33 Comments

  1. Nuclear can make a country extremely energy independent. The history of the Armenian nuclear power plant is a classic: the anti-nuclear EU told them to shut it down, but when Russian gas supplies were cut off, they turned it back on, and it runs to this day. It’s so much easier to arrange for a truckload (or planeload – the Russians sometimes transport nuclear fuel in cargo aircraft) of nuclear fuel once in a few years than to keep gas flowing in a pipeline 24/7.

    The “ultimate” energy independence would be to extract uranium from seawater! Any country with access to the sea (nearly all) could then get it’s own uranium fuel, and be completely independent of the rest of the world for their energy. It would make the world a more peaceful place! Ironically, GreeenPeace and the green movement is leading us down the path to more fossil fuel rivalry and wars.

  2. I believe the trend is the more we assist a nation in developing a nuclear power program, the less likely they are to divert resources to nuclear weapons.

    I do have to disagree with the notion that nuclear weapons are militarily useless. We use them every single day. Not since the United States dropped two weapons on Japan has there been a major war between two large nations or groups of nations.

  3. You pretty much said it all Rod. It has always seemed logical to me for Iran’s government to acquire nuclear weapons to prevent an invasion and overthrow of that government by the US … it isn’t like we have never done that.

    (Probably hundreds (rather than tens) of thousands of Iraqui lives.)

  4. This Iran situation is one of the places where I think that a weapons-resistant technology which doesn’t require Uranium refining would be such a good alternative to offer Iran. Something like the IFR, Molten Salt Reactors, or even CANDU-style reactors.

    I agree with Rod that Iran, and every nation, should have a right to pursue energy security through civilian nuclear power programs. I can absolutely see why a nation like Iran would want to add nuclear energy to the mix – 1) It’s easier to see Oil and Gas on the international markets – use nuclear energy domestically, sell oil and gas. 2) As Rod says, hydrocarbons are useful for things other than burning for heat – chemistry allows them to be turned into lots of useful materials.

    However, Rod, I think we also must look at the Iranian regime, to get an idea of what they might be capable of. I think you are being way overly generous to Khomeni and Ahmadinejad – that quote, as you give it, sure sounds like a call to end the state of Israel, at least to my ears. Just look at how they treat their own people – rigged elections, murdering protestors, etc. The people in charge of Iran are not good people.

    1. First, concern over the bellicose rantings of Khomeni and Ahmadinejad are just that: noise. This is the same sort of thing that Mao routinely said prior to China getting the bomb, and means about as much. Once any ‘mad dictator’ splits atoms, he quickly settles down because now that he has the means to carry out his threats, he must face the fact that he will be held responsible for actions, and in this context that means total annihilation. A nuclear weapon cast at Israel would be a death warrant signed against Iran, and no one would come to their aid.

      Second, if Iran chooses to make a nuclear weapon, there is nothing anyone outside the country can do about it, and that includes giving them ‘proliferation proof’ nuclear energy technology. The presence of so-called secure reactors didn’t stop ether India or Pakistan, and it certainly wouldn’t stop Iran.

      Thirdly, all the steps the West has taken to date, including sanctions and military threats, have done nothing except push Iran towards the conclusion that they need nuclear weapons to defend themselves. This is an old and rather homogeneous nation that, unlike the artificial post-colonial constructions masquerading as countries in the Middle East will pull together if presented with and external threat. Consequently the West’s posturing does not weaken the hold of the current regime as much as it undermines any local opposition to it.

      Along with Rod I encourage everyone involved with the nuclear debate to read, Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda by John E. Mueller. It is high time we brought some commonsense into this issue.

      1. dv8 – you should also point people at your Uncovering the Truth about the Threat of Nuclear Proliferation essay/post. Everyone – read it! dv8 expands the ideas in his reply and discusses the national security implications of tactical nuclear weapons. I’m no military man but having a weapon that’s effective against a bully is very important.

        Thanks for this post, Rod, and thanks dv82xl for yours.

      2. I can agree with DV82XL to a point.
        Iran may very well have the capability to quickly assemble a thermonuclear device.

