Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Saga to Get Rid of Nuclear Submarines: UK

UK Plymouth Naval base. Image from wikipedia

UK Defence Minister Philip Dunne has announced that redundant nuclear submarine dismantling would be trialled in Rosyth (Scotland). If the process works, the remainder of the UK’s retired nuclear fleet will be cut up in both Plymouth (near London) and Rosyth.  But he announced a further consultation on where intermediate-level nuclear waste would be stored, widening the choice to include commercial and other defence sites.  The consultation will start next year, and the Rosyth pilot will not go ahead until a storage site has been identified.

Seven redundant nuclear submarines are thought to have been stored at Rosyth since the 1990s. Eight submarines are berthed at Devonport (largest naval base in Western Europe and the sole nuclear repair and refuellng facility for the Royal Navy located in the city of Plymouth), with others due to come out of active service in the future.  Mr Docherty said: “What the MoD is saying – and I think most people in the community would agree – is that the safest most practical way is to dismantle the submarines at the two sites. I don’t think there’s widespread opposition to that. The bit that’s more controversial is what happens to the nuclear materials. The MoD have said nothing will happen until storage has been approved.”

However, SNP Lochgelly and Cardenden Fife councillor Ian Chisholm said he was concerned Rosyth could be left as a nuclear dump for 20 years…. From previous MoD discussions it seems the pressure vessels are too “hot” to go straight to long term storage and would need to cool for 20 years above ground.  “But depressingly the subs will stay exactly as they are until a suitable Intermediate Level Waste site is selected.”

Decision to test the dismantling of nuclear submarines in Rosyth ‘right’, The Courier.co.uk. Mar.25, 2013

See also Nuclear Graveyards for Nuclear Submarines

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How South Korea can Become Nuclear Weapons Ready

ulchin 5. Image from IAEA

North Korea’s weapons program is not the only nuclear headache for South Korea. The country’s radioactive waste storage is filling up as its nuclear power industry burgeons, but what South Korea sees as its best solution — reprocessing the spent fuel so it can be used again — faces stiff opposition from its U.S. ally.  South Korea fired up its first reactor in 1978 and since then the resource-poor nation’s reliance on atomic energy has steadily grown. It is now the world’s fifth-largest nuclear energy producer, operating 23 reactors. But unlike the rapid growth of its nuclear industry, its nuclear waste management plan has been moving at a snail’s pace.

A commission will be launched before this summer to start public discussion on the permanent storage of spent nuclear fuel rods, which must be locked away for tens of thousands of years. Temporary storage for used rods in spent fuel pools at nuclear power plants is more than 70 percent full.  Undeterred by the Fukushima nuclear disaster or recent local safety failings, South Korea plans to boost atomic power to 40 percent of its energy needs with the addition of 11 reactors by 2024.  South Korea also has big ambitions to export its nuclear knowhow, originally transferred from the U.S. under a 1973 treaty that governs how its East Asian ally uses nuclear technology and explicitly bars reprocessing. The treaty also prohibits enrichment of uranium, a process that uranium must undergo to become a viable nuclear fuel, so South Korea has to get countries such as the U.S. and France to do enrichment for it.

That treaty is at the heart of Seoul’s current dilemma. It wants reprocessing rights to reduce radioactive waste and the right to enrich uranium, which would reduce a hefty import bill and aid its reactor export business. The catch: The technologies that South Korea covets can also be used to develop nuclear weapons.  Accommodating Seoul’s agenda would run counter to the Obama administration’s efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and also potentially undermine its arguments against North Korea’s attempts to develop warheads and Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. South Korea, with its history of dabbling in nuclear weapons development in the 1970s and in reprocessing in the early 1980s, might itself face renewed international suspicion.

“For the United States, this is a nonproliferation issue. For South Korea, this is the issue of high-level radioactive waste management and energy security,” said Song Myung Jae, chief executive officer of state-run Korea Radioactive Waste Management Corp. “For a small country like South Korea, reducing the quantity of waste even just a little is very important.”

