Daily Archives: March 15, 2018

North Korea nuclear reactors show new signs of activity – CNN


North Korea nuclear reactors show new signs of activity
Tim Lister, CNN

New satellite imagery examined by Western experts suggests North Korea has begun preliminary testing of one of its nuclear reactors at the Yongbyon research facility. The disclosure comes as preparations get underway for the summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in next month — and ahead of Kim’s planned meeting with President Trump in May.

A report by intelligence analysts Jane’s says the imagery indicates the experimental light water reactor, known as an ELWR, could become operational “with little warning” as early as later this year.
According to Jane’s, an image from February 25 shows an emission rising from the reactor’s stack that “implies testing of the machinery at the site.” The stack is “intended to vent noncondensable gases from the reactor’s primary circuit,” Jane’s says.
What is unclear at this stage is whether North Korea plans for the reactor to contribute to electricity generation or its weapons program.
Rob Munks, editor of Jane’s Intelligence Review, says the light-water reactor “could be used for civilian electricity generation — its stated purpose — or diverted towards the nuclear program.”
The reactor is linked to the power grid. Industry experts say that once operational, the ELWR would be able to produce about 25-30 megawatts, perhaps enough to power a town of some 50,000 inhabitants.
Munks said, “In theory, if the reactor comes online and if it were diverted towards plutonium and tritium production, it could enable North Korea to expand its stock.” By just how much is unclear, he said. Tritium is the most important thermonuclear material for weapons.
Over the last year Jane’s and other research groups have identified increased activity in several parts of the Yongbyon site, 40 miles (75 kilometers) north of Pyongyang. Analysts at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation observed the installation of power lines, a construction and dredging project to supply cooling water to the ELWR and movement of personnel and vehicles.
Construction of the ELWR was completed in 2013 and is optimized for civilian electricity production, but it has “dual-use” potential and can be modified to produce material for nuclear weapons.
An adjacent reactor at Yongbyon also appears to show signs of operation, according to 38 North, a project of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins. Satellite imagery from February shows “steam vapor plumes emanating from the generator hall and river ice melt” near the 5 megawatt reactor. The ice melt would likely indicate that the cooling water pipeline has been extended into the river “to conceal the reactor’s operational status,” 38 North said.
The reactor, which is just upriver from the ELWR, uses pumped-in water from the Kuryong River as its cold water intake and discharges heated water downriver.
“If the reactor is operating again, as the evidence suggests, it means North Korea has resumed production of plutonium presumably for its nuclear weapons program,” 38 North concluded.
Analysts say it has long been North Korea’s goal to construct a light-water reactor. After failing to source one internationally, it began an indigenous program nine years ago.
In the absence of international inspections (inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency were last at Yongbyon in April 2009), it’s very difficult to establish the role of such plants, or estimate how much fissile material and nuclear warheads North Korea has accumulated. Estimates published last year suggested North Korea had anywhere from 20 to 60 nuclear weapons.
So extensive and ambitious has the North Korean nuclear program been — both in terms of weapons and missiles — that the upcoming summits will, even if successful, be the beginning of a very long process.
North Korea: Trump is ‘begging for nuclear war’
North Korea willing to talk to US about giving up nuclear weapons, Seoul says
Trump hails ‘possible progress’ in North Korea talks
North Korea Nuclear Activity: Plutonium Production Likely Resumed Amid Talks With Seoul
International Business Times
North Korea Nuclear Deal Would Require Major US Concession Too

UK’s claims questioned: doubts emerge about source of Salisbury’s novichok


UK’s claims questioned: doubts emerge about source of Salisbury’s novichok
Ewen MacAskill

It was a historic moment largely ignored at the time by most of the world’s media and might have remained so but for the attack in Salisbury. At a ceremony last November at the headquarters of the world body responsible for the elimination of chemical weapons in The Hague, a plaque was unveiled to commemorate the destruction of the last of Russia’s stockpiles.

Gen Ahmet Üzümcü, the director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which works closely with the UN, was fulsome in his praise. “This is a major achievement,” he said. The 192-member body had seemingly overseen and verified the destruction Russia’s entire stock of chemical weapons, all 39,967 metric tons.

The question now is whether all of Russia’s chemical weapons were destroyed and accounted for. Theresa May – having identified the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack as novichok, developed in Russia – told the Commons on Wednesday that Russia had offered no explanation as to why it had “an undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law”. Jeremy Corbyn introduced a sceptical note, questioning whether there was any evidence as to the location of its production.

Jeremy Corbyn defies critics and calls for calm over Russia
Read more
The exchanges provoked a debate echoing the one that preceded the 2003 invasion of Iraq over whether UN weapons inspectors had overseen the destruction of all the weapons of mass destruction in the country or whether Saddam Hussein had retained secret hidden caches.

On social media, there were arguments that the novichok could have come from some part of the former Soviet Union other than Russia, such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan or Ukraine, or some non-state group, maybe criminals.

The years following the fall of the Berlin Wall were chaotic, with chemical weapons laboratories and storage sites across the Soviet Union abandoned by staff who were no longer being paid. Security was almost non-existent, leaving the sites at the mercy of criminal gangs or disenchanted staff looking to supplement their income.

“Could somebody have smuggled something out?” Amy Smithson, a US-based biological and chemical weapons expert, said to Reuters. “I certainly wouldn’t rule that possibility out, especially a small amount and particularly in view of how lax the security was at Russian chemical facilities in the early 1990s.”

It took almost a decade before order was restored, in part through stockpiles being transferred to Russia from other parts of the former Soviet Union and in part through help from US and other western experts.

Novichok was developed at a laboratory complex in Shikhany, in central Russia, according to a British weapons expert, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, and a Russian chemist involved in the chemical weapons programme, Vil Mirzayanov, who later defected to the US. Mirzayanov said the novichok was tested at Nukus, in Uzbekistan.

The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who visited the site at Nukus, said it had been dismantled with US help. He is among those advocating scepticism about the UK placing blame on Russia.

In a blog post, he wrote: “The same people who assured you Saddam Hussein had WMDs now assure you Russian ‘novichok’ nerve agents are being wielded by Vladimir Putin to attack people on British soil.”

A Russian lawyer, Boris Kuznetsov, told Reuters he was offering to pass to the British authorities a file he said might be relevant to the Salisbury case. It details an incident when poison hidden in a phone receiver killed a Russian banker and his secretary in 1995. The poison came from an employee at the state chemical facility who sold it through intermediaries – in an ampule placed in a presentation case – to help reduce his debts.

The UK government case rests not just on its argument that novichok was developed in Russia, but what it says is past form, a record of Russian state-sponsored assassination of former spies.

Murray, in a phone interview, is undeterred, determined to challenge the government line, in spite of having been subjected to a level of abuse on social media he had not experienced before.

“There is no evidence it was Russia. I am not ruling out that it could be Russia, though I don’t see the motive. I want to see where the evidence lies,” Murray said. “Anyone who expresses scepticism is seen as an enemy of the state.”

Novichok: nerve agent produced at only one site in Russia, says expert
The Guardian
Spy poisoning: allies back UK and blast Russia at UN security council
The Guardian
Novichok nerve agents – what are they?
The Guardian
It’s The Russians, Says Chemist Who Uncovered Existence Of ‘Novichok’
Russia tells UK after spy poisoning claims: ‘We will not be spoken to in that language’
The Independent

The tallest trees in the world, the California Redwood trees

The tallest trees in the world, the California Redwood trees

The tallest trees in the world, the California Redwood trees

Sonoma is home ofthe northernmost and last Spanish-Mexican mission built along California’s historic El Camino Real.

Sonoma is home ofthe northernmost and last Spanish-Mexican mission built along California’s historic El Camino Real. It is also the location of the Bear Flag Revolt, which transferred ownership of California from Mexico to a short-lived independent California, and then to the United States. Many historic sites in the area are remnants ofthis important era in California’s history.

France, Germany, UK, US blame Moscow for ex-spy poisoning

France, Germany, UK, US blame Moscow for ex-spy poisoning

picture-alliance/dpa/PA Wire/A. Matthews
The leaders of France, Germany, the US and the UK jointly demanded “complete disclosure” from Russia on the Novichok nerve agent used in the attack on former spy Sergei Skripal, saying there is “no plausible alternative” to Moscow’s involvement.

“This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War,” they said in a statement on Thursday. The attack constitutes “an assault on UK sovereignty” that threatened “the security of us all.”

Read more: Nerve agent attack a ‘serious violation’ of international agreements, says Germany’s Von der Leyen

On March 4, Skripal, a 66-year-old former military intelligence agent who betrayed several Russian agents to British intelligence, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia were targeted in the attack. Both remain unconscious in intensive care following the attack.

Nick Bailey, the first police officer on the scene, is also in stable but critical condition. Up to 21 other people were treated for exposure, according to police.

The joint statement called on Moscow to provide information on its nerve poison to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

‘Reckless behavior’
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday said he backed a “proportionate” response from British authorities, adding that the incident must have “consequences.”

“The attack in Salisbury has taken place against a backdrop of reckless behavior by Russia over many years,” said Stoltenberg. “I fully support that there is a need for a response because it has to have consequences when we see actions like we have seen in Salisbury.”

Read more: Spy assassinations: The top 5 deadly poisons

The NATO chief noted that the UK had not invoked Article 5, the transatlantic alliance’s collective defense clause. It has only been invoked once in the alliance’s history, notably by the US in the wake of September 11, 2001 attacks.

Stoltenberg is expected to meet with British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson to further discuss the attack on British soil.

Russia responds
The UK on Wednesday announced a range of measures against Russia, including expelling 23 diplomats.

Moscow said it would retaliate soon. British actions “go way beyond the framework of basic decency,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused the UK of taking a position that is “absolutely irresponsible,” saying “these are all signs of a provocation against our country.”

Read more: Bemusement in Salisbury as Russian ex-spy drama unfolds

‘Warlike’ actions
However, Tom Tugendhat, a British MP and chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the House of Commons, told DW that Russia’s actions were “warlike.”

“Had [this chemical] been opened on the London Underground, for example, it would have killed hundreds of people. And to use it next to a children’s playground, where, had the children been there, it would have killed 30 or 40 children,” said Tugendhat.

“This is a completely unacceptable, warlike act by a violent, deranged regime that is weakening and lashing out. This is a corrupt dictatorship that has to stop.”

ls,dj/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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UK knows more about poisoning of ex-Russian spy
UK says it is too early to pin blame in spy case
EU ‘will stand with’ Britain over spy poisoning
UK, US, France, Germany jointly condemn spy attack
RTÉ Ireland’s National Television and Radio Broadcaster
UK, US, Germany and France unite to condemn spy attack
The Guardian

My Chakra today

My Chakra today

My Chakra today