Top 10 nuclear weapons stories of 2011

It's been a memorable year in nuclear policy. From Fukushima to Iran, the world was reminded just how dangerous nuclear technology can be. But hope continues to remain amidst the challenges. As the year draws to a close, here's a look back at some of the hottest nuclear stories of 2011.

10. Getting closer to talking about a WMD free zone in the Middle East. One of the results of the 2010 NPT Review Conference was agreement to convene a regional conference on the creation of a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East in 2012. This year, two pre-meetings of the potential participants were sponsored by the EU and the IAEA, and Finland was chosen to play host. Perhaps most surprisingly, a poll conducted late in the year found that 64% of Israeli citizens are in favor of the idea.

9. The push for CTBT continues. Three new states ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 2011, Ghana, Guinea and Indonesia. Following Indonesia’s important accession to the world body banning nuclear testing, Mexico and Sweden called for the last nine hold-out nations to follow Indonesia’s lead. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also urged ratification of the treaty. Interest in ratification in the United States, who has not yet ratified the treaty, seemed to grow this year, urged on by a stand-out op-ed by former Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary

8. Continued dismantlement of Cold War relics. One of the most memorable Cold War weapons was dismantled this year. The largest atomic weapon the U.S. ever made, the B-53 bomber had over 600 times the destructive power of the bomb dropped at Hiroshima. The last one was destroyed this year, ending an era and eliminating concerns over the storage of the aging monster. Cold War tensions were also helped to bed by the entry into force this year of the New START Treaty in February, putting inspectors back on the ground in the U.S. and Russia and encouraging both nations to continue reducing their nuclear arsenals. 

7. Locking down WMDs in Libya and Syria. Revolutions, protests and NATO airstrikes raised concerns over the lingering chemical, biological and nuclear stockpiles in Libya and Syria.  The downside? Some dictators took Libya’s fall as a warning NOT to give up their nuclear weapons. 

6. Public debate over Iran's nuclear program. As the Arab Spring moved into summer and then fall, some turned back to making an old argument: urging the US to invade Iran to stop that nation’s still tenuous nuclear program. Cooler heads responded with well-thought out arguments against entering a third war in the Middle East. The debate entered the GOP presidential contest, with Ron Paul standing as a voice for common sense diplomacy. In the meantime, Congress imposed controversial new sanctions on Iran who responded with threats of their own. Don't look to see the U.S. invade any time soon, but expect this debate to continue well into 2012. 

5. 25th anniversary of Rekyavik. It was a moment that no one had expected to see. Two Cold War leaders on the brink of agreement to give up nuclear weapons permanently. This year, the world honored the bravery of their attempt and took a look back at the closest the world has ever come to ridding itself of nuclear weapons. In a moving op-ed, Mikhail Gorbachev urged us not to give up on the vision that he and Reagan shared: the elimination of nuclear weapons. 

4. And how much do those cost again? As the global economy continued shrinking, civil society groups and governments in both the US and the UK started taking a hard look at just how much we are spending on nuclear weapons. The frequent conclusion? Way too much.  

3. Pakistan ramps up its nuclear arsenal. The death of Osama bin Laden may have won President Obama domestic acclaim, but certainly didn't do anything for already tenuous relations between the US and Pakistan. The Atlantic gave cover story real estate to an examination of this deteriorating alliance, and experts speculated that Pakistan now has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal on the planet. 

2. The death of Kim Jong Il. Just as relations between North Korea and the West seemed to be thawing, the death of the Hermit Kingdom's Kim Jong Il threw a major stick into the wheels of diplomacy. While some speculate that it could be the start of regime change, others argued that the West should keep engaging in hopes of bringing greater stability to the region and preventing additional nuclear provocation. 

1. Fukushima. The reactor at Fukushima was intended for civilian use. But as the world watched the plant go into meltdown, we were reminded of the horrors that nuclear technology is capable of creating. Inevitable parallels to Hiroshima were drawn, and a few countries reexamined or scaled back their nuclear energy programs as a result. 

Think we missed a story? Let us know in the comments! 

Photo by US Army