The Main Cause of the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

Indian Point Energy CenterNuclear power plant in Buchanan, New YorkIndian Point Energy Center (IPEC) is a three-unit nuclear power plant station located in Buchanan, New York, just south of Peekskill. It sits on the east bank of the Hudson River, about 36 miles (58 km) north of Midtown Manhattan. The plant generates over 2,000 megawThe Main Cause of the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12) atts (MWe) of electrical power. For reference, the record peak energy consumption of New York City and Westchester County (the ConEdison Service Territory) was set during a seven-day heat wave on July 19, 2013, at 13,322 megawatts.[3] Electrical energy consumption varies greatly with time of day and season.[4]Quick Facts: Country, Location …The plant is owned and operated by Entergy Nuclear Northeast, a subsidiary of Entergy Corporation, and includes two operating Westinghouse pressurized water reactors—designated “Indian Point 2” and “Indian Point 3″—which Entergy bought from Consolidated Edison and the New York Power Authority respectively. The facility also contains the permanently shut-down Indian Point Unit 1 reactor. As of 2015, the number of permanent jobs at the Buchanan plant is approximately 1,000.The original 40-year operating licenses for units 2 and 3 expired in September 2013 and December 2015, respectively. Entergy had applied for license extensions and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was moving toward granting a twenty-year extension for each reactor. However, after pressure from local environmental groups and New York governor Andrew Cuomo, it was announced that the plant is scheduled to be shut down by 2021.[5] Local groups had cited increasingly frequent issues with the aging units, ongoing environmental releases, and the proximity of the plant to New York City.[6]ReactorsHistory and designThe reactors are built on land that originally housed the Indian Point Amusement Park, but was acquired by Consolidated Edison (ConEdison) on October 14, 1954.[7] Indian Point 1, built by ConEdison, was a 275-megawatt Babcock & Wilcox supplied [8] pressurized water reactor that was issued an operating license on March 26, 1962 and began operations on September 16, 1962.[9] The first core used a thorium-based fuel with stainless steel cladding, but this fuel did not live up to expectations for core life.[10] The plant was operated with uranium dioxide fuel for the remainder of its life. The reactor was shut down on October 31, 1974, because the emergency core cooling system did not meet regulatory requirements. All spent fuel was removed from the reactor vessel by January 1976, but the reactor still stands.[11] The licensee, Entergy, plans to decommission Unit 1 when Unit 2 is decommissioned.[12]The two additional reactors, Indian Point 2 and 3, are four-loop Westinghouse pressurized water reactors both of similar design. Units 2 and 3 were completed in 1974 and 1976, respectively. Unit 2 has a generating capacity of 1,032 MW, and Unit 3 has a generating capacity of 1,051 MW. Both reactors use uranium dioxide fuel of no more than 4.8% U-235 enrichment. The reactors at Indian Point are protected by containment domes made of steel-reinforced concrete that is 40 inches thick, with a carbon steel liner.[13]Nuclear capacity in New York stateUnits 2 and 3 are two of six operating nuclear energy sources in New York State. New York is one of the five largest states in terms of nuclear capacity and generation, accounting for approximately 5% of the national totals. Indian Point provides 39% of the state’s nuclear capacity. Nuclear power produces 34.2% of the state’s electricity, higher than the U.S. average of 20.6%. In 2017, Indian Point generated approximately 10% of the state’s electricity needs, and 25% of the electricity used in New York City and Westchester County.[14] Its contract with Consolidated Edison is for just 560 megawatts. The New York Power Authority, which built Unit 3, stopped buying electricity from Indian Point in 2012. NYPA supplies the subways, airports, and public schools and housing in NYC and Westchester County. Entergy sells the rest of Indian Point’s output into the NYISO administered electric wholesale markets and elsewhere in New England.[15][16][17][18] In 2013, New York had the fourth highest average electricity prices in the United States. Half of New York’s power demand is in the New York City region; about two-fifths of generation originates there.[19][20]RefuelingThe currently operating Units 2 and 3 are each refueled on a two-year cycle. At the end of each fuel cycle, one unit is brought offline for refueling and maintenance activities. On March 2, 2015, Indian Point 3 was taken offline for 23 days to perform its refueling operations. Entergy invested $50 million in the refueling and other related projects for Unit 3, of which $30 million went to employee salaries. The unit was brought back online on March 25, 2015.[21]EffectsEconomic impactA June 2015 report by a lobby group called Nuclear Energy Institute found that the operation of Indian Point generates $1.3 billion of annual economic output in local counties, $1.6 billion statewide, and $2.5 billion across the United States. In 2014, Entergy paid $30 million in state and local property taxes. The total tax revenue (direct and secondary) was nearly $340 million to local, state, and federal governments.[15] According to the Village of Buchanan budget for 2016–2017, a payment in lieu of taxes in the amount of $2.62 million was received in 2015-2016, and was projected to be $2.62 million in 2016–2017 – the majority of which can be assumed to come from the Indian Point Energy Center.[22]Over the last decade, the station has maintained a capacity factor of greater than 93 percent. This is consistently higher than the nuclear industry average and than other forms of generation. The reliability helps offset the severe price volatility of other energy sources (e.g., natural gas) and the indeterminacy of renewable electricity sources (e.g., solar, wind).[15]Indian Point directly employs about 1,000 full-time workers. This employment creates another 2,800 jobs in the five-county region, and 1,600 in other industries in New York, for a total of 5,400 in-state jobs. Additionally, another 5,300 indirect jobs are created out of state, creating a sum total of 10,700 jobs throughout the United States.[15]Environmental concernsEnvironmentalists have expressed concern about increased carbon emissions with the impending shutdown of Indian Point (generating electricity with nuclear energy creates no carbon emissions). A study undertaken by Environmental Progress found that closure of the plant would cause power emissions to jump 29% in New York, equivalent to the emissions from 1.4 million additional cars on New York roads.[23]Some environmental groups have expressed concerns about the operation of Indian Point, including radiation pollution and endangerment of wildlife, but whether Indian Point has ever posed a significant danger to wildlife or the public remains controversial. Though anti-nuclear group Riverkeeper notes “Radioactive leakage from the plant containing several radioactive isotopes, such as strontium-90, cesium-137, cobalt-60, nickel-63 and tritium, a rarely-occurring isotope of hydrogen, has flowed into groundwater that eventually enters the Hudson River in the past[24], there is no evidence radiation from the plant has ever posed a significant hazard to local residents or wildlife. In the last year[when?], nine tritium leaks have occurred, however, even at their highest levels the leaks have never exceeded one-tenth of one percent of US Nuclear Regulatory Commission limits.In February 2016, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo called for a full investigation by state environment[25] and health officials and is partnering with organizations like Sierra Club, Riverkeepers, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, Scenic Hudson and Physicians for Social Responsibility in seeking the permanent closure of the plant.