Posts from August, 2009

Increased Safeguards at Natanz: What Does It All Mean?

by Ivanka Barzashka and Ivan Oelrich

A much anticipated IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear activities was leaked today.  The report indicates that, among other things, Iran has conceded to additional safeguard at Natanz.  This is a welcome development but occurring amidst a contested Iranian election, European threats of increased sanctions, continuing oblique hints of Israeli military action, and US talk of cutting off Iranian gasoline imports if nuclear talks are rejected.  How important are these increased safeguards? Do they represent a change of course for Iran? Continue Reading →

Pakistani Nuclear Forces 2009

A high-security weapons storage area northwest of Karachi appears to be a potential nuclear weapons storage site. (click image to download larger version)

By Hans M. Kristensen

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons stockpile now includes an estimated 70-90 nuclear warheads, according to the latest Nuclear Notebook published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The estimate is an increase compared with the previous estimate of approximately 60 warheads due to Pakistan’s pending introduction of a new ballistic missile and cruise missiles.

The increase in the warhead estimate does not mean Pakistan is thought to be sprinting ahead of India, which is also increasing its stockpile. Continue Reading →

Securing Venezuela’s Arsenals

By Matt Schroeder

FAL

The recent discovery of Swedish AT-4 anti-tank rockets sold to Venezuela in a Colombian rebel arms cache raises serious questions about Venezuela’s ability to safeguard its arsenal of modern weaponry, including dozens of advanced SA-24 shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles.  Given the potential threat posed by these missiles and other weapons in Venezuela’s rapidly growing arsenal, the international community should take immediate steps to identify and close the gaps in Venezuela’s stockpile security and to ensure that the end-use monitoring conducted by states that export weapons to Venezuela is sufficiently robust.

According to Colombian authorities, Swedish anti-tank rocket launchers were found in October 2008 in an arms cache allegedly linked to the FARC.[1] On July 27th, Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos asserted that “[i]n several operations in which we have recovered weapons from the FARC, we have found powerful munitions and powerful equipment, including anti-tank weapons, from a European country that sold them to Venezuela and that turned up in the hands of the FARC.”[2] Thomas Samuelsson of the Swedish firm Saab Bofors Dynamics confirmed that the AT-4 rockets were manufactured and sold to Venezuela by his firm.[3] The Venezuelan government responded harshly to Colombia’s revelation, calling it “laughable” and recalling the Venezuelan ambassador to Colombia.[4]

This is not the first time that Colombian authorities have discovered Venezuelan weapons in rebel arms caches.  In 2006, the Federation of American Scientists called attention to several reports of Venezuelan firearms acquired by the FARC, sometimes “…in lots of 50,” according to a demobilized guerrilla interviewed by Jane’s Information Group.[5] In most of these cases, it is not clear what role, if any, that Venezuelan government officials played in the diversion.  There is much speculation about the regime’s support of the FARC and its role in arms trafficking to the embattled rebel group,[6] but verifying accusations of high-level complicity by the Venezuelan government based on information in the public domain is nearly impossible and, at one level, it doesn’t matter.  The Venezuelan government is responsible for safeguarding the military’s arsenal and should be held accountable for any diverted weapons, regardless of the circumstances surrounding their diversion. The focus, therefore, should shift from the fruitless back-and-forth with Chavez over his regime’s alleged support for the FARC to identifying the specific sources of diverted weapons, bolstering Venezuelan stockpile security, and calling on states that arm Venezuela to closely monitor their exported weapons. Continue Reading →

Hiroshima: Making the Sixty-fourth Anniversary Special

by Ivan Oelrich

Today is the sixty-fourth anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, which was one of those rare events that divides human history into a before and an after.  That day was the beginning of the nuclear age.  There is nothing special about sixty-four, not like a fiftieth or a centenary.  But, years from now, the sixty-fourth anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing may be seen as special:  there is a chance that people looking back on today’s anniversary will see this as the beginning of the end of the nuclear age. Continue Reading →

Thought for the day, courtesy of Fogbank

by Alicia Godsberg

Yesterday’s Washington Post had another article[1] in the ongoing saga of W76 warhead refurbishment Life Extension Program (LEP) and Fogbank – a material that, according to open sources, is an intermediary material between the primary and secondary of a nuclear weapon that is “crucial” to the weapon reaching its designed yield.[2]  The problem for the W76 LEP: the original Fogbank manufacturing facility was closed years ago, at least partly because the material is extremely hazardous.  In addition, due to a lack of record keeping from the original manufacturing process (and the retirement of many knowledgeable scientists involved in that process), the labs found themselves not knowing how to re-manufacture Fogbank or a suitable replacement material for the W76 in a timely manner. The labs tried a three-prong approach to fixing this problem: building a new Fogbank production facility; manufacturing limited quantities at an interim location; and producing a suitable alternative made from less hazardous materials that would not need to undergo nuclear testing.[3]  What we have now is a new $50 million dollar facility at Y-12 to produce Fogbank in either some new form or its older, more hazardous form.[4] 

 That is the brief background – here is the thought of the day, courtesy of many conversations with Ivan Oelrich: there is no longer any justification for retaining complex, extremely high-yield two-stage thermonuclear nuclear weapons in a post-Cold War world.  Our nuclear deterrent would be sufficient with more simple-to-make HEU weapons, even gun-type weapons, the design of which was so scientifically fool-proof that it didn’t need testing before it was dropped on Hiroshima 64 years ago almost to the day.   Continue Reading →

French Aircraft Carrier Sails Without Nukes

The French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle with air wing on deck.

By Hans M. Kristensen

France no longer deploys nuclear weapons on its aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle under normal circumstances but stores the weapons on land, according to French officials.

President Nicolas Sarkozy declared in March 2008 that France “could and should be more transparent with respect to its nuclear arsenal than anyone ever has been.” But while the other nuclear powers declared long ago that their naval weapons were offloaded or scrapped after the Cold War ended, a similar announcement has – to my knowledge – been lacking from France.

The French acknowledgment marks the end of peacetime deployment of short-range nuclear weapons at sea.

It is not clear when the French offload occurred; it may have been instigated years ago. But it completes a worldwide withdrawal of short-range nuclear weapons from the world’s oceans that 20 years ago included more than 6,500 British, French, Russian, and U.S. cruise missiles, anti-submarine rockets, anti-aircraft missiles, depth bombs, torpedoes and bombs.

Continue Reading →