Saturday, September 22, 2007

UK paper - Israel found nuclear materials in Syria

North Korea is said to be the source

The Times of London (UK) has two reports today Sunday September 23rd, that Israel recovered nuclear materials from a Syrian site it later bombed. The paper says Israel shared the laboratory analysis results of the materials with the U.S. prior to the raid.

The Times reports well-placed sources as saying the Israeli commandos seized the material from a compound near Dayr az-Zwar in northern Syria and that tests of it in Israel showed it was from North Korea.

Every nuclear weapon has a radiation signature

North Korea's reactors have been inspected by the IAEA and their designs, physical profiles, and nuclear fuel burn-up residuals constitute a specific signature that could be found in any weapons grade materials that came from them.

Nuclear weapons grade materials have specific "signatures" that can indicate which reactor they came from. If the U.S. subsequently matched the signature of the nuclear materials, recovered by Israel from Syria, to a North Korean reactor the diplomatic world is in for a rough ride.

It follows that if Israel in fact recovered weapons grade materials from Syria, and submitted it to the U.S. for verification of its own laboratory results, confirmation could have led to political support from the U.S. for Israel to then carry out the bombing raid. That's a conjecture at this point.

Who is leaking to the Times UK and Why?

All this is speculative at this point because just one newspaper has published the story with mostly anonymous sources for attribution. It remains to be seen whether Israel will confirm any of the details of this report.

Last Sunday the Times reported startlingly detailed information about the Israel raid suggesting someone, or several parties, are leaking information to the paper in pieces over time. Some of the information leaked to the paper could also be "disinformation" designed to disguise elements of the raid for security reasons. For instance, do the Israelis want to expose Syria and North Korea's actions without "officially" taking credit for the raid?

White House remains in "no comment" mode

The Times UK reports this Sunday that Israel had been surveying the site for months, according to Washington and Israeli sources quoted by the newspaper. It gave no date for the commando raid or details about the materials. The paper says Israel informed the U.S. about the Syrian site, and North Korean activity there, some months ago.

The White House insisted Friday that it was "clear-eyed" about North Korea as it stonewalled questions about an Israeli strike allegedly sparked by nuclear cooperation between Pyongyang and Syria. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino flatly refused to confirm or deny media reports that Israel struck a nuclear site.

If the Times story is true, then transfers of nuclear weapons grade materials from North Korea could radically change US policy towards North Korea and the six party talks. Syria's Arab neighbors also have a problem if it turns out that country had acquired nuclear bomb making materials from North Korea. While much of the world has been worried about Iran's progress in the field of uranium enrichment, Syria's alleged transaction with North Korea has destabilization of the Middle East power equation written all over it.

Update October 13, 2007

Jim Hoagland, a columnist for the Washington Post, wrote on October 7th,

Highly classified U.S. intelligence reports say that the Israelis destroyed a nuclear-related facility and caused North Korean casualties at the site, which may have been intended to produce plutonium, according to a senior official with access to those reports. The Israelis have provided the United States with photographs, physical material and soil samples from the site -- taken both before and after the raid -- according to two independent sources.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Murky nuclear issue lurks in Syria - Part 4

What is it you don't understand about "no comment"?
[Update 02/03/08]

The debate about what target Israel bombed in Syria earlier this month has verged off course into a series of discordant opinions fueled by new reports today in the Washington Post and New York Times.

Neither report adds very much that is new except to dwell on the significance of official silence in Jerusalem and Washington. For a good perspective on the difference of opinions see Foreign Policy Magazine's blog where a noted arms control expert and the Post's reporter have converged in cyber space. This isn't the final word by any means.

As I noted earlier until someone shows up from the site in Syria with pieces of the bombed wreckage of a nuclear device, fissile materials, or other nuclear-related equipment, disinformation will color the debate. Of course I don't think it is plausible that a country as ruthlessly controlled as Syria is likely to let physical evidence like that get into the hands of the western news media. Israel has continued to limit what it tells the news media and President Bush flatly refused to comment on it.

Skepticism abounds for now.

Update February 03, 2008

The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel did not have a clear idea of the nature of the facility it targeted in Syria in September 2007, US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh writes in a New Yorker article scheduled to be published next week.

The article, titled A shot in the dark , cites interviews with American, Israeli and Syrian sources.

Hersh, a Pulitzer prize winner for his exposes on the My Lai massacre of 1968, claimed in his article that Israel decided to bomb the facility before its exact purpose was established in order to send a message to Iran. That doesn't mean the Israeli defenses were completely in the dark either.

Prior coverage on this blog here, here, and here.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Abstract - DeVore's nuclear initiative; an update

(Note to readers - this is a repost. Blogger ate the original due a problem with an embedded video)

He’s got a long way to go


By Dan Yurman, Contributing Reporter
Fuel Cycle Week 09/18/07

Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, a republican from a conservative district in southern California, is pursuing an initiative to overturn the state’s 31-year ban on new nuclear power plants. He'steamed up with a group of Fresno businessmen 260 miles to the north who are serious enough about building a nuclear power plant to go all the way to Finland to see Areva’s new EPR.

DeVore got the unanimous endorsement of the California State Republican party who agreed to support his “Power for California” initiative to overturn the ban in a statewide vote next June. The challenge DeVore faces is avoiding being painted into a partisan corner by California’s Democrats. He needs to find nonpartisan and moderate supporters, and lots of them, who don’t mind the conservative cast of DeVore’s political base. His more immediate challenge is simply to get noticed.

A recent public opinion poll in California shows voters likely to favor building nuclear power plants by a margin of 52% pro and 42% against with the remainder undecided.

Many people simply aren’t aware of DeVore’s initiative. His website counter showed less than 6,000 hits as of early September. None of the state’s newspapers or TV stations in major media markets in California have covered it according to a search in Lexis-Nexis on September 14th.

His cause got some help this week from a speech (video) by Frank “Skip” Bowman, the CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, to the Commonwealth Club of California. Bowman told his audience, “ Support and willingness to factually consider nuclear energy will be essential to California arriving at a well thought out energy plan.”

That’s what DeVore wants to do. Now he just has to get there.

Please contact the publisher for a sample copy or to purchase the full text of this issue at:

International Nuclear Associates, Washington, DC Tel: 202-547-8300 Web: http://www.innuco.com/

Nuclear utilities face financing issues

Southern states benefit from ratepayer coverage of construction costs

Business Week reports recent turmoil in financial markets is unlikely to affect long-term decision making on whether to build new nuclear power plants in the U.S. Nuclear blog We Support Lee has the details and an analysis.

Also, you'll find in the same post an update on a Standard & Poors review of states, like Florida, that allow nuclear utilities to recover construction costs as the plant is being built. This is the issue that Utah's legislature is wrestling with this Fall. The formal name is "Construction While in Progress" or CWIP. You can read a report from We Support Lee about legislative action on this ratepayer issue in South Caroline here.

Utah's legislature divided over nuclear power bill

Coal won't last forever and then there is the problem of global warming

Utah's legislature is still dancing around the idea of supporting nuclear energy. An interim committee has been doing a two-step since last July on a proposed bill modeled after a Florida law according to a report in the Salt Lake City Tribune. The proposal, "Recovery of Costs for Nuclear Power Facilities," shifts the financial burdens and risks of nuclear plant development from utility companies and their investors to ratepayers.

Last summer they were in favor of it, but now they're getting cold feet. This week the Salt Lake City Tribune reports the Interim Public Utilities and Technology Committee backed off a proposal to cut the financial risks faced by a utility company building a nuclear reactor. Instead, committee members want to study the costs ratepayers might have to bear if a proposal went forward and how those costs might compare to development of other energy sources.

What appears to have created near panic in Utah is testimony by S. David Freeman who offered an assessment, based on a 50-year career in the utility industry. He told about his time running the Tennessee Valley Authority's nuclear program, where 8 of 11 plants were canceled after cost overruns drove up electric rates and the utilities decided the costs were too high.

One provision of the proposed Utah would allow nuclear companies to charge ratepayers for construction-related costs long before they receive any power from a nuclear plant. Another would allow the utility to have ratepayers pick up the costs for a nuclear plant that never goes into operation under certain conditions.

Robert Ball, who leads a ratepayer group, previously directed the state's Consumer Protection Committee says the only utility in the state that would qualify under the new legislation would be the parent company of Rocky Mountain Power. He told panel the bill "socializes the costs and privatizes the profits" of nuclear development.

* * *

A poll conducted by the Deseret Morning News and KSL TV in June says there is support for nuclear power in Utah. Thirty percent of respondents said they would “definitely” support a nuclear plant in Utah, with another 33% who would “probably” support one, for a total of 63% expressing some degree of support for nuclear energy. That is a striking majority, especially given Utah’s fervent and long-term opposition to a move by the Goshutes Indian Tribe to build an interim spent-fuel storage facility on tribal land.

In other words, Utah voters seem to be willing to distinguish between building their own nuclear-energy plant and storing spent fuel from other states’ reactors. Rep. Roger Barrus (R-Centerville) echoes that assessment. In July he told me that the state must deal with the issue of a nuclear energy plant separately from its opposition to Skull Valley proposal, noting, “I think it is reasonable to consider [nuclear energy].”

Dianne Nielson, who headed Utah’s Department of Environmental Quality before becoming Governor Jon Huntsman’s energy adviser, told me in July that Huntsman, who is well aware of the Deseret Morning News poll, would probably not take issue with new construction as long as the facility stores its spent fuel in above-ground dry casks and it does not turn up other deal-breaking problems. For example, she said, Huntsman is “not interested in storing spent nuclear fuel from other states. … We need solutions at the national level.”

In the meantime Utah will continue to get its electricity from its most abundant energy resource - coal. The legislative committee will continue to look at all of its energy options with a report expected from the panel sometime in October.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

System dynamics of risk perception for nuclear energy

If you hear hoof beats think horses not zebras

This post is a set of Talking Points on the intersection of Peter Senge's ideas about system dynamics and Paul Slovic's classic essay on perceptions of risk; with specific application to nuclear energy.

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, way back in 1993, I prepared some talking points about public perceptions of risk and their impact on nuclear energy. Recently, Stewart Peterson, a leading nuclear blogger at Nuclear is Our Future, came across the talking points which were published in the Usenet group comp.risks and are still available in the archives of the proceedings. Risks Digest, V14, N40, March 16, 1993

Stewart suggested in an email message to me that the talking points are still relevant today and should be made available to a wider audience. He has a wonderful metaphor on the need to break down communications barriers regarding risk perceptions. He writes in his email that "given that what we say is less important than what the public hears, we can't justify speaking Klingon to the public by saying that it makes sense to us. Obviously, the data is the data, but how do we communicate the data?"

I'm happy to respond with this post to help kick off the dialog. I've updated the original set of talking points with minor edits and current links to referenced works.

Comments welcome, especially on ways to make distinctions between risk perceptions about nuclear weapons v. risk perceptions about management of nuclear wastes and spent fuel. Are there any?

Remember, these are talking points about other people's work. This is a briefing. It is not a formal, original essay.

-----------------------------------
System Dynamics of Risks
Sun, 14 Mar 93 13:20:34 -0800
Subject: System Dynamics of Risks
Newsgroups: Comp.Risks

Dan Yurman email

* * *

System Dynamics of Risks
Risk Perceptions, Mental Models, Circuit Breakers

There have been a number of postings in this newsgroup about risk and public acceptance of risks from various technologies, e.g. nuclear, chemical, etc. I think it's worth reviewing some of the basics about risk perceptions. This posting is based on the following references for those who wish to develop their own conclusions.

This posting is done in "bullet" form so that I can show attribution to source by concept. Almost all of the material in this post comes from one or more of the sources noted above. I have merely condensed some of the key ideas. Senge's work on system dynamics does not mention risk perceptions in any great detail. I have applied his tools for thinking about system dynamics to risk perceptions. Finally, if I have made any errors in representing the work of these authors, they are unintentional. I would appreciate clarifications where necessary.

OBJECTIVES - Slovic

Provide a basis for understanding and anticipating public perceptions of hazards. [Note: Senge - risk perceptions are mental models.] Improve communication of risk information among technical experts, lay people, and decision makers.

BACKGROUND - Slovic

The development of chemical and nuclear technologies has been accompanied by the potential of cause catastrophic and long-lasting damage to the earth and to the life forms that inhabit it.

* The mechanisms underlying these complex technologies are unfamiliar and incomprehensible to most citizens. The most harmful consequences of these technologies are such that learning to mitigate or control them is not well suited to management by trial-and-error. The public has developed increasing levels of dread of the unknown consequences of complex technologies.

* The public is well aware that economic and political pressures during the design process in complex systems may lead to systems being built and operated near the edge of the safety envelope. [Senge - Eroding goals]

* Some systems, once built, represent such significant investments that it is nearly impossible to walk away from them regardless of risks.

Senge - Yesterday's solutions are today's problems

Example, nuclear waste resulting from the balance of terror associated with manufacturing of nuclear weapons, e.g., Rocky Flats.

* Those who are responsible for human health and safety need to understand the ways people think about and respond to risk. Perception and acceptance of risks have their roots in social and cultural factors and not in science.

* The result is that some risk communication efforts may be irrelevant for the publics for which they are intended because the "publics" have hidden agendas. Also, the public may be raising the issue of risk to human health and the environment as a surrogate for other social, economic, or political concerns.

* Risk perceptions are mental maps composed of attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, and judgements. Following is an example of the "Not in my back yard," or NIMBY mental map.
Senge - reinforcing, vicious loops

- Belief: government serves special interests, not the public
- Assumption: you can't fight city hall
- Judgment: whatever it is the government is proposing to do, get it out of my back yard.

* Disagreements about risk perceptions do not change as a result of better data becoming available and being disseminated to the public. People have a hard time changing their opinions because of the strong influence initial impressions, or pre-existing biases, have on the interpretation of new information. Also, the method of presenting the new data, e.g. as mortality or as survival rates, can alter perceptions of risk.

* Generally, the gap between perceived and desired risk levels suggests that people are not satisfied with the ways the market or regulatory agencies have balanced risks and benefits. Generally, people are more tolerant of risks from activities seen as highly beneficial, but this is not a systematic relationship.

* The key factor regarding acceptance of exposure to risk appears to be the degree to which a person chooses that exposure in return for a perceived level of benefits. The relationships between perceived levels of benefits and acceptance of risks are mediated by factors such as familiarity, control, potential for catastrophic consequences, and equity.

* In the case of nuclear power people's deep anxieties are linked to the history of negative media coverage. Also, there is a strong association between public attitudes about nuclear power and anxieties about the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Accidents as Signals - Slovic

* The impact of accidents can extend far beyond direct harm. An entire industry can be affected regardless of which firm was responsible for the mishap.

* Some mishaps cannot be judged solely by damage to property, injuries, or death. Some events, like Three-Mile Island (TMI), can have ripple effects on public perceptions of risks leading to a more hostile view of complex technologies in general.

* The signal potential of an event like TMI, and thus its social impact, appears to be related to how well risks associated with the event are understood. The difference in perceptions between a train wreck and a nuclear reactor accident is that the wreck is seen as a discrete event in time while the reactor problem is regarded as a harbinger of further catastrophic mishaps. The relationship is between degree of unknown dread of the consequences of the accident and the degree of subsequent irrational fears of future catastrophes.

Risks and Benefits - Slovic

* Firms conducting risk assessments within the framework of cost - benefits analyses often fail to see the "ripple" effects of worst case scenarios.

* For example, Ford Motor Co. failed to correct a design problem with the gas tank of its Pinto compact care. A cost - benefit analysis indicated that corrections costs greatly exceeded expected benefits from increased safety.

* Had Ford looked at public risk perceptions of auto fires in crashes, the analysis might have highlighted this defect differently.

- Public perceptions of auto crashes regarded the risk of fire as a very high order problem involving considerable dread.

- Ford ignored potential higher order costs such as damage claims from lawsuits, damaged public reputation, lost future sales, and diminished "good will" from regulatory agencies.

Risk Perception and Mental Models - Senge

The logic of mental models with regard to risk perceptions is illustrated by the following notes:

1. Senge - Structure influences system performance

IF: structure influences system performance, and;

IF: mental models - attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, judgements - are part of the structure;

THEN: Mental models influence system performance. Risk perceptions are mental models because they are based on social and cultural factors such as attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, and judgments.

2. Senge - The easy way out usually leads back in.

IF: culture is the dominant collection of shared mental models operating in society, and;

IF: risk perceptions, which are mental models, have their roots in social and cultural factors, and not in science;

THEN: some risk communication efforts based solely on scientific data will fail since they do not address mental models which are the basis for risk perception.

3. Senge - The harder you push the harder the system pushes back.

IF: both our private and shared mental models are always flawed and can get us into trouble when they are taken for granted, and;

IF: levels of dread, in terms of perceived risk of complex technology, are reinforced by irrational fears caused by the unknown but potentially catastrophic effects of new technologies;

THEN: inappropriate mental models about complex technologies may be reinforced, rather than mitigated, by additional "marketing" efforts to promote new technologies.

Charting Mental Models About Risk - Senge and Slovic

Variables are defined as elements in a system which may act or be acted upon. A variable can move up or down in terms of intensity, duration, absolute or relative values, etc., but it's movement is measurable.

Slovic - There are four areas in which variables are defined by Slovicfor mental models at work in shaping risk perceptions. Following each variable definition is a list of factors which further define them.

The degree of voluntary acceptance of the risk, e.g. drinking coffee (caffeine) v. second hand smoke. (who makes the decision for exposure to the risk)
- Controllable?
- Consequences not fatal for individuals or groups?
- Equity in choice, degree of exposure?
- Low risk to future generations?
- Risks easily reduced or mitigated by individual choices?
- Risk decreases over time as more knowledge becomes available?

* The level of dread of the unknown the person has about the risk, e.g. thermonuclear war v. car accident. (obliteration of the collective v. individual survival)
- Totally uncontrollable; e.g. Pandora's box?
- Catastrophic results?
- Consequences fatal?
- No equity or choice, random exposures to risks?
- High risks to future generations?
- Risk increases over time regardless of what is known about it?

* The amount of knowledge the person has about the risk and especially its consequences, e.g. inhaling pesticide residue v. drinking alcoholic beverages. (imprecise science v. known, quantifiable data)
- Risks / consequences observable by trial and error, experimentation, or measurement?
- Those exposed realize the dangers?
- Effects / consequences separated in time and space, e.g., harm to future generations?
- Risks known to science, or exist in realm of "folklore?"

* The degree of control the person has to prevent the consequences of system failure, e.g., riding on a snowmobile v. working in a coal mine. (individual control v. collective control)
- Consequences known, capable of quantification?
- Effects immediate?
- Risk well known and understood by the public and science?
- Solutions to mitigate risks work?

* * *

General Notes on Risks and Human Factors
The Latent Failure Syndrome

Numerous functions and services in large, complex systems may be dependent on unrelated events. Large, technologically complex systems have "latent" failures within them. These are failures which are only apparent under a specific set of often obscure triggering conditions. This is my name for it. There is probably a much better formulation of the idea elsewhere, but for the purposes of a plain English explanation this will have to do.

Examples include the short list below.

* Nuclear; Three Mile Island, Chernobyl
* Space; Two space shuttle disasters
* Industry; Bhopal
* Environment; Exxon Valdez oil spill

* While these disasters all have apparent triggers, in fact, these failures are virtually never the result of a single fault.

* The risks of large system failures, with accompanying catastrophic consequences, accrue to the system as a whole rather than to individual components.

* Pressures during the design phase [ eroding goals ] may lead to systems being built to operate near the edge of the safety envelope.

* Logical redundancy is compromised by a lack of physical redundancy. For example, separate communication channels are carried in the same conduit.

Application of the "Latent Failure" Syndrone
Nuclear / chemical waste cleanup / spent nuclear fuel


1. Senge - Today's problems come from yesterday's solutions

IF: public anxieties [mental models] about nuclear technology are linked to dread of thermonuclear war, and;

IF: existing spent nuclear fuel is seen as a by-product of weapons' production processes rather than a residual product from generating electricity;

THEN: the public will extend it's original perceptions [ mental models] to cover processes involving the management of the spent fuel even though the management of it is designed to neutralize risks.

2. Senge - The cure can be worse than the disease

IF: the public has an intuitive grasp of the "latent failure syndrome" with regard to complex technologies, e.g., nuclear weapons production, and;

IF: the public's mental map include a paradigm that "things will blow up,"

THEN: the public will assume that the perceived risks of cleaning up waste from nuclear weapons production are no different than for the activities that created the bombs in the first place.

* * *

Comments welcome, especially on ways to make distinctions between risk perceptions about nuclear weapons v. risk perceptions about management of spent nuclear fuel;. Are there any?

# # #

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

US pledges to reduce plutonium weapons stockpile

Nine tons will be gone by 2012

At the GNEP meeting taking place in Vienna, Austria, this week the U.S. pledged to remove nine metric tons of plutonium, enough to make over 1,000 weapons, from its weapons stockpile. U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman made the pledge on Monday. That's 19,841 pounds or about 20 pounds of plutonium per bomb. It sure doesn't take much to wipe out civilization.

Anyway, according to a U.S. Department of Energy press release, Bodman told the GNP meeting,

“The United States is leading by example and furthering our commitment to nonproliferation and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by safely reducing the amount of weapons-usable nuclear material in the world."

The excess plutonium will be removed in the coming decades from retired, dismantled nuclear weapons. It will be eliminated by fabrication into mixed-oxide fuel (MOX) that can be burned in commercial nuclear reactors to produce electricity.

According to a nuclear industry source, it isn't clear how much of the surplus plutonium mentioned by Bodman at the GNEP meeting is suitable for use in MOX fuel. Two Duke Power nuclear plants are scheduled to burn MOX fuel once it becomes available. Globally, 30 nuclear plants burn MOX fuel mostly in Europe.

The U.S. is currently building a $5 billion MOX fuel plant at the Savannah River Site. However, plutonium that isn't clean enough for use in MOX fuel will have to be stored or disposed of by other means at SRS. DOE is consolidating all of its surplus plutonium at SRS. The MOX fuel plant, when complete in 2016, will process 75,000 lbs of surplus plutonium into MOX fuel over a 13 year period.

By 2012, the U.S. nuclear arsenal will reportedly be at its lowest level since the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s. Russia has eliminated 500 tons of highly enriched uranium from its nuclear stockpiles. Russia has also agreed to build a similar plant, and process a similar amount of plutonium into spent fuel, but hasn't broken ground yet due to a complicated mix of technical, funding, and political issues.

None of this means the U.S. will stop making highly enriched uranium or nuclear weapons as a deterrent against aggression. On August 22md the Knoxville News reported that a new production center for these materials was being designed for the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, TN. Construction of a new nuclear weapons plant at Y-12 could cost $3.5 billion according to the newspaper's report. The new Uranium Processing Facility will replace a 60-year old plant.

Rep. Zack Wamp (R-TN) was said to be skeptical about the need for the plant even though it is in his district. He told the Knoxville News the government still needs to look for ways to control costs even when they involve national security. Earlier this year Wamp startled his constituents by opposing the construction of any GNEP spent fuel reprocessing facilities in Oak Ridge. At least he's consistent.

NYT - Israelis bombed a Syrian nuclear site

Still waiting for the full story, but more pieces are visible today

The New York Times reports this morning that the Israeli government notified the Bush Administration before the raid took place, but the inference is it was most likely after the planes had entered Syrian airspace. The NYT reports that the "raid was an attempt by Israel to destroy a site that Israel believed was associated with a rudimentary Syrian nuclear program."

The NYT also reports that China made the decision to postpone the Six-Party Talks to prevent a possible confrontation between the U.S. and North Korea over the issue.

A former U.S. diplomatic who served in South Korea told the NYT that it was incredible that "the North Koreans would risk so much to engage in nuclear weapons related proliferation."

Well, here's another theory. The North Koreans aren't a government. They're a criminal gang, and when the U.S. talks to them about disassembling their nuclear weapons program, the folks in charge in North Korea think "fire sale" with Syria being the first customer. Hard currency is after all the same regardless of where it comes from.

Also, I don't buy the "rudimentary" characterization as reported by the NYT. If Syria was buying weapons grade materials from the North Koreans, they certainly were not going to move up the weapons capability ladder one centrifuge at a time like Iran. It was "leap frog" time in Damascus, and that's what the Israelis might have blown up earlier this month.

The problem for the Syrians is that their Arab neighbors might be thinking that the generals in Damascus might not stop at just threatening Israel once their "nuclear capability" had a delivery system, like a North Korean missile. BTW; Iran also has these missiles but so far as anyone knows does not yet have a nuclear weapon.

The Middle East is getting even more dangerous every day.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

GNEP meeting kicks-off in Vienna with 11 new members

Australia joins up despite controversy at home, but Canada plays it cool

The GNEP ministerial meeting kicked off in Vienna, Austria, today with 11 nations signing up for a project that will manage nuclear fuel on a global basis.

The second GNEP Ministerial is being held in Vienna, Austria, ahead of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference and is attended by 38 nations and three international organizations. Senior international energy officials are meeting in sessions focused on reliable fuel services and infrastructure, which are considered integral to GNEP’s development. Two key working groups got down to business.
  • Officials agreed to form a Nuclear Fuel Services Working Group under GNEP, which will focus on practical measures and benefits for comprehensive fuel services, such as fuel leasing and other arrangements for spent fuel management.

  • Officials agreed to form a Nuclear Infrastructure Development Working Group under GNEP to address the challenges that nuclear power poses in the financial, technical and human resources of many countries.
AP reports the 11 nations that signed for the first time Sunday were: Australia, Bulgaria, Ghana, Hungary, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Ukraine.

Canada, which is considering joining, sent a diplomatic observer deliberately downplaying speculation the country would sign up during the meeting. The issue is whether Canada will undertake spent fuel reprocessing if it joins GNEP. Opposition parties have claimed that the Conservative government has already decided to join, but is cautious because of a possible backlash against accepting radioactive waste.

It was a much busier run-up to GNEP for Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard. On Sptember 4th he hosted the 21-nation Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Sydney, signed a GNEP deal with U.S. President George Bush, and successfully closed on negotiations with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin to sell uranium to that country. Along with way Australia also signed up for a climate change program that includes China. Howard’s reward for all this heavy lifting was to see new challenges to his political leadership and strong commitment to nuclear energy. Yet, he accomplished a great deal in a few days and may have set his country on a course to build a uranium enrichment plant.

Argentina and South Africa have said they plan to revive enrichment activities, while Australia plans to start from scratch. While no one suggests these nations want a weapons program, their examples could embolden other nations in less stable regions.

Critics of the GNEP initiative say resuming reprocessing spent fuel, a process the U.S. abandoned in the 1970s over proliferation concerns, can make it easier for terrorists or enemy states to obtain weapons-grade plutonium. However, GNEP sponsors say these threats are addressed by the program.

U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said in his opening remarks, "The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership is not an exclusive club. It is an equal and voluntary partnership, open to all nations who share our common vision and who agree to internationally accepted standards for a safe, peaceful and secure nuclear fuel cycle." Bodman laid out the key principles that guide the program.
  • the need to deal with waste materials in a responsible manner;
  • the costs involved with developing the necessary infrastructure;
  • the need to develop and deploy technologies that will increase the efficiency of the fuel cycle;
  • the risks posed by the potential for proliferation of nuclear materials and sensitive technologies.
Bodman also made his case for nuclear energy as a response to global warming.

We must face the central fact that nuclear power is the only mature technology able today to supply sufficiently large amounts of emissions-free base load power to the world to meet the projected growth in demand for electricity.

We face similar, clearly global problems: increasing energy demand, climate change, reducing proliferation concerns, ensuring delivery of sustainable, cost effective electricity and sustaining economic development.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei praised the GNEP concept Sunday, saying it could "help the international community with some of the greatest international challenges we are facing — which are development and security."

The international nuclear industry has generally supported GNEP as a fuel management program, but in the U.S., Congress has balked at rapid construction of expensive fuel reprocessing facilities.

The House reduced the Bush Administration's funding request for 2008 from $395M to just $120M and the outcome in the Senate wasn't much better coming in at just $240M. If they split the difference in conference committee, the outcome will be in the range of $180M for 2008. This funding level repositions GNEP in the U.S. as an R&D and design program with a much longer time horizon than initially envisions by DOE officials.

The invisible elephant in the room is Iran. Iran's refusal to end its enrichment program, coupled with suspicious nuclear activities, have led to two sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions. Iran has ignored the sanctions. A third round is pending.

Still, today's events in Vienna aren't a bad start for the 2nd GNEP meeting. Let's see where they are a year from now.

Murky nuclear issue lurks in Syria - Part 3

UK paper says Syria had a N. Korean nuclear bomb
Part 2 here

The Times of London reports today what the Israeli news media cannot. The Times says the air raid on a Syrian target last week took out a nuclear facility. The paper starts with a headline "Israelis blew apart Syrian nuclear cache", and continues with a long article, full of hints and glimpses of the details of the air raid which proves only one thing. Israeli war planes penetrated Syrian air space with impunity.

The rest of the Times report leaves the reader with the impression that Syria was getting a nuclear bomb from North Korea and the facility that housed it was destroyed. Syria has no uranium enrichment plant, and its one nuclear reactor is a tiny research facility. The reader is left with a conclusion, by the process of elimination, that the destruction of anything "nuclear" in the raid was a nuclear bomb. What we don't know, if in fact there is a bomb in the mix, whether Syria planned to reveal it as a deterrent or actually use it.

The Israeli press, under a government order not to report too much about the raid, is reduced to reporting what other media outlets in other countries have revealed. One thing is becoming clear and that is the raid was not intended to destroy conventional munitions involving Hezbollah / Iran connections. For its part the Israeli government isn't saying much, but neither are the Syrians. No other new media reports shed any additional light on the Israeli raid.

There's lots of speculation about the raid, but until someone turns up physical evidence of a nuclear device on the ground in Syria, and its gets into the news media, the rest of the world will have to assume the Israelis had very good reasons for the air raid and the Syrians may have learned a terrible lesson about the perils of doing business with rogue nuclear powers. The North Koreans were the only nation to protest the raid, from which one can infer they had interests and people on the ground at the site that was bombed.

Political conservatives in the U.S. are having a field day criticizing current U.S. negotiations with North Korea. For its part the U.S. State Department is saying it will go forward with the six-party negotiations with North Korea.

UPDATE Sunday night 09/16/07

Arms Control Wonk, a reasonably expert guy, debunks the whole thing. We'll need to hear more from him, but for now he thinks it is nonsense.

AP reports that the six-party talks have been postponed. No reason was given for the announcement which was made is Seoul, South Korea.