What Would It Take For Turkey To Build A Nuclear Bomb?

That was how David Sanger teased his and William Broad’s article on Twitter.

Unfortunately that is not how the article is written. If you want to read it, write it, they say, so here goes.

In September, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said “Some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads,” but the West insists “we can’t have them. This, I cannot accept.”

This is concerning because Turkey is one of the nations that could be capable of building a nuclear weapon and may have taken steps in that direction in the past. Iran’s past work on nuclear weapons and Saudi Arabia’s inordinate interest in acquiring the nuclear fuel cycle could motivate Turkey in that direction again.

But this is one statement, and there is no evidence that Turkey is taking steps toward a nuclear weapon.

Step 1. The decision. The Turkish government would have to decide to withdraw from or violate the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which they joined in 1980. Building nuclear weapons would also damage, and possibly violate, their treaty obligations under NATO. The cost of a nuclear weapons program would have to be considered as well. Turkey probably could support such a program, but at great cost to the rest of Turkey’s economy. No such decision has been taken.

Step 2. Mining and milling uranium. Sanger and Broad refer ominously to Turkey’s uranium deposits as one of the “makings of a bomb program.” But increased activity at mines is easy to see on overhead photos, and none has been reported. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of the open-source intelligence organizations prepare a report in the next few weeks.

Step 3. Building centrifuges and/or a reactor. Turkey may have some of the information necessary; Sanger and Broad note that information from A.Q. Khan may have reached Turkey, although they do not say what or if it is being used to build centrifuges. Russia is building four commercial reactors at Akkuyu on the Mediterranean  coast. Other projects have been proposed but are still on paper.* Russia’s reactor contracts always include taking back the spent nuclear fuel.

Step 4. Fabricating reactor fuel. Sanger and Broad note that Turkey has done some of this at pilot scale.

Step 5. Recovering plutonium. Spent nuclear fuel, if Turkey retained it from the reactors not yet built rather than contractually sending it back to Russia, can be reprocessed to separate plutonium; Sanger and Broad say that Turkey has done some work in this area, but do not specify at what scale. Bench-scale experiments seem most likely.

Step 6. Fabricating enriched uranium or plutonium into a bomb. There is no evidence that Turkey has looked into this, in terms of materials processing or design.

Bottom line: A lot would have to happen before we need to worry about Turkey getting a nuclear bomb. The alternative would be to take the American bombs at the Incirlik Air Base, but once again, the decision to do that seems far from the current position of the Turkish government.

Here’s one of the reports referenced by Sanger and BroadThe author also posted a Twitter thread, saying clearly that there is no reason to believe that Turkey would pursue a nuclear weapon any time soon.

And, if the Times article had followed the plan that Sanger’s tweet teased, it would have had to conclude that too.


*Thanks to Dan Yurman for information on reactor projects. If you want to know more about the business side of nuclear energy, follow him on Twitter and read his blog.


Election 2020 Open Thread: The FTFNYTimes Defends Its #1 Priority

Namely, advertising:

SeND Us MoR Money OR YR CaMpaIGN Dies!!!…

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Pre-DNC Debate Open Thread: The NYTimes Looking to Polish Up Its Anti-Democratic Credentials Tonight

Because twelve candidates, each with their own agenda, is not enough of a fustercluck already:

… [I]n the Trump era, the Times has become one of the most reliable targets of the outrage economy, incurring the wrath of its left-leaning constituency with remarkable frequency. When it’s not being pursued with pitchforks for publishing details about a whistle-blower, or for butchering a headline about Trump and race, or for supposedly being too soft on the president for this or that, surely there’s some radioactive op-ed, or offensive editor’s tweet, or #MeToo controversy that the institution needs to address head-on. It seems clear at this point that the Times is never going to live down Hillary’s emails, or “No Clear Link to Russia,” or the end of the public editor…

[Not that the FTFYNTimes is trying to atone for any of its past errors, of course…]

It is within this tempestuous atmosphere that the Times will cohost, with CNN, the latest grudge match leading up to next year’s Democratic primaries. National editor Marc Lacey will share the moderators’ table with Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett, with a whopping 12 candidates squaring off at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on Tuesday night. That’s more candidates than have ever shared a single primary debate stage. Three hours, live in prime time. No pressure. “It’s a really big field and a really critical point in the campaign,” one editor told me. “The stakes couldn’t be higher in terms of how the Times comes across.” As another Times journalist put it, “Something will happen, I’m sure, where the angry left blue-check-mark mob will find something to be outraged about.”…

[Step right up, wingnuts, for your latest Bad Faith Concern Troll Show!]

Several sources said it was noteworthy that the Times landed on Lacey as opposed to someone from the politics team, like, say, a Maggie Haberman. The thinking was that, as national editor, Lacey could approach the debate through a different lens—race or unemployment or opioids or any other number of topics. But there’s another way of looking at it. “I think they were smart to shield their high-profile political reporters,” said a veteran Democratic strategist. “Those people have such loaded presences online and in the public conversation, whereas Lacey”—who was a White House correspondent in a gentler era—“is someone who doesn’t really have that baggage.”

[Send in the redshirts, Ken Vogel & Maggie Haberman have a book contract to protect.]

I asked the Democratic strategist what he thinks some of the potential landmines might be come Tuesday night. “What I think angers Democrats is when journalists parrot Republican talking points as their own questions. That’s been a criticism in other debates, and that becomes a real danger, especially for the Times given the hot seat they’re already in,” he said.


I know I’ve said this before, but this debate I may actually, actively avoid watching in real time. There’s only so much my blood pressure medication can handle.

When They’re Whining, You’re Winning

Elizabeth Warren is on a tear. First, and best, she’s making those fuckers at Facebook defend their recent decision to let politicians lie in ads. Warren’s decision to put up some false advertising on Facebook is smart, and Facebook isn’t taking it well:

Second, fucking Marco, saying a Marco thing in a Marco way:

If you haven’t seen the clip, watch it–there’s nothing crude nor vulgar about it. It’s just smart and funny, in support of a political position that has widespread approval across the country. Never mind that irony died when a Trump lickspittle complains about another politician’s crudeness and vulgarity. A little while later, he’s whining at Trump about the Kurds in Syria.

Marco is the little doggy that’s going to bark all day.

Late Night Open Thread: A Moat, With Snakes & Possibly Alligators

It was funny as a Simpsons gag, but coming from the Oval Office places this squarely in Caligula territory. The NYTimes chooses to file the story under ‘Decision Points’:

The Oval Office meeting this past March began, as so many had, with President Trump fuming about migrants. But this time he had a solution. As White House advisers listened astonished, he ordered them to shut down the entire 2,000-mile border with Mexico — by noon the next day…

Mr. Trump’s order to close the border was a decision point that touched off a frenzied week of presidential rages, round-the-clock staff panic and far more White House turmoil than was known at the time. By the end of the week, the seat-of-the-pants president had backed off his threat but had retaliated with the beginning of a purge of the aides who had tried to contain him.

Today, as Mr. Trump is surrounded by advisers less willing to stand up to him, his threat to seal off the country from a flood of immigrants remains active. “I have absolute power to shut down the border,” he said in an interview this summer with The New York Times.

This article is based on interviews with more than a dozen White House and administration officials directly involved in the events of that week in March. They were granted anonymity to describe sensitive conversations with the president and top officials in the government.

In the Oval Office that March afternoon, a 30-minute meeting extended to more than two hours as Mr. Trump’s team tried desperately to placate him.

“You are making me look like an idiot!” Mr. Trump shouted, adding in a profanity, as multiple officials in the room described it. “I ran on this. It’s my issue.”

Among those in the room were Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary at the time; Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state; Kevin K. McAleenan, the Customs and Border Protection chief at the time; and Stephen Miller, the White House aide who, more than anyone, had orchestrated Mr. Trump’s immigration agenda. Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff was also there, along with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and other senior staff…

Mr. Trump had routinely berated Ms. Nielsen as ineffective and, worse — at least in his mind — not tough-looking enough. “Lou Dobbs hates you, Ann Coulter hates you, you’re making me look bad,” Mr. Trump would tell her, referring to the Fox Business Network host and the conservative commentator.

The happiest he had been with Ms. Nielsen was a few months earlier, when American border agents had fired tear gas into Mexico to try to stop migrants from crossing into the United States. Human rights organizations condemned the move, but Mr. Trump loved it. More often, though, she drew the president’s scorn…
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