Posts from April, 2006

Chernobyl and the Nuclear Energy Impasse

While residing in Kiev in 2001, I visited the Chernobyl Zone accompanied by several Ukrainian guides. Since then I have worked closely with Dr. Valery Antropov (second from left in photograph), manager of the Chernobyl State Complex Information Center for Radioactive Waste Management. Dr. Antropov provided me with invaluable guidance in understanding the current situation at Chernobyl and the cleanup and management efforts he and his colleagues undertake, while I composed an in-depth article on this.

The 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster is April 26, 2006. But my article is not about the anniversary. Instead, it chronicles a day at the Zone, and depicts the dismal, still potentially dangerous state of the site. Take a tour of the Chernobyl Zone with me here, and learn why the new containment shelter needs to be built soon, and why Chernobyl is still urgently relevant to current global nuclear energy policy.

New Uranium Enrichment Calculator

Our ace FAS researcher, Lucas Royland, has developed a simple calculator that allows prediction of when Iran will first have enough highly enriched uranium to build a simple gun-assembled nuclear bomb. We must emphasize that the calculator gives the best case (from the Iranian point of view, the worst case from the rest of the world’s point of view). In other words, the user enters, for example, the rate at which Iran can produce centrifuges. The calculator assumes those are used to best efficiency as produced. There are never any management errors, supply problems, or misallocation of resources, that is, the things that always slow down any real-world construction project. So, for the parameters entered, the calculator gives the “not before” date.
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The Return of Orange Julia

By late 2005, the promises of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution appeared to have fallen flat on their face: President Viktor Yushchenko and his Our Ukraine party so far have failed to deliver on numerous promises made during his election; Ukraine today is not much closer to the European Union or NATO than in past years. And Yushchenko sacked his former Orange Revolution ally and prime minister Julia (pronounced “Yulia”) Timoshenko eight months ago over suspicions of corruption. Susequently Yushchenko and Julia had an apparent irreconcilable falling out.

Ukraine’s recent parliamentary elections witnessed Viktor Yanukovich’s Party of Regions take the lead, but without enough seats to form a majority in the 450-seat parliament. Under the Ukrainian Constitution, the parliament must form a coalition majority within 30 days of the new parliament starting work, and appoint a new government within 30 days after that. Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party is looking weak: in the recent election it came in third, while Julia’s Bloc came in second.

Remember Yanukovich? He claimed to have won the presidency in 2004 as a successor to Leonid Kuchma, in what was likely a rigged election bolstered by neighboring Russia. The Orange Revolution changed this verdict, but Yushchenko’s Western-leaning government is in trouble. So Julia is back in the limelight, proposing to form a new alliance with Our Ukraine to keep the Party of Regions at bay. On her website,, on April 7, 2006, she said, “A union between Our Ukraine and Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc would keep Ukraine enthusiastically on the road to Europe, with a possibly greater chance than last year to pass needed reforms. “ And Julia has also said publicly that she will not cooperate with Yanukovich.

Who is Julia, exactly? A very powerful and rich woman, for starters. After Ukrainian independence from the USSR, she became the enterprising owner of a video rental company. Soon after she rose very quickly in the energy industry – becoming known as the “gas princess,” and a Ukrainian oligarch. She has long-standing political ambitions, and to her credit, has survived imprisonment by Kuchma and at least one attempt on her life in the last several years.

What is she like? Silnaya! (Strong!) an elderly Ukrainian colleague of mine reported. She is certainly that, and drop-dead gorgeous by the way: in the words of one of my male colleagues – she’s a total babe. And a very smart one, too. This can be a very powerful combination of features if she chooses to use her talents wisely. Julia wants once again to be prime minister, and quite possibly Ukraine’s next president.

Her proposal for a coalition has not gone unheard. Senior members of Our Ukraine have approved an orange coalition and Yushchenko confirmed: “This is the beginning of discussions and it’s not a big secret that we are aiming to create an orange coalition.” But Julia will not agree to any coalition that does not return her to her former job of prime minister.

In the meantime Yanukovich’s popularity is rising. He has warned against the formation of an orange coalition in the country’s new parliament: playing on voters’ fears, on April 6 his party stated that a renewed orange coalition “will lead Ukraine into an abyss.” Such statements make for entertaining political drama. And although popular with pensioners and many residents of eastern Ukraine, Yanukovich would be too Soviet in his approach to governing and would hinder Ukraine’s path towards democracy and the free market. Ukraine should not be allowed to slip back further under Russia’s influence or bend backwards towards its Soviet past.

The final decision to form an orange coalition with Julia will be up to Yushchenko. But can he and Julia overcome their petty differences and bickering and lead Ukraine forward towards Europe and the West? The next few months may tell.

Opposing the Indian Nuclear Deal, not India.

An earlier FAS blog entry analyzed, and criticized, proposed legislation that grants the Bush Administration pre-approval of the details of an eventual nuclear trade deal with India. FAS has also organized a petition campaign to encourage members of Congress to vote against the legislation. (And blog readers are encouraged to sign the petition.) The Times of India picked up on the petition. The Times piece was, in my view, pretty good and fair. They did not agree entirely with the FAS position but I think the article did a good job of representing the FAS position.
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Harkin Amendment for Avian Flu funding passes!

Yesterday, the Senate passed a whopping $107 billion Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill to fund the war in Iraq. Attached to the bill was an amendment by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) that adds $2.3 billion to prepare for an influenza pandemic. Such money will also prepare the country for other public health emergencies and is a strong indication that Congress is starting to take the threat of Avian Influenza seriously. The bulk of the bill consists of $67.8 billion for the Pentagon to support the war in Iraq and $27 billion in hurricane relief.

The whole amendment can be found in the extended comments section:
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Non-Nuclear Test Will Simulate Nuclear Weapon Strike

Update (February 22, 2007): DTRA announces that Divine Strake has been canceled.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) today confirmed to FAS that the upcoming Divine Strake test widely reported in the media to be a non-nuclear event is in fact a low-yield nuclear weapons calibration simulation against an underground target.

A few, including Albuquerque Journal and, have speculated that Divine Strake was a nuclear-related event, but DTRA has up till now declined to confirm or deny the nuclear connection.

In response to an email earlier today, a DTRA spokesperson confirmed that Divine Strake is the same event that is described in DTRA budget documents as being a low-yield nuclear weapons shock simulation designed to allow the warfighters to fine-tune the yield of nuclear weapons in strikes on underground facilities.

It also turns out that Divine Strake is “an integral part” of STRATCOM’s new Global Strike mission, which is normally reported to develop mainly non-nuclear capabilities against time-urgent targets. Global Strike is one of the pillars of the Bush administration’s so-called New Triad which is said to be reducing the role of nuclear weapons.

According to a Department of Energy document associated with Divine Strake, the event comes only two years after President George W. Bush in Summer 2004 signed a presidential decision directive that ordered STRATCOM to “extend Global Strike to counter all [Hard and Deeply Buried Targets] to include both tactical and strategic adversarial targets.”

Divine Strake was not mentioned during last week’s Senate hearing on the Global Strike mission.

More: Divine Strake Background | Global Strike Chronology