.  For this reason, the only agreement that was reached was to negotiate a new worldwide protocol by 2015.  Meanwhile opportunity and time passes

In 2009, at the climate change summit in Copenhagen, world leaders agreed to an objective of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius (~three and a half degrees Fahrenheit).  The Copenhagen Accord, which Barack Obama personally helped negotiate, lacked any enforcement mechanism to insure movement toward the objective.  Unfortunately, in the years since 2009, carbon-dioxide emissions have continued to rise and world energy efficiency has declined.  Many climate change scientists believe we are rapidly approaching a day when the 2° objective is no longer attainable. See http://scim.ag/modelclimate.

The prevalent approach today to climate modeling is to combine multiple model outcomes to get a better picture of possible future developments.  The attached two charts were developed by merging 19 general climate circulation models to predict differences in vegetation loss between an increase in temperature of two Kelvins (one Kelvin is equivalent to one degree Celsius) and five Kelvins. For the many scientists who are afraid we have waited too long to achieve a 2° limit on temperature rise, five Kelvins, or five degrees Celsius, is what they believe is still attainable. As you can begin to see in these charts, which go out of their way to not be sensational, a five degree temperature rise takes us to much more noticeable levels of lost vegetation in the higher latitudes around the globe.

The Durbin agreement to negotiate a new protocol by 2015 has only one key element, the upcoming presidential elections in the United States.  This represents an international “Hail Mary” pass that assumes the reelection of Barack Obama as President, continued Democratic Party control of the U.S. Senate, and the Democratic Party reacquisition of control in the House of Representatives.  It is only under this scenario that the United States will have the freedom to assume much needed global leadership of the world’s efforts to limit climate change.  For this reason, all citizens of the U.S. who believe we are running out of time must act to accomplish these election objectives.  Besides giving assistance and votes to Barack Obama, we must insure sufficient funds and effort to return control of the House of Representatives to the Democratic Party.

Use the following links for more information on the present status of worldwide efforts to control global warming;

http://www.nature.com/news/durban-maps-path-to-climate-treaty-1.9635

http://scim.ag/modelclimate

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2011/11/two-degrees-of-disaster.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15992519

http://www.nature.com/news/watching-the-players-at-the-climate-poker-table-1.9640

http://www.dccc.org

 

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