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"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement
July 1, 2020
News Briefs

IAEA Chief Supports Iran Censure


November 2021

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voiced support for censuring Iran during the agency’s Board of Governors meeting in November, although he acknowledged that the situation could change as the agency works to resolve the “most immediate challenges” with Iran.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi spoke at an Oct. 21 event hosted by the Stimson Center during his trip to Washington to meet Biden administration officials and members of Congress. He said the trip came at a “difficult juncture” in the IAEA efforts to monitor Iran’s nuclear program and hoped he would travel to Tehran soon to discuss these issues.

France, Germany, and the United Kingdom considered pursuing a resolution censuring Iran for failing to cooperate with IAEA requests at the September Board of Governors meeting, but suspended the effort after Grossi reached an agreement with Tehran to stave off a monitoring crisis. (See ACT, October 2021.)

That Sept. 12 agreement allowed inspectors to service remote surveillance cameras at sites that inspectors have not accessed since February, when Iran reduced compliance with agency monitoring. (See ACT, March 2021.) But Iran blocked inspectors from installing new cameras at a centrifuge component manufacturing site at Karaj during an IAEA visit to the site on Sept. 26. Iran removed the surveillance equipment from that facility after the equipment was sabotaged in June and said the Sept. 12 agreement does not cover that location.

Grossi told The Washington Post on Oct. 20 that if the monitoring dispute and other issues are not resolved, it will be “extremely difficult” to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Although he said the IAEA is not a “main actor” in efforts to restore the JCPOA, the agency is an “essential element,” given its verification role. He said on Oct. 21 that the IAEA is doing what it can to ensure a baseline of information about Iran’s nuclear program, which is “indispensable” for any future negotiation.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Grossi and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed during their Oct. 19 meeting “the need for Iran to meet its nuclear verification obligations and commitments, cease its nuclear provocations, and return to the diplomacy it says it seeks.”

Several members of Congress, including Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, were more explicit in supporting censure. After meeting Grossi on Oct. 19, Risch called for “strong U.S. leadership in seeking accountability for Iran’s nuclear activities and pressuring Iran to fulfill its obligations to the international community.”

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said in September that action by the IAEA board would negatively impact negotiations to restore the JCPOA.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

IAEA Chief Supports Iran Censure

North Korea Tests SLBM


November 2021

North Korea has tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) amid rising regional tensions over its missile provocations, marking Pyongyang’s first launch of an SLBM in two years.

A man in Seoul watches a television report, showing a news broadcast with file footage, of a North Korean missile test on October 19. The South Korean military said the test was believed to involve a submarine-launched ballistic missile.  (Photo by Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images)The South Korean military detected the launch of an “unidentified ballistic missile” from the waters near Sinpo, where North Korean submarines are based, on Oct. 19. The missile flew approximately 430 to 450 kilometers.

The missile launch came hours after the Biden administration confirmed that Sung Kim, U.S. special envoy for North Korea, will soon meet with allies in Seoul to discuss the resumption of negotiations with Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs.

“Our military is closely monitoring the situation and maintaining readiness posture in close cooperation with the United States, to prepare for additional launches,” the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement Oct. 19.

Analyses of the test are ongoing. It remains unclear whether the missile was launched from the water and whether it was fired from a submarine vessel or from a submersible test barge, as was the case for the last North Korean SLBM test, a Pukguksong-3 missile in October 2019. (See ACT, November 2019.)

According to Reuters, military analysts in South Korea and the United States are investigating whether the missile tested on Oct. 19 is among the new systems displayed at North Korea’s defense exhibition held in mid-October. Ankit Panda, an expert on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, described the displayed system as an apparent “navalized version of the KN23 short-range ballistic missile.” That it was staged alongside the Pukguksong-1 and Pukguksong-5 SLBMs strongly suggests the new missile is also an SLBM, Panda wrote in an analysis for NK News published Oct. 19.

Pyongyang confirmed the launch Oct. 20 and said the test was of a “new type” of SLBM.

In response to the test, the United States and the United Kingdom requested a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council, which was scheduled for Oct. 27.—JULIA MASTERSON

North Korea Tests SLBM

U.S. Suspends Nuclear Trade With Chinese Group


November 2021

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has suspended shipments of radioactive materials to China’s state-owned and -operated nuclear company, the China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN). The action includes restrictions on deuterium, a hydrogen isotope used in nuclear reactors and boosted nuclear weapons.

Concerned about China’s growing nuclear weapons program, the NRC decided Sept. 27 that a suspension was "necessary to further the national security interests of the United States and to enhance the United States common defense and security consistent with the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.” The nuclear cooperation act governs U.S. nuclear trade of sensitive nuclear materials with China and other countries and distributes licenses for “the exportation of nuclear material, reactors, and related technologies” if states party to the act meet specified standards. In 2015 the United States and China signed a 30-year cooperation agreement under terms of the act.

Washington’s apprehension about Beijing’s nuclear advances has been growing for more than a decade. In July 2018, Chris Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, warned of China’s “military-civil fusion” policy. The NRC described its order regarding CGN as “an extension of the [2018] licensing framework for civil nuclear exports from the United States to China established by the Executive Branch,” when U.S. President Donald Trump restricted nuclear trade with China to prevent nonmilitary and unauthorized use of nuclear technology. That same year, the U.S. Energy Department outlined policy guidelines aimed at deterring Beijing from illegally transforming nuclear technology for civilian use to technology for military purposes.

In April, Navy Adm. Charles Richard, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, warned that a new generation of Chinese nuclear power facilities are based on technology that could greatly expand the production of weapons-grade plutonium. It is expected that Beijing will double its nuclear warhead stockpile over the next decade.

The United Kingdom is also planning to remove CGN from the nuclear power plant under construction in Suffolk by selling China’s 20 percent stake in the project.—MARY ANN HURTADO

 

U.S. Suspends Nuclear Trade With Chinese Group

Air Force Awards $2.6 Billion B-52 Engine Contract


November 2021

The U.S. Air Force has awarded Rolls-Royce of North America a $2.6 billion contract to produce 608 jet engines for the B-52 intercontinental bomber, enabling the iconic Cold War aircraft, which first flew in 1952, to remain in active service until well into the 2050s.

A US B-52 Stratofortress bomber flies over the Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, in 2016 in a show of force against North Korea. (Photo by Jung Yeon-Je/AFP via Getty Images)The existing fleet of 76 operational B-52s is powered by Pratt & Whitney’s TF33 engine, but these systems are nearing the end of their service life and must be replaced if the bomber is to continue flying beyond 2030. By replacing the TF33s—eight are mounted on each B-52—with a new, more modern engine, the Air Force plans to keep the bombers flying for another quarter century beyond that. “The B-52 is the workhorse of the nation’s bomber force, and this modification will allow the B-52 to continue its critical conventional and standoff mission into the 2050s,” said Maj. Gen. Jason Armagost, director of strategic plans, programs, and requirements at the Air Force Global Strike Command, when the award was announced Sept. 24.

When first conceived in 1946, the B-52 Stratofortress was largely intended as a long-range bomber designed to deliver nuclear weapons on enemy, presumably Soviet, territory. Although it still retains its role as a nuclear delivery system and, as such, is counted under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), it has also been used to deliver conventional bombs and missiles, most recently in Afghanistan. —MICHAEL KLARE

Air Force Awards $2.6 Billion B-52 Engine Contract

The F-35A Passes Final Flight Test


November 2021

The F-35A fighter aircraft successfully completed its final fight test on Sept. 21 for the nuclear design certification process.

“Having a fifth-generation [dual-capable] fighter aircraft with this capability brings an entirely new strategic-level capability that strengthens our nation’s nuclear deterrence mission,” said Lt. Col. Daniel Jackson, division chief of strategic deterrence and nuclear integration at Air Combat Controls headquarters, after the test.

During the full weapons system test, the F-35A Lightning II aircraft released two B61-12 Joint Test Assemblies from operationally realistic flight envelopes over the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada. The test marks the completion of on-aircraft testing for the initial nuclear design certification process. Next steps will include nuclear operational certification, which ensures training and validation of maintenance and aircrews at potential future bases.

“No date has been released for full F-35A nuclear certification in support of real-world operations,” the Air Combat Command said in an Oct. 4 statement. Lt. Col. Douglas A. Kabel, Air Combat Command deputy director for strategic deterrence, told Air Force Magazine on Oct. 5 that even once certified, not every F-35 will become nuclear capable.

The F-35 is being developed primarily for conventional missions, but there will be some nuclear variants largely pursuant to U.S. extended deterrence commitments to NATO.—MARY ANN HURTADO

The F-35A Passes Final Flight Test

U.S. Mustard Agent Destroyed at Army Depot


October 2021

The last U.S. projectiles containing mustard agent at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Blue Grass, Kentucky, were destroyed on Sept. 4, marking the third of five destruction campaigns completed at the site.

