Archive for the ‘nuclear’ Category

Nuclear Physics: Exploring the Heart of Matter

June 27, 2012 Comments off

Nuclear Physics: Exploring the Heart of Matter

Source: National Research Council (Board on Physics and Astronomy)

Nuclear physics today is a diverse field, encompassing research that spans dimensions from a tiny fraction of neutrons and protons in the atomic nucleus to the enormous scales of astrophysical objects in the cosmos.

Its research objectives include the desire not only to better understand the nature of matter interacting at the nuclear level but to describe the liquid state of the Universe that existed at the big bang—a phenomenon that can now be replicated in the most advanced colliding-beam accelerators. Its discoveries impact other fields such as astrophysics, particle physics, and cosmology, while the tools developed by nuclear physicists not only are employed by other basic sciences but have found wide-spread applications in a range of technologies that benefit society.

The Committee on Assessment of and Outlook for Nuclear Physics (NP 2010) has prepared a report assessing the outlook for nuclear physics research in the United States. Building on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Nuclear Science Advisory Committee’s "2007 Long-range Plan Report," this report, Exploring the Heart of Matter, develops a clear and compelling articulation of the scientific rationale and objectives for nuclear physics, placing near-term goals in a broader international context. This report also puts the long-term priorities for the field (in terms of major facilities, research infrastructure, and scientific manpower) into a global context and recommends a strategy that can serve as a framework for progress in U.S. nuclear physics through 2020 and beyond.

See: National Research Council presents long-term priorities for US nuclear physics program (EurekAlert!)

New From the GAO

June 22, 2012 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Prescription Drug Data: HHS Has Issued Health Privacy and Security Regulations but Needs to Improve Guidance and Oversight. GAO-12-605, June 22.
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2. Managing Critical Isotopes: DOE’s Isotope Program Needs Better Planning for Setting Prices and Managing Production Risks. GAO-12-591, May 23.
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Nuclear Notes (Vol. 2, Issue 1)

June 11, 2012 Comments off

Nuclear Notes (Vol. 2, Issue 1)
Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies

Nuclear Notesis a biannual publication of the CSIS Project on Nuclear Issues (PONI) featuring innovative thinking by rising experts. Its goal is to advance the public debate about nuclear weapons strategy and policy. PONI welcomes submissions of 1,500–2,000 words on contemporary topics pertaining to nuclear weapons strategy or policy. See the Nuclear Notes page for more information on the publication and submitting an article for future editions.

In this issue, Jonah Friedman reviews Russia’s military modernization. Eli Jacobs considers the paradox of de-escalation. Henry Philippens analyzes the future prospects of de-alerting. Yogesh Joshi and Alankrita Sinha investigate India and ballistic missile interception. Stephanie Spies makes the case for (rhetorically) taking the military option off the table with Iran. And Heather Williams looks at the crises of arms control.

New From the GAO

May 29, 2012 Comments off

New GAO ReportsSource: Government Accountability Office

1. Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Natural Hazard Assessments Could Be More Risk-Informed.
GAO-12-465, April 26.
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2. Highway Infrastructure: Federal-State Partnership Produces Benefits and Poses Oversight Risks.
GAO-12-474, April 26.
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New From the GAO

May 22, 2012 Comments off

New GAO ReportSource: Government Accountability Office

Nuclear Safety: DOE Needs to Determine the Costs and Benefits of Its Safety Reform Effort. GAO-12-347, April 20.
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CRS — U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage

May 17, 2012 Comments off

U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Regardless of the outcome of the ongoing debate about the proposed Yucca Mountain geologic waste repository in Nevada, the storage of spent nuclear fuel (SNF)—also referred to as “highlevel nuclear waste”—will continue to be needed and the issue will continue to be debated. The need for SNF storage, even after the first repository is opened, will continue for a few reasons. First, the Obama Administration terminated work on the only planned permanent geologic repository at Yucca Mountain, which was intended to provide a destination for most of the stored SNF. Also, the Yucca Mountain project was not funded by Congress in FY2011 and FY2012, and not included in the Administration’s budget request for FY2013. Second, even if the planned repository had been completed, the quantity of SNF and other high-level waste in storage awaiting final disposal now exceeds the legal limit for the first repository under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA). Third, the expected rate of shipment of SNF to the repository would require decades to remove existing SNF from interim storage. Accordingly, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and reactor operators are considering extended SNF storage lasting for more than 100 years.

The debate about SNF typically involves where and how it is stored, as well as what strategies and institutions should govern SNF storage. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and resulting damage to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, caused some in Congress and NRC to consider the adequacy of protective measures at U.S. reactors. The NRC Near-Term Task Force on the disaster concluded it has “not identified any issues that undermine our confidence in the continued safety and emergency planning of U.S. plants.” Nonetheless, NRC has accepted a number of staff recommendations on near-term safety enhancement, including requirements affecting spent fuel storage and prevention and coping with station blackout. NRC is not requiring accelerated transfer of SNF from wet pools to dry casks, but the SNF storage data from the last several years indicate that accelerated transfer has already been occurring.

As of December 2011, more than 67,000 metric tons of SNF, in more than 174,000 assemblies, is stored at 77 sites (including 4 Department of Energy (DOE) facilities) in the United States located in 35 states (see Ta ble 1 and Figure 5), and increases at a rate of roughly 2,000 metric tons per year. Approximately 80% of commercial SNF is stored east of the Mississippi River. At 9 commercial SNF storage sites there are no operating nuclear reactors (so-called “stranded” SNF), and at the 4 DOE sites reactor operations largely ceased in the 1980s, but DOE-owned and some commercial SNF continues to be stored at DOE facilities. In the United States, SNF is stored largely at nuclear reactor sites where it was generated. Of the 104 operating nuclear reactors in the United States, all necessarily have wet storage pools for storing SNF (wet pools are required to allow for a safe “cooling off” period of 1 to 5 years after discharge of SNF from a reactor). Wet storage pools are used for storage of approximately 73% (49,338 out of 67,450 metric tons of uranium, or MTU) of the current commercial SNF inventory, whereas the remaining 27% (18,112 MTU) of commercial SNF is stored in dry casks on concrete pads or in vaults. As wet storage pools become filled to capacity using “dense packing” storage methods, dry storage is increasingly being used, although there are 27 sites with 36 wet storage pools with no dry cask storage capabilities.

This report focuses on the current situation with spent nuclear fuel storage in the United States. It does not address all of the issues associated with permanent disposal of SNF, but rather focuses on the SNF storage situation, primarily at current and former reactor facilities for the potentially foreseeable future.

CRS — Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons: Proliferation and Security Issues

May 15, 2012 Comments off

Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons: Proliferation and Security Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal probably consists of approximately 90-110 nuclear warheads, although it could be larger. Islamabad is producing fissile material, adding to related production facilities, and deploying additional delivery vehicles. These steps could enable Pakistan to undertake both quantitative and qualitative improvements to its nuclear arsenal. Whether and to what extent Pakistan’s current expansion of its nuclear weapons-related facilities is a response to the 2008 U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement is unclear. Islamabad does not have a public, detailed nuclear doctrine, but its “minimum credible deterrent” is widely regarded as designed to dissuade India from taking military action against Pakistan.

Pakistan has in recent years taken a number of steps to increase international confidence in the security of its nuclear arsenal. In addition to overhauling nuclear command and control structures since September 11, 2001, Islamabad has implemented new personnel security programs. Moreover, Pakistani and some U.S. officials argue that, since the 2004 revelations about a procurement network run by former Pakistani nuclear official A. Q. Khan, Islamabad has taken a number of steps to improve its nuclear security and to prevent further proliferation of nuclearrelated technologies and materials. A number of important initiatives, such as strengthened export control laws, improved personnel security, and international nuclear security cooperation programs have improved Pakistan’s security situation in recent years.