[citation needed] However, Cuomo’s motivation for closing the plant was called into question after it was revealed two top former aides, under federal prosecution for influence-peddling, had lobbied on behalf of natural gas company Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) to kill Indian Point. In his indictment, US attorney Preet Bharara wrote “the importance of the plant [CPV’s proposed Valley Energy Center, a plant powered by natural gas] to the State depended at least in part, on whether [Indian Point] was going to be shut down.”[26]In April 2016 climate scientist James Hansen took issue with calls to shut the plant down, including those from presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “The last few weeks have seen an orchestrated campaign to mislead the people of New York about the essential safety and importance of Indian Point nuclear plant to address climate change,” wrote Hansen, adding “Sanders has offered no evidence that NRC [U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission] has failed to do its job, and he has no expertise in over-riding NRC’s judgement. For the sake of future generations who could be harmed by irreversible climate change, I urge New Yorkers to reject this fear mongering and uphold science against ideology.”[27]Indian Point removes water from the nearby Hudson River. Despite the use of fish screens, the cooling system kills over a billion fish eggs and larvae annually.[28] According to one NRC report from 2010, as few as 38% of alewives survive the screens.[29] On September 14, 2015, a state hearing began in regards to the deaths of fish in the river, and possibly implementing a shutdown period from May to August. An Indian Point spokesman stated that such a period would be unnecessary, as Indian Point “is fully protective of life in the Hudson River and $75 million has been spent over the last 30 years on scientific studies demonstrating that the plant has no harmful impact to adult fish.” The hearings lasted three weeks.[30] Concerns were also raised over the planned building of new cooling towers, which would cut down forest land that is suspected to be used as breeding ground by muskrat and mink. At the time of the report, no minks or muskrats were spotted there.[29]SafetyIndian Point Energy Center has been given an incredible amount of scrutiny from the media and politicians and is regulated more heavily than various other power plants in the state of New York (i.e., by the NRC in addition to FERC, the NYSPSC, the NYISO, the NYSDEC, and the EPA). On a forced outage basis – incidents related to electrical equipment failure that force a plant stoppage – it provides a much more reliable operating history than most other power plants in New York.[31][32] Beginning at the end of 2015, Governor Cuomo began to ramp up political action against the Indian Point facility, opening an investigation with the state public utility commission, the department of health, and the department of environmental conservation.[33][34][35][30][36][37] To put the public service commission investigation in perspective: most electric outage investigations conducted by the commission are in response to outages with a known number of affected retail electric customers.[38] By November 17, 2017, the NYISO accepted Indian Point’s retirement notice.[39]In 1997, Indian Point Unit 3 was removed from the NRC’s list of plants that receive increased attention from the regulator. An engineer for the NRC noted that the plant had been experiencing increasingly fewer problems during inspections.[40] On March 10, 2009 the Indian Point Power Plant was awarded the fifth consecutive top safety rating for annual operations by the Federal regulators. According to the Hudson Valley Journal News, the plant had shown substantial improvement in its safety culture in the previous two years.[41] A 2003 report commissioned by then-Governor George Pataki concluded that the “current radiological response system and capabilities are not adequate to…protect the people from an unacceptable dose of radiation in the event of a release from Indian Point”.[42] More recently, in December 2012 Entergy commissioned a 400-page report on the estimates of evacuation times. This report, performed by emergency planning company KLD Engineering, concluded that the existing traffic management plans provided by Orange, Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester Counties are adequate and require no changes.[43] According to one list that ranks U.S. nuclear power plants by their likelihood of having a major natural disaster related incident, Indian Point is the most likely to be hit by a natural disaster, mainly an earthquake.[44][45][46][47] Despite this, the owners of the plant still say that safety is a selling point for the nuclear power plant.[48]Incidents▪ In 1973, five months after Indian Point 2 opened, the plant was shut down when engineers discovered buckling in the steel liner of the concrete dome in which the nuclear reactor is housed.[49]▪ On October 17, 1980,[50] 100,000 gallons of Hudson River water leaked into the Indian Point 2 containment building from the fan cooling unit, undetected by a safety device designed to detect hot water. The flooding, covering the first nine feet of the reactor vessel, was discovered when technicians entered the building. Two pumps that should have removed the water were found to be inoperative. NRC proposed a $2,100,000 fine for the incident.▪ In February 2000, Unit 2 experienced a Steam Generator Tube Rupture (SGTR), which allowed primary water to leak into the secondary system through one of the steam generators.[51] All four steam generators were subsequently replaced.[citation needed]▪ In 2005, Entergy workers while digging discovered a small leak in a spent fuel pool. Water containing tritium and strontium-90 was leaking through a crack in the pool building and then finding its way into the nearby Hudson River. Workers were able to keep the spent fuel rods safely covered despite the leak.[52] On March 22, 2006 The New York Times also reported finding radioactive nickel-63 and strontium in groundwater on site.[53]▪ In 2007, a transformer at Unit 3 caught fire, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission raised its level of inspections, because the plant had experienced many unplanned shutdowns. According to The New York Times, Indian Point “has a history of transformer problems”.[54]▪ On April 23, 2007, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission fined the owner of the Indian Point nuclear plant $130,000 for failing to meet a deadline for a new emergency siren plan. The 150 sirens at the plant are meant to alert residents within 10 miles to a plant emergency.[55]▪ On January 7, 2010, NRC inspectors reported that an estimated 600,000 gallons of mildly radioactive steam was intentionally vented to the atmosphere after an automatic shutdown of Unit 2. After the vent, one of the vent valves unintentionally remained slightly open for two days. The levels of tritium in the steam were within the allowable safety limits defined in NRC standards.[56]▪ On November 7, 2010, an explosion occurred in a main transformer for Indian Point 2, spilling oil into the Hudson River.[57] Entergy later agreed to pay a $1.2 million penalty for the transformer explosion.[54]▪ July 2013, a former supervisor, who worked at the Indian Point nuclear power plant for twenty-nine years, was arrested for falsifying the amount of particulate in the diesel fuel for the plant’s backup generators.[58]▪ On May 9, 2015, a transformer failed at Indian Point 3, causing the automated shutdown of reactor 3. A fire that resulted from the failure was extinguished, and the reactor was placed in a safe and stable condition.[59] The failed transformer contained about 24,000 gallons of dielectric fluid, which is used as an insulator and coolant when the transformer is energized. The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that about 3,000 gallons of dielectric fluid entered the river following the failure.[60]▪ In June 2015, a mylar balloon floated into a switchyard, causing an electrical problem resulting in the shutdown of Reactor 3.[61]▪ In July 2015, Reactor 3 was shut down after a water pump failure.[citation needed]▪ On December 5, 2015, Indian Point 2 was shut down after several control rods lost power.[62]▪ On February 6, 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo informed the public that radioactive tritium-contaminated water leaked into the groundwater at the Indian Point Nuclear facility.[25]Spent fuelIndian Point stores used fuel rods in two spent fuel pools at the facility.[52] The spent fuel pools at Indian Point are not stored under a containment dome like the reactor, but rather they are contained within an indoor 40-foot-deep pool and submerged under 27 feet of water. Water is a natural and effective barrier to radiation. The spent fuel pools at Indian Point are set in bedrock and are constructed of concrete walls that are four to six feet wide, with a quarter-inch thick stainless steel inner liner. The pools each have multiple redundant backup cooling systems.[52][63]Indian Point began dry cask storage of spent fuel rods in 2008, which is a safe and environmentally sound option according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.[64] Some rods have already been moved to casks from the spent fuel pools. The pools will be kept nearly full of spent fuel, leaving enough space to allow emptying the reactor completely.[65] Dry cask storage systems are designed to resist floods, tornadoes, projectiles, temperature extremes, and other unusual scenarios. The NRC requires the spent fuel to be cooled and stored in the spent fuel pool for at least five years before being transferred to dry casks.[66]Earthquake riskIn 2008, researchers from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory located a previously unknown active seismic zone running from Stamford, Connecticut, to the Hudson Valley town of Peekskill, New York—the intersection of the Stamford-Peekskill line with the well-known Ramapo Fault—which passes less than a mile north of the Indian Point nuclear power plant.[67] The Ramapo Fault is the longest fault in the Northeast, but scientists dispute how active this roughly 200-million-year-old fault really is. Many earthquakes in the state’s surprisingly varied seismic history are believed to have occurred on or near it. Visible at ground level, the fault line likely extends as deep as nine miles below the surface.[68]In July 2013, Entergy engineers reassessed the risk of seismic damage to Unit 3 and submitted their findings in a report to the NRC. It was found that risk leading to reactor core damage is 1 in 106,000 reactor years using U.S. Geological Survey data; and 1 in 141,000 reactor years using Electric Power Research Institute data. Unit 3’s previous owner, the New York Power Authority, had conducted a more limited analysis in the 1990s than Unit 2’s previous owner, Con Edison, leading to the impression that Unit 3 had fewer seismic protections than Unit 2. Neither submission of data from the previous owners was incorrect.[69]According to a company spokesman, Indian Point was built to withstand an earthquake of 6.1 on the Richter scale.[70] Entergy executives have also noted “that Indian Point had been designed to withstand an earthquake much stronger than any on record in the region, though not one as powerful as the quake that rocked Japan.”[71]The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s estimate of the risk each year of an earthquake intense enough to cause core damage to the reactor at Indian Point was Reactor 2: 1 in 30,303; Reactor 3: 1 in 10,000, according to an NRC study published in August 2010. reported based on the NRC data that “Indian Point nuclear reactor No. 3 has the highest risk of earthquake damage in the country, according to new NRC risk estimates provided to” According to the report, the reason is that plants in known earthquake zones like California were designed to be more quake-resistant than those in less affected areas like New York.[72][73] The NRC did not dispute the numbers but responded in a release that “The NRC results to date should not be interpreted as definitive estimates of seismic risk,” because the NRC does not rank plants by seismic risk.[74]IPEC Units 2 and 3 both operated at 100% full power before, during, and after the Virginia earthquake on August 23, 2011. A thorough inspection of both units by plant personnel immediately following this event verified no significant damage occurred at either unit.Emergency planningThe Nuclear Regulatory Commission defines two emergency planning zones around nuclear power plants: a plume exposure pathway zone with a radius of 10 miles (16 km), concerned primarily with exposure to, and inhalation of, airborne radioactive contamination, and an ingestion pathway zone of about 50 miles (80 km), concerned primarily with ingestion of food and liquid contaminated by radioactivity.[75]According to an analysis of U.S. Census data for MSNBC, the 2010 U.S. population within 10 miles (16 km) of Indian Point was 272,539, an increase of 17.6 percent during the previous ten years. The 2010 U.S. population within 50 miles (80 km) was 17,220,895, an increase of 5.1 percent since 2000. Cities within 50 miles include New York (41 miles to city center); Bridgeport, Conn. (40 miles); Newark, N.J. (39 miles); and Stamford, Conn. (24 miles).[76]In the wake of the 2011 Fukushima incident in Japan, the State Department recommended that any Americans in Japan stay beyond fifty miles from the area.[citation needed] Columnist Peter Applebome, writing in The New York Times, noted that such an area around Indian Point would include “almost all of New York City except for Staten Island; almost all of Nassau County and much of Suffolk County; all of Bergen County, N.J.; all of Fairfield, Conn.” He quotes Purdue University professor Daniel Aldrich as saying “Many scholars have already argued that any evacuation plans shouldn’t be called plans, but rather “fantasy documents””.[42]The current 10-mile plume-exposure pathway Emergency Planning Zone (EPZ) is one of two EPZs intended to facilitate a strategy for protective action during an emergency and comply with NRC regulations. “The exact size and shape of each EPZ is a result of detailed planning which includes consideration of the specific conditions at each site, unique geographical features of the area, and demographic information. This preplanned strategy for an EPZ provides a substantial basis to support activity beyond the planning zone in the extremely unlikely event it would be needed.”[77]In an interview, Entergy executives said they doubt that the evacuation zone would be expanded to reach as far as New York City.[71]Indian Point is protected by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, including a National Guard base within a mile of the facility, as well as by private off-site security forces.[78]During the September 11 attacks, American Airlines Flight 11 flew near the Indian Point Energy Center en route to the World Trade Center. Mohamed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers/plotters, had considered nuclear facilities for targeting in a terrorist attack.[79] Entergy says it is prepared for a terrorist attack, and asserts that a large airliner crash into the containment building would not cause reactor damage.[80] Following 9/11 the NRC required operators of nuclear facilities in the U.S. to examine the effects of terrorist events and provide planned responses.[81] In September 2006, the Indian Point Security Department successfully completed mock assault exercises required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.[citation needed] However, according to environmental group Riverkeeper, these NRC exercises are inadequate because they do not envision a sufficiently large group of attackers.[citation needed]According to The New York Times, fuel stored in dry casks is less vulnerable to terrorist attack than fuel in the storage pools.[65]RecertificationUnits 2 and 3 were both originally licensed by the NRC for 40 years of operation. The NRC limits commercial power reactor licenses to an initial 40 years, but also permits such licenses to be renewed. This original 40-year term for reactor licenses was based on economic and antitrust considerations, not on limitations of nuclear technology. Due to this selected period, however, some structures and components may have been engineered on the basis of an expected 40-year service life.[82] The original federal license for Unit Two expired on September 28, 2013,[83][84] and the license for Unit Three was due to expire in December 2015.