Sunday, August 14, 2005

Is IAEA a farce sometimes?

Tests appear to back Iran on nuke traces - diplomat

VIENNA (Reuters) - Tests by the U.N. nuclear watchdog appear to confirm that traces of weapons-grade uranium found in Iran came from abroad, reinforcing Tehran's assertion it does not seek atomic weapons, a diplomat said on Sunday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has said the issue of contamination is one of two main outstanding questions in its two-year investigation into Iran's nuclear program. Tehran insists the program is peaceful, but Western countries suspect it may be a front for developing nuclear weapons.

An analysis of Pakistani components for enrichment centrifuges identical to ones Iran bought on the black market appear to back Tehran's assertion that traces of bomb-grade uranium were the result of contamination, a Western diplomat familiar with the IAEA said.

"There's still some final corroboration to go on but all the preliminary analysis does show that the particles seem to have come from Pakistan," he said, adding that the final result was unlikely to change as a result of work still outstanding.

This appeared to confirm earlier results, reported by Reuters on June 10, that also suggested Tehran did not produce the highly-enriched uranium itself.

Asked whether this cleared up the contamination issue, the diplomat said: "More or less. The contamination issue will never be 100 percent clear."

The IAEA declined to comment.

Diplomats say several other questions about the nature of Iran's nuclear program remain, including the extent of its work with advanced P-2 centrifuges and the scope of its experimentation with plutonium, which is usable in an atom bomb.

"All declared (nuclear) material in Iran is under verification, but we still are not in a position to say that there is no undeclared nuclear material or activities in Iran," IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters after an emergency meeting of the IAEA's governing board last week.

"With regard to the country as a whole, the jury is still out," he added.

France, Britain and Germany called the emergency IAEA board meeting after Iran said it would resume uranium conversion -- the step before enrichment, a process that purifies uranium to levels at which it can be used in power stations or bombs.

Iran resumed conversion last Monday and broke U.N. seals on machinery on Wednesday to make its conversion plant near the central city of Isfahan fully operational.

The 35-nation IAEA board reacted by urging Iran to resume a suspension of nuclear work usable in an atomic bomb program, including conversion, and expressed "serious concern" at Iran's move.

The trio of European states and Iran are due to meet at the end of August, in hopes of defusing a crisis in which Iran has rejected a European package of economic and political incentives aimed at convincing it to abandon sensitive nuclear technology.

Friday, August 12, 2005

60 Years Ago..

The Beginning of The End?

60 years have elapsed since the first nuclear bomb detonated in Japan. The heartbeats of 250000 Japanese stopped consequently, so did WWII. A popular historic interpretation is that both 'Little Boy' and 'Fat Man' not only stopped the only determined member remained of the Axis Powers to continue fighting, but also ended the WWII. This interpretation is of course valid since then there is no more resistance from any Axis Power member state.

However, that interpretation does not justify that nuclear weapons ensured worldwide peace. An examination into history reveals a nuclear arm race in the midst of WWII among the Americans, Germans, Japanese and Russians. The nuclear arm race continued after WWII. In fact, more countries joined the nuclear club at the end of WWII. The British exchanged their chemical weapon technology for American nuclear weapons technology. In the name of the Cold War and to strengthen Western Europe's position against Communist expansion in Eastern Europe, the American government armed their NATO partners France and Germany with nuclear weapons.

The growth of the nuclear club was built on the basis of nuclear deterrence, ie. if a country possesses nuclear weapons, the country would be less likely to be invaded or attacked. More and more countries want nuclear weapons so that they will be less likely to be invaded. However, if the number of nuclear weapon states increase beyond a critical point, the probability that any invading armed force originated from a nuclear weapon state becomes significant. The nuclear deterrence effect becomes obsolete.

Unlike 60years ago, it is so much easier to assemble a nuclear weapon now. Back then, government must recruit top-notch scientists to research and design nuclear weapon from scratch. It is both capital- and intellectual- intensive. Today, all that governments need is a lot of highly enriched uranium (HEU), and some well-trained engineers to build their own A-bombs. The technological hurdle now ceased to exist. The South Africans were able to create their own uranium enrichment process in less than 5years with simple engineering: the Becker Nozzle Process. This ease allowed even some developing countries to attain nuclear weapon state status.

A-bombs back then required at least 6kg of weapon-grade HEU. Today, we can achieve much greater devastating effect with less fissile material: 4kg of Plutonium-239 to flatten Hiroshima 1.5times over. Plutonium is not only the most efficient nuclear fuel today, but also the most readily-available weapon-grade fissile material. Fast Breeder Nuclear reactors produce weapon-grade plutonium and electricity simultaneously. The plutonium can either be used to fuel reactor or be assembled into a nuclear warhead.

Incidentally, Japan has the highest stockpile of Plutonium in the world. After-all, the Japaneses have been running the world's longest and most successful line of Fast Breeder Reactors to generate electricity for domestic/industrial use. Isn't it worrying that Japan after-all might have developed their own nuclear ICBMs? They have the technology all this while. Mitsubishi has been building unmanned rockets to send Japanese satellites into space. Nuclear science & engineering has always been an integral part of Japanese higher education since the 1960s. Although Japan has been actively promoting nuclear non-proliferation, we must be prudent to take note that the state is not a moral actor. Moreover, Japan's diplomatic relationship with her two nuclear weapon state neighbours (China and North Korea) are far from friendly.

I have attached a chart below that reflects the varying degree of attaining nuclear weapon technology in various countries today. This is taken from Section VI - Nuclear Weapons Technology, NATO Handbook 1998. With so many countries with nuclear weapons today, are we at peace or living through a tenseful period?

