Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Posts Tagged ‘Nuclear’

UN Security Council to Discuss Syria’s Nuclear Activities

Posted by K.E. White on July 4, 2011

Slate provides an excellent update on the UN Security Council’s upcoming meeting on Syria.

The IAEA referred Syria to the UN Security Council after being frustrated in its attempts to learn more about Syria’s Dair Alzour nuclear reactor, which was destroyed by Israel in 2007.

From Slate:

Sanctions are unlikely: Iran continues to expand its nuclear activities in defiance of the council, whereas Syria’s alleged violations appeared to have occurred in the past and thus do not seem to represent a present proliferation threat.

Still, one of the three diplomats who agreed to discuss confidential information on condition of anonymity said the planned July 14 discussions are significant. He pointed to the fact that the council found the issue important enough to take it up less then a month after the June 9 IAEA referral.

Syria is already under Security Council perusal. The council on Thursday expressed united support for the U.N. peacekeeping force on the tense Syrian-Israeli border — even while remaining divided over any direct condemnation of Syria’s crackdown on peaceful demonstrators and human rights abuses.

Posted in IAEA, Security Council | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

China-Pakistan Deal Pushes Forward Without the NSG: Is This Something to Worry About?

Posted by K.E. White on June 27, 2011

No, but others disagree.

A fellow law student, Matthew F. Ferraro, at Flashpoint (A Blog of The Diplomat Magazine) discusses two recent–and in his view troubling–nuclear moves by China.  Ferraro frets over (1) China’s pending nuclear deal with Pakistan and (2) Chinese refusal to allow India to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group.  While he doesn’t offer a solution to the perceived second problem, he suggests an intriguing idea for the first:  have the NSG push for a de facto waiver by lobbying China to accept a NSG declaration welcoming the deal and emphasizing that all nuclear facilities under it will be under IAEA restrictions.

While thoughtful and original piece, Ferraro’s ‘solution’ is impractical, and–if pursued–would risk dealing a fatal blow ever getting Pakistan in the nuclear fold and needlessly alienate China.

(And did I mention that pursuing this de facto waiver would futher strain America’s relationship with Pakistan?)

There are a five points to bring-up that in my view represent critical omissions/miscues on the article:

(1)  The US-India nuclear deal was a bum deal, but we’re sticking to it.  The United States actively lobbied the NSG to grant a ‘waiver’, in return for a new, strategic relationship with India.  And for what (primary) reason?  To corner China.  What did we actually get?  (1) International criticism; (2) India getting even more nuclear deals with Russia and France; (3) and India not really pinning China down.  And how do you think the United States (tacitly) got China’s approval on this waiver?  Probably a guarantee not to hold up (oh wait it can’t) complain about a nuclear deal with Pakistan.

(2)  China’s deal with Pakistan is not illegal.  Ferraro states refers to this deal as “China’s illicit sale”, but it’s not illicit.  The NSG terms are voluntary.  This is a crucial point that undermines the basis of the entire article:  China isn’t breaking its international commitments.  Yes, the NSG  could kick out China, which would then (pretty much) destroy the very reason for the NSG to exist.  But there’s an important difference between a ‘breach’ of a voluntary agreement, and violating international law.  This may seem silly semantics, but the NSG is voluntary exactly so it’s members can show the flexibility necessary to deal with nuclear commerce issues.  In fact, with an issue as sensitive as nuclear commerce, this flexibility is needed.

(3)  Is the United States really all  that upset?  Sorry to call me a skeptic, but the U.S. knew this day was coming.  Giving India a nuclear pass meant that India would get one as well.  Furthermore, at a time when U.S.-Pakistan are both vital and troubled, I think the U.S. may actually be thankful for this deal in the long-term.  Pakistan already has nukes; the United States can’t give any nuclear carrots (for domestic and external reasons); at least China can give tools, IAEA assurances, and perhaps a road to bringing Pakistan into the nuclear fold.

The critical point:  The United States can’t bring Pakistan into the nuclear fold alone; it will need China, and to get that support, the United States will have to deal with China keep Pakistan a strategic partner.

