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  Timeline of the Nuclear Age 2000s  2009


United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his panel releases a report recommending the United States keep tactical nuclear bombs in Europe and even consider modernizing older warheads on cruise missiles to maintain credibility with allies who depend on the U.S. weapons for security. The report says, “The presence of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe remains a pillar of NATO unity,” adding: “Some Allies have been troubled to learn that during the last decade some senior U.S. military leaders have advocated for the unilateral removal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe.”

North Korean officials tell journalist Selig Harrison that there is no plutonium that can be inspected in the country as it has all been weaponized.

North Korea announces that it is not ready to disarm until diplomatic relations with the United States are established, and until it is sure that there are no U.S. nuclear weapons in South Korea. According to the North Korean Foreign Ministry, “We won’t need atomic weapons when U.S. nuclear threats are removed, and the U.S. nuclear umbrella over South Korea is gone.” The governments of the United States and South Korea both deny that U.S. nuclear weapons are deployed in South Korea for a possible attack on the North.

China reaffirms its long-standing policy of “no first use” of nuclear weapons in its annual defense survey. The report states that if China were threatened by another country’s nuclear weapons, it would first put its arsenal on full alert. It goes on to state that if another nation fires nuclear missiles at China, it would then launch a counter attack.

The United States ratifies the final protocols to the Convention on Conventional Weapons, which is an annex of the Geneva Convention. The Convention seeks to prohibit or restrict the use of certain conventional weapons that are considered excessively injurious or whose effects are indiscriminate, which covers incendiary weapons, blinding laser weapons,and explosive remnants of war.

India signs an inspection agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA); thus fulfilling a major precondition for nuclear-exporting countries to begin supplying India with nuclear materials.

A Pakistani court orders the release of A.Q. Khan, the "father of the nuclear bomb," who had been held under house arrest for five years.Khan admitted to selling nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.His actions led to the proliferation of nuclear weapons around the globe.

John Harvey, U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration policy and planning director, reveals that the U.S. has been using the UK’s Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston to conduct research for its own nuclear warhead program. Opponents stated that this goes against international law and that it technically means British taxpayers are contributing to the U.S. nuclear program.

United States, ahead of schedule, meets its commitment under the Moscow Treaty to reduce the number of its deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 2,200. The treaty called on the U.S. and Russia to achieve this goal by the year 2012. Russia appears on schedule to meet the 2012 deadline.

British and French submarines loaded with nuclear weapons collide in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Both submarines are powered by nuclear reactors. British and French officials claim that this incident was a random accident caused by the extreme stealth capabilities of the submarines. However, the British sub suffered significant damage to the propeller area at the rear of the sub, and the French craft was heavily damaged at the front. Some skeptics say that this could indicate a “rear-ending” caused by the French chasing the British sub. Regardless of the cause of the accident, the effect has been to draw the public’s attention to the continuous movement of hundreds of nuclear warheads under the oceans, a policy left over from the Cold War.

A nuclear-powered U.S. submarine collides with a U.S. Navy ship in the Strait of Hormuz near Iran. This was the second collision involving a U.S. nuclear submarine in the Strait of Hormuz in two years. The U.S. Navy reported that there was no damage to the nuclear propulsion plant of the submarine. At least 15 people were injured on the nuclear submarine, and the collision caused the U.S. Navy ship to spill 25,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the water.

Five central Asian nations sign the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan held the fourth largest nuclear stockpile in the world. This new pact prohibits research, development, production and possession of nuclear weapons. It states that each nation must adhere to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and ratify the Additional Protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Japanese officials officially certify a 93 year-old man as a survivor of both U.S. atomic bombings in August 1945. Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a resident of Nagasaki, was in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 on a business trip. He was badly burned in the Hiroshima atomic bombing, but was able to return home to Nagasaki. On August 9, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, which Yamaguchi also survived. Nonetheless, the atomic bomb attacks killed approximately 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 70,000 in Nagasaki.

After almost fifty years of denying links between their nuclear weapons tests and health problems among the personnel working them, France made the decision to “be true to its conscience” and compensate those victims suffering due to radiation. Defense Minister Hervé Morin stated that about $13.5 million has been set aside by the government to pay claims. France carried out over 200 nuclear tests between 1960 and 1996, including in Algeria and French Polynesia, affecting up to 150,000 personnel.

North Korea states that it will launch a communications satellite on a multistage rocket between April 4 and 8 and warns Japan that intervening will be seen as an act of war. South Korea, Japan, and the United States believe North Korea is trying to test long-range missile technology, and they have all warned North Korea that it will face sanctions because of a UN security Council resolution that bans it from engaging in ballistic missile activity. However, the rocket is already on the launch pad. It is believed that the U.S. has two destroyers near South Korea to monitor the rocket from the north. South Korea has one destroyer, and Japan has deployed battleships and interceptors off the northern Japanese coast to shoot down any rocket debris that may fall.

United States President Barack Obama and Russian resident Dmitri Medvedev issue a joint statement outlining plans for increased cooperation on a number of key international issues, including nuclear disarmament. Their statement read in part, “We committed our two countries to achieving a nuclear free world, while recognizing that this long-term goal will require a new emphasis on arms control and conflict resolution measures, and their full implementation by all concerned nations.”

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) meets in Strasbourg, France for its 60th anniversary celebration. Thousands of protesters braved a fierce police response to call for the disbanding of NATO. Police used tear gas and roadblocks to break up protests, most of which were peaceful. Through NATO, the U.S. keeps hundreds of nuclear weapons on military bases in European countries.

North Korea tests long-range missile under the guise of "sending a satellite into space to broadcast patriotic North Korean songs." The missile fails a few minutes after launch and falls into the sea. North Korean officials declare success anyway, playing a radio station of North Korean music for several days and claiming it is coming from their satellite.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier calls for the removal of all American nuclear weapons from Germany. Hosting American nuclear weapons in Germany is a part of “nuclear-sharing,” in which a non-nuclear state can host third-party nuclear weapons in order to have a say in NATO and have an “influence in the defense alliance.” Currently, opponents of nuclear sharing have the majority in the Bundestag, and the far-left Left Party, the Green Party, and the Social Democrats also want nuclear weapons out of their country.

North Korea withdraws from six-party talks aimed at ending its nuclear program after the United Nations Security Council condemns their April missile testing.

North Korea ejects International Atomic Energy Agency officials from the country.

The European Parliament approves, with a majority vote of 177 to 130, an amendment introducing the “Model Nuclear Weapons Convention” and the “Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol” as concrete tools to achieve a nuclear weapons-free world by 2020. The amendment introducing the “Model Nuclear Weapons Convention” and the “Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol” was actively promoted by Mayors for Peace, a global network of 2,817 cities from 134 countries and regions, presided by Dr. Tadatoshi Akiba, the Mayor of Hiroshima.

North Korea announces that it has re-started the production of weapons-grade plutonium through the reprocessing of spent nuclear reactor fuel rods. This act, which illustrates the inextricable link between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, threatens to put an end to the six-party talks aimed at achieving North Korean nuclear disarmament.

The British government admits that nearly 370 farms in the country are still restricted in the way they use land and rear sheep because of radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear power station accident 23 years ago. Paul Dorfman, a former government adviser and a senior research fellow at the University of Warwick, was also concerned. “Despite all the reassurances from government about nuclear safety ahead of a new civil nuclear program in Britain, the latest revelations about the continuing Chernobyl legacy show the dangerous reality of atomic power,” he said.

Russia and the United States began renegotiating the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires in December 2009. The closed meetings are meant to resolve as many questions as possible before the summit between President Obama and President Medvedev in July.

North Korea conducts its second nuclear test. The blast of about one-third the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima by the United States in 1945 is conducted underground. North Korea also test-fired numerous missiles during the week, as the UN Security Council met in New York to discuss possible new sanctions against the nation.

South Korea, in response to North Korean nuclear threats, joins the Proliferation Security Initiative.

North Korea announces that South Korea's joining of the Proliferation Security Initiative is an act of war and that North Korea will no longer accept the 1953 Armistice Agreement.

The 65-nation Conference on Disarmament achieves a breakthrough as diplomats agree on a “program of work,” aimed at negotiating a new nuclear arms control treaty. The new treaty will likely ban the production of fissile materials used in creating atomic weapons. The new work program addresses concerns of the non-nuclear states such as banning existing stockpiles of fissile matter and receiving security assurances against the use or threat of attack with nuclear weapons. Criticized over its recent nuclear test by the UN Security Council, North Korea also supports the new program. Another state accused of trying to develop nuclear weapons, Iran, is still reviewing the accord. Russia and China endorse the program, as well as the United States, who rejected an essential component of the agreement--verification--under the Bush administration.

A 266-page document providing confidential details of U.S. civilian nuclear sites is posted on the internet. The Government Printing Office took down the “sensitive but unclassified” data after experts expressed concern. The document includes information on the location of the fuel stockpiles as well as on the nuclear weapons laboratories at Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sandia. U.S. officials stress that information released constitutes no security threat.

In response to North Korea's nuclear test on May 25, the UN Security Council enacts a comprehensive arms embargo on North Korea. 

The North Korean Foreign Ministry announces countermeasures to the UN Security Council arms embargo, including weaponizing all plutonium from its research reactor and responding militarily to any blockade.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates orders deployment of missile interceptors and radar to protect Hawaii from a North Korean strike. "We're obviously watching the situation in the North with respect to missile launches very closely," Gates said. The U.S. military also vows to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874 that calls on international navies to request inspection of suspect cargo vessels.  

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev promises to further reduce Russian strategic nuclear weapons if the U.S. gives Moscow assurances on a missile defense. The Kremlin is ready to cut its strategic delivery vehicles by several times in comparison with the 1991 START I treaty. The number of warheads could also be considerably reduced. An arms control deal would mark a new beginning in U.S.-Russian relations.

North Korea boasts about being a “proud nuclear power” and warns the U.S. that it will strike back if attacked. This proclamation followed a nuclear test in May, as well as a number of short-range ballistic missile tests.

The United States launches an “unarmed” Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to the Ronald Reagan Test Site in the Marshall Islands. The Minuteman III missile is named after the Minutemen of the Revolutionary War and for its ability to be fired within minutes of an order to do so. Both the United States and Russia maintain thousands of nuclear weapons on this hair-trigger alert status nearly two decades after the end of the Cold War.

United States President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev reached a preliminary agreement on reducing their countries’ strategic nuclear weapons stockpiles. The agreement commits both sides to modest decreases as they draft a new arms control treaty to replace START, which expires on December 5, 2009. The new treaty would, within seven years, cut deployed strategic warheads on each side to between 1,500 and 1,675. The limit on delivery vehicles would be cut to between 500 and 1,100 from the 1,600 currently allowed under START. The new treaty would be subject to ratification by the U.S. Senate.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown set out a “road map” for disarmament in which all nuclear states would pledge to reduce their nuclear stockpile. The prime minister hopes to offer assistance with civil nuclear programs to countries such as Iran in exchange for assurances that they will not build nuclear weapons. However, Brown ruled out unilateral cuts and reaffirmed his commitment to updating the £20bn Trident submarine-based missile system. He also warned Iran and North Korea of the consequences of defying the international nonproliferation regime.

The U.S. opens nuclear site in Hanford, Washington to tourists.

India becomes the sixth country in the world to build its own nuclear-powered submarine after the United States, Russia, France, the UK, and China. The Indian submarine will be able to launch missiles at targets 700 km (about 430 miles) away and carry 100 sailors on board. At the submarine’s launch ceremony, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterates that India harbors no aggressive intentions. However, Pakistan said India’s launch of a nuclear-powered submarine threatens regional peace and security. Pakistani officials vow to take measures to safeguard the country’s security but stress that they would not enter an arms race.

Burma’s nuclear claims fall under scrutiny when a report by The Age, based on interviews by Professor Desmond Ball of the Australian National University and journalist Phil Thornton with defectors from Burma, reveals that Burma was building a secret nuclear reactor with North Korea’s assistance. U.S. non-proliferation experts have called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to seek clarification from the Burmese Government over its nuclear program. It is known that in the past North Korea had provided Burma with high technology materials now barred by the UN Security Council.

Shaun Gregory, a professor at the University of Bradford (UK) who is part of the University’s Pakistan Security Research Unit, publishes a scholarly article claiming that militants have attacked Pakistani nuclear facilities three times since 2007. Pakistani officials said no nuclear weapons were involved in any of those incidents and brushed aside the concerns that Pakistan’s atomic weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists. Top U.S. military officials responded that they are “comfortable” that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is secure. According to reports, the Bush Administration secretly spent almost $100 million on a highly-classified program to help Pakistan secure its nuclear weapons.

North Korea invites two top U.S. envoys to visit for direct negotiations about its nuclear program. The U.S. government is strongly considering sending special envoy Stephen Bosworth and chief nuclear negotiator Sung Kim. In the past, U.S. officials have repeatedly said they are willing to hold talks with North Korea only as part of six-country disarmament negotiations.

United States President Barack Obama scraps the Bush administration’s controversial plans for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. The plans called for a radar system in the Czech Republic and ground-based interceptor missiles in Poland. The plan infuriated Russia, who felt that the system could be used against it. Defense Secretary Robert Gates explains that the U.S. is not abandoning the concept of missile defense in the region. The new idea is to move away from ground-based interceptors designed for long-range missiles and instead utilize sea-based systems designed to intercept short- and medium-range missiles.

The United Nations Security Council endorses a resolution intended to point the way toward global nuclear disarmament. The resolution, prepared by the United States, is aimed at discouraging withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, increasing membership in the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and creating additional nuclear weapon-free zones, among other measures. Although the resolution won unanimous approval from the 15-nation body, the United States fails to secure permission from Russia and China to specifically cite nuclear threats posed by Iran and North Korea.

Iran announces the existence of its second uranium enrichment facility, this one in an underground bunker near the holy city of Qom. Leaders of the United States and other Western nations condemn the Iranians for this latest development, as does Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. ElBaradei said that Iran violated international agreements because “Iran was supposed to inform us on the day it was decided to construct the facility. They have not done that.”

The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to President Barack Obama primarily for his “vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.”

Hiroshima Mayor, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation Advisor Tadatoshi Akiba, and Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue announce a joint bid for the 2020 Olympic Games that will emphasize world peace. Mayor Akiba said that he firmly believes the world can abolish nuclear weapons by 2020 and suggests holding the Olympics that year in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to celebrate.

The United States awards a $51.9 million contract to Boeing in a renewed commitment to the production and deployment of the “Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP)” bunker buster bomb. Each bomb carries over 5,000 pounds of explosives and is designed to destroy hidden weapons bunkers buried deep underground. The MOP would become the largest non-nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal. It is designed to drill through earth and reinforced concrete before exploding. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell denied that they have specific targets in mind for the weapon. He said, “This is just a capability that we think is necessary given the world we live in.”

Secretary of Russia’s Security Council Nikolai Patrushev indicates that Russia’s revised military doctrine will explicitly allow for the first use of nuclear weapons. Patrushev said, “In conditions critical for national security one should not also exclude a preventive nuclear strike on the aggressor.” The revised military doctrine is expected to be presented to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev before the end of 2009.

The 2009 Right Livelihood Award, commonly known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize,” was awarded to Alyn Ware, International Coordinator of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament. Mr. Ware received the honor “for his effective and creative advocacy and initiatives over two decades to further peace education and to rid the world of nuclear weapons.”

Belgian Senator Philippe Mahoux proposes a ban on the manufacturing, fixing, sale, shipping, and possession of nuclear arms in the European country. Full passage of the proposal is not possible until May 2010. If it is passed, it would impact the estimated 20 U.S. nuclear weapons currently in Belgium under current NATO sharing agreements.

A study is released estimating that the exceptional amount of radiation dispersed in the 1,000 nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site the United States conducted between 1951 and 1992, contaminated 1.6 trillion gallons of water - enough to fill a lake 300 miles long, one mile wide and 25 feet deep. The government has no plans to clean up the aquifers, which will now be radioactive for tens of thousands of years.

The President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, passes control of the country’s nuclear arsenal to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. The move comes as Zardari is facing pressure to resign over corruption allegations.

U.S. and Russian officials allowed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), an agreement signed in 1991 that reduced each nation’s nuclear arsenal to a maximum of 6,000 warheads and 1,600 delivery vehicles, to lapse.

The failure of a new Russian intercontinental ballistic missile during testing causes spectacular spiraling blue lights in the skies over northern Norway. The botched launch was the twelfth test of the Bulava missile and its eighth failure, dealing a blow to Kremlin’s hopes that the sea-based weapon would become a cornerstone of its nuclear arsenal.

Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization seeks Canadian towns to host 40,000 metric tons of nuclear waste produced by the country’s 22 nuclear reactors. The Canadian plan aims to avoid local resistance to the nuclear waste dump by requiring communities to ask to be considered as hosts for an underground repository. After public endorsement through a referendum, the community would become a candidate for extensive technical review.

The International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND), a joint initiative of the Australian and Japanese governments, releases a report entitled Eliminating Nuclear Threats: A Practical Agenda for Global Policymakers. The report outlines both opportunities and obstacles to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons and makes short-, medium-, and long-term action agendas. The Commission calls for a “no first-use” policy, a reduction in alert status, and a reduction to 2,000 nuclear weapons by the year 2025.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says that U.S. missile defense plans were the main obstacle to reaching a new deal on a replacement for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expired on December 5. Reflecting the extent to which Russia feels threatened by U.S. missile defense plans, Putin said, “In order to preserve balance...we need to develop offensive weapons systems.” Putin’s statement echoed an earlier pledge by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev to develop a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons.