A Credible Radioactive Threat to the Sochi Olympics?

With the Sochi Olympics set to start on February 6th there has been an escalating concern about security threats to the Games. There are hunts for female suicide bombers (“black widows”), video threats from militant groups, etc., all of which have triggered a massive Russian security response, including statements by President Putin insuring the safety of the Games.

Many of the security concerns are raised by the proximity of Sochi  to Chechnya and relate to the threats expressed by Chechen leader Doku Umarov who exhorted Islamic militants to disrupt the Olympics.

In the past weeks the region has seen Islamic militants claims that they carried out two recent suicide bombings in Volgorad which tragically killed 34 people and injured scores of others. Volgograd is about 425 miles from Sochi and although the media stresses the proximity it is a considerable distance.

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General Confirms Enhanced Targeting Capabilities of B61-12 Nuclear Bomb

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By Hans M. Kristensen

The former U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, General Norton Schwartz, confirmed last week that the B61-12 nuclear bomb planned by the Obama administration will have improved military capabilities to attack targets with greater accuracy and less radioactive fallout.

The confirmation comes two and a half years after an FAS publication first described the increased accuracy of the B61-12 and its implications for nuclear targeting in general and the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe in particular.

The confirmation is important because the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) pledged that nuclear warhead “Life Extension Programs…will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.”

In addition to violating the NPR pledge, enhancing the nuclear capability contradicts U.S. and NATO goals of reducing the role of nuclear weapons and could undermine efforts to persuade Russia to reduce its non-strategic nuclear weapons posture.

Confirmation of the enhanced military capability of the B61-12 also complicates the political situation of the NATO allies (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey) that currently host U.S. nuclear weapons because the governments will have to explain to their parliaments and public why they would agree to increase the military capability.

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Radioactive Theft in Mexico: What a Thief Doesn’t Know Can Kill Him

While the theft of a truck carrying radioactive cobalt made international headlines, this was unfortunately not the first time thieves or scavengers have exposed themselves or others to lethal radiation. Probably the most infamous case was on September 13, 1987 in Goiania, Brazil. Scavengers broke into an abandoned medical clinic and stole a disused teletherapy machine. These machines are used to treat cancer by irradiating tumors with gamma radiation typically emitted by either cobalt-60 or cesium-137. In the Goiania case, the gamma-emitting radioisotope was cesium-137 in the chemical form of cesium chloride, which is a salt-like substance. When the scavengers broke open the protective seal of the radioactive source, they saw a blue glowing powder: cesium chloride. This material did not require a “dirty bomb” to disperse it. Because of the easily dispersible salt-like nature of the substance, it spread throughout blocks of the city and contaminated about 250 people. Four people died form radiation sickness by ingesting just milligrams of the substance.

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One Step at a Time With Iran

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As hoped, the P5+1 and Iran settled on a “first step” agreement to resolve concerns about Iran’s potential to develop nuclear weapons and its interest in doing so. We cannot predict how far this process will go or what the next step to establish a comprehensive, enduring agreement that puts the nuclear issue squarely in the past will include. But we can predict that we will never know how good a final agreement can be unless all sides work in good faith to support the process and abstain from taking actions that could potentially undermine it.

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Making the Cut: Reducing the SSBN Force

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The Navy plans to buy 12 SSBNs, more than it needs or can afford.

By Hans M. Kristensen

A new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report – Options For Reducing the Deficit: 2014-2023 – proposes reducing the Navy’s fleet of Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines from the 14 boats today to 8 in 2020. That would save $11 billion in 2015-2023, and another $30 billion during the 2030s from buying four fewer Ohio replacement submarines.

The Navy has already drawn its line in the sand, insisting that the current force level of 14 SSBNs is needed until 2026 and that the next-generation SSBN class must include 12 boats.

But the Navy can’t afford that, nor can the United States, and the Obama administration’s new nuclear weapons employment guidance – issued with STRATCOM’s blessing – indicates that the United States could, in fact, reduce the SSBN fleet to eight boats. Here is how.  Continue Reading →