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New From the GAO

October 10, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Immigration Detention: Additional Actions Needed to Strengthen Management and Oversight of Facility Costs and Standards. GAO-15-153, October 10.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-153
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/666468.pdf

2. Nuclear Weapons: Some Actions Have Been Taken to Address Challenges with the Uranium Processing Facility Design. GAO-15-126, October 10.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-126
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/666458.pdf

CRS — Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses (October 1, 2014)

October 8, 2014 Comments off

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, a priority of U.S. policy has been to reduce the perceived threat posed by Iran to a broad range of U.S. interests. However, a common enemy has emerged in the form of the Islamic State organization, reducing gaps in U.S. and Iranian interests somewhat.

During the 1980s and 1990s, U.S. officials identified Iran’s support for militant Middle East groups as a significant threat to U.S. interests and allies. A perceived potential threat from Iran’s nuclear program came to the fore in 2002, and the United States orchestrated broad international economic pressure on Iran to try to compel it to verifiably confine that program to purely peaceful purposes. The pressure has harmed Iran’s economy and might have contributed to the June 2013 election as president of Iran of the relatively moderate Hassan Rouhani, who campaigned as an advocate of ending Iran’s international isolation. Subsequent multilateral talks with Iran produced an interim agreement (“Joint Plan of Action,” JPA) that halted the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for modest sanctions relief. In advance of a November 24, 2014 deadline for the JPA to expire, the search for a “comprehensive solution” on the nuclear issue remains impeded by substantial differences over Iran’s long-term capacity to enrich uranium Talks to try to finalize a comprehensive deal began September 18 and will continue until that deadline.

CRS — Nuclear Cooperation with Other Countries: A Primer (September 18, 2014)

September 24, 2014 Comments off

Nuclear Cooperation with Other Countries: A Primer (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

In order for the United States to engage in civilian nuclear cooperation with other states, it must conclude a framework agreement that meets specific requirements under Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act (AEA). The AEA also provides for export control licensing procedures and criteria for terminating cooperation. Congressional review is required for Section 123 agreements; the AEA establishes special parliamentary procedures by which Congress may act on a proposed agreement.

CRS — U.S.-Vietnam Nuclear Cooperation Agreement: Issues for Congress (August 8, 2014)

August 26, 2014 Comments off

U.S.-Vietnam Nuclear Cooperation Agreement: Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

U.S.-Vietnamese cooperation on nuclear energy and nonproliferation has grown in recent years along with closer bilateral economic, military, and diplomatic ties. In 2010, the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding that Obama Administration officials said would be a “stepping stone” to a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement. This agreement was signed by the two countries on May 6, 2014, and transmitted to Congress for review on May 8. Since Congress adjourned for August recess under a joint resolution, the review period was paused. If Congress returns from adjournment as planned on September 8, the estimated congressional review period for this agreement will be completed on September 10, 2014.

Under the agreement, the United States could license the export of nuclear reactor and research information, material, and equipment to Vietnam. The agreement does not allow for the transfer of restricted data or sensitive nuclear technology, and contains required nonproliferation provisions. Under Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (as amended), this agreement is subject to congressional review. The nuclear cooperation agreement is expected to comply with all the terms of the Atomic Energy Act as amended and therefore will be a “non-exempt” agreement. This means that it may enter into force upon the 90th day of continuous session after its submittal to Congress (a period of 30 plus 60 days of review) unless Congress enacts a Joint Resolution disapproving agreement, or approving the agreement at an earlier date. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez introduced a resolution that would approve the agreement (S.J.Res. 36) on May 22. This bill was passed by the Senate on July 31, 2014.

Vietnam would be the first country in Southeast Asia to operate a nuclear power plant. Vietnam has announced a nuclear energy plan that envisions installing several nuclear plants, capable of producing up to 14,800 megawatts of electric power (MWe), by 2030. Nuclear power is projected to provide 20%-30% of the country’s electricity by 2050. Significant work remains, however, to develop Vietnam’s nuclear energy infrastructure and regulatory framework. Since Vietnam has other commercial partners in the nuclear energy field, a lack of agreement with the United States would not be likely to have a significant impact on its nuclear energy plans.

EPA’s Proposed CO2 Rule for Existing Power Plants: How Would It Affect Nuclear Energy? — CRS Insights (August 4, 2014)

August 15, 2014 Comments off

EPA’s Proposed CO2 Rule for Existing Power Plants: How Would It Affect Nuclear Energy? — CRS Insights (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a proposed rule on June 18, 2014, to address CO2 emissions from existing power plants. Because nuclear power plants directly emit little or no CO2, a significant policy question is whether EPA’s proposed regulations would encourage the growth of nuclear energy or at least the continued operation of existing reactors. The formula in the proposed rule for setting CO2 goals explicitly accounts for some existing nuclear capacity and reactors under construction, providing a potential incentive for states to try to keep those plants operating. However, EPA’s proposed rule allows states to develop their own plans for meeting the CO2 emission rate goals, making it difficult to predict how nuclear energy might ultimately fare.

The proposed EPA standards would set state-specific goals for the amount of CO2 that could be emitted in 2030 for each megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity generated. EPA projects that, under those proposed emissions rates, U.S. power plants would produce 30% less CO2 by 2030 than they did in 2005 (the base year in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan).

DHS OIG — Domestic Nuclear Detection Office Has Taken Steps To Address Insider Threat, but Challenges Remain

August 1, 2014 Comments off

Domestic Nuclear Detection Office Has Taken Steps To Address Insider Threat, but Challenges Remain
Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General

We reviewed the efforts of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) to address the risk posed by trusted insiders. Our objective was to assess DNDO’s progress toward protecting its information technology assets from threats posed by its employees, especially those with trusted or elevated access to sensitive, but unclassified information systems or data.

Steps are underway to address and mitigate the insider risk at DNDO. Specifically, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Under Secretary of Intelligence and Analysis established an Insider Threat Task Force to develop a program to address the risk of insider threats for DHS, including DNDO. In addition, the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis has detailed a counterintelligence officer to DNDO to help mitigate espionage‐related insider risks. The DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis routinely briefs DNDO on counterintelligence awareness, including insider threat indicators. In addition, DNDO provides security awareness training to its employees and contractors regarding security‐related topics that could help prevent or detect the insider risk. In September 2013, the DHS Office of the Chief Security Officer began a comprehensive vulnerability assessment of DNDO assets, which includes identifying insider risks and vulnerabilities. The DHS Security Operations Center monitors DNDO information systems and networks to respond to potential insider based incidents. Finally, the DHS Special Security Programs Division handles and investigates security incidents, including those types attributed to malicious insiders.

Additional steps to address the insider risk at DNDO are required. Specifically, DNDO needs to implement insider threat procedures, upon receipt of policy issued by the DHS Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) that defines roles and responsibilities for addressing insider risks to unclassified networks and systems. DNDO also needs to provide documentation that clearly shows the effectiveness of controls or processes in place to detect and respond to unauthorized data exfiltration from DNDO unclassified information technology assets via email services provided by the DHS OCIO.

DNDO can strengthen processes and controls for its own technology infrastructure. They can disable portable media ports on controlled information technology assets where there is no legitimate business need. DNDO can apply critical security patches to these assets and perform periodic security assessments of controlled sites to identify any indication of unauthorized wireless devices or connections to DHS networks.

New From the GAO

July 2, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Climate Change Adaptation: DOD Can Improve Infrastructure Planning and Processes to Better Account for Potential Impacts. GAO-14-446, May 30.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-446
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/663733.pdf

2. Prescription Drugs: Comparison of DOD, Medicaid, and Medicare Part D Retail Reimbursement Prices. GAO-14-578, June 30.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-578
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664522.pdf

3. Nuclear Security: NNSA Should Establish a Clear Vision and Path Forward for Its Security Program. GAO-14-208,May 30.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-208
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/663746.pdf

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