Those New Russian Weapons

Vladimir Putin has claimed that Russia is building a suite of advanced nuclear weapon delivery vehicles – Hypersonic missiles, an underwater drone, a nuclear-powered cruise missile. The American Missile Defense Review is, in part, a response to that.

The new Russian weapons sound amazing! The underwater drone, Putin would have us believe, could sneak up on the east coast of the United States and cause a radioactive tsunami! The nuclear-powered cruise missile could cruise around the globe twice and then nuke Florida!

Putin has shown all that on animated videos. A few frames appear to be actual photos, but the videos are mostly animation. Read More

A Russian Nuclear Cruise Missile?

Back in March, Vladimir Putin unveiled a number of new nuclear weapons. But they’re not operational, and, in my opinion, are unlikely ever to be.

One was the Poiseidon (Status-6) underwater drone, supposedly designed to hit the east coast of the United States with a radioactive tsunami. Oh, and did I say that it’s undetectable? Read More

A Dozen Facts Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo Need To Know To Negotiate With North Korea

The primary issue that is being negotiated with North Korea is its nuclear weapons and the missiles they might be mounted on for attacks on the United States and its allies, South Korea and Japan. A meaningful agreement will have to include many technical issues.

Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo are not nuclear or rocket scientists, nor can we expect most politicians to be. But the technical facts are no less difficult to learn than the economics. (Oops! They get that wrong, too. I will push forward anyway.) Pundits commenting on the negotiations and people who simply want to understand may find this list useful. Read More

The DOE Announces Plans For Pit Production

The Department of Energy has been contemplating the future production of nuclear weapon pits – the fissile part of the weapon, usually plutonium. Rocky Flats, between Golden and Boulder, Colorado, used to do it, but it turned into an environmental disaster. All buildings have been removed from the site.

Los Alamos and Savannah River are the only two DOE sites that can work with plutonium. Both put themselves into the running for the task. Both have had some problems with safely handling the stuff, for example. The decision was announced today. Both were, in effect, selected. Read More

Deterring Regime Change

Nuclear weapons programs come with costs: financial, reputational, and the potential for being made a target by other nuclear powers. There is also an opportunity cost in diverting smart scientists, engineers, and managers from work that might produce improvement to people’s daily lives and the economy.

Leaders understand that there are costs. In starting his nuclear weapons program in the 1970s, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan declared “’We will eat grass, even go hungry, but we will get [a nuclear weapon] of our own.”

The Iranian documents presented by Benjamin Netanyahu yielded one new piece of information: That Iran planned an arsenal of only five rather small (10 kiloton yield) warheads. Likewise, Kim Jong Un has declared his arsenal complete after what seems a rather sketchy set of tests. Read More

Links – March 30, 2018

Three similar op-eds about the unified expulsions of Russian diplomats, from Kadri Liik, Shashank Joshi, and Mark Galeotti. Bottom line: In the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Vladimir Putin has supplied the last straw so that other world leaders will not tolerate his attempts at deniability, which are no longer plausible.

One of the reasons that this broad rebuke has a good chance to influence Russia is that Putin would like to rebrand Russia as a great power, but he’s having difficulty doing so. Read More