Rep. Markey Raises Concerns About Wasteful Plutonium Program

On the radar: MOX over budget, behind schedule, and inefficient; Nuclear myths; Russian radars; Souring U.S.-Russia relations; Nuclear agreements with Taiwan, South Korea and Vietnam; and Brunei ratifies the CTBT.

January 14, 2013 | Edited by Benjamin Loehrke

MOX concerns - The Department of Energy’s multi-billion dollar program to turn excess weapons-grade plutonium into mixed oxide reactor fuel (MOX) is reported to be running over budget and behind schedule. “I am very concerned about these reports, as they suggest that the MOX program may be both wasting taxpayer dollars and ultimately failing to reduce our stores of surplus weapons-grade plutonium,” writes Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) in a letter to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.

--Calculating the potential inefficiency of the MOX program, Rep. Markey notes that MOX could “cost $15 billion more than other alternatives [for disposing of surplus plutonium] and has an uncertain chance of success in order to provide $2 billion in electrical power generation subsidies for select utilities and customers.” Full letter here. (pdf)

Report - “U.S. Nonproliferation Strategy for the Changing Middle East” by David Albright, Mark Dubowitz, Orde Kittrie, Leonard Spector and Michael Yaffe. (pdf)

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Myths - Support for keeping large arsenals of nuclear weapons endures because of several widely held myths about their utility, argues Ward Wilson in The New York Times. Wilson challenges these myths and urges nuclear-armed states to pursue the gradual abolition of nuclear weapons.

--Myths about nuclear weapons: Nukes altered the course of World War II, mass destruction ends wars, deterrence is 100% reliable, nukes kept the peace since 1945, and the nuclear genie can’t be put back in the bottle.

Book review - “On the uselessness of nuclear weapons.” A review of War Wilson’s 5 Myths About Nuclear Weapons by Ashutosh Jogalekar in Scientific American.

ICBM upkeep - The Air Force began a study of its options for modernizing or replacing its fleet of Minuteman III ICBMs. “The options include no upgrades, incremental fixes, new missiles stored in silos, and new mobile or tunnel-based systems,” reports Bob Brewin at Nextgov.

Radar specs - Pavel Podvig has a list of the assets in Russia’s early warning radar network, complete with data on locations, range, and altitudes. At Russian Forces.

Tweet - @NTI_GSN: N. Korea May Detonate Atomic Device This Week, Report Claims

Event - “Arms Control 2.0 in Obama 2.0” James Acton, Steve Pifer and Elbridge Colby discuss the future of arms control in President Obama’s second term. Wed. Jan. 23rd from noon-1:30 at the Carnegie Endowment. Details and RSVP here.

From Moscow, no love - The souring of U.S.-Russian relations could complicate foreign policy for President Obama’s second term. Russian cooperation is key to solving issues including Syria, Iran, North Korea, and Afghanistan. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin remains cold to the prospect of cooperative efforts in those areas. Anne Gearan at The Washington Post has the story.

Delayed talks - “Russia voiced alarm on Friday at delays in agreeing new nuclear talks between world powers and Iran and the U.N. atomic watchdog chief said he was not optimistic ahead of his inspectors' separate visit to Tehran next week,” reports Steve Gutterman and Fredrik Dahl at Reuters.

123 agreements - This year, the U.S. could renew two civilian nuclear cooperation agreements with Taiwan and South Korea and possibly ink a deal with Vietnam.

--Taiwan has signaled a willingness adopt strict nonproliferation terms in its agreement - forswearing acquisition of uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing capabilities. Vietnam has been reluctant to observe such nonproliferation standards, and South Korea might be looking to preserve a right for an experimental reprocessing technique called “pyroprocessing.” Elaine Grossman at Global Security Newswire previews the negotiations.

Test Ban - Brunei last week ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The Southeast Asian nation becomes the 158th country to ratify the treaty. Global Security Newswire has the story.