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– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
News Briefs

Saudi Arms Deal Sent to Congress

Matt Sugrue 

The Obama administration last month formally notified Congress of a roughly $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. If completed, it would be the largest arms sale in U.S. history.

According to the notification documents, the deal includes 84 F-15SA tactical fighters, 70 Apache Longbow attack helicopters, AIM-120C/7 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles, Hellfire missiles, and radar equipment. Congressional notifications list the “not-to-exceed estimate” of possible deals and are subject to reductions.

Congress has 30 days after notification to review the proposed weapons sale before the sale can move forward. To block it, Congress must pass a joint resolution of disapproval during the review period and then override a likely presidential veto. Congress has never successfully done that.

The Saudi arms sale has received some resistance in the House since news of the deal was leaked in September. In a letter that month to President Barack Obama, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) stated his intention to block any proposed arms deal with Saudi Arabia. (See ACT, October 2010.) He reiterated that point after the administration officially notified Congress of the deal Oct. 20. After the review period, Congress retains the ability to halt the deal at any point during the 15 to 20 years it is expected to take before all transfers are completed.

In an Oct. 20 press conference announcing the notification, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro denied the possibility that the U.S.-Saudi deal would destabilize the Middle East and lead to a regional arms race. Shapiro went on to say that the sale would not endanger Israel’s “qualitative military edge.”


HEU Spent Fuel Removed From Poland

Daniel Horner 

More than 450 kilograms of Russian-origin highly enriched uranium (HEU) spent fuel has been transported from Poland to Russia in five shipments over 12 months, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced in an Oct. 12 press release.

The effort represents the largest spent fuel shipment campaign in NNSA history, the press release said. Repatriation of Russian-origin fresh and spent HEU fuel is a key of part of the NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative.

The NNSA declined to say what the enrichment level of the spent fuel was, but in an Oct. 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today, NNSA spokesman Damien LaVera said the spent fuel return was the program’s largest ever in terms of the quantity of uranium-235, as well as in terms of “sheer volume.”

Uranium enriched to levels of 20 percent or more of U-235 is considered HEU.

The campaign involved collaboration among the NNSA, Russia, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Poland’s Radioactive Waste Management Plant and Institute of Atomic Energy, the press release said. The material went to Russia’s Mayak facility, where it will be down-blended to low-enriched uranium (LEU), LaVera said.

According to the press release, the spent HEU fuel came from the Ewa and Maria research reactors in Swierk. The Ewa reactor is no longer in use and is in the process of being shut down and disassembled, LaVera said. The Maria reactor is scheduled to be converted in 2012 to run on LEU rather than HEU, he said.

Meanwhile, Ken Baker, the NNSA deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, said Oct. 12 at a conference in Lisbon that the NNSA and Russia’s Rosatom this year will finalize a “legal framework” that will allow the start of studies to “determine the feasibility of converting” six research reactors in Russia from HEU to LEU fuel. According to LaVera, the studies are required to determine what types of fuel research reactors in Russia could use if converted to LEU.

Rosatom has confirmed the shutdown of three HEU-fueled research reactors, with an additional five in the process of being shut down and decommissioned, he said.


India Signs Nuclear Liability Convention

Eric Auner 

India on Oct. 27 signed the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC), an international treaty that seeks to establish global guidelines for compensating victims of nuclear accidents.

At a White House press briefing that day previewing President Barack Obama’s Nov. 6-9 visit to India, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns called the signing a “positive step.”

The signing comes two months after India passed a controversial nuclear liability law. (See ACT, October 2010.) The law makes nuclear supplier firms potentially liable for a nuclear accident, whereas under the CSC, liability is channeled exclusively to the nuclear facility operator. U.S. nuclear suppliers have indicated they would be reluctant to do business in India without such restrictions on liability.

Access to the Indian reactor market was one of the potential benefits cited by advocates of U.S. legislation, enacted in 2008, that allowed nuclear trade with India although New Delhi does not meet key requirements of U.S. nonproliferation law

G. Balachandran, writing for the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, an Indian think tank, said the controversial provisions of the liability law did not legally preclude India’s CSC signature. According to Balachandran, Article XVIII(i) of the CSC requires that a state only declare that its national law complies with the CSC, rather than proving that the law is CSC-compliant.

Fourteen states have signed the CSC, and four states, including the United States, have ratified it. It has not yet entered into force.


Virus May Be Targeting Iran’s Nuclear Program

Matt Sugrue

Stuxnet, a new computer virus, apparently is affecting Iran’s nuclear program in what may be a new type of cyberattack, according to security experts.

More than 60 percent of the known Stuxnet infections are located in Iran. The virus targets a type of industrial control system built by the German company Siemens. Iran’s Bushehr reactor has a Siemens control system. As a result, many experts assume that whoever designed the virus wanted to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.

During the past several months, the Bushehr plant has experienced a series of delays in its projected startup date. However, Iranian state-run Press TV reported that Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, dismissed suggestions that Stuxnet had anything to do with the delays.

In an October report, software security firm Symantec concludes that Stuxnet reprograms the industrial control systems of power plants “to make them work in a manner the attacker intended.” In a separate report, Symantec says the virus exploits four “zero-day” vulnerabilities in Microsoft software. Zero-day vulnerabilities are holes in a computer program’s security that were unknown to the developer.