Iran has announced it successfully launched the country’s first military reconnaissance satellite after months of failures, a programme the United States alleges is a cover for missile development.
“The first satellite of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been successfully launched into orbit by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC],” said the elite forces’ official website on Wednesday.
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It said the satellite – dubbed the Nour – was deployed from the Qassed two-stage launcher from the Markazi desert, a vast expanse in Iran’s central plateau.
The satellite “orbited the Earth at 425km [264 miles]”, said the website. “This action will be a great success and a new development in the field of space for Islamic Iran.”
The IRGC called it the first military satellite ever launched by Tehran. It used a Ghased, or “Messenger”, satellite carrier to put the device into space, a previously unheard-of system.
As the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic and historically low oil prices, the missile launch may signal a new willingness to take risks by Iran.
“This raises a lot of red flags,” said Fabian Hinz, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.
“Now that you have the [US] maximum pressure campaign, Iran doesn’t have that much to lose any more.”
Hinz said, based on state media images, the launch appeared to have happened at a previously unnamed IRGC base near Shahroud, Iran, some 330km (205 miles) northeast of Tehran. The base is in Semnan province, which hosts the Imam Khomeini Spaceport, from which Iran’s civilian space programme operates.
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Navigating armed forces
Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi, reporting from the capital Tehran, said it was the first time the IRGC took credit for the launch of a military satellite.
“As a military satellite, what we’re likely to see is this to be used specifically for intelligence gathering and secure communications for the navigation of forces on land and sea,” he said.
Tehran has had several failed satellite launches in recent months. The last one came in February when Iran failed to put its Zafar 1 communications satellite into orbit.
That failure came after two failed launches of the Payam and Doosti satellites last year, as well as a launchpad rocket explosion in August. A fire at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in February 2019 also killed three researchers, the authorities said at the time.
The rocket explosion in August drew the attention of US President Donald Trump, who later tweeted what appeared to be a classified surveillance image of the launch failure.
The successive failures raised suspicion of outside interference in Iran’s programme, something Trump himself hinted at by saying the US “was not involved in the catastrophic accident”.
Arch-foes Iran and the US have appeared to be on the brink of an all-out confrontation twice in the past year.
Long-standing acrimony between Tehran and Washington was exacerbated in 2018 when Trump unilaterally withdrew from a deal that froze Iran’s nuclear programme, and issued new demands that Tehran curtail its development of ballistic missiles.
Washington has also raised concerns in the past about Tehran’s satellite programme, saying the launch of a carrier rocket in January 2019 amounted to a violation of limits on its ballistic missiles.
Iran maintains it has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons, and says its aerospace activities are peaceful and comply with a United Nations Security Council resolution.
Over the past 10 years, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit, and in 2013 it launched a monkey into space.
Wednesday’s launch comes amid tensions between Tehran and Washington over its collapsing nuclear deal and after a US drone attack in Iraq killed IRGC General Qassem Soleimani in January.
Wednesday also marks the 41st anniversary of the founding of the IRGC by Iran’s late leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. An image of the rocket that carried the satellite showed it bore a Quranic verse on overcoming adversaries.
The IRGC, which operates its own military infrastructure in parallel to Iran’s regular armed forces, is a hardline force answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
It was not immediately clear if Iran’s civilian government knew the launch was coming. President Hassan Rouhani gave nearly a 40-minute speech on Wednesday before his cabinet that included no mention of the launch.
UAE starts first nuclear reactor at controversial Barakah plant |NationalTribune.com
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced on Saturday that it has started operations in the first of four reactors at the Barakah nuclear power station – the first nuclear power plant in the Arab world. Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), which is building and operating the plant with Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) said in…
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced on Saturday that it has started operations in the first of four reactors at the Barakah nuclear power station – the first nuclear power plant in the Arab world.
Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), which is building and operating the plant with Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) said in a press release that its subsidiary Nawah Energy Company “has successfully started up Unit 1 of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant, located in the Al Dhafrah Region of Abu Dhabi”.
That signals that Unit 1, which had fuel rods loaded in March, has achieved “criticality” – a sustained fission chain reaction.
“The start-up of Unit 1 marks the first time that the reactor safely produces heat, which is used to create steam, turning a turbine to generate electricity,” said ENEC.
Barakah, which was originally scheduled to open in 2017, has been dogged by delays and is billions of dollars over budget. It has also raised myriad concerns among nuclear energy veterans who are concerned about the potential risks Barakah could visit upon the Arabian Peninsula, from an environmental catastrophe to a nuclear arms race.
Paul Dorfman, an honorary senior research fellow at the Energy Institute, University College London and founder and chair of the Nuclear Consulting Group, has criticised the Barakah reactors’ “cheap and cheerful” design that he says cuts corners on safety.
Dorfman authored a report (PDF) last year detailing key safety features Barakah’s reactors lack, such as a “core catcher” to literally stop the core of a reactor from breaching the containment building in the event of a meltdown. The reactors are also missing so-called Generation III Defence-In-Depth reinforcements to the containment building to shield against a radiological release resulting from a missile or fighter jet attack.
Both of these engineering features are standard on new reactors built in Europe, says Dorfman.
There have been at least 13 aerial attacks on nuclear facilities in the Middle East – more than any other region on earth.
The vulnerability of critical infrastructure in the Arabian Peninsula was further laid bare last year after Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais were attacked by 18 drones and seven cruise missiles – an assault that temporarily knocked out more than half of the kingdom’s oil production.
On Saturday, Dorfman reiterated his concern that there is no regional protocol in place to determine liability should an accident or incident at Barakah result in radioactive contamination spreading from the UAE to its neighbours.
“Given Barakah has started up, because of all the well-rehearsed nuclear safety and security problems, it may be critically important that the Gulf states collectively evolve a Nuclear Accident Liability Convention, so that if anything does go wrong, victim states may have some sort of redress,” Dorfman told Al Jazeera.
The UAE has substantial oil and gas reserves, but it has made huge investments in developing alternative energy sources, including nuclear and solar.
Experts though have questioned why the UAE – which is bathed in sunlight and wind – has pushed ahead with nuclear energy – a far more expensive and riskier option than renewable energy sources.
When the UAE first announced Barakah in 2009, nuclear power was cheaper than solar and wind. But by 2012 – when the Emirates started breaking ground to build the reactors – solar and wind costs had plummeted dramatically.
Between 2009 and 2019, utility-scale average solar photovoltaic costs fell 89 percent and wind fell 43 percent, while nuclear jumped 26 percent, according to an analysis by the financial advisory and asset manager Lazard.
There are also concerns about the potential for Barakah to foment nuclear proliferation in the Middle East – a region rife with geopolitical fault lines and well-documented history of nuclear secrecy.
The UAE has sought to distance itself from the region’s bad behaviour by agreeing not to enrich its own uranium or reprocess spent fuel. It has also signed up to the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog’s Additional Protocol, significantly enhancing inspection capabilities, and secured a 123 Agreement with the United States that allows bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation.
Navy Blue Angels get first Super Hornet plane
The U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron — better known as the Blue Angels — this week received their first F/A-18 Super Hornet, a cutting-edge plane that will replace the older aircraft used for the past three decades. The first Super Hornet arrived at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Monday, officials said. The Blue Angels are…
The U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron — better known as the Blue Angels — this week received their first F/A-18 Super Hornet, a cutting-edge plane that will replace the older aircraft used for the past three decades.
The first Super Hornet arrived at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Monday, officials said. The Blue Angels are scheduled to fully transition to the Super Hornets by the end of the year.
“Acquiring our first Super Hornet is a momentous step in our inevitable transition scheduled for later this year and it required a herculean effort to get these fleet jets ready for our team,” said Cmdr. Brian Kesselring, commanding officer and Blue Angels flight leader.
The Blue Angels have used the original F/A-18 Hornet for 34 years. The new aircraft are capable of carrying 3,500 pounds of fuel and can move faster than the Hornet while carrying more weight, according to manufacturer Boeing.
The planes also include a new 19-inch, touch-screen display in the cockpit and a 9,000-hour frame lifespan, along with an advanced infrastructure network that boasts dramatically more computing power than its predecessors.
The Blue Angels were founded in 1946 and routinely hold air shows across the country. In April, the Blue Angels teamed up with the Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s flight demonstration squadron, for a flyover of major U.S. cities to honor health care workers and first responders battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
The next Blue Angels show is scheduled for Sept. 12 and 13 in Baltimore, according to the group’s website.
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America First Action PAC ad attacks Biden defund police policies
A super PAC supporting President Trump’s policies is airing a new TV ad on Friday attacking Democrat Joseph R. Biden over defunding police, showing a fearful mother and child hiding under a bed from marauders while their frantic 9-1-1 call is placed on hold. The ad, titled “On Hold,” will air in the battleground states…
A super PAC supporting President Trump’s policies is airing a new TV ad on Friday attacking Democrat Joseph R. Biden over defunding police, showing a fearful mother and child hiding under a bed from marauders while their frantic 9-1-1 call is placed on hold.
The ad, titled “On Hold,” will air in the battleground states of Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It’s part of America First Action PAC’s $23 million summer ad spending, The Washington Times has learned.
The ad depicts a young mother and her child retreating under a bed while a violent mob on the street outside their home menaces them. When the woman dials 9-1-1, an operator says, “You have reached 9-11 emergency services. Due to budget cuts and increased criminal activity, our agents are busy assisting other callers. The hold time is 17 minutes. Have a nice day.”
A similar national TV ad from the Trump campaign this week shows an older woman, alone at night, unable to get through to police on 9-1-1 as a masked intruder breaks into her home.
“Your family won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” said Brian O. Walsh, president of America First Action PAC. “He supports defunding the police and has defended the riots in Portland as ‘peaceful.’ While Biden is too weak to stand up to the leftist mob, President Trump will never bow down and will always ensure all Americans are safe.”
The latest Rasmussen Reports survey shows that just two in 10 Americans support defunding police.
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