Disarmament diplomacy using the Stepping Stones Approach

As Alan Cottey points out, in ‘the confused and angry conditions of today’ conflict resolution is vitally important work and – in ‘a wisdom scenario’ – conflicts of interest occurring would generally be admitted and addressed in a constructive manner (Barash and Webel, 2018) – Journal of Global Responsibility (2019). 

At the 2019 Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparative Committee in April 2019, the Swedish Government launched a promising initiative which seeks to unlock disarmament diplomacy using the Stepping Stones Approach. Paul Ingram, executive director of The British American Security Information Council (BASIC) at the time, outlined some of the thinking that supports the approach in this report.

Early incremental stepping stones in the direction of achieving progress on the established disarmament agenda would possess the following characteristics:

Dynamic flow. Each would be seen by some or all of the international community as contributing to an incremental move in support of nuclear disarmament by building trust and confidence, or capacity, or by reducing nuclear salience or risk . . ..

No strategic security sacrifice. All states involved would be able to deliver the stepping stone without requiring them to accept any significant shift in their strategic situation in relation to another state with whom they are in strategic competition . . .

No conditions necessary. Similar to the previous criterion, each step would be possible without requiring a prior improvement in the international security context.

Value. The value of each step therefore is in its signalling credible intent towards agreeing further (undefined or adaptive) stepping stones on the journey as much as its direct contribution to lowering nuclear salience, risk or tensions . . .

Flexible. Steps could be unilateral, bilateral or multilateral, involve formal or informal agreement, or indeed no agreement at all.

In December Paul made his way back from SIPRI and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Stockholm, where the “Stepping Stones Approach” was being developed.

He wrote that this had been an exploration in applying much of his personal development journey to nuclear diplomacy. It felt like the right decision for him.

The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs was nominated for the 2019 Arms Control Person(s) of the Year for its leadership in launching the “Stepping Stones Approach” initiative to jump-start support for nuclear disarmament in the #NPT2020.

2020 update

The Stockholm Initiative for Nuclear Disarmament reported that on 25 February, representatives from 16 countries gathered in Berlin to elaborate proposals on nuclear disarmament within the context of the Stockholm Initiative.

The 50th anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)

The Swedish Mission reported that ministers of Argentina, Canada, Finland, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, reaffirmed their unequivocal support for the NPT and its three mutually reinforcing pillars: nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

They underlined that past NPT commitments remain valid and form the basis for making further progress in fully implementing the treaty and achieving a world free of nuclear weapons and pledged to take responsibility in promoting, including, but not exclusively, these stepping stones on the way to implementing nuclear disarmament, inviting all states to consider, support and implement them.

Lars Erik Lundin, associate fellow at SIPRI, discusses the Stepping Stones approach to nuclear disarmament with Paul Ingram in this podcast.





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Government by diktat? America’s new nuclear warhead adopted without parliamentary scrutiny


Dr David Lowry, an international research fellow at the Institute for Resource and Security Studies, Cambridge, Massachusetts, reports that Defence Secretary Ben Wallace issued a written statement late on Tuesday afternoon, opening: “To ensure the government maintains an effective deterrent throughout the commission of the Dreadnought class ballistic missile submarine we are replacing our existing nuclear warhead to respond to future threats and the security environment.”

Is the new weapon to be shared, under collaborative development or already in operation?

In his Observer exclusive, investigative reporter Jamie Doward revealed that Pentagon officials had confirmed this new technology would be shared with the UK’s next nuclear weapon earlier this month. Though an FT article adds that the statement said the British government is developing a new nuclear warhead for its submarine-based deterrent in collaboration with the US, other reports confirm that the weapon is now actually in use.

Would this new warhead be America’s new low-yield nuclear weapon, first produced in February last year and now in operation (below)? A Moseley correspondent sent a link to a CNN article written earlier in February which mentioned that this weapon was called for in the Trump administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, as recorded by Trading Report in June ’18.