        And so what…

        With it comes responsibility as was pointed out.
        Rather than antagonize the Iranian regime it would be prudent to apply Westphalian Sovereignty signed in 1648 and respect the Iranian nation-state like we would want nations to respect our sovereignty.
        But of course, this horrible to those NEOCONS who want to meddle and overthrow governments based on a policy of world expansionist domination and hydrocarbon price manipulation.

    2. The Iran question is one hell of a Bee’s nest.

      I for one completely understand why Iran would want the Bomb. The Bomb is one of the last great game changers. If you have the Bomb (or some one with the Bomb really likes you), you get to play on the world stage. If you don’t have the Bomb, your a play thing for those that do have the Bomb.

      For most of history people have built walls to protect their cities or nations. The Bomb is now the most effective wall devised by man. Conventional Armies will likely never attack a nation with the Bomb. That has become it’s value. It’s the ultimate (for now) defensive weapon.

      A quick glance at the pure hate that spews forth from Israel would make any sane nation want the most effective defense against this aggressor. Israel has proven that they will fight, and they have one of the biggest dogs on the block (USA) backing them up. So to counter this you need the best walls that you can have. So an Iran with the Bomb will make Israel really think twice about taking action against them.

      And to close… I agree… all the Western sanctions and propaganda against Iran, is just proving to Iran exactly why they need both the Bomb and a strong Commercial Atomic Energy program.

    3. Weapons-resistant technology a good alternative the CANDU-style reactor.

      I disagree-CANDU’s are a little better than a host of other reactor types PHWR/CANDU does produce more Pu240 impurity in HEU of 92-95% but so does advanced gas cooled reactors or graphite mods reactors. Mr. Ahmadinejad and his conservative coalition might not pass in next election.
      He’s for crony big Iranian businesses.

      I support Iranian independent business in Iranian nuclear industry. Iran has every right to conduct R&D and produce isotope and open business for processing spent nuclear fuel. MOX from other countries maybe even from Israel reactors or Iranian reactor spent fuel to Israeli nuke fuel re-processing. Because it’s about opening commerce for opportunity not the commerce of warfare. Notice the difference between the highly manipulated hydrocarbon state-of-mind and a nuclear state-of-mind.

  5. I think one of the realities for countries like Russia, UAE, S. Arabia and Iran is that they want to stop consuming their main export product: gas and oil.

    These countries are all for fossil fuel production just that they want to sell more of it and not burn it up. The UAE is open about this and so is S. Arabia. It is also the main motivation for Russia’s own build up: they want to export more to Europe and China.

    And there is energy security. Without a doubt this plays a major role as well.

    So this synergy between fossil and nuclear does in fact exist in this weird way and shouldn’t be forgotten. But better the foreign reserves of these countries invest in nuclear than to further their own consumption of fossil fuel anyway.

  6. You can certainly be proud of your fine post, Rod. It is damaging to the US to continue to fight a succession of discretionary wars. The continued expenditure of lives and treasure is entirely unjustified.
    All nations, including ones that are religiously or culturally uncomfortable to the United States, deserve to use peaceful nuclear power to improve the lives of their people. Weapons proliferation is to be regretted, but on a practical basis, nations that possess at least one nuclear weapon have been treated by the United States with much greater respect and deference than nations that do not. Possession of a nuclear weapon by Iran is probably their best insurance against Western moves for regime change. It is a misfortune that weapons ownership is the only practical means foreign governments not aligned with US interests can find to survive and avoid hostile actions designed to destabilize and destroy them.
    In my opinion, Rod’s current post on Iran and fighting over fuels and markets is among the best and most important that Atomic Insights has ever offered.

  7. If Jerusalem were currently controlled by a Muslim nation such words would be emanating from Rome, as they have in the past.

    Historically both sides have repeatedly invaded and ousted the powers that be.

    As in all parts of life, if your opponent does it then it is evil. If you do it then you “just had no choice, it had to be done.”

  8. After 10 years of wars, Jews and Christians are disappearing from the Middle East, except for the “evil” Iran and Syria. Iraq had them during Saddam, Libya had them during Gaddafi… not any more. “Democracy” took their place.

    After 10 years of wars, the Arab world has become far more radicalized, cruel and unstable… at the cost of a 1000 nuclear plants.

  9. The article states that nuclear fuel is so cheap that doubling it price will have no real effect.
    Nuclear fuel will become plentiful only when reprocessing and breeder technologies enabling use of U238 and thorium as fuel are used. Yet these technologies are opposed as too costly fuel.
    After the use of two nuclear bombs in 1945, the nuclear weapons have become the weapons of deterrence. Pakistan, the leading light of Islamic extremism, is the only source of nuclear risk.

    1. Jagdish,

      Current nuclear fuel for existing reactors costs about 0.4 cents per kilowatt hour, only about one-third of that is the uranium itself. The rest is fuel fabrication. It is cheap. It is abundant enough for the current nuclear capacity.

      The real problems (economics and possibility of a large accident) with nuclear power need to be solved first, otherwise nuclear power may not even expand to the point where breeders are required. Because they aren’t at the moment.

      IMHO LWR based Small Modular Reactors may get part of the way there.

      1. To real problems add political control and propaganda.
        A plateau in nuclear development has been reached. Further breakout will occur when someone (likely to be China or India) takes courage to proceed and other find the need to follow.

  10. DV82XL,

    Just read your post on nuclear proliferation, and whereas much of it makes sense to me, the one place where it does not is in the case of *accidental* nuclear release, or release by lower member actors of the governments in question.

    The classic example is the cuban missile crisis. If the US had fired on the missile sites – as many in the US military had wanted – then Castro was set upon a nuclear retaliation – as he said in his memoirs. A destroyer hounded a nuclear-armed submarine with practice depth charges and two out of the three russian officers wanted to launch nuclear tipped torpedoes in response (“a guy named Vasili Arkhipov saved the world” said the NSA director later on).

    But there’s more – in the early stages, there was no ‘nuclear football’ – the launch authority in the US was dispersed by the DoD in the 1960’s to the minuteman nuclear silos, with things called PALs (permissive action links) which were basically passwords that were installed in the equipment so that nobody could launch the nukes supposedly without higher up authority.)

    Now, SAC decided that these codes were too cumbersome and worried about the chaos – in the case of a nuclear event – might cause us not getting off a nuclear strike, so the command chose to set all the codes in the nuclear silos to TEN ZEROS – and it *stayed this way for about two decades*.

    I shudder to think what would have happened if somebody had a mental breakdown on their watch around the nuclear weapons (it is after all a fairly boring job, punctuated by moments of sheer adrenaline.) I also think, in retrospect, that we had a very lucky streak in getting as far as we did without a nuclear strike. Not by rational state actors, but by the *human servants* of those actors.

    So, all and all, I think it would be a better thing if iran didn’t get nuclear weapons, thank you very much. There’s just way too many unforseen things that can happen with them, and just because we didn’t have a nuclear catastrophe so far doesn’t mean that we haven’t been VERY lucky in avoiding one.

    1. @Ed- The accidental release scenario has been the stuff of fiction since the Fifties, and has been fodder for speculation in the press for about the same time. However, like much of the nuclear mythos, it is more a product of imagination than fact.

      In September 1964, then US President L.B. Johnson said publicly, “Make no mistake, there is no such thing as a conventional nuclear weapon. For nineteen peril-filled years no nation has loosed the atom against another. To do so now is a political decision of the highest order.” It is somewhat of an insult to those in the military (in all nuclear armed nations) to imply that they would be that derelict in their responsibilities as to take it upon themselves to start a nuclear war.

      Nuclear weapons are not toys, and no country armed with them has ever shown the slightest indication that they did not understand just how dangerous this capacity was. Even as the old U.S.S.R. was breaking down into chaos, the nuclear arsenal remained under firm control.

      Like China Syndrome meltdowns, accidental nuclear war is the province of Hollywood, not reality.

