Sanctions against Iran are working. Speaking in Tunisia, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, “These sanctions are having a serious impact in terms of the economy of Iran…what we need to do is continue the pressure on Iran.” The comments came the day before Panetta was scheduled to be in Jerusalem in an effort to calm Israeli fears while the international dialogue continues. Panetta also stated that the Iranians had expressed a willingness to negotiate and that they “continue to seem interested in trying to find a diplomatic solution.”
Putin reaffirms navy’s strategic role. Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the construction ceremony for the navy’s fourth Borei-class strategic submarine, the Prince Vladimir. Putin commented at the event, “We believe that our country should maintain its status as one of the leading naval powers.” To this end, the Russian government plans to spend $621 billion this decade on naval systems such as the Borei-class submarine and its weapon system the Bulava sea-launched ballistic missile. Putin confirmed that the navy plans to build 51 new naval vessels by 2020, including a total of eight Borei submarines. Putin further discussed the navy’s role in the Arctic. He said, “Obviously, the navy is an instrument to protect national economic interests, including such regions as the Arctic where some of the world’s richest biological resources, mineral resources are concentrated.
Russian origin nuclear fuel to be repatriated from Uzbekistan. Uzbek President Islam Karimov has approved the agreement with Russia to return spent nuclear fuel from the research reactors at the Institute of Nuclear Physics at the Uzbek Academy of Sciences. Head of the Russian Atomic Agency Sergei Kirenko said that Russia planned to retrieve all nuclear material from Uzbekistan by the end of the year.
India alludes to the successful development of a SLBM. At the annual awards for the Defense Research and Development Organization, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh awarded lead scientist A. K. Chakrabarti with the Technology Leadership Award for the “successful development” of the country’s first sea-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). The system known as the K-15 missile is reported to have a range of 750 km and a payload of one ton. However, since the system’s delivery platform, the INS Arihant strategic submarine, is still at least a year away from being ready for “deterrent patrols”, and the missile has yet to have undergone any test launches, the K-15 will not be deployable for some time.
North Korea to continue build-up of nuclear weapons. A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman released a statement accusing the U.S. of trying to undermine the regime and vowed to increase its nuclear capabilities. The statement said, “…the U.S. is blocking our economic development and the improvement of our people’s lives with its most vicious and persistent anti-republic sanctions. The statement further asserted, “It is our firm decision to counter U.S. hostility with stronger nuclear deterrence.”
U.S. says threat from WMD materials continues. The U.S. State Department released the Country Reports on Terrorism 2011. While the release notes “largely successful” multilateral programs to control the transfer of WMD materials, it states that “the illicit trafficking of these materials persists…” The document cites incidents of highly enriched uranium trafficking in 2010 and 1011, noting “These examples suggest that caches of dangerous material may exist on the black market…” The report concludes, “We must remain vigilant if we hope to prevent terrorist groups from obtaining the means and methods for generating CBRN weapons.”
Australia and UAE establish framework for uranium sales. Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr confirmed that the Australian government has established “conditions under which nuclear material will be supplied to the UAE.” The UAE will be the first Gulf Arab state to build a nuclear power plant. Speaking about the agreement, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan said, “This is not a commercial agreement. It is just outlining the nature of the relationship between the two countries in this sector.
Israel says time is running out for an Iranian deal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Right now the Iranian regime believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program. His comments came during a visit by U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Netanyahu added, “However forceful our statements, they have not convinced Iran that we are serious about stopping them. This must change, and it must change quickly because time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out.”
Operations halted at Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. The government’s contractor ordered a “security stand-down” following the recent security breach of the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Early Saturday morning July 28th, a group of three peace activists made their way into the high-security area of the Y-12 facility. Using bolt cutters to cut the perimeter fencing, the protestors hung banners on the uranium storage site, splashed it with human blood and spray-painted slogans and messages on the walls. The ordered “security stand-down” includes shutting down all plant nuclear operations, placing the stocks of enriched uranium in secure vaults, and scheduling refresher security courses for thousands of the facility’s workers. Since Saturday’s incident other security violations have been revealed in the subsequent investigation by the government contractor and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The shutdown is expected to last about a week, but no definitive determination on its length has been made.
EU and Iran agree to next round of talks. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iran’s chief negotiator Saeed Jalili have agreed to hold more talks over Tehran’s nuclear program. Ashton said, “I impressed the need for Iran now to address the issues we have raised in order to build confidence. I proposed, and Dr Jalili agreed, that we talk again after further reflection at the end of the month.” While the talks will likely be held in Istanbul, a concrete date has yet to be established
Pentagon blames cost increase of nuclear bomb on NNSA estimates. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) originally put a price tag of $4 billion on the Lifetime Extension Program (LEP) for the B-61 nuclear gravity bomb. However, new estimates for the bomb’s modernization have more than doubled and are now projected to cost $10 billion. The Pentagon has responded by stating that the current cost estimates do not represent a growth in costs, but are due to NNSA’s incomplete cost analysis.
Federal Court steps in on Yucca Mountain issue. After the Obama administration’s budget proposals for FY2011, FY2012, and FY2013 eliminated all funding for the Yucca Mountain project and the DOE attempted to withdrawal its license application with the Nuclear Regulatory Committee (NRC), the NRC suspended the licensing proceeds in 2011 due to budgetary limitations. However, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act mandates that the NRC issue a final decision of the project’s licensing and the federal courts appear intent to see that it follows through. In a 2-1 decision, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the court can order the NRC to proceed with Yucca Mountain’s licensing review. The court has delayed action until later this year to give Congress an opportunity to allocate additional funds for the nuclear waste facility. However, as one of the ruling judges wrote, “If Congress provides no additional clarity on the matter…we will be compelled to act.”
Iran test-fires new short range missile. Iranian state media reported the successful test-firing of a new version of the Fateh 110 missile. Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi was quoted stating that the missile’s new guidance system, capable of striking both land and sea targets, will be installed on all future missiles. With a range of 300 km, the Fateh 110 can threaten Iran’s immediate neighbors and possibly vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, Saudi Arabia’s energy facilities, and the U.S. fifth fleet in Bahrain. Noting that the new missile was only intended as a defensive weapon, Vahidi added, “These capabilities are defensive and would only be used against aggressors and those who threaten the country’s interests and territorial integrity.”