Newly elected President Park Geun Hye made revision of the 38-year-old treaty one of her top election pledges in campaigning last year. The treaty expires in March 2014 and a new iteration has to be submitted to Congress before the summer. The two sides have not narrowed their differences on reprocessing and enrichment by much despite ongoing talks.  South Korea also argues that uranium enrichment rights will make it a more competitive exporter of nuclear reactors as the buyers of its reactors have to import enriched uranium separately while rivals such as France and Japan can provide it. It is already big business after a South Korean consortium in 2009 won a $20 billion contract to supply reactors to the United Arab Emirates. Former President Lee Myung Bak set a target of exporting one nuclear reactor a year, which would make South Korea one of the world’s biggest reactor exporters.

Doing South Korea a favor would be a huge exception for the U.S. Congress, which has never given such consent to non-nuclear weapon states that do not already have reprocessing or enrichment technology.  “It is not the case that we think Korea will divert the material. It’s not a question of trust or mistrust,” Sharon Squassoni, director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said on the sidelines of the Asian Nuclear Forum in Seoul last month. “It’s a question of global policies.”

Nuclear waste storage is highly contentious in densely populated South Korea, as no one welcomes a nuclear waste dump in their backyard. Temporary storage for spent nuclear fuel rods at South Korea’s nuclear plants was 71 percent full in June, with one site in Ulsan — the heartland of South Korea’s nuclear industry — set to hit full capacity in 2016.

To accommodate the 100,000 tons of nuclear waste that South Korea is expected to generate this century, it needs a disposal vault of 20 sq. km in rock caverns some 500 meters underground, according to a 2011 study by analyst Seongho Sheen published in the Korean Journal of Defense Analysis. “Finding such a space in South Korea, a country the size of the state of Virginia, and with a population of about 50 million, would be enormously difficult,” it said.

The country’s first permanent site to dump less-risky, low-level nuclear waste such as protective clothes and shoes worn by plant workers will be completed next year after the government pacified opposition from residents of Gyeongju city, South Korea’s ancient capital, with 300 billion won ($274 million) in cash, new jobs and other economic benefits for the World Heritage city. The 2.1 million sq. meter dump will eventually hold 800,000 drums of nuclear waste.  “Opponents were concerned that the nuclear dump would hurt the reputation of the ancient capital,” said Kim Ik Jung, a medical professor at the Dongguk University in Gyeongju.

To make its demands more palatable to the U.S., South Korea is emphasizing a fledgling technology called pyroprocessing that it hopes will douse concerns about proliferation because the fissile elements that are used in nuclear weapons remain mixed together rather than being separated.  South Korea’s Atomic Energy Research Institute said pyroprocessing technology could reduce waste by 95 percent compared with 20 to 50 percent from existing reprocessing technology.

The U.S. has agreed to conduct joint research with South Korea on managing spent nuclear fuel, including pyroprocessing, but some scientists say the focus on an emerging technology that may not be economically feasible is eclipsing the more urgent need to address permanent storage of spent nuclear fuel.  “Even under the most optimistic scenario, pyroprocessing and the associated fast reactors will not be available options for dealing with South Korea’s spent fuel on a large scale for several decades,” said Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, Miles Pomper and Stephanie Lieggi in a joint report for the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monetary Institute of International Studies. “With or without pyroprocessing, South Korea will need additional storage capacity.”

But for South Korea, researching and developing the technology is a bet worth making.  “The U.S. does not need nuclear energy as desperately as South Korea,” said Sheen, a professor at Seoul National University.

YOUKYUNG LEE, Pact stifles South as nuke waste piles up, Japan Times, Mar. 27, 2013

Underground Nuclear Waste Disposal Facing Problems in South Korea

Drone War Moves to West Africa

Niamey airport.  Image wikipedia

The newest outpost in the US government’s empire of drone bases sits behind a razor-wire-topped wall outside Niger’s capital Niamey.  The US air force began flying a handful of unarmed Predator drones from here last month (Feb. 2013). The drones emerge sporadically from a borrowed hangar and soar north in search of al-Qaida fighters and guerrillas from other groups hiding in the region’s deserts and hills.  The harsh terrain of north and west Africa is rapidly emerging as yet another front in the long-running US war against terrorist networks, a conflict that has fuelled a revolution in drone warfare.

Since taking office in 2009, President Barack Obama has relied heavily on drones for operations, both declared and covert, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia. US drones also fly from allied bases in Turkey, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines.  Now they are becoming a fixture in Africa. The US military has built a major drone hub in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, and flies unarmed Reaper drones from Ethiopia. Until recently, it conducted reconnaissance flights over east Africa from the island nation of Seychelles.  The Predator drones in Niger, a landlocked and dirt-poor country, give the Pentagon a strategic foothold in west Africa. Niger shares a long border with Mali, where an al-Qaida affiliate and other Islamist groups have taken root. Niger also borders Libya and Nigeria, which are also struggling to contain armed extremist movements.

Like other US drone bases, the Predator operations in Niger are shrouded in secrecy. The White House announced in February that Obama had deployed about 100 military personnel to Niger on an “intelligence collection” mission, but it did not make any explicit reference to drones. Since then, the defense department has publicly acknowledged the presence of drones here but has revealed little else. The Africa Command, which oversees US military missions on the continent, denied requests from a Washington Post reporter to interview American troops in Niger or to tour the military airfield where the drones are based, near Niamey’s international airport.

Government officials in Niger, a former French colony, were slightly more forthcoming. President Issoufou Mahamadou said his government invited Washington to send surveillance drones because he was worried that the country might not be able to defend its borders from Islamist fighters based in Mali, Libya or Nigeria.  “We welcome the drones,” Mahamadou said in an interview at the presidential palace in Niamey. Citing the “feeble capability” of many west African militaries, he said Niger and its neighbors desperately needed foreign help to track the movements of guerrillas across the Sahara and Sahel, an arid territorial belt that covers much of the region.  “Our countries are like the blind leading the blind,” he said. “We rely on countries like France and the United States. We need co-operation to ensure our security.”  The Predator drones in Niger are unarmed, US officials said, though they have not ruled out equipping the aircraft with Hellfire missiles in the future. For now, the drones are conducting surveillance over Mali and Niger….

But the rules of engagement are blurry. Intelligence gathered by the Predators could indirectly help the French fix targets for airstrikes or prompt Nigerien security forces to take action on their territory.  Moreover, US officials have acknowledged that they could use lethal force under certain circumstances. Last month, army general Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that the US military had designated “a handful of high-value individuals” in north Africa for their suspected connections to al-Qaida, making them potential targets for capture or killing.  The Pentagon declined to say exactly how many Predator aircraft it has sent to Niger or how long it intends to keep them there. But there are signs that the US military wants to establish a long-term presence in west Africa.  After years of negotiations, the Obama administration signed an agreement with Niger in January that provides judicial protection and other safeguards for US troops in the country.  Two US defense officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning, said the Pentagon ultimately wants to move the Predators to the Saharan city of Agadez, in northern Niger.  Agadez is closer to parts of southern Algeria and southern Libya where fighters and arms traffickers allied with al-Qaida have taken refuge. The airfield in Agadez, however, is rudimentary and needs improvements before it can host drones, officials said.

Excerpts,Craig Whitlock, Drone warfare: Niger becomes latest frontline in US war on terror, Guardian, Mar. 26, 2013

Drone Warfare is Mainstream: yes, we like it

occupy drone warfare.  Image from https://www.facebook.com/OccupyDroneWarfare

Rand Paul’s filibuster (March 2012) drew renewed attention to the U.S. government’s program of drone warfare. Paul’s focus — whether Obama believed that he could legally authorize a drone strike on a U.S. citizen on American soil — ultimately earned a direct response from Attorney General Eric Holder.

But  the main targets of drones have been mostly foreigners living in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. The irony, given all the attention and some plaudits given to Paul’s filibuster, is that most Americans support the use of drones to fight terrorists abroad. While Paul inveighed against a hypothetical killing, the actual killings that do happen are not that controversial in the minds of most Americans. An open question, however, is whether their minds could be changed.

Only last month, the Pew Center asked a random sample of Americans whether they supported “the United States conducting missile strikes from pilotless aircraft called drones to target extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia?” A majority, 56 percent, approved while 26 percent disapproved and 18 percent were not sure — numbers similar to two 2012 polls.

In fact, drone strikes attracted roughly similar amounts of support from across the partisan spectrum: 68 percent of Republicans approved, as did 58 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents. A pattern of relative bipartisanship is not all that common in public opinion today, but it is predictable in this case. When leaders in the two parties don’t really disagree on something, there is no reason for partisans in the public to disagree either. In John Zaller’s magisterial account of how public opinion is formed and evolves, he refers to a pattern of bipartisanship like this one as a “mainstream effect.” Like it or not, drone warfare has become so common that “mainstream” does not sound inapt.

Thus, there is little reason to expect public opinion about the drone program to change without concerted and prolonged dissent from political leaders. That does not seem to be forthcoming. Paul’s dissent — which didn’t even emphasize foreign targets of American drones — was met with harsh rebuttals from Lindsay Graham, John McCain and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Democrats were not exactly rushing to stand with Paul either.

Would dissent from Capitol Hill make any difference? Actually, it might. Some evidence suggests public support for drone warfare is soft. The Pew survey provides hints of that. The main concern about drones — one that 53 percent of the public was “very concerned” about — was civilian casualties, which occur with some regularity…

Excerpts from Ezra Klein, Most Americans approve of foreign drone strikes, Washington Post. Mar. 8, 2013

UN and the Rape of Women in Congo

Congolese soldier.  Image from wikipedia

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo has threatened to stop supporting two Congolese army battalions unless soldiers accused of raping scores of women in an eastern town are prosecuted, said a senior U.N. official.  The United Nations said 126 women were raped in Minova in November 2012 after Congolese troops fled to the town as so-called M23 rebels briefly captured the nearby provincial capital of Goma.

The senior U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the two Congolese battalions had been told to start prosecuting soldiers accused of raping the women in Minova this month or they would lose the support of U.N. peacekeepers, Reuters reports.  “Many rapes were committed. We have investigated, we have identified a number of cases and we demand that the Congolese authorities take action legally against those people,” said the official. He did not say how many soldiers had been accused. “Since nothing sufficient has happened at this stage we have already put two units of the armed forces of Congo on notice that if they do not act promptly we shall cease supporting them,” he said. “They have to shape up.”

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said in December that alleged human rights abuses were committed in and around Minova between November 20 and November 30, including the 126 rapes and the killing of two civilians. Nesirky said at the time that two soldiers were charged with rape, while seven more were charged with looting.  The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO, has a mandate to protect civilians and supports operations by the Congolese army. There are more than 17,000 troops in Congo – a country the size of Western Europe.

Peacekeepers have been stretched thin by the M23 rebellion in the resource-rich east of Congo and the U.N. Security Council is considering creating a special intervention force, which one senior council diplomat has said would be able to “search and destroy” the M23 rebels and other armed groups in the country.  M23 began taking parts of eastern Congo early last year, accusing the government of failing to honor a 2009 peace deal. That deal ended a previous rebellion and led to the rebels’ integration into the army, but they have since deserted.

African leaders signed a U.N.-mediated accord late last month aimed at ending two decades of conflict in eastern Congo and paving the way for the intervention force

U.N. threatens to stop working with Congo army units accused of rape, Reuters, Mar. 8, 2013

See also Why the UN is Failing Congo

The State of Women in War

Who is Cryptome?

Salonica.  Image from cryptome.org

Cryptome unfamiliar to the general public, is well-known in circles where intelligence tactics, government secrets and whistle-blowing are primary concerns. Since its creation in 1996, Cryptome has amassed more than 70,000 files — including lists of secret agents, high-resolution photos of nuclear power plants, and much more.

Its co-founder and webmaster, a feisty 77-year-old architect, doesn’t hesitate when asked why.  “I’m a fierce opponent of government secrets of all kinds,” says John Young. “The scale is tipped so far the other way that I’m willing to stick my neck out and say there should be none.”  Young describes several exchanges with federal agents over postings related to espionage and potential security breaches, though no charges have ever been filed. And he notes that corporate complaints of alleged copyright violations and efforts to shut Cryptome down have gone nowhere.

For Young, there’s a more persistent annoyance than these: the inevitable comparisons of Cryptome to WikiLeaks, the more famous online secret-sharing organization launched by Julian Assange and others in 2006.  Young briefly collaborated with WikiLeaks’ creators but says he was dropped from their network after questioning plans for multimillion-dollar fundraising. Cryptome operates on a minimal budget — less than $2,000 a year, according to Young, who also shuns WikiLeaks-style publicity campaigns.  “We like the scholarly approach — slow, almost boring,” says Young. He likens Cryptome to a “dusty, dimly lit library.”  That’s not quite the image that Reader’s Digest evoked in 2005, in an article titled “Let’s Shut Them Down.” Author Michael Crowley assailed Cryptome as an “invitation to terrorists,” notably because of its postings on potential security vulnerabilities.Cryptome’s admirers also don’t fully buy into Young’s minimalist self-description….

Young considers himself a freedom-of-information militant, saying he is unbothered by “the stigma of seeming to go too far.” Claims that Cryptome aids terrorists or endangers intelligence agents are “hokum,” he said. “We couldn’t possibly publish information to aid terrorists that they couldn’t get on their own,” he said, depicting his postings about security gaps as civic-minded.  “If you know a weakness, expose it, don’t hide it,” he said…

As a motto of sorts, the Cryptome home page offers a quote from psychiatrist Carl Jung: “The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic poison which alienates the possessor from the community.”  The website says Cryptome welcomes classified and confidential documents from governments worldwide, “in particular material on freedom of expression, privacy, cryptology, dual-use technologies, national security, intelligence, and secret governance.”  Young attributes Cryptome’s longevity and stature to its legion of contributors, most of them anonymous, who provide a steady stream of material to post.  Among the most frequently downloaded of Cryptome’s recent postings were high-resolution photos of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan after it was badly damaged in the March 2011 tsunami/earthquake disaster.

Cryptome also was a pivotal outlet last year for amorous emails between national security expert Brett McGurk and Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon, which led McGurk to withdraw as the Obama administration’s nominee to be ambassador to Iraq.  Other documents on the site list names of people purported to be CIA sources, officers of Britain’s MI6 spy agency, and spies with Japan’s Public Security Investigation Agency….

Another exchange with the FBI came in November 2003, according to Young, when two agents paid him a visit to discuss recent Cryptome postings intended to expose national security gaps. The postings included maps and photos of rail tunnels and gas lines leading toward New York’s Madison Square Garden, where the Republican National Convention was to be held the next year….Another confrontation occurred in 2010, when Cryptome posted Microsoft’s confidential Global Criminal Compliance Handbook, outlining its policies for conducting online surveillance on behalf of law enforcement agencies. Contending that the posting was a copyright violation, Microsoft asked that Cryptome be shut down by its host, Network Solutions. Criticism of Microsoft followed, from advocates of online free speech, and the complaint was withdrawn within a few days….

Moreover, Young urges Cryptome’s patrons to be skeptical of anything placed on the site, given that the motives of the contributors may not be known.  “Cryptome, aspiring to be a free public library, accepts that libraries are chock full of contaminated material, hoaxes, forgeries, propaganda,” Young has written on the site. “Astute readers, seeking relief from manufactured and branded information, will pick and choose…”

Excerpts from DAVID CRARY, Older, Quieter Than WikiLeaks, Cryptome Perseveres, Associated Press, Mar. 9, 2013

How to Divide a Lake: Malawi against Tanzania

Lake Malawi

Over two million families who solely depend on Lake Malawi for their livelihoods are anxiously putting their hopes into an upcoming mediation between Malawi and Tanzania intended to put an end to a longstanding ownership dispute.  The mediation will start March 2013 after both parties agreed in December 2012 to engage the assistance of the Forum for Former African Heads of State and Government, which is chaired by Mozambique’s former President Joachim Chissano.

According to authorities, about 1.5 million Malawians and 600,000 Tanzanians depend on Africa’s third-largest lake for food, transportation and other daily needs. When IPS visited Karonga District, on the shores of Lake Malawi, surrounding communities said they were worried about the increased tension and keen to see a resolution.

Known as Lake Nyasa in Tanzania and Lago Niassa in Mozambique, the disputed water mass is thought to sit over rich oil and gas reserves, according to recent Malawian government reports.  The mineral potential has rekindled a border dispute between Malawi and Tanzania, which has remained unresolved for almost half a century.

The conflict escalated last July when Malawi awarded oil exploration licenses to United Kingdom-based Surestream Petroleum.  And last December, Malawi awarded the second-largest license to SacOil Holdings Ltd. of South Africa, a move that deepened the crisis.  Twice, the two countries tried to resolve the dispute diplomatically, but to no avail.  Both countries are hoping for the best outcome that will settle the dispute, once and for all when mediation begins this month.

Malawi’s first president, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, was the first to claim that Lake Malawi was part of the southern African nation. He based his claim on the 1890 Heligoland Agreement between Britain and Germany, which stipulated that the border between the countries lay along the Tanzanian side of the lake.  The treaty was reaffirmed at the 1963 Organisation of African Unity Summit in Ethiopia and was reluctantly accepted by Tanzania.  Malawi’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ephraim Chiume told IPS that their position is based on the 1890 Treaty and that the African Union in 2002 and 2007 upheld the colonial agreement.  “The Heligoland Treaty gave the entire lake to us and this is what forms the basis of our position and proof that we own the entire lake,” said Chiume.

Tanzania’s position is that the treaty was flawed. Tanzania has remained resolute that it owns half of the lake – saying that the border runs through the middle of the lake excluding the section that lies in Mozambique.  Tanzania’s position is that a partition drawn in the middle of the lake, stressing that this is the practice among countries which share water bodies.  “Tanzania has sought recourse to international law, which indicates that borders are generally in the middle of a body of water… Tanzania should therefore own half the lake,” Tanzanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Benard Membe told IPS in a telephone interview.  Membe said that the treaty was flawed because it denied Tanzanian’s living on the shores of the lake their given right to utilise proximate water and marine resources to earn their daily living.

These are the positions that Chissano and his two colleagues; former South African President Thabo Mbeki and former Botswana President Ketumire Masire will have to consider.

Meanwhile, the dispute has also brought to the fore the impact oil drilling would have on a fresh water lake blessed with over 2,000 different fish species, which attracts scuba divers the world over. Local environmentalists fear that drilling in the lake will damage eco-tourism and the marine environment affecting the fishing region in the northern part of the country.  “It will endanger the social and economic lives of millions of people directly dependent on the lake for water, transport and most importantly fish for protein,” said Reginald Mumba of Rehabilitation of the Environment — a local environmental non-profit

Excerpts from By Mabvuto Banda,Two Million People Hold their Breath Over Lake Malawi Mediation, Inter Press Service,  Mar. 3, 2013