Plutonium Facility Gets Lifeline from Authorizers, Fate Still Grim

On the radar: Analysis of the NDAA; Trident report; Dominoes not falling; Iran talks update; Iran nuclear graphs, revisited; Park presidency; Costs of war; and North Korea’s first video game.

December 20, 2012 | Edited by Benjamin Loehrke and Marianne Nari Fisher

CMRR - The FY13 Defense Authorization bill, which Congress completed this week, authorizes $70 million for work to build a Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility (CMRR) at Los Alamos National Lab. The bill would also attempt to cap program costs at $3.7 billion and bring the plutonium facility online before 2027.

--The House and Senate appropriations committees appropriated no funds for the CMRR in their bills, putting into question where authorizers hope to find money to keep the program alive. Before the President requested CMRR be deferred by 5 years, costs for the new plutonium facility had skyrocketed from $800 million to $5.7 billion in just three years. John Fleck at The Albuquerque Journal has the story.

Tweet - @nukes_of_hazard: Now live: Our analysis of the Conference Version of the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

Report - “The United Kingdom’s Future Nuclear Deterrent: 2012 Update to Parliament” by the Ministry of Defence. (pdf)

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Dominoes not falling - A common claim is that a nuclear Iran would prompt a cascade of proliferation in the Middle East. Yet, “there is substantial evidence to suggest that regional proliferation is not a very likely outcome at all,” write Christopher Hobbs and Matthew Moran at The Guardian.

--The authors show that security alliances, political dynamics, strategic contexts and technological capabilities have favored nuclear restraint in places like Northeast Asia and even the Middle East - contrary to the nuclear domino theory.

Iran stalemate - After weeks of deliberations, the “refreshed” proposal to Iran from the US and its negotiating partners looks “very similar to the package Iran rejected last summer, casting doubt on chances for breaking the long stalemate over Iran’s nuclear program,” reports Barbara Slavin.

--Iranian officials appear to be in no hurry to agree to a date to meet again with the P5 +1 and have sent mixed signals ahead of future negotiations. Full story at Al-Monitor.

Sooner rather than later - Russia’s foreign ministry spokesman recently nudged for six-power talks with Iran over its atomic program, saying "we hope that this work will be completed in the near future and such a meeting will take place in January of next year.” Reuters has the quote and details.

Tweet - @insidedefense: DOD Cancels Acquisition Decision For Conventional Prompt Global Strike. Inside the Pentagon (paywall)

Iran nuclear graphs - Several weeks ago, AP released a graph that supposedly showed Iran’s research into modelling nuclear explosions. The graph received great scepticism from the analytic community.

--David Albright at ISIS assessed that the AP graph appears to be consistent in shape with graphs generated by a Los Alamos hydrodynamic-neutronics computer code called HENRE. He also notes that, based on public information, “it is too early to conclude who did the calculations or for what purpose.” Full analysis. (pdf)

Cyber - “Are US Nuke Secrets Vulnerable to Cyber Attack? asks Dana Liebelson at Mother Jones.

Park’s engagement - Park Geun-hye’s successful bid for the South Korean presidency may usher new dialogue with North Korea, with promises of more humanitarian aid and deeper engagement. It’s unclear if Pyongyang will be in the mood for talks, reports AP. Full story here.

Tweet - @nukes_of_hazard: Sen. Jon Kyl's farewell address yesterday included lots on nukes/missile defense. A small part of us will miss him.

Letter to Obama - 24 experts have sent a letter to President Obama, advocating a bolder strategy with Iran involving a near-term offer of a verifiable halt to Iran’s 20% enrichment in exchange for relaxing international financial sanctions. Letter signers include Gen. Joseph Hoar and Lt. Gen. Robert Gard. Julian Borger has the details and meat of the letter at The Guardian.

Costs of war - “Although the costs of a containment strategy [on Iran] would be significant, the costs of fighting a war would be higher,” write Geoffrey Kemp and John Allen Gay. They note that a war with Iran would lead to a spike in oil prices and likely lower or reverse economic growth in major oil-importing countries. Increased regional volatility and reduced American strategic flexibility would also exact heavy prices on American influence. Full post at Project Syndicate.

Tweet - @TheAtlanticWire: Let's play North Korea's first video game