Tag Archive | "Russia"

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Limiting Iran’s Nuclear Program

Posted on 15 December 2013 by admin

There is much controversy about the very limited deal that was struck between Iran the U.S. and other member states of the Security Council of the U.N. plus Germany.  The significance is this marks the first discussion between leaders of the U.S. and Iran since 1979.

The most important step in the agreement is for Iran to freeze its nuclear development program in place except for its nuclear material enrichment activities that it will roll back from a level of 20% enrichment to a level of 5%.  While this may not be seen as significant, the 5% level is the international norm for enriched uranium for power generation while anything over that serves efforts to develop a bomb.

While this agreement is only valid for a six month time period, it is meant to give the two sides enough time to reach a more definitive agreement that will bind both for many years.  In exchange for this short-term agreement, the U.N. will loosen a minor amount of the economic sanctions on Iran.  This will give Iran access to about $7 billion of its assets while retaining sanctions on the rest of the total of about $100 billion that is presently blocked.

Countries such as the U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China and Germany support the treaty.  Regional parties who still do not trust Iran are vehement in their rejection of the deal.  Most particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia oppose any agreement.

It is said that the sanctions imposed on Iran over the years have taken quite a toll on the Iranian economy.  Stretching from sanctions on anything related to nuclear materials, oil, arm sales, certain financial institutions, including the country’s central bank, these steps have made Iran an international pariah.  They have created plummeting oil revenues, the local currency has lost 80% of its value and there is spiraling inflation and layoffs.

Considering the severe impact of the sanctions on Iran, the minor concessions granted during the agreement appear to be well worth the risk. Any agreement would also call for the unlimited access of U.N. inspectors at any interval considered necessary, including daily.  This is a hard learned lesson from previous agreements.

Use the following links to obtain more information about the agreement or to access source documents:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/28/world/obama-says-he-spoke-to-irans-president-by-phone.html

http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/24/world/meast/iran-deal-text/index.html

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/24/iran-nuclear-agreement-q-and-a/

http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/24/world/meast/iran-nuclear-deal-qa/index.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/24/netanyahu-iran-deal-israel-nuclear_n_4332906.html/

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Bright Idea

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Siegfried Hecker Acts on Semipalatinsk-21

Posted on 19 August 2013 by Jerry

Without major headlines, a few significant scientists of three nations lobbied their governments and secured permission to spend seventeen years closing and cleaning up one of the world’s major nuclear weapons test sites.  They ended up removing enough highly radioactive plutonium that if extracted by terrorists, could have allowed the construction of dozens of nuclear weapons.

Bypassing long drawn out formal negotiations between the countries, scientists worked from the bottom up lobbying largely mid level officials in the United States, Russia and Kazakhstan.  They wanted the three nations to allow the trading and yet retention of national secrets so all three countries could understand the magnitude of the work that was required.  In an effort to protect national secrets the project was never reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency.  Although independent of the United Nations, the IAEA reports to the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council.

A report prepared by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, identified Siegfried S. Hecker, a retired director of Los Alamos, as the instigator and leader of the effort.  In 1995 after the dismantling of the Soviet Union, Hecker and a small group from Los Alamos were told during a visit to Kazakhstan that there were probably significant deposits of plutonium buried at the unguarded site of over 456 Soviet nuclear explosive tests.  They were also told of numerous tunnels containing nuclear materials dug into Degelen Mountain at the Semipalatinsk-21 test site that covers an area nearly the size of Belgium.

The report entitled “Plutonium Mountain – Inside the 17 year mission to secure a dangerous legacy of Soviet nuclear testing” makes for good reading (see link below). Amongst other things, it follows the actions of Kairat Kadyrzhanov, a metallurgist who once worked at the site who warned scavengers about the nuclear material and radioactivity.  Undeterred the scavengers grew their operations to include heavy mining equipment and placed armed guards around their scavenging areas to protect their sites.  Later when analyzing these efforts scientists discovered the scavengers had come within yards of deposits of fissile materials.

Over the 17 years from 1996 to 2012, over $150 million was spent to retrieve material and fill tunnels and bore holes with a special concrete that reduced the security threat posed by the facility.  American aerial drones provided surveillance of the site for much of that period.   In October 2012 a group of scientists and engineers from the U.S., Russia and Kazakhstan unveiled a simple monument whose inscription in three languages read “1996-2012. The world has become safer”.

This story reinforces the conclusion that determined individuals can accomplish major objectives if they set their minds to it.  This cooperative effort illustrates that government officials at any level can decide to make a difference by championing worthy efforts.  The field does not matter.  Whether it is a ban on genetically modified foods, an end to the use of primates for drug research or the end of a planned new pipeline to deliver more polluting oil to the market and environment, individual actions can make a difference.  We just have to decide.

For a high level description of past efforts to safeguard nuclear weapons see this blog’s March 30, 2012 posting of  “U.S. Secures, Reduces and Manages World Nuclear Materials”. Use the following links to obtain more information or see source documents for this article:

http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/23327/plutonium_mountain.html (Scroll down to the bottom of the page and select “A PDF of the full report is available here.  Click the report title to obtain the PDF)

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/18/world/asia/a-secret-race-for-abandoned-nuclear-material.html

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Your Intervention to Protect the Arctic

Posted on 27 June 2012 by Jerry

Ice is melting in the Arctic and as a result it is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe.  Sea lanes are opening up for longer periods in the year prompting attention from nations seeking to exploit the Arctic’s underwater oil, gas, and mineral resources.  Unlike Antarctica, which is protected by the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, the only protection for the North Pole is that it is defined in international treaties as the high seas.  Unfortunately several countries are attempting to enforce territorial boundaries and actively lay claim to the seabed.  This includes Canada, Russia, Denmark, Norway and the United States, all of which lay claim to various parts of the Arctic.

Examples of the attention the Arctic is receiving include recent military war games, Exercise Cold Response, hosted by Norway involving 16,300 troops from 14 countries.  The exercise involved “training on the ice for everything from high intensity warfare to terror threats…. The U.S., Canada and Denmark held their own major exercises and hosted a meeting of the military chiefs of the eight main Arctic powers – Canada, the U.S., Russia, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland.” 

A June 2, 2012 Reuters article reports on a recent visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stating, “Clinton boarded a research ship in Tromso, a Norwegian town north of the Arctic Circle, to illustrate U.S. interests in a once inaccessible region where resources are up for grabs and new sea routes between Europe and Asia are opening up.  ‘A lot of countries are looking at what will be the potential for exploration and extraction of natural resources as well as new sea lanes,’ Clinton told reporters after taking a two-hour boat tour of the local fjord.”

Recognizing that this type of attention and development can only accelerate the melting of the sea ice and further contribute to global warming, Greenpeace has marshaled celebrities and citizens from around the world calling for the Arctic to be designated a drill free reserve where all plant and animal species are protected.  This would put it on a similar footing as Antarctica.

Greenpeace has launched an effort to get 1,000,000 signatures on-line on a petition to be circulated around the world and planted at the North Pole to encourage nations to step up and protect the Arctic.  You can participate, if you hurry, by adding your name to the petition at www.savethearctic.org

You will be in good company joining other signers who include Sir Paul McCartney, Jack White, Penelope Cruz, Robert Redford, Edward Norton, Sir Richard Branson, and Lucy Lawless.  Other signers include Radiohead, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Emily Blunt, Baaba Maal, Javier Bardem, Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel, and a group of China’s most famous musicians.  You can be amongst the nine Oscar winners, ten Golden Globe winners and five Grammy Award winners who are signers of the petition.

This kind of direct action, while symbolic, represents your desire to keep countries and companies from exploiting and accelerating the very global warming they have created.  Adding your name to this petition is a small step to slow an accelerating problem.

Use the following links to find more information on these issues:

http://news.yahoo.com/ice-cap-melts-militaries-vie-arctic-edge-072343565.html

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/03/us-arctic-clinton-idUSBRE8510CQ20120603

http://www.nsf.gov/od/opp/antarct/anttrty.jsp

http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/media-center/news-releases/GLOBAL-STARS-LAUNCH-CAMPAIGN-TO-SAVE-THE-ARCTIC/

http://www.savethearctic.org

http://www.webpronews.com/jude-law-and-radiohead-lend-their-voices-to-save-polar-bears-2012-07

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