Posts from December, 2007

National Biodefense Science Board Meeting: Day 2

To begin the day the NBSB listened to presentations from each of the members of the Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise (PHEMCE). The Enterprise is coordinated within HHS by the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and includes the NIH, CDC, FDA and BARDA. PHEMCE’s role in HHS is to coordinate the research, development, acquisition and deployment of medical countermeasures to chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) threats. Many of the topics the NBSB will consider and provide recommendations on will fall within the PHEMC Enterprise, so the board heard a representative from each of the agencies describe their efforts and role in PHEMCE. The morning session ended with presentations from Bruce Gellin giving an overview of the HHS pandemic flu program and Robin Robinson detailing BARDA’s pandemic preparedness and response activities.

During the afternoon session the board got down to business. After being presented with information on the possible topics that they were considering, the NBSB voted for 4 specific topics and formed subcommittees for each.

First the NBSB wanted to address the issue of pandemic influenza preparedness. The subcommittee will evaluate current research, identify the gaps, and then report to the whole board to begin making recommendations.

The second subcommittee will review the US government research portfolio to determine whether efforts are as integrated as they could be. They too will return their findings to the whole board with the goal of making recommendations to increase collaboration and avoid duplication of efforts.

The third subcommittee was commissioned to look at disaster medicine. They will take HSPD-21 as a framework for evaluation and further development of a national disaster medicine plan. It will include the possibility of promoting ‘disaster medicine’ as a new discipline and setting up dedicated training courses and programs.

Finally, it was agreed that a subcommittee be set up to look at the gaps in the medical countermeasures marketplace. This subcommittee will focus on the private sector and look at ways to engage their involvement in countermeasures development.

It was also agreed that the issue of special and at-risk populations and the issue of communications and data interoperability not be stand alone topics. They will be integrated into each of the four subcommittees and a decision to exclude them would need to be explicitly justified.

Finally the members of the NBSB volunteered their placement on subcommittees within their areas of expertise and subcommittee chairs were appointed. Andrew Pavia will chair the pandemic influenza subcommittee, Patrick Scannon; the government research evaluation subcommittee, Jim James; the disaster medicine subcommittee and John Parker; the gaps in countermeasure marketplace subcommittee. The NBSB will meet again in 6 months to hear reports from the subcommittees and make recommendations.

Written with Cheryl Vos

White House Announces (Secret) Nuclear Weapons Cuts

The W62 is the only nuclear warhead that has been publicly identified for elimination under the Bush administration’s secret nuclear stockpile reduction plan.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The While House announced earlier today that the President had “approved a significant reduction in the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile to take effect by the end of 2007.” The decision reaffirmed an earlier decision from June 2004 to cut the stockpile “nearly 50 percent,” but moved the timeline up five years from 2012 to 2007.

Not included in the White House statement, but added by other government officials, is an additional decision to cut the remaining stockpile by another 15% percent, although not until 2012.

The announcement of these important initiatives unfortunately was hampered by Cold War secrecy which meant that government officials were not allowed to reveal how many nuclear weapons will be cut or what the size of the stockpile is. As a result, news media accounts were full of errors, and one can only imagine the misperceptions this misplaced secrecy creates in other nuclear weapon states.
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National Biodefense Science Board Meeting: Day 1

The National Biodefense Science Board (NBSB) began their inaugural meeting yesterday in Washington DC. The board, made up of 13 voting members and 21 non-voting ex officio representatives, was created as part of the 2006 Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act. The NBSB was chartered with the task of providing expert advice to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary on science, technology, and other matters of special interest on chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear issues, including both naturally occurring and deliberate events.

The members include Patricia Quinlisk (Iowa Dept. of Public Health, chair), James J. James (American Medical Association), Steve Cantrell (Denver Health Medical Center), Eric Rose (SIGA Technologies), Albert Di Rienzo (Welch Allyn), Ken Dretchen (Georgetown University Biosecurity Institute), John Grabenstein (Merck Vaccine Division), Ruth Berkelman (Emory University , Thomas MacVittie (University of Maryland School of Medicine), John Parker (SAIC), Andrew Pavia (University of Utah Medical Center) Roberta Carlin (American Association on Health and Disability), and Patrick Scannon (XOMA).

After the morning introductory session, the group listened to several talks presented by executive branch officials that discussed current US Government policies on preparedness and response. After this, the group heard another series of talks that outlined possible topics and issues that the NBSB could focus on initially. The broadly defined proposed topics, developed by officials at HHS, are as follows- an evaluation of research and development components of the HHS influenza preparedness strategy, innovation and medical countermeasure development, how to address gaps in the medical countermeasures marketplace, modeling and metrics to inform medical consequence assessment, and considerations for special and at-risk populations.

Today the group will make decisions about how to go forward as a board. The group will try to prioritize topics and determine how to fulfill their charge. Since the mandate to the NBSB is so broad, many members agreed that it is important to determine the group’s focus in a way that considers issues based on their timeliness and achievability.

The agenda for the meeting is here
NBSB main page
Members list

Written by Nate Hafer

Congress Zeroes Out Money for the Reliable Replacement Warhead. Part Funding for Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.

The spending bill just agreed by Congress over the weekend explicitly specifies zero funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead, or RRW, and support for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, but below the administration’s request.

The RRW is a new nuclear weapon that the administration claims is essential to maintaining the integrity of the nuclear arsenal. Most outside experts believe that existing nuclear weapons are more than adequately reliable. Moreover, as I have commented previously in this blog, the Reliable Replacement warhead will almost certainly not be more reliable than current warheads and absolutely certainly will not be meaningfully more reliable. Moreover, it will not replace existing warheads but be deployed alongside them for decades, and it is not even the reliable replacement warhead, because a minimum of four new types were planned.
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Curious Omission in a Congressional Budget Office Report on Plutonium Reprocessing

On 14 November, Peter Orszag, Director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee about the relative costs of plutonium reprocessing and direct disposal of used nuclear fuel. The oral testimony was quite brief and, unless otherwise noted, my comments are based primarily on the longer and presumably more carefully prepared written testimony. The testimony contained many errors, not all of them trivial, but one gigantic omission discussed at the end of this essay is inexcusable and calls into question the credibility of the entire CBO report.
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The Future of US Missile Defense in Poland

[NOTE: The Federation of American Scientists is delighted to have a Scoville Fellow this year, Ms. Katarzyna (Kasia) Bzdak. Kasia comes to FAS from Columbia University has been following the Polish language press since before the recent national elections there and submitted this report on the political status of the US missile defense deployment.]

Although the recent election in Poland promised to bring change in the style of Polish foreign policy, it was not a definitive referendum on the future of US missile defense components on Polish territory. The outgoing ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), lead by former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, supported the deployment of US interceptors in Poland wholeheartedly during its tenure and during the campaign. The victorious Civic Platform (PO), conversely, failed to clearly articulate a position on the missile defense shield, and seemed to hedge its position on what the US would concede to Poland for its participation in the program. Reports in the Polish press directly following the election suggested that certain concessions from the United States—the transfer of short and medium-missile defense systems, relaxed visa restriction, or economic investments—could induce the Civic Platform’s consent. More recent reports in the Polish press, however, suggest that the PO has tempered its enthusiasm for the project, and negotiations with the United States have been postponed pending discussions with Poland’s neighbors, including Russia. Nonetheless, given the dual-executive system codified in Poland’s constitution, President Lech Kaczynski (former PM Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s twin, biologically and ideologically, and a leader of PiS) will continue to wield substantial power in Polish foreign policy, so the effect of the PO’s potential change of heart remains dubious.
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