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"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
June 2019

Arms Control Today June 2019

Edition Date: 
Monday, June 3, 2019
Cover Image: 

U.S., UK Complete Largest HEU Repatriation


June 2019
By Tien-Chi Lu

The United Kingdom has completed the transfer of nearly 700 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) to the United States, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced May 3. The multiyear project removed the U.S.-origin material from Scotland’s Dounreay nuclear facility, which is undergoing decommissioning. The uranium has been moved to the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where it will be blended down and used as fuel for civilian nuclear power reactors.

Safety foreman Leslie Jones works at the construction site of the Dounreay fast reactor in 1957. Now undergoing decommissioning, the nuclear complex has returned 700 kilograms of highly enriched uranium to the United States. (Photo: Central Press/Getty Images)“The successful completion of the complex work to transfer HEU signaled the conclusion of an important part of the program to decommission and clean up Dounreay Site,” said David Peattie, chief executive officer of the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

Among other activities, the Dounreay facility historically used HEU to produce materials needed to manufacture isotopes for medical purposes. In conjunction with the repatriation project, the United States has agreed to provide nuclear materials to other European facilities to support the continued production of medical isotopes.

HEU contains at least 20 percent of the uranium-235 isotope, and percentages above this threshold are considered potentially useful for nuclear weapons if available in sufficient quantities. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, international concerns rose about security measures at civilian facilities using HEU, such as university research reactors, and the United States and Russia agreed in 2009 to consolidate and secure HEU the two nations had provided to friendly nations in earlier decades.

“As a nonproliferation measure, the UK transfer is modest in the sense that it is moving weapons-usable material between two nuclear-weapon states. Nonetheless, the consolidation and ultimate down-blending of this material will yield important nuclear security benefits,” said Miles Pomper, a nuclear security specialist at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

The Dounreay transfer is the largest amount of material to have been repatriated from a single facility. To date, 6,713 kilograms of HEU from 47 countries plus Taiwan have been disposed of or repatriated, an NNSA spokesperson told Arms Control Today. Thirty-three countries and Taiwan are now HEU-free, which is defined as possessing less than one kilogram of HEU. Plans call for completing nearly all repatriations to the United States this year and to Russia by 2022.

Seven hundred kilograms of highly enriched uranium return to the United States in a multiyear nuclear security project.

Pentagon Shifts Nuclear Funds for Wall

June 2019
By Kingston Reif

The Defense Department plans to help fund President Donald Trump’s goal of building a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border by transferring $54 million appropriated by Congress in fiscal year 2019 to sustain U.S. nuclear missiles.

The United States conducts a May 1 test of a Minuteman III ICBM from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The Pentagon plans to transfer funds from a Minuteman III upgrade program, among other U.S. nuclear weapons activities, to support Trump administration plans to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. (Photo: Aubree Milks/Defense Department)Although the amount is a fraction of the more than $24 billion Congress appropriated for nuclear forces at the department this year, the funding shift appears to contradict repeated statements from Pentagon officials that nuclear weapons are the Pentagon’s top priority.

Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, told Congress on May 1 that “[t]hree secretaries of defense have called nuclear deterrence the [Defense Department's] number one priority. It's very clear.”

The May 9 reprogramming transfers $24.3 million, out of an appropriation of $125 million, from the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile Launch Control Block Upgrade program. A document outlining the details of reprogramming states that funds are available due to a “slip in the production schedule for” the program.

The reprogramming also transfers $29.6 million, out of an appropriation of $47.6 million, for sustaining the nuclear air-launched cruise missile (ALCM). According to the department, money is “available due to contract savings” and “lack of executable requirements.”

The Air Force has initiated programs to replace the Minuteman III and the ALCM with a new fleet of missiles.

The transfers are part of a larger $1.5 billion reprogramming of appropriated department funds for the wall and come on top of shifts of $1 billion in funding from Army personnel accounts and $3.6 billion in funding for military construction projections that the Pentagon is repurposing for the wall.

In addition to transferring money from the two nuclear missile projects, the Pentagon also intends to shift $251 million from the Chemical Agent and Munitions Destruction program, a long-running effort to destroy the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile. Congress provided the department with $887 million for chemical destruction in fiscal year 2019.

The reprogramming document states that money is “available due to unexpected prior year funding plus current
year appropriation that was found to be more than sufficient to cover the…program[’]s funding needs.”

The United States has been destroying its declared arsenal of 28,000 metric tons of chemical agents, second in size to Russia’s, since the 1990s. It has destroyed about 90 percent and is scheduled to complete destruction by 2023. The United States, which has completed destruction of five of its stockpiles, currently operates a chemical weapons destruction facility in Colorado and plans to open one in Kentucky in a few years. (See ACT, November 2017.)

According to the Pentagon, the transfer of funds “does not inhibit the ability to pursue efforts/technologies to accelerate the destruction of the remaining U.S. chemical weapons stockpile.”

To pay for expanding the U.S.-Mexican border wall, the Defense Department is moving funds from nuclear weapon projects, once called the Pentagon’s top priority.

Trump War Powers Veto Survives Override

 

The U.S. Senate failed to override President Donald Trump’s April 16 veto of a congressional resolution to assert authority over direct U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen. The 53–45 vote taken May 2 did not get the 67 votes needed to overcome Trump's veto of the War Powers Act resolution, which had passed the House of Representatives on April 4 and the Senate on March 13. (See ACT, May 2019.)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) shown speaking in Texas in April, introduced the resolution restricting the U.S. military's involvement in the war in Yemen, later vetoed by President Donald Trump. (Photo: Sergio Flores/Getty Images)“The bad news today: we were unable today to override Trump’s veto regarding U.S. intervention in this horrific war in Yemen,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who introduced the Senate resolution, said following the vote. “The good news: for the first time in 45 years, Congress used the War Powers Act to reassert its constitutional responsibility over the use of armed forces.”

The override vote closely mirrored the Senate vote of 54–46 to approve the resolution in March, with the same five Republicans joining Democrats in supporting the resolution. Two senators did not vote on the veto override, one on each side of the issue.

Asserting authority over war on arms control issues was a congressional theme in May as many legislators raised flags about possible U.S. military intervention in Iran. “Congress has not authorized war with Iran, and the administration, if it were contemplating military action with Iran, must come to Congress to seek approval,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on May 15.—JEFF ABRAMSON

Trump War Powers Veto Survives Override

B61 Bomb Production Delayed

 

Technical problems have prevented production of a new variant of the U.S. B61 nuclear gravity bomb, according to Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), in May 8 testimony to the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee. The project was scheduled to be ready for full-scale production by March 2020, but the problems have delayed work on the first unit of the “mod-12” version of the bomb, she said, offering no estimate on the length of the delay.

An Air Force F-16C carries an inert B61-12 bomb during a development flight test on March 14, 2017. Production of electrical components of the weapon's warhead has hit technical snags. (Photo: Brandi Hansen/U.S. Air Force)The delay is caused by defects with some of the new warhead’s electrical capacitators, according to a May 9 ExchangeMonitor report. Gordon-Hagerty told the publication that it would take several months to look at the issue before the agency decides how to proceed. The NNSA plans to build 480 B61-12 bombs, according to the Federation of American Scientists. The new B61-12 bombs are supposed to lead to the retirement of the B83 gravity bombs, the most powerful nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal, as well as the previous variations of the B61 bombs. (See ACT, June 2017.)

The B61-12 is slated to be one of the most expensive life extension programs undertaken by the NNSA, estimated to cost around $10 billion and originally scheduled to be completed by fiscal year 2027, according to an independent cost estimate reported by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in May 2018. It has been called a “smart” bomb in that it will come with an advanced guided tail kit, making it easier to “steer” the bomb to increase its accuracy. The tail kit upgrade is managed by the Air Force.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

B61 Bomb Production Delayed

U.S. Reverses Nuclear Stockpile Transparency

 

The Trump administration refused in April to release information describing the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and the number of weapons dismantled as of the end of fiscal year 2018. The decision reversed a practice established by the Obama administration in 2010 and followed for one year by the Trump administration.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) requested the data in October 2018, as it has annually. The Energy Department denied the request on April 5 with no explanation. Any disclosure also requires Defense Department approval, and FAS nuclear stockpile expert Hans Kristensen said he was told later the decision was made “higher up” than the defense secretary’s office.

The move was an “unnecessary and counterproductive reversal of nuclear policy,” said Kristensen. He said the new policy would lead to a number of negative consequences, including placing the United States at a disadvantage in the upcoming nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference and putting other nuclear-armed allies in the awkward position of having to reassess their own transparency policies.

A May 2010 Defense Department fact sheet accompanying the then-new release of information said such transparency is “important to nonproliferation efforts, and to pursuing follow-on reductions” to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Since then, France and the United Kingdom have increased their own stockpile transparency, although they have not yet disclosed the entire history of their inventories.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

U.S. Reverses Nuclear Stockpile Transparency

Congress Seeks Decision on Missile Defense Site

 

House Democrats and Republicans continue to press the Defense Department to designate a preferred location for a third long-range ballistic missile defense interceptor site.

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan testifies to Congress in March. He has not announced where the Pentagon would like to build a third missile defense site in the United States. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) at a House Appropriations Committee hearing on May 1 that a decision on a preferred site had been made and that he would share the result with Congress later that day. Shanahan has yet to announce a decision.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) has similarly pressed the Pentagon to make a final designation.

The current system to protect the U.S. homeland against a limited long-range missile attack, known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, consists of interceptor sites in Alaska and California.

In the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress required the Defense Department to conduct a study to evaluate at least three possible new long-range interceptor sites that could augment the GMD system, including at least two on the East Coast.

The Defense Department announced in 2016 that it had completed a draft environmental impact statement of three possible locations: Fort Drum in New York, Camp Garfield Joint Training Center in Ohio, and Fort Custer Training Center in Michigan.

Fort Drum is located in Stefanik’s congressional district while Ryan represents Camp Garfield.

The fiscal year 2016 and 2018 defense authorization bills directed the Pentagon to designate a preferred location for a third site. Nevertheless, the Trump administration’s “2019 Missile Defense Review” report, published in January, said that no decision has been made to deploy a third GMD site and that the location for a potential site “will be informed by multiple pertinent factors at the time.” (See ACT, March 2019.)

The Missile Defense Agency has repeatedly stated that the estimated cost of $3–4 billion to build such a site would be better spent on improving the capabilities of the existing GMD system.—KINGSTON REIF

Congress Seeks Decision on Missile Defense Site

Trump’s Failing Iran Policy


June 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

One year after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the multilateral 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, the deal is in deep trouble. Known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal has successfully rolled back Iran’s nuclear capabilities and put its activities under tighter monitoring, easing international concerns about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

President Donald Trump signs a document reinstating sanctions against Iran after announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear deal, in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 8, 2018. (Photo credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)Not surprisingly, Trump’s ill-conceived “maximum pressure” campaign, which involves reimposing sanctions that were lifted when Iran met key JCPOA requirements, has done nothing to force changes in Iran’s regional behavior or push Iran into accepting new U.S. demands. Rather, the policy has sharply increased tensions in the Persian Gulf and decreased Iran’s incentives to continue compliance with the JCPOA.

In response to U.S. moves to further tighten sanctions earlier this spring, Iran announced on May 8 that it would no longer adhere to JCPOA limits on stockpiling heavy water and low-enriched uranium. Iran also gave the other parties to the agreement (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union) 60 days to help it thwart U.S. sanctions on oil sales and banking transactions, or else it will take additional measures with more significant proliferation implications.

With its existing heavy-water production and uranium-enrichment capacities, Iran could soon breach some of these limits. Any violation of JCPOA restrictions is cause for concern, but Iran’s plan to exceed the agreement’s limits on storing more than 130 metric tons of heavy water and 300 kilograms of 3.67-percent enriched uranium-235 would not pose an immediate proliferation risk. By comparison, in June 2015 Iran had a stockpile of approximately 11,500 kilograms of LEU in all forms. It takes roughly 1,050 kilograms of LEU in gas form and enriched to weapons-grade to produce a significant quantity for one bomb.

A bigger problem would arise if Tehran resumes enriching uranium to 20-percent levels or restarts construction of the unfinished Arak heavy-water reactor. Although the reactor is years away from completion, it could provide enough plutonium for two nuclear weapons every year if the plant’s original blueprints are followed. More worrisome would be the resumption of enrichment to 20-percent levels, which would significantly decrease the time needed to acquire enough material for a bomb.

What is most tragic about the growing crisis is that Trump’s decision to violate U.S. commitments under the JCPOA appears to be based on a set of falsehoods and misconceptions that Trump and his senior officials continue to repeat.

In May 27 comments to reporters, Trump said, “I’m looking to have Iran say, ‘No nuclear weapons.’ If you look at the deal that [Vice President Joe] Biden and President [Barack] Obama signed, [Iran] would have access, free access, to nuclear weapons.”

Nonsense. Through the JCPOA, Iran reaffirmed its obligation never to pursue nuclear weapons and, more importantly, agreed to restrictions and a monitoring system that far exceed Tehran’s obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly confirmed that Iran is implementing the terms of the JCPOA.

The JCPOA’s limitations on Iran’s nuclear activities block Iran’s pathways to the bomb and prevent the nation from being able to amass enough bomb-grade nuclear material for one explosive device in less than one year. Moreover, any Iranian efforts to ramp up its fissile material production for weapons would be detected by the IAEA and national means of intelligence well in advance.

The JCPOA is not perfect, but it is a strong agreement that provides a solid basis for negotiating a follow-on agreement to extend key nuclear limits in ways that advance international security.

Instead, team Trump has chosen to reimpose sanctions to destroy Iran’s economy and, his pro-war national security advisor, John Bolton, hopes, the regime itself. But Trump’s strategy has failed to persuade anyone in Iran or any of the U.S. partners to the JCPOA that they come back to the table to negotiate a new, “better” deal.

Sadly, Trump does not seem to understand that his administration’s campaign to dismantle the most effective and durable barrier against an Iranian nuclear bomb—the JCPOA—only heightens the risk that Iran will leave the JCPOA and greatly expand its nuclear capacity.

The most responsible path forward in the face of the Trump administration’s gross violations of the nuclear deal is a more robust and effective effort by the JCPOA’s remaining parties to facilitate legitimate trade with Iran. It is also in Iran’s interests to exercise nuclear restraint, continue to cooperate with the IAEA, and refrain from taking further steps that increase the risk of conflict in the Middle East.

If the remaining parties can keep the JCPOA alive, then it may be possible for the next U.S. president to rejoin the JCPOA in 2021 and pursue a new round of talks on a follow-on agreement that addresses mutual issues of concern. If not, Trump may well have reignited a proliferation crisis in the volatile Middle East.

 

 

One year after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the multilateral 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, the deal is in deep trouble.

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