Popular movements in the late 1950s pressed toward the Limited Test-Ban Treaty (LTBT), signed in 1963, which prohibited atmospheric testing. It was preceded by a voluntary test moratorium by the United States and the Soviet Union from 1958 through 1961. At the time, the development of nuclear weapons – and other things like a nuclear-powered airplane – was wild and woolly.
One of the points of competition was the size of explosion that a nuclear weapon could produce. This was a somewhat silly competition, because the amount of damage a bomb could wreak increases with the cube root of its energy. So ten 10-megaton (MT; that’s millions of tons of TNT equivalent) weapons would be much more damaging than one 100-MT weapon. But for some, size does matter.
The National Nuclear Security Administration, the part of the Department of Energy that designs and builds nuclear weapons, promised some time back that they would be able to build up to 80 new plutonium pits a year for nuclear weapons by 2030. In June, the administrator admitted that this won’t happen. Maybe by 2035.
The troubles that Los Alamos and Savannah River continue to have in dealing with plutonium suggest that it could be much longer than that, maybe never.
In the 1990s, the United States and other countries helped the newly independent states that had been part of the Soviet Union to deal with their nuclear weapons and materials. It’s a story that has been almost completely forgotten, but it contains a number of lessons that might be helpful today.
David Frum reminds us of that effort. I was involved in it. A few additional thoughts.
Nancy Pelosi says that she “spoke to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley to discuss available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike.
I can tell her the available precautions, and I hope Milley did too: NONE
The President has sole authority to launch nuclear weapons. He is not required to consult anyone else, nor is there provision to force him to.
This situation came about because back in the Cold War, it seemed plausible that the President might not know about a nuclear attack until the missiles were on the way. That gave him a half-hour or less to decide. It was also assumed that we would elect only presidents capable of doing the job.
Nuclear strategists have pressed Congress to change the situation, but so far Representative Ted Lieu’s and Senator Ed Markey’s bill has gone nowhere. Maybe the next Congress will see fit to consider it.
No, there wasn’t a workaround when Nixon was wandering the corridors of the White House, drunk, talking to the portraits. We were lucky.
Nancy Pelosi can’t do a workaround with Mark Milley. That would be tantamount to a military coup, and I think that Milley is not interested in a military coup right now.
If this is a concern, Speaker Pelosi, and I think it is, then bring articles of impeachment to the floor of the House. NOW.
There has just been an assassination attempt on Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s leading nuclear scientist. He is seen within Iran in a role much like that of Robert Oppenheimer in the United States.
Israel has assassinated other Iranian nuclear scientists and is thus the prime suspect. Bibi Netanyahu has mentioned Fakhrizadeh by name.
Israel, and the Trump administration, have been trying to break the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) so that it cannot be revived. The JCPOA froze and even pushed back Iran’s nuclear weapons program, putting it under greater international scrutiny than any nuclear program in the world.
There is a small industry around a bizarre idea. Nuclear weapons are known to emit a powerful electromagnetic pulse when they explode. So grifters, cheap novel-writers, and proponents of moar defense spending push the idea that a random bad actor would detonate a nuclear weapon at high altitude over the United States and WIPE OUT ALL OUR ELECTRONICS!
This is a dumb idea, for many reasons. I have debunked it many times. The group referred to as “Nuclear Twitter” regularly mocks it.
I’ve been writing this now since 2012 or earlier, but reporters and editors don’t care to learn about the uranium supply line and the processes that form it into a nuclear weapon. Or they like sensationalized clicks better. So here it is again.
The IAEA defines what it calls a “significant quantity” of enriched uranium as 25 kg of U-235 in enriched uranium. That’s approximately enough for a nuclear weapon, although it varies with the weapon design. The IAEA needs an arbitrary number like that for reporting on its inspections. It’s a quick rule of thumb. (If you click that link, you’ll see others writing about it in 2012.) Read More
“Some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads,” Turkey’s president told his ruling party. But the West insists “we can’t have them. This I cannot accept.” @WilliamJBroad and I ask: what would it take for Turkey to build the Bomb? https://t.co/1nbR6YOikh via @NYTimes
I have the good fortune to know Mark Gorwitz. Mark has been around the nuclear and missile world for a while and is extremely skilled at finding obscure reports. We have been corresponding on nuclear ramjets, Project Pluto, and such, and Mark sent me some information he has collected. He asks only that you give proper credit to him and the others named in the report if you share.