[85] On April 30, 2007, Entergy submitted an application for a 20-year renewal of the licenses for both units. On May 2, 2007, the NRC announced that this application is available for public review.[86] Because the owner submitted license renewal applications at least five years prior to the original expiration date, the units are allowed to continue operation past this date while the NRC considers the renewal application.On September 23, 2007, the antinuclear group Friends United for Sustainable Energy (FUSE) filed legal papers with the NRC opposing the relicensing of the Indian Point 2 reactor. The group contended that the NRC improperly held Indian Point to less stringent design requirements. The NRC responded that the newer requirements were put in place after the plant was complete.[87]On December 1, 2007, Westchester County Executive Andrew J. Spano, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and New York Governor Eliot Spitzer called a press conference with the participation of environmental advocacy groups Clearwater and Riverkeeper to announce their united opposition to the re-licensing of the Indian Point nuclear power plants. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Office of the Attorney General requested a hearing as part of the process put forth by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.[citation needed] In September 2007 The New York Times reported on the rigorous legal opposition Entergy faces in its request for a 20-year licensing extension for Indian Point Nuclear Reactor 2.[87]A water quality certificate is a prerequisite for a twenty-year renewal by the NRC.[citation needed] On April 3, 2010, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation ruled that Indian Point violates the federal Clean Water Act,[88] because “the power plant’s water-intake system kills nearly a billion aquatic organisms a year, including the shortnose sturgeon, an endangered species.”[citation needed] The state is demanding that Entergy constructs new closed-cycle cooling towers at a cost of over $1 billion, a decision that will effectively close the plant for nearly a year. Regulators denied Entergy’s request to install fish screens that they said would improve fish mortality more than new cooling towers. Anti-nuclear groups and environmentalists have in the past tried to close the plant,[citation needed] which is in a more densely populated area than any of the 66 other nuclear plant sites in the US.[citation needed] Opposition to the plant[from whom?] increased after the September 2001 terror attacks,[citation needed] when one of the hijacked jets flew close to the plant on its way to the World Trade Center.[citation needed] Public worries also increased after the 2011 Japanese Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and after a report highlighting the Indian Point plant’s proximity to the Ramapo Fault.[citation needed]Advocates of recertifying Indian Point include former New York City mayors Michael Bloomberg and Rudolph W. Giuliani. Bloomberg says that “Indian Point is critical to the city’s economic viability”.[89] The New York Independent System Operator maintains that in the absence of Indian Point, grid voltages would degrade, which would limit the ability to transfer power from upstate New York resources through the Hudson Valley to New York City.[90]As the current governor, Andrew Cuomo continues to call for closure of Indian Point.[91] In late June 2011, a Cuomo advisor in a meeting with Entergy executives informed them for the first time directly of the Governor’s intention to close the plant, while the legislature approved a bill to streamline the process of siting replacement plants.[92]Nuclear energy industry figures and analysts responded to Cuomo’s initiative by questioning whether replacement electrical plants could be certified and built rapidly enough to replace Indian Point, given New York state’s “cumbersome regulation process”, and also noted that replacement power from out of state sources will be hard to obtain because New York has weak ties to generation capacity in other states.[citation needed] They said that possible consequences of closure will be a sharp increase in the cost of electricity for downstate users and even “rotating black-outs”.[93]Several members of the House of Representatives representing districts near the plant have also opposed recertification, including Democrats Nita Lowey, Maurice Hinchey, and Eliot Engel and then Republican member Sue Kelly.[94]In November 2016 the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the application to renew the NRC operating licences must be reviewed against the state’s coastal management program, which The New York State Department of State had already decided was inconsistent with coastal management requirements. Entergy has filed a lawsuit regarding the validity of Department of State’s decision.[95]ClosureBeginning at the end of 2015, Governor Cuomo began to ramp up political action against the Indian Point facility, opening investigations with the state public utility commission, the department of health and the department of environmental conservation.[33][34][35][30][36][37] To put the public service commission investigation in perspective, most electric outage investigations conducted by the commission are in response to outages with a known number of affected retail electric customers.[38] By November 17, 2017, the NYISO accepted Indian Point’s retirement notice.[39]In January 2017, the governor’s office announced closure by 2020-21.[96] The closure, along with pollution control, challenges New York’s ability to be supplied.[citation needed] Among the solution proposals are storage, renewables (solar and wind), a new transmission cables from Canada [97][98] and a 650MW natural gas plant located in Wawayanda, New York.[99] There was also a 1,000 MW merchant HVDC transmission line proposed in 2013 to the public service commission that would have interconnected at Athens, New York and Buchanan, New York, however this project was indefinitely stalled when its proposed southern converter station site was bought by the Town of Cortlandt in a land auction administered by Con Edison.[100][101][102] As of October 1, 2018, the 650 MW plant built in Wawayanda, New York, by CPV Valley, is operating commercially.[103] The CPV Valley plant has been associated with Governor Cuomo’s close aid, Joe Percoco, and the associated corruption trial.[104] Another plant being built, Cricket Valley Energy Center, rated at 1,100 MW, is on schedule to provide energy by 2020 in Dover, New York.[105] An Indian Point contingency plan, initiated in 2012 by the NYSPSC under the administration of Cuomo, solicited energy solutions from which a Transmission Owner Transmission Solutions (TOTS) plan was selected. The TOTS projects provide 450 MW[106] of additional transfer capability across a NYISO defined electric transmission corridor in the form of three projects: series compensation at a station in Marcy, New York, reconductoring a transmission line, adding an additional transmission line, and “unbottling” Staten Island capacity. These projects, with the exception of part of the Staten Island “unbottling” were in service by mid-2016. The cost of the TOTS projects are distributed among various utilities in their rate cases before the public service commission and the cost allocation amongst themselves was approved by FERC. NYPA and LIPA are also receiving a portion. The cost of the TOTS projects has been estimated in the range of $27 million to $228 million.[107][108][109][110][111] An energy highway initiative was also prompted by this order (generally speaking, additional lines on the Edic-Pleasant Valley and the Oakdale-Fraser transmission corridors) which is still going through the regulatory process in both the NYISO and NYSPSC.Under the current plan, one reactor is scheduled to be shut down in April 2020 and the second by April 2021.[112] A report by the New York Building Congress, a construction industry association, has said that NYC will need additional natural gas pipelines to accommodate the city’s increasing demand for energy. Environmentalists have argued that the power provided by Indian point can be replaced by renewable energy, combined with conservation measures and improvements to the efficiency of the electrical grid.[113]

