New York Subways at the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6)


How vulnerable are NYC’s underwater subway tunnels to flooding?Ashley Fetters
New York City is full of peculiar phenomena—rickety fire escapes; 100-year-old subway tunnelsair conditioners propped perilously into window frames—that can strike fear into the heart of even the toughest city denizen. But should they? Every month, writer Ashley Fetters will be exploring—and debunking—these New York-specific fears, letting you know what you should actually worry about, and what anxieties you can simply let slip away.
The 25-minute subway commute from Crown Heights to the Financial District on the 2/3 line is, in my experience, a surprisingly peaceful start to the workday—save for one 3,100-foot stretch between the Clark Street and Wall Street stations, where for three minutes I sit wondering what the probability is that I will soon die a torturous, claustrophobic drowning death right here in this subway car.
The Clark Street Tunnel, opened in 1916, is one of approximately a dozen tunnels that escort MTA passengers from one borough to the next underwater—and just about all of them, with the exception of the 1989 addition of the 63rd Street F train tunnel, were constructed between 1900 and 1936.
Each day, thousands of New Yorkers venture across the East River and back again through these tubes buried deep in the riverbed, some of which are nearing or even past their 100th birthdays. Are they wrong to ponder their own mortality while picturing one of these watery catacombs suddenly springing a leak?
Mostly yes, they are, says Michael Horodniceanu, the former president of MTA Capital Construction and current principal of Urban Advisory Group. First, it’s important to remember that the subway tunnel is built under the riverbed, not just in the river—so what immediately surrounds the tunnel isn’t water but some 25 feet of soil. “There’s a lot of dirt on top of it,” Horodniceanu says. “It’s well into the bed of the bottom of the channel.”
And second, as Angus Kress Gillespie, author of Crossing Under the Hudson: The Story of the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, points out, New York’s underwater subway tunnels are designed to withstand some leaking. And withstand it they do: Pumps placed below the floor of the tunnel, he says, are always running, always diverting water seepage into the sewers. (Horodniceanu says the amount of water these pumps divert into the sewer system each day numbers in the thousands of gallons.)
Additionally, MTA crews routinely repair the grouting and caulking, and often inject a substance into the walls that creates a waterproof membrane outside the tunnel—which keeps water out of the tunnel and relieves any water pressure acting on its walls. New tunnels, Horodniceanu points out, are even built with an outside waterproofing membrane that works like an umbrella: Water goes around it, it falls to the sides, and then it gets channeled into a pumping station and pumped out.
Of course, the classic New York nightmare scenario isn’t just a cute little trickle finding its way in. The anxiety daydream usually involves something sinister, or seismic. The good news, however, is that while an earthquake or explosion would indeed be bad for many reasons, it likely wouldn’t result in the frantic flooding horror scene that plays out in some commuters’ imaginations.
The Montague Tube, which sustained severe damage during Hurricane Sandy.
MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann
Horodniceanu assures me that tunnels built more recently are “built to withstand a seismic event.” The older tunnels, however—like, um, the Clark Street Tunnel—“were not seismically retrofitted, let me put it that way,” Horodniceanu says. “But the way they were built is in such a way that I do not believe an earthquake would affect them.” They aren’t deep enough in the ground, anyway, he says, to be too intensely affected by a seismic event. (The MTA did not respond to a request for comment.)
One of the only real threats to tunnel infrastructure, Horodniceanu adds, is extreme weather. Hurricane Sandy, for example, caused flooding in the tunnels, which “created problems with the infrastructure.” He continues, “The tunnels have to be rebuilt as a result of saltwater corroding the infrastructure.”
Still, he points out, hurricanes don’t exactly happen with no warning. So while Hurricane Sandy did cause major trauma to the tunnels, train traffic could be stopped with ample time to keep passengers out of harm’s way. In 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo directed all the MTA’s mass transit services to shut down at 7 p.m. the night before Hurricane Sandy was expected to hit New York City.
And Gillespie, for his part, doubts even an explosion would result in sudden, dangerous flooding. A subway tunnel is not a closed system, he points out; it’s like a pipe that’s open at both ends. “The force of a blast would go forwards and backwards out the exit,” he says.
So the subway-train version of that terrifying Holland Tunnel flood scene in Sylvester Stallone’s Daylight is … unrealistic, right?
“Yeah,” Gillespie laughs. “Yeah. It is.”
Got a weird New York anxiety that you want explored? E-mail, and we may include it in a future column.

Antichrist stays out of Shiite conflict

Iraq Najaf

Iraq’s religious authorities stay out of Shiite conflict

Iraq’s top Shiite religious authority, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, remains influential in Iraqi politics, but is remaining silent at a dangerous time for the country amid high tensions among Shiite parties.

Supporters of Iraqi Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr attend Friday prayers at the Great Mosque of Kufa outside the central holy city of Najaf, on Nov. 4, 2022. – QASSEM AL-KAABI/AFP via Getty Images

Ali Mamouri

February 28, 2023

The top Shiite religious authority in the holy city of Najaf has remained silent despite increasing friction reported among Iraq’s Shiite political parties. Najaf has long avoided direct involvement in politics, but it is unprecedented for religious leaders to remain silent during a period of dangerous uncertainty. 


Iraq has been experiencing political and societal division since the Tishreen movement protests began in late 2019. The demonstrations began in Baghdad but spread into the predominantly Shiite south. A state crackdown killed more than 600, and the escalation led to the Iranian and US military confrontations in Iraq in 2020

The protesters demanded better services and an end to corruption and sectarian rule in Iraq. Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi resigned in 2020. The following government of Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi pledged to focus on reconciliation and political stabilityElections in late 2021, however, created more tensions, as Shiite politicians divided into two groups: supporters of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who formed the largest bloc with 74 seats, and the Coordination Framework, who gained about 56 seats. 

The Sadrists refused to form a coalition with the Coordination Framework, and the conflict between them led to violence. Kadhimi’s house was targeted with a drone in late 2021. In August of last year, tensions boiled over into armed conflict between the two sides in Baghdad’s Green Zone, leaving more than 70 dead. 

Sadr has since left politics, creating a dangerous imbalance in Iraq. The Sadrists have always been a part of successive governments, constituting a political dynamic which prevented intra-Shiite violent confrontation in Iraq. Their current seat on the sidelines poses a serious challenge to political stability in Iraq and might create new waves of violence any time.  

At present, there is a three-way conflict in the Shiite community among the Sadrists, the Coordination Framework and the Tishreen Movement. Further division among Kurdish and Sunni political parties is pouring more gas on the fire. 

Sistani silent

Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite religious authority figure, used to comment on politics during a weekly Friday prayer in Karbala delivered by one of his two representatives, either Sayyed Ahmad al-Safi and Shaikh Abdulmahdi al-Karbalai. The event had two-part speech, first religious and then political. 

The Friday prayer had a significant influence on the Tishreen Movement. Sistani encouraged the protesters to demand their rights from the government, thus imposing pressure on the governing coalition. Abdul-Mahdi’s resignation was in part due to the pressure imposed by Sistani via the Friday prayer. 

Sistani, who is 92, stopped the Friday prayer in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He had already stopped the political part of the event months earlier. The Friday prayer did not return as the pandemic subsided, and Sistani spokesman Sayyed Ahmad al-Safi stated in April 2022 that it would not resume. “Some political entities did not respond to much of what the religious authority showed,” Safi said. 

Sistani has thus remained silent since early 2020 despite the dangerous developments. 

Sistani’s influence 

Sistani still influences Iraqi politics in different ways, although he has shunned politicians since 2016 when his representative, Sheikh Abdulmahdi Karbalai, accused politicians of irresponsible governance and widespread corruption.

This had a strong influence on the Iraqi public. Relatedly, the participation rate declined significantly in the last two elections in 2018 and 2021. These elections witnessed turnouts around just 20-30%. The previous elections in 2014 saw a rate of 60%.

After leaving politics, Sadr has been the only political figure received by Sistani or prominent members of his office. This suggests that Sistani does not agree with Sadrists remaining outside of the government due to the resulting imbalance.  

But Sadr has resumed his activities on Twitter, and recent reports indicate that he is planning to accept an invitation to visit Iran in preparation for his return to politics. 

Najaf’s religious authority is not limited to passive reaction. Religious figures’ previous statements about different events were circulated widely on the relevant occasions. 

For example, the Iraqi parliament is currently discussing an amendment to Iraq’s electoral law that would return the country to a Sainte-Lague method of allotting seats in parliament by political party. This method was previously rejected by Sistani as it favors larger political parties over smaller ones and independents. The current law, where votes go to individual candidates, was enacted in 2020 in response to the protests. 

The parliament finalized the first reading of the new amendment, but failed to conduct the second reading last week, leading to the withdrawal of the draft law from the parliament. This followed an old video from Karbalai circulating in which he said the Shiite religious authority rejected the Sainte-Laguë method and demanded the continuation of the system installed in 2020. 

Najaf’s religious authorities appear to still maintain influence in Iraqi politics despite Sistani’s lengthy silence. But his absence has the potential to leave the religious authorities without a long-term leader, thus weakening Najaf’s influence in Iraqi politics.  

The Russian Nuclear Horn’s Madness: Daniel 7

The Method Behind Putin’s New START Madness


  • FEBRUARY 28, 2023

Source: Getty

Summary:  Russia’s decision to abandon the treaty is not so much bowing to the inevitable as trying to get ahead of it.

    The announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia would suspend its participation in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) brings an unwelcome degree of clarity to a situation the United States almost certainly would have to face three years from now. With his move, Putin has effectively killed bilateral U.S.-Russian arms control. New START will almost certainly have no successor when it expires in early 2026. The United States and Russia will then find themselves without any formal means of managing their nuclear standoff. Both sides, as well as China, will be worse off as a result, though Russia will most likely suffer the most of the three.

    Eugene Rumer

    Rumer, a former national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the U.S. National Intelligence Council, is a senior fellow and the director of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program.

    Negotiated by former U.S. president Barack Obama’s administration in 2010 and entering into force in 2011, New START capped U.S. and Russian arsenals of long-range nuclear weapons for ten years and contained a provision for extending it for another five. To ensure compliance with the treaty, the two sides agreed on a robust verification regime. The extension provision was exercised by the two sides, with the new expiration date in February 2026. There is no provision in the treaty to extend it again beyond that date. U.S. and Russian delegations began discussions about a successor treaty in 2021, but they were halted after Russia attacked Ukraine in February 2022.


    Barring some dramatic move by Moscow to rapidly boost is strategic nuclear arsenal, which no one has predicted, the immediate effect of the Russian announcement on the strategic balance between Russia and the United States is not going to be appreciable. Even Putin’s harshest critics have not suggested that Russia is about to break out of the treaty and achieve strategic nuclear superiority over the United States. The Russian foreign ministry has issued a statement clarifying that Russia does not intend to breach the treaty’s caps on weapons and will continue the practice of notifying the U.S. side about missile launches. Prior to Putin’s announcement, the State Department had already declared Russia as not complying with the treaty’s verification provisions because of its refusal to allow U.S. inspections of nuclear facilities in Russia. The loss of on-site inspections and possibly other verification and transparency measures would complicate U.S. efforts to monitor Russian strategic nuclear forces. It would result in greater reliance on the so-called national technical means of verification, or satellites and radars, and probably some loss of confidence in the findings due to the cutoff of at least one stream of data.

    The decision to suspend participation in New START is the latest example of Russia’s a la carte approach to treaty compliance. Unlike the United States, which pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002 and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 2019—both actions allowed by the terms of these treaties—Russia apparently prefers to violate treaties when it suits its interests rather than withdraw from them formally. In 2007, Russia suspended its implementation of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty—an action not permitted by its terms and therefore a violation. Russia formally withdrew from that treaty only in 2015. In 2014, the State Department reported that Russia had violated the INF Treaty. Russia denied the accusations and in 2017 proceeded to deploy the banned missiles. Russian government operatives have used nerve agents against regime renegades and opponents in violation of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Convention. This makes for a poor record of Russian compliance with international obligations. Until recently, Russian adherence to New START terms was a notable exception to that pattern. Not anymore.

    Even if U.S. and Russian negotiators could somehow sign a treaty to succeed New START, it would almost certainly not be ratified by the U.S. Senate, where even the original had faced strong opposition. Russia’s record of treaty violations would be a formidable barrier to a successor treaty or even a nontreaty politically binding agreement.

    Besides, the Kremlin shows no inclination either to return to compliance with New START or negotiate a successor. That was clear even before Putin’s announcement. In a lengthy interview with the Russian daily Kommersant in late January, Sergey Ryabkov, the foreign ministry’s top official for U.S.-Russian relations and arms control, conditioned Russia’s return to compliance with New START on the United States accepting Russian demands for security guarantees presented at the end of 2021 as the Kremlin’s terms for not attacking Ukraine. Just as the bar was set then deliberately too high for the United States to comply and keep Russia from attacking Ukraine, so it is now for Russia to return to the negotiations table. In other words, it will not happen.


    What is likely to be the reason behind Putin’s announcement? The decision to abandon the last remaining bilateral arms control treaty and open doors to an unrestricted, unregulated arms race with the United States probably was not taken without considering its gravity. Putin has been described as impulsive, and it may be tempting to explain his decision on New START as a response to President Joe Biden’s Kyiv visit. But nuclear saber-rattling has been a recurrent feature in official Russian rhetoric. The New START decision is likely to have been a deliberate, calculated move.

    Several potential explanations come to mind, chief among them are the threat perceptions of Russia’s national security establishment and the long-standing factors shaping them. The all-out assault against Ukraine a year ago was the turning point after which relations with the West transitioned into an open-ended confrontation. The failure to achieve a quick victory in Ukraine has resulted in an untenable situation for Russian national security planners long accustomed—even in the missile age—to relying on strategic depth as their margin of safety, a hedge against threats traditionally emanating from the West. After a year of brutal fighting, Donbas has become Russia’s soft underbelly. Ukraine has become the most threatening, hostile, irreconcilable enemy on Russia’s western frontier. Russia’s modernized, vaunted conventional forces have been dealt a severe blow by a combination of Ukrainian heroism and U.S. weapons. Russian nuclear saber-rattling is intended at least in part to compensate for that.

    Moreover, as the United States and other NATO countries supply Kyiv with more advanced weaponry, Ukraine’s and NATO’s ability to hold parts of the Russian heartland at risk reignites Russian military planners’ long-standing concern about the fundamental asymmetry between the United States and Russia. In a war in the European theater, the United States can hold the Russian heartland at risk, but Russia cannot hold the U.S. homeland at risk without tapping into its strategic nuclear arsenal. It appears unlikely that these considerations were not part of the calculus underlying Putin’s decision to abandon arms control and move toward what promises to be an unrestricted nuclear arms race with the United States.

    Other factors undoubtedly also drove Putin’s decision. Russia has always had a powerful nuclear lobby, unhappy with the deep cuts in the country’s nuclear arsenal since the end of the Cold War. Its arguments against nuclear arms reductions have been reinforced by long-standing concerns in Russia’s strategic community about U.S. plans to develop and deploy defenses against ballistic missiles. The ABM Treaty had effectively banned such defenses. The U.S. withdrawal from it in 2002 was criticized by the Russian national security establishment as intended to enable the United States to launch a disarming first strike against Russia. Concerns about U.S. missile defenses and the resulting U.S. ability to achieve superiority over Russia and the capability to launch a disarming first strike are reflected in Putin’s repeated statements that new Russian weapons can overcome all U.S. defenses.

    Another related and likely factor behind Putin’s decision is the reported buildup of Chinese strategic nuclear weapons. Amid growing tensions between the United States and China, Russian strategic planners may have concluded that after New START’s 2026 expiration, the United States will respond to China’s buildup by increasing its offensive systems beyond the New START limits, as well as its missile defenses. In that case, even if China’s buildup is not the primary concern for Russian strategic planners, the expansion of U.S. offensive and defensive capabilities would indeed be a major worry for them. According to this logic, the decision to abandon New START and future prospects for arms control is not so much bowing to the inevitable as trying to get ahead of it.

    Putin also possibly moved to “suspend” Russian participation in the treaty—rather than withdraw from it outright—as a public relations ploy designed to avoid the blame for abandoning arms control. If the Russian move is intended to bait the United States to abandon the treaty in response, it is unlikely to work, since the Biden administration, unlike its predecessor, has made clear its commitment to arms control; has been restrained in its reaction to Putin’s announcement; and is most unlikely to walk into his trap, if that is what it is.


    Notwithstanding these potential rationales behind Putin’s decision, no matter how one looks at it, Russia is likely to be worse, not better, off. His decision follows in the footsteps of his disastrous war against Ukraine that has been a major blow to Russia’s position in Europe, so it is perhaps part of a pattern rather than a departure from it.

    The end of bilateral U.S.-Russia arms control will not benefit anyone. A new arms race is fraught with unnecessary military expenditures and increased risks of a catastrophic escalation. Moreover, with China reportedly well on the way to building up its nuclear arsenal, the bilateral arms race could well become trilateral, with many additional risks and complications, most of them not immediately apparent but likely to manifest themselves over time.

    This is where the correlation of forces does not appear to favor Russia, and in fact is heavily skewed against it. In the absence of arms control, in the trilateral U.S.-China-Russia dynamics, Russia is likely to be the worst off of the three, considering its bleak economic outlook, constraints on access to advanced technologies, and the burden of waging the war in Ukraine. Over time, the pace of that dynamic is likely to be set more by the U.S.-China than U.S.-Russia competition. In order to keep up, Russia could find itself repeating the mistake the Soviet Union made during the Cold War by engaging in a military standoff with the United States and its allies, and—by default, this time—with China. Putin’s blunders are positioning Russia to relive that chapter.

    What does it mean for the United States? Admittedly, it is early to fully appreciate the significance of Putin’s announcement. It makes no sense for the United States to abandon New START before its expiration and take the Russian bait. The treaty does not impede ongoing U.S. modernization programs, and there is no reason to hand Russia the opportunity to engage in public relations posturing and accuse the United States of giving up on arms control. To the contrary, it makes sense to hold Russia publicly to its pledge to stay within the treaty’s limits, to monitor its compliance with all remaining available means, and publicize its further noncompliance should there be any. It also makes sense to encourage global public opinion, especially Russia’s strategic partners China and India, to condemn the Russian move.

      The three-way nuclear arms race will be aggravated by the addition to the mix of advanced conventional, hypersonic, and cyber weapons. For the policy and analytic communities, the challenge of thinking through the dynamics, implications, and ways to deal with this set of challenges beyond simply adding more weapons looms large.

      Finally, Putin’s decision to suspend New START is only the latest in a series of actions throughout his presidency that make no sense to policymakers and analysts in the West: the 2007 speech at the Munich Security Conference, the “no limits” junior partnership with China, the violation of the INF Treaty that gives the United States a free hand to target the Russian heartland from up close, the annexation of Crimea that pushed Europe to start rebuilding its military muscle after decades of post-Cold War euphoria, and the all-out war against Ukraine—a disaster that has made Ukraine Russia’s enemy No. 1 and Russia a rogue nation run by war criminals. To Western eyes, these actions all run counter to Russian interests and must be driven by a different and elusive rationale. As the guardrails of U.S.-Russian relations fall away, and as nuclear saber-rattling has become a common feature of the biggest war in Europe since World War II, understanding that rationale is more important than ever before.

      Chinese Horn Prepares for World War 3: Daniel 7

      Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with Chinese President Xi Jinping via video link at the Kremlin in Moscow on Dec. 30.
      Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with Chinese President Xi Jinping via video link at the Kremlin in Moscow on Dec. 30.Photographer: Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images

      China’s Imports of Russian Uranium Spark Fear of New Arms Race

      Russian nuclear fuel deliveries to a new Chinese reactor are raising US concerns about the potential to produce weapons-grade plutonium. 


      Jonathan Tirone

      February 28, 2023 at 5:00 PM MST

      On the same day in December when Chinese and US diplomats said they’d held constructive talks to reduce military tensions, Russian engineers were delivering a massive load of nuclear fuel to a remote island just 220 kilometers (124 miles) off Taiwan’s northern coast. 

      China’s so-called fast-breeder reactor on Changbiao Island is one of the world’s most closely-watched nuclear installations. US intelligence officials forecast that when it begins working this year, the CFR-600 will produce weapons-grade plutonium that could help Beijing increase its stockpile of warheads as much as four-fold in the next 12 years. That would allow China to match the nuclear arsenals currently deployed by the US and Russia.

      relates to China’s Imports of Russian Uranium Spark Fear of New Arms Race
      The CFR-600 nuclear plant, Changbiao Island, Fujian Province.Photographer: Google Maps

      “It is entirely possible that this breeder program is purely civilian,” said Pavel Podvig, a Geneva-based nuclear analyst with the United Nations’s Institute for Disarmament Research. “One thing that makes me nervous is that China stopped reporting its civilian and separated plutonium stockpiles. It’s not a smoking gun but it’s definitely not a good sign.”

      China’s burgeoning capacity to expand its atomic weaponry comes as the last remaining treaty limiting the strategic stockpiles of the US and Russia is on the verge of collapse amid spiraling confrontation over the war in Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin announced Feb. 21 that Russia is suspending its involvement in the New START agreement, a decision US President Joe Biden condemned as a “big mistake.”

      In a Dec. 30 videoconference, Putin told Chinese President Xi Jinping that defense and military technology cooperation “has a special place” in their relations. 

      “Clearly, China is benefiting from Russian support,” said Hanna Notte, a German arms-control expert. The risk for Beijing is the US may expand its own stockpile in response to China’s build-up as well as the Kremlin’s abrogation of arms-control treaties and “the discrepancy will just grow again,” she said.

      US Department of Defense officials have repeatedly raised alarm over China’s nuclear-weapons ambitions since issuing a 2021 report to Congress. Military planners assess that the CFR-600 is poised to play a critical role in raising China’s stockpile of warheads to 1,500 by 2035 from an estimated 400 today. 

      Pentagon officials say Russian state-owned Rosatom Corp.’s Dec. 12 supply of 6,477 kilograms (14,279 pounds) of uranium is fueling an atomic program that could destabilize Asia’s military balance, where there are growing tensions over Taiwan and control of the South China Sea. China possesses few means to increase its plutonium stockpile for nuclear weapons after its original production program closed down in the 1990s, experts say. 

      China rejects the US’s concerns. The Foreign Ministry in Beijing said China “strictly fulfilled its nuclear non-proliferation obligations” and voluntarily submitted “part of civil nuclear activities” to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Defense Ministry spokesman Tan Kefei said in a Feb. 23 briefing the US repeatedly hyped up the “China nuclear threat” as an excuse to expand its own strategic arsenal, while China maintained a defensive policy that includes no first-use of nuclear weapons. 

      US protests didn’t dissuade China National Nuclear Corp. from taking delivery of fuel from Rosatom for the CFR-600 reactor, which is based on a Russian design using liquid metal instead of water to moderate operation. Exclusive trade data showing details of the transaction was provided to Bloomberg by the Royal United Services Institute, a London think tank. 

      The expanding nuclear partnership between Russia and China is having a huge impact on non-proliferation efforts. Between September and December, the RUSI data show Russia exported almost seven times as much highly-enriched uranium to China for the CFR-600 as all the material removed worldwide under US and IAEA auspices in the last three decades.

      China paid about $384 million in three installments for 25,000 kilograms of CFR-600 fuel from Rosatom in that period, according to the RUSI data, which is sourced from a third-party commercial provider and based on Russian customs records. 

      Rosatom declined to comment. The project “will become the first nuclear power plant with a high-capacity fast reactor outside of Russia,” Rosatom’s TVEL Fuel Company said in a Dec. 28 statement confirming delivery of fuel.

      Highly-enriched uranium, defined as the presence of uranium-235 isotopes refined to greater than 20% purity, is a strictly-controlled metal that only a few countries manufacture or possess. The higher the level of enrichment, the closer the suitability for use in weapons, and eliminating the international trade in highly-enriched uranium has been a central pillar of non-proliferation policy since the 1990s.

      The CFR-600 is part of China’s ambitious $440 billion program to overtake the US as the world’s top nuclear-energy provider by the middle of next decade. Unlike traditional light-water reactors it runs on a combination of highly-enriched uranium and so-called mixed-oxide fuel that yields weapons-usable plutonium as a byproduct. 

      China is also building a desert factory in Gansu province designed to extract plutonium from the CFR-600’s spent fuel, once construction is finished in two years. Beijing ceased voluntarily reporting plutonium stockpiles to the IAEA since 2017.

      relates to China’s Imports of Russian Uranium Spark Fear of New Arms Race
      Chinese Plutonium Reprocessing Plant in Jinta, Gansu; under construction.Photographer: Google Maps

      “The increasing secrecy and strong diplomatic efforts against providing greater transparency have raised international suspicion,” said Tong Zhao, a visiting research scholar at Princeton University’s Science and Global Security Program. “I don’t think anyone can rule out the potential military use.” 

      December’s high-level diplomatic meeting between senior US and Chinese officials in Langfang, a city neighboring China’s capital, was intended to pave the way for US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first official visit as part of efforts to ease tensions between the world’s two biggest economies. 

      But tensions spiked again after Blinken’s trip was canceled in February in response to the alleged Chinese surveillance balloon over US airspace that Biden ordered shot down by a warplane. At a security conference in Munich, China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, blasted the US reaction as “hysterical” while Blinken warned Beijing not to supply lethal weapons to Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

      The danger now is that tit-for-tat recriminations between Beijing and Washington take a nuclear turn once the CFR-600 starts operating, enabling the potential production of plutonium for weapons in years ahead. 

      “Previously, China had limited itself to what it called ‘minimum nuclear deterrence.’ This potential was much inferior to the American one,” a Russian arms-control expert, Alexei Arbatov, said in a Feb. 6 commentary for the Kremlin-founded Russian International Affairs Council. “But then, apparently, the Chinese decided to match the United States (and, by default, Russia) in terms of the number and quality of nuclear forces.”

      Russia has grown increasingly dependent on China since Putin’s year-old invasion of Ukraine prompted unprecedented international sanctions. China has shown it has little intention of abandoning its staunch diplomatic partner against their common US adversary, even as Beijing portrays itself as a neutral actor over the war. 

      As part of the five-member club of official nuclear-weapons states codified under the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty, China and Russia don’t have to report details that might help verify whether the CFR-600 is being used to boost Beijing’s weapons stockpile. The site isn’t subject to mandatory IAEA monitoring, requiring the Pentagon and arms-control analysts to make assumptions about its purpose.

      Russia, US Have Most Nuclear-Weapons Material

      Chinese highly-enriched uranium, plutonium stockpiles trail

      Source: International Panel on Fissile Materials

      Numbers are based on official data and researcher estimates

      Frank von Hippel, a physicist and former White House adviser now at Princeton University, figures the CFR-600 could produce as many as 50 warheads a year once it’s up and running. “I would expect the enrichment in the HEU for the CFR-600 to be less than 30% – still weapon usable,” even if lower on the spectrum of highly-enriched material, he wrote in an emailed reply to questions.

      “For China, getting the technology and fuel is important,” because there aren’t many places where it can obtain plutonium and Russia won’t object if the heavy-metal is used for nuclear weapons, said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Whatever is bad for the US and whenever you can strengthen American competitors, is viewed now as a good thing for Russia.”

      — With assistance by Rebecca Choong Wilkins and Lucille Liu

      Saudia Arabia Prepares Her Nuclear Horn: Daniel 7

      This photograph taken on February 9, 2023 shows the nuclear power plant of Golfech in the southwestern of France. (Photo by MATTHIEU RONDEL/AFP via Getty Images)

      Saudi Arabia moves forward with bids for nuclear plant

      The kingdom has received bids to build its first nuclear power plant and South Korea is reportedly expressing interest.

      This photograph taken on Feb. 9, 2023, shows the nuclear power plant of Golfech in southwestern France. – MATTHIEU RONDEL/AFP via Getty Images

      Al-Monitor Staff

        February 27, 2023

        Saudi Arabia is progressing with its plans to build its first nuclear power plant and has received a number of bids. 

        The Saudi Ministry of Finance’s 2023 budget statement published Feb. 15 notes that bids to build the plant were received last December, reported the Dubai-based business intelligence outlet Middle East Economic Digest on Monday. 

        Background: Saudi Arabia has had an interest in nuclear power for decades. The kingdom was a major investor in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program that began in the 1970s, for example. In 2009, the late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz told the Obama administration that the country would obtain nuclear weapons of its own if Iran were to do so. In 2018, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the same thing to the US news outlet CBS. 

        More recently, Saudi Arabia has been considering developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. In 2018, the Saudi government announced its intention to add nuclear power to its energy mix. 

        Saudi Arabia’s nuclear ambitions have been gaining momentum. Korea JoongAng Daily reported in November that South Korea was interested in building Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear power plant. 

        Last December, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) held a nuclear law workshop with Saudi officials in Riyadh. The IAEA’s purpose was to “support the implementation of its nuclear energy program in a safe, secure and transparent manner,” according to a press release. 

        In early February, Saudi Arabia signed a memorandum of understanding with France on energy cooperation. The memo noted nuclear energy as well as hydrogen and electricity interconnection, the official Saudi Press Agency reported. 

        France gets around 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy. 

        Why it matters: Saudi Arabia’s nuclear push fits with the kingdom’s overall diversification strategy. Saudi Arabia is seeking to reduce its dependence on oil, particularly by investing in renewable energy. In November, the Public Investment Fund announced plans to build a major solar power plant in western Saudi Arabia. 

        Saudi Arabia — as well as Israel, the United Arab Emirates and other countries in the region — remains concerned about Iran’s nuclear program. The Islamic Republic insists the program is peaceful. Iran said it reached 60% uranium enrichment levels late last year. Weapons-grade uranium requires 90% enrichment. 

        The nuclear talks between the United States and Iran have been dormant since protests began in Iran in September. Saudi Arabia developing nuclear energy of its own, even for peaceful purposes, would therefore be a notable geopolitical development. 

        Know more: The UAE also has a nuclear energy program. Israel is also widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, but the Israeli military has never confirmed it.

        Israeli-American killed in West Bank as unrest intensifies

        Israeli-American killed in West Bank as unrest intensifies

        By George Wright

        BBC News

        An Israeli American has been shot and killed in the occupied West Bank as retaliatory unrest intensifies.

        Elan Ganeles, 26, was killed in an attack on vehicles on a highway near the city of Jericho.

        The shooting happened after Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian villages in the West Bank on Sunday night, with dozens of cars and houses burned.

        That attack came after two settlers, from a nearby village, were shot dead by a Palestinian on Sunday.

          Ganeles was taken by paramedics to a hospital in Jerusalem, but was later pronounced dead.

          US Ambassador Tom Nides tweeted: “Sadly, I can confirm that a US citizen was killed in one of the terror attacks in the West Bank tonight. I pray for his family.”

          The Israel Defense Forces said attackers opened fire on Israeli vehicles on three occasions, and later set their own vehicles on fire.

          There was an exchange of fire with police before the attackers fled, the IDF tweeted.

          There was no immediate claim of responsibility by any Palestinian groups.

          Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip but is less prominent in the West Bank, said the attack was a natural response to Israeli attacks.

          “The crimes conducted by the occupation and the herds of settlers will not be met but with stabbing, shooting and car ramming,” a spokesman said in a statement.

          The violence came after Israeli and Palestinian officials had pledged to de-escalate tensions at a summit in Jordan.

          Videos posted hours after the summit ended on Sunday showed a large crowd of Israeli settlers entering the village of Hawara, about 4 miles (6km) south of Nablus, lighting fires and throwing stones.

          The Palestinian health ministry said 37-year-old Sameh Aqtash died after being shot in the stomach during an attack by settlers in Zaatara on Sunday night.

          This part of the West Bank falls under full Israeli control, and Palestinians criticised Israeli security forces for failing to protect them.

          Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he held the Israeli government fully responsible for what he called “the terrorist acts carried out by Israeli settlers, under the protection of the Israeli occupation forces”.

          Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, appealed for calm and urged settlers to allow the Israeli military and security forces to focus on finding the gunman who killed the two Israelis.

          “I ask that when blood is boiling and the spirit is hot, don’t take the law into your hands,” he said in a video statement.

          Map showing Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip

          Settlers had called for a march to Hawara in order to “seek revenge” for the deadly attack on Hillel and Yagel Yaniv, who lived in the settlement of Har Bracha, which is 1.2 miles south of Nablus.

          The brothers were driving through Hawara when a Palestinian man rammed their car and then shot them both several times.

          No Palestinian militant group has so far claimed they were behind the attack, but the gunman was reportedly wearing a shirt bearing the insignia of the Nablus-based Lions’ Den.

          Members of the group were the targets of an Israeli raid in Nablus last Wednesday in which 11 Palestinians, including several civilians, were killed – the deadliest such operation in the West Bank since 2005.

          Israeli forces have been carrying out waves of search, arrest and intelligence-gathering raids in Nablus and the nearby city of Jenin, saying they are trying to stem the spate of deadly attacks against Israelis by Palestinians.

          Since the start of this year, more than 60 Palestinians – militants and civilians – have been killed by Israeli forces. On the Israeli side, 14 people have been killed in attacks – all civilians, except for a paramilitary police officer.

          More than 600,000 Jews live in 140 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war.

          Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

          Babylon the Great is Comfortable with Nuclear War

          Some politicians seem comfortable with the idea of a new cold war. They shouldn’t

          Christopher S Chivvis

          Republican leaders draw on Reagan-era nostalgia to unite their party, but a 21st-century cold war would not end well for anyoneMon 27 Feb 2023 06.00 EST

          Events surrounding the first year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine have had a cold war-esque feel, with America and its allies lined up on one side and China and Russia on the other. Some politicians in Washington – and perhaps Beijing – seem comfortable with this. But they should be careful. There’s no reason to believe a cold war re-run in the 21st century would turn out well for anyone, above all the US.

          This past week, President Biden paid a dramatic visit to Kyiv and then addressed a crowd in Warsaw, pledging unwavering US support for Ukraine. President Putin gave a speech of his own in which he stubbornly insisted that Nato was to blame for the war and suspended Russia’s participation in a vital nuclear arms control treaty. The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, meanwhile confronted his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in Munich, warning China not to supply Russia with weapons. Yi then flew to Moscow and stood alongside President Putin for a photo opportunity.

          Dangerous currents are carrying us toward a new, and very different, cold war. This time, China and Russia would be pitted against a US-led coalition of European and close Indo-Pacific allies like Japan, South Korea and Australia. The Biden administration, and some of their Chinese counterparts, probably hope to steer out of these currents, but it’s getting harder and harder. This week’s events come against the backdrop of the crackup over China’s spy balloon, an ongoing US-China trade and technology war, and several years of deteriorating diplomatic relations between Washington and both Beijing and Moscow. Time is not on the side of those who favor detente.

          In Washington, the US political system seems to be priming itself for a new cold war. Some Republican leaders, for example, are keen to use nostalgia for Ronald Reagan to unite their divided party and conjure up the memory of a prouder era in the party’s foreign policy, one before the messiness of the George W Bush and Trump years. Tellingly, Representative Mike Gallagher, who chairs the new House select committee on China, has made explicit his belief that the cold war should guide US policy toward China.

          Anti-China rhetoric also plays well with a Republican party that now draws many votes from lower income, predominantly white areas, where people are down on their luck and ready to blame the Chinese for their hardships. This helps drive Republican arguments for “decoupling” the US and Chinese economies, recognizing Taiwan’s independence, and other measures that needlessly intensify the clash with Beijing. Democrats, who are already angered by China’s poor human rights record and vocal support for Putin, are reacting with more aggressive positions of their own.

          Beijing’s impatient nationalism, military expansionism, and irascible diplomacy is obviously not helping. The prospect that Chinese leaders were seriously considering providing lethal assistance to Russia – as Blinken charged in Munich – is especially worrisome because it indicates that Beijing may not fully understand how deep the pool of animosity against it is in America today. Whether or not China’s autocratic leaders grasp the role of public opinion in US foreign policy is uncertain.

          Superficially, a return to the bipolarity of the old east-west standoff might seem advantageous for the west. After all, the free world won the last time, and despite the Strangelovean gloom, avoided nuclear war. The cold war also had the advantage of simplifying things. At least we knew who the enemy was. It also helped keep a lid on some of the major security problems that have menaced the world since, such as failed states, terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

          But a mid-21st-century cold war would be very different from its 20th-century precursor. To begin with, it is too easy to forget that American economic power then outstripped the Soviets three times over. In contrast, the Chinese economy now rivals America’s.

          During the cold war America was able to use its huge economic advantage to spend heavily on defense while simultaneously building a social welfare system that soothed the inevitable strains of the liberal system. In a new cold war, America and its allies might hope their liberal economic and political model will give them the technological and economic edge that would make this possible, but China is not a command economy like the Soviet Union and will almost certainly be far more successful economically.

          In the last century, the onset of the cold war also required no process of economic decoupling. But this time around, the dislocations of economic decoupling would almost certainly cause domestic political volatility. This would make both sides’ foreign policies more unpredictable, and probably more belligerent.

          Meanwhile, America would have to finance an arms buildup not just in Europe, but also in Asia. This would create an even heavier fiscal burden in America, hence higher taxes and more inflationary pressure. If China divested from its massive dollar holdings, which seems likely, the fiscal situation would get even worse.

          Yet another difference is that many US allies would struggle to pay their own defense bills and still maintain economic separation from China. In fact, they might not even want to. Whereas Soviet ideology called for an overthrow of their liberal political systems and the appropriation of bourgeois property, China’s ideology today poses no such threat.

          Especially in the early years of a new cold war, the risk of an accidental war would be high. Early cold war crisis, for example over Berlin in 1948, almost led to war before cooler heads prevailed. There is no guarantee that a crisis today would also be resolved peaceably. Both sides’ uncertainty about military redlines and capabilities would increase the chance of misunderstandings and create incentives to take military risks, especially if communication has broken down. In this environment, defensive military measures aimed at preventing war could accidentally bring it on. The costs of war would be devastating: even conservative estimates of a standoff over Taiwan point to trillions of dollars in losses.

          The United States and the Soviet Union managed to avoid global thermonuclear war in the 20th century, but this shouldn’t lull us into overconfidence about what might happen in the future. The 20th-century world had more than one brush with fate, for example, during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and the 1983 Nato “Able Archer” exercise. Creating strategic stability – a situation in which neither side has an incentive to start a nuclear war – is already going to be complicated enough in a world where China and Russia are both likely to have superpower-sized nuclear arsenals. The political and security competition of a new cold war could make it impossible.

          Sometimes confrontation between world powers is necessary. It can even be constructive. But I doubt that the Biden administration is happy about the trend toward a new bipolar standoff and hope that Beijing is more concerned than it lets on. The cold war may be the model of great power competition that Washington is most comfortable with, but it’s a dangerously misleading one and should be resisted.

          • Christopher S Chivvis is the director of the American Statecraft Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace