Monday, January 15, 2007
Busywork for Nuclear Scientists
The Bush administration is eager to start work on a new nuclear warhead with all sorts of admirable qualities: sturdy, reliable and secure from terrorists. To sweeten the deal, officials say that if they can replace the current arsenal with Reliable Replacement Warheads (what could sound more comforting?), they probably won’t have to keep so many extra warheads to hedge against technical failure. If you’re still not sold, the warhead comes with something of a guarantee that scientists can build the new bombs without ever testing them.
Let the buyer beware. While the program has gotten very little attention here, it is a public-relations disaster in the making overseas. Suspicions that the United States is actually trying to build up its nuclear capabilities are undercutting Washington’s arguments for restraining the nuclear appetites of Iran and North Korea.
Then there’s the tens of billions it is likely to cost. And the most important question: Nearly two decades after the country stopped building nuclear weapons, does it really need a new one? The answer, emphatically, is no. This is a make-work program championed by the weapons laboratories and belatedly by the Pentagon, which hasn’t been able to get Congress to pay for its other nuclear fantasies.
The Rumsfeld team’s first choice was for a nuclear “bunker buster” to go after deeply buried targets. The Pentagon got concerned about “aging” warheads only after it was clear that even the Republican-led Congress, or at least one intrepid House subcommittee chairman, considered the bunker buster too Strangelovian to finance.
One crucial argument for the new program took a major hit in November when the Jason -- a prestigious panel of scientists that advises the government on weapons -- reported that most of the plutonium triggers in the current arsenal can be expected to last for 100 years. Since the oldest weapons are less than 50 years old, supporters of the new warhead have fallen back on warnings that other bomb components are also aging, and that the nuclear labs need the work to attract and train the best scientists. But the labs are already spending billions on studying and preserving the current arsenal.
Then there’s that guarantee that there will be no need for testing -- one of the few arms-control taboos President Bush hasn’t broken yet. While experts debate whether the labs can really build a weapon without testing it, the more important question is whether any president would stake America’s security on an untested arsenal.
America would be much safer if the president focused on reducing the number of old nuclear weapons still deployed by the United States and the other nuclear powers. The new Congress should stop this program before any more dollars are wasted, or more damage is done to America’s credibility.
That our leaders in both NNSA and LANL were so politically tone-deaf they couldn't see this coming is very revealing to me. There is no true vision at the top levels of NNSA or LANL. We are wandering in a desert wilderness, lead by fools, and our water and food supply is about to be depleted. I don't expect to suddenly see any 'manna' from heaven appear.
"...wandering in a desert wilderness, lead by fools.."
No, we are being led by fools, who think that "lead" (Pb) is "plutonium" (Pu), and with their beloved Pu, they will make even more desert, maybe even starting in Iran.
Oh, but selling our country's assets is the privilege of...Halliburton...and Bechtel, right?
Maybe it's time that you right-wing Christian fascists find someone other than Bill Clinton to blame everything under the sun on. (Oh, and Hillary, I almost forgot Hillary.)
"Bernie Sanders from Loral teaching the ChiComs who to make a reliable ICBM?" Or how to? Small matter of a permutation of the three little letters.
I know, you were all bent out of shape by the New York thing, and you just couldn't see straight, could you, Bubba?
The choice seems clear. To protect the better ideas, values and habits of civilized society from less developed agressors, vigilence is wise and even necessary. In a world with nuclear weapons, this, unforunately, means mastering them. This is why I work at a National Lab.
To retain mastery we must be scientific, careful, moral and courageous. When the time comes to test... we must test.
When viewed from this vantage, internal dissention, politics and comfort seem less important than continuity.
Here we see hints of the true agenda -- to once again fully test our nukes. Bring back the glory days of the Cold War weapon scientists.
Those days are long over. This country will not bring them back. The hypocrisy of having the US perform underground testing while demanding other nations not to test would be too much for the world to swallow. The world is safer when *no one* tests. Even designing a shiny new arsenal of new nuclear weapons smacks of hypocrisy. Some of our brilliant weapons designers haven't yet figure this one out. The rest of the nation, our Congress, and most of the rest of the world's population, get it. It appears you don't.
There are many pressing problems in the US. Launching an expensive new program to design nuclear weapons is not one of them. US national security doesn't depend on heading down this route. Many retired weapon scientists and even the Jasons have said our current arsenal is potent and ready. It will be potent and ready for many more years to come.
Do a bit of research: Putin has taken great pride in annoucing new Russian nukes with new capability that no one else has (presumbly, guidable reentry vehicles). Currently, the UK spends almost as much as the USA on nuke research and production - having nearly tripled the amount over the last 5 years.
You can certainly debate whether these developments are good or bad, but its hypocritical to get your undies-in-a-wad over the relatively benign US program on RRW (which has gone to great pains to emphasize no new capability while enabling stockpile REDUCTIONS) while we heard nary a peep from these same folks while everyone else was doing considerably more...
I suggest you do some better research before making wild statements. Everyone else is NOT making new nuclear weapon designs with new production.
Get your facts straight. Russia has been working on new missile designs, but I've seen nothing in the news about a thrust toward new Russian nuclear weapon designs. Even the US has been working to make our cruise missiles better and more accurate, so nothing special on that front.
France currently runs a stockpile stewardship program with supercomputers, much like the US.
The UK is considering upgrading their arsenal, but hasn't yet moved into any new production.
China has a small nuclear arsenal of ICBMs, but seems much more interested in other forms of military technology, such as small, high speed missiles that can sink warships and now, satellites. Yikes!
Only a limited number of dollars are available for military defense. From what I've observed, it appears most of the existing nuclear powers are using their military funds for things other than new nukes. US funds should be used for weapons that will actual help make the US stronger and let us more easily project our force when needed (i.e., innovative armaments, fast/light/safe troop carriers, microwave 'crowd control' guns, RPVs, etc).
These things will let us 'own' the battlefield while the nukes sit in storage accumulating dust.
"Among the systems thought to be in the works for Russia's military is a new type of warhead designed to outwit the missile defence shield being developed by the United States.
Experts say the warhead is intended to be manoeuvrable like a cruise missile after re-entering the atmosphere from space. "
"Military sources have also indicated that China is expected to produce MIRV technology in the near future, along with miniaturized warheads for use on MIRVed missiles.The new ballistic missile systems currently in development (the DF-31/JL-2 and DF-41) will reportedly use a new 200-300 kT warhead, which awaits certification. The new warhead is reportedly almost identical to the one currently deployed on the JL-1 and DF-21 systems, but Chinese designers have had problems with warhead miniaturization."
"French President Jacques Chirac reportedly told French senators overnight that: "we want to try our new nuclear warhead, then to carry out two tests on the safety, the security and the effectiveness of our detonators and the effect on ageing on them." This was the first public admission that the French government were testing new weapons rather than testing existing weapons for "safety, security and eliability" and developing computer simulation technology."
The United Kingdom has been secretly operating a program to develop a new nuclear warhead, the London Sunday Times reported.