Ukraine, Russia and the Legacy of Nuclear Weapons

On the radar: Would nuclear weapons in Ukraine have stopped Russia; MOX plant goes into cold storage; Russian nuclear forces review; Iran cuts enriched uranium; and Castle Bravo and the CTBT.

March 4, 2014 | Edited by Geoff Wilson

Debate: should Ukraine have kept its nuclear weapons? - “With Russian troops now occupying Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, Kiev's beleagered interim leaders may be thinking twice about their nation's 1994 decision to abandon nuclear weapons,” writes Elain M. Grossman in a piece for Global Security Newswire. “The East European country actually held the world's third-largest nuclear arsenal after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. But Kiev in 1994 agreed to transfer all its atomic arms to Russia for elimination, shortly thereafter joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear nation, and within two years was weapons-free.”

--Today, as more Russian troops are heading towards Ukraine, a serious debate is forming over whether or not Ukraine would have actually been better off keeping its nuclear weapons as a deterrent against Russian militarism. 1993, John Mearsheimer was one of very few who saw Ukraine’s move to give up its nuclear weapons as a very poor choice. At the time he said "A nuclear Ukraine ... is imperative to maintain peace between Ukraine and Russia. ... Ukraine cannot defend itself against a nuclear-armed Russia with conventional weapons, and no state, including the United States, is going to extend to it a meaningful security guarantee." Today he feels somewhat vindicated, "If Ukraine had a real nuclear deterrent, the Russians would not be threatening to invade it."

--“Even given Russia's Cold War-reminiscent actions over the past week, others are thinking Ukraine's two-decade old move to jettison its nuclear stockpile was the right call.” For instance, John Isaacs from the Council for a Livable World, said that “Ukraine with nuclear weapons is one heck of a dangerous idea. There is already in the mix eastern Ukraine vs. western Ukraine, East vs. West Cold War overtones, Russian vs. U.S. interventionism. ... It would be like tossing a package of lighted matches into a vat of flammable fluids. The results would be unpredictable, but hazardous for everyone’s health… There is no predicting what Russia would have done if Ukraine had retained nuclear weapons. We do know that the risk of nuclear holocaust would have increased immeasurably." Read the full story here.

MOX plant put into cold-standby - According to the President’s budget request for FY2015, the administration will begin looking for alternatives to the the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina. “Following a year-long review of the plutonium disposition program, the Budget provides funding to place the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina into cold-standby. NNSA is evaluating alternative plutonium disposition technologies to MOX that will achieve a safe and secure solution more quickly and cost effectively. The Administration remains committed to the U.S.-Russia Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, and will work with its Russian partners to achieve the goals of the agreement in a mutually beneficial manner.” Read the full text from the US Department of Energy here.

Status of Russian nuclear forces - “Russia has taken important steps in modernizing its nuclear forces since early 2013, including the continued development and deployment of new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), construction of ballistic missile submarines, and development of a new strategic bomber. As of March 2013, the authors estimate, Russia had a military stockpile of approximately 4,300 nuclear warheads, of which roughly 1,600 strategic warheads were deployed on missiles and at bomber bases. Another 700 strategic warheads are in storage along with roughly 2,000 nonstrategic warheads. A large number - perhaps 3,500 - of retired but still largely intact warheads await dismantlement.” Read the full report of 2014 Russian nuclear forces from Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris here. (pdf)

Iran makes substantial cuts in uranium stockpile - “Iran is reducing its most proliferation-prone nuclear stockpile as required by its landmark deal with world powers,” reports Fredrik Dahl for Reuters. “Among measures Iran is taking since the interim agreement took effect on January 20 is the dilution of its stock of higher-enriched uranium to a fissile concentration less suitable for any attempt to fuel an atomic bomb. Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), indicated that Iran had made sufficient progress in this regard to receive a scheduled March 1 installment of $450 million out of a total of $4.2 billion in previously blocked overseas funds.” Full story here.

Tweet - @ManagingtheAtom: New Website from MTA: Nuclear Security Matters - Key Resource for the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit

Castle Bravo - “On this day – the 60th anniversary of Castle Bravo – and on each and every day, the United States recognizes the effects of its nuclear explosive testing and has accepted and acted on its responsibility,” said Acting Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, Rose Gottemoeller at an address in the Marshall Islands.

--“Mindful of the devastating human consequences of nuclear war, the United States has also clearly stated that it is in our interest, and that of all other nations, that the nearly 70-year record of non-use of nuclear weapons be extended forever. We also concluded that the time for a complete and total ban on nuclear explosive testing is long overdue. U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is a pivotal part of this effort… This is not just a security issue; this is an issue of humanity, of health, of morality. We are the stewards of this Earth and we owe it to those who have fallen – to those who suffer still – to work together, one step at a time, until nuclear explosive testing is banned worldwide, getting us one step closer to our goal of the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” Read the full transcript from Rose Gottemoeller’s speech in the Marshall Islands here.