Friday, October 17, 2008

North Korea Blinks/ World Steps Back from Nuclear Abyss

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- North Korea has stepped up disablement of its nuclear reactor and allowed surveillance at its nuclear facility to resume, the U.S. State Department said Friday.

North Koreans have allowed the resumption of surveillance of its nuclear sites.

Pyongyang has put back all seals on equipment at the facility and reinstalled surveillance equipment, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

He added that U.S. monitors at the site reported North Korea also removed 60 percent of the spent fuel rods at the reactor.

"On the reactor, they have actually gone beyond where they were prior to their reversing the disablement steps," McCormack said.

He noted that North Korea has made some progress in other related areas but still has not reversed all of the gains it made in recent weeks.

Earlier this week North Korea resumed the process of dismantling its nuclear reactor, once again granting the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, access to its nuclear facility at Yongbyon.

The moved came only days after the United States removed North Korea from its list of states that sponsor terrorism.

North Korea halted the disabling of the plutonium-producing plants in August after a stalemate over verification measures. Washington had said it would not take North Korea off the state terrorism list until Pyongyang agreed to set up an internationally recognizable mechanism to verify it was revealing all its nuclear secrets.

North Korea rejected that provision and, on October 9, said nuclear inspectors were no longer welcome at its facilities.

On Saturday, the United States removed North Korea from the list of terrorism sponsors after it said the two countries reached agreement on a number of verification measures.

These include having participation by all members of the six-party talks, settling on the role of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, providing access to all of North Korea's nuclear facilities and deciding what procedures would be used in the verification process.

McCormack said envoys from the participants in the six-party talks -- the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia -- will meet shortly to sign the verification agreement reached between North Korea and the United States.

Kim Sook -- South Korea's chief envoy to the international disarmament talks with North Korea -- said the move by the United States "completely reverses" the communist nation's decision to halt its disabling process.

North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons program on a promise that it would receive energy aid equivalent to a million tons of heavy fuel oil from the nations involved in the disarmament talks.

In June, North Korean officials turned over to China a 60-page declaration, written in English, that details several rounds of plutonium production at the Yongbyon plant dating back to 1986.

In it, North Korea acknowledged producing roughly 40 kilograms of enriched plutonium -- enough for about seven nuclear bombs, according to the U.S. State Department.

Soon after, North Korea publicly destroyed a water cooling tower at the Yongbyon facility. At the time, the country said it would completely dismantle its Yongbyon nuclear complex by October.

Hubble fixed.


The revival of the Hubble Space Telescope is going "exactly as we hoped," a NASA spokesman said today, and the world's best-known orbiting observatory is expected to be back in business on Friday.

Hubble's science operations went on the blink last month when the main system for handling commands and data going back and forth between the telescope's instruments and the ground failed. Controllers could still send commands up to Hubble and receive diagnostic readings, but the flow of imagery that made the telescope famous was cut off.

The sudden, unexpected snag forced the postponement of the space shuttle Atlantis' final service call, which was due for launch this week.

To revive Hubble, engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center devised a plan to switch the flow of data from the main system that the 18-year-old telescope had always used, known as Side A, to a never-before-used backup system known as Side B. The space agency's top management gave the go-ahead for the remote-controlled switchover on Tuesday, and engineers went to work on Wednesday.

Engineers checked out Side B for the first time on Wednesday night, NASA spokesman Ed Campion told me today. "All that went exactly as we hoped, so after that, the Advanced Camera for Surveys and the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 were retrieved out of safe mode to establish that each of them has a good working interface to Side B," he said.

Hubble's reconfigured electronics passed that test as well. "Everything worked the way we hoped it would," Campion said. "Now we're going to send commands to begin internal exposures and calibrations of the science instruments."

The test pictures won't be scientifically significant. They'll merely show things like the illuminated insides of the telescope itself. But they will give scientists at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore some Side B data to compare with Side A data captured before the glitch.

The Side B data should be available for review by midnight ET tonight, and the before-vs.-after review should be completed sometime Friday morning.

"If all this goes as planned, we pretty much expect that science collection will resume sometime on Friday," Campion said.

Susan Hendrix, a NASA spokeswoman who specializes in following Hubble operations, said the telescope team hasn't yet decided what the first post-switchover scientific target would be. She also declined to speculate on when the first science images would be released. "I don't want to jinx it," she said. "It should be sooner than later."

Like many at NASA, Hendrix said she felt a personal stake in the telescope's ups and downs. "Hubble's been very near and dear to me," she told me. "It's kind of like an adopted child."

Even if Hubble resumes science operations, the child will still have to undergo some follow-up surgery: A spare unit is currently being tested at Goddard, and if that checks out, it will likely be brought up on Atlantis for installation (along with lots of other Hubble goodies) next year. Even when the new unit is in place, Hubble data will continue to flow through the Side B electronics, and Side A would become the backup. That's in line with a common-sense rule for engineers: "If it's no longer broke, don't try fixing it again."

Guam building booms to support new aircraft

By Erik Holmes - Staff report
Posted : Friday Oct 17, 2008 6:12:01 EDT
Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, is in the early stages of an eight-year, $1.8 billion buildup that will bring a permanent presence of unmanned aerial vehicles, bombers, fighters and tankers to the Pacific island.

Andersen has hosted a continuous bomber presence since 2004, with bombers rotating through from various stateside units, but the Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Strike — or ISR/Strike — concept seeks to augment that with a broader range of air assets.

By the time the concept is fully implemented early in the next decade, Andersen will host four permanently based Global Hawk drones, as well as 12 tankers, 48 fighters and six bombers on a rotational basis.

Most of the $1.8 billion in projects to support ISR/Strike are scheduled to be built between 2010 and 2014. The first, a $53 million Global Hawk hangar, began construction during summer 2007 and will be completed in May 2009, with the aircraft arriving later in 2009. Projects to be completed between 2010 and 2014 include maintenance facilities, composite repair ships, covered facilities for aircraft ground equipment, infrastructure such as roads and utilities, a fire station and dormitories for personnel rotating through the island with the aircraft.

Andersen was once an Air Force backwater, but Col. John Cawthorne, Pacific Air Forces’ deputy director of installations and mission support, said “the way the world has developed” — presumably meaning friction between the U.S. and Pacific nations such as North Korea, Russia and China — has led the Air Force to place greater importance on Guam.

“One of the things that we’re seeing at Guam is it’s a boom town now,” Cawthorne said.

Andersen is one point in the Air Force’s strategic triangle in the Pacific, he said; the other two are Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, and Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.

Guam’s primary draw is its location, about 2,500 miles from Beijing and 2,100 miles from Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. Hawaii is more than 5,000 miles from Beijing and 4,500 miles from Pyongyang.


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