The Iranian Nuclear Horn made great progress

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)

Iran’s nuclear program has made great progress, now producing 60% enriched uranium: IAEA head

Saturday, 11 December 2021 11:16 AM  [ Last Update: Saturday, 11 December 2021 11:31 AM ]

The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran’s nuclear program has made significant progress, and the country is currently enriching uranium to the purity level of 60%.

“We need to assess the situation with Iran. The country’s nuclear program is very advanced and enrichment is being done at 60 percent purity,” Rafael Grossi said in an interview with Qatari Al Jazeera television news network.

He added that the IAEA is seeking to reach an agreement with Iran in order to reinstall surveillance cameras at the Karaj nuclear facility in the west of the Iranian capital of Tehran.

“Lack of information about events at Karaj facility in Iran prevents us from providing information to negotiators in Vienna,” Grossi noted.

“Some issues, such as the presence of nuclear material in some undeclared locations, need explanations from Iran,” the IAEA chief pointed out.

'Dishonest reports' won't weaken Iran's will to secure nation's rights: Chief negotiator in Vienna talks

‘Dishonest reports’ won’t weaken Iran’s will to secure nation’s rights: Chief negotiator in Vienna talksIran’s chief negotiator to Vienna talks says dishonest reports from outside the negotiating room will fail to have any impact on Tehran’s will to reach a deal securing the Iranian nation’s rights and interests.

The remarks came as envoys from Iran and the P4+1 group of countries — Britain, France, Russia, and China plus Germany — are engaged in the seventh round of talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, official known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The revival of the JCPOA would require the US to remove its anti-Iran sanctions three years after Washington walked out of the multilateral agreement and imposed more sanctions on Iran to kill the deal.

The new round of talks between Iran and the P4+1 group of countries resumed in the Austrian capital on Thursday after being paused on December 3, when the participants returned to their capitals for additional consultations on two draft proposals that Tehran had put forward. The talks started on November 29 after a hiatus in the negotiations due to the presidential election in Iran.

Almost eleven months after Joe Biden was sworn in as president, the United States still refuses to remove the sanctions, despite Biden’s pledge to undo the Iran policy of his predecessor, Donald Trump, and end his “failed maximum pressure” campaign.

We are all in Vienna to reach good deal on sanctions removal, says Iran’s foreign minister

We are all in Vienna to reach good deal on sanctions removal, says Iran’s foreign minister“We are all in Vienna to negotiate to reach a good agreement,” says Iran’s foreign minister.

Although the US withdrawal from the JCPOA and its sanctions, coupled with the three European parties’ submission to Washington’s illegal moves, prompted Iran to legally reduce its nuclear undertakings, the four countries have upped the ante in the talks, voicing concerns over its nuclear measures.

Iran’s foreign minister has underlined Iran’s resolve to reach a “good agreement” through the ongoing talks in Vienna, saying the Western sides have talked the talk in recent years but it is high time they walk the walk as well to secure a serious, good deal.

“We are all in Vienna to negotiate to reach a good agreement,” Hossein Amir-Abdollahian wrote in a post on his Instagram page on Thursday night.

“The Western parties need to know that in the last eight years, enough words and empty promises have been uttered, but today, it is time to act,” Amir-Abdollahian noted.

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Expert Warns Another War Outside the Temple Walls Could be Coming Soon: Revelation 11

Expert Warns Another War Between Israel, Gaza Could be Coming Soon

JERUSALEM, Israel –  For 11 days in May, Hamas fired more than 3,000 rockets into Israel.  Israel’s Iron Dome shot down about 90% of those rockets while the IDF responded with surgical strikes against the terror group’s military infrastructure inside Gaza. 

Jonathan Schanzer, from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, writes in his new book “Gaza Conflict 2021” that much of the media covering the war got it wrong.     

“You know, a lot of people talk about fake news. I’m not sure that applies here. I’m not even sure that the word bias applies here. The problem was, it was almost as if the West and the Middle Eastern media – and I would actually say that includes Israeli media as well as Arabic media – it seemed like they were covering two different wars entirely,” he told CBN News.

The majority of those reports stated the war began over disturbances on the Temple Mount and a real estate dispute in a Jerusalem neighborhood.  

“That was all over the Western press, but yet, people just decided to ignore the fact that Palestinian elections were canceled, and that Hamas was angry and looking to make a splash. And that’s exactly what they did by launching the war,” said Schanzer.  “People forget – you know, they talk about how angry they are at Israel when it responds to these rockets, which by the way, I mean, these are provocations by Hamas.  Israel’s responses are almost entirely defensive in nature. But also people forget that Hamas almost single-handedly destroyed the peace process in the 1990s. So, if the concern is peace, the idea that you would blame Israel for a war with Hamas is rather ridiculous.”

Schanzer says much of the media also failed to recognize Hamas’s covenant to destroy Israel, their violent beliefs and main funding source:  Iran.  

“I mean, people sort of guess or think that somehow Hamas builds up this arsenal organically. That is not what happens. They get it from specific sources and it usually tracks back to the Islamic Republic into Tehran,” he explained.

Given the mainstream media support for creating a Palestinian state, many news outlets fail to recognize that Hamas is a tyrannical organization dominating the people of Gaza. 

