We are happy to announce that our team was recently awarded a sizeable grant to expand its virtual reality work together with Games for Change (G4C), a nonprofit corporation that supports the creation and distribution of digital media games for humanitarian and educational purposes. The project will build on engagement at G4C’s annual festivals, including the upcoming VR for Change Summit on August 2, which will bring together developers, storytellers, educators, and researchers using VR, AR and other immersive technologies in new ways. The grant is one of a number of projects recently awarded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “to support projects aimed at reducing nuclear risk through innovative and solutions-oriented approaches.”
The two-component project will employ virtual reality (VR) to support innovation, collaboration, and public awareness in nuclear arms control, with overlapping benefits to nuclear security. The first component, led by Princeton and geared toward experts, will develop full-motion VR to design and simulate new arms-control treaty verification approaches, with outputs relevant to reducing and securing weapons and fissile materials. With stalled progress toward further reductions of nuclear weapons and countries embarking on wide scale upgrades to their arsenals, building new mechanisms for cooperation in this area is essential. The VR project seeks to establish a new way for technical experts to collaborate that goes beyond the traditional exchange of ideas at conferences and workshops. It aims to offer, in particular, a way to overcome some of the confidence-building challenges that may hinder direct cooperation between countries on how to approach nuclear-weapon and fissile-material monitoring. Cooperative design and simulation exercises will seek to showcase new opportunities for state-to-state cooperation in arms control and nuclear security offered by VR. The project team aims to disseminate the findings to audiences like the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Verification in Geneva through live demonstrations.
Mobilizing the public to engage with nuclear policy issues also remains a critical task for future progress. The second component, led by Games for Change, will therefore develop VR material for the public on the dangers from nuclear weapons and fissile materials. The U.S. presidential election campaign in 2016 and its aftermath has brought to the surface latent public concerns about the risks of deliberate nuclear-weapon use and even nuclear war. The aim of the VR experience will therefore be to show the risks associated with fissile-material stockpiles and large arsenals on high alert as a means to encourage greater engagement by the public in nuclear policy and decision-making. The project aims to build on the already high level of public interest in VR applications, not only for entertainment, but also for news and education applications. Established organizations are beginning to embrace the medium, resulting in more widespread public consumption of information using VR platforms. Results will be featured at the Games for Change Festivals, with the goal of engaging direct industry support for development and widespread distribution through VR app stores.
In April 2015, Iran and the E3+3 nations negotiated a framework for a “comprehensive solution that will ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program.” The final settlement, expected by July 2015 or soon after, would constrain Iran’s activities for various extended periods in return for the lifting of sanctions and affirm Iran’s right to pursue its nuclear program free of the limits on its uranium enrichment capacity a decade or more from now. What happens when these restrictions begin to phase out?
In our recent Science Perspective piece, we outline one approach to limit the long-term risk by using the next 10 years to convert Iran’s national enrichment plant into a multinational one, possibly including as partners some of Iran’s neighbors and one or more of the E3+3 countries.
The full article (PDF) is available here.
In the negotiation over Iran’s nuclear program there currently appears to be an unbridgeable gap between Iran’s minimum requirement for enrichment capacity, the equivalent of the approximately 10,000 IR-1 centrifuges currently operating at Natanz, and the U.S. upper limit, which appears to be considerably lower. But there is another variable which also determines how quickly Iran could produce enough 90% enriched uranium for a nuclear explosive if it broke its commitment to stay below 5% enrichment. This variable is the size of Iran’s stockpile of up-to-5%-enriched uranium. Having a large stockpile of low-enriched uranium to feed into its centrifuge cascades shortens by a factor of three, e.g. from six to two months, the time that it would take to produce enough 90% enriched uranium for a bomb.
In this memo, first circulated in late September, Frank von Hippel and Alex Glaser show that it would be possible to reduce Iran’s current stockpile of 5,000 kg of low-enriched UF6 to about 200 kg made possible by using a smaller (12-inch) cylinder for enriched uranium. This would make it possible to recover the factor of three in breakout time and might make it possible for the P5+1 to raise their upper limit on Iran’s centrifuge capacity.
Our book is finally out, and we had the opportunity to present it yesterday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC. Our argument is based on a very simple premise: Banning nuclear weapons will not end the threat of nuclear war and nuclear explosions if countries continue to make, stockpile, and use the fissile materials that make nuclear weapons possible. International efforts to abolish nuclear weapons and to prevent proliferation and nuclear terrorism so far have been acting largely in parallel with no comprehensive underlying strategy. With now enough fissile material around for about 200,000 nuclear weapons, we propose a new framework that puts these materials front and center. We propose a set of policies to drastically reduce fissile material inventories worldwide with a view to their total elimination as irreversibly as possible. Put simply, no material, no problem.
The slides of the briefing are available here.
We have recently published an article on Iran’s Arak reactor in the April 2014 issue of Arms Control Today, proposing technical steps that would provide assurance that Iran could not quickly make sufficient plutonium for a nuclear weapon with the Arak reactor (A Win-Win Solution for Iran’s Arak Reactor, by Ali Ahmad, Frank von Hippel, Alexander Glaser, and Zia Mian). The suggested redesign of the Arak reactor would reduce plutonium production to less than one kilogram per year, comparable to the reduction that would be accomplished by replacing the Arak reactor with a light-water research reactor. At the same time, the proposed changes would not reduce the usefulness of the reactor for making radioisotopes and conducting research. We believe, this approach would meet Iran’s needs and would address the concerns of the international community as reflected by the P5+1.
The story has been picked up quite widely beginning on April 2, 2014, with a Reuters article.