      1. DV82XL,

        No offense, but your statement seems to be one of fiat, not fact. In 1962, the whole world thought that we were a hair’s breadth away from nuclear war AT THAT TIME. Robert Kennedy stated as much in his memoir ‘thirteen days’.

        And Robert MacNamara himself stated in HIS biography that – with the benefit of hindsight and the meeting of the actors of the time that we were even closer than he had previously thought. Vasily Arkhipov’s statement is a matter of public record, as is the statement of the other two people on the russian sub that wanted to launch that nuclear-tipped torpedo. Are you really saying that you are more ‘in the know’ than these people?

        IMO, you have a much too simplified view of states and how they function. Nuclear weapons are only as secure as the policies and procedures that safeguard their use. It may be true that we’ve taken great strides since then to secure *our* nuclear warheads against accidental release since 1962 but that’s no guarantee against others doing the same. And even in our case it took several years (til 1980) before the nukes were even somewhat secure, as it was well-known knowledge in the airforce that the nuclear PAL codes were all zeros for a decade and a half after the crisis.

        Suppose Iran does get the bomb. You can guarantee that Israel – if it hasn’t done already – will go on hair trigger alert against the launch of an Iranian missile. And that Iran will do the same, as well as bulk up its nuclear deployments for the sake of MAD.

        All of this leads to a condition where the bombs are instantly available, and where procedures are simplified for their use. Are you really telling me that you trust the nation of iran to be competent in doing this securely, and that no rogue individual will take it upon himself to dictate policy?

        People in authority do stupid stuff. People blinded by a given ideology and with a sworn enemy only exacerbate this stupidity.

        For nuclear power, I accept this risk of human stupidity. At worst, we get a fukushima, ie: no real damage at all. Nuclear *weapons* are another matter however. A nuclear weapon goes off in israel, there will be an exchange. A nuclear weapon goes off in iran will guarantee at some point in future a retaliatory strike in the US, Israel or Europe.

        Considering that there are known individuals who want this outcome should be the cause for grave concern, and it is troublesome that you discount it. You are acting like those generals in WWI who assured their leaders that there was ‘no chance’ of a first world war, all the way up to the guns of august.

        You may be right that states may not want this outcome because of rational self-interest, but a state is made up of individuals, and the historical record is not kindly to how rationally that THEY act.

        1. @Ed;
          “You can guarantee that Israel – if it hasn’t done already – will go on hair trigger alert against the launch of an Iranian missile. And that Iran will do the same, as well as bulk up its nuclear deployments for the sake of MAD.”

          So Ed; can you guarantee that Israel and the U.S. not resort to MAD?

          Like so many Union of Concerned scientists types that live in delusion about the atomic bomb.
          This technology is a known documented entity since the first A bomb explosions used in war and ushered in the atomic age.

          You can’t un-know a Thermo-Nuclear Device.
          If the world is to manage itself it must adhere to the rule-of-law and treaty. Technically, for nuke weapons tipped nation-states a safety regime with regard to triggering a TND is NOT based on THE INDIVIDUAL.

  11. The basis of an accidental launch is possible. When Johnson uttered those words, it was on the basis of someone accidentally pushing the wrong button.

    Russia and the US developed/talked about/deployed protocols that allowed for a “launch on launch”, that is, when nuclear weapons *appeared* to be launched by one side or the other, the other side would launch their weapons before the enemy’s detonated over their own launch facilities. Missile sites themselves are the first ‘ground zero’ in any nuclear exchange.

    The a “false positive” on radar and satellite imagery could cause a pre-mature nuclear exchange.

    In LBJs time ICBMs had just been developed and they were actually not fully deployed. 100% of the US and Russian capabilities were CBMs, not ICBMs, 2000 KM strikes and all that. Early warning didn’t exist. Bombs were supposed to be deployed by bombers and most scenerios though the 1960s involved strategic bombing of the enemy with nukes.

    It’s whole different world today, with MERVs, smaller bombs, ‘tactical nukes’ etc etc. Quite scary, actually.

