Twenty Years After Project Sapphire

500SAPPHIRE 6 HEU can more


In 1994, the former Soviet Union was beginning to open up to scientists from the rest of the world. The new countries where Soviet nuclear weapons had been stationed – Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine – were beginning to ship those weapons back to Russia, which had inherited the Soviet nuclear weapons spot in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, had declared Kazakhstan a nuclear-weapon-free state. Semipalatinsk, one of the two Soviet nuclear testing grounds, was located in the northeastern part of the country. The space launch site at Baikonur, in central Kazakhstan, still hosts space […]

What Would The Tsar Do?



Before he left the G20 meeting early “to get some sleep,” Vladimir Putin said

Today the situation (on Ukraine) in my view has good chances for resolution, no matter how strange it may sound, but certain structures had been established on both sides that could handle the tasks they are facing better.

Putin has been alternating roles as warmonger and peacemaker, so this could just be one more personality switch, but there are a few other indications that he may want to turn away from war in Ukraine.

Let’s look at the recent Russian military buildup […]

Sunday Comics

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Steve Benson

David Horsey

Patrick Chappatte

Jeff Danziger

Pat Bagley

Tom Stiglich

Why Wasn’t Philae Given an RTG?


I’ve heard that question from several people. The Rosetta FAQ page doesn’t address it directly, so here are a little research and a little speculation. An RTG is a radioisotope thermoelectric generator.

The Philae lander, powered by a battery and solar cells and now on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, bounced on first landing in a sunny spot and is now in the shadow of a cliff. The mission controllers have maneuvered it into a slightly more favorable position, but it may be getting only one-quarter of the sunlight planned. Its […]

Russia Provokes Close Military Encounters


The European Leadership Network has released a report on recent militarily provocative Russian actions toward NATO members, as well as Sweden and Finland. The authors, Thomas Frear, Łukasz Kulesa, and Ian Kearns, describe 40 incidents from the past eight months (interactive map), of which they describe three as “high risk” and eleven more as “serious, with escalation risk.”

The three high risk incidents are a near-collision of a Russian reconaissance aircraft with an SAS passenger plane near Malmo, Sweden; the kidnaping of an Estonian security service officer from Estonian soil; and the probable submarine in […]

Putin at Valdai: More Respect, Please!


Vladimir Putin gave a speech to the Valdai Discussion Club in October. In other speeches over the past year, Putin has covered a great deal of ground, some of it apparently designed to distract. A few themes emerge. Russia is surrounded by a warlike NATO. The fall of the Soviet Union was one of history’s greatest tragedies. Russian people must be protected wherever they are.

Commentary on the Valdai speech is all over the map: it’s a wakeup call to the West to end its meddling; it’s equivalent to Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech; it’s a […]

Sunday Comics

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Artist: Dave Granlund


All Used Fuel Removed From Fukushima Cooling Pool


Photo: Used fuel was loaded into casks and moved to a ground-level pool.


Tepco reports that all used fuel in the Fukushima Unit 4 cooling pool has been removed. The cooling pool’s structure was damaged by hydrogen explosions after the March 2011 earthquake. The Unit 4 reactor was shut down for maintenance, but hydrogen from Unit 3 leaked through the ventilation system.

The structure was stabilized, and used fuel has been moved to a ground-level pool. Concerns that the pool could go dry and the fuel might catch fire were part of […]

Sad Anniversaries


Thirty-five years ago this week, a group of Iranian students seized the American Embassy in Tehran. They held it for 444 days. They wanted the Shah, who was in the United States for medical treatment, returned to Iran for trial. Here’s an account from a State Department official who participated in some of the negotiations.

Some of the hostages would still like to see redress from Iran, and the senior adviser to lead nuclear negotiator and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif thinks that action on Iran’s part would be a good […]

Defining Containment

The words contain and containment do not occur in George Kennan’s Long Telegram. He later worked the telegram into an article for Foreign Affairs that was published with the author line “X”, because Kennan, as a State Department employee, could not publicly make his views known. The “X” article does contain those words.

In these circumstances it is clear that the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies. It is important to note, however, that such […]


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