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Why the Iran deal isn't the same as the 1994 agreement with North Korea.
Gary Sick on the backchannel talks.
Iran is reaching out to other countries in the region. This is only one example.
David Albright on the IAEA visit to the Arak heavy water production plant.
Letters written on November 24, 2013, by President Rouhani and Ayatollah Khamenei about the initial agreement between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1 on Iran's nuclear program.
The Israeli "Nuclear Alert" of 1973. Seymour Hersh has been wrong before.
Sy Hersh just published an article in the London Review of Books questioning whether it was, indeed, Syrian government forces that carried out the August 21 attack that almost led to an American attack on Syria and to the disarming of Syria’s chemical arsenal. I won’t go into the details of the evidence Hersh presents; I’ll leave that for the very capable Brown Moses, who is tweeting his analysis as I write (@Brown_Moses). I’ll focus on the logic of Hersh’s argument and his sources. Hersh presents a number of statements from the usual anonymous sources. It’s impossible, of course, to evaluate statements from “intelligence and military officers and consultants past and present,” “high-level intelligence officer,” “former senior intelligence official,” “senior intelligence consultant.” Only three appear to be quoted; it’s always hard to tell with anonymous sources. It’s possible Hersh talked to others he didn’t quote. Yes, everyone uses anonymous sources, and yes, there may be good reasons for them to remain anonymous. But it weakens any argument. People may inflate their importance and pay back old grudges, which is much easier to do anonymously. Three sources aren’t enough to provide confidence that their information is reliable. Hersh himself complains about a government briefing, “No specifics were provided, nor were those who provided the reports identified.” I think it works both ways. According to Hersh, the administration had no advance warning of the attack on Ghouta and reconstructed what they could from the signals intelligence that had been routinely collected on Syria. He cites a Washington Post report on the national intelligence budget released by Edward Snowden to show that Assad’s office was a difficult target. He also says that the Post article “provided the first indication” that the National Reconaissance Office monitors sensors secretly placed near Syrian chemical weapons sites. Unfortunately, no link is provided to the article so that Hersh’s claims can be checked. There have been rumors for years of “smart rocks” dropped around Iran’s and Syria’s critical sites that broadcast to satellites. It’s hard to imagine a smart rock smaller than a backpack that could include sample intake, a mass spectrometer or spectrophotometer, satellite transmission, and battery power. Perhaps some micro analyses that report color changes could miniaturize the smart rock. I’d like to see this worked out in more detail before I believe that every Syrian chemical site is continuously monitored by the NRO. Looking back at intelligence already collected is part of the analysis process. It’s not necessarily fixing the intelligence or cherrypicking, as Hersh implies, although, as he says, it’s not as firm as watching things happen in real time. Hersh cites Theodore Postol, partly from a New York Times article and associated slide presentation, and partly from an e-mail exchange between the two. (The Times’s search function is more helpful than the Post’s.) He says that Postol has concluded that flight path analysis by the Times indicating that the munitions used in the August 21 attack were launched from government positions “are nuts,” but this is in the e-mail exchange, not the Times material. Hersh says nothing about the several analyses posted in the Brown Moses blog that consistently support the Times analysis. Hersh then turns to the possibility that a rebel group could have mounted the attacks. His evidence:
the CIA had briefed the Obama administration on al-Nusra and its work with sarin, and had sent alarming reports that another Sunni fundamentalist group active in Syria, al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), also understood the science of producing sarin. An intelligence document issued in mid-summer dealt extensively with Ziyaad Tariq Ahmed, a chemical weapons expert formerly of the Iraqi military, who was said to have moved into Syria and to be operating in Eastern Ghouta. The consultant told me that Tariq had been identified ‘as an al-Nusra guy with a track record of making mustard gas in Iraq and someone who is implicated in making and using sarin’. a four-page top secret cable summarising what had been learned about al-Nusra’s nerve gas capabilities … confirm[ed] previous reports that al-Nusra had the ability to acquire and use sarin.“[U]nderstood the science of producing sarin,” “implicated in making and using sarin,” and “the ability to acquire and use sarin” are far from the ability to produce the quantities of sarin used in the August 21 attack. Nowhere in the article does Hersh suggest how any of the rebel groups might have made or acquired the sarin used in that attack. It’s not something you can whip up in your kitchen. Hersh then writes as if rebel possession of sarin were verified fact, starting here and continuing for a couple of paragraphs:
In both its public and private briefings after 21 August, the administration disregarded the available intelligence about al-Nusra’s potential access to sarin and continued to claim that the Assad government was in sole possession of chemical weapons.His evidence doesn’t support rebel possession of sarin, but this is a central part of his argument. There’s more I find dubious, but let’s start with this.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chair Allison Macfarlane on the danger to the US from Fukushima: "100 times less than the drinking water standard."