(4)  Ferraro’s solution sounds great, but spells trouble.  This isn’t the way to go.  If India was kicking and screaming about NSG approval of the U.S.-India deal, the NSG injecting itself into a bilateral agreement without China’s approval is fool-hearty at best, stupid at worst.  First, China won’t vote for it–hence, it won’t pass.  Result:  the NSG looks completely helpless, and antagonizes China.  Critical point:  China’s timing of this deal has as much to do with helping itself, as helping the other NSG members swallow the deal.  Second, it pushes Pakistan even further away from coming into the nuclear fold–like eventually signing the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

The NSG focusing even more attention on this matter will (1) likely fail and (2)  alienate China and Pakistan.  At at time when having India and Pakistan sign the NPT (less likely) or Conventional Test Ban Treaty (more likely medium-term) is far more important than bellyaching Pakistan nuclear deal, the NSG pursuing a de facto waiver seems a dangerous waste of time.

(5)  Thank God China’s blocking India’s NSG bid!  Ferraro leaves this point in left field, mentioning it but not explaining why it’s bad.  I assume Ferraro believes bringing India into the NSG is a nonproliferation ‘win’.  But that seems a rather dubious proposition.  Opening the doors to India inevitably opens question about permitting Pakistan and Israel into a club.  Great, let’s dominant all NSG discussion over member instead of getting the current members on the same page on nuclear policy.   (If you couldn’t guess, I believe this is a bad idea.).

Conclusion:  The Deal Is Happening, and It’s a Good Thing–But What Comes Next?

Ferraro basically sees the ‘bad’ in the China-Pakistan deal, without looking to the hard realities of today’s nuclear diplomacy.  Now admittedly, perhaps I’m to quick to give China a pass-a position Ashley J. Tellis would no doubt agree with me on.  (Note:  Tellis gives more background on the China-Pakistan nuke deal’s differences from the U.S.-India deal and how China justifies the deal).

But, overall, I still believe the United States should quietly be pleased with China’s moves.  The real question wasn’t if this move was going to happen, but (1) how it was executed and (2) how it would be used in the future to mold Pakistan’s nuclear practices.  China’s actions are actually containing the fall-out from America’s past breach of nuclear norms.  Is China getting a benefit?  Sure.  But when it comes to the nonproliferation agenda, all goodies that America gets, China and Russia will get.  At least China using its nuclear card prudently, quietly, and in way that helps maintain international stability, helps American diplomacy, and–most importantly to those concerned with nuclear proliferation–generates to a new lever to pressure Pakistan on nonproliferation issues.

But the real question of how the U.S., China, and Russia can use this lever to push a nonproliferation agenda, within their already crowded priority agendas, is too early to answer.

Posted in Nuclear Deal | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Ratifying The 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: Arms Control Association Vs. The National Review

Posted by K.E. White on June 22, 2011

The 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is back in the news, with some hoping the Obama administration—preferably before possibly losing re-election and thus losing a good arms-control partner—will push the Senate to ratify the treaty.

But after reading two opposing points of view (check out the dueling ACA and TNR editorials), it seems this debate really comes down to two disagreements:

(1) both sides just are operating under very different assumptions and factual assessments,

Or (2) this all comes down to one question:  whether it’s a good deal to trust other nations won’t test in return for the United States not testing.

Yes, the National Review makes arguments about not detecting nuclear tests, and the need to keep our arsenal up-to-date.  But as Daryl G. Kimball at ACA points out, the U.S. has the technology now to detect the test we would likely be looking for; and indirectly argues that the non-proliferation regime would be strengthened (read:  we could push India and Pakistan into the agreement, and sop future nuclear aspirants); and, finally, our nuclear stock-pile is good for decades without testing.

And while The National Review does not refute these arguments, and their underlying analysis, it seems there’s a more implicit thesis:  (1) this treaty won’t factor into other nation’s decisions to test or not; and (2) what happens in 20 years?  If everyone knows the U.S. will break the treaty the minute is become necessary, how much binding force will it have?  (Admittedly, all treaties suffer from this; but at least encourage patterns of behavior and predictability that allow nations to adjust their strategic plans).

That’s why I like Jake Wilson’s blog at Heritage that concludes:

Nuclear weapons testing is essential for keeping the U.S. stockpile safe, secure, and reliable in the years ahead. Ratifying the CTBT would be detrimental to U.S. national security interests, as 30 countries around the world rely on the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence. These countries would be incentivized to develop their own nuclear weapons capabilities if the United States were perceived as weak and its nuclear weapons unreliable.