“They have no freedom. And meanwhile, Hamas continues to divert all of the building materials and other resources that come in for the benefit of the people of Gaza. They divert that toward the war machine … So they say that they’re fighting on behalf of the Palestinian cause, but meanwhile, leave two million people in utter misery, subjecting them to the whims of the Hamas leadership who periodically decide to fight Israel with almost certain knowledge, they’re going to lose the war, but they wage it for public relations gains.”

Schanzer says recent terror attacks inside Israel inspired by Hamas signal an attempt to push Israel into another military conflict, a war Schanzer believes might not be too far away. 

“When you talk to Israeli officials, they’ll tell you that Gaza is still on a knife’s edge … Hamas always has the ability to take things from to calm to war in a very rapid fashion. That is the concern. Hamas knows exactly what buttons to push, whether it’s attacks against civilians, whether it’s rockets on Jerusalem or rockets on Israel’s very populated Mediterranean coast, the center waistline of Israel. These are things that Hamas knows that if they want to spark a war, they can. So the question is how much longer will calm hold?”

Iranian Nuclear Horn Ignites New Tension Between U.S. and Israel

American negotiators have signaled that Iranians’ advancements in their nuclear program and their recent hard line in Vienna mean Tehran is not serious about a diplomatic agreement.
American negotiators have signaled that Iranians’ advancements in their nuclear program and their recent hard line in Vienna mean Tehran is not serious about a diplomatic agreement.Atta Kenare/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Iran’s Nuclear Program Ignites New Tension Between U.S. and Israel

Strains emerged during talks this week after a short period of strong relations between a new Israeli government and new American one.

Published Dec. 10, 2021Updated Dec. 11, 2021, 11:22 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON — Long-running differences over how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program have erupted into new tensions between the Biden administration and Israel, with two senior Israeli officials leaving Washington this week concerned that the Americans’ commitment to restoring the 2015 nuclear deal will lead to a flawed agreement allowing Tehran to speed ahead with its nuclear enrichment program. 

The strains were evident all week, as the Biden administration sought to bring the alliance with Israel into a united front about how to deal with Iran over the next year. 

In an effort to close the gap, American officials let out word this week that two months ago, Mr. Biden asked his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, to review the Pentagon’s revised plan to take military action if the diplomatic effort collapsed. Administration officials also outlined new efforts to tighten, rather than loosen, sanctions on Iran. 

Mr. Biden’s focus on military options and sanctions was an effort to signal to Tehran that the United States was running out of patience with Iranian foot-dragging in the nuclear negotiations in Vienna, administration officials said. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said last week that the new Iranian government “does not seem to be serious about doing what’s necessary to return to compliance” with the 2015 nuclear deal. 

But the tougher line was also aimed at calming increasingly frustrated Israeli officials. Though they will not criticize the American president in public the way former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did during the Obama administration, Israeli officials in private argue that the Iranians are advancing their nuclear program while betting that the United States, eager to diminish American commitments in the Middle East, will not abandon the Vienna talks for more forceful action. 

This article is based on discussions with more than a dozen American and Israeli officials who spoke on the condition they be granted anonymity to discuss both sensitive matters of diplomacy and classified intelligence assessments. 

After a tense phone call with Mr. Blinken 10 days ago, the Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, dispatched his defense minister, Benny Gantz, and the new head of the Mossad, David Barnea, to Washington this week armed with new intelligence about Iranians’ uranium enrichment and the work of what Israel says is their weapons group. Despite the tougher American talk, Israeli officials left worried that the diplomatic outreach to Iran would continue. 

The disagreement over Iran is just one of several issues troubling the Biden-Bennett relationship. The pair started off on a strong footing: Mr. Biden spoke with Mr. Bennett within hours after the Israeli leader took office in June — a signal of support given that Mr. Biden had taken weeks after his inauguration to speak directly with Mr. Bennett’s predecessor, Mr. Netanyahu.

But the two governments have since clashed on whether the U.S. should reopen the American consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem, which was closed by President Donald J. Trump. Mr. Bennett says such a move would undermine Israel’s sovereignty in its capital city.

There are also disagreements over Israeli plans to expand its settlements in the occupied West Bank, and over the Biden administration’s decision to blacklist two Israeli spyware firms, NSO Group and Candiru, whose products, the U.S. alleges, have been used by authoritarian governments to hack the phones of dissidents and rights activists. 

But at the heart of the tensions between Israel and the United States is the fundamental disagreement over how to stop the Iranian program. It is not a new argument: The two allies fought bitterly over the 2015 agreement, which Israel opposed and President Barack Obama signed. 

More recently, they have disagreed about the wisdom of Israeli sabotage of Iranian facilities, which Mr. Bennett’s government believes has set back the program, and which some in the United States argue only encourages the Iranians to build back the nuclear enrichment facilities with more efficient, up-to-date equipment. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel has warned of the dangers of a nuclear Iran and is concerned that the U.S. will reach a deal with Tehran that the Israelis do not like.Pool photo by Gil Cohen-Magen

Israeli officials had been happy with the warm welcome the White House offered Mr. Bennett. The Biden administration had praised his government for being far more transparent with it than Mr. Netanyahu had been. Indeed, the Israelis consulted with the Americans before launching two covert strikes against Iran, one in September against a missile base and one in June against an Iranian factory building nuclear centrifuges, according to people briefed on the actions. 

But the call between Mr. Bennett and Mr. Blinken last week was contentious, with the two sides embracing very different opinions about the value of a renewed agreement to check Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. The call left officials in both countries frustrated, according to officials from both countries.

During the phone call, Mr. Bennett said that Iran was trying to blackmail the United States by increasing the enrichment percentage, according to an official familiar with details of the call. Mr. Bennett added that no official, American or Israeli, wants to be the one to report that Iran has reached bomb-grade enrichment, but fears of a nuclear-armed Iran should not lead to surrendering to Iranian demands or signing a reckless agreement.

Some American officials believe those concerns about concessions are misplaced. Israeli officials had complained that the United States was considering offering an interim deal with Tehran that would roll back some sanctions in return for a freeze on some of its nuclear activity. But American officials say such an offer is not actively being considered, at least for now, because of Iran’s unwillingness to engage. 

Israeli officials have not been reassured. They are increasingly concerned that the United States will eventually reach a deal with Tehran and then seek to block Israeli intelligence services from carrying out covert sabotage attacks. Israeli leaders say they want a guarantee from the Biden administration that Washington will not seek to restrain their sabotage campaign, even if a renewed nuclear deal is reached.

Disagreements over intelligence assessments about the Iranian nuclear stockpile and bomb-making know-how remain relatively small, mostly focused on how long it would take Iranians to produce a weapon if they get enough bomb-grade nuclear fuel. 

But the gulf about the meaning of those assessments is wide. American officials believe that so long as Iran has not moved to develop a bomb it does not have a nuclear military program, since it suspended the existing one after 2003. Israeli officials, on the other hand, believe that Iran has continued a clandestine effort to build a bomb since 2003. A gas station in Tehran. Some Israeli officials believe that their sabotage campaign toward Iran is having strategic effects.Vahid Salemi/Associated Press

Some Israeli officials believe that the sabotage campaign is having strategic effects and could be one of the reasons Iranians, however tentatively, have returned to Vienna. A senior Israeli intelligence official said the sabotage operations had created crippling paranoia at the top of the Iranian government. The operations, the official said, have caused Tehran to rethink whether it should accelerate the nuclear project. 

But even American supporters of the Israeli approach say it is akin to “mowing the grass,” a necessary step to keep Iran in check but not one that will ever fully halt Tehran’s nuclear research.  These American officials believe that the only durable way to prevent Iran from developing a weapon is to reach an agreement, like the one in 2015, that requires Iran to ship its nuclear fuel out of the country. And that would require significant sanctions relief in return. 

In the meetings this week, Israeli officials tried to persuade Washington not to work toward a diplomatic agreement and to instead tighten sanctions. But Israeli officials say they fear that the U.S. is conducing secret back-channel communication with Iran, and that a new round of talks in Vienna will eventually lead to the signing of a deal.

The meetings came against the backdrop of a recent Iranian attack on American forces in Syria, a senior American official said. The Israelis, the official said, had an aggressive attitude on the Iranian threat, related to both the nuclear program and the risk of missile and other weapon proliferation. 

But there is a growing American concern that it is just a matter of time before an American service member is killed or wounded by an Iranian proxy drone strike on Mr. Biden’s watch. With Iran making clear it will retaliate against American personnel in Syria or Iraq if Israel strikes Iran or its proxies, it complicates strike planning. Benny Gantz, the Israeli minister of defense, left, met with Lloyd J. Austin III, the American secretary of defense, this week as the relationship between the two countries strained.Alex Wong/Getty Images

In an appearance at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council on Monday,  William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, raised concerns about the Iranian nuclear work. He said the Iranians were “dragging their feet” on negotiations as they were “making steady advances in their nuclear program, particularly enrichment to 60 percent now as well.” That is the closest the Iranians have ever come to bomb-grade fuel, which is usually defined as 90 percent purity. 

But, Mr. Burns added, the United States continues to believe that Iran has not made a decision to weaponize its nuclear program.

Patrick Kingsley contributed reporting from Jerusalem, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

Russian invasion could spark the bowls of wrath: Revelation 16

Vadym Prystaiko on GB News.
Vadym Prystaiko on GB News on December 10, 2021.

Ukraine ambassador to the UK says Russian invasion could spark nuclear disasters like Chernobyl

Dec 10, 2021, 6:59 AM

  • Russia invading Ukraine could lead to a nuclear crisis like Chernobyl, Ukraine’s UK ambassador said.
  • Russia is building up its troops on Ukraine’s border. The US and Ukraine say it may invade soon.
  • The ambassador said an invasion would have global consequences: “We will be fighting to the death.”

Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK said that an attack by Russia could result in nuclear disasters like Chernobyl.

It came after a series of warnings that a Russian troop buildup on its border with Ukraine could escalate to an invasion.

Vadym Prystaiko spoke to UK broadcaster GB News on Friday, when he warned that Russia invading Ukraine would have consequences far beyond its borders.

He said that a conflict would have a high death toll and would create many refugees who could spread to other nations.

He also noted that Ukraine is home to many nuclear reactors which generate its electricity that Ukraine has multiple.

“We are second by number in nuclear stations, after France.  So if anything happens — we remember Chernobyl.”

Chernobyl was the world’s worst nuclear disaster. There was a power surge in reactor number four at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986, and it exploded, sending radioactive material over a vast space.

The explosion at Chernobyl, then part of the Soviet Union, was an accident cause by design flaws and human error at the plant, and was not part of any military action.

Prystaiko did not give details of how a Russian military campaign could damage nuclear sites, but seemed to suggest they could get caught up in the fighting.

Ukraine used to host a large part of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, but gave the weapons up in the years following its independence in 1991 and retained only civilian nuclear sites.

Prystaiko said: “I don’t want to use big words like World War III, but if anything big happens we will be fighting to the death.”

“We are a 40 million nation, the catastrophe will be enormous.”

He pointed out that there are already internally displaced people in Ukraine due to its ongoing conflict with Russia: “We have already 1.5 million people displaced, but we can observe them and we are observing them in our whole society.”

Ukraine annexed the Crimea peninsula in 2014, and has also supported separatist movements in conflict with the Ukrainian government in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.

He said that in the case of a “major” military move by Russia, “we will contain it as much as we can.”

A Ukrainian general recently warned that Ukraine cannot fend off Russia alone, and needs help.

Both the US and Ukraine have said that Russia is conducting a major troop buildup along its border with Ukraine, and that Russia could be preparing to invade in the next few weeks.

The head of the UK’s armed forces warned this week that an invasion by Russia would be of a significance “‘not seen in Europe since World War II.”

Scores killed after arms stored for the Palestinian Hamas group EXPLODE outside the Temple Walls: Revelation 11

Lebanon Palestinians
An explosion has occurred in the Burj Shamali Palestinian refugee camp in Tyre, Lebanon. Credit: AP

Scores killed after arms stored for the Palestinian Hamas group EXPLODE in refugee camp

AAPUpdated: Saturday, 11 December 2021 10:33 AM AEDT

Arms stored for the Palestinian Hamas group have exploded in a refugee camp in southern Lebanon, killing and wounding a number of people, the state-run National News Agency reports.

Authorities have no exact numbers of the casualties yet but that there could be as many as 12 dead in the Burj Shamali camp in the port city of Tyre.

A source spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Earlier on Friday, camp residents said explosions shook the camp, adding that the nature of the blasts was not immediately clear.

Ambulances rushed to the scene, residents told The Associated Press by phone.

