Sunday, March 18, 2007


Bush Urged to Develop Overall Nuclear Arms Policy

By Walter Pincus, Washington Post Staff Writer, Sunday, March 18, 2007

A prestigious scientific committee made up of retired nuclear weapons lab directors and former Defense and Energy department officials is recommending that, before the United States moves ahead on the development of new nuclear warheads, the Bush administration should develop a bipartisan policy regarding the size of the future stockpile, testing and nonproliferation.

The committee's report, which is due out next month, comes at a time when the Bush administration is asking Congress to approve $88 million for cost and engineering plans that could lead to a decision next year for production of a new Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) for the nation's current submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missile.

The panel will recommend that "any decision to proceed with RRW must be coupled with a transparent administration policy on nuclear weapons, including comments concerning stockpile size, nuclear testing and nonproliferation," according to an interim progress report from the committee chaired by C. Bruce Tarter, the former director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The panel was formed under the auspices of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The panel includes John S. Foster Jr., another former Livermore director; Siegfried S. Hecker, who ran Los Alamos National Laboratory; Richard L. Wagner Jr., a Los Alamos veteran and a member of the Defense Science Board; and Charles B. Curtis, former deputy secretary of energy and currently president of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

In presenting the interim report to an AAAS meeting last month, Tarter said the panel found there has been no Bush administration statements dealing with nuclear weapons since the Nuclear Posture Review in December 2001. In addition, he said, "There have been no public policy statements that articulate the role of nuclear weapons in a post-Cold War and post-9/11 world and lay out the stockpile needs for the future."

Based on open and classified briefings from current officials at the Pentagon, the weapons labs and National Nuclear Security Administration, the panel believes that the RRW program should not move ahead without getting bipartisan agreement on the Complex 2030 plan, the costly modernization of the nation's nuclear weapons complex, and the future of the program now underway to refurbish the currently deployed nuclear weapons stockpile.

Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, has in the past sought funds to carry out the comprehensive nuclear policy study that the AAAS panel has recommended. "We have pieces and programs, calls for designs and weapons that don't track back to a policy that everyone understands," she said in a recent interview.

"There are a growing number of voices that have credibility that are saying we have a disjointed set of programs that don't lead to a cogent nuclear policy for the 21st century," she said, pointing to an article last January by Henry A. Kissinger and George P. Shultz, former secretaries of State; former defense secretary William J. Perry and former senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.).

In it they called on the Bush administration to take the lead in reversing reliance on nuclear weapons through various measures, including ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; taking nuclear weapons off alert; further reducing the number of the weapons themselves; and halting production of fissile materials.

Since no politician (not even a conservative neocon) will get re-elected by talking positive about nuclear weapons (in a "let's build some more" sense), we should not expect any resolution of the RRW program or Complex 2030.

The only avenue left for the nation (and NNSA) will be to follow the existing course: maintain the existing stockpile for as long as possible with the existing infrastructure. The current nuclear weapons complex will continue to fall into disrepair, mainly because Congress will not fund any significant fixes or replacements for what is out there now. At best, the "Saint Petes" of each complex site will be able to bring in a modicum of "refurbishment" funding. But even that isn't the best pork: the best sort is the "new work" kind - like the "Signature Facility" Terry Wallace is hoping to get as a concession for losing the RRW battle.

At LANL, this means we should expect:
1) the CMR replacement (CMRR) to come to screeching halt;
2) TA-55 to continue its evolution into a limited pit facility;
3) to keep the job of annual assessment and recertification of the legacy stockpile as our main job.

But, all this will keep the "turd-polishing" jobs in the county for another 20+ years - long enough for most of us to retire or die.

Count the blessings while you can...
You can polish a turd as much as you want, but it's still a turd. The problem still seems to be that no one wants to admit that although nuclear weapons are obsolete, there still needs to be an understanding of them if those in existence are to be dealt with in a reasonable (safe, sane, technically competent) manner. It probably can't be done if you don't have an underground test every 10 years or so. How about this program: dismantle 100 weapons, blow one up, dismantle another 100, blow one up? In forty years, they're all gone. Call it Complex 2047. The nuclear weapons bureaucrats can then cease to exist, and good scientists will no longer be sucked into this particluar weapons vortex.
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