This is what the debate comes down to:  a simple disagreement into the motivations of countries.  I personally find this analysis shallow.  The greatest motivator to countries to acquire weapons is, I believe, fear that they will be held hostage to a country’s technological wizardry (e.g. North Korea and Iran had no reason to forego getting a nuke after being labeled part of the ‘axis of evil’.).  And, in any case, is not the world reaching a point where shifting flows in global finance and diminishing technology costs will make nuclear weapons available to any nation determined to get them?

If I’m right (and that is a big ‘if’), it then seems the proper course of U.S. action is to show nations nuclear weapons won’t achieve their strategic aims.  Best way to do that: show the world you don’t need further testing to meet your strategic aims.

But my worldview is more concerned with preventing low-budget, small nuclear aspirants—aka more Irans, Indias, and Pakistans—from causing regional headaches, not worries over Russia or China suddenly out-nuking us in some absurdist ‘Strangelove’ scenario.

But, in any case, both the ACA and TNR editorials duck this fundamental disagreement.  Instead, they recite or debunk old talking points.  It’s not that, especially the ACA analysis isn’t well-mapped and thorough, but instead missing what may actually be swaying the vote of particular Senators.

Posted in CTBT | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Is Nuclear Energy Cost-Effective?

Posted by K.E. White on June 22, 2011

Is the real problem with nuclear energy not its low-probability/high cost disasters (read Japan’s $245 billion nuclear catastrophe), but its cost-effectiveness?

John Farrell, at Renewable Energy World, makes that argument.  He argues that nuclear is actually third most expensive source of energy, and makes the case for investing in renewable energy.  He has nice graphs, but most of the analysis rests on one 2009 study from the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School.

On the other hand, the World Nuclear Association, looking at US electricity costs, argues that nuclear is cheaper than coal, gas and oil energy.

And then there’s still recent study from PriceWaterhouseCoopers that found Sweden’s hydro and nuclear energy production far more cost-effective than looking to wind energy.

But in any case, forecasting future costs of energy might be beside the point:  the real is, what happens when nuclear energy is cut out?

First, here’s a graph that shows the significant role nuclear, coal and natural gas play in America’s energy portfolio. (Naturally, driving eats up most of America’s petroleum consumption.)

And then Germany’s nuclear phase-out will lead Germany to rely more on gas and oil, increasing CO2 emissions.  But, owing to Europe’s carbon trading scheme, this could in turn spur Europe to turn to cleaner sources of energy.  Whether the increased push for renewable will lead, long-term, to a cleaner future faster than with nuclear in the mix is still unclear.

But, finally, one caveat should be noted:  the Gulf Oil Spill cost approx. $40 billion–or 1/5 the cost of Japan’s nuclear disaster.  Now, in 2007, the United States spent $1.233 trillion on energy.

The numbers are there; and policy-makers will have to decide whether the cost of not using nuclear energy outweighs the danger of a low-probability/high-cost nuclear accident.  But, at least in the United States where there is no cap and trade system, nuclear energy will seem to beat out renewable energy sources in the near-term when it comes to quickly generating energy and lowering America’s carbon imprint.

Posted in nuclear energy | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Nuclear Power, Politics and Law: The Bumpy Road to Phasing Out Germany’s Nuclear Industry

Posted by K.E. White on June 21, 2011

Will constitutional law stop Germany from heading towards a nuke-free future?

No, but it may put a steep price-tag on it.

Last month, reacting to Japan’s March 2011 nuclear catastrophe and a shocking electoral shellacking in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced plans to phase out nuclear energy as soon as possible.

The result?  Even worse political fortunes, and—now—the risk of paying billions in damages to Germany’s nuclear industry.

E.On, the world’s largest investor held energy service provider, announced last Friday that it would challenge the bundle of nuclear energy proposals recently made law in Germany.

And yesterday, E.On released a legal memo crafted by Gleiss Lutz detailing their claims against the government.  Specifically, the memo argues that E-on should be compensated for the German government’s illegal expropriation of their property.  Deutshe-Welle explains the reasoning of the possible suit:

The reasoning behind the claim focuses on the amount of electricity from nuclear power that energy companies would be allowed to generate before they are shut down.

Lawyers for the companies reportedly argue that these remaining kilowatt hours – to be produced in the future – are the property of the energy companies and are therefore protected as proprietary rights of ownership by the German constitution.

The amount of money at stake?  According to Eon’s Friday press release, “billions of Euros.”

