February 3, 2009

Princeton Prof Lectures on Nuclear Weapon Challenges

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Prof. Frank von Hippel, public and international affairs at Princeton University, lectured yesterday at the A.D. White House on the challenges of a global cleanout of nuclear-weapon materials, namely highly enriched uranium and plutonium.
The Cornell International Affairs Review sponsored the lecture, called “Toward a Global Cleanout of Nuclear-weapon Materials.” Since it was established last year, CIAR is committed to promoting “an international, interdisciplinary and intergenerational approach to foreign policy,” said Luis de Lencquesaing ’10, president of CIAR.[img_assist|nid=34693|title=Make a point|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“In the context of an unstable world order, the question of nuclear proliferation remains,” de Lencquesaing stated in an introductory speech. “It is important to reflect on the risks implied by these weapons that have the capacity of destroying our world.”
Von Hippel, who is co-chair in the International Panel on Fissile Materials, began his lecture with a background on nuclear weapons. According to the professor, the design of the uranium bomb dropped on Hiroshima was simple and easy to copy. The simplicity of the design has been a concern for the U.S. government, which is threatened by terrorists’ attempts to create a bomb based on the same design.
The professor went on to discuss Iran’s nuclear-weapon materials and the threat Iran poses to the U.S.
“Iran is not currently producing weapon-grade uranium, and bombing of its known enrichment facility would probably start if the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] detected it doing so,” von Hippel said. “The real danger, therefore, is that Iran may have a clandestine facility.”
According to the professor, what is needed is more transparency to Iran’s nuclear activities. Iran used to give complete access to its facilities to IAEA. However, IAEA turned over the issue to the U.N. Security Council in 2006, and Iran has refused to give more access than the minimum legal obligation ever since as an NPT non-weapon state.
The Bush administration has been rigid in its policies toward Iran, leading to rising tension in U.S.-Iran relations. Von Hippel hopes to see more diplomacy in the Obama’s dealings with Iran.
“Hopefully, the Obama administration will be more flexible in its dealings with Iran,” said von Hippel.
Globally, the approval of “Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty” would be a major step towards a nuclear material cleanout. This treaty would ban the worldwide production of more fissile materials for nuclear weapons. Although countries such as China, France, North Korea, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States have all stopped producing them, Indian, Pakistan and probably Israel have not, according to von Hippel.
Since 1993, the U.N. General Assembly has proposed to start negotiations on the cleanout at “The Conference on Disarmament” in Geneva. However, the negotiations have not yet begun due to disagreements over linkages to other negotiations.
During the question and answer session, De Lencquesaing asked whether von Hippel believes the 21st century is safer compared to the Cold War period. The professor replied that he does believe that we live in a safer world, considering that nuclear weapons have not been used for over 60 years.
Rob Morrissey ’12 also asked what the professor’s stance was on “nuclear power as an energy source given today’s concern for civilian safety.”
Von Hippel replied that he was not against nuclear power as an energy source but was against nuclear reprocessing as a way of managing nuclear waste.
“Reprocessing increases the danger of nuclear terrorism,” von Hippel said.
After the lecture, the professor received a wide applause from an approximately 70-person audience.
Adam Piel ‘09 came out of the lecture with a greater understanding and interest in the field of nuclear proliferation.
“Professor von Hippel’s passion for the subject was apparent in his presentation,” Piel said. “it made me want to learn more about ways to clean out nuclear materials.”