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CRS — Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication Plant and Plutonium Disposition: Management and Policy Issues

May 12, 2014 Comments off

Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication Plant and Plutonium Disposition: Management and Policy Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via University of North Texas Digital Library)

The Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) in South Carolina has been a key component of the current U.S. strategy for disposing of surplus weapons plutonium from the Cold War. That strategy called for the surplus plutonium, in oxide form, to be blended with uranium oxide to make mixed oxide (MOX) fuel for U.S. commercial nuclear reactors. The plutonium in MOX fuel would be mostly destroyed in the reactors by fission (splitting into other isotopes). At the same time, isotopes of plutonium undesirable for weapons would be created, along with highly radioactive fission products. As a result, after several years in a reactor, spent MOX fuel would have less total plutonium than when it was freshly loaded, and the remaining plutonium would be degraded for weapons purposes. Moreover, the fission products would make the material difficult to handle, in case of future attempts to use the plutonium.

Because of sharply rising cost estimates for the MOX project, the Obama Administration is proposing to place MFFF in “cold standby” and study other plutonium disposition options. The federal plutonium disposition program is run by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous agency of the Department of Energy (DOE). NNSA estimated in 2002 that MFFF would cost about $1 billion to design and build. DOE said in its budget justification for FY2014 that the MFFF contractor had estimated the project’s total construction cost would rise to $7.78 billion, and that construction would not be completed until November 2019. DOE’s FY2015 budget justification said the life-cycle cost estimate for the MOX program had risen to $30 billion.

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CRS — Iran’s Nuclear Program: Tehran’s Compliance with International Obligations

May 8, 2014 Comments off

Iran’s Nuclear Program: Tehran’s Compliance with International Obligations (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

In 2002, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began investigating allegations that Iran had conducted clandestine nuclear activities. Ultimately, the agency reported that some of these activities had violated Tehran’s IAEA safeguards agreement. The IAEA has not stated definitively that Iran has pursued nuclear weapons, but has also not yet been able to conclude that the country’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes. The IAEA Board of Governors referred the matter to the U.N. Security Council in February 2006. Since then, the council has adopted six resolutions, the most recent of which (Resolution 1929) was adopted in June 2010.

The Security Council has required Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA’s investigation of its nuclear activities, suspend its uranium enrichment program, suspend its construction of a heavywater reactor and related projects, and ratify the Additional Protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement. However, Tehran has continued to defy the council’s demands by continuing work on its uranium enrichment program and heavy-water reactor program. Iran has signed, but not ratified, its Additional Protocol. Tehran has limited and reversed some aspects of these programs’ progress since the government began implementing a November 2013 Joint Plan of Action between Iran and China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Iran and the IAEA agreed in August 2007 on a work plan to clarify the outstanding questions regarding Tehran’s nuclear program. Most of these questions have essentially been resolved, but the agency still has questions regarding “possible military dimensions” to Iran’s nuclear programme. The IAEA has reported for some time that it has not been able to make progress on these matters.

This report provides a brief overview of Iran’s nuclear program and describes the legal basis for the actions taken by the IAEA board and the Security Council. It will be updated as events warrant.

New From the GAO

May 5, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Uranium Contamination: Overall Scope, Time Frame, and Cost Information Is Needed for Contamination Cleanup on the Navajo Reservation. GAO-14-323, May 5.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-323
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/662973.pdf

2. Defense Contracting: Early Attention in the Acquisition Process Needed to Enhance Competition. GAO-14-395, May 5.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-395
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/662986.pdf

3. Defense Acquisitions: Military Services Consistently Held Required Configuration Steering Boards That Actively Reviewed Requirements Changes. GAO-14-466R, May 5.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-466R

50 Facts About U.S. Nuclear Weapons Today

May 3, 2014 Comments off

50 Facts About U.S. Nuclear Weapons Today
Source: Brookings Institution

Their number and role in U.S. security have been reduced, but nuclear weapons still provide important security benefits to the United States and its allies. While the prospects for moving to lower levels than those in New START now appear limited, the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative at Brookings put together an updated list of “50 Facts About U.S. Nuclear Weapons,” originally published in 1998.

CRS — Iran-North Korea-Syria Ballistic Missile and Nuclear Cooperation

May 1, 2014 Comments off

Iran-North Korea-Syria Ballistic Missile and Nuclear Cooperation (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Congress has at times expressed concern regarding ballistic missile and nuclear programs in Iran, North Korea, and Syria. This report focuses primarily on unclassified and declassified U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) assessments over the past two decades. These assessments indicate that

• there is no evidence that Iran and North Korea have engaged in nuclear-related trade or cooperation with each other, although ballistic missile technology cooperation between the two is significant and meaningful, and

• Syria has received ballistic missiles and related technology from North Korea and Iran and also engaged in nuclear technology cooperation with North Korea.

CRS — Achievements of and Outlook for Sanctions on Iran

April 29, 2014 Comments off

Achievements of and Outlook for Sanctions on Iran (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists

Most experts agree that the multilateral sanctions imposed on Iran since 2010 have contributed significantly to producing flexibility in Iran’s position on the scope of its nuclear program. There is similar agreement that the effect of sanctions on Iran’s foreign policy—particularly on its core interests in the Middle East region—and on its human rights practices, appear to have been minimal to date. In assessing effectiveness, however, it is difficult to separate the effect of sanctions from other variables such as Iran’s purported economic mismanagement, attitudes of the Iranian public, and Iranian politics.

Stepping Stone, Stopping Point, or Slippery Slope? Negotiating the Next Iran Deal

April 21, 2014 Comments off

Stepping Stone, Stopping Point, or Slippery Slope? Negotiating the Next Iran Deal
Source: Harvard Business School Working Papers

The November 2013 “interim” nuclear deal between Iran and the “P5 1” — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany — raises challenging questions. Will the initial deal function as a stepping stone toward a more comprehensive deal? Or will it drift into becoming a stopping point that leaves Iran dangerously close to nuclear weapons capability with the sanctions regime in decline? Or will it devolve to a slippery slope that would end up requiring a painful choice for key players between either acquiescing in a nuclear-capable Iran or attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities? With the Iran and the P5 1 each splintered into contending factions, a successful stepping stone strategy requires converting enough “persuadable skeptics” on each side to forge a “winning coalition” on behalf of the a more comprehensive nuclear deal. This supportive group must be strong enough to overcome the potent “blocking coalition” that will oppose virtually any larger, next-stage agreement. The best chance for the interim accord to become a stepping stone to a more valuable deal calls for a two-prong negotiating strategy with both value-enhancing and cost-imposing elements. The first prong of this strategy should strive to craft the most valuable possible next deal that credibly offers Iran a range of benefits, not limited to sanctions relief, that are greater and much more salient than those available from the interim agreement. The second prong should significantly worsen the consequences of failing to reach the next nuclear deal by a strong public U.S. Presidential commitment to sign a bill, prenegotiated with the Congress and P5 1 allies, imposing enhanced sanctions if negotiations toward an acceptable, but relatively narrow, agreement denying Iran an “exercisable nuclear option” do not succeed by the reasonable but firm deadline no later than twelve months from the start of the interim talks.

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