However, instability in Pakistan has called the extent and durability of these reforms into question. Some observers fear radical takeover of a government that possesses a nuclear bomb, or proliferation by radical sympathizers within Pakistan’s nuclear complex in case of a breakdown of controls. While U.S. and Pakistani officials continue to express confidence in controls over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, continued instability in the country could impact these safeguards. For a broader discussion, see CRS Report RL33498, Pakistan-U.S. Relations, by K. Alan Kronstadt. This report will be updated.

This report updates a previous version published November 30, 2011.

CRS — U.S. Nuclear Cooperation With India: Issues for Congress

May 15, 2012 Comments off

U.S. Nuclear Cooperation With India: Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

India, which has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and does not have International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on all of its nuclear material, exploded a “peaceful” nuclear device in 1974, convincing the world of the need for greater restrictions on nuclear trade. The United States created the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) as a direct response to India’s test, halted nuclear exports to India a few years later, and worked to convince other states to do the same. India tested nuclear weapons again in 1998. However, President Bush announced July 18, 2005, he would “work to achieve full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India” and would “also seek agreement from Congress to adjust U.S. laws and policies,” in the context of a broader partnership with India.

U.S. nuclear cooperation with other countries is governed by the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) of 1954 (P.L. 95-242). However, P.L. 109-401, which President Bush signed into law on December 18, 2006, allows the President to waive several provisions of the AEA. On September 10, 2008, President Bush submitted to Congress, in addition to other required documents, a written determination that P.L. 109-401’s requirements for U.S. nuclear cooperation with India to proceed had been met. President Bush signed P.L. 110-369, which approved the agreement, into law October 8, 2008. Then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and India’s then-External Affairs Minister Shri Pranab Mukherjee signed the agreement two days later, and it entered into force December 6, 2008. Additionally, the United States and India signed a subsequent arrangement in July 2010 which governs “arrangements and procedures under which” India may reprocess U.S.- origin nuclear fuel in two new national reprocessing facilities, which New Delhi has not yet constructed.

The NSG, at the behest of the Bush Administration, agreed in September 2008 to exempt India from some of its export guidelines. That decision has effectively left decisions regarding nuclear commerce with India almost entirely up to individual governments. Since the NSG decision, India has concluded numerous nuclear cooperation agreements with foreign suppliers. However, U.S. companies have not yet started nuclear trade with India and may be reluctant to do so if New Delhi does not resolve concerns regarding its policies on liability for nuclear reactor operators and suppliers. Taking a step to resolve such concerns, India signed the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, which has not yet entered into force, October 27, 2010. However, many observers have argued that Indian nuclear liability legislation adopted in August 2010 is inconsistent with the Convention.

The Obama Administration has continued with the Bush Administration’s policy regarding civil nuclear cooperation with India. According to a November 8, 2010, White House fact sheet, the United States “intends to support India’s full membership” in the NSG, as well as other multilateral export control regimes.

CRS — Foreign Assistance to North Korea

May 8, 2012 Comments off

Foreign Assistance to North Korea (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Should the United States resume food, energy, and/or denuclearization assistance to North Korea? This is the major issue facing Congress in considering the provision of aid to Pyongyang. Between 1995 and 2008, the United States provided North Korea with over $1.3 billion in assistance: just over 50% for food aid and about 40% for energy assistance. Since early 2009, the United States has provided virtually no aid to North Korea. On February 29, 2012, after bilateral talks with the United States, North Korea announced a moratorium on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests, and nuclear activities (including uranium enrichment) at its Yongbyon nuclear facilities. It also said it would allow international nuclear inspectors to return to North Korea. The United States announced it would provide North Korea with 240,000 metric tons (MT) of food aid. However, the so-called “Leap Day deal” unraveled after North Korea on April 13, 2012, launched, in defiance of United Nations resolutions, a rocket to place an “earth observation satellite” into orbit. U.S. officials say that during bilateral negotiations they warned their counterparts that any rocket launch using ballistic missile technology would jeopardize the agreement.

Food Aid. North Korea has suffered from chronic, massive food shortages since the mid-1990s. Food aid–largely from China, South Korea, and the United States–has been essential in filling the gap. In 2011, in response to continued food shortages, Pyongyang reportedly asked the United States, South Korea, and other countries to provide large-scale food aid. The United Nations has issued an appeal for assistance. In 2008 and 2009, the United States shipped about a third of a planned 500,000 MT food aid pledge before disagreements with the North Korean government led to the program’s cessation.

Providing food to North Korea would pose a number of dilemmas for the United States. Pyongyang has resisted reforms that would allow the equitable distribution of food and help pay for food imports. Additionally, the North Korean government restricts the ability of donors to operate in the country. Multiple sources have asserted that some of the food assistance going to North Korea is routinely diverted for resale in private markets or other uses. However, it is likely that food aid has helped feed millions of North Koreans, possibly staving off a repeat of the famine conditions that existed in North Korea in the mid-late 1990s, when 5%-10% of the population died due to particularly severe food shortages.

In deciding how to respond to North Korea’s current request, the Obama Administration and Congress face a number of decisions, including whether to resume food aid; if so, whether to condition food aid on progress in security and/or human rights matters; whether to link assistance to Pyongyang easing its restrictions on monitoring; and whether to pressure China to monitor its own food aid. In 2011, many Members of Congress tried to prohibit food aid to North Korea.

Energy Assistance. Between 1995 and 2009, the United States provided around $600 million in energy assistance to North Korea. The aid was given over two time periods–1995-2003 and 2007-2009–in exchange for North Korea freezing its plutonium-based nuclear facilities. In 2008 and 2009, North Korea also took steps to disable these facilities. However, no additional energy assistance has been provided since 2009, when Pyongyang withdrew from the Six-Party Talks– involving North Korea, the United States, China, Japan, and Russia–over North Korea’s nuclear program. The move followed condemnation and sanctions by the U.N. Security Council for North Korea’s April 2009 launch of a suspected long-range missile and May 2009 test of a nuclear device.

In 2007 and 2008, the United States also provided technical assistance to help in North Korea’s nuclear disablement process. In 2008, Congress took steps to legally enable the President to give expanded assistance for this purpose. However, following North Korea’s actions in the spring of 2009, Congress rejected the Obama Administration’s requests for funds to supplement existing resources in the event of a breakthrough. Congress did approve monies for the State Department’s general emergency nonproliferation fund that the Administration could use in North Korea. The Obama Administration, along with the South Korean government, has said that it would be willing to provide large-scale development aid if North Korea takes steps to irreversibly dismantle its nuclear program.

This report will be updated periodically to track changes in U.S. provision of aid to North Korea.

New From the GAO

May 7, 2012 Comments off

New GAO ReportsSource: Government Accountability Office

1. Troubled Asset Relief Program: Government’s Exposure to AIG Lessens as Equity Investments Are Sold. GAO-12-574, May 07.
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2. Nuclear Regulation: NRC’s Oversight of Nuclear Power Reactors’ Decommissioning Funds Could Be Further Strengthened. GAO-12-258, April 05.
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New From the GAO

April 26, 2012 Comments off

New GAO Reports and TestimoniesSource: Government Accountability Office

+ Reports

1. Federal Protective Service: Better Data on Facility Jurisdictions Needed to Enhance Collaboration with State and Local Law Enforcement. GAO-12-434, March 27.
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2. Private Health Insurance: Estimates of Individuals with Pre-Existing Conditions Range from 36 Million to 122 Million. GAO-12-439, March 27.
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3. Community Development Financial Institutions and New Markets Tax Credit Programs in Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Areas. GAO-12-547R, April 26.

4. Federal Emergency Management Agency: Workforce Planning and Training Could Be Enhanced by Incorporating Strategic Management Principles. GAO-12-487, April 26.
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5. Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise: Strategies and Challenges in Sustaining Critical Skills in Federal and Contractor Workforces. GAO-12-468, April 26.
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+ Testimonies

1. Internal Revenue Service: Opportunities to Improve the Taxpayer Experience and Voluntary Compliance, by James R. White, director, strategic issues, before the Senate Committee on Finance. GAO-12-652T, April 26.
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2. Financial Literacy: Enhancing the Effectiveness of the Federal Government’s Role, by Alicia Puente Cackley, director, financial markets and community investment, before the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. GAO-12-636T, April 26.
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CRS — Renewable Energy R&D Funding History: A Comparison with Funding for Nuclear Energy, Fossil Energy, and Energy Efficiency R&D

April 17, 2012 Comments off

Renewable Energy R&D Funding History: A Comparison with Funding for Nuclear Energy, Fossil Energy, and Energy Efficiency R&D(PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Energy-related research and development (R&D)—on coal-based synthetic petroleum and on atomic power—played an important role in the successful outcome of World War II. In the post- war era, the federal government conducted R&D on fossil fuel and nuclear energy sources to support peacetime economic growth. The energy crises of the 1970s spurred the government to broaden the focus to include renewable energy and energy efficiency. Over the 35-year period from the Department of Energy’s inception at the beginning of fiscal year (FY) 1978 through FY2012, federal funding for renewable energy R&D amounted to about 17% of the energy R&D total, compared with 15% for energy efficiency, 25% for fossil, and 37% for nuclear. For the 65- year period from 1948 through 2012, nearly 12% went to renewables, compared with 10% for efficiency, 25% for fossil, and 49% for nuclear.

Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations near Nuclear Facilities: Phase 1 (2012)

April 4, 2012 Comments off

Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations near Nuclear Facilities: Phase 1 (2012)

Source:  National Academy of Sciences
The question of whether there are cancer risks associated with living near a nuclear facility is of great interest to the public, especially those living closest to the facilities. Airborne and waterborne emissions of radioactive materials from the facilities’ normal operations (called effluents) can expose nearby populations to ionizing radiation, which could elevate the risk of cancer in the exposed populations. The first phase of a two-phase project, this report identifies scientific approaches for carrying out an assessment of cancer risks for populations near the 104 nuclear reactors and 13 fuel cycle facilities that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses across the United States, as well as for people who have lived close to former sites.
Studies of health effects in populations (epidemiologic studies) could provide clues for a potential association between living near nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities and risk of cancer. However, such studies are challenging because of incomplete data on occurrences of cancer and cancer deaths in geographic areas of interest (i.e., smaller than the county level), incomplete information on radioactive releases from nuclear facilities during early years of operation, and other factors. Moreover, because radioactive releases are generally low, any risks would be expected to be small and difficult to detect with statistical certainty. This report identifies two health study designs deemed suitable for assessing cancer risks in populations near nuclear facilities, having both scientific merit and the ability to address some public concerns. A pilot study would be needed to determine whether either or both of the two recommended study designs are feasible to implement on a large scale and to assess the required time and resources. Communicating with and involving the public and other stakeholders is an essential element in the study process.

CRS — Effects of Radiation from Fukushima Dai-ichi on the U.S. Marine Environment

April 3, 2012 Comments off

Effects of Radiation from Fukushima Dai-ichi on the U.S. Marine Environment
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The massive Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, caused extensive damage in northeastern Japan, including damage to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power installation, which resulted in the release of radiation. Some have called this incident the biggest manmade release ever of radioactive material into the oceans. Concerns arose about the potential effects of this released radiation on the U.S. marine environment and resources.

Both ocean currents and atmospheric winds have the potential to transport radiation over and into marine waters under U.S. jurisdiction. It is unknown whether marine organisms that migrate through or near Japanese waters to locations where they might subsequently be harvested by U.S. fishermen (possibly some albacore tuna or salmon in the North Pacific) might have been exposed to radiation in or near Japanese waters, or might have consumed prey with accumulated radioactive contaminants.

High levels of radioactive iodine-131 (with a half-life of about 8 days), cesium-137 (with a halflife of about 30 years), and cesium-134 (with a half-life of about 2 years) were measured in seawater adjacent to the Fukushima Dai-ichi site after the March 2011 events. EPA rainfall monitors in California, Idaho, and Minnesota detected trace amounts of radioactive iodine, cesium, and tellurium consistent with the Japanese nuclear incident, at concentrations below any level of concern. It is uncertain how precipitation of radioactive elements from the atmosphere may have affected radiation levels in the marine environment.

Scientists have stated that radiation in the ocean very quickly becomes diluted and would not be a problem beyond the coast of Japan. The same is true of radiation carried by winds. Barring another unanticipated release, radioactive contaminants from Fukushima Dai-ichi should be sufficiently dispersed over time that they will not prove to be a serious health threat elsewhere, unless they bioaccumulate in migratory fish or find their way directly to another part of the world through food or other commercial products.

Radioactive contamination of seafood from the nuclear disaster in Japan has not emerged as a food safety problem for consumers in the United States. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the damage to infrastructure in Japan limited food production and associated exports from areas near the Fukushima nuclear facility. FDA and Customs and Border Protection continue to screen imported foods from Japan, including seafood, before they can enter the U.S. food supply.

Based on computer modeling of ocean currents, debris from the tsunami produced by the Tohoku earthquake was projected to spread eastward from Japan in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Approximately two to three years after the event, the debris plume likely will reach the U.S. West Coast, dumping debris on California beaches and the beaches of British Columbia, Alaska, and Baja California. Although much of the radioactive release from Fukushima Dai-ichi is believed to have occurred after the tsunami, there is the possibility that some of the tsunami debris might also be contaminated with radiation.

CRS — Israel: Possible Military Strike Against Iran’s Nuclear Facilities

April 3, 2012 Comments off

Israel: Possible Military Strike Against Iran’s Nuclear Facilities (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Several published reports indicate that top Israeli decisionmakers now are seriously considering whether to order a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, and if so, when. Twice in Israel’s history, it has conducted air strikes aimed at halting or delaying what Israeli policymakers believed to be efforts to acquire nuclear weapons by a Middle Eastern state—destroying Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981 and a facility the Israelis identified as a reactor under construction in Syria in 2007. Today, Israeli officials generally view the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran as an unacceptable threat to Israeli security—with some viewing it as an existential threat.

This report analyzes key factors that may influence current Israeli political decisions relating to a possible strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. These include, but are not limited to, the views of and relationships among Israeli leaders; the views of the Israeli public; U.S., regional, and international stances and responses as perceived and anticipated by Israel; Israeli estimates of the potential effectiveness and risks of a possible strike; and responses Israeli leaders anticipate from Iran and Iranian-allied actors—including Hezbollah and Hamas—regionally and internationally.

For Congress, the potential impact—short- and long-term—of an Israeli decision regarding Iran and its implementation is a critical issue of concern. By all accounts, such an attack could have considerable regional and global security, political, and economic repercussions, not least for the United States, Israel, and their bilateral relationship. It is unclear what the ultimate effect of a strike would be on the likelihood of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. The current Israeli government, President Barack Obama, and many Members of Congress have shared concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. They appear to have a range of views on how best to address those shared concerns. Iran maintains that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful, civilian energy purposes, and U.S. intelligence assessments say that Iran has not made a decision to build nuclear weapons. However, Iran continues to enrich uranium in militarily hardened sites and questions remain about its nuclear weapons capabilities and intentions.
Short- and long-term questions for Members of Congress to consider regarding a possible Israeli decision to strike Iranian nuclear facilities militarily might include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • How might an Israeli strike affect options and debate regarding short-term and long-term U.S. relations and security cooperation with, and foreign assistance to, Israel and other regional countries?
  • Would an Israeli strike be considered self-defense? Why or why not? What would be the legal and policy implications either way?
  • How might a strike affect the implementation of existing sanctions legislation on Iran or options and debate over new legislation on the subject?
  • How might Congress consult with the Obama Administration on and provide oversight with respect to various political and military options?

This report has many aspects that are the subject of vigorous debate and remain fully or partially outside public knowledge. CRS does not claim to independently confirm any sources cited within this report that attribute specific positions or views to various U.S. and Israeli officials.

New From the GAO

March 26, 2012 Comments off

New GAO Reports and TestimonySource: Government Accountability Office

+ Reports

1. Federal Statistical System: Agencies Can Make Greater Use of Existing Data, but Continued Progress is Needed on Access and Quality Issues. GAO-12-54, February 24.
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2. DOD Supply Chain: Suspect Counterfeit Electronic Parts Can Be Found on Internet Purchasing Platforms. GAO-12-375, February 21.
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3. Modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise: New Plutonium Research Facility at Los Alamos May Not Meet All Mission Needs. GAO-12-337, March 26.
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4. KC-46 Tanker Aircraft: Acquisition Plans Have Good Features but Contain Schedule Risk. GAO-12-366, March 26.
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5. Force Structure: Assessment of Army Report on Fiscal Year 2011 Progress in Modular Restructuring. GAO-12-527R, March 26.

+ Testimony

1. Transportation Security Administration: Progress and Challenges Faced in Strengthening three Key Security Programs by Stephen M. Lord, director, homeland security and justice issues, before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the House Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure. GAO-12-541T, March 26.
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CRS — U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues

March 20, 2012 Comments off

U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

During discussions about the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, Congress reviewed and discussed the plans for maintaining and modernizing U.S. strategic nuclear forces. Although the United States plans to reduce the number of warheads deployed on its long-range missiles and bombers, consistent with the terms of the New START Treaty, it also plans to develop new delivery systems for deployment over the next 20-30 years. As a result, the 112 th Congress will continue to review these programs during the annual authorization and appropriations process.

During the Cold War, the U.S. nuclear arsenal contained many types of delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons. The longer-range systems, which included long-range missiles based on U.S. territory, long-range missiles based on submarines, and heavy bombers that could threaten Soviet targets from their bases in the United States, are known as strategic nuclear delivery vehicles. At the end of the Cold War, in 1991, the United States deployed more than 10,000 warheads on these delivery vehicles. That number has declined to less than 6,000 warheads today, and is slated to decline to 1,550 warheads by the year 2017 if the New START Treaty enters into force.

At the present time, the U.S. land-based ballistic missile force (ICBMs) consists of 450 Minuteman III ICBMs, each deployed with between one and three warheads; they will all be reduced to only one warhead over the next few years. The Air Force has deactivated all 50 of the 10-warhead Peacekeeper ICBMs and 50 Minuteman III missiles. The Air Force is also modernizing the Minuteman missiles, replacing and upgrading their rocket motors, guidance systems, and other components. The Air Force had expected to begin replacing the Minuteman missiles around 2018, but has decided, instead, to continue to modernize and maintain the existing missiles, so that they can remain in the force through 2030.

The U.S. ballistic missile submarine fleet currently consists of 14 Trident submarines; each carries 24 Trident II (D-5) missiles. The Navy converted 4 of the original 18 Trident submarines to carry non-nuclear cruise missiles. The remaining submarines currently carry around 1,200 warheads in total; that number will decline as the United States implements the New START Treaty. The Navy has shifted the basing of the submarines, so that nine are deployed in the Pacific Ocean and five are in the Atlantic, to better cover targets in and around Asia. It also has undertaken efforts to extend the life of the missiles and warheads so that they and the submarines can remain in the fleet past 2020, and to begin design work on a new submarine.

The U.S. fleet of heavy bombers includes 19 B-2 bombers and 94 B-52 bombers. The B-1 bomber is no longer equipped for nuclear missions. The fleet will decline to around 60 aircraft in coming years, as the United States implements New START. The Air Force has also begun to retire the nuclear-armed cruise missiles carried by B-52 bombers, leaving only about half the B- 52 fleet equipped to carry nuclear weapons. The Air Force plans to procure both a new long-range bomber and a new cruise missile over the next 20 years.

The Obama Administration is completing a review of the size and structure of the U.S. nuclear force, and a review of U.S. nuclear employment policy, as it implements the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review. It is also implementing the New START Treaty with Russia that will limit the number of deployed missiles and warheads in the U.S. strategic force. Congress will review the Administration’s plans for U.S. strategic nuclear forces during the annual authorization and appropriations process, and as it assesses U.S. plans under New START and possible future arms control treaties with Russia. This report will be updated as needed.

New From the GAO

March 14, 2012 Comments off

New GAO TestimonySource: Government Accountability Office

1. Nuclear Nonproliferation: Further Actions Needed by U.S. Agencies to Secure Vulnerable Nuclear and Radiological Materials, by Gene Aloise, director, natural resources and environment, before the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, Senate Committee on Homeland Security And Governmental Affairs. GAO-12-512T, March 14.
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NRC Needs a More Comprehensive Approach to Post-Fukushima Nuclear Safety, Report Finds

March 9, 2012 Comments off

NRC Needs a More Comprehensive Approach to Post-Fukushima Nuclear Safety, Report Finds
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is jeopardizing reform by failing to heed its post-Fukushima task force’s top recommendation to clarify its “patchwork” of regulations for “beyond-design-basis” events that reactors are not intended to withstand, according to a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The report, “U.S. Nuclear Power Safety One Year After Fukushima,” also found that the nuclear industry is moving ahead with its own post-Fukushima initiative before the NRC has had time to determine whether it will adequately protect the public.

For example, one of the other task force recommendations called on the NRC to require plant owners to implement measures enabling workers to better cope with a loss of off-site and on-site emergency backup electric power—a “station blackout.” The precedent comes from the NRC’s post-9/11 requirement that plant owners install portable diesel-fueled pumps and generators to protect their facilities from a prolonged station blackout caused by an aircraft attack. However, because the NRC defines an aircraft attack as a beyond-design-basis event, it did not require this equipment to meet high quality and reliability standards or be hardened to withstand other potential events, such as natural disasters. Indeed, post-Fukushima inspections have confirmed that at many plants some of the equipment would not survive earthquakes or floods.

Meanwhile, the nuclear industry is already making changes on the ground in response to Fukushima, the report found. Under an initiative the industry calls the Diverse and Flexible Coping Capability program, or FLEX, plant owners are beginning to supplement and relocate the post-9/11 equipment, ostensibly to better respond to severe natural disasters. Plant owners are dispersing it in numerous locations on and near reactor sites, but are not planning to harden it against natural disasters. The industry is banking on there being enough equipment available so that at least some of it would be usable in the event of a catastrophe.

+ Full Report

New From the GAO

February 16, 2012 Comments off

New GAO Reports and TestimoniesSource: Government Accountability Office

+ Reports

1. Workforce Investment Act: Innovative Collaborations between Workforce Boards and Employers Helped Meet Local Needs. GAO-12-97, January 19.
Highlights –

2. Air Traffic Control Modernization: Management Challenges Associated with Program Costs and Schedules Could Hinder NextGen Implementation. GAO-12-223, February 16.
Highlights –

3. Senate Preservation Fund: Audit of Fiscal Years 2009 and 2010 Transactions. GAO-12-271R, February 16.

4. Safety Effects of Less Prescriptive Requirements for Low-Stress Natural Gas Transmission Pipelines Are Uncertain. GAO-12-389R, February 16.

+ Testimonies

1. Workforce Investment Act: Innovative Collaborations between Workforce Boards and Employers Helped Meet Urgent Local Workforce Needs by Andy Sherrill, director, education, workforce, and income security, before the Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, And Pensions. GAO-12-419T, February 16.

2. National Nuclear Security Administration: Observations on NNSA’s Management and Oversight of the Nuclear Security Enterprise, by Gene Aloise, Natural Resources and Environment, before the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, House Committee on Armed Services. GAO-12-473T, February 16
Highlights –


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