In the News (13 to 20 August 2013)

Nuclear Energy

. appeals court affirmed a prior ruling that the Vermont Legislature overstepped its authority by passing a law calling for the early closure of the Yankee NPP in Vernon, Bob Audette at the Brattleboro Reformer reported. The court wrote that the federal Atomic Energy Act was improperly preempted in the 54-page decision found here.

South Africa is increasingly viewing nuclear energy as a necessity and  the “government appears to be building domestic support for an expansion,” wrote the Council on Foreign Relations‘ John Campbell.

CNN’s Geoff Hiscock reports that New Delhi may be hoping for a Tony Abbott victory on September 7 after the conservative politician has pledged to export uranium to India. “Uranium is the key energy commodity that differentiates how Rudd and Abbott approach relations with India,” he writes.

Question: While Vermont’s attorney general weighs whether to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, what constitutional grounds could the reactor’s continued operation possibly violate? 

Nuclear Safety

Japanese officials are confronting yet another leak at its Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, wrote Bloomberg News reporters Jacob Adelman and Yuji Okada. The latest breach occurred because of an open valve in a containment barrier and released 300 tons of contaminated water onto the soil. National Geographic’s Patrick J
. Kiger takes an in-depth look at Japan’s proposed ice wall to contain tainted water and writes that the plan is feasible.

Question:  Now that Tepco has swung back into profitability ($4.48 billion in the 2nd quarter), might now be the face-saving opportunity for Japan’s government to assert its control over the site?

Nuclear Security

The U.S. Air Force’s troubled recent history of managing its nuclear stockpile continued. The 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base failed an inspection for the third time in five years, wrote Brian Everstine at the Air Force Times. Details of the “tactical level errors” at the facility, which houses 150 Minuteman III ballistic missiles, weren’t disclosed. Meanwhile, Rick Montgomery at the Kansas City Star reported that airmen at the 131st Bomb Wing became the first reservists certified to drop nuclear weapons

Questions:  Participating in nuclear forces of organizations like SAC used to be a badge of honor and a career enhancing assignment.  Now it would appear that nuclear launch and security details are reserved for the lower performance report officers.  Does this signal how the Air Force really feels about its nuclear mission? How do certified wings staffed by reservists impact nuclear security?

Nuclear Safeguards

Former Los Alamos National Laboratory director Siegfried Hecker spoke with Beth Duff-Brown about the Semipalatinsk clean-up project he helped launch in Kazakhstan. Alarm was raised over the former test site in 1998 when a visiting Kazakh scientist told Hecker that not only had radioactive hot spots been found but that the “metal scavengers” digging up the site were out of control. David E. Hoffman and Eben Harrell published a long-form account of the project at the Washington Post entitled “Saving the World at Plutonium Mountain.”

Question: From the WP article: “Such hidden repositories might be found elsewhere, wherever nations have tested nuclear weapons or carried out other research on fissile materials such as plutonium. Will all that scientific collaboration and goodwill be readily available?”


This week marks the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-led coup toppling Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq. The National Security Archive published documents that for the first time show the CIA acknowledging its role in the affair

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. While researchers had sought the documents for decades, it’s unclear why the spy agency decided to officially admit its role now, reported Foreign Policy’s Malcolm Byrne. For an Iranian perspective of the overthrow, see Ibrahim Hadidi’s Farsi-language archives and photos over at the Iran Review.

Meanwhile, Iran named ex-Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi to head its Atomic Energy Organization. New Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the U.S. faces a “litmus test” on whether its willing to stand up to jingoistic groups seeking to derail talks, according to a translated copy of an interview conducted by Iranian Diplomacy. Former U.S. National Security Council official Gary Sick suggested in an interview that Iran and U.S. begin talking via back channels.

Questions: Now that the record is official, would the U.S. government consider issuing an apology for overthrowing Mosaddeq? Would a formal expression of regret signal the U.S. would henceforth refrain from meddling in Iran’s internal affairs? Why doesn’t Congress freeze funds earmarked for Iranian democratization as long as negotiations run their course?

Nuclear Health

The linear no threshold (LNT) approach to assessing radiation risk came under fire from Edward Calabrese, Science 2.0 reported.  The University of Massachusetts scientist asserts in two papers published in this month’s Archives of Toxicology that LNT was adopted after 1950s researchers deliberately suppressed evidence supporting alternative models. Calabrese told the libertarian Cato Institute in March that data support his controversial “hormesis” theory, in which radiation exposure may be beneficial to human health. Meanwhile, BBC science reporter James Gallagher wrote that scientists are on the cusp of understanding what causes cancer by studying the “genetic graffiti” left on mutated DNA.

Questions: In the immediate aftermath of Fukushima, Japanese officials pledged public-health studies on low-dose radiation effects? What is the status of the research? What are its parameters?

Other News of Note

In a move Amnesty International says “violates any principle of fairness,” David Michael Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was detained and questioned by police at Heathrow Airport for nine hours Monday. Miranda was held under Britain’s Terrorism Act and all of his electronics confiscated
. While English authorities remained silent on the reason for his detention, it seems clear that the Brazilian national was held due to his relationship with Greenwald, who published leaked surveillance documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The New York Times sheds further light on Miranda’s detention by explaining that he had been sent to Berlin to exchange information with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, who also interviewed Snowden. Among the electronic devices taken by British officers were a set of encrypted USB drives containing Poitras’ documents.

Jesse Walker wrote a piece for the Washington Post about the U.S. government’s so-called Insider Threat Program. Launched near the end of 2011, the program includes a brochure encouraging national security employees to be on the lookout for “suspicious indicators” among co-workers including such nefarious activities as falling asleep at the desk.

Questions:  The intimidation of journalists is becoming more frequent . Are authorities aware of the chilling effect and implication of their actions? Is there an entrepreneurial opportunity for encryption tailored to journalists and their sources? How much would *you* be willing to pay for an encryption service? 

Tuesday Bonus

Míšov, Czech Republic – what is claimed to be the only surviving tactical nuclear weapon warhead bunker in a former Warsaw Pact member state – opened to the public as a museum on Sunday, 18 August 2013.  South west of Prague in the rolling hills and forests of Bohemia, the bunker survived in a restricted military zone as a vault for the former Czechoslovakia’s currency (in 1992 the Czech Republic and Slovakia separated peacefully) and the remains of 4,000 dead from the pre-World War Two German speaking  enclave of  Sudetenland.  Preservation of the bunker, remarkably intact, was spearheaded by the Czech organization “Iron-curtain Foundation Worldwide.” Daniel Kostoval, the Czech Republic’ss First  Deputy Minister of Defense who attended the inauguration said that the area where the bunker is located will be demilitarized in 2016 and passed over to local control.