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Nuclear Weapons, President Trump, and General Mattis

, co-director and senior scientist

Many people trusted that Secretary of Defense Mattis would be able to rein in the dangerous impulses of his erratic boss who, as commander-in-chief, has the authority to order the use of military forces—including nuclear weapons.

Indeed, General Mattis may have privately assured some members of Congress that he would get into the loop to restrain President Trump if it looked like a nuclear crisis was brewing. So people are naturally worried that Mattis’ resignation will put Trump back in full control of US nuclear weapons.

But regardless of what Mattis may or may not have told members of Congress, the secretary of defense is not in the decision chain for a nuclear launch and has no ability to stop a launch order from going through. Perhaps Mattis could have talked Trump out of ordering an attack in the first place, assuming he knew the president was considering such an attack, but he had neither the legal authority nor the ability to prevent one from being carried out. Read more >

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Will Japan Try to Save the INF Treaty?

, China project manager and senior analyst

US President Ronald Reagan and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone meet at Camp David in 1986.

President Trump said he plans to withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. US National Security Advisor John Bolton implied the government of Japan already agreed.

Not long after Bolton’s statement, Foreign Minister Taro Kono told reporters the Abe government needed to discuss the fate of the treaty with US officials before commenting. Six days later US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Tom DiNanno and Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia Marc Knapper arrived in Tokyo for a three-day dialog on US extended deterrence guarantees for Japan. The fate of the INF treaty was on their agenda. What did Japanese officials tell the Trump administration? Read more >

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China and the INF Treaty

, China project manager and senior analyst

Some US analysts and officials argue the United States should withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty because it prevents the United States from responding to China’s deployed short- and intermediate-range ground-based missiles. They argue the United States should abandon a bilateral arms control agreement intended to prevent Russia from threatening Western Europe to make it easier for the United States to threaten China.

These are dubious arguments. The US nuclear arsenal is more than 10 times larger than China’s and Chinese military strategists already believe the United States possesses conventional military superiority. Read more >

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Nuclear Reactor Fuel Safety: The Waiting Gain

, former director, Nuclear Safety Project

Nuclear power reactors spilt atoms to release energy used to generate electricity. Many of the byproducts formed when atoms split are unstable (radioactive) and release particles or gamma rays in search of stability. These radioactive emissions produce energy. Whether in the core of an operating reactor, in the core of a shutdown reactor, in the spent fuel pool after discharge from a reactor core, or in dry storage after offloading from a spent fuel pool, the energy released from nuclear reactor fuel must be removed before it damages the fuel from overheating. This commentary describes the energy levels associated with nuclear fuel in various locations at various times to illustrate the factors that affect the associated hazard levels. Read more >

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No, Space-Based Missile Defense Will Not Cost Only $20 Billion. (Spoiler: That’s only the launch costs.)

, senior scientist

Space-based missile defense is a terrible idea. It is expensive and straightforwardly defeated, and it is dangerous and destabilizing. (If you haven’t watched it, please do take a look at this video and web feature UCS just produced. It helps to see these arguments visually.)

But knowledgeable people say it’s not so expensive!

At a recent event hosted by the Missile Defense Advocacy, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin calculated the cost to “put up” an interceptor layer. Given how Griffin talked about it, you may be forgiven for thinking he means this is the full cost of a space-based missile defense system—rather than just the cost of launching the interceptors into space. Read more >

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