Friday, April 9, 2010

Nuclear Friday, Is My Complexion Glowing Yet?

Peter Feaver
John Avlon
Marwan Bishara
Mathias Mossberg

"Next week, the president of China will be at the White House. And good news — he has no plans to foreclose." –Jay Leno

"And in a major reversal of U.S. policy, President Obama has narrowed the conditions under which we would use nuclear weapons. He said we'd only use them against Iran, North Korea or Fox News." –Jay Leno

The most technical opinion piece above deals with the wording of the new non-proliferation treaty, by Peter Feaver. His position is that the new wording isn't much of a break from the old wording, and that the Obama administration has left itself some wiggle room if it needs to go against its publicly stated goals of not using nuclear force on any non-nuclear state.

The biggest problem about the new treaty will be how will we dispose of all that plutonium? The US vows to deal with 35 tons of plutonium, Russia with 34 tons. We haven't even touched the surplus that was created by previous treaties, and: "... the Energy Department plant that disassembled the bombs, in Amarillo, Tex., may be filling up. The plant, called Pantex (for Panhandle of Texas), stores the plutonium “pits,” the softball-sized spheres at the heart of the bombs, in bunkers built by the Army in the 1930s for artillery shells. But the audit said the storage capacity was unclear because plant managers did not know how much space had already been consumed." Why they don't know how much space they have left in their storage space smacks of laziness and bureaucrats that need to be removed, having been put in place by the Bushies for their incompetence...

It gets worse. Not only is the only storage facility filling up, but for the last 13 years the US has been trying to build a plant in South Carolina that would convert weaponized plutonium into fuel that can be used in civilian reactors. They have spent $4.8 billion dollars so far, and its still in the framing process, which means that the contractor has his head up his ass and wasted an awful lot of money, which in certain other countries he would be sent to jail. Here, he is a patriot...

They have yet to build a facility to deal with the radioactive metal that housed the plutonium. The process calls for oxidizing the metal so that it can be ground into powder, which can then be formed into pellets. This process is flawed, and engineers are reconsidering which metals that can be used in the oxidizing. Last, plutonium isn't as good to use in energy reactors as uranium is, and few current reactors have the capacity to use the plutonium. Of course, there is the glitch that any stolen plutonium could be rather easily reconfigured into a nuclear weapon, while it is much more difficult, if impossible to do with uranium. Uranium can be weaponized through a difficult process, as the Iranians are learning, but once it is made into a lower grade for civilian reactors, it can't be weaponized by any technology we currently have.

Russia also hasn't done anything with its stockpiled plutonium, the US was supposed to have helped finance a similar set of plants, but nothing has happened yet. If we had facilities to deal with the plutonium, it would take 15 years to transform the stockpiled tons of plutonium, then we could begin to deal with the tons taken from the warheads dealt with in the current treaty. And all bets are off if a different administration takes over either country...

Don't get me started on how we dispose of depleted uranium, besides putting it into the metal of humvees and missile warheads. At least we have one facility that will be off limits for the next 10,000 years, unless some future generation decides to build condo on top of it. We haven't begun to put our waste into 55 gallon barrels and heave them off of the coast of Somalia like the French and Italians have done...

Of course, to ease everyone's minds about Iran's nuclear ambitions, today they staged a National Nuclear Day, where they unveiled a third-generation nuclear centrifuge, which can process uranium up to ten times faster than the ones they have. OK, technologically, it is more advanced than sending a worm into outer space, but nothing I would march in a parade or drink mint tea over:
"There have already been technical problems with the existing models, so whether it can quickly put the new one into mass production and operation remains to be seen, our correspondent says.
Most of Iran's uranium is enriched to a level of 3.5%, but it requires 20% enriched uranium for its Tehran research reactor, which produces medical isotopes. A bomb would require uranium enriched to at least 90%. The UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in a report in February that Iran had achieved enrichment levels of up to 19.8%, which added to concerns about "possible military dimensions" of its nuclear programme.

Experts say the technical leap required to get to 90% enrichment from 20% is relatively straightforward, because it becomes easier at higher levels. Going from the natural state of 0.7% enrichment to 20% takes 90% of the total energy required, they add. The IAEA report said 8,610 centrifuges had been installed in known enrichment facilities in Iran, of which 3,772 were operating. Iran says it will eventually install more than 50,000 centrifuges at Natanz, and build 10 more enrichment facilities at protected sites."

Finally, just to show how ungracious a right-wing leader can be, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has bowed out of returning to the US for a meeting of nuclear securities issues. Two days ago he had announced that he would attend, saying that Israel wasn't a rogue or terrorist state, and that he had nothing to fear. Now, he looks like he is all bluster, a man who makes statements with little substance to back him up.

He had wanted to stress the Iranian threat to Israel, but found out that Egypt and Turkey was going to ask that Israel sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The other three countries in the world that haven't signed it are India, North Korea, and Pakistan. According to former President Jimmy Carter, Israel has over 150 nuclear warheads, and they want to expand their amount, not limit them. This will be troublesome later on, because Israel wants to build a civilian reactor to generate electricity, and who will help them build it if they still haven't signed the treaty? It gives Iran greater legitimacy, despite our fears...

I just hope that we never have to go back to practicing the stupid bomb drills we did as a kid at my elementary school. Whenever the air raid siren in an adjoining field went off, we had to crawl under our desks and put our hands over our necks. It sure wasn't going to protect us very much, but at least it was easier to kiss your ass goodbye...

Letterman's Top 10 Thoughts That Go Through Every Accountant's Mind On April 15

10. 'If I see one more tax return, I'm gonna jam a No. 2 pencil through my eye'
9. 'I think my calculator is talking to me'
8. 'If I screw up, they go to jail, not me'
7. 'Why didn't I become something exciting like a claims adjuster?'
6. 'Should I wear the navy blue suit or the navy blue suit?'
5. 'Get through today and then a 364-day weekend'
4. 'Who knew the bright-eyed little boy I once was would grow into such a bitter man with a soul crushing job'
3. 'Time to fake my death and move to the Cayman Islands'
2. 'Why did I waste time doing a stupid Top Ten at Letterman?'
1. 'This would be a lot easier if I was sober'

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