FAQs on Fukushima and the sea from Woods Hole.
Lots of details about the proposed ship-based destruction of Syria's cw stock.
The economic side of the agreement with Iran.
Views of the agreement from Iran.
A way out for Ukraine?
Does the US need an indigenous uranium enrichment capability?
A truck with a cobalt-60 source has been stolen in Mexico. Historically, people who have come into possession of sources like this have damaged themselves and their neighborhoods badly. It's as possible the truck was the object as the source.
All known uranium enrichment facilities worldwide as of 2013.
Eastern Ukraine, the more Russian-oriented part of the country, seems to be softening in its support for Yanukovych. A small warning: I am sensing wishful thinking in some of these reports, that there will be a revolution in Ukraine that magically throws out all politicians influenced by Russia and turns the country completely democratic. That will not happen. I doubt that Yanukovych will even be ousted before the next election.
It looks like Syria's chemical agents and precursors will be destroyed at sea. The US is fitting a ship with reportedly two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems, and a Danish ship will pick up the materials at Latakia and transfer them at sea to the US ship. A confused report puts the FDHS at a size of 400 by 700 feet on a ship 648 feet long and probably not 400 feet wide. The photo on the DTRA pdf doesn't look anywhere near that size, but when you add in power generators and waste storage, maybe that's the area projected when the unit is fielded on the ground. I will grouse more later about reporters and editors who don't bother to check if their account makes sense. I also have reservations about the FDHS itself. It looks like a pilot unit, and they can be temperamental to operate. But hopefully well-trained operators will be aboard and able to deal with its upsets. Also, a great deal of water-based effluent will be produced that will need to be treated. I haven't seen much about how that will be done.
And I've mentioned earlier that it will be difficult to transport dangerous chemicals in a war zone.
NATO - Russia Council Statement of Support
Walter Pincus interviews Sig Hecker on the Iran deal. Sig made contact with the Russian nuclear weapons laboratories in 1992 and set up collaborations. The Nunn-Lugar program funded those collaborations, the point of which was to give Russian weapons scientists something useful to do, so they didn't try to sell their weapons expertise to other countries. Might be a good idea to do something similar with Iran.
Letters supporting diplomacy with Iran from former high-level diplomats.
Iran is making nice with its neighbors.
A leak from someone close to the French report says that the report concludes that Arafat died from a generalized infection. That would be more consistent with his symptoms - particularly that he didn't lose his hair, as Litvenenko did. But the report isn't out yet, so let's wait to see what it says.
New York Times
Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) will enter talks with the US Department of Energy after its proposal to build and operate a laser enrichment facility at the shut down Paducah gaseous diffusion plant was selected. GLE is a joint venture of GE, Hitachi, and Cameco.
Photos of the steel arch being built to cover the damaged Chernobyl reactor.
I don't post all the good analysis of the agreement with Iran. There's just too much, and a lot of overlap. But some people have more insight into the situation than others.
So here are ten thoughts from Gary Sick, who negotiated with Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis.
And an evaluation from Charles Duelfer, who led the Iraq Survey Group, the US's investigation into Saddam Hussein's programs on WMD.
Iran says it will continue construction at the Arak reactor. This caused a small uproar and may continue to be used by opponents of the agreement. As I noted, some construction can continue: earthmoving, connecting things up inside the building. But no major components or fuel elements.
Iran and the US are to open a joint chamber of commerce? Waiting for confirmation on this one.
Stephen K Davion created a new topic TEPCO completes Fukushima's reactor 4 fuel rods transfer in the forum.Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has transported 22 fuel assemblies from the Unit 4 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.
Loaded into a cask, the fuel assemblies were transferred from the crippled reactor building to the nearby common pool building at the power plant for safe storage.
This is a very good deal indeed. It is an interim deal, intended to slow and even reverse some of Iran’s nuclear program while offering some financial relief to Iran. It covers the next six months, during which there will be more negotiations on how to assure the world that Iran’s nuclear program has only a peaceful intent and lifting the sanctions that have been imposed on Iran. Here is the official communiqué from the EU. FARS news claims to have the work plan. Reporters I follow on Twitter are wary of this but think it’s likely that FARS would have a copy. The Iranian diplomats at the talks shared more with their reporters than did diplomats from other countries. And it would be fair to allow Iran to break this news. But still, it’s not official. Other news outlets have listed some of what is in this work plan. I’ll comment in detail later. The fact that all parties were willing to stick with the negotiations until the early morning hours in order to get this right indicates how much they wanted a deal. For Iran, the sanctions have been damaging their economy badly; the rial immediately rose on expectations that the economy would improve. And the desire of President Hassan Rouhani and his cabinet, particularly Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, to bring Iran into more normal relations with the rest of the world obviously played a part. For the P5+1, slowing Iran’s nuclear program was essential. Iran’s stock of 20% enriched uranium and its progress toward putting a potentially plutonium-producing reactor at Arak into operation looked too ominous to Israel and Saudi Arabia in particular, provoking them to excesses of threatening rhetoric. Michael Mann, the spokesperson for Catherine Ashton of the EU, announced on Twitter that there was agreement. I followed the tweets of many reporters, choosing the ones I thought most reliable and informative to retweet. Twitter is now definitely the medium for breaking news. I highly recommend Laura Rozen (@lrozen) of Al Monitor and Julian Borger (@JulianBorger) of The Guardian. Some reporters haven’t quite figured out the Twitter machine and sound like Roland Hedley, a combination of ego, whining, and self-promotion. I won’t list them; they become obvious very quickly. This adds to President Obama’s record of ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and working to get the chemical weapons out of Syria. And John Kerry is becoming the Great Negotiator. It looks like most of Congress will line up with a wait-and-see attitude, some members more positive, some more negative. There are, of course, choruses of hard-liners in the P5+1, Israel, and Iran. Many are the same cast of characters slavering for a war in Iraq. It’s important to keep that in mind when evaluating their contributions. Détente with Iran, toward which this is only a single first step, would change the geopolitics of the Middle East greatly. That is partly what Israel and Saudi Arabia are afraid of. But now that the US has endorsed the deal, Israel would deal a destructive blow to that relationship if it attacked Iran. This is just a quick overview. I’ll go into more detail in subsequent posts.
Detailed calendar for destruction of Syria's chemical weapons. Notice that the last step, the cleanup, has no deadline. Cleanup always gets slighted, and what happens is what happened in Albania. Please, OPCW, complete the activity: that includes cleanup.
Destroying Syria's cw at sea is a possibility.
Could terrorists make chemical agents? This article discusses the availability of precursors from which chemical agents might be made but ignores the difficulty of making them. The same thing is true of many articles about terrorists and nuclear weapons. There are many difficulties in making both that are likely to lead to disastrous accidents long before the terrorists would succeed. I wouldn't do either one in my garage, and I've got a lot of the technical training a person would need.
Some good news: Tepco successfully transferred the first batch of fuel rod assemblies. Video is included.
A good Q&A on the negotiations with Iran, aimed at Congress but useful for anyone.
Everything you might want to know about Stuxnet, with even more in a report linked at the bottom.
Twenty basic concepts to help understand scientific claims.
Myths and misapprehensions about the Snowden revelations. I found the format confusing. The bolded statements are the myths. Would have helped to preface them with "Myth:". But the content is accurate. By Nigel Inkster, a former head of MI6.
NASA Stops Production of Advanced Plutonium Power Source. Now they say they have enough plutonium.
Former National Security Advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft support negotiating with Iran on its nuclear program. Here's their letter to President Obama.
This article doesn't have much new in it about Hanford's cleanup problems, but it's a good summary.
Cyberattack on RFE/RL in Prague.
Oppenheimer and public intellectuals.
Back in the spring, Congress formed a Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance Structure of the National Nuclear Security Administration. The Panel was to report in 120 days, which would have put the deadline at around October 1. We're six weeks along, and the Nuclear Diner post on the Panel seems to be the best information on the Web. That post summarized the twelve members: Co-Chairs: Former Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine and former Strategic Command chief Richard Mies. Augustine was selected by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) and House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA) Mies was selected earlier by Republican lawmakers. Four former legislators: Heather Wilson (R-NM), Ellen Tauscher (D-CA, and State Department official), John Spratt (D-SC), and David Hobson (R-OH). Former NNSA Naval Reactors chief Adm. Kirkland Donald, former Bush Administration national security expert Frank Miller, former Reagan Administration Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology William Schneider, former Deputy Energy Secretary T.J. Glauthier; former Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko, and former Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Director Michael Anastasio. We're six weeks past that deadline now, and there is no sign of a report. In fact, I spent some time on the NNSA website and couldn't find a single mention of the panel. It's a creature of Congress, that's true, but Google doesn't provide anything beyond news stories. Back in the days before the Web, I helped to prepare for Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) meetings. That was an advisory board of the Department of Energy, and the names of the members were available, along with a statement of purpose. So the total absence of anything about this panel, much less the report that was due six weeks ago, is puzzling. Anybody got any information?
The NRC directed its staff to complete the safety evaluation report for Yucca Mountain. The Obama administration earlier ordered the report halted, taking Yucca Mountain out of consideration for storage of spent fuel and other nuclear wastes. The courts found that order to be illegal. The facility, bored into the mountain, is nearly complete.
Belgium and Germany have taken themselves out of consideration for destroying Syria's chemical weapons.
More about the DDOS attacks on Estonia and Ukraine during a recent NATO exercise.
Tepco has begun removing the fuel rods from the spent fuel pool at Fukushima's reactor number 4. This is the reactor that had the most fuel rods in the pool during the March 2011 earthquake. A great deal of nonsense has been published about the dangers that this fuel pool presents. David Lochbaum debunks some of the nonsense.
Russia is upgrading its nuclear forces.
The Dutch government is concerned about the possible sale of the uranium enrichment group URENCO.
The Russian early warning system is down to three satellites. Uncertainty in detecting an attack will make the Russian government more jumpy about launching nukes. But wait. Is the US likely to launch a first strike? Are the Russians?
Cyberwar is happening now in Finland and the Baltic republics. Are other governments under attack and not saying so? And who's the attacker? Given these two targets, not too hard to figure out.
An experiment in the scientific quality demanded by online journals. The scientific community, surprisingly, objects.
The official statement from the just-concluded round of negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran.
Finland has been under cyberattack for the past several years.
The Hacker News does a poor job of re-reporting Eugene Kaspersky's claim that a "Russian nuclear plant" was infected with Stuxnet. The Hacker News story features a photo of a civilian nuclear power plant, but, if Stuxnet "infected the internal network of a Russian nuclear plant, exactly in the same way as it compromised the control system in Iranian nuclear facilities in Natanz," one might wonder if the "nuclear plant" involved was one of Russia's centrifuge enrichment plants. That is what is implied by that quote, but it's clear that neither reporter has any idea whether this is the case.
A good explanation of why allies watch (yeah, spy on) each other.
In case you're wondering about the report that Pakistan might share its nukes with Saudi Arabia, A. Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, says that no other nation funded Pakistan's program.