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  Timeline of the Nuclear Age 2000s  2007


Henry Kissinger, a Republican Party hero, co-authors the article A World Free of Nuclear Weapons with George P. Schultz, William J. Perry, and Sam Nunn. The authors wrote this article in the wake of North Korea’s nuclear weapons test, and Iran refusing to give up its uranium enrichment program. In the article, they urge the U.S. government to realize that pursuing deterrence with nuclear weapons is not a viable option in a world where non-state groups might have access to them. The authors use the words of former presidents to strengthen the argument that the U.S. should lead the world in achieving the goals of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and then lay out a concrete guide for doing so.

The Bush administration proposed a plan to update the design of the Reliable Replacement Warhead by combining two competing proposals.  The design from Livermore National Laboratory in California focused on a design that was tested in the 1980s in the Nevada desert.  The other group, from Los Alamos in New Mexico, pulled elements from several stockpiled weapons to create a new, untested model.  If Congress fully funds the proposal, the refurbishment is expected to cost $100 billion.  The initiative has been criticized for sending the wrong message to Iran and North Korea whose nuclear programs the U.S. is working to eliminate; for being contrary to “the liquidation of all their existing stockpiles” as promised by Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty signatories; and for possibly requiring an end to the moratorium on underground testing.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge determine that Zircon, a material once believed to be capable of safely containing nuclear waste, in reality degrades far faster than previously thought. Using a method called nuclear magnetic resonance, the scientists simulate how Zircon and nuclear waste will interact over thousands of years, and determine that the Zircon will only contain the waste safely for part of its lifetime.

Considering North Korea’s recent nuclear weapon test, Iran’s nuclear aims, and the presence of 26,000 nuclear weapons in the U.S. and Russia, a group of prominent scientists move the hands of the symbolic Doomsday Clock to 11:55 – the closest it has come to midnight since 1947.  Their intention is to implore the world to solve its dangerous nuclear and environmental issues.

King Abdullah II of Jordan announces Jordan’s desire to create a peaceful nuclear program.  Jordan is the most recent of an increasing number of Arab nations that are contemplating peaceful nuclear programs.  There is speculation that this surge of interest is a result of a fear that Iran will eventually possess nuclear weapons.

Georgian Officials reveal the former arrest of Oleg Khinsagov, a Russian man who attempted to sell 3.5 ounces of highly enriched uranium, an amount significant enough for use in an atomic bomb.  The arrest was part of a U.S.-Georgian sting operation. 

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) announces its hopes of building two new nuclear reactors and of restarting its oldest reactor at Browns Ferry.  The TVA’s new plans are a result of a simplified licensing process and incentives given by the government to make the construction of new nuclear power plants easier and more appealing to utilities companies.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announces in its revised defense plan for nuclear plants that nuclear power plant operators and federal organizations, including the military, are responsible for protecting reactors from possible plane crashes.  This announcement relates to a controversy between the nuclear power industry and the government over whose responsibility it is to protect plants from hijacked commercial aircraft and terrorist attacks.

Congress urges the Pentagon not to pursue its conventional Trident missile concept.  This comes as a result of a concern that foreign nations will mistake conventional warheads for nuclear warheads and assume that every Trident missile launch is a nuclear attack.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announces it has chosen a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) design for its first Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), and that it will be researching a possible second design as well. The conservative LLNL design will replace the W-76 and will outfit the Trident nuclear attack submarine.  The announcement is shocking to many who assumed the NNSA would form a hybrid from both the LLNL and the Los Alamos National Laboratory designs.

After a five-year negotiation stalemate, chief U.S. negotiator Christopher R. Hill and North Korean negotiator Kim Kye-gwan reach an agreement on North Korea’s denuclearization.  In exchange for North Korea shutting down its Yongbyon nuclear facility and permitting the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct inspections, the U.S. will supply the country with energy aid.

President Bush moved a second aircraft carrier group into waters within striking distance of Iran after the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran currently has roughly 1,000 centrifuges, the high-speed devices that enrich uranium, at its nuclear facility at Natanz.  This figure is lower than Iran’s goal of 3,000 at this time, but ahead of what experts had predicted.  Inspectors now expect the additional 2,000 centrifuges to be installed by May.

Public outcry in Utah is credited with halting the Pentagon’s use of the Divine Strake conventional weapons test. Members of Congress and Pentagon officials alike explain that the voices of citizens who spoke out against the weapons testing were not easily forgotten and proved quite convincing in the cancellation of the test.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) receives a symbolic fee of $1.1 million for fifteen safety violations it incurred in 2005, a time in which the lab was run by the University of California and had non-profit status.  This status made it exempt from civic fees for safety violations. 

After a six hour debate, the British House of Commons passes a $40 billion program for a new generation of nuclear weapons with a vote for 409 to 161.  The vote leads to a fracture in the Labor Party from which three ministerial aids resign and ninety members voted in opposition.  The opposition argues that a reimplementation of Britain’s nuclear weapons program will weaken the case for states like North Korea and Iran not to pursue their own nuclear weapons programs.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei visits North Korea to invite them back into the IAEA.

Charlie Nylander, former head of the ground water protection program at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), publishes an article placing blame on the state of New Mexico for delays and the inefficient cleaning up of pollution created by the lab. He argues that the state did not follow through on the cleanup plans suggested in reports submitted by the laboratory.

The Department of Energy (DOE) holds the last in a series of public hearings pertaining to its proposed plan to resume reprocessing nuclear fuel in the United States. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) required the DOE to hold the hearings that are attended by citizens who use them as forums to discuss the Bush administration’s proposed Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) program.

The U.S. pledges to help Vietnam construct a nuclear power plant in exchange for their agreement not to use weapons grade uranium in their test reactor. The Bush administration vows to help the country with its energy needs while ensuring that they will not allow it to produce nuclear weapons.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issues the largest fine in its history, $1.14 million, to the Hanford nuclear reservation for poor oversight and performance problems. The Hanford site, a Superfund cleanup site being monitored by the EPA, is one of the most polluted areas in the United States.

The United States agrees to unfreeze $25 million dollars in assets going to North Korea in exchange for the shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear facility.

In defiance of two United Nations resolutions, Iran announced that it is now capable of industrial-scale uranium production. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened to stop cooperating with the international community if demands for it to halt its nuclear program were not dropped.

According to the denuclearization deal reached between the U.S. and North Korea on February 13, 2007, the North Korean nuclear reactor at Yongbyon was supposed to be shut down, and weapons inspectors allowed into the country by this date.  North Korean noncompliance is linked to funds frozen by the United States in 2005 as a result of a U.S. accusation that North Korea was money laundering and producing counterfeit currency. The frozen funds serve to stall the denuclearization deal.

At the Pantex nuclear weapons plant in Amarillo, Texas, five hundred security guards go on strike to protest the ratcheting up of fitness standards for plant security officials.  This change imposed by the Department of Energy was developed in response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.  The guards feel the new standards are a symbol of the deterioration of their job and retirement security. The Pantex plant is not the only nuclear production facility to experience such reactions to the shifting standards.

The Senate raises questions about the Bush Administration’s plan to build new nuclear weapons.  The Senate’s concerns relate to a fear of the administration embarking on new or different military missions, the legitimacy of the need for a Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) and the possible need for nuclear weapons testing, which would jeopardize the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). 

The American Association for the Advancement of Science issues a report that discourages the commencement of the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program.  The report's biggest criticism is that the Bush administration has neither a strategy for how the new weapons might be put to use, nor logical reasoning for maintaining a large nuclear weapons stockpile.

Frustrated students from the University of California, Santa Barbara, join together with peers in the Associated Students Legislative Council to develop a resolution to create a Student Nuclear Weapons Lab Oversight Committee. The students feel that governance over the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos weapons labs should be shared, monitored, and investigated. This committee is unique in its development - giving students the authority to issue official reports, carry out weapons inspections of each facility, and to lobby congress.

President Vladimir Putin said in his annual speech to Parliament that Russia would suspend its compliance with the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe.  As a result of the treaty, more than 50,000 pieces of military equipment were converted or destroyed by 1995.  It was renegotiated in 1999, adding a requirement that Russia withdraw its forces from Georgia and Moldova, although most signatories of the original treaty have not ratified the updated version.  Russia’s move is seen as a reaction to the proposed U.S. missile defense shield in Europe; NATO’s expansion toward Russian borders; and the U.S. leaving the Antiballistic Missile Treaty.

At the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Preparatory Committee meeting, the U.S. delegation drastically overstates the United States commitment to achieving nuclear disarmament. In a presentation called, “The United States and Article VI: A Record of Accomplishment,” listeners are told that the U.S. has an active stockpile of 3,696 weapons, whereas the actual total is closer to 10,000.  Even when non-active weapons are eliminated from this count, the active stockpile amounts to 4,663 weapons. As a result of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the U.S. and Russia use special counting rules that make the total of arms reported less than the total that actually exist. There is a discrepancy of nearly 1,000 nuclear war heads in this manner of counting – a total that could result in millions, if not billions, of deaths.

The Defense Nuclear Safety Board receives a memo stating that thirty-eight drums of radioactive waste were found missing during an inventory count at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.The drums were supposed to be among some 20,000 other containers of highly toxic transuranic waste in the lab’s storage facility.While some directors believe the barrels to be missing, others feel that the discrepancy was simply an error in the inventory process.

Former President Bill Clinton analyzes the Bush administration’s nuclear policies. He praises the diplomatic process that led to the denuclearization deal with North Korea, but criticizes the Bush administration’s quest for the development of new nuclear weapons while the United States is simultaneously encouraging other countries to disarm or abandon their nuclear aims.

Students at the University of California Santa Barbara conduct a hunger strike in an effort to urge the University to withdraw its management from the nations’ two major nuclear weapons design laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The hunger strike culminates six years of protesting the University’s managerial connections to the labs.  The strike concludes when a University of California Board of Regents meets with the strikers on May 17, where the strikers present them with thousands of signatures and hundreds of letters of support.

Iran locks IAEA inspectors out of the country.

The House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee votes to eliminate funding for engineering and cost study elements of the Bush administration’s Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program.  As a result of concerns about what U.S. adversaries might think of a new weapons program, Congress reduced the budget for the RRW program from $88 million to $20 million.

Congressmen Jim Matheson of Utah and Mike Simpson of Idaho appeal to the House Judiciary Committee for expanded coverage for the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA).  Before any improvements, people with specific types of cancer from nuclear testing that took place at the nuclear test site in Nevada during the 1950s and 1960s were given $50,000. Those who participated in above-ground testing receive $75,000, and uranium workers currently are given $100,000.

U.S. Government allows the START Pact to lapse.

Los Alamos National Laboratory celebrates its successful creation of a certified plutonium pit for a nuclear weapon.  The creation of this pit is the first of its kind in eighteen years, and will be assembled inside a W-88 nuclear weapon and fitted for a Trident Submarine in Amarillo, Texas. To commemorate the successful pit creation, the lab invites Congressional delegates and dignitaries to attend its July 2 celebration.

North Korea invites nuclear inspectors from the UN to discuss shutting down its Yongbyon reactor and fuel reprocessing plant.  The move forward with the denuclearization deal comes as a result of the U.S. unfreezing North Korean bank accounts, which totaled at about $25 million. 

The Senate urges Bush not to let the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) expire. While the Bush administration prefers a more informal, less binding verification system than the one provided by the START, the intelligence community prefers the binding guidelines of START because they provide them better information on Russia’s arsenal.

At a two day meeting with President Bush in Maine, Russian President Vladimir Putin, calls for the construction of a new radar facility in Russia to protect a European based missile defense center.  Putin also urges Bush not to construct new anti-missile facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic.  Putin explains that Bush’s acceptance of this deal would “transform U.S.-Russian ties. The relations between our two countries would be raised to an entirely new level. Gradually, our relations would become those of a strategic partnership nature.” Bush calls Putin’s plan “constructive” but refuses to halt the construction of the new radar facilities. 

Japanese Minister of Defense, Fumio Kyuma resigns after making remarks, which many interpreted as justification of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Kyuma stated in a speech that the bombings “couldn’t be helped” because they brought the end of the war and were an unavoidable strategy for preventing the Soviets from entering the war. 

In just twenty-eight days and with only a few faxes and phone calls, investigators in the Government Accounting Office set up a fake firm and are able to obtain a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Not only did the investigators obtain a license, they were also able to make fake duplicates of that license and alter the copy allowing them to remove the restriction on the amount of material they were eligible to purchase. With this alteration, they were able to buy enough radiological material to construct a dirty bomb. The Senate requests an investigation into the sting operation and republican Senator, Norm Coleman, stated “The NRC’s first visit to the facilities could be up to one year after the license was issued. That’s like handing out a gun license and waiting a year to do the background check.”

It is discovered that among nuclear convoys passing through Scotland since 2000, there have been sixty-seven safety lapses.  The convoys, carrying plutonium and highly explosive materials drive from the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire and the Royal Naval Armaments Depot in Coulport six times a year.  Examples of these safety lapses include: a faulty clutch on one of the transport trucks, a smoking fuse box in another vehicle, tire punctures, broken valves, and overheated engines.

The International Atomic Energy Agency verifies that North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear facility has shut down per an agreement with the United States.

Public safety concerns arise about nuclear leakage after a powerful earthquake struck a nuclear power plant in Japan. The plant was designed to withstand earthquakes with a magnitude of 6.5 or less. The one that shook Niigata had a magnitude of 6.8. While the Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency reported no damage to the environment or to the nuclear fuel, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service reports that 400 barrels of radioactive waste were overturned, their contents spilling into the storage area and contaminating that section of the plant, 317 gallons of radioactive water had spilled into the Sea of Japan, and one of the reactors had been releasing radioactive steam into the air since the earthquake began.

Japan’s largest producer of nuclear reactors, the Toshiba Corporation, sells a 10% stake in Westinghouse, a U.S.-based power-plant manufacturer, to Kazakhstan’s state-run uranium mining company, Kazatomprom (KAP) for $514 million. KAP is the world’s third largest uranium miner, and analysts believe that KAP is now seeking its own processing technology to halt their need to export mined Uranium to Russia.

In an effort to prevent the deployment of U.S. anti-missile defense systems in Central Europe, Russian officials continue to urge the Bush administration to share the Russian-rented anti-missile defense system in Azerbaijan. The U.S. has assured Russia that the Central European bases would serve to counter any attack by Iran, however Russia feels that these bases would simply serve to weaken their capacity for nuclear deterrence.  The Russians continue to press for cooperation and an end to what they see as U.S. aggressive conduct in the international arena.

Six nuclear-armed missiles without any special guard are loaded onto a B52 bomber and transported from the Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to the Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.  Each of the warheads mounted to the wings of the plane contain ten times the destructive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. The weapons lacked special guard for more than thirty-six hours until the Air Force realizes its mistake. This flight constitutes the first nuclear-armed bomber to be flown over U.S. airspace without any upper-level authorization in nearly forty years.

Israel launched an air strike in northeastern Syria. On October 13, American officials confirmed that the site was a partially built nuclear reactor.  Intelligence officials suspect North Korea is trying to sell what is left of its nuclear stockpiles and claim the reactor was based on a North Korean design.Israel may be trying to deter Iran from pursuing its own nuclear ambitions. The Bush administration has not condemned the strike but worries about the implications of a preemptive strike absent a clear and present danger. Syria filed a complaint with the United Nations over the violation of its airspace.

A study produced by U.S. medical expert, Ira Helfand, announces that even a limited nuclear war waged between India and Pakistan could result in one billion deaths from starvation alone. Helfand explains that a nuclear war would reduce the grain production season in vital areas, which would lead to hording and then starvation on a global scale.  His study explains that foot shortages alone would lead to multiple types of epidemics and armed conflicts which could kill millions.

The State Department declares that it will not give up its missile defense system in Europe even if Iran gives up its uranium enrichment program. After confusing remarks made by a State Department official made it sound as though the U.S. would give up its Central European plans if Iran stopped enriching Uranium, other officials come forward to clarify that Iran’s missile capability for conventional weapons, or other types of WMDs, is still a worthy threat to prepare for.

Lawmakers question the Bush administration’s request for $88 million dollars, which would go towards outfitting B2 stealth bombers with “bunker-busting” bombs. Many Representatives in the House believe that the Bush administration intends to use the weaponry in question against Iran, where there are underground targets

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) releases a report opposing the Bush administration’s plan to resume the reprocessing of nuclear waste. The reprocessing plan is a feature of Bush’s proposed Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), which would involve the U.S., Russia, Israel, Japan, and France reprocessing the nuclear waste of other nations for energy purposes. The NAS panel concludes that the proposed plan has far too many technical and financial risks.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on the construction of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The proposed site would be a receptacle for 77,000 tons of the United States' highly radioactive waste.  Due to health safety and environmental concerns, many Nevada citizens advocate consistently for the abandonment of this project.

The pilot of the Enola Gay, the plane responsible for dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, dies at the age of ninety-two. Paul Tibbets, being the first man to ever use atomic weapons against humans, said in a 2005 interview that “We had feelings, but we had to put them in the background. We knew it was going to kill people right and left. But my one driving interest was to do the best job I could so that we could end the killing as quickly as possible.”

The U.S. State Department says that the process of disabling North Korea’s sole functioning nuclear reactor has begun. In July, North Korea promised to shutdown the Yongbyon facility in exchange for aid. No target completion date was given.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) acquires a document showing that the U.S. has nuclear strike plans for states seeking to attain weapons of mass destruction. The document contains nuclear strike options for countries such as Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. They were able to access the document through the Freedom of Information Act four years after they submitted their request. The document is evidence that the Bush administration lied about its efforts to decrease the role of nuclear weapons in defense strategies.

Four gunmen storm South Africa’s Pelindaba nuclear reactor and research center. The men shoot one worker and proceed to steal one of the facility’s computers. The gunmen escape both the facility’s guards and security cameras, making the incident a serious embarrassment to the South African government.

The Senate holds a hearing on the Bush administration’s proposed Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP).  Some Senators in favor of reprocessing oppose the long-term nature of the nuclear waste reprocessing plan, arguing that the plan will require fifty years for success, and that the U.S. is in need of a plan with more immediate results. Scientific witnesses at the hearing argue that the plan would pose a proliferation risk.

The New York Times reveals U.S. efforts in helping Pakistan to guard its nuclear arsenal. For the past six years, the Bush administration has poured over $100 million into a secret program that provides training and supplies to Pakistani laboratories and security outposts. Pakistan officials are hesitant to be open with the administration about where these funds are going due to a fear that the U.S. will attempt to control Pakistan’s arsenal.

Eight Senators draft a letter in strong opposition to Bush’s nuclear waste reprocessing plan.  In the letter given to the chairmen of the Senate Sub-Committee on Energy and Water Development Appropriations, the senators argue that resuming the reprocessing of nuclear waste will only lead to the weakening of non-proliferation efforts.  

American intelligence agencies report that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.The report states that while Iran continues its uranium enrichment program for what the Iranian government calls “civilian purposes,” there is no evidence that their program is designed to transform nuclear products into nuclear weapons.In response to this report, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid urges the Bush administration to enhance its diplomatic strategies and reduce its threatening rhetoric.

A coalition of environmental and security groups detail the many levels of danger posed by storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada at a Department of Energy (DOE) hearing.  The group explains the storage plan’s fundamental flaws citing the numerous security, environmental, and public safety threats it entails.

A poll shows majority opposition among residents of the Czech Republic to the deployment of a U.S. missile defense base on their soil. 68% of citizens are in total opposition to the construction, and 73% feel that the issue should be decided by a vote.

The University of California agrees to pay a $2.8 million fine to the Department of Energy for a 2006 security lapse at its Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The incident that led to the fine occurred when a drug raid of a former LANL employee’s home resulted in the discovery of one thousand pages of classified documents and multiple computer storage devices.

Congress eliminates funds for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), the Bush administration’s plan to build the next generation of nuclear weapons.Instead of funding a strategy that seeks to build new weapons, the bill passed by Congress requests a “comprehensive nuclear weapons strategy for the 21st century,” which keeps in mind that the Cold War being over and the threat of terrorists seeking to attain nuclear materials.

Toshiba has developed a “Micro Nuclear Reactor,” measuring twenty feet long by 6 feet wide. Toshiba's design uses reservoirs of liquid lithium-6 to absorb neutrons. Toshiba claims it can produce energy for 40 years at 5 cents per kilowatt hour.  No mention was made to how to properly dispose of the Micro Nuclear Reactor’s waste. Toshiba expects to install the first reactor in Japan in 2008 and to begin marketing the new system in Europe and America in 2009.