December 08, 2005

Chernobyl News: Resettlement, More Tourism, and Removal of Nuclear Fuel from Closed Reactor Units

Crews have begun dismantling the remaining nuclear fuel stockpile from the closed reactors at Chernobyl, including the only recently-decommissioned Reactor 3 (the unit involved in the 1986 explosion was Reactor 4). From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, via AP:
KIEV, Ukraine -- Experts have begun unloading radioactive fuel from one of the closed reactors at Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the plant said Tuesday.

Reactor No 3. - the last to continue operating - was closed for good in 2000, but it was never emptied of fuel. The remaining fuel in reactor No. 3 and reactor No. 1 made it impossible to start construction of a new shelter over the fourth reactor, destroyed in the 1986 explosion and fire that spewed radiation over much of northern Europe.

In an effort to prevent further radiation release, engineers hastily erected a concrete-and-steel shelter over the damaged reactor, but parts of it are crumbling, and a new shelter is needed. Originally officials had planned to unload the remaining fuel into a new storage depot, but plans for its construction were suspended until 2010. The plant's spokesman, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said the fuel will instead be unloaded into a Soviet-era used fuel depot. Unloading the fuel, which began Monday, is necessary to make the plant entirely inoperative, Chernobyl staff said.
In other Chernobyl news, Pravda reports the Ukraine is seeking to boost national revenue by offering more tours of the ravaged Exclusion Zone to foreign travelers, and RIA Novosti News says Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko has instructed Kiev officials to begin legalizing the homes of squatters who have moved in the area without permission.

September 13, 2005

Proposed New U.S. Nuclear Arms Plan: Nuke First, Ask Questions Later?

On September 11th, The Washington Post reported some details about the Pentagon's proposed stepped-up new nuclear arms plan. From the UK Times Online:
A PRESIDENT of the United States would be able to launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes against enemies planning to use weapons of mass destruction under a revised “nuclear operations” doctrine to be signed in the next few weeks. In a significant shift after half a century of nuclear deterrence based on the threat of massive retaliation, the revised doctrine would allow pre-emptive strikes against states or terror groups, and to destroy chemical and biological weapons stockpiles.
The new document is the first to spell out various contingencies in which a preemptive nuclear strike might be used, including:
  • If an adversary intended to use weapons of mass destruction against the US multinational or allied forces or a civilian population
  • In cases of an imminent attack from an adversary's biological weapons that only effects from nuclear weapons can safely destroy
  • Against adversary installations, including weapons of mass destruction; deep, hardened bunkers containing chemical or biological weapons; or the command-and-control infrastructure required for the adversary to execute a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) attack against the US or its friends and allies
  • In cases where a demonstration of US intent and capability to use nuclear weapons would deter weapons of mass destruction use by an adversary.
The previous doctrine, promulgated under the Clinton administration in 1995 made no mention of the preemptive use of nuclear weapons against any target, let alone describe scenarios in which such use would be considered.

Moreover, the new doctrine blurs the distinction that existed during the Cold War between strategic and theater nuclear weapons by "assigning all nuclear weapons, whether strategic or nonstrategic, support roles in theater nuclear operations", according to Kristensen.

Another particularly worrisome aspect of the latest doctrine, according to Oelrich, is its conflation of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons as one "WMD" threat that could justify a US nuclear strike, particularly given the huge disparity in destructive and lethal impact between chemical weapons, on the one hand, and nuclear arms on the other.

"What we are seeing now is an effort to lay the foundations for the legitimacy of using nuclear weapons if [the administration] suspects another country might use chemical weapons against us," he said. "Iraq is a perfect example of how this doctrine might actually work; it was a country where we were engaged militarily and thought it would deploy chemical weapons against us."

Critics also fear that resorting to nuclear weapons may have become increasingly attractive to the administration as the Army and Marines have become bogged down in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan. [continue reading]