Whatever the merits, this case shows the  difficulties countries may have in rapidly phasing out nuclear energy.  Furthermore, it suggests Merkel’s awkward political 180 will stay in the news for weeks to come.

This commentator has no knowledge of German property law; but, if EU law, is any guide–this property suit may have some trouble.  (The German constitution’s  Art. 14 has similar language).   Art. 17 of the EU Charter specifically states:

No one may be deprived of his or her possessions, except in the public interest and in the cases and under the conditions provided for by law, subject to fair compensation being paid in good time for their loss.

Now the “fair compensation” may seem like an easy hook.  But one case made clear that one isn’t deprived of their possessions by simply restricting their uses (for example, telling a person who bought a wineyard that they haven’t been “deprived” after EU law banned such a use, because they could always use it to sit on and enjoy–at a steep economic cost).

Now here, if the property being dealt with is unused kilowatt hours, deprivation may be more easily proven.  But, then again, the “public interest” prong is likely much more compelling.

And there’s always the business-risk argument:  When a private industry takes the chance–as did small coal producers before the advent of the ECSC–it knows there’s an always present risk that regulatory guidelines may come down that drive them out of business.  It seems here, while E-On could argue they can met every reasonable safety precaution and could not foresee such a quick change in Germany’s energy policy.  But the Greens have discussed knocking out nuclear energy, and there’s always the inherent risk of nuclear technology to argue the industry should have always known a regulatory ban could come at any time.

And while there are due process concerns, the phase out is not immediate: rather it lays down a 10-year plan (the really meeting the severe due process concerns at play in the Kadi case where a person placed on a UN sanctions list could not receive any of his funds to play for basic living expenses while he was challenging this designation.).

Hence, if German case-law has a similar trajectory to EU law the case could be in trouble.

In any case, it’s a fun case to map out, and a case with huge consequences for the German government and E.On.

If anyone can find the actual the Gleiss Lutz legal opinion, released yesterday, detailing  Eon’s legal claims (in English), I’d be very appreciative.

Posted in Germany, nuclear energy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

UAE and South Korean Nuclear Regulatory Bodies Sign Nuclear Implementing Agreement

Posted by K.E. White on March 15, 2011

The potentially devastating nuclear crisis in Japan isn’t putting off the UAE’s nuclear plans.

Building off their 2009 nuclear facilities production agreement, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and South Korea nuclear regulatory bodies today signed a nuclear cooperation agreement.  What does the agreement do?  AMEInfo.com provides this answer:

Under this Implementing Arrangement between the two regulatory bodies, FANR and KINAC will exchange information, experience, staff and technology related to ensuring a peaceful nuclear programme under international non-proliferation obligations. It is based on a UAE-Republic of Korea Government-to-Government agreement signed in 2009.

In short, with the UAE having a Korean consortium led by Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) to build four reactors, the UAE must development effective measures to track nuclear materials and secure these new faculties.

From The National:

“This is important in terms of the experience of the Korean regulator in regulating the Korean reactors and plants in Korea,” said Hamad al Kaabi, the UAE representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, a global nuclear watchdog based in Vienna. “The goal is to develop capabilities.”

The UAE, like other nations in the region including Saudi Arabia, is counting on nuclear power to help meet growing electricity demand as well as free up oil and gas currently used for power generation to more lucrative uses, such as exports of petrochemicals. Abu Dhabi hopes nuclear power will provide a quarter of its of its electricity within the next decade.

Is the UAE ignoring the lessons of Japan’s current nuclear crisis?  Perhaps.  But, as James M. Acton argues at ForeignPolicy.com, nuclear energy is worth the risk if done prudently.  And part of responsible nuclear energy generation must be safely securing facilities from natural and man-made disasters, and preventing nuclear materials from slipping into the wrong hands.

Posted in News | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Global Zero’s Flawed Attempt at Being Relevant to America’s Young People

Posted by K.E. White on March 8, 2011

Valerie Plame pushes Global Zero, pleading for young people to jump on board with the group’s nonproliferation agenda.  A question for readers under 30:  do you spend your nights (a) wondering about how to achieve nuclear abolition, (b) your school debt/employment prospected, or (c) your next vacation destination–as funded by Mommy/Daddy dearest?

I’m guessing (b).

Writing for the Huffington Post, Valerie Plame endorses Global Zero–a group of over 300 political, faith, business, and military leaders worldwide “working for the phased, verified elimination of all nuclear weapons worldwide.”  In fact, Plame–along with Jordan’s Queen Noor–will soon launch Women for Global Zero.

But I question the main thrust of her article:  her call on young people to join Global Zero’s call to action, which–coincidently–is the aim of Global Zero’s April 8-10 Global Zero D.C. Convention.  With gas hitting $4/gallon, and youth employment prospects as bright as a black hole, I’m thinking her intended audience–America’s ‘progressive’  youth–are more worried about the rent than nonproliferation.  But wait, the convention’s in DC–so with enough transportation-subsidization and swag, I’m sure they’ll get a good-sized group of whiny distinguished NYC/DC undergrads looking to score with one another.  Try holding the convention in Cleveland….actually wait:  do hold the convention in Cleveland–it’d be a welcome change of pace and, frankly, a small–but real–economic infusion to the city (that not only offers the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but a fantastic–and seldom crowded–international airport).

Don’t get me wrong, I wish Global Zero well.  But wouldn’t it be better to coalesce this movement with other groups advocating policies a bit more relevant to today’s political discourse?  How about teaming up with some liberal group for  cutting the federal budget responsibly, or even just teaming up with the well-established human rights and international justice movement.  But again, you’re not a ‘real’  group if you can’t throw your own ‘real’ convention.

Global Zero having a stand-alone convention is like me throwing my own surprise birthday party:  no matter how nice the decorations, my plead to be relevant only proves the opposite.

And it’s not like there aren’t better ways to spend the money.  How about sending accomplished speakers to graduate schools, law schools and undergraduate programs, and then link up interested young adults with opportunities to write or research on getting to global zero, diffusing other conflicts world-wide, and global development.  While there’s no big self-congratulatory party, in 5-10 years there will be a network of community leaders nationwide ready to push nonproliferation at a time when the American mind isn’t filled with fears of the double-dip, crushing debt, or Charlie Sheen’s latest antic.

But perhaps the convention will be a smash, proving to everyone–from the victims of the golden handcuffs to my hair-stylist Renee, that you’re not a zero if you’re in Global Zero.

Posted in Opinion | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Libya: The Nuclear Disaster That Wasn’t

Posted by K.E. White on March 5, 2011

Two articles show the huge dividends successful non-proliferation efforts offer to global security and stability.

First there’s David E. Sanger’s piece on the Libyan nuclear threat that never was:

“Imagine the possible nightmare if we had failed to remove the Libyan nuclear weapons program and their longer-range missile force,” said Robert Joseph, who played a central role in organizing the effort, in the months just after the invasion of Iraq.

And Joe Cirincione provides some helpful (and readable) wonkish background on the 2003 deal where Libya committed to ending their weapon’s program.

Posted in Nonproliferation | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Big Oil + Military Junta + N. Korea = Nuclear Burma?

Posted by K.E. White on July 5, 2010

First there are worries that North Korea has exported nuclear and missile technology to Burma, Iran and Syria.

And now there’s this report detailing a potential source for Burma’s alleged nuclear activities.

From the Korea Times:

Three oil companies, Total, Chevron and PTTEP, have provided Burma’s military junta with half of their revenue, worth nearly $5 billion earned from the Yadana Natural Gas Project, an environment watchdog claimed Monday.

If confirmed to be true, this suggests that part of the cash could have gone to North Korea which reportedly exported nuclear and weapons technology to Burma (Myanmar).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dawn’s Iran Editorial Falls (Worrisomely) Flat

Posted by K.E. White on July 5, 2010

The Dawn, a leading Pakistani newspaper, offers a troublingly subtle critic of American policy towards Iran.

The Dawn comes out against the recent-round of U.S. sanction against Iran.  Instead it asks the U.S. to accept its limited “moral basis”:

There is no doubt Tehran has pursued policies that often appear unnecessarily confrontational. But the US-led bloc has not helped matters by failing to realise the reasons behind Iran’s hard line. The truth is that, while the western powers follow Iran’s nuclear programme with a microscope, patronising Israel, the Middle East’s only nuclear power, continues to be the basic principle of their policy. This has robbed western diplomacy of a moral basis for going tough on Iran.

One question:  Just how would Dawn propose America reclaim the moral high-ground? On that mark, the editorial falls (worrisomely) flat.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »