[Photo: Emily Morter via Unsplash]

Three Things: Nuke Rebuke

[NB: Note the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

Looks like we need another open thread — here’s three things we should discuss.

~ 3 ~

You’ve probably seen the story this week about the rush to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia revealed to the House Oversight Committee by whistleblowers.

What I want to know: when did we have a public debate about nuclear proliferation? The House Oversight Committee has launched an investigation but Congress knew Michael Flynn had been up to hijinks with nuclear proliferation more than a year ago which Jim White wrote about here in 2017.

Did the GOP-led 115th Congress just roll over and play dead throughout all of 2018, simply forgetting we had laws against nuclear proliferation? There was a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing about our own weapons last April — what about proliferation abroad?

Why are we trying to denuclearize North Korea at the same time Trump administration officials are rushing to transfer nuclear technology to KSA?

What ensures KSA will use this technology for its own electricity generation instead of selling it or trading it to an entity hostile to U.S. interests?

What’s to keep NK from claiming they’ve denuclearized and then acquiring U.S. nuclear technology?

~ 2 ~

Speaking of North Korea, why is special envoy Stephen Biegun not on the same page with John Bolton?

Jesus Christ, don’t make me side with Bolton but what the hell is going on that Biegun is more worried about producing some flimsy pretense of a win for Trump at the expense of real progress?

Especially since Russia is negotiating with NK on nuclear technology transfer.

~ 1 ~

Has the Trump administration done anything at all to prepare for a no-deal hard Brexit? At this rate thanks to Theresa May’s hacktacular negotiations (or lack thereof), relations between the UK and EU will simply end

Which means the UK will be unable to import goods and clear them through customs on a timely basis, posing a realistic threat of a humanitarian crisis.

Has the U.S. State Department, led by Mike Pompeo, ensured the U.S. will be able to continue trade with the UK on an uninterrupted basis? Are we prepared to aid our ally if they have critical supply disruptions?

~ 0 ~
I have the impression our foreign and nuclear policies are utterly trashed.

This is a open thread.

49 replies
  1. BobCon says:

    Why is Putin teliing Trump not to worry about NK’s nukes?

    I get why Trump goes along, because he’s an idiot, but why does Putin want Trump to leave NK alone? What does this say about Putin-China?

  2. DrHack says:

    Did the GOP-led 115th Congress just roll over and play dead throughout all of 2018, simply forgetting we had laws against nuclear proliferation?

    Of course they rolled over. There was money to be made! Nothing else matters to these politicians and their donors.

    Has the Trump administration done anything at all to prepare for a no-deal hard Brexit?

    Extremely unlikely. Have they prepared for anything? The entire place is filled with grifters and hacks.

    I have the impression our foreign and nuclear policies are utterly trashed.

    This is not an impression, it is an obvious fact.

    Yes, I’m feeling grumpy and cynical this week. But we are in an extreme situation here that will take many years to rectify.

    • Rayne says:

      I’m afraid my sarcasm was a little too subtle in re policies trashed.

      This administration has burnt everything to ashes because they are scofflaws.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I suspect our foreign and nuclear policies are among many that are being trashed.  When government leaders have so much free executive time, and can travel and spend on their office furniture and cones of silence so freely, a lot of normal work and the exercise of leadership is not happening.

    Why is anyone pushing nationwide nuke facilities in the KSA?  It is in probably the most unstable region in the world.

    It can’t be about energy production.  KSA could use its own petroleum production in oil and gas-fired power plants, importing standard, well-tested machinery, technology and service support.  It can’t be about lower carbon emissions.  If that were the goal, the KSA is exceptionally well-suited for solar systems and, presumably, wind-based power systems, too.  Their productivity has gone up and their costs have plummeted.

    So what is this nukes in KSA about?  I think Rayne is spot on:  It’s about proliferation, about putting KSA on par with Israel, about keeping up with Iran, and institutionalizing the extensive technology, service, and security infrastructure that goes with every aspect of nuclear fuel processing and power generation.  Most of all, it looks like it’s about getting a piece of the action, raking in the exceptional spending and profits that go along with the most enduringly expensive power generation in the world.

    • Vern says:

      Former Navy Nuc here.  Nuclear Power is insanely expensive, both in construction and especially operations and maintenance — if done properly.  Hence, no one with a profit motive should ever be in charge of a reactor.  The Saudis can certainly afford “money is no object” like the Navy, but clearly medieval monarchs are hardly to be trusted.

      I suspect this is mostly about proliferation and bomb grade materials although it may say something about what the Saudis actually believe their reserves to be.

      Also too: This is about corrupt flag officers “selling their stars.”

      • Rayne says:

        I think Saudis’ reserves aren’t a driver. As multiple countries are replacing gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicle from the road over the next 10-30 years, oil’s value will plummet. Hence their move toward a sovereign fund to replace revenues with investment income — and other less savory income sources.

      • Eureka says:

        What Vern said:

        Former Navy Nuc here.  Nuclear Power is insanely expensive, both in construction and especially operations and maintenance — if done properly.  Hence, no one with a profit motive should ever be in charge of a reactor.

        This is yet another reason to resist/ prevent/ stop episodically bipartisan efforts to privatize the TVA (they’ve got more than dammed river).  This article has additional reasons and background:

        The Danger of Invisible Government Deeds | WIRED

        Every few years, someone suggests privatizing the Tennessee Valley Authority. A crucial government corporation, the TVA, among its many other jobs, sells wholesale electricity to local power companies serving 9 million people in parts of seven southeastern states. President Obama floated this idea twice; President Trump proposed the same step in his Very Big Infrastructure Plan earlier this year.
        The thinking is that it’s a waste for the government to be in the business of selling wholesale power because private industry could be making more money instead. As long as US senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) draws breath, though, the TVA won’t be sold; he has said the idea is “looney” and has “zero chance of becoming law.”
        But Alexander won’t always be around, and few Americans outside TVA’s seven-state footprint likely know or care that it exists. Both the institution and the essential functions that it performs have become invisible. And so, someday, someone will succeed in selling off the TVA.
        Today, TVA makes enough from selling wholesale electricity that it needs no taxpayer funding. And Tennessee Valley residents pay electric rates that are below what more than two-thirds of the country pays. Almost 5 million people get their drinking water from the TVA.
        (internal links removed)

    • viget says:

      It’s money for grifters in the US and Russia, and access to weapons grade material for KSA or whomever the highest bidder is.  Plus it also allows for energy generation (AC and desalination plants need a ton of electricity don’t ya know) when the oil and gas get scarce.

      Mostly it’s about money for Russia and better relations among the countries.  Russia wants to be the new cop in town over there.

    • Mulder says:

      EH, yes on solar and wind making actual good sense for energy creation. And yes this is all about KSA building nukes if the need arises (it will).

      To Vern’s point, whoever gets to build the plants, well, they win the jackpot. Massive amounts of money would come in.

      And as I recall from another article about Flynn’s grand bargain, Eric Prince’s private army was going to cash in by providing the security for the plants.

      This is exhibit A of Mueller’s “Iron Triangle” of  corrupt government officials, corrupt business leaders and international organized criminal syndicates.

  4. Anvil Leucippus says:

    Always a good idea when a line of fascists team up together. Oh they all have nukes now? Even better!

  5. rip says:

    I’m also really excited to see what the next terrorist squad funded by Saudi Arabia could do to that Great Satan country when the planes are equipped with nuclear payloads. Not just a couple of towers in NYC next time.

  6. Flachbau says:

    Re #0 – “Hallo you have reached the Nobel committee!” … “This is Prime Minister Abe calling …“ …. “Hallo … Donald is that you? … Donald?” … CLICK

  7. AlanK says:

    What the hell else have they been doing?  Nuclear proliferation is a whole order of magnitude more evil than I thought they were capable of.

  8. Yogarhythms says:

    Nothing is more expensive than Nuclear Power. Dollars pure and simple KSA has lots. OT. TMI took 13 years to remove 18 million kilograms of meltdown Corium. Fukushima has 265 million kilograms of meltdown Corium. History says 182 years to remove. Think of the money to be made for next 182 years when things go wrong. Nukes print money. why wouldn’t Big Engineering want in on that.

  9. david taber says:


    Offered to open thread without comment.

    The displayed psyche of the political madman (a narcissist of pseudo-ethical content) grabs the alien crime, real or believed, and roars over it like a stupid , furious beast, in cold blood, over an ass’s jawbone: behaving in such a way as to exhaust (to relax) in the inane matter of  a punitive myth the dirty tension that compels him to action, action “coute que coute.” The alien crime is exploited to placate the snaky-maned Megaera, the mad multitude: which will not be placated with so little: it is offered, like a ram or stag to be torn to pieces, to the disheveled women who will rip it apart, light of foot, ubiquitous and mammary in the bacchanal which their own cries kindle, purpled with torment and blood.

    That Awful Mess on Via Merulana, Carlo Emilio Gadda, pub. 1957, and begun 1946.

    • Anne says:

      Thanks for this quote.  I’d like to scrounge up a copy of the original in Italian, looks highly entertaining!

  10. Eureka says:

    I finally re-dug out the declassified 6 January 2017 ICA report (Background to “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent Elections”…).  In the context of how a highly limited “Mueller Report” might still be clearly informative, McCabe had described the 2017 ICA report as ~~ (my words) accurately getting the point across, even sans all the then-available meat.  (Trump was briefed on the classified version IIRC.)  Interesting exercise to imagine it through the known conspirators’ eyes.  I can see Corsi especially shitting bricks- and I mean BRICKS- at the sight of e.g. text on page 14 of the PDF (p 4 as internally paginated).  Recall Corsi started deleting his pre- Oct 11, 2016 emails approximately January 13th, 2017 through March 1, 2017.

    ● In August, Kremlin-linked political analysts suggested avenging negative Western reports on Putin by airing segments devoted to Secretary Clinton’s alleged health problems.

    Kind of like what Corsi said Aug. 2 right after he said, “That appears to be the game hackers are now about.”  The next contiguous text in the report is this bullet point, just for reference:

    ● On 6 August, RT published an English-language video called “Julian Assange Special: Do WikiLeaks Have the E-mail That’ll Put Clinton in Prison?” and an exclusive interview with Assange entitled “Clinton and ISIS Funded by the Same Money.” RT’s most popular video on Secretary Clinton, “How 100% of the Clintons’ ‘Charity’ Went to…Themselves,” had more than 9 million views on social media platforms. RT’smost popular English language video about the President-elect, called “Trump Will Not Be Permitted To Win,” featured Assange and had 2.2 million views.

    Page 21 of the PDF has a chart:  “TV News Broadcasters:  Comparative Social Media Footprint.”  It compares YT/TW/FB presences/views/likes whatnot for RT/RT America, BBC World, AJ English, and CNN/CNN-I.  While it’s a truncated range of media and for limited purposes, it seems interesting anew with CNN then-way ahead on TW and FB (and RT ahead on YT).

  11. Watson says:

    Using nuclear energy is reckless because of its toxicity, susceptibility to sabotage/accident, and the problem of storing the ‘spent’ fuel.

    Burning carbon-based fuel is even worse because it produces cascading climate change.

    It’s past time to mention the unmentionable: managing energy supply by reducing demand, i.e., by adopting a population-control policy.

    Meanwhile, we need to get moving on solar, wind, and hydro-tide renewable sources.

    • Eureka says:

      Likely vastly more effective than a “population-control policy” would be for the population to control its energy use, and for corporations to dial down the ubiquity of ghost electricity-consuming devices-   among other tactics.

      What was the average kwh-per-month energy bill even 20 years ago?  What about in the 1970s?  It seems like energy use has increased along with other forms of consumption, and that both may be inversely correlated at the population level with family size trends.

      At an individual scale, it doesn’t matter if a (for example) couple has one kid or three –  or none-  if the AC or thermostat is set to the same ‘comfortable’ temp in a given domicile.  Sure, lights, laundry, and all that stuff adds up.  But since we need to change all of those habits anyway, regardless of family size, I am thinking there is a lot more salvage space in those other behaviors.

      Plus an argument to limit family size would necessitate an argument to (severely/entirely) limit immigrant numbers as well, right?

      I suspect for many reasons that the consequences of such an approach would disproportionately affect or be applied to those with less power and or whiteness in this country.

      I think we’re better off focusing on dislodging and replacing consumerist values.  And with some irony, lots of people would do so specifically for the sake of their (grand) children’s possible futures.

    • Jockobadger says:

      @Watson – Wrt “population-control” what we really need is a nice, relatively painless but brutally contagious pandemic.  We’re already in the midst of another mass extinction so why not?  The earth has a cancer growing on it.  It will certainly survive but diversity is beyond threatened. 90% knockout? 95%?  Things would get primitive fast, but that’d be just fine with me.  A guy can dream can’t he?

      I’d miss EW though.

  12. skua says:

    We should look at the benfits that nuclear proliferation would give Russia in terms of reducing the relative military and geopolitical power of all its major opponents on the global stage.
    And the costs to the USA of having to deal with more states who possess nuclear capability.

    These considerations produce a clear view of whose interests are being served by POTUS 45.

  13. UncleVinny says:

    I should be more alarmed by the NK and Saudi Arabia nuke stories, I know. But somehow the odds of a Brexit disaster really happening are more vivid to me, so I just want to share that it hadn’t occurred to me until today to look into the UK’s usual trading partners and balances.


    This data is from 2015, but is close enough for first approximations: the UK’s trade is nearly evenly divided between the EU and the rest of the world. To think of putting a heavy damper (best case!) on half of your trading relationships and hoping the other half somehow picks up the slack….it’s just horrendous to contemplate.

    And to think that the US (biggest individual trading partner, after Germany) has been having no substantive conversations about how we might step in to help in case of a fiasco…. well, it’s just a shame that our admin isn’t publicly stepping up to help an ally, even if that ally is about to shoot itself in the foot.

  14. Bruce Stewart says:

    In news coverage so far I have seen little mention of a key part of this: apparently the imagined deals were to include not just reactors, but also uranium enrichment and/or spent fuel reprocessing technology. Each can be a direct path to nuclear weapons, orders of magnitude more alarming than selling reactors.

    Using spent fuel for plutonium bombs would involve a big tell – the reactor fuel must be changed out too often for a power plant to make economic sense. (Spent fuel from commercial power plants has too much of the wrong isotopes of plutonium.) On the other hand, to prevent enrichment from being used for bomb making, there would need to be close inspections to see what are the levels of enrichment.

    Terrifying to think of KSA getting this.

  15. Peacerme says:

    The real weapons of power and control, the controlling mechanisms, are fear and invalidation. This is the combo that renders the populace blind. It’s happening in every direction. As authoritarians gain control over all things scary, they gain more power, and the only remedy becomes fearlessness. Trump is fearless but only out of ignorance.  This delicate balance can shift in the slightest way. Just like a couple of degrees in the temp of the earth can impact the globe. The same is true for the balance of power. All we have to fear is fear. The stakes are rising because this is the nature of power and control. By the time the American people “see” this reality, collectively, it will be too late. It’s going to require more and more fearlessness to stay in our democracy.  It’s getting harder by the minute. (See attacks on journalists).

    We need a clear strategy to counter act the fear. We must get this narrative out there into mainstream consciousness with a clear plan. We need a leader who can articulate and unveil this so it can be seen by as many people as possible. A democracy requires a solid foundation and value of truth.  We need the American people to “see” how effective this “splitting” within our politics has become. (And how fear is being used to split us).  Honestly, it dawns on me as I write this that the void in leadership on the democratic side is in part due to the loss of those 3 invaluable voices plucked too soon from our leadership grid and never truly replenished as of today.  It left the Democrats limping, truly damaged.

    Our losses of Robert and Bobby Kennedy, along with the loss of Martin Luther King Jr most certainly have contributed to our vulnerability to power and control and authoritarian leadership. These losses left a powerful void. These were leaders who were effective in speaking truth to power…to gain power. Who could gain power by speaking to it. If the sword of truth is to be weilded effectively it must be done fearlessly. We need a Jesus who will pull back the curtain and unveil the wizard of OZ. Without fear. (Without reactivity) And we need that Jesus (not a religious reference as much as a counter to power and control reference) now! It’s really sad to imagine where we might be had those 3 lives not been lost.

  16. Tom says:

    @Watson Feb. 21st 11:31 pm & Eureka Feb. 22nd 5:22 am – As far as the world’s population is concerned, the outlook may not be entirely bleak. See the new book by John Ibbitson and Darrell Bricker, “Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline”. They argue that some developed countries are already declining in population and that developing countries are reaching the point where their population numbers are stabilizing. The key factor seems to be that as families have fewer children their quality of life improves. Of course, this can generate its own problems as a shrinking work force is called upon to support an increasing number of older citizens, but the effect on the environment can be positive given the decline in demand for the earth’s resources overall. The authors were on NPR yesterday morning–the “On Point” program: “The Road to 10 Billion: Where is Global Population Actually Headed”. You can catch the podcast.

    • Cathy says:

      [Clicks on Assumption Flashlight]

      The key factor seems to be that as families have fewer children their quality of life improves. Of course, this can generate its own problems as a shrinking work force is called upon to support an increasing number of older citizens, but the effect on the environment can be positive given the decline in demand for the earth’s resources overall. [my emphasis]

      Assumption:  Per capita resource usage remains stable in declining population scenario.

      Challenge:  Increased quality of life for individuals in smaller family units implies that the per capita resource usage for these individuals has increased.

      Concern:  As individuals leverage control of the size of their households to increase individual share of resources, what is the constraint on the appetite for an ever larger share? Is the constraint enough to allow overall resource usage to actually decline?

      Observation:  Existence of excessive consumption, in which an individual lays claim to resources in excess of expected utility, suggests such a constraint is weak.

      [Flashlight off]

        • Cathy says:

          Primary power source: Electrochemical
          Alternate power source: Waste Heat Recovery (in event of mind fever) ;-)

          • P J Evans says:

            Most of mine are hand-cranked flashlights. (They work fine – but you do have to put in some effort.)
            I have a solar/crank/battery radio for emergencies. (I’ve actually used it, once when there was a train wreck involving people I knew. Worked fine.)

            • Cathy says:

              Our hand cranks got a workout during Harvey. Flashlight worked great, radio not so much. Most likely operator error. Lol, we were pretty freaked out.

  17. JamesJoyce says:

    Call It: “Going Clovis?”

    Snow in Malibu ?
    Maybe Riyadh Next?

    Where is the Stargate before the next vitrification event?

    Extremely hot porridge or extremely cold porridge is inedible. One will burn your mouth. The other will break a tooth.

    Goldilocks and 3 Bears would agree..

    Putin Trump and MBS don’t care. Must be huffing and puffing hydrocarbon vape pens?


  18. Democritus says:

    I can’t type much today, but thanks all for podcast suggestions yesterday! I can’t believe after all this time by neck is totally locking me out of discussions.

    I’ve long wondered how much the nuke angle, KSA, Qatar, and possibly Israel, with big corrupt energy money and GE?, would play in, but I have no knowledge or xpertise. I figure it’s way more controlled than DDTC- DOS controlled goods which I know little bit about (note not being modest, I mean I only know a bit. Since most know nothing I can accidentally sound smarter than I actually am, so I like to qualify it upfront :-)

    But I gather it requires congressional approval?If so thank god the House was taken.

    #2, runs and hides in closet, gah! Also reapproachment with Rus and China

    #1 Thank god I no longer oversee exports to a UK company

  19. harpie says:

    A little Steve King WHINE with your breakfast?

    https://twitter.com/axios/status/1098921597098958848 4:25 AM – 22 Feb 2019

    [quote] Steve King will run for re-election, telling the Des Moines Register he has “nothing to apologize for” and blaming the news media for orchestrating dishonest attacks that unleashed widespread “cyber bullying” against him. [end quote]

  20. andy says:

    @Bruce Stewart says:
    February 22, 2019 at 1:36 am

    I would love to see a deeper analysis of the nuclear deal being considered.

    Westinghouse’s latest gen III+ reactor (the AP1000 that just went online in China) is a PWR, not a fast and/or breeder reactor. It will have plutonium products, but the Pu-239 is contaminated with Pu-240 by the nature of the design. This is a terrible way to make a weapons-grade fission source.

    Second, China secured Westinghouse’s IP as part of their deal extending the AP1000 design to their larger CAP1400. The IP3 people argue that the US should be building these plants in Saudi Arabia or China or Russia will. I don’t think that’s disingenuous, given that the Saudis may end up with our nuclear IP one way or another.

    My 5-min take is that this might have been a pretty good idea (given that the Saudi’s have openly expressed that they want to move to nuclear power) if the people involved weren’t so nakedly financially intertwined with the companies standing to make colossal profits.

  21. DrFunguy says:

    I am always hopeful that it will be an indictment Friday…

    Usually, and again today, I am disappointed. Yet the buzz about a Mueller ‘report’ continues apace.

  22. Fishmanxxx says:

    This gives the laissez-faire on Khashoggi mutilation and the Putin-MBS high five a much more sinister rationale!

  23. Eureka says:

    Moving to this open thread page to reply to PJ and orion’s convo on another page, troubleshooting re ? update changes:

    orion & PJ- same here. I can specify a little further in my case: I can only reply when the box is plain, with no text editor properties attached. When the fancy options are available, I cannot enter anything in the comment box at all (but the name and email fields do work). Besides not being able to type a comment, this is a new change for me because before, I _could_ reply if the text editor properties showed up and I could _not_ open a reply box if the main box was plain. (Opposite-ish is what I’m getting at.)
    Only rarely/at random does this plain box option show up- and none of the tricks like refresh, new tab etc etc work. (Also the ancient rt-click-new-tab trick that stopped working awhile back doesn’t work anew.)
    Like PJ said, the main reply box usually works – with or without text editor properties- but not always (and these are all new changes). Unlike what PJ experienced/said, I had no problem editing a comment earlier- but I only did that once.
    All said in the spirit of helping to troubleshoot, not complaining- I appreciate all of the work – visible and behind the scenes- that goes on round here.

  24. Eureka says:

    @ Mulder- it’s always a great day to be on the opposite side of any issue as PapaDick.

    @ Cathy & PJ- we have shake flashlights that work great.  But sadly the hand crank radio, like you said, not so much.  After the solar charge runs out…well, you’re cranking a lot for just a few seconds of radio.

  25. Willis Warren says:

    The Russians and NK have been funding their nuclear programs through bitcoin for the last ten years or so. I’d bet money that “nuclear blackmail” is coming and Putin will have a huge hand in it. the likelihood of a nuclear war (or incident) increased exponentially with the election of trump.

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