Click to Enlarge

Although America has the largest nuclear weapon stockpile in the world, her effort as the world nuclear police has failed. It goes to show the breakdown of the nuclear deterrent effect. The nuclear club today includes developing countries such as China, Pakistan, India and North Korea. Many tensions still exist between various member states of the Nuclear Club today. 60yr ago, the nuclear club consisted of member states with common vested interest. Today, the nuclear club consists of member states with conflicting interest. As the number of nuclear weapon states increase, the probability of a nuclear war becomes bigger.

Witnessing your rival country to equip itself with nuclear weapons provides greater motivation and stirs up nationalistic pride to at least level up on military capabilities. Was this not the case between Pakistan and India? Today, both countries are still waging covert operations against each other, at the expense of the people of Kashmir. In the end, all these activities will develop into a nuclear arm race. Was it not an arm race that started WWI?

In fact, the total destruction associated with nuclear weaponry makes other areas of weaponry more attractive. It also increases the state's threshold to consider what is not total annihilation. Has not non-nuclear warfare become progressively gory in recent times? Does the employment of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War and the 2yr-bombing of Chechnya with Chemical Nerve Agents ring a bell? Ebola Outbreaks in Africa are not natural epidemics too.

To worsen things, today's nuclear proliferation is akin to having a bunch of people own guns, and a small handful not having guns. Those without the guns feel left out and want the guns for protection. The people with the guns are afraid that if those without it get them, they'll use the guns on them. Insecurity and distrust are the underlying themes in such international relations.

Firstly, distrust fuels insecurity. Secondly, insecurity breaks down the deterrent effect. Insecurity facilitates the spread of nuclear weapons world-wide and justifies the state's possession of nuclear weapons. The end of the Cold War not only created a multi-fragmented distribution of world power, but also catalysed the spread of nuclear weapon technology. Consequently, international politics is less predictable now. This futhur fuels the insecurity and warrant the need to build a bigger nuclear stockpile to compete for the major centre of world power. Furthermore, insecurity grows with age. That is why war (nuclear or non-nuclear) is therefore more likely today than it was 60years ago.

In conclusion, nuclear deterrence is an obsolete concept now. It saved our parents and grandparents, but it will not save us. The last 15years since the collapse of the Berlin Wall has seen more wars than ever. Does it not make you wonder if the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima, Japan, is indeed the beginning of the end?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Fifty Year Shadow by Joseph Rotblat

60yr ago today, Hiroshima was devastated by an A-bomb. It was the first nuclear explosion in East Asia. It also rocked the world into the Nuclear Age. So what if it ended WWII? Such weapon of mass destruction has changed the face of war. In the age of nuclear deterrence, is it more morally right to destroy a place by means of conventional arms, or is a nuclear bomb no better? I have published an article here by Joseph Rotblat - a physicist and emeritus president of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, and the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize Winner. Please read and think. We used to bow down to Kings and Emperors. Today we only kneel down to the Truth.

FIFTY years ago, I joined Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell and eight others in signing a manifesto warning of the dire consequences of nuclear war. This statement, the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, was Einstein's final public act. He died shortly after signing it. Now, in my 97th year, I am the only remaining signatory. Because of this, I feel it is my duty to carry Einstein's message forward, into this 60th year since the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which evoked almost universal opposition to any further use of nuclear weapons.

I was the only scientist to resign on moral grounds from the United States nuclear weapons program known as the Manhattan Project. On Aug. 6, 1945, I switched on my radio and heard that we had dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. I knew that a new era had dawned in which nuclear weapons would be used, and I grew worried about the future of mankind.

Several years later, I met Bertrand Russell on the set of the BBC Television program "Panorama," where we discussed the new hydrogen bomb. I had become an authority on the biological effects of radiation after examining the fallout from the American hydrogen bomb test in Bikini Atoll in 1954. Russell, who was increasingly agitated about the developments, started to come to me for information. Russell decided to persuade a number of eminent scientists from around the world to join him in issuing a statement outlining the dangers of thermonuclear war and calling on the scientific community to convene a conference on averting that danger.

The most eminent scientist alive at that time was Albert Einstein, who responded immediately and enthusiastically to Russell's entreaty. And so the man who symbolized the height of human intellect adopted what became his last message - this manifesto, which implored governments and the public not to allow our civilization to be destroyed by human folly. The manifesto also highlighted the perils of scientific progress in a world rent by the titanic struggle over communism. I was the youngest of the 11 signatories, but Russell asked me to lead the press conference in London to present the manifesto to the public.

The year was 1955, and cold war fears and hostilities were at their height. We took action then because we felt that the world situation was entering a dangerous phase, in which extraordinary efforts were required to prevent a catastrophe.

Now, two generations later, as the representatives of nearly 190 nations meet in New York to discuss how to advance the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, we face the same perils and new ones as well. Today we confront the possibilities of nuclear terrorism and of the development of yet more new nuclear warheads in the United States. The two former superpowers still hold enormous nuclear arsenals. North Korea and Iran are advancing their capability to build nuclear weapons. Other nations are increasingly likely to acquire nuclear arsenals on the excuse that they are needed for their security. The result could be a new nuclear arms race.

Fifty years ago we wrote: "We have to learn to think in a new way. We have to learn to ask ourselves, not what steps can be taken to give military victory to whatever group we prefer, for there no longer are such steps; the question we have to ask ourselves is: what steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all parties?" That question is as relevant today as it was in 1955. So is the manifesto's admonition: "Remember your humanity, and forget the rest."

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News Junkie, Irreverent Blogger, Anarcho-Capitalist, Technologist