The warning comes as the Pentagon begins an extensive review of its nuclear arsenal.
On Sept., 26, 1983, shortly after midnight, the Soviet Oko nuclear early warning system detected five missiles launched from the United States and headed toward Moscow. Stanislav Petrov, a young lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Force, was the duty in the Serpukhov-15 bunker that housed the Oko command center. Petrov was the man in charge of alerting the soviets about a nuclear attack, which would trigger a retaliatory strike. He determined that the Oko had likely malfunctioned and the alarm was false. The Americans would not start World War III with a quintet of missiles (risking total annihilation.) It was a daring judgment call. He was, of course, right. As the U.S. prepares to undertake a new nuclear posture review to determine the future direction of the nation’s nuclear weapons, a report from a United Nations research institute warns that the risks of a catastrophic error — like the one that took place that early morning in 1983 — are growing, not shrinking. Next time, there may be no Lt. Col. Petrov in place to avoid a catastrophe.
On Monday, the U.S. Defense Department commenced a new, massive study into its nuclear weapons arsenal, looking at how weapons are kept, how the U.S. would use them in war and whether they present an intimidating enough threat to other countries not to attack us. The review was mandated by President Trump in a Jan 27, memo.
The Pentagon is scheduled to complete the review by the end of the year, an essential step as the military seeks to modernize different aspects of its nuclear deterrent. But a new report from the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, or UNIDR, argues that as the modern battlefield becomes more technologically complex, crowded with more sensors, satellites, drones, and interconnected networks, the risks of another nuclear accident are on the rise.
“A greater reliance on automated systems can lead to misplaced confidence while introducing new points of vulnerability,” says the report. Those new points of vulnerability include so-called “hidden interactions.” That means a sensor or computer program misinterpreting some bit of data and possibly presenting false information in a way that could cause an accident.
The 1987 incident provides a good case in point. Oko satellites mistook a very unusual sunspot on top of a high altitude cloud as a missile strike, hence the false alarm.
Take those satellites, combine them with sensors on drones and data from other sources as well, including new, perhaps unproven technologies to detect missile launches and the picture becomes much more crowded and murky.
Giving a quiet yet substantial boost to Indian Navy’s capabilities, India’s first indigenously-made nuclear submarine, the INS Arihant has been commissioned into service. According to various media reports, the nuclear submarine was commissioned in August this year by Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba, but it has not been formally declared. Navy too has declined to comment on the reports of Arihant being commissioned.
INS Arihant is a 6,000-tonne submarine that is capable of launching nuclear weapons from underwater. The submarine has been commissioned after extensive sea trials. Arihant is an SSBN, that is a submarine that can carry ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. SSBNs are equipped with better stealth features and are larger compared to SSNs, which are nuclear-powered attack submarines. SSBNs are also said to be the “best guarantor” of a second strike capability in a nuclear exchange. The submarine is propelled by an 83 MW pressurised light-water reactor at its core.
Following last week’s sharp escalation in diplomacy between the US and Russia, when John Kerry warned of not only breaking off diplomatic relations over Syria with Russia, and threatening to use “military force” including potentially US-based ground forces in Syria for the first time, but also slamming Russian strikes over Aleppo as “barbaric”, Russia responded Monday when Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended an agreement with the United States for disposal of weapons-grade plutonium because of “unfriendly” acts by Washington, the Kremlin said.
A Kremlin spokesman cited by Reuters said Putin had signed a decree suspending the 2010 agreement under which each side committed to destroy tonnes of weapons-grade material because Washington had not been implementing it and because of current tensions in relations. The deal, signed in 2000 but which did not come into force until 2010, was being suspended due to “the emergence of a threat to strategic stability and as a result of unfriendly actions by the United States of America towards the Russian Federation”, the preamble to the decree said.
It also said that Washington had failed “to ensure the implementation of its obligations to utilize surplus weapons-grade plutonium”. The 2010 agreement, signed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, called on each side to dispose of 34 tonnes of plutonium by burning in nuclear reactors.
Clinton said at the time that that was enough material to make almost 17,000 nuclear weapons. Both sides then viewed the deal as a sign of increased cooperation between the two former adversaries toward a joint goal of nuclear non-proliferation.
Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. has asked the provider of the popular “Pokemon Go” smartphone game to change settings so that the game’s virtual characters will not appear at a nuclear power plant operated by it, the utility said Tuesday.
TEPCO said it has detected at least one Pokemon character within the premises of one of the three TEPCO nuclear power stations it tested. The plants are the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which was crippled in the wake of the March 2011 disaster, and the Fukushima Daini plant, both in Fukushima Prefecture, and the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture.
The company declined to say at which plant the character was found so as to prevent possible trespassers. It has also called on plant workers not to play “Pokemon Go” on the premises of the power stations.
In “Pokemon Go,” gamers visit various locations to catch virtual creatures that appear superimposed on smartphone screens.
Iran wanted immediate removal of all UN sanctions and relief from the American and European economic and financial curbs that have throttled its economy. In the event, the deal lifts all economic and financial sanctions against Iran — but only after it has been shown to have complied with its obligations on reducing centrifuges and uranium stockpiles. Officials estimate that process will take six months to a year; waiting until 2016 for tangible economic benefits may seem too long for some in Tehran.
UN resolutions against Iran will eventually be lifted in unison once Iran has addressed “all key concerns”. This includes the potential military dimensions to its programme — a matter so sensitive it was left to the very end of the Lausanne talks. Even then restrictions on access to sensitive technologies and ballistic missiles will be maintained in a new resolution.
Some measures to monitor and assess compliance — and handle disputes — are sketched out but key details remain unresolved. Judging what “compliance” entails will be highly contentious. Should there be a violation, sanctions are restored through a “snap back” mechanism. That is easy enough for US sanctions, but diplomats have struggled to design a mechanism for reimposing UN sanctions that would be immune from political vetoes from Russia or China.
2) Uranium enrichment
Debate about the deal has often focused on one issue: how many centrifuges will Iran keep. Iran currently has 19,000 centrifuges and wanted to keep them all. The US initially said it would accept only 1,000-2,000. In the end, the agreement allows Iran to use 5,060 of its oldest centrifuges over the next decade to enrich uranium. In addition, Iran will only be permitted to enrich uranium to 3.67 per cent, well below the level needed for a weapon, according to the US.
Iran also appeared to give more on the issue of Fordow, the underground enrichment facility carved into a mountain. Fordow will not be destroyed, as some had urged, and Iranian officials say it will maintain 1,000 centrifuges. But it will not be used to enrich uranium during the life of the deal.
Fordow centrifuges could be fed other elements, such as germanium, which could produce material used in medicine. James Acton, a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment, said it would be difficult to later convert the same machines back to enrich uranium. Other options include using Fordow as a physics lab for nuclear fusion.
Three months into the talks to rewind Iran’s advance towards a nuclear weapon, and with under three months to run, everything is still to play for and everything still to be lost.
The talks – triggered last November by an accord signed in Geneva – will reopen this week in Vienna at the Coburg palace.
At the meeting, the Iranian delegation will be adamant it should retain it’s right to enrich uranium while a six-country bloc of leading powers will be certain it must not. The sides will try to close the gap using the promise of rolling back a sanctions regime that has crippled the Islamic Republic’s economy.
Following technical talks in New York last week, the higher-level discussions between Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative, and Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, in the coming days will try to change the tempo. Read More
The future of a potential Japanese-Indian civilian atomic trade agreement was unclear in light of the developing nuclear disaster in Japan, the India Tribune reported on Sunday (see GSN, Jan. 24).
Diplomatic officials voiced concern that Tokyo might be discouraged from engaging in nuclear trade with India in the wake of recent explosions and radiation releases at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (see related GSN story, today).
India possess nuclear weapons outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and has refused to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Still, the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2008 authorized members to conduct atomic trade with New Delhi, and nations including France, Russia and the United States are moving to exploit that opening.
Tokyo has already called on New Delhi to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and emphasized that another nuclear weapons test by India would cause Japan to cease all atomic exports to the energy-hungry South Asian nation.
The sides were in disagreement over potential language in the pact prohibiting sales of “sensitive technology” to India, as well as a clause that might permit New Delhi to reprocess spent nuclear material at plants incorporating Japanese components. The reprocessing of atomic waste yields weapon-usable plutonium