US set to suspend compliance with the INF Treaty today

In a move that will still make nuclear war in Europe more likely, the US is today expected to suspend its compliance with the INF Treaty (Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed by the US and then USSR in 1987) -- rather than withdraw from it as originally announced. However, the US may also give notice of its intent to withdraw.

According to Beatrice Fihn, head of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning ICAN, "Suspension from a bilateral treaty is different from withdrawal from it as suspension means that the treaty continues to exist. It appears that the United States will suspend its compliance with the treaty on Friday on the basis that the Russian Novator 9M729 missile is within the prohibited missile range (more than 500 km). By suspending its compliance with the Treaty based on a material breach by Russia, it means the United States will be able to deploy prohibited missiles in Europe. Russia will still be bound by the treaty, but could of course respond by saying that they are in compliance so US suspension is itself unlawful, or themselves suspend or withdraw from treaty as a reaction to the US actions.

"Withdrawal means a state intends no longer to be a party to a treaty. In the case of the INF treaty there is a six-month notice period. This is to allow time for discussions or negotiations in case it is possible to resolve the problem. If there is no amicable resolution and the United States does give formal notice of withdrawal, it will no longer be a party to the INF Treaty. Similarly, Russia will, in all likelihood, no longer be bound either."

Further reading: Why the INF treaty matters -- and -- Why we all need the INF Treaty.

Photo: Soviet inspectors and their American escorts stand among several dismantled Pershing II missiles as they view the destruction of other missile components. The missiles are being destroyed in accordance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. 14 January 1989. Photo: Wikimedia Commons / US Department of Defense / MSGT Jose Lopez Jr.


Trump administration secretly shipped radioactive plutonium to Nevada despite state’s opposition

The US Department of Energy secretly shipped about half a metric ton of weapons-grade radioactive plutonium to Nevada last November without informing state authorities. Court filings revealed this week that the Trump administration’s National Nuclear Security Administration transferred the lethal plutonium from South Carolina after which, unaware of the transfer, the state of Nevada sued to stop the shipment. Nevada Governor, Steve Sisolak (D) this week expressed outrage at “this  completely unacceptable deception from the US Department of Energy.” Democratic Nevada senator, Jacky Rosen, said the secret shipment had put “the health and safety of thousands of Nevadans and Americans who live in close proximity to shipment routes” at risk.

See links to extensive news coverage, as well as to the State of Nevada's lawsuit filings opposed to the weapons-grade plutonium shipments.


NRC Commissioners in partisan vote slash agency rulemaking on severe accident upgrades for US reactors

On January 24, 2019, a majority of five voting members of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) rolled back more than seven years of the agency’s technical study on the hazards and  lessons learned for US reactors from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear catastrophe.  In a vote along party lines, the three Presidentially appointed Republican Commissioners voted against incorporating years of new science and management strategies to safely contain a severe nuclear accident following extreme earthquakes and flooding. The Commission vote drastically undercut a requirement to industry operators to make safety upgrades at U.S. nuclear power stations that were built decades ago. Instead of requiring operators to upgrade, the Commission reduced the rule to allowing industry voluntary compliance, effectively stripping the agency of enforcement action.  Nuclear power stations will now only pay but a small fraction of the cost for implementing Fukushima upgrades determined as necessary by agency staff and independent nuclear safety experts.

The Commission majority voted to allow licensees to ignore modern methods and science to quantify and qualify the hazards from extreme natural events including earthquake and flooding on nuclear safety as demonstrated in the Fukushima catastrophe. Instead, operators will be allowed to rely upon the outdated  hazard analysis that the original reactor design was licensed under, also known as “design basis accidents.”  

As Fukushima's GE Mark I boiling water reactors were not designed and constructed  to withstand the extreme flooding of the 50-foot tsunami generated by a 9-magnitude earthquake, the nuclear power plant site experience three severe accidents that led to multiple reactor core meltdowns and breaches of containment. US reactors are similarly not adequately prepared for extreme but real world events such as unprecedented flooding created from climate change and “beyond design basis accidents” earthquakes.

“This outcome is a complete U-turn for NRC,” said appointed Democrat Commissioner Jeff Baran in his notated vote sheet for the protection of the public safety from nuclear accidents.  Baran charged his Republican members of the Commission as gutting the rule of key Fukushima lessons learned and actions needed to address critical safety vulnerabilities in US reactors. Commissioner went on to say, “The changes to the final rule supported by the majority will, in my view, significantly weaken what will be the agency's most enduring action as a result of lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident. In doing so, the Commission will have systematically and inexplicably unraveled a framework for addressing beyond-design-basis external events carefully crafted as a collaborative effort between the NRC staff and our external stakeholders over the past seven and a half years.”

NRC Commissioner Stephen Burns, who was equally disturbed by the Commission vote, in his remarks  quoted from the official report of the National Diet of Japan's Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, where Chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa said, “The earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 were natural disasters of a magnitude that shocked the entire world. Although triggered by these cataclysmic events, the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant cannot be regarded as a natural disaster. It was a profoundly manmade disaster that could and should have been foreseen and prevented. And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response.”

Voting to ignore some of the most important lessons of Fukushima, strip the agency of enforcement capability and shield an already financially beleaguered U.S. nuclear power from the cost of staff recommended actions and upgrades were Chairwoman Kristine Svenicki, Commissioner Annie Caputo and Commissioner David Wright.


Senator Markey and Congressman Lieu reintroduce their No First Use bill




Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) -- above right -- and Representative Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) today reintroduced their bill that would stop the President of the United States from authorizing a nuclear first strike without congressional approval. In prepared statements and a press release, Lieu pointed out how much more dangerous this eventuality has become under the impulsive Donald Trump. “Trump’s brand is to be unpredictable and rash, which is exactly what you don’t want the person who possesses the nuclear football to be,” said Lieu. Markey agreed, saying “No American President, and certainly not Donald Trump, should have the power to launch a first use nuclear first strike absent such an attack without explicit Congressional approval." The bill is “Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2019” (H.R.669/S.200). A number of representatives from arms control groups also spoke at the press conference. A video of the press conference is available on Congressman Lieu's Twitter page -- scroll for January 28 tweets. Read more.


Allies Move to Block World's Largest High-Level Radioactive Dump and Transport Scheme

See the press release re: an environmental coalition's (including Beyond Nuclear) effort to halt Holtec International and Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance from "temporarily storing" 173,600 metric tons of highly radioactive waste in New Mexico, 2.5 times the amount targeted at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

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