Kim Jong-il ordered the mass production of nuclear bombs. Citing an internal document from North Korea, Japanese news reports that the late leader Kim Jong-il instructed DPRK officials “to mass-produce nuclear bombs” by using highly enriched uranium. North Korea later responded to the allegation stating, “It is a politically-motivated plot to create a fresh atmosphere for ratcheting up international pressure on the (North) as the story is a totally groundless and sheer fabrication.”
NNSA and Euratom discuss nuclear security and nonproliferation. The two agencies concluded their second Joint Steering Committee meeting. The committee discussed mechanisms for prioritizing nuclear nonproliferation and security activities; outlined strategies for strengthening export control implementation and evaluating radiation detection equipment; and advanced coordination for support of IAEA. The committee also commenced four new collaborative projects – certified reference material development, reference material production, spent fuel assay verification, and nuclear forensics.
UN delegates begin month long negotiations for an Arms Control Treaty. From July 2-27, UN delegates will try to negotiate a treaty providing guidelines for the international arms trade. Campaigners of the effort hope that the treaty will regulate and track states’ sale and transfer of all weapons, arms, munitions, and equipment used in military and domestic security activities. Additionally, they believe governments should be required to make risk assessments before authorizing sales, as well as, make those authorizations and deliveries public.
U.S. could be headed towards further cuts in nuclear arsenal. U.S. government officials say that the Obama administration is moving towards a decision to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, possibly to between 1,000 and 1,100 warheads. While the administration has remained quiet on the issue, some officials have recently said that a decision to announce further cuts to the nuclear arsenal could occur this month. However, given Republican opposition to any such plan, the decision will likely be delayed until after November.
DOE worried about safety of nuclear weapon transportation. According to a recent report released by the DOE’s Inspector General, the demand for high-security nuclear shipments is expected to increase significantly over the next seven years. This increase is due to the planned life-extension projects for the nuclear arsenal as well as the movement of materials related to arms control and nonproliferation efforts. The transportation of those nuclear weapon related materials is managed by the Office of Secure Transportation (OST). However, the report noted that the entire OST fleet of armored tractors is beyond its operational life as of December 2011. The report recommends the timely replacement or accelerated refurbishment of the tractor fleet along with other suggestions to meet the future challenges related to the projected increase in nuclear shipments.
Iran comments on new sanctions and reacts to threat of attacks. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad commented before a meeting with his Intelligence Ministry that, “The sanctions imposed on our country are the most sever and strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country.” He further stated, “But the enemies’ assumption that they can put Iran in a week position through these sanctions is false…” Iran also reported the successful test of medium-range missiles capable of striking Israel. Revolutionary Guards Deputy Commander Hossein Salami said that the tests were in response to threats of a “military option being on the table” to address the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. The military drill involved the testing of the Shahab 1, 2, and 3 ballistic missiles – with the latter having a range of 1,280 km. Salami noted that, “The main aim of [the] drill is to demonstrate the Iranian nation’s political resolve to defend vital values and national interests.”
Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction announces program’s efforts in May. Senator Lugar issued a press release regarding CTR activity for May 2012. During that month, the program secured five nuclear weapons train transport shipments and destroyed 11.11 metric tons of chemical weapons nerve agent.
P5+1 talks with Iran to continue. After 12 hours of low-level talks in Istanbul, negotiators agreed to further technical dialogue. According to Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, “The meeting was intended to get more clarity about each other’s positions. I think that worked well.” The date for the next round of talks has not yet been scheduled.
NATO commits to funding for European Missile Defense. According to Frank Rose, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, NATO allies have committed to investing over $1 billion for command, control, and communications infrastructure to support NATO missile defense.
Southeast Asia to become a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone. According to Cambodian officials, after 12 years of the negotiations, the P5 nuclear weapons states have agreed to sign the protocol to the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (SEANWFZ). The protocol requires the P5 to abide by the terms of the treaty and not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons within the SEANWFZ. The signing is scheduled for July 12 during the ASEAN foreign minister’s meeting.
New enrichment technology creates proliferation fears. General Electric and Hitachi have collaborated to create a new enrichment technology that utilizes lasers rather than gaseous diffusion or gas centrifuging to enrich uranium-235. The companies have proposed the first commercial laser-enrichment facility, where they plan to use their Separation of Isotopes by Laser Excitation (SILEX) technology in an effort to reduce the cost of fuel for nuclear power plants. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will meet on July 11for a final hearing on the approval of the SILEX facility. However, nonproliferation experts fear that the technology will further bolster the ambitions of states interested in pursuing nuclear weapons programs. The American Physical Society said that laser enrichment could be a “game changer” for proliferators. Responding to proliferation fears, GE spokesman Michael Tetuan stated that the SILEX facility’s planned safeguards exceed government requirements. However, Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center commented that, “The most sensitive technology leak has already occurred – and it’s that this stuff can work.”
NNSA developing new safeguard technique. The agency is working on a capability to provide timely detection of undeclared HEU production. The technique, known as Laser Ablation Absorbance Ration Spectroscopy Environmental Sampling (LAARS-ES) will enable sample collection and analysis to be conducted much more quickly and inexpensively while providing more conclusive results. This technique will support the IAEA’s safeguard efforts. The agency is currently seeking opportunities to conduct technology demonstrations at domestic and international gas centrifuge enrichment plants.