A munitions handler guides a 155mm projectile containing mustard agent into a box to begin the destruction process at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Blue Grass, Kentucky. The last mustard-agent projectile was processed on Sept. 4. (U.S. Department of Defense photo)To date, about 32 percent of the chemical agents stored at Blue Grass, or about 170 tons, has been destroyed. The destruction process began in June 2019. (See ACT, July/August 2019.)

The Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives, which was created by Congress in 1997, is responsible for the destruction of the remaining U.S. chemical weapons stockpiles.

After signing and ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention, the United States endeavored to destroy its approximately 3,500 tons of chemical agents. Today, only two U.S. chemical weapons destruction facilities remain operational; the rest are closed. The Blue Grass Army Depot originally stored more than 523 tons of mustard gas and nerve agents, while the Pueblo Chemical Depot, in Colorado, stored more than 2,600 tons of mustard agent.

Destruction remains ongoing at both sites. At Pueblo, 78 percent of the agents have been destroyed since the process began in March 2015.—JULIA MASTERSON

U.S. Mustard Agent Destroyed at Army Depot

U.S. Advances Nuclear Security Goals


October 2021

The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) took domestic and international strides toward securing and eliminating nuclear materials over the past two months.

The NNSA, a semiautonomous agency within the Energy Department, on Aug. 27 awarded $37 million to the Wisconsin-based company NorthStar Medical Technologies to advance the domestic supply of a vital medical isotope, molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), that is used daily in tens of thousands of medical procedures and cancer diagnoses.

In the past, U.S. medical facilities obtained Mo-99 from foreign sources that primarily produced the isotope by way of highly enriched uranium (HEU), which can be used to fuel nuclear weapons and thus presents a nuclear proliferation risk if stolen or diverted. Congress called on the NNSA in 2012 to establish the Mo-99 Program in order to promote a reliable domestic supply of the isotope and to reduce the potential use of HEU for nuclear weapons proliferation.

In addition, the NNSA launched on Aug. 30 the RadSecure 100 initiative aimed at enhancing domestic radiological security. Through partnerships with local businesses, medical centers, and law enforcement, this initiative aims to remove high-priority radioactive material from some U.S. facilities while boosting security at the remaining facilities in 100 U.S. cities. It will also focus on ensuring secure transportation of high-risk radioactive sources.

Overseas, the United States and Norway cemented a plan to fully eliminate Norway’s HEU by blending it down to low-enriched uranium. Down-blending the concentration of HEU to a level below 20 percent uranium-235 prevents its weaponization. The project will begin in 2022, announced Norwegian Minister of Trade and Industry Iselin Nybø on Sept. 1.

This agreement “lays an important foundation for Norway to get rid of its nuclear weapons-usable material,” said Nybø. “We are thus delivering at home what Norway and the United States have worked towards globally for several years: reducing the use of HEU in the civilian sector.” Once the down-blending is completed, Norway will become the 34th country to be considered HEU free.—MARY ANN HURTADO

U.S. Advances Nuclear Security Goals

U.S. Hypersonic Glide Vehicle Test Fails Again


September 2021

The U.S. Air Force’s air-launched hypersonic boost-glide vehicle, known as the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), failed another flight booster test in July after a failure three months earlier.

Air Force crew prepare for a test of the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon at Edwards Air Force Base, California, in 2020. The hypersonic weapon travels at five times the speed of sound. (Photo by U.S. Air Force)The rocket motor for the ARRW test missile did not ignite after the missile “cleanly separated” from a B-52 bomber and “successfully demonstrated the full release sequence” during the July 28 test over Point Mugu Sea Range near southern California, the Air Force said in a July 29 statement. During a booster test in April, the test missile failed to complete the launch sequence. (See ACT, May 2021.)

“Developing first-of-its-kind missiles is difficult business, and this is why we test,” said Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, the Air Force’s program executive officer for weapons, after the test.

The Air Force has said that the ARRW system is designed to provide the ability to destroy high-value, time-sensitive targets and will expand the capabilities of precision-strike weapons systems by enabling rapid response strikes against heavily defended land targets. The service’s fiscal year 2022 budget request included $238 million for continued research and development and $161 million for initial procurement of the hypersonic system. (See ACT, July/August 2021.)

The Air Force plans to begin deploying the ARRW system in 2022, but that date may be pushed back. Collins told reporters on Aug. 4 that figuring out what went wrong with the test “may impact our ability to meet our next test window as we go forward.” The hypersonic system must successfully complete booster and all-up-round test flights before a contract is awarded to manufacturer Lockheed Martin so production can begin.

The July booster test followed the first detonation of an ARRW warhead earlier in the month, which the Air Force dubbed as successful in a July 7 statement. The missile will be armed with what is known as a fragmentation warhead, according to a July 16 Aviation Week report, which would limit the ARRW system to destroying soft targets.—SHANNON BUGOS

U.S. Hypersonic Glide Vehicle Test Fails Again

Pentagon Issues First Memo on Space Norms


September 2021

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has issued a memo mandating that the Pentagon follow a set of guidelines regarding responsible space operations and adherence to international space norms. This is the first time that the department has taken this kind of official step, rather than less formal verbal commitments, to set norms of behavior in space, although experts say the guidelines represent only a first step.

The July 7 memo specifies five “tenets of responsible behavior,” which include calls for ensuring safety, limiting the release of long-lasting space debris, avoiding harmful interference, maintaining safe separation from other humans or objects, and maintaining communication.

The guidelines apply only to Defense Department space operations, but are intended to contribute to a broader dialogue involving civilian, commercial, and other organizations that conduct space-related business, according to John Hill, acting assistant defense secretary for space policy. “We will make more progress through efforts to share views on what we think are the best practices and encourage each other to adopt those best practices,” Hill told Space News on July 16.

A majority of experts welcomed Austin’s memo, reported Breaking Defense, which first broke the news on July 19. “I think it’s actually a pretty good start to identifying and formalizing what [the Pentagon] sees as norms of behavior,” remarked Victoria Samson, head of Secure World Foundation’s Washington office.

The guidelines may be part of a larger Pentagon effort to set the agenda on space norms. In February, a U.S. space commander announced that officials from the State and Defense departments were in the process of drafting proposed language for a binding resolution regarding responsible behavior in space. (See ACT, April 2021.)—HOLLIS RAMMER

Pentagon Issues First Memo on Space Norms

India Tests New Agni Missile


September 2021

India’s newly tested Agni-Prime (Agni-P) missile “will give the armed forces the requisite operational flexibility to swiftly transport and fire [the weapon] from anywhere they want,” an official from the government’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) announced shortly after the June 28 launch.

The 1,000–2,000-kilometer range of India's new Agni-P missile suggests that the weapon was designed as a counter to Pakistan’s forces, not China's. (Photo by Press Information Bureau on behalf of Ministry of Defence, Government of India)The Agni-P will be inaugurated as “a new-generation advanced variant” of Agni missile, the official confirmed. The solid-fueled missile has a reported range of 1,000 to 2,000 kilometers and can be canisterised, according to Indian defense officials, meaning that the warhead will be mated and stored with the missile, reducing the time required for preparation and launch.

India’s Press Information Bureau confirmed the launch, the first for this missile, from Abdul Kalam Island. The Ministry of Defence said that “various telemetry and radar stations positioned along the eastern coast tracked and monitored the missile. The missile followed textbook trajectory, meeting all mission objectives with a high level of accuracy.”

The DRDO said that, like other Agni missiles, the new one is nuclear capable.

New Delhi’s development of the Agni-P could be attributed to a push for increased flexibility and expanded targeting options. “Compared with both the Agni-I and -II, imagery suggests that the new missile appears to be wider in diameter, potentially allowing for a larger payload to be accommodated,” Timothy Wright and Joseph Dempsey of the International Institute for Strategic Studies wrote in a July 29 analysis.

They suggested that, “unless India intends to solely use the Agni-P for nuclear weapons delivery,” the missile’s designation as nuclear capable “potentially leaves open the option that the new missile could be equipped, like some earlier variants of the Agni family, with either conventional or nuclear warheads.”

The Agni-P’s range suggests that the missile was designed to counter Pakistan’s forces, given that the distance is not far enough to reach China, India’s other primary regional adversary. Wright, Dempsey, and other analysts have noted that, once deployed, the Agni-P will serve as a deterrent against Pakistani aggression. Pakistan and China remained silent on the June 28 launch.—JULIA MASTERSON

India Tests New Agni Missile

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