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.

Continue Reading →

One Step at a Time With Iran

longroad

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.

Continue Reading →

Making the Cut: Reducing the SSBN Force

SSBNX

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 →

New Nuclear Notebook: Chinese Nuclear Force Modernization

Jianshuipad

Launch pads for DF-21 mobile medium-range ballistic missile launchers have been added to a Second Artillery base in southern China.
Click image for large version with annotations.
Image: Digital Globe 2012 via Apple Maps.

By Hans M. Kristensen

China continues to upgrade bases for mobile nuclear medium-range ballistic missiles. The image above shows one of several new launch pads for DF-21 missile launchers constructed at a base near Jianshui in southern China.

A new satellite image* on Apple Maps shows the latest part of a two-decade long slow replacement of old liquid-fuel moveable DF-3A intermediate-range ballistic missiles with new road-mobile solid-fuel DF-21 medium-range ballistic missiles.

Similar developments can be seen near Qingyang in the Anhui province in eastern China and in the Qinghai and Xinjiang provinces in central China.

This and other developments are part of our latest Nuclear Notebook on Chinese nuclear forces, recently published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.   Continue Reading →

Capabilities of B61-12 Nuclear Bomb Increase Further

b61-12radartest

A B61-12 radar test drop conducted earlier this year.

By Hans M. Kristensen

With every official statement about the B61 nuclear bomb life-extension program, the capabilities of the new version (B61-12) appear to be increasing.

Previously, officials from the DOD, STRATCOM, and NNSA said the program is a consolidation of the B61-3, B61-4, B61-7, and B61-10 gravity bombs that would provide no additional military capabilities beyond those weapons.

This pledge echoed the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, which states: “Life Extension Programs (LEPs)…will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.”

Yet the addition of a guided tail kit will increase the accuracy of the B61-12 compared with the other weapons and provide new warfighting capabilities. The tail kit is necessary, officials say, for the 50-kilotons B61-12 (with a reused B61-4 warhead) to be able to hold at risk the same targets as the 360-kilotons B61-7 warhead. But in Europe, where the B61-7 has never been deployed, the guided tail kit will be a significant boost of the military capabilities – an improvement that doesn’t fit the promise of reducing the role of nuclear weapons.

More recently we also learned that the guided tail kit will provide the B61-12 with a “modest standoff capability,” something the current B61 versions don’t have.

And during yesterday’s hearing in the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, defense officials said the B61-12 would also replace the B61-11, a single-yield 400-kiloton nuclear earth-penetrating bomb introduced in 1997, and the B83-1, a strategic bomb with variable yields up to 1,200 kilotons.  Continue Reading →