  12. The only fact here is that in all the time that one has been possible, a nuclear weapon was not released accidentally. That speaks to the robustness of whatever fail-safe systems were in place, if nothing else. Broad claims that something was likely to have happened because one can string together a plausible sequence of events where the several layers of these systems were overcome by chance or malice, and was thus narrowly averted by the grace of God, is simply poor logic.

    In the early days of the nuclear arms race, several high-ranking officials, and other presumably in-the-know people, expressed concern that nuclear warheads were so unstable that it was almost guaranteed that there would be accidental explosions due to mishandling or without warning while they were sitting on top of a missile. In the almost total lack of real information about these things, many took these statements to be fact. Now however, in the light of the facts, it can be asserted that the chance of an accidental detonation of a nuclear warhead is next to zero. I put the idea of accidental nuclear war in the same category.

    As for the validity of memoirs as a source of historical fact, I have noticed that first they are written by those that have some reason to inflate their own place in events, and second that they are like any other book: written to sell copies. Consequently, stories of how close we were to Armageddon were it not for the author’s steely nerves, and cold analysis at the time need to be taken with a grain of salt.

    Yes, people do stupid things; however in his paper: The Nuclear Game – An Essay on Nuclear Policy Making, Stuart Slade pointed out that the ramifications of a nuclear exchange are so overwhelming, that it has sharpened the focus of those that hold nuclear weapons to the point that they have all taken steps to prevent an accidental nuclear duel. Again, even as it was dissolving, the old Soviet Union maintained and transferred control of both the nuclear arsenal it held, and the nuclear weapons establishment it built without major incident.

    Everyone connected to these things treats them very, very seriously, and it is somewhat inflated chauvinism, to assert that ‘we’ are the only ones that can be trusted with the Bomb. While there may be those that would welcome nuclear war, they are not in any position to bring it about – the people around them do not share their views.

    So while there is no doubt nuclear weapons are dangerous, fears that we are one crazy pushing the button away from nuclear war are overblown at best.

    1. > The only fact here is that in all the time that one has been
      > possible, a nuclear weapon was not released accidentally. That
      > speaks to the robustness of whatever fail-safe systems were in
      > place, if nothing else.

      Correction: “the only fact here about accidental release is either due to the robustness of whatever fail-systems were in place, OR the fact that we got through by sheer luck”.

      You simply cannot a-priori discount one or the other of these possibilities. You can gauge, however the likelihood of one or the other by looking at the historical record, and/or precedents.

      And you forget – we DO have a strong precedent to believe that us getting through unscathed large part was due to luck.

      A strong precedent for the MAD thinking that pervaded US/Soviet relations after WWII exists in the Balance of Powers phase in foreign affairs that came into being after the Council of Vienna in 1815. The basic idea – which really heated up after the unification of germany in 1871 – was to make the whole continent a powder-keg – where the products of modern warfare, including chlorine gas, machine-guns and modern artillery were to make war so unpalatable as to potentially ruin any states that partook in it and hence deter their action.

      This form of MAD worked as well – until it didn’t. People forget that WWI started mostly by accident – assassination leading to confrontation leading to war. Markets were caught totally non-plussed by it when it did happen. And when it did happen, it *did* lead to holocaust and ruined states and widespread hardship.

      I suggest to you that the thinking surrounding nuclear weapons is the same way when used in a MAD embrace, and what you deride as ‘hearsay evidence’ from actors involved is a good indication that the same lines of thought existed in our 20th century form of MAD as did the 19th, and that we could have fallen to the same fate.

      Herman Kahn argued for a *decade* that nuclear war should be thought as winnable. General MacArthur wanted to use nuclear weapons against the chinese in the korean war. Curtis LeMay – head of SAC – complained publicly and bitterly that we had a ‘missed an opportunity in taking out the warheads’ and that the peaceful resolution of the missile crisis was the ‘greatest defeat in our history’. Meanwhile, the soviet field commanders on the ground had been given authority to fire their nuclear warheads in case they were attacked.

      You simply cannot logically ignore these facts. Nor can you denigrate the testimony of Arkhipov. He did NOT make it for personal aggrandizement – in fact it was made public in *2002*, three years AFTER he was dead, and it was found by declassification of intelligence reports in the Kremlin about the discussion that happened on the sub between the captain and his subordinate.

      So you really, really, really, really need some correction in your thinking IMO. Above all, this line of thinking is troubling if nothing for how wrong it is about historical affairs, and REALLY hurts nuclear energy. Being an apologist for nuclear proliferation will not win converts over to the nuclear cause, IMO. Nuclear energy simply has to be separated from nuclear proliferation if it is to be considered safe by large numbers of people.

      Ed

      (ps – lest you think this parallel is far fetched between europes balance of terror and modern MAD, president kennedy directly had WWI on his mind during the cuban missile crisis – his reading of the guns of august determined a large part of his policy, because he did not want to ‘blunder into a war’. But – as Mr. MacNamara describes, we almost *did* blunder into that war, in which case – if we still existed – we’d be singing an entirely different tune.
      )

      1. @Ed-

        I’m really not interested in arguing revisionist views of history, but I reject as simplistic and unsupportable that there is anything more than a superficial similarity between the neorealist theory of Balance of Power, and Mutual Assured Destruction (a.k.a. Balance of Terror.) Structurally these were very different with a wholly different dynamic, and thus cannot be rationally compared.

        Nether did WWI start by accident; almost all of the belligerents where spoiling for a fight and the reasons go far beyond the military situation in Europe at the time. These include included trade imbalances, a shifting social order, and the imperialistic foreign policies of the great powers of Europe, both on and off the Continent. Attempts to blame it on a failure of the network of alliances, or that of the European State System (Congress System, Concert of Europe or Balance of Power, your choice of names for the same thing) was largely an attempt by the European leadership to claim that events were out of their control, after the fact. . If indeed Kennedy was moved by reading by Barbara Tuchman it was with this aspect of poor decision making, not the strategic parallels.

        What you write about Herman Kahn, General MacArthur and Curtis LeMay and Soviet field doctrines are likely true, but they only go to prove that on both sides the system of command and control, and firing discipline were maintained, just as I said. Both sides had a de facto No First Use doctrine in place, and nether side launched. Luck had very little, if anything to do with this except in the active imaginations of Ban-the-Bomb propagandists, sensationalist authors, and scriptwriters.

        The problem with memoirs as historical material also holds true for situational reports from military sources, anyone who has read a number of these realizes that between ass-covering, knowing what you are expected to say and the general fog of war, these things are often works more of fiction than of fact.

        It is important to remember that just because one can construct a plausible series of circumstances that would have (or will) lead to an event, it does not speak to the probability of that event occurring. These are the sorts of lame arguments that we have been fielding in the nuclear power side of the subject which has led to regulatory ratcheting and endless handwringing over nuclear safety, where no likely danger or potential for accident exists.

        I take exception to being pigeonholed as an apologist for nuclear proliferation, although I can see how one could come to that conclusion. Rather, like Mueller, and Slade I’m a proliferation realist. The fact is that nothing can be done about it that does not in the end require conventional military action that is likely to cause more damage than the type of low-yield tactical nuclear weapons these counties are developing would if used in anger.

        Nor can the pursuit of non-proliferation objectives ever be separated from the growth of nuclear energy – it is the single biggest reason that NPP have not been built in places that desperately need them. The nuclear haves constantly use proliferation concerns as a reason to not fulfill their Article IV and Article V NPT obligations. Only by demonstrating that the whole issue is a mirage, can this issue stop being an impediment to the development of nuclear energy.

        DV8

  13. You make some good points,Rod,but there is no getting past the fact that Iran has,and still is,fomenting all sorts of trouble throughout the Middle East and elsewhere by supporting terrorist groups.Also,the Sunni-Shia split is being exploited and exacerbated by Iran.

    It is clear that Iran,under the present regime,is bent on extending its power and influence.For what ultimate purpose is unknown however,given the brutal theism of the mullahs,there can be no good outcome.

    With regard to nuclear energy I doubt if any state in the region or elsewhere has any objection to Iran developing a capability.Iran has had ample opportunity to do this within the inspection regime of the the IEAE and the UN.It has not done so and has consistently declined to open all its facilities for proper scrutiny.The logical conclusion is that they have a lot to hide and what they are hiding is an attempt to develop nuclear weapons.

    The strategic rationale for a nation to acquire nuclear weapons can be argued till the cows come home.But in the case of Iran which has frequently made extreme threats against Israel and the West in general then one has to take a precautionary stance and try to prevent them getting nuclear weapons.The only way to do this with an apparently irrational nation is to make the costs of noncompliance so high that they will change their ways. This can possibly be done by sanctions but,if they don’t work(and they aren’t)then all we have left is military force.

    1. We cherish fee speech after all – stuff like “regime change”, “the axis of evil”, “bring it on”, etc is pretty extremist (more than the Iranian talk) but it is free speech. Talk doesn’t matter, acts do.

      Iran hasn’t attacked anyone in 100 years. Iran is a party to the non-proliferation treaty and allows inspections. This is as good as it gets among the nuclear wielding countries. Nobody is any better.

    2. The Middle East has no shortage of troublemakers, or ancient casus belli to justify themselves with. Singling out Iran is not only grossly unfair, but should be by now seen for the sort of manipulative propaganda that it is. Basically anytime some Power in that region fails to understand that they are subordinate to the West, they are suddenly vilified as evil incarnate.

      Recall during the Afghan civil war when the Mujahideen were freedom fighters, but now are terrorists, or how Saddam Hussein fell from favor, now its Iran’s turn. Maybe we need to look a little closer at exactly what the sins of this nation are, before calling for its destruction.

  14. DV8, I find myself more agreement with Ed than you though I’m not a complete rejectionist of the MAD paradigm. It was one that was not, repeat NOT, designed but by a default paradigm based on existing mutual standoff (and primarily because the Russian. No one in the 1960s sat down and thought “yeah, MAD, that’ll work”.

    Secondly, DV8, it was not the ‘system’ that stemmed a nuclear war but politics and several ‘close calls’ usually intitated, as Ed noted, by our side. Loons with real power like LeMay who wanted to nuke anything with a mild shade of red in it’s politics.

    Yes, command and control worked, but just barely. And the Cuban Missile Crisis, where it would NOT of taken a first strike by the Russian in Cuba but a conventional strike against those missiles that would of been a ‘launch!’ scenario. I call that “luck” if there ever was a definition for the term.

    David

    1. @David-

      I have heard the stories too; I just don’t necessarily believe them. First, there is the technical problem of arguing that something did not happen because of some random factor, in this case ‘luck,’ then providing what amounts to antidotal evidence as ‘proof.’ In strict dialectic terms this is just not supportable, and because there where systems in place to prevent this thing from happening, violates Occam’s razor as well to some extent.

      In other words there were fail-safe systems, and there where no accidental releases of nuclear weapons, thus the logical conclusion must be the systems worked, not that they were ineffective and only appeared to work because some nebulously defined set of preconditions did not occur (luck.)

      One must understand that the whole system was designed to integrate political decision making (see the Johnson quote above) into the loop expressly to prevent some standing order, or lower ranking individual from setting things in motion. To claim that it was politics that prevented a nuclear exchange is to, in essence, reassert that the system worked!

      The Cuban Missile Crisis has often been seen as an event that nearly started WWIII but in retrospect it was probably more of a rook feint by the U.S.S.R. to test American resolve, and the Russians were prepared from the outset to withdraw. Nevertheless it did demonstrate that both sides had full control of their nuclear capability, simply because things did not get out of hand. In fact I’m sure the Soviet’s were very sure of their command and control structure, or they wouldn’t have started pushing in the first place.

      Also, while some argument can be made that the initial Nash equilibrium occurred by default, MAD was a doctrine of military strategy and a national security policy in the U.S. that was clearly stated, and was revised as needed. Mad was first fully described, by United States Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. In his formulation, MAD meant that nuclear nations either had first strike or second strike capability. A nation with first strike capability would be able to destroy the entire nuclear arsenal of another nation and thus prevent any nuclear retaliation. Second strike capability indicated that a nation could uphold a promise to respond to a nuclear attack with enough force to make such a first attack highly undesirable. According to McNamara, the arms race was in part an attempt to make sure that no nation gained first strike capability. The original doctrine was later modified by Jimmy Carter’s adoption of the so-called countervailing strategy. The point being that MAD was not a condition, but a policy.

      Finally it’s important to keep our historical perspective. Events that occurred and conditions that existed fifty years ago can teach us some lessons it is true, but they are not the conditions that exist now. The World has lived with the Bomb for over half a century without major incident. Most of the assumed truths that drove policy at the outset of the Nuclear Age have been shown false. This is the primary thesis of Mueller’s work, Atomic Obsession: it is time to re-evaluate both policy and ideology as they apply to nuclear armaments in the light of these revealed facts. Chief among these is a recognition that the strategic and tactical value of these weapons are far more limited than was assumed, that for most countries, the cost outweighs any advantage that comes from having them, and that those nations that do perceive a need, do so for defensive reasons.

      This is the real crux of the debate.

  15. Anti-missile defense is the only destabilizing factor in the nuclear arms area. It brings with itself three serious problems each of which can be fatal.

    First, it provides a false sense of invincibility and drastically increases the chances of a rushed first strike.

    Second, it severely cuts the time available for response and forces military planners to ignore time-consuming data analysis and manual verification. The doomsday machine takes over mere minutes after detection. This drastically increases the chances of a rushed counter-strike.

    Third, it forces the research and development of more powerful nuclear warheads and delivery mechanisms. The counter-strike nuclear arsenals have to be kept large and diversified to compensate for the possible losses due to missile defense.

    There are a lot of other negatives but let’s stop here. The situation resembles a cowboy duel, whoever shoots first, has higher chances of survival. This cow-stuff is what the military doctrines of the major nuclear powers have become (after the US left the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty). First the US (see the first negative above), then Russia (see the second negative) changed their nuclear doctrines to allow first nuclear strikes. I think China did it too.

    Never before has the world been so close to annihilation… The risks of the highly demonized nuclear plants are many orders of magnitude bellow the risks brought by the highly praised missile defense…

    Who’s to blame, Iran? A leave it as a homework to the reader.

  16. This is a quote from my Tumblr with the actual numbers.

    “Every day Iran burns roughly:
    518,665 bbl equivalent of Methane
    168,047 bbl equivalent of Petroleum products

    To generate roughly:
    527,310 MwH of electricity.

    These calculations assume 45% efficiency in gas turbines and 33% efficiency in oil burning boilers. These are the low estimates of total consumption. Iran already has several Nuclear Reactors, and wishes to build more. They also wish to take over their fuel cycle, which is a major point of contention. ”

    “The talking heads on the news say that Iran is planning to build a nuclear weapon, and I don’t doubt that, but I think the unrest about the situation is less simple. Let’s run the numbers.

    Iran produces:
    4.172 Mbbl/d of oil,

    and consumes:
    1.845 Mbbl/d of oil.

    If Iran can replace their electrical production from oil with nuclear, it would reduce their daily consumption by almost 10%, and increase their potential daily exports by 4%
    Oil (light crude) is trading at roughly $100 a barrel today. If Iran can replace their oil electric with nukes, (as occurred in the U.S. in the 60s and 70s) This would increase Iran’s potential oil exports by roughly $6,137,917,675, that’s right, 6.1 billion dollars per year. This would threaten the Saudi’s margins, and give the Iranians a significant bargaining chip on the global market.”

    By contrast, the Saudi’s Produce 10.52 Mbbl/d
    and Consume 2.643 Mbbl/d, so an Iranian Nuclear Programme has the potential to offset 1.5% of the Saudi Exports. Again, $6.1 billion per year. This doesn’t account for possible Methane exports. Those are the numbers for anyone who was looking.

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    Renewables people are masters in marketing. Unreliable intermittent generators whose output is all over the place, and usually badly correlated…

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