Initial reports said a fire had started in a diesel tanker and spread to a nearby mosque controlled by the Palestinian militant group.

The fire triggered explosions of some weapons that appeared to have been stored inside the mosque, according to the residents.

The NNA said the army cordoned off the area, preventing people from entering or leaving the camp.

Lebanese army soldiers block the main entrance of Burj Shamali Palestinian refugee camp, in the southern port city of Tyre, Lebanon.
Lebanese army soldiers block the main entrance of Burj Shamali Palestinian refugee camp, in the southern port city of Tyre, Lebanon. Credit: Mohammad Zaatari/AP
Lebanese rescue workers gather next to their ambulances at the main entrance of Burj Shamali Palestinian refugee camp.
Lebanese rescue workers gather next to their ambulances at the main entrance of Burj Shamali Palestinian refugee camp. Credit: Mohammad Zaatari/AP
Arms stored for the Palestinian Hamas group exploded in a refugee camp in southern Lebanon on Friday night, killing and wounding a number of people, the state-run National News Agency reported.
Arms stored for the Palestinian Hamas group exploded in a refugee camp in southern Lebanon on Friday night, killing and wounding a number of people, the state-run National News Agency reported. Credit: Mohammad Zaatari/AP

NNA added that the state prosecutor in southern Lebanon has asked security agencies and arms experts to inspect the arms storage site that belongs to Hamas.

Lebanon is home to tens of thousands of Palestinians refugees and their descendants. Many live in the 12 refugee camps that are scattered around the small Mediterranean country.

US troops to remain in the Iraqi Horn

The AP Interview: General says US troops to remain in Iraq

LOLITA C. BALDOR AND ROBERT BURNS , Associated Press Updated: Dec. 11, 2021 6:21 a.m. Comments

Noting that Iranian-backed militias want all Western forces out of Iraq, he said an ongoing uptick in violence may continue through December.

“They actually want all U.S. forces to leave, and all U.S. forces are not going to leave,” he said, adding that as a result, “that may provoke a response as we get later into the end of the month.”

The Iraqi government earlier Thursday announced the conclusion of talks on ending the U.S. combat mission against IS. U.S. forces have been largely in an advisory role for some time, so the announced transition changes little. The announcement reflects a July decision by the Biden administration to end the U.S. combat mission in Iraq by Dec. 31.Paid Content

“We’ve drawn down from bases we didn’t need, we’ve made it harder to get at us. But the Iraqis still want us to be there. They still want the presence, they still want the engagement,” said McKenzie. “So as long as they want it, and we can mutually agree that’s the case — we’re going to be there.”

He said he believes Islamic State militants will continue to be a threat in Iraq and that the group will “keep recreating itself, perhaps under a different name.” The key, he said, will be to ensure that IS is not able to coalesce with other elements around the globe and become increasingly strong and dangerous.

America invaded Iraq in 2003, and at the peak point had more than 170,000 troops battling insurgents in the country and later working to train and advise Iraqi forces. All U.S. forces were withdrawn at the end of 2011, but just three years later, American troops were back to help Iraq beat back the Islamic State group, which had swept across the border from Syria to gain control of a large swath of the country.

The U.S. presence in Iraq has long been a flash point for Tehran, but tensions spiked after a January 2020 U.S. drone strike near the Baghdad airport killed a top Iranian general. In retaliation, Iran launched a barrage of missiles at al-Asad airbase, where U.S. troops were stationed. More than 100 service members suffered traumatic brain injuries in the blasts.

More recently, Iranian proxies are believed responsible for an assassination attempt last month on Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. And officials have said they believe Iran was behind the October drone attack at the military outpost in southern Syria where American troops are based. No U.S. personnel were killed or injured in the attack.

“I think an attack to kill the prime minister is a pretty significant event,” McKenzie said. “I think that’s a signpost of the desperation that they’re under right now.” Iranian officials have said Tehran and its allies had nothing to do with last month’s drone attack that lightly injured the Iraqi prime minister.

McKenzie, who has headed U.S. Central Command for nearly three years and traveled extensively throughout the region, painted a picture that reflected the recent upheaval in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops departed at the end of August.

On Afghanistan, McKenzie said the al-Qaida extremist group has grown slightly since U.S. forces left and that the ruling Taliban leaders are divided about their 2020 pledge to break ties with the group. He said the departure of the U.S military and intelligence assets from the country has made it “very hard, not impossible” to ensure that neither al-Qaida nor the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate can pose a threat to the United States.

Like the Taliban’s long campaign to get Americans out of Afghanistan, Iran and its proxies have battled to get the U.S. out of Iraq and the broader Middle East.

“Iran still pursues a vision of ejecting us,” he said. “And they see the principal battleground for that as being in Iraq. And I believe they are under the view that they can increase friction in Iraq to where we will leave.”

Iran, he said, believes that campaign won’t affect the nuclear negotiations that were long stalled but are now restarting. But, he said, “I think it’s a dangerous position for the Iranians to maintain, because I think they’re not going to be able to decouple those two things.”

McKenzie said that as NATO begins to expand its presence in Iraq as planned, the U.S. will refine its force there. And the total U.S. force presence will depend on future agreements with Iraq’s government.

The U.S. troops in Syria, currently numbering about 900, will continue to advise and assist Syrian rebel forces in the fight against IS, McKenzie said. He said it’s not clear how much longer that will be necessary but said, “I think we are measurably closer than we were a couple of years ago. I still think we have a ways to go.”

More broadly, McKenzie noted that the U.S. troop presence across the Middle East has significantly dropped since last year, when it peaked amid tensions with Iran, at as much as 80,000. The U.S. has identified China and Russia as the top national security threats, labeling China as America’s “pacing challenge,” and has looked to focus more effort and assets in the Pacific.

In its recent review of the positioning of U.S. forces around the world, the Pentagon said little about removing or repositioning troops in the Middle East. McKenzie and other top military leaders have long worried that the U.S. military is concentrated in too few locations in the Middle East and must disperse more to increase security.

“We think it is important to work with our partners in the region to present a more complex targeting problem to Iran,” he said, adding that U.S. will look at other bases and opportunities to move troops around to achieve that goal.

McKenzie said he is particularly concerned by Iran’s development of ballistic and cruise missiles as well as armed drones.

“And so those things are very concerning to me because they continue to develop them,” he said. “And they show no signs of abating in their research in this field, and their fielding of new and increasingly lethal and capable weapons.”