Australian news, and some related international items

Physicists push for nuclear science education. Their environmental colleagues not so sure

‘Cherish’ the power: Physicists issue call to arms over nuclear skills gap

Associate Professor Tilman Ruff, founder of the Nobel prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said he feared the nation’s universities were becoming “academic prostitutes” for the nuclear industry – particularly firms that make nuclear weapons.

“The organisations that have historically funded nuclear research at universities have been those with interests in either uranium mining and nuclear power, or nuclear weapons. That’s the problem. There’s not big amounts of money in the more socially constructive areas.” By Liam Mannix, December 28, 2022

Australia’s physicists say we must learn to cherish nuclear science and invest in training a new generation of experts to run satellites, quantum computers and submarines.

But their colleagues in environmental science are wary of what such an investment might produce.

Australia’s physicists say we must learn to cherish nuclear science and invest in training a new generation of experts to run satellites, quantum computers and submarines.

Australia has committed to buying or building a fleet of American or British-designed nuclear submarines, with the first expected to be in the water late next decade.

They will probably require a crew and workforce of nuclear engineers, technicians and scientists – but Australia lacks a civil nuclear industry.

The nation is already struggling to fill key nuclear safety positions, let alone produce a new workforce, says Dr AJ Mitchell, senior lecturer in the Australia National University’s Department of Nuclear Physics and Accelerator Applications.

“The need is urgent. The captain of our first nuclear submarine is probably already in secondary school today,” he said. “This must be a sovereign capability. And it needs to start yesterday.

“We need to make people understand that ‘nuclear’ is not something to be scared of, but rather to cherish and appreciate.”

Mitchell is leading the development of a national vision for nuclear science, a project launched this month at the Australian Institute of Physics Congress in Adelaide. The strategy includes a national program of nuclear science education.

Nobel laureate and Australian National University vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt made waves last month when urged Australia not to “drag its feet” on the nuclear submarines issue.

The boats represented “one of the biggest training and workforce development challenges Australia has faced”, he said.

That warning adds to pre-existing concerns about the training of engineering and science graduates generally.

Australia has been slowly increasing its number of new engineers, but most of the workforce growth is from overseas labour, according to a report by Engineers Australia.

Fewer students are studying advanced mathematics or physics in year 12, while applications for engineering courses at university fell between 2010 and 2015. Australia has the third lowest number of engineers as a proportion of graduates among developed countries.

Changes to the way engineering courses are funded led the Group of Eight – a coalition of the country’s top research universities – to declare this year that the Australian model for the university education of engineers was “broken” and could not deliver enough skilled engineering graduates to meet the government’s infrastructure investment.

But not all scientists share a conviction that nuclear physics and engineering need investment.

“There is already controversy about the nuclear submarines deal, and anxiety in our region about some sort of arms race and nuclearisation,” said Associate Professor Peter Christoff, a climate policy researcher at the University of Melbourne and former assistant commissioner for the environment in Victoria.

“Significant funding for research into nuclear physics and engineering would send precisely the wrong signals to our regional neighbours and increase their anxieties that what we’re seeing is precisely the start of that nuclear arms race.”

Associate Professor Tilman Ruff, founder of the Nobel prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said he feared the nation’s universities were becoming “academic prostitutes” for the nuclear industry – particularly firms that make nuclear weapons.

“The organisations that have historically funded nuclear research at universities have been those with interests in either uranium mining and nuclear power, or nuclear weapons. That’s the problem. There’s not big amounts of money in the more socially constructive areas.”

December 29, 2022 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Education | Leave a comment

Scott Morrison’s booby trap: Buying US nuclear submarines is a huge mistake. Clinton Fernandes. Academic and former intelligence officer. 28 Dec 22,

Submarines are in the news a lot these days. Nuclear-powered ones especially.

There is no doubt that submarines are an essential defence capability for a maritime nation like Australia. They raise the stakes for any adversary contemplating hostile action against us. Submarines are expensive, but countermeasures against them are much more expensive. They allow the government to act at a time of its choosing and under any realistic threat scenario.

Australia’s defence interests would be better served by conventionally powered submarines, not nuclear-powered ones. Air-independent propulsion (AIP) submarines are a proven technology. They go as deep as nuclear-powered submarines and can lurk in an area for months. They convert chemical energy into electric power at high efficiencies, and can go for up to three weeks without having to surface to recharge their batteries, a process known as “snorkelling”. Their hydrogen fuel cells and Stirling engines are much quieter than nuclear-powered submarines, which have large meshing gears between their steam turbines and propellers and must also keep their reactor cooling pumps running

AIP submarines are lighter as well. They are better at shallow water operations. They are considerably cheaper than nuclear-powered boats, meaning many more could be purchased, with more local maintenance jobs throughout the life of the boats.

Japan, South Korea and Singapore use air-independent propulsion submarines, as do Norway, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Italy. So does Israel, a nuclear-capable state.

As former submariner and senator Rex Patrick has argued, Australia could have 20 modern, off-the-shelf submarines built in Australia and enhanced by Australian industry, for $30 billion. By contrast, the eight nuclear-powered boats may cost as much as $171 billion. Conventional submarines would free up funds so that Australia can acquire more fighter jets, a $40 billion industry resilience package, a national shipping fleet, long-range rockets and other artillery systems, utility helicopters, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, and more.

As the weeks and months pass by, the mirage of Australian nuclear-powered submarines will stay as alluring as ever, and as out of reach as ever, with the Labor government persisting, however absurd and expensive this theatre becomes.

They don’t seem to understand that Scott Morrison booby-trapped the defence self-reliance of this country. Some submarines will eventually be located in Australia, with Australian flags and personnel, but they’re essentially US boats operated in the US’s great power interests. We’re paying for them to set up part of their current and future fleet in Australia.

Nuclear-powered submarines create another problem. When the nuclear-armed states signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, they insisted on exempting fissile materials used in nuclear-powered ships and submarines from inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). They wanted to preserve the secrets of their naval reactor designs.

The US and Britain’s submarines operate reactors that use 93.5 per cent-enriched uranium as fuel. The US Navy’s reactors currently use about 100 nuclear bombs’ worth of highly enriched uranium every year, more than all the world’s other reactors’ production combined. Civilian reactors typically use 3 to 5 per cent-enriched uranium as fuel. (The French Suffren-class submarine runs on fuel enriched below 6 per cent).

Australia will become the first non-nuclear-armed state to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, and these will require the same high-grade uranium as the rest of the US fleet. Australia will have to work with the IAEA to figure out how to account for the fissile material without disclosing secret naval reactor design information. Iran, Brazil, South Korea and other countries could use the Australian precedent to develop or acquire nuclear-powered vessels too, enjoying similar exemptions from IAEA inspection.

There are powerful arguments for Australia to modernise its submarine fleet. Conventionally powered submarines make the most sense on grounds of performance, defence relevance, cost and non-proliferation.

Professor Clinton Fernandes part of the University of NSW’s Future Operations Research Group which analyses the threats, risks and opportunities that military forces will face in the future. He is a former intelligence officer in the Australian army.

December 29, 2022 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, politics, weapons and war | Leave a comment

“Nuclear Sharing” – USA’s obscene system to turn non-nuclear weapons countries into nuclear attackers/targets.

The Steadfast Noon exercise will practice a controversial arrangement known as nuclear sharing, under which the United States installs nuclear equipment on fighter jets of select non-nuclear NATO countries and train their pilots to carry out nuclear strike with U.S. nuclear bombs.

NATO Steadfast Noon Exercise And Nuclear Modernization in Europe,

By Hans Kristensen • October 17, 2022,

Today, Monday October 17, 2022, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will begin a two-week long exercise in Europe to train aircrews in using U.S. non-strategic nuclear bombs. The exercise, known as Steadfast Noon, is centered at Kleine Brogel Air Base in Belgium, one of six airbases in Europe that store U.S. nuclear bombs. The exercise takes place midst significant modernizations at nuclear bases across Europe.

The arrangement is controversial because the United States as a party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has promised not to hand over nuclear weapons to other countries, and the non-nuclear countries in the sharing arrangement have promised not to receive nuclear weapons from the nuclear weapon states. In peacetime the nuclear weapons are under U.S. control, but the arrangement means that they would be handed over to the non-nuclear country in war time. The arrangement was in place before the NPT was signed so it is not a violation of the letter of the treaty. But it can be said to violate the spirit and has been an irritant for years.

Steadfast Noon exercises are held once every year, but this year is unique because the exercise will take place during the largest conventional war in Europe since World War II with considerable tension and uncertainty resulting from Russia’s war in Ukraine. Moreover, Steadfast Noon is expected to more or less coincide with a large Russian strategic nuclear exercise. For NATO officials, other than Putin’s war in Ukraine, this is all routine. But for the public, it is but the latest development in rising tensions and unprecedented fears about nuclear war.

According to NATO, Steadfast Noon will involve 14 countries (less than half of the 30 NATO allies) and up to 60 aircraft. That involves fourth-generation F-16s and F-15Es as well as fifth-generation F-35A and F-22 fighter jets. A number of tankers and surveillance aircraft will also take part. Although the exercise is practicing NATO’s non-strategic nuclear forces, a couple of U.S. strategic B-52 bombers will also participate. Training flights will take place over Belgium and the United Kingdom as well as over the North Sea. There might also be flights over Germany and the Netherlands.

Practicing Nuclear Bomb Sharing

The Steadfast Noon exercise will practice a controversial arrangement known as nuclear sharing, under which the United States installs nuclear equipment on fighter jets of select non-nuclear NATO countries and train their pilots to carry out nuclear strike with U.S. nuclear bombs.

“If NATO was to conduct a nuclear mission in a conflict,” NATO says, “the B-61 [sic] weapons would be carried by certified Allied aircraft…However, a nuclear mission can only be undertaken after explicit political approval is given by NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group (NPG) and authorisation is received from the US President and UK Prime Minister.” It is unclear why the U.K. Prime Minister would have to authorize employment of U.S. nuclear weapons, and unless NATO territory had been attacked with nuclear weapons first, it seems unlikely that the 29 countries in the NPG would be able to agree to approve of employment of non-strategic nuclear weapons from bases in Europe.

NATO disclosed earlier this year that seven NATO countries contribute dual-capable aircraft to the nuclear sharing mission. The countries were not identified but five are widely known: Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and the United States. The sixth country is probably Turkey (despite rumors that it was no longer part of the mission), in which case some Turkish F-16s are still equipped to deliver B61 bombs. The seventh country is a mystery, but might possibly be the United Kingdom, in which case some British Eurofighters would have a nuclear mission with U.S. bombs [Note: a UK role has not been confirmed].

Nuclear Base Modernizations

During the past several years, the nuclear bases and the infrastructure that support the nuclear sharing mission in Europe have been undergoing significant upgrades, including cables, command and control systems, weapons maintenance and custodial facilities, security perimeters, and runway and tarmac areas.

There are currently six active sites in Europe that store U.S. nuclear bombs: Kleine Brogel air base in Belgium, Büchel air base in Germany, Aviano and Ghedi air bases in Italy, Volkel air base in the Netherlands, and possibly Incirlik in Turkey. The estimated number of weapons at each site is based on the number of active vaults, aircraft, and other information:

Each of these bases have one or two dozen active vaults (Weapons Storage Security System, WS3) inside as many protective aircraft shelters. Ramstein air base in Germany used to be the largest storage site in Europe but only 7 vaults remain active possibly for training and transfer. All weapons were withdrawn from Lakenheath before 2007 but the United Kingdom was recently added to the nuclear infrastructure storage modernization program, which means there are now eight active WS3 sites in Europe:

The modernizations at the various bases vary depending on capacity, location, and host country. At Kleine Brogel Air Base in Belgium,…………………………

At Büchel Air Base in Germany…………………….

At Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands,…………

Ghedi Air Base in Italy………….

Upgrades of Aviano Air Base in Italy and Incirlik Air Base in Turkey……….

Weapons Modernization……………………..

Finally, the existing B61 nuclear bombs will soon be replaced by the enhanced B61-12 guided nuclear bomb. Development is essentially complete and full-scale production of about 480 B61-12s is expected to begin soon. The new weapon is thought to have the same yield range as the current B61-4: 0.3, 1.5, 10 and 50 kilotons. Training of the units in Europe to receive the new weapon is scheduled to begin in early-2023 and the first weapons potentially arriving at the first base in late-2023 or 2024.

In addition to the non-strategic fighter jets F-15E, F-16, F-35A, and Tornado, the B61-12 will also be integrated on the B-2 and B-21 strategic bombers. ecause of the increased provided by the tail kit, all the digital aircraft that can make use of it (all except F-16 and Tornado) will be able to hold at risk a wide range of targets. The combination of increased accuracy and lower-yield options on non-strategic and strategic stealth aircraft will significantly increase the capability of the gravity bomb mission.

December 29, 2022 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tucker “Gets It” – Putin Doesn’t Want American Missiles on His Border

Much as I hate siding with the Right Wing, and much as if I were an American, I would probably be a Democrat, I have to admit that Tucker Carlson and Fox News sometimes make a bit of sense.

It pains me to have to side with these Right-wingers.

But we are at a point where it is more important to THINK. And America’s Democrats don’t seem able to think. Indeed, Americans seem to slavishly follow the mindset of their political parties. And thinking seems to be an activity that is somehow treacherous.

The Unz Review, MIKE WHITNEY • DECEMBER 27, 2022

“Getting Ukraine to join NATO was the key to inciting war with Russia. We didn’t get it at the time. (But) Now it’s obvious. Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine because he didn’t want Ukraine to join NATO. Putin certainly had other motives as well; people always do, but that’s the main reason Russia invaded. The Russians don’t want American missiles on their border. They don’t want a hostile government next door. Now that is true, whether you are allowed to say it aloud in public or not. It has been true for a long time. A lot has been written about this over many years by serious people. No one who knows anything and is honest, will tell you Putin invaded Ukraine simply because he is evil. Putin may be evil, he certainly seems to be, but he also has strategic motives for doing that, whether you agree with those motives or not. That is irrelevant. Those are the facts.” Tucker Carlson, Fox News

Tucker Carlson is right about Ukraine. NATO membership for Ukraine was clearly a provocation aimed at luring Russia into an invasion. And, it worked, too. Putin could not take the risk of having “a hostile government next door” or “American missiles on his border,” so he acted to preempt those threats by sending the tanks across the border on Febrary 24, 2021.

Where Carlson is a little off-base, is when he he says that Putin’s actions were prompted by “strategic motives”. That’s not really wrong, it just misses the point. The point is that Washington’s combat troops and missile sites on Russia’s western border would pose a grave threat to Russia’s national security. Putin would have to be out-of-his-mind to allow a development like that. So, he did what any American president would have done if he had been in the same situation. He invaded. This is an excerpt from an article at the World Socialist Web Site:

The narrative in the media, which presents the invasion as an unprovoked action, is a fabrication that conceals the aggressive actions by the NATO powers, in particular the United States, and its puppets in the Ukrainian government.

In Europe and Asia, the US pursued a strategy aimed at encircling and subjugating Russia. Directly violating its earlier promises that the Soviet bureaucracy and Russian oligarchy were delusional enough to believe, NATO has expanded to include almost all major countries in Eastern Europe, apart from Ukraine and Belarus.

In 2014, the US orchestrated a far-right coup in Kiev that overthrew a pro-Russian government that had opposed Ukrainian membership in NATO. In 2018, the US officially adopted a strategy of preparing for “great power conflict” with Russia and China. In 2019, it unilaterally withdrew from the INF Treaty, which banned the deployment of intermediate-range nuclear missiles. Preparations for war with Russia and the arming of Ukraine were at the center of the Democrats’ first attempt to impeach Donald Trump in 2019.” (“The US-Ukrainian Strategic Partnership of November 2021 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine“, World Socialist Web Site)

This is a brief but excellent summary of events leading up to the Russian invasion on February 24, 2021. Putin and his advisors had been following developments in Ukraine with growing alarm after it became apparent that their worst fears were materializing. The CIA was not only arming and training paramilitaries in the east in preparation for a war against ethnic Russians in the Donbas, the US was also cultivating an explicitly anti-Russia political party –which contained openly fascist elements– that was designated to implement Washington’s proxy-war strategy. In short, the US fanned the flames of ethnic hatred in order to lay the groundwork for its “Great Power” conflagration with Moscow. Here’s more from the WSWS:……………………………………………………

For Russia, Ukraine’s membership in NATO was “the reddest of red lines”. Since the end of WW2, NATO had expanded from 12 to 30 countries almost all of which pushed further eastward towards Russia’s western border. When the United States indicated it would seek NATO membership for Ukraine at the Bucharest Summit in 2008, Putin’s response was uncharacteristically ferocious………………………………………..

The point we’re making is that the current conflict has nothing to do with claims that Putin is “an aspiring imperialist longing to reconstruct the Soviet empire.” There is no evidence for that at all. The real issue is NATO expansion and, in particular, the secret agreements between the United States and Ukraine that made Ukraine a full-fledged member of NATO in everything but name. Take a look at this excerpt from an article by Marcy Winograd :

The September, 2021, Joint Statement on the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership reaffirmed Ukraine as a de facto NATO partner,……………………………………………………………….

Brilliant analysis, and right to the point. Ukraine didn’t need to be formally entered into NATO because the US stealthily bestowed defacto membership on them out of the public eye. Naturally, Putin and his lieutenants knew what was going on, but the media made sure that everyone else remained in the dark. And all of this sleight-of-hand was going on just months before Putin was forced to invade. It’s actually shocking.

Does it sound like Ukraine snuck into NATO through the back door?

It does.

This summary helps to show that Ukraine’s non-membership in NATO is largely “a fiction.” Ukraine has been fully-integrated into the anti-Russia Alliance in every way except formal approval. Ukraine’s Strategic Partnership with the US, which was signed by both parties in 2021, underscores this point. It also helps “to clarify” –as Marcy Winograd notes– “that the United States and NATO provoked the war.” Indeed, Washington has put a significant amount of time and energy into a project that is aimed at crossing all of Russia’s redlines, directly challenging Russia’s basic security interests, and forcing Russia to invade a neighboring country. Simply put, Washington placed a gun to Russia’s head and threatened to pull the trigger.

Fortunately, Putin responded in the way that best ensured the safety and security of his own government, his own country, and his own people. We would expect any responsible leader to do the same.

December 29, 2022 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Calling nuclear fusion a potential ‘climate solution’ may undermine actual solutions

The latest fusion breakthrough is scientifically important, but the technology’s timeline just doesn’t match up with the urgency of climate change.

Grid Dave Levitan 28 Dec 22 Climate Reporter

When scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced a “breakthrough” in nuclear fusion research this month, many eyes quickly turned to climate change. Stories from the BBCCNN and other major outlets mentioned the potential for “limitless” clean energy and discussed fusion’s place as a global warming fix within their opening paragraphs. Even Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, in announcing the new result, touted its potential to provide “clean power to combat climate change.”

From a purely theoretical standpoint, this makes some sense. Fusion power, in an idealized, storybook form, turns the world’s energy system on its head, offering an emissions-free way to keep the lights on. And the latest advance sounds truly impressive: Using enormously powerful lasers, scientists at Livermore’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) managed to create a split-second fusion reaction — mimicking that which takes place on a massive scale inside the sun — that produced more energy than it consumed.

But the world doesn’t live in that storybook. On a practical, near-term level, nuclear fusion and climate change have almost nothing to do with each other. One remains in more-or-less scientific infancy, many years away from even a hint of usable form; the other gets more urgent by the day, requires immediate intervention and has some readily available tech being deployed as we speak.

“A lot of people are desperate for some sort of silver bullet climate solution that will help to bypass the hard work of actually getting political agreements and policymaking and sacrifice to eliminate fossil fuels,” said Edwin Lyman, a physicist and director of nuclear power safety for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It would just be easier if there were this panacea out there that would transform everything, but of course that’s totally unrealistic.”

Celebrating scientific advances is important. But linking that science with an urgent global need that it cannot on relevant time scales address may offer false hope and potentially undermine the more banal climate progress — dramatic renewable energy expansion, efficiency improvements, vehicle electrification and so on — that is possible today.

Ignition achieved

The old joke about nuclear fusion is that it is always 20 — or 30 or 50 — years away. Taking hydrogen atoms and fusing them into helium, in the process releasing energy that theoretically can be used to power the electric grid, is so technically challenging that despite well over a half-century of advances, the joke still more or less holds true…………………. more

December 29, 2022 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The 2022 nuclear year in review: A global nuclear order in shambles

The Bulletin. By François Diaz-Maurin | December 26, 2022

It is hard to find a year filled with more concerns about nuclear risk than 2022. There surely was 1986 and the Chernobyl reactor accident. There was also 1962 and the Cuban Missile Crisis. And, of course, there was 1945 and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But this year, all sorts of nuclear risks coincided.

Russia, losing on the ground, contemplated the use of nuclear weapons in its war against Ukraine—recklessly threatening the nuclear taboo, a 77-year tradition of non-use. Also in Ukraine, nuclear reactors and nuclear facilities became targets of military attacks. Elsewhere, North Korea test-launched more ballistic missiles than it ever had in a single year and even seems to be preparing for a nuclear test. Iran resumed construction of its underground nuclear complex, disconnected IAEA surveillance cameras, and accelerated its uranium enrichment program, leaving it only months away from possibly testing a nuclear explosive or deploying a crude nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile, if it wishes to do so. In response, Saudi Arabia took further steps toward enriching uranium, also refusing IAEA inspections that would ensure the Kingdom does not conduct covert nuclear weapons-related activities.

Despite all these concerns, efforts of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament failed to achieve any meaningful result this year. Participants in the first meeting of states parties of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), also known as the ban treaty, could not agree on calling out Russia’s nuclear threats and rhetoric in its war against Ukraine. The long-awaited review conference of the parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) ended without an agreement after Russia refused to sign off on an outcome document that referred to the control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. The international community, so far, seems incapable of finding ways to better protect nuclear facilities from attacks, even as the odds of a nuclear accident in Ukraine increase as the war drags on.

In August, the EU-mediated talks between the United States and Iran failed to revive the 2015 agreement limiting Tehran’s nuclear program, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which former President Trump abandoned in 2018. In the United States, the much-anticipated Biden administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) was finally released in October, only to deceive experts. The NPR has been invariably accused, at best, of maintaining the nuclear status quo and of passing on its chance to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in the US security strategy, if not of being a major step backward.

Finally, in late November, hopes that on-site inspections under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) could resume soon were cold-showered after Russia postponed a meeting of the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC), the treaty’s implementing body, planned to be held the next day in Cairo, Egypt. New START is the only bilateral nuclear arms control treaty between the United States and Russia, the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals. It is set to expire in 2026.

2022 will certainly appear in textbooks as the year when the global nuclear order was unprecedentedly shaken, if not irreparably destroyed……………………..

December 29, 2022 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

December 28 Energy News — geoharvey

Opinion: ¶ “Climate Change And Bomb Cyclones: What Do We Know?” • Inevitably, there will be politicians who use events like winter storms to argue that global warming is not happening. This worldview is wrong. Dangerously wrong. Falsely equating a ball of frozen water to “disproof” of global warming is a snowball of ignorance. [The […]

December 28 Energy News — geoharvey

December 29, 2022 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment