Arms Control Wonk ArmsControlWonk


Aaron and Jeffrey talk with Theresa Hitchens, the Director of UNIDIR, about life in Geneva, space, and emerging technologies. The podcast begins with some useful tips for cheese lovers and Jeffrey’s advice for finding the perfect sausage, before moving on to a discussion about difficulties in defining a “space weapon,” the Russian and Chinese approaches to space issues, cyber threats, and the need for the US to craft a more comprehensive policy to address future proliferation threats.


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It has been a while since I wrote here. Since I am too busy, or perhaps too lazy, to write my own updates, I thought it would be nice to forward something Hugh Chalmers wrote on the recent adoption, by consensus, of the safeguards resolution.

Some of you will know that the last year was difficult for those working in the safeguards community. The so-called State-Level Concept (SLC) was under attack.

Now, ever since the Agency adopted the Additional Protocol, it has worked to streamline safeguards implementation and make it more cost-effective. One way in which the secretariat has aspired to do so is by introducing “integrated safeguards.” This work started in 1998. As the Agency itself puts it, the “term refers to the optimum combination of all safeguards measures available to the Agency, including those from the Additional Protocol, to achieve maximum effectiveness and efficiency within the available resources.” The state level concept is part of this overall effort.

So the state level concept is not news. One can find references to it dating back to the mid-2000s. Despite this, the concept was challenged by a minority of member states over the last year. The principal concern for some states appears to have been that the SLC risked introducing additional rights or obligations for the member states or the Agency, going beyond already adopted regulations (in particular the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement and its Additional Protocol). The IAEA Secretariat has made it clear that it does not, and the General Conference has welcomed this in their annual resolution.

Anyway, this is what Hugh Chalmers will put up on the VERTIC website tomorrow:

The 58th General Conference (GC) of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded last week having successfully passed a safeguards resolution that may have secured the future of a previously contentious element of the Agency’s safeguards system, namely the so-called state level concept. The Conference also avoided a controversial resolution over Israel’s nuclear capabilities. Some IAEA member states have argued that the resolution, if passed, could have jeopardised Israel’s engagement with a conference on a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free-Zone (MEWMDFZ). This conference has been viewed as a key step towards a successful review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2015.

Israel’s Nuclear Capabilities
With the 2015 NPT Review Conference looming over the horizon, and with the November deadline for P5+1 talks with Iran fast approaching, delegates may have been keen to establish constructive and convivial atmosphere. After three years of stalled progress towards a conference on a MEWMDFZ, a series of meetings between Israel and Arab states held at the Hotel Victoria in the mountain resort of Glion, Switzerland, had generated an air of almost cautious optimism. Sustained momentum and continued dialogue could lead to an agreed agenda, and perhaps even a conference itself—which Middle Eastern states would then find diplomatically difficult to avoid. Punishing Israel’s actions in Gaza by singling out their nuclear capabilities at the GC would, as Israel made it clear in its statement to the plenary, have ‘serious implications’ for this burgeoning dialogue. Fifty-eight states were unwilling to take this risk, compared to 45 who were, and the resolution on ‘Israeli Nuclear Capabilities’ was rejected. The last time a version of this resolution passed was on 17 September 2009, with 49 votes in favour, 45 against and 16 abstentions. It has been defeated every year since.

The State Level Concept
The Agency’s efforts over the past year to clarify the ‘state level concept’ at the heart of its safeguards system also paid off. The term was first introduced to the Board of Governors in 2004, but came under unexpected scrutiny in 2012 when Russia led a number of states in expressing concern over its implications. The Agency published two reports; ‘The Conceptualization and Development of Safeguards Implementation at the State Level‘ in 2013, and the 61-page Supplementary Document to the 2013 report in August this year in response to lingering concerns in the Board. This latter report is the result of an intense consultation process between the Agency and its members, which included six technical meetings throughout 2014, and gives a highly detailed account of the state level concept and its implementation.

The state level concept aims to give consideration to the state as a whole. As highlighted by Director General Yukiya Amano in his introductory statement to the Board of Governors on 9 September 2013, it ‘does not change, or go beyond, the existing legal framework for safeguards. It does not alter any State’s legal obligations with respect to safeguards.’ He noted that it ‘enables [the IAEA] to concentrate [its] in-field verification efforts in a State on areas of greater safeguards significance and results in better use of Agency resources.’

After the shortcomings of the Agency’s traditional approach to safeguards were laid bare in the 1990s by the revelations of Iraq’s clandestine nuclear program, the Agency adopted a more holistic approach to planning its safeguards activities. The state level concept allows the Agency to use state-specific factors (such as total nuclear fuel cycle, technical capabilities, and the safeguards agreement itself) to plan safeguards activities, with the aim of improving both their effectiveness and efficiency.

Importantly, the extent to which the Agency can ‘tweak’ its safeguards activities depends upon the range of activities made available to it through individual safeguards agreements with its members. Those with only a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (CSA) in force would find that very little changes are made to verification efforts in their state from one year to the next, with the original safeguards criteria still providing the primary basis for determining these efforts. In the case of states whose CSA is augmented by an Additional Protocol (AP), the Agency may be able to draw a broader conclusion ‘that all nuclear material in a State has remained in peaceful activities’, and subsequently streamline the implementation of the many activities afforded to it by this augmented agreement.

Trust in the Agency
While the exact nature and origins of the concerns raised in 2012 and 2013 are unclear — state level approaches have been discussed by the General Conference since 2006 without giving rise to similar concerns — the safeguards resolution adopted last week can shed some light. As various drafts of the resolution were released it was clear that while the conference generally welcomed the Agency’s work in clarifying the concept, states felt it necessary to highlight five aspects of this clarification as particularly noteworthy. By emphasising that the Agency is not abusing the concept to acquire the same rights and powers offered by the Additional Protocol, nor is it using information on state level factors for any purpose other than safeguards, the resolution reveals the surprisingly deep level of mistrust held by a vocal minority of member states.

In some cases, this mistrust may have emerged from genuine concern over the manner in which the state level concept was developed and communicated to member states. The Agency’s consultation process seems to have addressed these, and while the conference welcomed continued engagement with the Agency on this issue, it is unlikely that the IAEA will have to make such a concerted outreach on this topic again. In other cases, this mistrust may have emerged from a more general fear over the future direction of safeguards. A former section head of the Agency’s Office of Legal Affairs highlighted this when she associated disputes over the state level concept with a challenge to the Agency’s obligation to verify both the correctness and completeness of a state’s declarations, no matter what agreement they are reported through.

The resolution adopted last week gives little opportunity for such a challenge to take hold within the General Conference. Preambular language stresses the importance of verifying both the correctness and completeness of state declarations, and notes that the Agency’s ability to do this should be increased. Any attempt to mount a challenge to this by objecting to ambiguities or uncertainties in the state level concept will be very hard now that most of these ambiguities and uncertainties are explicitly addressed in the resolution. Nevertheless, the acceptance of the Agency’s approach to safeguards may be tested more at the coalface than in the conference hall. The Agency’s long-running investigation into Iran’s nuclear programme will continue to be a very visible test of the IAEA’s safeguards system. If this system fails to resolve this investigation in a manner that neither compromises a potential diplomatic solution nor tarnishes the Agency’s apolitical status, more questions may be raised in the future as to its suitability.

Disarming Language
The safeguards resolution adopted at the General Conference also goes a long way to cementing the importance of maintaining the Agency’s capabilities to verify any disarmament or arms control agreement it is asked to monitor. While language related to this capability has long been supported by many member states, it has either been rejected for expediency or relegated to the preambular paragraphs. By ‘noting that the Agency must remain ready to assist […] with verification tasks under nuclear disarmament or arms control agreements’, this issue will remain worthy of detailed consideration in many conferences to come.

What happens now remains to be seen. The best outcome would be that member states now feel that they have the assurance that they desired. This would enable the Agency to continue to develop this important safeguards measure in a way that is efficient and adaptive to changes in technology, but above all in a way that effectively builds assurance that member states have comprehensively declared their stockpiles of source and special fissionable material.


For the second year in a row, a PSA regarding the Isodarco conference!

since 1966
Italian Pugwash Group
International School on Disarmament and Research on Conflicts
28th Winter Course on:
ANDALO (TRENTO) – ITALY    -    7 – 14 January 2015
Directors of the Course: Paolo Foradori (School of International Studies, University of Trento, Italy)
Tariq Rauf (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Sweden)

Course Description:
Contrary to ill-founded expectations, the end of the Cold War did not eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons. Although we have likely escaped the danger of a nuclear Armageddon, the presence and proliferation of nuclear weapons continue to pose a serious threat to today’s global security and the risk of their deliberate or accidental use due to human or technical failure is high. The concept of global nuclear governance describes the complex, multi-level web of actors, rules, treaties, informal arrangements, initiatives and networks that together form the regime that the international community has over the years set up to deal with the management and regulation of nuclear weapons, their sensitive technologies and delivery means. The fundamental goal of the system of global nuclear governance is to combat the proliferation of nuclear weapons, thereby assuring the safety and security of nuclear material, while also delegitimizing the weapons’ value and helping create the conditions for sustained progress toward disarmament. The 2015 Isodarco Winter School will address and deepen our understanding of the main elements of the nuclear governance system, review their functions, highlight strengths and limitations, and propose possible remedies to enhance their effectiveness.

Principal Lecturers:
Sameh Aboul Einen (Ambassador, Deputy Assistant Foreign Minister, Cairo, Egypt); Alexei Arbatov (IMEMO and Carnegie Endowment, Moscow, Russian Federation); Nadia Arbatova (IMEMO and Deputy Chair of Russian Pugwash, Moscow, Russian Federation); Jacek Bylica (Principal Adviser and Special Envoy for Non-proliferation and Disarmament, European Union External Action Service); Paolo Cotta-Ramusino (Secretary General of PUGWASH Conferences on Science and World Affairs, Milan, Italy); Mark Fitzpatrick (International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), London, UK); Catherine Kelleher
(University of Maryland, College Park, USA);
Robert Kelley (formerly IAEA Department of Safeguards and Los Alamos National Laboratory, Vienna, Austria); Feroz Khan (US Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, USA; Brigadier (ret’d.) Pakistan Army); Stefan Klement (Strategic Planning Division, European External Action Service, Brussels, Belgium); Alexander Kmentt, Ambassador and Director for Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Austrian Foreign  Ministry, Vienna, Austria; Jeffrey A. Larsen (NATO Defense College, Rome, Italy); Martin Malin (Managing the Atom, Belfer Center, Harvard University, USA); Grégoire Mallard (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, Switzerland); Vladimir Orlov (President, PIR Centre, Moscow, Russian Federation); Benoît Pelopidas (University of Bristol, UK, and CISAC affiliate, Stanford University, USA); Wolfango Plastino (Roma Tre University, Rome, Italy); Enrique Román-Morey (Ambassador of Peru to Portugal; Chairman, 2014 NPT PrepCom; Vice President UN General Assembly 2012-2013); Carlo Trezza (Chairman, Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Italy).

Confirmation is expected from additional eminent scientists who have been invited to lecture at the School.
The course will be articulated in formal lectures, round tables, seminars offered by the participants and general open discussions.


On June 11th, during its rapid conquest of large portions of the Sunni Arab regions of Iraq, ISIS captured the Al Muthanna chemical-weapons production facility (Iraq’s primary production plant under Saddam). However, the plant has largely disappeared from news coverage, following State Department reassurances of its inability to be used for production purposes due to heavy bombardment during the First Gulf War. What, in fact, was inside the plant?  And what remains? This roundup is intended to give an overview of the Al Muthanna facility, and offer resources to help assess the risk it poses in ISIS hands.

Compliance Report – Department of State (AVC) | AVC report on Iraq’s declared chemical weapons in 2013.  The report states:

Due to the fact that the chemical weapon storage facilities (CWSF) bunkers containing declared CW are sealed and have only incomplete UN documentation in relation to their contents, Iraq has had difficulty in formulating its General Plan for Destruction of its declared CW.

It seems that the contents of the bunker, and of Iraq’s chemical arsenal, may not have been as definite as previously postulated.

Al Muthanna Chemical Weapons Complex – | The online library on the CIA’s website provides an overview of the Al Muthanna facility from the 2004 Comprehensive Report of the Special Adviser to the DCI on Iraq’s WMD, a.k.a. the Duelfer Report. [The preceding sentence has been corrected. -Ed.]  The plant itself served as the center of the Iraqi chemical weapons production program.  Throughout the Iran-Iraq war, the plant produced almost 4,000 tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, Sarin, and Tabun.  Egyptian assistance allowed Iraqis to construct the Grad 122 mm rocket delivery system. The program remained relatively secret until 1986, when the BBC aired a segment entitled “The Secrets of Samarra.”  Following Operation Desert Storm, the research facilities and bomb-assembly area were destroyed.  The report then details cleanup efforts post-Gulf War, and into the late 1990s.

Muthanna State Establishment – Federation of Atomic Scientists | The FAS report offers another description of the Muthanna site, further describing the capabilities of the facility, as well as its layout.

