March 26, 2020

Cyber Warfare & Inadvertent Escalation

James Acton | Daedalus

The advent of cyber warfare exacerbates the risk of inadvertent nuclear escalation in a conventional conflict. In theory, cyber espionage and cyberattacks could enhance one state’s ability to undermine another’s nuclear deterrent. Regardless of how effective such operations might prove in practice, fear of them could generate escalatory “use-’em-before-you-lose-’em” pressures.  Additionally, cyber threats could create three qualitatively new mechanisms by which a nuclear-armed state might incorrectly conclude that its nuclear deterrent was under attack.  

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Likely Postponed

Edith Lederer | AP

A major U.N. conference to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, considered the cornerstone of global efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, is “likely to be postponed” because of the coronavirus pandemic, a U.N. official said Tuesday. U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said that was the assessment from conference president-designate, Ambassador Gustavo Zlauvinen of Argentina, and key organizers of the conference that has been scheduled for April 27-May 22 at U.N. headquarters in New York. Zlauvenin initially wrote to treaty political groups on March 13 proposing a postponement “after a short, procedural meeting on April 27, for New York-based delegates only and conditions permitting,” Haq said. But “in light of the rapidly evolving situation surrounding the spread of COVID-19,” all options about the April 27 meeting are being considered. 

US Set to Upgrade Controversial Nukes Stationed in Germany

Deutsche Welle

Viewed from above, the fields surrounding Büchel air base stretch out like a greenish-brown patchwork quilt, punctuated by the small villages and woodlands that make up the Eifel region in western Germany. Take a closer look at satellite imagery, and you can make out several dozen camouflaged airplane hangars. Hidden deep below them lies a carefully guarded secret: underground vaults housing American nuclear bombs that date back to the Cold War. For now, however, despite a clear majority of its citizens firmly opposed to nuclear weapons, Germany seems unlikely to withdraw from the deal any time soon. Rather, it is set to receive modernized bombs. The nukes stored in Büchel, Kristensen explained, are of a type — the B-61-3 or B-61-4 — that was introduced in the late 1980s and early 1990s and they coming to the end of their cycle.

Coming to a Country Near You: A Russian Nuclear Power Plant

Ivan Nechepurenko and Andrew Higgins

But the location of Belarus’s first nuclear power plant — an area of pristine farmland just 40 miles from the capital of neighboring Lithuania — points to calculations that go beyond just kilowatts. The plant was built by Rosatom, a state-owned Russian nuclear conglomerate, and financed with a $10 billion credit line from Moscow. For all the problems and protests, however, the Astravets plant is in many ways a model of success in what, under President Vladimir V. Putin, has become an aggressive push into foreign markets by Russia’s sprawling nuclear industry. But it has also given Moscow a powerful geopolitical tool, locking clients like Belarus, but also members of the European Union like Hungary, into long-term dependency on Rosatom, and therefore the Russian state.

Nuclear Scientists Are Working on a Faster, Cheaper Covid-19 Test

Jonathan Tirone | Bloomberg

Nuclear scientists in Austria are closing in on coronavirus testing kits that could dramatically lower the cost and time it takes to diagnose people for the disease. With Covid-19 tests in short supply in many places, some individuals have turned to private laboratories that can genetically detect the pathogen. That process, called reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, or RT-PCR, can cost as much as $400 in some private facilities. But the International Atomic Energy Agency expects it can procure those Covid-19 tests at a cost of as little as 10 euros ($10.83), which can yield a diagnosis within hours, according to a spokesperson, who stressed that labs have been using RT-PCR diagnosis methods for decades. The IAEA’s Covid-19 detection kits are close to being shipped, according to the agency, which didn’t specify where they are being manufactured. 

More Time Sought for Public Input on Nuclear Fuel Proposal

Susan Montoya Bryan | AP

Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation are requesting that federal regulators extend the public comment period for an environmental review related to a multibillion-dollar complex that would store spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants around the United States. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently issued a preliminary recommendation, favoring approval of a license for Holtec International to build the facility in southeastern New Mexico. The comment period is set at 60 days, but the New Mexico congressional leaders say that should be extended and any public meetings delayed given the health emergency that has resulted from the new coronavirus.