Unarmed Trident II Ballistic Missile Launch

This is a serious challenge for the international non-proliferation regime

David Cullen, director of technical research group the Nuclear Information Service, told the Observer: “We are legally bound to take steps towards disarmament under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but this would take us in the opposite direction.”

Hans Kristensen, director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists agrees. “Britain and the US have come a long away from being leaders in reducing the role of nuclear weapons and contemplating the possible road toward potential disarmament to re-embracing nuclear weapons for the long haul.“ They are obviously not alone in this, with Russia, China and France doing their own work. “So, overall, this is a serious challenge for the international non-proliferation regime”.

John Rood, the under secretary of defense for policy, said that the new weapon will “address the conclusion that potential adversaries, like Russia, believe that employment of low-yield nuclear weapons will give them an advantage over the United States and its allies and partners . . . (and) demonstrates to potential adversaries that there is no advantage to limited nuclear employment because the United States can credibly and decisively respond to any threat scenario.”

A group of former officials, including former Secretary of State George Schultz and former Secretary of Defense William Perry warned that the new weapons could be “a gateway to nuclear catastrophe”

They wrote to Congress at length in 2018: “We write to respectfully request that Congress reject the Trump administration’s request for new, more usable, “low-yield” nuclear warheads for Trident missiles. There is no need for such weapons and building them would make the United States less safe.

The serious issue is that mixing low and very high yield weapons on the same boat makes it impossible for Russia or any adversary to detect the nature of the threat facing them.

Vipin Narang (right), an associate professor of political science at MIT, told CNN. “They have to assume the worst, even if it is ‘only one or two missiles’ since the fully loaded SLBMs can carry multiple thermonuclear warheads”.

He added that the Russians have made clear they would not wait for an incoming missile to hit before retaliating.

As Secretary of Defense William Perry warned, “These so-called “low-yield” weapons are a gateway to nuclear catastrophe and should not be pursued.”



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A choice: continue to contaminate Cardiff Bay or develop less polluting forms of electricity generation

Two years ago BBC Wales reported that hundreds of people demonstrated outside the Senedd (National Assembly of Wales) about plans to move 300,000 tonnes of mud dredged from Somerset’s Hinkley Point C nuclear power site into the sea about a mile off Cardiff Bay in south Wales. A public outcry over the original mud dumping led to protests and a petition signed by over 7,000 people swelled to six figures online – triggering a full Senedd debate.

There are fears that the dredging process churned up contamination from the old Hinkley A and B reactors, which used to be on the site. Data from the government funded “Radioactivity in Food and the Environment” (RIFE) reports for 2016, 2017 and 2018 show that EdF’s dredging of underwater sediment and shoreline construction work at Hinkley Point resulted in significantly increased radioactivity levels in the environment.

EdF’s operations disturbed radioactive particles from the Hinkley Point A and B nuclear power stations, which had been relatively contained within the sediments.

EdF, the company behind the £19.6bn project, said the mud had been tested “independently to highly conservative standards”. Natural Resources Wales (NRW), the Welsh Government’s management and regulatory body, confirmed that independent analysis of the tests of sediment carried out by CEFAS, an executive agency of the UK Government, showed that the levels were so low as to be classed as not radioactive under UK law.

But Tim Deere-Jones, who has studied Marine Geography, Marine Pollution and Marine Environmental Science, analysed data about the NRW analysis and had three concerns about the waste:

  • testing had only taken place on three of 50 different radionuclides;
  • while samples of from between 0 and 5cm were taken, research from other sites has shown that if samples are taken from five times deeper, there can be a five times higher collection of radioactivity and
  • tides in Wales mean that waste could be transferred from the sea into land, through coastal flooding or even sea spray heading up to 10 miles inland. 

Earlier this month, Steffan Messenger BBC Wales Environment Correspondent, reported that EDF Energy wants to deposit a further 780,000 tonnes of sediment from Hinkley Point C in 2021. The developers have submitted a plan to NRW for sampling and testing the mud, following a six-week consultation with specialists and the public. NRW has to determine whether the material is suitable for disposal at Cardiff Grounds, a sandbank licensed to receive dredged sediment .

Tim Deere-Jones said he had urged the Welsh Government to carry out radioactivity measurements along the Welsh shoreline before and after the initial dumping of Hinkley mud in 2018. But he said their refusal had “left coastal communities in a position of complete ignorance about the impacts of the dump”.

EdF’s licence to dump sediment in the Cardiff Bay marine disposal site has expired so it will apply once again to dredge off Hinkley Point and deposit 600,000 cubic metres of radioactive sediment in 2021 into Cardiff Grounds.

No level playing field: are local people being denied time to prepare their case effectively?

The Welsh Government, and its regulator the NRW, have arranged a public consultation and EdF appointed a team of highly paid employees which has been preparing for this action for over a year. The consultation is to start on the day of the announcement (Feb.4th), to be completed by March 18th this year.

Kate Blagojevic, Greenpeace UK’s Head of Energy, has advised the Government to drop its new nuclear programme; with the cost of renewable energy falling fast and nuclear being harmful and expensive, it makes no economic or environmental sense to build new nuclear power stations which will create vast quantities of hazardous waste causing storage and financial problems for generations to come.

She recommends a focus on increasing the generation of far cheaper wind and solar energy and on developing storage technologies to address the problem of intermittency.





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Extremists and moderates


Corporates have been labelling opponents of polluting industries as extremists and are given protection by government and police from those who challenge their dangerous activities, however peacefully.

Moderates’, in general, support the market economy despite its effect on the climate and – in Britain – elect leaders prepared to press the nuclear button and annihilate millions.

Will Government press forward with new nuclear power projects despite delays, spiralling costs and bankruptcy of some major players?

Decisions on energy – and Chinese involvement – will be made after the UK leaves the EU on Jan 31, just as the government will be trying to negotiate global alliances and trade deals with the US and China.

Rachel Millard pointed out earlier this month that a decision on a new financing model for the nuclear industry is high on the new government’s priority list, with ministers under pressure from industry to make decisions quickly – or risk losing the chance to build new plants at a time when the UK needs all the low carbon energy sources it can get.

Meanwhile a nuclear reactor is being built by the Argentine state-owned company Invap, for Britain’s moderate ally, Saudi Arabia, raising fears of a new Middle Eastern arms race.

Satellite pictures of the site at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology near Riyadh suggest that work is within a year of completion

George Monbiot’s sweeping verdict: “The real extremists are those in power . . . If you couldn’t give a damn about humankind and the rest of life on Earth, the police and the government will leave you alone. You might even get appointed to high office”.





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As the drive for a ‘clean option’ is renewed, France increases protection to those living near nuclear plants


In September CNN  published an article by Katie Tubbs (Heritage Foundation, USA) which opened: “The challenge to meet the world’s energy needs is massive . . . There is a clean option that could meet this challenge: Nuclear energy”. 

The following day a Moseley reader sent a link to a Sky News article about France’s plans to widen distribution of free iodine tablets to people living within 20km of a nuclear plant, to protect their bodies from the effects of radiation in the event of an accident. Three-quarters of France’s electricity is produced in 58 nuclear reactors at 19 state-owned plants, making it more reliant on nuclear power than any other country in the world.

Three-quarters of France’s electricity comes from19 nuclear plants

Nuclear accidents usually release radioactive iodine into the atmosphere which can lead to cancer years later. Using stable (not radioactive) iodine prevents the thyroid – the part of the body that is most sensitive to radiation – from absorbing radioactive iodine, so protecting it from radiation injury.

Business Insider adds, however, “But this is not a foolproof plan for prevention—it does not stop other organs in your body from being exposed to or contaminated with radiation”.

In 2014, France’s plant in Fessenheim near the borders with Germany and Switzerland, was flooded, forcing an emergency reactor shutdown. Fessenheim has been in use since 1977 and anti-nuclear activists have called for it to be closed permanently.

Germany plans to phase out its nuclear plants by 2022, but many countries on its borders – including France – continue to operate them.

In August, it was reported that Germany had decided to increase its stockpile of iodine tablets in case of a nuclear accident. After the Fukushima disaster, Germany extended the radius for those eligible for free tablets from 20km to 100km (62 miles).




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Nuclear power: an exceptional case?

The United States, the United Kingdom and China are advocating the construction of small modular reactors (The Nuclear Industry’s Latest Pipe Dream) but there was no rejoicing at last week’s news.

A ship, the Akademik Lomonosov, bearing Russia’s first floating nuclear power plant, set sail on Friday from the Arctic port of Murmansk. It will rest offshore and, from December this year, will begin generating electricity – the world’s northernmost nuclear power station.

The plant, developed by the Russian state nuclear company Rosatom, is loaded with nuclear fuel and will replace a coal-fired power plant and an aging nuclear power plant, supplying more than 50,000 people with electricity in the town of Pevek, in one of the country’s most isolated regions.

Sergey Ivanov, the president’s special representative for environmental and transport issues, said that the plant had been visited by experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) during its construction. Read more about the technology and history of these stations here.

Lev Sergeev and Maxim Shemetov writing from Murmansk, report that environmentalists have voiced concerns over the risk of nuclear accidents: “We think that a floating nuclear power plant is an excessively risky and costly way of obtaining energy,” Rashid Alimov of Greenpeace Russia told Reuters.

When the Moscow Times asked Rosatom to comment on Greenpeace’s statement, Rosatom said: “Instead of seeing the Akademik Lomonosov as an opportunity for clean, green, and stable energy supplies in harsh and remote conditions, it scaremongers,” and added that the plant was able to “safely withstand a full spectrum of negative scenarios including man-made and natural disasters.”

Nuclear reactors have been used to power the US’ fleet of super-sized aircraft carriers, warships and submarines from several nations since the mid-20th century. Rosatom pointed out that similar reactors which have operated in the Arctic since 1988 on Russia’s nuclear-powered icebreaker fleet, have been designed with a “great margin of safety” and are “invincible from tsunamis”. .

According to Rosatom, 15 countries, including China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Algeria, Namibia, Cape Verde and Argentina, have shown interest in hiring a floating nuclear power plant and talks have been held with potential buyers from Latin America, Africa and Asia. Discussions have been held with Sudan to use the plant for power generation and Argentina for water desalination. But the company added that the project’s total cost, and confirmation of any foreign contracts, will only be made after the technology is fully tested,

Is this an exceptional case?

Wind turbines face extreme difficulties in Arctic regions, detailed here. The remote location adds significant shipping costs for renewable energy installations. As the sun sits low in the sky it can be difficult to find unshaded urban locations for solar panels, which can be blocked by snow banks and ice.

Rosatom argues that the power unit will “contribute to the sustainable development of the Arctic region and to the fight against climate change by offering zero-carbon electricity generation and replacing heavy polluting fossil-fuel power sources  . . (and) does not pose any threat to the environment”.





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Conflict of interest? Advisers paid millions to work for government and developers of failing nuclear projects

Alex Ralph reported in The Times that government advisers have been awarded contracts worth millions of pounds on failing nuclear projects, despite – in some cases – also advising the companies behind the schemes.

PWC, the accounting firm: awarded a five-year, £4.5 million contract by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy as financial adviser on the Wylfa plant on Anglesey. The project is being developed by Horizon, a subsidiary of Hitachi, and The Times reported last July that PWC was also among Horizon’s advisers.

Arup, the engineering and design company, was awarded a £3.5 million government contract, over three and a half years, to act as technical adviser on the development of new nuclear projects. The Times reported in July that Arup was also an adviser to the Hitachi subsidiary behind the Wylfa project.

Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the Commons’ public accounts committee, described the contracts as eye-watering, and added: “Given how little we have to show for it in progressing delivery, there are questions that have to be asked about the advice to government.”





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