Jonathan Tucker, “Iraq Faces Major Challenges in Destroying Its Legacy Chemical Weapons” – CNS | This CNS report from 2010 discusses chemical-weapons destruction efforts up until that time. At the time, Iraq requested United States assistance in the cleanup operation. Iraq has continued to be vocal about its need for assistance, and in 2012, the UK sent a group of experts to train their Iraqi counterparts in disposal techniques.  The risks of leaking chemical agents within the facility make any action extremely expensive, in the range of $500 million according to this report.

2011 Annual Report – OPCW | The OPCW’s overall statement in 2011, covering every state it is in contact with. Due to physical and organizational barriers surrounding Iraqi chemical weapons disposal (the Al Muthanna plant is suspected to have been contaminated by poorly stored chemical munitions), the first site inspections occurred in 2011 via helicopter.  No disposal efforts were made.  The Muthanna facility was one of six CWPF’s that had not been destroyed or converted to non-weapon production.

Iraqi Progress Report – OPCW | Iraq filed a report in 2012 with the OPCW detailing its cleanup efforts regarding the Al Muthanna plant.  The government stated that:

Irreversibly encapsulating in concrete the remnants of chemical weapons in bunker 13 by filling the bunker with self-consolidating (“liquid”) concrete (referred to as “encapsulation”) represents, in Iraq’s view, the safest approach for destruction which would pose the lowest risk to the safety of the personnel involved in the process and to the environment.

The report goes on to discuss Iraq’s proposed disposal plan as of 2012.

Amy Woolf, Paul Kerr, and Mary Beth Nikitin, “Arms Control and Nonproliferation: A Catalog of Treaties and Agreements” - CRS | The report catalogs the most recent available knowledge about CW disposal programs in Iraq.  As of December 2013, Iraq had both submitted a plan for CW cleanup operations at the Al Muthanna site, and was working in conjunction with UK, Swiss, and German scientists in preparation and execution. These efforts were clearly suspended after the ISIS capture of the plant.  It is unclear how much progress was made prior to June 11th.


Experts in the United States have taken note of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s (RMFA) claims regarding “the main problems” with implementation of the Treaty between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Elimination of Their Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles, together with its Memorandum of Understanding and two Protocols, collectively referred to as the INF Treaty, signed at Washington on December 8, 1987, and which entered into force on June 1, 1988.

RMFA specifically states that:

 [W]e have a lot of claims to the United States in the context of the Treaty.  These are tests of target-missiles of missile defence, which have similar characteristics to intermediate-range missiles, production of armed drones by the  Americans, which evidently are covered by the definition of ground-launched cruise missiles in the Treaty. The topic of Mk-41 launch systems, which the United States intend to deploy in Poland and Romania within the framework of the implementation of their “stage-by-stage adaptive approach” to the deployment of a global missile defence, has been quite topical lately.  These launch systems can launch intermediate-range cruise missiles, but their ground-launched version can be perceived as a direct violation of the INF Treaty.

Leaving aside RMFA’s tone, style and indecorous language preceding these partial charges, the only reason RMFA has made public allegations of U.S. violation(s) of the INF Treaty is that the United States has made a public finding that the Russian Federation violated its ban on launches of any ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) of a range banned by the Treaty and that can be a weapon-delivery vehicle.  Moscow has previously raised similar issues in the past, to no result.  Assertion of U.S. violation(s) is not a defense against the specific claim made by the United States in respect of Russia’s GLCM launch and violation, for which RMFA has had no public response, to date.

Regarding the three RMFA claims of U.S. violations of the INF Treaty, please see the following responses:

[T]ests of target-missiles of missile defense, which have similar characteristics to intermediate-range missiles [.]

This issue has been raised repeatedly for as many years as the United States has been launching targets for its Pacific Test Bed from Vandenberg Air Force Base.  It is unclear why, then, in the context of the New START Treaty, specifically under paragraph (3) of Article V of the New START Treaty, Russian negotiators agreed to exclude five silos converted to target vehicle launchers for that treaty’s ban on offense-defense fixed silo launcher conversion, and vice versa.  If severe concern existed at the time, as is evidently and retrospectively declared in RMFA’s press statement, it is thus hard to understand Russian claims made now that, apparently, test launches of target vehicles, generally, are violations of the INF Treaty.  Should Moscow wished to have banned all such tests from any fixed, land-based silo launcher on the pretext of an INF Treaty violation, why did it agree to grandfather already converted silos at Vandenberg Air Force Base?

Further, paragraph (3) of Article VII of the INF Treaty specifically provides, in full, that “If a [ground-launched ballistic missile] is of a type developed and tested solely to intercept objects not located on the surface of the earth, it shall not be considered to be a missile to which the limitations of this treaty apply.”   RMFA may claim that because missile stages used as target vehicles were formerly accountable under START I, when fully assembled, that they can be equipped and fired with nuclear armament, presumably at a range shorter than 5,500 kilometers, and since clearly any missile defense interceptor missile used to strike a target vehicle cannot be limited by Article VII.3 of the INF Treaty.  However, U.S. missile defense tests, to date, have been transparent, and the United States has gone to great lengths to demonstrate to Moscow that its claims are spurious.  While any stage or stages of a missile formerly accountable as a stage or stages of a type of missile accountable as a strategic offensive arm (SOA) were not developed specifically for use as a target vehicle, their continued elimination in this manner is permissible and well within the bounds of residual, non-binding limitations pertaining to each.  None of these formerly accountable SOA stages are used in any offensive nuclear weapon-delivery system in the United States, nor are they interchanged with any SOA.  The United States does not possess and has not possessed any such program, unlike the USSR/Russia, which did interchange the first stage of its SS-25 SOA with the INF-banned SS-20, and was the only permissible exception contained in the INF Treaty, and necessitated the use of portal-perimeter continuous monitoring (PPCM), which is no longer undertaken in either the Russian Federation or in the United States by either side.  Russia had the option argue for continued PPCM in the New START Treaty, even after the United States indicated it no longer wished to continue it.  Russia also may use its quota of inspection/exhibitions under New START to confirm the non-deployed status of any fixed ICBM silo in the United States converted to launch missile defense target vehicles, at least one of which it has already undertaken in 2013.

Further, RMFA’s public comment does not include specific reference to the “similar characteristics” shared by declared, eliminated and banned U.S. INF-range weapon-delivery missiles and any target vehicle used in missile defense tests.  Should Moscow wish to further articulate these characteristics, the United States would be much obliged.

Simultaneously, however, Moscow must also provide a complete, full and consistent declaration as to the characteristics of all ground-launched cruise missiles implicated in the U.S. noncompliance finding it may possess, in a manner identical to the requirements contained in the Memorandum of Understanding Regarding the Establishment of the Database for the INF Treaty, to include any launchers and support equipment, deployment areas and all other required information.  Moscow must undertake to provide the United States with this information, posthaste.  If it is Moscow’s position that it has tested, but not deployed the banned GLCM, then, in in a manner similar to the requirements of Section V of the INF MOU for all intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles that were tested prior to the entry into force of the INF Treaty but never deployed and that were not existing types of intermediate-range or shorter-range missiles listed in Article III of the Treaty, Moscow shall provide identical information, should it admit its violation with respect to the banned GLCM, for the banned missile it has today.  This shall include the numbers of all such missiles and of all launchers of such missiles and which should be listed by the missile support facility at which such items are located.  The location of each missile support facility must also be provided, including site diagrams.

[P]roduction of armed drones by the Americans, which evidently are covered by the definition of ground-launched cruise missiles in the Treaty.

No specific type of “armed drone” is recorded in RMFA’s statement.  Presumably, reference is made to types of U.S.-produced unmanned aerial vehicles capable of aerodynamic flight over the majority of their flight path within a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers and which is the rough definition of a GLCM contained in paragraph (2) of Article II of the INF Treaty.  The United States has made every effort in the context of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) to ensure that unmanned systems do not contribute to the proliferation of cruise and ballistic missile technology.  Several Russian sales of various systems have been problematic for these efforts; in particular, its sales of Iskander-E to states like Syria.  Additionally, while exclusively conventionally-armed U.S. unmanned aerial systems are now common in and among our Allies, there is no evidence provided by Moscow proving that any of them are “weapon-delivery vehicles” as the term is used in the INF Treaty.  There is no allegation in the RMFA statement concerning whether or not any unnamed unmanned system has been flight-tested or deployed for weapon-delivery, and thus even if a U.S. unmanned system is launched from land, it does not meet the other tests imposed under the INF Treaty that would render any such system subject to and constitute a violation of the INF Treaty.

Additionally, official Moscow has had no comment on sales of the Club-K Container Missile System, marketing data for which appear to advertise an ability to covertly conceal a cruise missile of shorter-range in and among common commercial freight deliveries, to include marketing of the systems with an unmanned drone or satellite support to guide the Club-K to targets, and includes launches from rail- and road-mobile freight containers/launchers on land, for which such launchers are specifically designed, and from which the Club-K strikes targets located on the surface of the earth.  Flight characteristics and range capabilities are difficult to determine based on publicly available data for the Club-K.

“[The] Mk-41 launch systems, which the United States intend to deploy in Poland and Romania within the framework of the implementation of their ‘stage-by-stage adaptive approach’ to the deployment of a global missile defence.”

The United States publicly announced the first launch of an SM-3 Block IB from a Mark 41 Vertical Launch System (Mk 41 VLS) from Hawaii early this year at the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex (AAMDTC). To date, Russia has not publicly disclosed the date or dates of its launch of any GLCM, which may bear directly on Russian compliance with its binding obligation not to fire any such system in the INF Treaty.  Again, per previously cited text contained within the INF Treaty, a U.S. VLS launcher deployed on land, the exclusive purpose of which is to fire an intercepting missile at an object not located on the surface of the earth, and which is not developed or designed to launch any weapon-delivery vehicle as that term is used in the INF Treaty, does not appear to be a prima facie violation of the INF Treaty.  Furthermore, the United States has offered on a continued basis cooperation with the Russian Federation in the area of missile defense, since at least 2004 under the previous U.S. President.  At each stage, it has been rebuffed with demands for more information that would compromise the military effectiveness of the systems in question or constitute informal limitations on the range, speed, number and location of such defenses, which the United States cannot and will not accept.

It is also wholly unclear whether a VLS based on land would constitute a fixed launcher for a ground-launched ballistic missile (GLBM launcher) under paragraph (3) of Article II of the INF Treaty.  In addition,  paragraph (7) of Artice II states, in full, that “If a launcher has been tested for launching a GLBM or a GLCM, all launchers of that type shall be considered to have been tested for launching GLBMs or GLCMs.”  While sea-based, the VLS can host a variety of missiles, depending on the deployed missile canister.  Certain software changes can also modify the VLS at sea.  However, the VLS deployed in Poland and Romania will not house any missile other than the Raytheon Standard Missile Three, which is of a type of missile developed and tested solely to intercept objects not located on the surface of the earth.

Lastly, as was repeatedly noted to Moscow since 2009, regional, adaptive U.S. missile defenses in NATO pose no threat to the SOA of the Russian Federation, and are not part of a global missile defense system.  However, Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty is highly likely to result in reexamination of American plans to cancel certain aspects of its Phased and Adaptive Approach to missile defenses, least not in the U.S. Congress, but equally within the U.S. Government as a whole, to include taking required defensive measures to protect any VLS-ashore in any American ally’s territory.  Russia had many options, but by taking a path of noncompliance with the treaty that fundamentally established the conditions necessary for nuclear arms reductions in Europe, it now wishes to return to an arms race.  By intimating that U.S. missile defenses are a violation of the INF Treaty, Moscow perhaps gives away its own rationale for noncompliance.  We should take steps to ensure no advantage results, including defending our Allies and deployed forces from INF-range attack.

Finally, as other U.S. experts have noted, in particular Jeffrey Lewis, it is the Russian Federation, not the United States, that continues to mix conventional and nuclear missile defense.  It perhaps now has begun to mix conventional and nuclear offense in a force of banned INF-range weapons.

Should Moscow wish to engage in a public debate regarding U.S. arms control compliance, both the Government and people of the United States would welcome any such effort.  Citation of legally defective and intentionally vague accusations in response to a specific, public finding of noncompliance achieves nothing.


A quick PSA, courtesy of Jeffrey, regarding the CTBT Public Policy course sponsored by the CTBTO that runs from September 1st to September 9th.  The info link is here, and I have included the majority of it below as well:

About the Course

The course will comprehensively cover the policy and legal aspects of the CTBT, including its entry-into-force and universalization, as well as the CTBT verification technologies and the civil and scientific applications of monitoring data. The course will feature interactive panel discussions and keynote lectures by renowned international experts, as well as presentations on technical and scientific aspects of the CTBT verification regime.

The course will also aim to raise awareness about the importance of the on-site inspection regime, especially in light of the upcoming Integrated Field Exercise 2014. Building on the first week of panel discussions and presentations, the final two days of the course will consist of an interactive exercise, a simulation of a future Executive Council consideration of an on-site inspection request. This exercise will challenge participants to put into practice the ideas and concepts discussed throughout the course.

The CTBT Public Policy Course: Verification through Diplomacy and Science may be taken completely online or in person in Vienna.

There is no registration fee for participation in the course either online or in-person.

More course details, including the course agenda, will be made available soon.

Target Audience

The course is open to anyone interested in the CTBT and its verification regime including, but not limited to, diplomats, government representatives, staff members of international organizations, NDC analysts, station operators, researchers, journalists, students and other members of civil society. Given the timing and scope of this course, newly arrived diplomats or international organization staff members may find participating in this course beneficial.

Course Registration

To register for the course, follow the steps below:

  1. Sign up for a CTBT Education Community account here
  2. After your account has been activated, navigate to the course homepage and self-enrol in the course
  3. If you plan on participating in the course in-person in Vienna, please follow the additional steps below

Please contact us at should you have any questions about the course or the registration process.

In Person Participation in Vienna

Participants who plan to take the course in person in Vienna are requested to submit a CV and brief statement of motivation as part of the enrolment process. The deadline for in-person participation registration is 25 August.

With financial support from the European Union and the Kingdom of Norway, limited funding is available to cover travel to Vienna and accommodation for individuals from developing countries. Participants requiring funding should indicate in their statement of motivation that they request funding for in-person participation and explain how they would benefit from the course and how the skills and knowledge acquired during the course would be put into practice. The statement of motivation should be submitted as soon as possible, but no later than 4 August. Funding is contingent upon the applicant securing a visa if applicable.

Following acceptance, all participants will be expected to complete the online e-learning modules on the CTBT Education Portal prior to the 1 September, as well as obtain a Certificate of Successful Completion by meeting all course requirements by 10 October 2014.

Confirmation of Participation in Vienna

Once your application for in-person participation has been approved, an e-mail notification as well important logistical information will be sent by a course administrator.

Online Course Participation

The course homepage will serve as the main reference point for accessing all course materials including the online interactive modules, quizzes, updates and discussion forums. A live stream of all course lectures and presentations, as well as an archive of these sessions will be made available on the course homepage for later viewing. Participants will also have an opportunity to submit questions and comments to course presenters in advance of each session or in real-time on the course homepage.

The Executive Council simulation will present collaborative opportunities for participants to provide various inputs in support of developing the position and strategy for each country team. Dedicated discussion forums and collaborative workspaces will be available for each country team facilitating cooperation between online and in-person participants. The assignment of country teams will take place on the week of 25 August. Please note that individual requests for country assignments will not be accepted as the assignment of country teams is an automated process.

Course Format

The course will consist of the following elements:

  • robust interactive online modules (available week of 14 July);
  • live lectures from leading CTBT experts (1 – 5 September);
  • a simulation exercise (8 – 9 September);
  • assessment quizzes (to be completed by 1 September);
  • a peer reviewed essay (to be completed by 23 September);
  • and a final quiz (to be completed by 10 October);.

Participants who successfully complete the course requirements will be issued a Certificate of Successful Completion.


The most practical lesson I learned at Generation Prague was to never show up 25 minutes early to a State Department event, as doors typically open 25 minutes after they are scheduled to do so.  My fellow compatriots and I endured 50 minutes of a coffee-less morning until finally, at 8:25, we were processed through security.  Thankfully, the conference inside made the wait worth it.

The list of speakers included Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Chief of the UN Joint Mission in Syria Sigrid Kaag, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs Andrew Weber, former Lieutenant General and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Director Frank Klotz, Under Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, and STRATCOM commander Admiral Cecil Haney.

Aside from a few technical difficulties (such as Lieutenant General Klotz’s microphone not functioning until midway through his speech), the conference went off without a hitch.  It focused on innovation in national security, primarily via the application of technology and youth engagement using social media. Senator Murphy delivered a keynote address in which he emphasized the non-traditional nature of 21st century national security threats.  He argued that nuclear weapons overall have become a liability, due to the rapidly diminishing value of nuclear deterrence.  Cyber threats and small-scale crises neither require nor can be remedied by the blunt force a nuclear solution entails.  Additionally, the traditional concepts of deterrence theory cannot be as readily applied due to the rise of non-state actors, and the increasingly blurred distinction between sovereign nations, proxy organizations, and terrorist groups (e.g. ISIS).  Even when deterrence applies, such as with great powers like the Russian Federation, the cold war era approach to deterrence are no longer effective in areas like Eastern Europe, due to the shift away from traditional ground forces and greater reliance on quasi-covert operations.  Nevertheless, stated Senator Murphy, the threat of United States use of military force must be seen as a credible.

One of the main foreign policy events the conference focused on heavily was the Syrian Chemical Weapons situation. Sigrid Kaag, the head of the UN Joint Mission in Syria, discussed the immense physical, political, and financial obstacles her team encountered during the weapons removal program.  Through her description and the comments of various other speakers, one could detect the consensus that the Syrian Chemical Weapons crisis was being viewed and marketed as an overwhelming victory for the United Nations and the State Department.  The oft-repeated narrative stated that the Join Mission represented a paragon of international cooperation, with ships from a wide variety of nations working tirelessly in tandem to remove chemical agents from Syrian borders for their destruction offshore, despite escalating tensions between the United States and its allies and the Russian Federation due to the Ukrainian crisis.  Despite different approaches, the great powers had come together on this one issue to rid the region of chemical arms, using a little bit of Russian arm-twisting and United States military potential to ensure the compliance of the Assad regime.

The conference also addressed the twin-pronged threat of bioweapons and infectious diseases and pandemics.  Assistant Secretary of Defense Weber heavily emphasized the broad and varied nature of biological threats (making nonproliferation and security efforts focused on biological weaponry extremely difficult).  Biosecurity, more so than any other type of WMD nonproliferation effort, requires international cooperation, due to the ease of producing and distributing biological agents as demonstrated by the 2001 Anthrax Attacks in the United States.  Most importantly, bioweapons only represent half of the threat in biological security, with the destructive ability of naturally occurring pathogens and drug-resistant viruses and bacteria posing a grave threat to peace and stability.  Without international communication, Assistant Secretary Weber argued, containing and responding to biological threats is next to impossible.  Border security becomes much less relevant because of the disparate methods of transmission a virus or bacterium can utilize.  International collaboration becomes the only way to stand a chance against biological threats.

General Frank Klotz shifted the focus of discussion back to technological application, speaking on the role of technology in updating and increasing the effectiveness of existing nuclear technologies, and discussing his experiences at the NNSA.  Technological innovation helps increase the lifespan of older systems, allowing the United States to update existing nuclear infrastructure and improve monitoring capabilities instead of testing new devices and delivery systems.

The penultimate speaker of the conference, Under Secretary of State Gottemoeller, was (in this intern’s humble opinion) the highlight of the conference.  She synthesized the primary points of the prior speakers, and argued that the need to focus on WMD’s is even more critical after the end of the Cold War.  “The Cold War is over,” she stated, “but the ash and trash of the Cold War is still with us.”  Agreeing with Assistant Secretary Weber, Under Secretary Gottemoeller emphasized the benefits of international collaboration, decrying the attempts of various elected officials to disengage from the Russian Federation, despite its policy differences with the United States.  She also specifically identified Asian proliferation as a potential problem in the immediate future, and reiterated General Klotz’s point regarding the need for updated monitoring capabilities.  As Congressional disengagement from the nuclear issue increases, Under Secretary Gottemoeller argued for the importance of social media engagement, both domestically and internationally, to ensure that the United States remains active in preventing WMD proliferation of all types.  Such social media efforts could help renew political interest in an issue that has fallen out of favor on the national stage.  Overall, Under Secretary Gottemoeller tried to make clear the increasing, rather than decreasing, role nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons will have on world affairs in the immediate future.

Admiral Haney finished out the event by focusing on the need to redefine deterrence in the modern world.  Proper application of technology and intelligence, rather than the numerical amount of warheads in the US arsenal, are vital to an effective US deterrence strategy.  As the threat of nuclear war declines, he commented, the threat of the use of a nuclear devise increases.  Nonproliferation and deterrence, therefore, remain just as relevant in the 21st century.


This is a guest post on behalf of ACW reader and occasional contributor Chris Camp.

The first Atomic bombs, Trinity, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, hold an outsized place in our perceptions of what a nuclear weapon should be.  Certainly they were notable as the first bombs, the only ones used in anger, and the most famous devices in a subject shrouded in secrecy, but times have moved on while perceptions largely have not.  When we talk about cars people don’t think of the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, when we discuss airplanes the Wright Flyer isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, yet when you mention an atomic bomb odds are that one of the WWII devices is what people will think of.

This perception came up on Arms Control Wonk in an article on the 1973 Yom Kippur war by Avner Cohen in which he states:

[I]t is plausible that on the eve of the 1973 War Israel had a small nuclear inventory of weapons, say, between ten to twenty first-generation fission (PU) weapons (roughly, Nagasaki-type). One could speculate further that most of the inventory was in the form of aerial bombs (probably configured for the Mirage) and some were early prototypes of missile warheads for the Jericho I (which in October 1973 was apparently not yet operational).

This led to a discussion on what the Israeli arsenal might have actually looked like and whether a “Nagasaki type” bomb was in fact a reasonable assumption for a fledgling nuclear weapons state in 1973.

The bombs used by the United States in World War two were very much a product of their times and the environment in which they were created.  They were not the best design Los Alamos could produce, even when they were built, but they were the quickest ones that could be gotten out the door.  The “Little Boy” bomb dropped on Hiroshima was officially designated a Mark 1 bomb and the Nagasaki bomb, while not having an official designation, can be thought of as a Mark 3 prototype (The Mark 2 was a plutonium gun design that turned out to be unfeasible due to pre-detonation of plutonium 240).  I say prototype because the production Mark 3 that formed the basis of the first US stockpile had several improvements over the actual wartime weapons.  Both the Mark 1 and Mark 3 were complex, dangerous and wasteful designs that were largely obsolete before they were ever used, but were products of the state of both the weaponeers art and also of American nuclear industry at the time.  To put it another way, they were products of the circumstances in which they were created, and those circumstances would not apply to any nation building a bomb since then.

I’m going to talk primarily about the Mark 3 prototype designs used at Trinity and Nagasaki since the Mark 1 was literally a one-off device which has never been replicated, though many of the points apply to it as well.

The Fat Man device was 60 inches in diameter, 128 inches long, and weighed 10,300 lbs.  It used about 6 kilograms of plutonium in the form of a three piece sphere (Two hemispheres and a sort of wedge shaped equitorial piece) with a spherical cavity about half an inch in diameter in the center for a Polonium – Beryllium initiator.  Surrounding the plutonium was a two part sphere of natural uranium tamper, and then around that was layers of different types of explosives totaling about 18 inches thick.  The outermost layer of explosives was covered in an array of 32 detonators which were hooked to a firing mechanism called an X-unit which set them all off with great precision.  The fusing was accomplished by four radar fuses, called “Archies” which were modified prototype tail warning radars for fighter aircraft.  The whole device was powered by lead acid batteries which lasted 2 days on a full charge, and the entire bomb had to be disassembled to charge or replace them.  The casing was made from 3/8” thick steel and accounted for almost half the weight of the finished bomb.  At the back was a large boxy, high drag tail which was necessary because the ballistic shape of the bomb was massively unstable and it tended to tumble so much while falling that the radar fuses couldn’t see the ground.  Finally there was a set of 4 impact fuses on the nose which were meant more to destroy the bomb if the radar fuses failed and it hit the ground rather than to cause an actual nuclear detonation.  Once assembled, the Mark 3 prototypes were very dangerous and almost certainly would have suffered a low order nuclear detonation in the event of an aircraft crash.  Assembling the bombs took a crew of 50 people close to 18 hours and once assembled the bomb had to be dropped within 48 hours or the batteries would die and the entire device would have to be disassembled.  The bomb makers art has come a long way since the dark days of 1945 and many of these advances would be incorporated by any nation building a bomb for the first time.  Here are some of those advances and how they apply to the nature of a first device.

Levitated pits.  The biggest improvement in weapons efficiency came from a concept that was well understood at Los Alamos before the war ended, but didn’t make it into the wartime bombs.  This was the concept of a “Levitated” pit that greatly increases compression and therefore efficiency.  The levitation concept as it applies to nuclear weapons is a bit unintuitive, so let me use an analogy pioneered by Hans Bethe after the war.  When you go to hammer a nail do you put the hammer on the nail and push, or does it work better to swing the hammer and get some momentum going before you hit the nail?  The Mark 3 design was the equivalent of putting the hammer on the nail and pushing.  All of the components of the core were in physical contact and there was no room for the implosion to build up momentum before it hit the core.  In a levitated pit design there is an air gap between the uranium tamper and the plutonium pit which gives the tamper room to accelerate and build up momentum before striking and compressing the pit.  Not only does it allow more energy to be delivered to the pit, it also tends to smooth out irregularities in the shock wave, both leading to increased efficiency.  The first levitated pit design, the Mark 4, had the pit suspended on wires inside the tamper, but later designs used a stand made of thin aluminum to support the pit.  To visualize this, think of the plutonium core as the ice cream on an ice cream cone, except the cone is upside down and the ice cream sits on the pointy end.

Explosives.  The Mark 3 prototypes used an outer fast-burning layer of Composition B high explosive over a middle layer of slow burning Barotol and then another layer of Comp B.  There were 32 of these “explosive lenses” and the whole system was designed to create a perfectly spherical shock wave that would evenly compress the core allowing the fission reaction to take place.  One early avenue of post war research was into more efficient high explosives which could generate more compression with less weight and bulk.  Modern high performance explosives can deliver greater performance in a layer only 1-2 inches thick and weighing on the order of tens of pounds.  In addition, Insensitive High Explosives (IHE) have been developed which are much more difficult to detonate accidentally, making for much safer bombs in the event of an aircraft crash.  IHEs are used in most US nuclear and conventional aircraft bombs, and the guidance given to crash rescue crews is that even if the bomb is fully engulfed in fire, it is safe to attempt to extinguish the fire for 10 minutes before there is a chance of detonation.

Another improvement to weapons design that came about in the late 1940s was increasing the number of detonators which led to a smoother shock wave and more efficient detonation.  This was one of the strategies used during the design of the Mark 5 bomb which was the first of the “small” nuclear weapons (only 39 inches diameter and 3200 lbs) designed for use by tactical aircraft.  In order to compensate for the efficiency lost by using less explosives, Los Alamos increased the number of detonators, first to 60 and then to 92 (32+60).  This allowed for a bomb that produced about the same yield in a smaller size than it’s contemporary 60 inch brother, the Mark 4.

Initiators. The early nuclear weapons used Polonium – Beryllium (Po-Be) initiators at the center of the core to produce a burst of neutrons to get the fission chain reaction going once the core had been compressed by the high explosives.  These initiators were small spheres a little less than half an inch in diameter that rested at the very center of the core.  When hit by the shock wave they were squeezed, which mixed the two materials and produced neutrons.  This system worked fairly reliably, but had several significant drawbacks.  The biggest one is that polonium has a half life of only 138 days and so in order to maintain a stockpile of initiators you must have a continuously functioning nuclear reactor to keep making more material.  This was an immense headache in the early post war years when the Hanford production reactors were encountering numerous technical difficulties.  At one point it was planned to shut one of the three reactors down completely and run the other two at reduced capacity so that even if they wore out and could no longer produce plutonium for new bombs, there would be at least one available to produce polonium to keep the existing arsenal operational.  Polonium initiators are also difficult, dangerous, and expensive to build as the element is extremely toxic.

The other downside to Po-Be initiators is that they “fire” when they are squeezed, which is not the same as being when the core reaches maximum compression, typically a few milliseconds later.  The premature burst of neutrons tends to cause a little bit of pre-detonation and reduces efficiency of the whole system.  It’s a marginal loss, but one that becomes critical when someone starts designing weapons with very tight tolerances, such as thermonuclear triggers.

The solution to the initiator problem came in the 1950s in the form of solid state neutron generators which were basically portable (sort of) linear accelerators.  The first ones were far too large to be incorporated into a deliverable bomb, but eventually they shrank down to about the size of a fist.  In addition to being safe, cheap, and easy to build and store, these new neutron sources could be precisely timed to fire at peak compression of the core, reducing pre-detonation and increasing efficiency.  Finally, because they could now be located outside the core they made storage assembly and maintenance of the bombs much simpler.  This technology is also used in the oil field industry for well logging and so is readily understood and available for any nation building a bomb.

Delivery systems and casings. The Mark 3 bomb was 60 inches in diameter and 128 inches long because that’s how big the bomb bay on a B-29 was.  The delivery system dictated the upper bound on the size of the finished weapon.  Likewise, delivery systems have always driven weapons design.  Any nation seeking to design a nuclear weapon will need to think about how they plan to deliver it, and, to put it simply, not many nations bother with strategic bombers anymore.  Only the US B-52 and the Russian TU-95 strategic bombers can carry a weapon the size and weight of a Mark 3 type device, and both of them were designed in the 1950s to do exactly that.  No nation is going to build a bomb they can’t deliver, and no one builds an aircraft that can deliver a bomb of this size.

Finally, there is the story of the casings on the Mark 1 and 3 weapons.  Both weapons were built with 3/8” thick steel casings weighing over two tons each.  The reason for this is that the bombs themselves were designed to be armored so as to survive flak and machine gun bullet impacts during the ride to the target.  In both cases this armor accounted for around half of the total weight of the weapons.  Nearly all post war designs dispensed with this armored casing design and instead use lightweight aluminum or steel casings optimized for aerodynamic efficiency.  I’ve always wondered if the Air Force requested this “feature” on the early bombs or if it was something that the Los Alamos came up with on their own.  Certainly by the late 1940s the Air Force had decided that it was unnecessary and asked that it be removed from future weapons.

Given all the reasons why an initial capability would look different from what it did in 1945, can we extrapolate what it might look like?  In the same conversation on Israel in 1973 that led to this piece, John Schilling posited that something similar to a US Mark 12 was a good guess.  The Mark 12, introduced in 1954, utilized most of the improvements I’ve mentioned. It was a 22-inch diameter, 1200 lb bomb which used a 92 point detonation system around a levitated core, producing a 12-14 kiloton yield, and could be carried by tactical aircraft at supersonic speeds.  This was one of the last pure fission weapons developed before the widespread adoption of thermonuclear designs.  Something on this order is certainly a reasonable guess as to what a first bomb might look like.  Such a device is also in the size and weight range for carriage by a missile warhead.

While it’s hard to say what the first weapon from a newly minted nuclear weapons state might look like, we can be pretty sure that it won’t look like the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War Two.  Just as technology has advanced in every other field, so it has in the art of nuclear weapons.  What hasn’t advanced is how many people think of these weapons, and this antiquated thinking clouds the conversation of weapons in the 21st century.


This is a guest post on behalf of ACW reader and occasional contributor Chris Camp.

Everyone knows that there are basically two paths to a bomb, right?

You either build a bunch of centrifuges and enrich uranium to 93% or you build a few reactors and extract plutonium from the spent fuel.  If you’re old enough, you might also mention gaseous diffusion as an alternative to centrifuges, but once again pretty much no one does that anymore.  This common understanding has led to certain materials and technologies being watched very carefully to detect proliferation.  For example, fluorine compatible seals, special bearings, and maraging steel tubes all point to centrifuges, while someone attempting to obtain ultra high purity graphite and Tributyl-phosphate points to a plutonium program.  All of these items have other uses of course, but they serve as “tripwires” for potential proliferation.

While everyone knows the standard routes to the bomb, history is littered with other paths that have been tried and either rejected or overtaken by more efficient systems.    However, like the title says, just because these technologies are antiquated doesn’t mean they don’t work and couldn’t pop up again in someone’s nuclear program.

Let’s start with the one that a lot of people know I’m going to mention because it’s been actually used by an aspiring nuclear weapons state.  When UN inspectors arrived in Iraq in 1991 after the first Gulf War they were surprised to find Calutrons (or Baghdadtrons as the Iraqis called them) operating to produce enriched uranium.   A Calutron is basically a circular particle accelerator in which atoms of a material are accelerated by magnets.  In the case of uranium, the lighter U235 turns more sharply around the corners than the heavier U238 allowing separation and enrichment. This technology was used by the US during the Manhattan project to produce the final weapons grade material used in the Little Boy bomb, but was quickly scrapped when the gaseous diffusion technology came on line.  An interesting historical tidbit is that the windings on the magnets were made of silver from the US treasury since copper was in such short supply.  For an in-depth discussion of Calutron technology and the Iraqi program in particular see

The other uranium enrichment technology to come out of the Manhattan Project was gaseous thermal diffusion.  In this method three pipes of different materials are placed one inside the other in concentric fashion.  Steam at 545 degrees F and 100 psi flowed through the innermost pipe, uranium hexafloride gas in the middle pipe and water at 155 degrees F through the outermost pipe.  The heavier U238 tends to flow towards the cold pipe and downwards towards the bottom of the annular space while the lighter U235 tends to flow upwards along the hot pipe.  The separation efficiency wasn’t great, from natural uranium at 0.7% U235 the thermal diffusion plant increases enrichment to about 0.9%.  This slightly enriched uranium was fed into the gaseous diffusion plant which took it up to about 23% enrichment and that product was then fed to the calutrons which took it to a final 90% U235 material which was used in the Little Boy bomb.  The thermal diffusion plant, code named S-50, at Oak Ridge wasn’t planned for and came about as a result of difficulties with the gaseous diffusion plant, code named K-25.  The K-25 plant was an enormous undertaking, and for many years was the largest building in the world.  Due to problems with the diffusion membranes the plant wasn’t ready on time, but it’s massive powerhouse was, and so as an interim measure the S-50 plant was built to make the most of the limited functioning of K-25.  Once the gaseous diffusion plant got it’s bugs worked out it replaced both thermal and electromagnetic separation technologies and was the exclusive means of enriching uranium for many years.  One place where thermal separation did find ongoing use is in the separation of tritium from deuterium after it has been irradiated in a reactor.

Ok, on the topic of uranium, everyone knows that it has two isotopes, U235 and U238, but only the first one is usable in bombs, right?  Actually, no.  On both counts.  Uranium actually has a number of isotopes, and two of them, U235 and U233 are effective for bomb cores (U238 is also used in weapons, and forms the third stage of a classic three stage thermonuclear weapon, producing as much as half the yield, but that’s for another article).  U233 has a half-life of a bit over 159,000 years and so all of the natural isotope has decayed from the earth’s crust.  However, it can be bred in a reactor from the element thorium which is approximately four times as abundant as Uranium.  During the 1950s the US had not yet found domestic sources of uranium and so extensive work was done on the thorium fuel cycle and U233 weapons before uranium reserves were discovered in the southwest.  Approximately 2 tons of U233 were produced and a bomb partially fueled by U233 was tested during the TEAPOT MET shot at the Nevada Test Site on April 15, 1955.  The MET stood for Military Effects Test and was designed to measure blast and radiation effects of a standard sized weapon.  The Department of Defense agreed to the test of the U233 device on the condition that it would produce the same yield as the standard plutonium bomb to within 10%.   Los Alamos promised that it would, but instead of the anticipated 33kt, the MET shot only produced 22kt which invalidated most of the measurements DOD was trying to accomplish.  Oops.

Uranium 233 is actually a better material for nuclear cores than U235 from a physics perspective, but it has one major drawback.  U233 is almost always contaminated with small amounts of U232 which is a gamma emitter and therefore more dangerous to handle and easier to detect than U235 or plutonium cores.  Several attempts at a thorium to U233 breeder reactor have been built, but as yet the technology has not caught on.  India, which is very poor in domestic uranium sources has been the leader in thorium fuel cycle technology, but so far it has not shown commercial success.

Another historical footnote that could pop up again is the hydride bomb.  The idea here is that instead of using uranium or plutonium metal in the core you instead use uranium hydride.  The hydrogen atoms will tend to slow down the neutrons flying about inside the core and theoretically reduce the amount of fissile material needed in the bomb and it’s size.  The idea came out of Los Alamos during the late 1940s, but the tradeoff in lower efficiency was felt to outweigh any advantage and the idea was shelved One man who was not ready to give up on hydride was Edward Teller and when he left Los Alamos to found the competing Lawrence Livermore lab he took the concept with him.  LLNLs first two devices were both hydride bombs.  Unfortunately, both these devices fizzled, the first of them not producing enough energy to destroy the tower it sat on.  The second test produced an underwhelming 200-ton yield.  However, it should be kept in mind that both devices were pushing the lower boundary of fissionable material that would still form a critical mass.

The final technology that could pop up again someday is the early plutonium reprocessing chemistry.  While most of you are probably familiar with the PUREX (PlUtonium URanium EXtraction) used today, there were several systems that preceded it.  The process that produced the early plutonium bombs used bismuth phosphate to extract the uranium and plutonium from the dissolved fuel rods.  This was replaced in 1952 by the REDOX (REDuction / OXidation) process which used methyl isobutyl ketone as a solvent.  Both processes have their disadvantages (explosive ones in the case of REDOX) they share an advantage in that they don’t use Tributyl phosphate which is internationally regulated.

It’s been said that the stone age didn’t end for a lack of stones, and likewise the technologies I’ve mentioned above weren’t discarded because they don’t work.  In most cases something better came along and replaced them.  As the Baghdadtrons demonstrated they can pop up at any time if we forget to look for them!


Harry here.  It’s official, I will be in DC (in the flesh!) between July 9th and 19th!  I plan on attending the Generation Prague conference, along with several other Think Tank and State Dept hosted events.

However, events don’t take up the whole day.  Therefore, I would be more than willing to meet any individuals who are in the DC area during my stay there.  If you would like to contact me directly, or email Jeffrey at jeffrey AT

[Folks, please take some time to meet Harry if you can.  He's done such a great job writing "For Your Reading Pleasure" and is eager to learn about our field. -- Jeffrey]