Apr 30, 2007

The Present and Future Role of Nuclear Weapons in the U.S. and the World

Posted by David Biello - SCIAM OBSERVATIONS April 30, 2007
Opinions, arguments and analyses from the editors of Scientific American

What is it? My recent article on the reasoning behind the first new nuclear weapon to be built in 20 years does not touch on the subject. Except to highlight its absence from debate.

To some, nuclear weapons are the core of world peace. "I work on nuclear weapons because I believe they immunize the world against large scale war," says Bruce Goodwin, associate director for defense and nuclear technologies at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. "I like that state of affairs." (Livermore won the recent design competition for the first new warhead.)

To others, nuclear weapons are necessary but in need of a radical re-thinking in light of a changed world. "If we want to develop a new warhead it should be one that is going to reflect a dramatically new role for nuclear weapons," says Ivan Oelrich, vice president for strategic security programs at the Federation of American Scientists (an organization founded by the creators of the original atom bomb and keeping an eye on the world arsenal ever since.) "One of the first missions I wish we would give up is the surprise first strike. The last mission we will give up is to use nuclear weapons in retaliation. If we are going to build a new warhead it should be aimed at that mission. A 20 kiloton bomb attacking specific targets. It doesn't have to be launched off a sub. It doesn't have to be 400 kilotons. It doesn't have to be there in 20 minutes. If we are going to build a warhead build one for that."

To yet others, they have outlived their usefulness. "U.S. leadership will be required to take the world to the next stage--to a solid consensus for reversing reliance on nuclear weapons globally as a vital contribution to preventing their proliferation into potentially dangerous hands, and ultimately ending them as a threat to the world," wrote former government bigwigs George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

The role of nuclear weapons should be the subject of a wide-ranging debate, along with the future role (and privatization) of the national laboratories (particularly Los Alamos, which has been bemoaned at "Gone Nuclear" and "LANL: The Rest of the Story"), the security of fissile material worldwide, non-proliferation, treaty obligations, etc., etc. Not to mention the fact that the scientists and engineers (and their toys) who created the last generation of nuclear weapons (and witnessed their testing) are aging and their knowledge may need a new weapon to work with in order for it to be transmitted to the next generation (science, in some cases, functions like an oral tradition.)

Yet, that debate is not really happening, at least not in public. Maybe it can happen here? Please share your thoughts on my article, the role of nuclear weapons, tips for future articles, or anything else (nuclear weapon related). But let's try to keep it civil. Nuclear weapons may pacify international relations but they often prove incendiary as the topic of discussion.

[Thanks for the plug, David! Pinky and The Brain]

Special Report: New Nukes Are Good Nukes?

By David Biello - ScientificAmerican.com April 30, 2007

What does it mean when the U.S. government announces plans to create the first new nuclear warhead in two decades?

The threat of total nuclear annihilation seems to have receded since the demise of the Soviet Union. China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, the U.K. and even Russia are U.S. allies or, at worst, nonbelligerent competitors with (Russia notwithstanding) limited nuclear arsenals. North Korea and Iran, although both enemies of the U.S., do not as yet possess the weaponry to inflict massive nuclear harm on this nation. In fact, the most pressing nuclear threat appears to be a "dirty bomb"—a conventional explosive packed with radioactive material—or a small nuclear explosive smuggled into the country.

Despite the threat reduction, however, the U.S. retains the weaponry to fight a total nuclear war: roughly 10,000 warheads and bombs. A third of these are warheads—dubbed W76—which, since 1978, have been deployed atop submarine-based ballistic missiles or stored in what is known as the Enduring Nuclear Stockpile, according to Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Washington, D.C.-based Federation of American Scientists (FAS), an organization founded by the creators of the original nuclear weapon in 1945 that has been monitoring the nation's nuclear arsenal ever since. The W76 generates 100 kilotons of explosive force when detonated, the equivalent of 100,000 tons of the chemical explosive trinitrotoluene (TNT). It is designed to obliterate so-called "soft targets," such as ports, garrisons, or factories.

The U.S. plans to retire many of these weapons as part of its nuclear arsenal reductions under the Moscow Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions. But the U.S. Departments of Energy (DOE) and Defense (DOD) would also like to replace some of them. And in early March, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California won the initial competition to design the nation's first new nuclear warhead in 20 years. The new weapon would not fulfill a new strategic role in a changed world, but rather replace a portion of the W76 arsenal, due to concern over the aging warheads' ability to retain their full destructive potential in storage.

A government-commissioned independent review by a panel of scientists known as JASON estimated that the current warheads will last a minimum of a century in storage, however, and, therefore, recommended that no action be taken other than routine maintenance, such as replacing surrounding circuitry and parts as they age—a core function of the Lifetime Extension Program the W76s are currently undergoing. Despite the panel's findings and the imminent refurbishments, the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program, an effort to replace the W76 launched three years ago by the DOE to allay reliability fears, continues.

In an effort to keep the modernization program alive, the Nuclear National Security Administration (NNSA)—a a semiautonomous agency of the DOE in charge of the nation's nuclear weapons—has offered a variety of other rationales, ranging from national security to creating a more environmentally benign weapon. The U.S. Congress is now weighing the fate of the program and whether to fund it as part of efforts to determine what the U.S. nuclear arsenal will look like in the 21st century.

Same Old, Same Old?

During a press conference and subsequent interviews, NNSA officials stressed that the design for the W76 replacement warhead is not a new one. Rather, it is based on a formerly tested weapon that includes a host of new surrounding features. "It's new in the sense that we've never done this before, but it's not new in the traditional arms control sense," says NNSA's John Harvey, director of policy planning staff. "It will have the same form and function as the current weapon."

In fact, the reason the Livermore design triumphed is because it is based on a former design, one detonated underground before the U.S. moratorium on such experiments in 1992. "[The pit] was nuclear tested four times," says Bruce Goodwin, Livermore's associate director for defense and nuclear technologies. "It's the exquisite test pedigree of the baseline for this design that gives very high confidence that it will work as expected."

The new warhead would work much the same as any other fusion bomb. The fissile nuclear pit, or primary, explodes and floods surrounding chemical compounds, known as the secondary, with radiation. This radiation triggers a fusion reaction between the tritium and deuterium isotopes of hydrogen produced by the irradiated compound. A thermonuclear explosion follows.

Only a limited number of such primaries have been tested. "It's the SKUA9 design," Goodwin says, one of a series of primaries created by Livermore during the nuclear testing program simply to test the viability of secondaries, and never produced as a weapon. As a result of this prior testing, this first Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW1), if built, would require no further detonations, according to the NNSA and Livermore.

It will also provide increased confidence in the weapon's "margin," says J. Stephen Rottler, vice president for weapons engineering and product realization at Sandia National Laboratories in White Sands, N.M., which will be responsible for integrating the nuclear explosive into weapons systems such as missiles. Margin is the term used to describe a weapon's ability to avoid failure, such producing as a smaller explosive yield than for which it was designed.

Some scientists argue that the W76 has a low margin of failure because of the thin uranium shell that surrounds its core explosive. It could weaken, particularly as its plutonium core bombards it with radiation over time, subsequently failing to contain the primary fission explosion long enough to generate the high temperatures needed for fusion to take place in creating the secondary hydrogen detonation.

The new warhead will be bigger, thicker and heavier than the W76s, and therefore less likely to allow for that kind of failure, according to both Rottler and Goodwin. "That provides a margin, if you will, as the warhead ages," Rottler says. "The chances of us going underground [to test] again are remote." This is key to the appeal of RRW, because the U.S. government, complying with its treaty obligations, has mandated no return to underground testing.

But critics note that no nuclear weapon in the current U.S. arsenal has ever been manufactured without being tested. "Is there a military commander out there who will ever rely on something that has not been fully tested?" the Federation of American Scientists' Kristensen asks. "So far that has not been the case."

Building a Better Bomb

During the Cold War, the military emphasized packing as many warheads into one weapon as possible to generate maximum explosive yield, while also minimizing the overall weapon's weight to enable maximum range, resulting in weapons like the W76. Now that the Cold War has thawed such considerations are no longer as crucial, weapons designers say, allowing them to add new, heavier features—insensitive high explosives and advanced security technology—to the RRW1.

Insensitive high explosives, which resist detonation except when properly triggered, would improve the safety of handling these weapons in storage. "We have taken insensitive high explosives and slammed it into reinforced concrete blocks at Mach 4. It will not detonate," Livermore's Goodwin says. It is so secure, "you can put a gasoline fire out with it. If you put a blowtorch to it, you can get it to molder."

Further, the W76 lacks permissive action links (PAL), a computerized system that requires appropriate authorization to fire the weapon. "Under refurbishment, if we wanted to improve security interior to the warhead, we would have had to retrofit that into the warheads, which is difficult to do without nuclear testing," NNSA's Harvey says.

The W76 spends the majority of its life aboard submarines or in heavily secured stockpiles, reducing its need for such features, critics note. And the Life Extension Program for other nuclear weapons, such as the B61 gravity bomb, has incorporated added security measures, such as increased encryption, FAS's Kristensen argues. "Here was a weapon that was designed back in the 1960s and 1970s, and when it was first deployed it did not have safety features," he says. "They refit it all on the weapon itself without having to rebuild it. This suggests that you can achieve extraordinarily high levels of safety in current designs without going to a new design."

The U.S. also spent billions of dollars upgrading the security of nuclear weapon storage sites after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, leaving open the question of who is capable of improperly triggering such weapons. "I don't know anyone who believes that the physical security of U.S. nuclear weapons is in doubt," says Ivan Oelrich, FAS's vice president for strategic security programs. The American Association for the Advancement of Science's (AAAS) Nuclear Weapons Complex Assessment Committee, a panel of experts convened to evaluate RRW, agrees, finding no reason to believe that such features would "substantially reduce the current reliance on guns, guards and gates" in its April assessment report.

The NNSA, for its part, believes the new features are necessary for the small amount of time such weapons spend being trucked from site to site to eliminate the threat of hijacking. "It gives us an extra measure that we think is prudent, particularly in transportation scenarios," NNSA's Harvey says.

The "Green" Nuclear Warhead

The RRW1 would also eliminate the need for some of the toxic substances in such weapons, such as beryllium, a light metal that hardens alloys but is also carcinogenic and can cause pulmonary disease. "Because of the release of the weight requirement, we are able to use materials that are heavier but more environmentally benign," Livermore's Goodwin says. "We will be able to eliminate an entire process that produces 96 percent radiological toxic waste that has to be buried and replace it with nontoxic waste that is 100 percent recyclable."

"You replace it with something that quite honestly you could eat and be healthy," he adds. "It is in prosthetic body implants. It's about as biologically benign as any material can be." Because the exact specifications remain classified, however, he was unable to reveal exactly what the benign substance is and its exact purpose in the new weapon.

Building a new nuclear warhead would also entail rebuilding the individual nuclear weapon–producing factories, such as Amarillo, Tex.-based Pantex, Los Alamos's TA-55 or Y-12 in Oak Ridge, Tenn., "antiques," as Goodwin calls them because some date from the 1940s. The Bush administration unveiled plans in April 2006 for a new complex to build all the components of new nuclear warheads—dubbed Complex 2030 for the year set for its completion.

"If you are going to life-extend weapons, you need to recreate the enterprise, the production complex of the 1970s, which is an enormous investment in infrastructure," Goodwin says. "Do you want to reinvest in technologies that in many cases are extremely unpleasant? Or do you want to make the smallest possible enterprise to support a very different deterrent stockpile, a much smaller stockpile?"

But the AAAS panel found that substantial upgrades to the current infrastructure would be needed anyway to carry out the RRW program, including at least a doubling of the current assembling and disassembling work at the Pantex nuclear weapon assembly facility as well as a significant increase in the amount of plutonium pits produced at the TA-55 facility.

The Cost of Nuclear

The NNSA asked for $27.7 million for fiscal year 2007 to research the RRW design. That will rise to $88 million in fiscal year 2008, according to the NNSA's acting administrator Thomas D'Agostino, and a detailed cost of the entire program should be available before the 2009 budget once the engineers have completed their cost estimates. Until such cost estimates are available, there is no way to determine whether RRW and Complex 2030 present a cost savings or an additional financial burden in the long run compared with simply maintaining a diminished portion of the present arsenal.

Production on the W76 replacement could begin by 2012, depending on how much money Congress provides, Sandia's Rottler says. In the bomb makers's preferred scenario, the RRW1 would replace some portion of the W76s that would otherwise be refurbished as the vast majority are dismantled. This swap would likely take decades, according to the AAAS experts, and would require a commitment of "significant new funds."

"In this year's budget, the NNSA requested $88 million for the first design and development stages of RRW1. Where did [the funding] come from? It came out of the Life Extension Program for the W80," notes Robert Nelson, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an independent scientific research and advocacy group. "We're worried about the long-term reliability of the stockpile, but to pay for [RRW] we are going to cut the very programs that maintain the reliability of the stockpiles." He adds that by cutting the funding for the maintenance programs for existing weapons: "It makes it impossible to reverse course."

Billions more will be needed to retool the production infrastructure if Congress decides to authorize RRW and Complex 2030, both proponents and opponents say. And members from both sides of the aisle on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development have expressed skepticism about the program. "Although a lot of time and energy went into determining the winning design for a new nuclear warhead, there appears to have been little thought given to the question of why the United States needs to build new nuclear warheads at this time," panel chair Rep. Pete Visclosky, (D–Ind.) said in a written statement. "Without a comprehensive defense strategy that defines the future mission, the emerging threats, and the specific U.S. nuclear stockpile necessary to achieve the strategic goals, it is impossible for Congress to appropriate funding for RRW in a responsible and efficient manner."

The RRW W76 replacement is also just the first. "If we're really going to have an impact as to a reduction in the stockpile, we have to address the whole stockpile," Steve Henry, deputy assistant to the secretary of defense for nuclear matters, said at a press conference announcing the design winner. "The RRW1 is to address the first portion, which is a submarine-based W76 replacement."

The NNSA has already launched a feasibility study for a second RRW specifically designed for an air-delivered weapon, according to NNSA's Harvey. A likely candidate for such an RRW2 would be the W78 warhead that sits atop land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, FAS's Kristensen says. It is nearly as old and also lacking insensitive high explosives and security features.

A Credible Deterrent

But the biggest impact of the replacement weapons program might be on the global nuclear arms situation. Whereas the U.K., France, Russia and China have similar modernization efforts underway or planned, building the RRW1 might provide a dubious signal to the rest of the world as well as potentially provoke accusations of a violation of nuclear nonproliferation and arms control goals. "If the United States, the strongest nation in the world, concludes that it cannot protect its vital interests without relying on new nuclear weapons for new military missions, it would be a clear signal to other nations that nuclear weapons are valuable, if not necessary, for their security purposes, too," Sidney Drell, arms control expert and physicist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center said at the American Physical Society Conference in Denver this past March.

Nuclear weapons are intended to be a deterrent, making the price of a particular geopolitical prize that might be seized too costly to bear. Yet, the U.S. has no avowed nuclear enemies as in the days of the Soviet Union and certainly none that would require thousands of nuclear warheads to deter or destroy, according to critics of the RRW plan.

As a result, former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former secretary of defense William Perry and former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn (a former chair of the Senate Committee on Armed Services) have argued for the elimination of such weapons. "We endorse setting the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and working energetically on the actions required to achieve that goal," they wrote in an editorial that appeared in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year. But the first Reliable Replacement Warhead—and Complex 2030 behind it—is not designed with that goal in mind and, in the absence of policy statements from the current administration, it remains unclear what the role for nuclear weapons—old or new—in the U.S. might be.

But the RRW program may simply be designed to address a more fundamental concern: ensuring that the U.S. retains the capacity to build and field nuclear weapons well into the future. "We want to exercise the scientists and engineers," NNSA's Harvey says. "The folks who did this back in the Cold War are about to retire. We need the next generation to do this and do it now so that they can be mentored by that older generation."

As the Department of Defense's Henry noted: "Based upon our analysis, the expertise is aging faster than the plutonium. And, it's a responsive infrastructure that you rely on to mitigate technical surprise and changes in the geopolitical environment. That responsiveness allows you to trade off numbers of weapons." The true rationale for the Reliable Replacement Warhead program may be reliable replacement scientists, engineers and technicians.

Duck and Cover

The Bush admininstration's "Complex 2030" plan is reviving the nuclear threat.
By William D. Hartung and Frida Berrigan - In These Times, Monday 30 April 2007

Only days before the fifth anniversary of September 11, President George W. Bush addressed military officers in Washington to warn that nuclear-armed terrorists could "blackmail the free world and spread their ideologies of hate and raise a moral threat to America." This alarmist vision was accompanied by the White House's release of "A National Strategy for Combating Terrorism," which painted a picture of a "troubling potential WMD terrorism nexus emanating from Tehran." The administration is building the case for war against Iran - a job made easier by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent announcement that Iran can now enrich uranium on an industrial scale - despite the fact that many Iran-watchers and nuclear experts consider their claims of enrichment capacity to be an overblown boast.

This is not the first time the "no-nuclear-weapons-for-you" ploy has been used to lay the groundwork for a war. On Oct. 7, 2002, while making the case for regime change in Iraq, President Bush said: "America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof - the smoking gun - that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." Yellow cake, aluminum tubes and histrionics about Saddam Hussein's nuclear capabilities followed ... all of which were challenged at the time, and have turned out to be completely fabricated. And, when not grinding the axe of pre-emptive war as counter-proliferation strategy, the administration periodically raises the specter of nuclear terrorism, in the form of dirty bombs and suitcase-sized warheads.

But while the United States demands that other countries end their nuclear programs, the Bush administration is busy planning a new generation of nuclear weapons. Nearly 20 years after the Berlin Wall crumbled, the United States is allocating more funding, on average, to nuclear weapons than during the Cold War. The Bush administration is pumping this money - more than $6 billion this year - into renovating the nuclear weapons complex and designing new nuclear weapons. Such hypocrisy is one of the main obstacles to nuclear arms reductions because it runs the risk of shattering the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in which the nuclear-armed states pledged to begin the process of disarmament if the non-nuclear states opted not to pursue the deadly technology.

The centerpiece of the administration's move toward developing a new generation of nuclear weapons is "Complex 2030," a multiyear plan introduced last April by the National Nuclear Security Administration (the semi-autonomous agency within the Department of Energy that oversees the nuclear weapons program). Complex 2030 calls for the construction of new or upgraded facilities at each of the National Nuclear Security Administration's eight nuclear weapons-related sites throughout the country. The plan also calls for building a new nuclear weapon, the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), inside the old warheads. The program was conceived in response to concerns that the cores of existing nuclear weapons could be wearing out and need to be replaced. But RRW development has gone much further than that.

The Department of Energy (DOE) notes in its summary of Complex 2030 that one of the major goals of the program is to "improve the capability to design, develop, certify and complete production of new or adapted warheads in the event of new military requirements." In short, while the Bush administration has publicly stressed reductions in nuclear weapons, it is working to produce new, more usable nuclear weapons.
  • Three Small Steps Forward
As a candidate for president in 2000, and during his first months in office, Bush suggested that the United States should significantly cut its nuclear arsenal. In his first address before a joint session of Congress, the new president went so far as to pledge: "We can discard Cold War relics and reduce our own nuclear forces to reflect today's needs." He followed through on this promise with the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which calls for reducing the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals from 6,000 each - the limit established under the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty - to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads each over a 10-year period.

Presidents Bush and Putin signed the treaty at Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg right after the city celebrated its 300th birthday in June 2003. Also known as the Treaty of Moscow, SORT has serious flaws. It has no method for verifying that each side is meeting its commitments; the cuts are not permanent - neither side is obligated to destroy or dismantle the warheads, only to take them "off-line;" and both sides would have to agree to extend the treaty if they have not met their obligations by the time the treaty expires in 2012. After the Senate unanimously voted to ratify the treaty, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) called it "as flimsy a treaty as the Senate has ever considered." Yet even with these flaws, SORT establishes important benchmarks and offers the potential of trust-building between the former superpower rivals.

Another positive development occurred in mid-February, when the Bush administration, after years of work through the "six party talks," announced a deal with North Korea. The hermit nation agreed to take the first steps toward dismantling its nuclear program in exchange for large supplies of fuel oil and eventual political recognition. The first phase of the agreement calls for North Korea to take concrete steps within 60 days, including closing down its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, getting inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency on the ground, and beginning to reveal the locations of its other nuclear facilities. In exchange, it will receive 50,000 tons of fuel oil at the end of the 60-day period. The agreement demonstrates that the Bush administration is slowly learning the nuances of diplomacy - you have to give to get.

More good news surrounds the recent fate of the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP). One of the most controversial new weapon designs proposed by the nuclear weapons complex, the RNEP promised to destroy hardened and deeply buried targets, such as underground bunkers containing chemical and biological weapons and military command centers. Such a difficult challenge would necessitate decades of steady and climbing investment, making it the kind of techno-fantasy that the nuclear weapons complex of the future would love to tackle.

In 2003, Congress allocated $15 million to study the RNEP. But in 2004 and 2005, Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio), then chair of the Water and Energy Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, led successful fights to defund the RNEP. Later, he boasted: "It's dead, forget about it! Go conventional. If I have to kick it three or four times, I'm going to keep kicking at it until we think we've totally gotten it out of the way."
  • Giant Leaps Backward
The Bush administration has aggressively counteracted these small positive developments with a succession of negative and destabilizing actions and statements - the most significant of which is the assertion that nuclear weapons are a central component of U.S. military and political strategy. This stunner was concealed within the administration's 2002 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), a Pentagon report that relies on input from the Joint Chiefs and the armed services to define the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security. The final classified report concluded that nuclear weapons "play a critical role in the defense capabilities of the United States, its allies and friends."

Submitted to Congress in January 2002, the NPR was not made public until portions were leaked to the press two months later. It states, "The need is clear for a revitalized nuclear weapons complex that will ... be able, if directed, to design, develop, manufacture and certify new warheads in response to new national requirements; and maintain readiness to resume underground testing if required."

The NPR introduces the concept of a "new Triad," composed of nuclear and non-nuclear strike capabilities, defensive systems, and "responsive infrastructure" for maintaining and/or producing nuclear weapons as requested. The report also emphasizes the development of creative new nuclear weapons - like low-yield or surgical warheads that are able to "reduce collateral damage," and nuclear bombs with "earth penetrating" capabilities.

The NPR concluded that nuclear weapons "provide credible military options to deter a wide range of threats, including WMD and large-scale conventional military force." The Bush NPR explicitly named potential targets - Iran, Syria, North Korea, China and Russia. The review explained that the United States might use nuclear weapons to retaliate for the use of chemical or biological weapons against U.S. targets, as the ultimate tool in a military conflict over Taiwan, or, disturbingly, as a response to undefined "surprising developments."
  • Proliferation Trumps Prevention
During the Cold War, spending on nuclear weapons averaged $4.2 billion a year. When the Cold War ended, DOE officials and members of Congress imagined the conversion of the nuclear weapons complex. But innovative proposals for civilian or green technology labs never got off the ground, and the nuclear labs successfully lobbied Congress for a new infusion of weapons money. By the end of President Clinton's tenure, nuclear weapons activities within the DOE's annual budget had jumped to $5.2 billion - more than the Cold War average, but less than what the new Bush administration would say it needed.

Since then, spending on nuclear weapons has increased by almost 14 percent to a 2007 total of $6.4 billion (after adjustment for inflation), but it is not enough to satisfy a nuclear-obsessed administration. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), formed in 2000 to manage the nation's nuclear weapons complex within the DOE, has a five-year "National Security Plan" that calls for annual increases that will push the nuclear weapons budget to $7.4 billion by 2012.

Compare these significant increases in nuclear spending to what the DOE is allocating for non-proliferation and prevention of nuclear conflict. The NNSA spends more than nine times more on "Atomic Energy Defense Activities" - a category that includes nuclear weapons, naval nuclear reactors and environmental cleanup at military nuclear facilities - than it does on nuclear arms reductions and non-proliferation.

In addition, spending on nuclear weapons research, development and maintenance in the DOE budget far outpaces the funding devoted to the development of alternative energy sources, a critical need in the age of global warming and dwindling oil supplies. The DOE's proposed budget for "Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy" - which includes non-nuclear, non-fossil fuel forms of energy - is $1.2 billion for FY 2008, one-thirteenth of expenditures on "Atomic Energy Defense Activities."
  • Upgrading Nuclear Capabilities
Under Complex 2030, the NNSA is taking steps to boost the U.S. ability to test and produce new warheads, and to consolidate production of uranium, plutonium and non-nuclear components within nuclear weapons.

The central component of Complex 2030 is the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program. The official rationale for the RRW program is to produce weapons that are safer and more durable than the warheads in the current stockpile. Supporters of RRW fear that the components of nuclear weapons could wear out and that the only way to know if the warheads are viable is to replace their inner workings. And - the line of thinking continues - as long as scientists are replacing the plutonium or uranium cores, they might as well "tweak" the weapon's design.

But the assertion that the old nuclear weapons need to be replaced by reliable new warheads is undermined by a recent NNSA study that indicates that the existing plutonium triggers, or "pits," may be viable for another 90 to 100 years. The report, issued in November and reviewed by an independent panel of scientists and academics, indicates the need for considerable skepticism of the Complex 2030 claims.

In addition, the RRW program will establish the infrastructure needed for future development of new warheads with new capabilities. A key element of this upgraded and consolidated nuclear infrastructure is a new facility to produce "pits," the plutonium triggers that set off the explosion of a hydrogen bomb. The DOE has proposed constructing a Modern Pit Facility, but Congress has deemed the $2 to $4 billion price tag too steep, and has rejected funding proposals for two years running.

As an alternative, the department is pushing the idea of a Consolidated Plutonium Center (CPC) that would bring all of the plutonium-related activities together at one site. The new facility would be a sort of "modern pit facility-plus," capable each year of producing 125 plutonium pits to trigger nuclear weapons, and at the same time develop new military applications for plutonium. This more expansive concept is likely to cost more than the facility alone, but NNSA has yet to provide a cost estimate to Congress. A small down payment for the CPC - $24.9 million - is proposed in the FY 2008 budget; budget projections for continuing work on the CPC total $282 million through 2012.

Under Complex 2030, the new CPC will be one of a series "transformed" and "consolidated" nuclear sites. Currently, there are eight facilities - Los Alamos National Laboratory (N.M.), Lawrence Livermore Laboratory (Calif.) and Sandia National Laboratories (N.M.), the Nevada Test Site (R&D activities, including sub-critical experiments), the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant in Tennessee (uranium and other components), the Pantex Plant in Texas (warhead assembly, disassembly, disposal), the Kansas City Plant (non-nuclear components), and the Savannah River Site (tritium extraction and handling) in Georgia.

While Complex 2030 would mandate that some of the sites have a smaller "footprint" (less floor space), it would also require the investment of tens of billions of dollars for new or upgraded factories, including two new factories - a Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF) and a Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) - at the Y-12 site; a new Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory to "support plutonium operations"; a new factory for the production of non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons at the current site of the Kansas City plant; and significant upgrades at the Pantex warhead assembly/disassembly facility. The spending on the CPC is only a small portion of the as yet unknown costs of the Complex 2030 initiative.
  • Broken Pledges, Skeptical Congress
All of this raises concerns for Robert Civiak. A program examiner for Department of Energy national security programs in 1988 and 1989, Civiak now does research for Tri-Valley Cares, a group that advocates the elimination of nuclear weapons. He calls the Reliable Replacement Warhead a "multibillion dollar effort to redesign and replace every nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal." Jay Coghlan, executive director at Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, agrees, calling RRW a "nukes forever program, and a Trojan horse for future new designs."

NNSA's planning documents call for the production of the first RRW by 2012, and according to analysis by James Sterngold in the San Francisco Chronicle, the work is already beginning. He writes, "Lab officials said researchers not only have produced extensive designs ... but they have already conducted non-nuclear tests of the critical detonation devices and other components. They have begun to plan in detail how the weapons would be manufactured."

Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), the new chairman of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, has criticized the RRW project for its "make-it-up-as-you-go-along" approach. "There appears to have been little thought given to the question of why the United States needs to build new nuclear warheads at this time," he says. "My preference is that the DOE would have spent their resources reconfiguring the old Cold War complex and dismantling obsolete warheads." He has not ruled out slowing or eliminating the RRW if the administration is unable to present a strategy "that defines the future mission, the emerging threats and the specific U.S. nuclear stockpile necessary to achieve strategic goals."
  • The 110th Congress and Beyond
In an August 2005 speech to a symposium on post-cold war nuclear strategy, Rep. Hobson described the administration's call for research on new bombs and the Nuclear Earth Penetrator as "very provocative and overly aggressive policies that undermine our moral authority to argue that other nations should forgo nuclear weapons."

Hobson's concerns are shared by a number of his colleagues on the other side of the aisle, including Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), John Spratt (D-S.C.) and Lynne Woolsey (D-Calif.), all of whom joined him in successfully leading an effort to defund the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator. Skepticism about the need for massive investment in nuclear weapons at a time of huge war bills and growing deficits, a growing sophistication about nuclear issues, and a Democratic majority means that for the first time in years the nuclear weapons complex is feeling the heat.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) represents the state that houses the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which recently won the Reliable Replacement Warhead competition. In a press release issued after the decision, she said, "While I appreciate the fact that Lawrence Livermore was selected, this in no way answers my questions about the Reliable Replacement Warhead program" - a program that she remains "100 percent opposed to."

Despite support from the White House, the DOE, key contractors, and a number of powerful members of Congress such as Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) - all of whom have nuclear weapons facilities in their states or districts - the Complex 2030 plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons infrastructure may be scaled back or rejected by congressional opponents, who will receive backing from arms control and environmental organizations. But it will take more than cutting a million here or a billion there, more than gunning against a specific corner of the Complex 2030 plan, more than defunding the most aggressive or alarming aspects of the nuclear weapons complex, to deal with nuclear weapons in the 21st century. Members of Congress are going to need to challenge the bedrock of administration foreign policy - that nuclear weapons should occupy center stage as a guarantor of U.S. security.

But they will not do that without being pushed - and pushed hard - by civil society. The urgency of the task creates opportunities for a big tent of strange bedfellows to work together: Weary cold warriors like George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn, who in January co-authored a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons"; well-established Washington organizations like the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Arms Control Association; disarmament activists like Helen Caldicott and the Abolition 2000 network; and members of the international community from the United Nations on down are all saying the same thing: The United States cannot insist that other nations disarm or opt not to pursue nuclear technology, while aggressively ramping up U.S. nuclear capabilities. This hypocrisy cannot stand.

Global security through nuclear disarmament or a world awash in nuclear weapons. The choice is obvious. And it is ours to make.

William D. Hartung is a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute and the director of the Arms Trade Resource Center. Frida Berrigan is a senior research associate at the Arms Trade Research Center.

Apr 29, 2007

Mouse brain simulated on computer

US researchers have simulated half a virtual mouse brain on a supercomputer.
BBC News, Friday, 27 April 2007, 23:59 GMT 00:59 UK

The scientists ran a "cortical simulator" that was as big and as complex as half of a mouse brain on the BlueGene L supercomputer.

In other smaller simulations the researchers say they have seen characteristics of thought patterns observed in real mouse brains.

Now the team is tuning the simulation to make it run faster and to make it more like a real mouse brain.

Life signs

Brain tissue presents a huge problem for simulation because of its complexity and the sheer number of potential interactions between the elements involved.

The three researchers, James Frye, Rajagopal Ananthanarayanan, and Dharmendra S Modha, laid out how they went about it in a very short research note entitled "Towards Real-Time, Mouse-Scale Cortical Simulations".

Half a real mouse brain is thought to have about eight million neurons each one of which can have up to 8,000 synapses, or connections, with other nerve fibres.

Modelling such a system, the trio wrote, puts "tremendous constraints on computation, communication and memory capacity of any computing platform".

The team, from the IBM Almaden Research Lab and the University of Nevada, ran the simulation on a BlueGene L supercomputer that had 4,096 processors, each one of which used 256MB of memory.

Using this machine the researchers created half a virtual mouse brain that had 8,000 neurons that had up to 6,300 synapses.

The vast complexity of the simulation meant that it was only run for ten seconds at a speed ten times slower than real life - the equivalent of one second in a real mouse brain.

On other smaller simulations the researchers said they had seen "biologically consistent dynamical properties" emerge as nerve impulses flowed through the virtual cortex.

In these other tests the team saw the groups of neurons form spontaneously into groups. They also saw nerves in the simulated synapses firing in a ways similar to the staggered, co-ordinated patterns seen in nature.

The researchers say that although the simulation shared some similarities with a mouse's mental make-up in terms of nerves and connections it lacked the structures seen in real mice brains.

Imposing such structures and getting the simulation to do useful work might be a much more difficult task than simply setting up the plumbing.

For future tests the team aims to speed up the simulation, make it more neurobiologically faithful, add structures seen in real mouse brains and make the responses of neurons and synapses more detailed.

Apr 28, 2007

CNLS Workshop on Algorithms, Inference & Statistical Physics

May 1-4, 2007
Bishop's Lodge Ranch, Resort and Spa
1297 Bishop' Lodge Road
Santa Fe, New Mexio 87501

What is CNLS?
The Center for Nonlinear Studies (CNLS) is part of the Laboratory's Theoretical Division, and it organizes research related to nonlinear and complex systems phenomena. CNLS was formed in October of 1980.

Workshop Topics:

  • New approaches to information transmission
  • Graphical models of statistical inference
  • Finite-length scaling in error-correcting codes
  • Distributed source coding
  • Average-case and predictive complexity
  • Message-passing algorithms
  • Replica symmetry
  • Ad hoc networks
  • Network Coding
  • Multi-objective optimization
[Editors note: According to a high level source inside LANL, CNLS actually stands for Center for Neurological Laboratory mouse Simulations. The source, who requested anonymity, said lab director Mike Anastasio was overheard Friday screaming "Damn those pesky Livermoreans and their half brained mouse simulations!" The source hinted that the true purpose of this weeks conference was to use Roadrunner to achieve a full mouse brain simulation by the 1st of June using any legal means necessary.]

Apr 27, 2007

Ex-submariner gets nuclear security job

WASHINGTON, April 27 (UPI) -- U.S. President George Bush has appointed a veteran submariner to a key national nuclear safety post.

Bill Ostendorff took the oath of office Friday as principal deputy administrator at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.

The NNSA has been under fire for alleged laxity in nuclear security at the Energy Department's Los Alamos Laboratory last year.

The NNSA said in a statement Friday that Ostendorff would "run the agency's daily operations, serve as NNSA's top technical adviser and provide leadership and direction to NNSA's senior staff. He will also be involved in NNSA's interaction with Congress and will implement policies to shape the future of NNSA."

"We welcome Bill to the Energy Department," said Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. "NNSA has a critical national security mission and it is important to have him on the job. He brings a tremendous amount of experience and expertise with him and I have full confidence that he will be a valuable member of our team."

The NNSA said that "previously, Ostendorff served as counsel and staff director for the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee."

"From 1999-2002, he served as director of the Division of Mathematics and Science at the United States Naval Academy," the agency said. "From 1998-1999, he commanded Submarine Squadron Six in Norfolk, Virginia. From 1996-1998, he was director of the Submarine Force Atlantic Prospective Commanding Officer School. He served on six submarines."

By operational law, the NNSA's principal deputy administrator becomes the acting administrator when the administrator's position is vacant. Therefore, Ostendorff will also assume the duties of the acting administrator of NNSA.

Study: What's the plan?

ROGER SNODGRASS Monitor Assistant Editor

Thursday's account reported on a newly released independent evaluation of the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program, the driver for a proposed transformation of the nuclear weapon complex. This concluding piece considers the panel's analysis about the long-range plan, known as Complex 2030.

Part two

There were more questions about the second part of the recently released assessment by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. That part had to do with the long-range plans for the nuclear weapons complex as a whole whose facilities include the three nuclear weapons laboratories along with a number of production and manufacturing sites under the supervision of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

While the study found it relatively easy to go along with NNSA's bid to create one Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW-1), at least far enough to obtain more details on what the short-term plan entailed, the panel found less assurance about the complications of a 25-year transition.

"There is no budgetary estimate, yet, for the transformation plan for NNSA," the report stated. Elsewhere, the panelists suggested that money might be made available by cannibalizing parts of the current program, but they weren't sure how much that would be.

Panel chair C. Bruce Tarter, a former director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory commented during a teleconference preceding the release of the study that "a lot of money" would be needed up front to rebuild the complex, while maintaining the existing inventory and refurbishing process.

Or, as the report puts it, "A key point is that, even with an RRW program, much of the legacy stockpile most likely will have to be sustained for decades."

And, adds the report, "Most important, the first RRW would be built essentially with the existing production complex."

It would take "a long time to see the benefits," Tarter said.


Specifically, the study found that the question of producing plutonium pits, for the replacement warheads should have the highest priority for future planning.

The question posed by the panelists was: How will NNSA accommodate a plan that can incorporate the benefits of the existing stockpile with the anticipated benefits of the RRW while at the same time modernizing the manufacturing process?

The question becomes more urgent considering that the current capacity for producing plutonium pits, the nuclear triggers on the warheads, at Los Alamos National Laboratory is significantly lower than the 100 pits required, and lead time for new pit production is 10 to 15 years.

NNSA commended the report in a press release Tuesday without a detailed response, but did note that NNSA and LANL will deliver the first production certified pit to the stockpile in nearly two decades.

Further complications arise because the Department of Defense, the customer is not just a single entity, but three - the Navy and Air Force that procure nuclear weapons from the Department of Energy and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which sets policies and guidelines. The specific needs and numbers each of them will require has yet to be meshed with the NNSA vision.

Some have detected a lack of interest from the military in taking on a major new nuclear project.

In an earlier report by the Congressional Research Service, Barry Hannah, chairman of the RRW coordinating group for the Navy stated that he was very happy with the life extension program under use with the existing weapon, known as the W-76. "I believe it meets the Navy's needs," he told the researcher, Jonathan Medalia.

This is the same warhead, used on the missiles carried by the Trident submarine, that the first RRW is designed to replace.

The report acknowledged that it had not considered other issues that have been broached concerning the short and long-range programs, including whether or not the RRW weapon could be called "new," which might then have important implications for international relations, particularly with the other signatories of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The treaty specifically proscribes new nuclear weapons.

"There is ambiguity," said Robert Selden, a former senior manager from Los Alamos National Laboratory, now retired, speaking about the report's assessment of Complex 2030. "It's probably too soon to know which path is riskier - going on as we have been or taking off on a new approach."

The new approach, he emphasized has the advantage of making the stockpile easier to maintain and making the manufacturing complex more efficient and enabling a significant reduction in the numbers of warheads that need to be kept in use.

National consensus

Finally, the report advised the Bush Administration on what it needed to do from a public relations perspective in order to establish a program that has enough bipartisan momentum that it can survive several administrations and several new Congresses over the next quarter of a century.

"We do not observe that basis has yet formed in the government," said Tarter.

Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, a frequent critic of the laboratory, commented on the report this week, agreeing that he did not see any consensus on nuclear weapons.

"Nuclear weapons will be a contested political terrain for the foreseeable future, in part because current policies are at odds with world opinion and the desires of most other states which have endorsed nuclear disarmament."

He said a workable compromise was possible, but that it involved "a downward glide path, toward a smaller and much less intrusive arsenal and much less investment."

He acknowledged that these were goals of the RRW and Complex 2030 program, but emphasized a distinction.

"NNSA already knows what the consensus looks like because they're using it in their public relations effort," he said. "The reality just needs to match the rhetoric."

[The first of this excellent two part series can be read here.]

ACA Logo

ACA E-Update


Transcript Now Available of ACA Briefing on the Future of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex and the Reliable Replacement Warhead

April 27, 2007

A transcript of ACA’s press briefing last week on the U.S. nuclear weapons complex and the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program is now online. The briefing featured remarks by nuclear weapon experts Sidney Drell and ACA board member Steve Fetter. Daryl G. Kimball, ACA executive director, also spoke at the event.

The purpose of the briefing was to evaluate the administration’s plans to transform the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, particularly the possible introduction of a new type of warhead called RRW. The administration contends that the RRW concept could lead to warheads that are more reliable, easier to maintain, and more secure against possible misuse. It further asserts RRW could be developed without a return to nuclear testing, which the United States halted in 1992.


Drell, Fetter, and Kimball pointed out that current warheads are safe and reliable and there is no technical requirement to build replacement warheads.

Before launching a program for new warheads, Drell argued that the United States first needed to determine the proper role and size of a future U.S. nuclear force. “We have to have a clear policy of where we’re going,” Drell said. He noted, “we don’t have that yet.”

Professor of physics emeritus at Stanford University, Drell said RRW was worth exploring but stated that it should not be developed unless there were sound technical answers to questions about whether it was needed and could accomplish everything the administration contends the program will.

Fetter, dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, further cautioned that the RRW program could lead to warheads with “birth defects,” increasing, rather than decreasing, pressure to renew nuclear testing. “No one can say whether the unreliabilities introduced by these birth defects would be greater or smaller than the unreliabilities that would crop up in the existing warheads due to their age,” said Fetter, who recently participated in a RRW program study conducted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

All three speakers warned that if the United States proceeded with the RRW program it would risk complicating global efforts to control the spread of nuclear weapons.

The full transcript of the briefing is at: http://www.armscontrol.org/events/20070419_transcript_rrw.asp.

For further information on the RRW program, please visit ACA’s U.S. nuclear weapons research and development resource site at http://www.armscontrol.org/subject/usnw/#weapons.

# # #

The Arms Control Association (ACA) is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting effective arms control policies. ACA publishes the monthly journal Arms Control Today.

Shave and haircut?

And plastic surgery?
An alert reader brought this photo to our attention. Who is that unmasked man? He looks familiar but we can't place him.

AP - Fri Apr 20, 11:27 AM ET
Michael Anastasio appears before the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee in Washington Friday, April 20, 2007, on mismanagement at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)

Documentary looks at controversial opera

Filmmaker explores memory in 'Wonders Are Many: The Making of Dr. Atomic'

By Judy Stone, Special to The Times

SAN FRANCISCO — It seemed to have everything. Plutonium and an opera chorus. Physics and poetry. Baudelaire and the Bhagavad-Gita. Babies born while the "father of the bomb" works on the ultimate destroyer of life.

For documentary filmmaker Jon Else the question was how to go behind — and beyond — the already amazing scenes of "Dr. Atomic," the haunting San Francisco Opera production about the device that forever will haunt the world?

It was a challenge Else had hoped for ever since he made "The Day After Trinity" in 1980, the documentary about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, N.M., during World War II. Else's new documentary "Wonders Are Many: The Making of Dr. Atomic" will open Saturday during the San Francisco International Film Festival's 50th anniversary. The documentary features the patrician, New England-born and bred, white-haired composer John Adams, an eminence with a self-deprecating sense of humor, and the opera's director Peter Sellars, an impish dynamo, full of passionate persuasion. On Sunday, after delivering his optimistic "State of the Cinema" address, Sellars will fly to Amsterdam to prepare the international premiere of "Dr. Atomic."

Else had been shooting a documentary on Alice Waters, owner of Berkeley's famed Chez Panisse restaurant, when he heard that an opera about the bomb was in preparation. "It took me all of three seconds to know what my next film would be. I got Adams' number and to my amazement he answered the phone. He knew who I was because he and Peter had seen 'The Day After Trinity' and were in the early stages of working on the libretto.

"We shared a lot of the same values about that astonishing moment in world history. We shared a belief that art can make a difference to culture and society and politics. We shared an interest in the moral conundrums and complexities of this story."

In particular, all three were fascinated by the baffling, erudite figure of Oppenheimer who named the test site Trinity, inspired by John Donne's poem whose words "Batter My Heart Three-Person'd God" reverberate throughout the opera. What particularly excited Else was their decision to make the centerpiece of Act 1 the secret meeting, organized by physicist Robert Wilson, to debate the use of the bomb over cities where thousands of people would die though the war was almost over.

In grappling with the disparate issues that emerged before the bomb was exploded on July 16, 1945, Else shifts scenes from the opera shop where the stage bomb is being made to choral rehearsals enlivened by Sellars' exhortations, to Adams worrying about how his notes will sound when sung, to Oppenheimer's bedroom where lead singer Gerald Finley is baffled by his mysterious erotic poetry lines, to the upsetting last-minute major cast change. Throughout, there are previously unseen glimpses of Oppenheimer, recently declassified footage on the bomb and the carnage in Japan.

Else, a lanky, humorous 63, first saw a lightning atomic flash at age 6 when his artist father took him into the backyard of their Sacramento home before dawn to observe the light from one of the bomb tests being conducted 300 miles away at the Nevada test site in the 1950s. That glow, he said, "must have lodged itself into my consciousness."

Else worked on voter registration in the 1960s civil rights movement and met Haskell Wexler, who was making a film on freedom riders. It was the first time Else realized that "people could make films about interesting things." While he studied film at Stanford University, he got a "wonderful" education processing negatives.

Opera was not on his agenda. Else had seen only one before he was 45. Later, planning a documentary on the San Francisco Opera's "Ring Cycle," he listened to a Wagner recording. His first reaction was unprintable. Since then, he has become a fan.

As for "Dr. Atomic," he said, "It's not for the chicken-hearted. It's real beefy opera. Part of it has some of the greatest music I've ever heard and parts were just not for me. Parts make you tear up. I warned my crew to stay focused and not to cry. Still, there were moments when the opera was just too strong for us and it broke through that professional shield we needed to stay focused."

Perhaps what remains in focus for the audience is the shot of Picasso's anti-war masterpiece "Guernica," followed by Sellars' moving talk to the chorus. Only silence is appropriate, he says, as they wait for the countdown to the explosion because "art is not up to such sheer horror." " 'In our century,' " he quotes Samuel Beckett, " 'some things must remain unspeakable.' "

Apr 26, 2007

Panel: Case yet to be made for Minuteman missile replacement

Associated Press writer Thursday, April 26, 2007

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration has yet to make the case for building a new generation of replacement warheads and "the role of nuclear weapons" in a post-Cold War, post-9/11 world, a panel of nuclear weapons experts said Tuesday.

Development of the new warhead, the first in two decades, could have "international impacts" if critics view it as a new weapon rather than a replacement for the current aging stockpile, said the scientists, including three former directors of the government's nuclear weapons research laboratories.

Wyoming is among the states that house the current fleet of Minuteman III long-range nuclear missiles.

Some countries could see the warhead "as contrary to both the spirit and letter" of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty "unless explicit and credible efforts to counter such assertions are made," said the panel, which was convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to study the warhead plan.

The scientists also said in a report that it is impossible to estimate the cost of warhead modernization plan, or assure that Energy Department claims of cost savings will ever be achieved. Proponents of the program may be "overselling" the eventual benefits, the report said.

Thomas D'Agostino, head of the department's National Nuclear Security Administration, which is spearheading the warhead project, called the report "a valuable contribution" to the discussion. He said the recommendations were "consistent" with the agency's plans to move forward.

While the report raised some concerns, D'Agostino noted that it also concluded that development of the warhead "could be a prudent hedge" against the uncertainties of an aging weapons stockpile. He said NNSA will closely review the report's recommendations

The administration argues the new warhead is needed because of concerns about maintenance and future reliability of the existing warheads in an era of no underground nuclear testing. It would be designed to be more robust, more easily maintained and include improved safeguards to prevent potential use by terrorists, its proponents maintain. They also said it may allow future reduction of the number of warheads needed in reserve.

Reaction in Congress to the administration's proposed Reliable Replacement Warhead, or RRW, has ranged from skepticism to sharp opposition in recent weeks. The administration is asking for $89 million to proceed with a design plan and draw up a detailed cost estimate over the next year.

Democrats and Republicans on the House appropriations subcommittee that funds nuclear weapons activity have questioned the need for the warhead, its impact on nuclear proliferation, and whether to proceed at a time when the Energy Department also is undertaking a broad consolidation of its nuclear weapons activities.

Last week, New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici, the senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees nuclear weapons programs and a strong supporter of the RRW program, complained that the White House, State Department and Pentagon must "take a more active role" to sell the modernization and "answer critics who says the RRW will lead to an arms race."

The panel of scientists said the Bush administration has failed to "clearly lay out the role of nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War, post-9/11 world that makes the case for and define future stockpile needs that argue the case for the RRW," said the report.

Without such an assessment, the report said, it will be difficult to attain broad bipartisan support for the new warhead program to be undertaken over several decades, or to counter critics' claims that it sends the wrong signal to other countries seeking nuclear weapons.

The private panel was chaired by Bruce Tarter, former director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It's members included two other former directors of the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos weapons labs, senior weapons scientists, former Energy Department officials and university experts.

The Energy Department last month announced that weapons engineers at Lawrence Livermore in California would develop a design for the new warhead and detailed cost estimates. An interagency nuclear weapons council gave the go-ahead in December to proceed with planning for a new warhead to replace the current warhead on the submarine-based Trident missiles. Replacements for other warheads in the nuclear stockpile would be developed later.

D'Agostino told a congressional panel last month that the new warhead would reduce nuclear proliferation concerns because it would further reduce the total number of warheads kept in reserve and not require underground tests.

Under a treaty with Russia, the United States has agreed to reduce the number of deployed warheads in active status to between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012. Another roughly 4,000 warheads are believed to be in reserved, although the exact number is classified.

Study: In for another card

Panel calls new generation of warheads a prudent hedge

The first of this two-part series examines a newly released independent evaluation of the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program. The second part will summarize the panel's concerns about the larger proposal, known as Complex 2030, of which the RRW is considered "the enabler."
ROGER SNODGRASS Monitor Assistant Editor

As the debate over the future of nuclear weapons enters the rapids of the new Congress, a report by the American Association for the Advancement of Science has provided competing viewpoints with plenty of fodder.
"Panel says case not made for new warhead," read the headline for a story earlier this week by Associated Press writer H. Josef Hebert, the pre-eminent Washington national security reporter.

When the study was released Tuesday, the nation's nuclear weapons chief Thomas D'Agostino "commended" the work and found it consistent with the National Nuclear Security Administration's plans to move forward with RRW.
"Listeners hear what they want to hear," said Robert Selden, the first director of National Security at Los Alamos National Laboratory, now retired, who was a member of the AAAS study panel. "Reporters looking for something negative are surely going to find it."

Selden was one of 13 members of a panel that drew largely upon veterans of the defense and nuclear weapons complex, but also included university professors and science policy experts.
Selden said the report was complex but that his take on it was that it is very positive.

"At the bottom line, it is positive about the prospects for RRW, as long as really good programs can be put in place to accomplish the goals that the RRW people have laid out," he said.

The program's goals include reducing some of the perceived risks of the current stockpile stewardship program, increasing performance margins and maintenance and manufacturing efficiencies.

In a teleconference just before the report was released on Capitol Hill, C. Bruce Tarter, director emeritus of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and chairman of the panel, summed up its conclusions as cautiously positive on the RRW going another step forward.

"The view is that if we were in charge of the program or Congress, to use another metaphor, we would see another card." He said the panel thinks the project is "doable," but they would like to see what the numbers are that come out a proposed next phase of the engineering studies and costs estimates.

On March 2, NNSA completed an earlier phase when it announced that Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory had been named the lead designer for the first RRW warhead in a competition with Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Greg Mello, executive director of the watchdog Los Alamos Study Group, said the most important parts of the report are the ones that flag elements of the RRW that the panel found doubtful.

"They were not impressed by the safety, security or cost benefits of the RRW, which have been some of the strongest selling points of the concept," Mello said. He called it a "both-and" type of program, because the report would require supporting both the new experimental warheads and the existing stockpile made up of legacy and refurbished warheads.

"Substantial caution is appropriate," the report stated as an introduction to the panel's first finding, that the RRW concept "could lead to a final selected design that is certifiable without a nuclear test."

These are two primary objectives for the weapon's concept, although the question of testing has also divided the ranks of supporters.

Some have argued that an untested weapon, compared to the current stockpile of weapons that are based on tests, would not be dependable enough for military use.

At the same time, the panel recommended that the first product of the program should undergo as rigorous a certification and demonstration process as any weapon in the current stockpile and "should incorporate other features that explicitly deal with the "untested" nature of the proposed warhead. They also call for an evaluation more independent and intensive than the traditional inter-laboratory peer review.

Apr 25, 2007

Spirit of open government addressed at workshop

CAROL A. CLARK Monitor Senior Reporter

History, law and the spirit of open government were detailed during a workshop Tuesday hosted by specialists from the Attorney General's Office and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NMFOG).

"This is an important issue to me," Attorney General Gary King told the crowd of some 40 people assembled in the Student Lecture Center on the UNM-Los Alamos campus.

"If you're an elected official and you're concerned about how something would look or how the public would perceive something - that's a good thing," King said. "I always thought before voting on something in the legislature - 'What would my mother think?'"

King said when his office receives a complaint, it sends an inquiry to the government agency requesting their side of the issue. He advised audience members to remember that when accessibility of open records is delayed, that can actually be accessibility denied.

King has been in office some four months. He is attempting to host these educational workshops throughout the state each month.

King is a member of the State Records and Archives Board. He said they are working on a policy right now as to when an e-mail is public record.

The AG's office distributed compliance guides relating to both open meetings and inspection of public records.

NMFOG Executive Director Robert Johnson presented an historical perspective of the Sunshine Act.

He described King as a "big-time supporter" of open government.

"We're here to talk about how to keep government open to the public," Johnson said. He said people may think that the founding fathers gave open government to the country through the Constitution and the First Amendment.

"What the founding fathers really gave us were the tools we need to cultivate open government," he said.

Johnson added that openness in government requires constant work and cultivation and referred to comments by former New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Gene Franchini during his keynote speech at a NMFOG banquet.

"Secrecy in a Democratic society is the antithesis to all that a representative democracy stands for," Franchini said. "It keeps the people in the dark and destroys any opportunity they have to speak out for or against any governmental action. When access to governmental activity is denied or restricted in any way and access to the opportunity to observe that activity is stopped - democracy dies."

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have brought new threats to open government, Johnson said. "Now we have what is commonly called the PATRIOT Act," he said. "Actually, the PATRIOT Act has very little to do with patriotism."

Johnson explained that some of the provisions of the act were written to sunset in 1995, but a compromise between the House and Senate left the Patriot Act with only minor changes.

"The FBI can still search medical, library, school and other records without a judicial warrant," he said. "And it can still conduct so-called 'sneak and peak searches' - searching your home or office without notifying you."

Federal alarms about terrorism have spilled into many state governments, including New Mexico, he said, adding that the New Mexico Legislature passed state homeland security laws in 2003 that were drafted by a working group of an assistant attorney general as well as lawyers from the state health department and the Department of Public Safety.

Their first drafts were so broad that they could have been used to close almost any record, could have been used to declare a medical emergency and quarantine people without a hearing and could even have been used to conceal the location of emergency shelters and clinics where people would be told to go in case of a terrorist attack, he said.

NMFOG later assisted the working group, at their request, to reduce a proposed amendment to the Inspection of Public Records Act from 250 all-encompassing words to 50 words limited to protecting tactical plans for countering terrorist attacks.

The draft dealing with health emergencies was tightened to include protection for the civil rights of people quarantined or isolated, with guaranteed access to lawyers, spiritual advisors, family members and the media.

"I think all of us should look with skepticism at efforts to amend the Constitution by executive order or statute and shut down civil rights," Johnson said.

He told of a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati who, a few years ago ruled that the press and public have a constitutional right to watch deportation hearings for people detained as a result of the 9-11 attacks.

"Chief Judge Damon J. Keith wrote the court's opinion," Johnson said. "He put it simply and clearly - 'Democracies die behind closed doors.'"

While open government has moved mostly forward over the years, it has not been without struggles, he said. In the summer of 2000, NMFOG, the New Mexico Press Association and the Associated Press cooperated in an audit of public records in New Mexico.

"We found that records were improperly denied about 30 percent of the time - nearly one third of the time - throughout the state," he said.

"Keeping government open requires multiple efforts," Johnson said. "Much of what we have accomplished has been through the efforts of an informal coalition that includes the Attorney General's Office, the New Mexico Press Association, Common Cause, the Association of Counties, the ACLU and from time to time, the Municipal League."

The mutual goal, Johnson said, is to keep government open to the people.

[Visit the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NMFOG.org) website]

Amid contractor’s strike at nuclear plant, lawmakers eye federalizing security guards

By Jessica Holzer, TheHill.com
April 26, 2007

Amid a strike by the contract security guards at the country’s only nuclear-weapons assembly plant, House staffers are drafting legislation to federalize the force protecting highest-security sites that make or store nuclear materials.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), the chairman of the investigations panel of the House energy committee, said he aims to attach the legislation to the defense authorization next month, setting up a clash with the Department of Energy (DoE), which is opposed to transforming the force into one of federal workers.

Nearly 550 guards at the Pantex plant in Amarillo, Texas, walked off the job earlier this month, protesting a reduction in retirement security that came just as more stringent fitness standards were putting older guards out of work.

By federalizing the heavily armed forces guarding such high-risk sites, DoE would be able to implement human-resources policies better suited to the heightened security levels since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Stupak argued.

“We ask them to protect our most dangerous, most secretive weapons and yet we treat them like they’re third-class citizens,” he said.

The guards protecting “category 1” nuclear sites, such as the Los Alamos, Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories, long have been employed by a patchwork of private companies offering varying benefits and pay. The Pantex guards work for BWX Technologies.

A 2004 report from a DoE task force recommended federalizing the guards as the best way of transforming them into an “elite protective force” capable of repelling the most aggressive attacks from armed terrorists.

“In principle, the best long-term organizational foundation for achieving the secretary’s objective is the conversion of existing contractor protective forces to federal status,” the former administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), Linton F. Brooks, wrote to a former deputy energy secretary, Kyle McSlarrow. NNSA is the DoE agency charged with overseeing category 1 nuclear sites.

In January 2005, McSlarrow endorsed the report’s findings and ordered that its recommendations be implemented. The department later abandoned the idea, despite the conclusions of previous analyses, noted in the report, that federalizing the workers would not increase costs.

In a recent meeting with House staffers, NNSA officials said they believed that federalizing the protective force would result in lower pay for the guards and therefore would be unpopular.

Asked for the DoE’s view on the issue, a department spokesman Wednesday said: “We have taken a look at this issue in the past in a number of studies. The department’s protective force structure, coupled with our security policy initiatives, are providing heightened levels of protection for our facilities that hold our sensitive national assets in the current threat environment.”

Critics of contracting the security at the facilities cite the potential for work stoppages due to labor disputes and argue that contractors’ drive to increase profits could lead them to cut corners on security.

The guards themselves are trying to federalize, believing that they would gain better retirement security and greater freedom to move into less strenuous positions as they age. They have cited frustration over what they call a steep decline in security standards due to contractor mismanagement.

“Once that’s exposed, the people that have allowed those security degradations to take place should be held accountable,” said Mike Stumbo, a Pantex guard and the head of the council of unions that represent the DoE protective forces.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked the DoE inspector general to investigate the plant late last year after employees sent a letter complaining of lax security standards and poor working conditions. The senator also sent a request to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) last year asking analysts to review the cost of federalizing the protective forces. A spokesman from the lawmaker’s office said Grassley was not planning to introduce legislation.

Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee staff has contacted the GAO on the issue in recent weeks, though it has made no formal request for information. And a staffer from the House Energy Committee said several lawmakers on the House Armed Services panel have expressed interest in Stupak’s legislation.
Federalizing the protective force would be a complex task, both legally and administratively, but Stupak argued that it was a crucial step for shoring up the security of nuclear sites.

“I just don’t think you get the dedicated employees when it’s privatized,” he said. “They see it as a dead-end job, not rewarded or appreciated.”

Experts: Policy first, then weapons

Wisdom of new bombs cannot be speculated on until goals are defined, science association says
By Ian Hoffman, STAFF WRITER
Article Last Updated: 04/25/2007 02:51:27 AM PDT

The United States needs to decide the purpose and size of its nuclear arsenal before embarking on a plan for rebuilding its warheads and the factories that maintain them, a panel of nuclear weapons experts said Tuesday.

Those experts concluded that U.S. hydrogen bomb designers at Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos labs can, in theory, devise replacement warheads without nuclear testing, but the experts said a lack of essential cost, engineering and scheduling details made it impossible to decide whether pursuing the new warheads is more desirable than maintaining existing bombs.

The administration's multibillion-dollar plan for the new bombs and factories is faltering in Congress, and the panel of weapons officials assembled by the American Association for the Advancement of Science suggested in its report Tuesday that the plan's prospects are bleak without higher-level decisions from the White House and Pentagon.

"There really is no policy," said former Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory director Bruce Tarter, chairman of the AAAS panel that studied plans for the new replacement warheads. "That policy framework really is important if you're going to make this big of a change."

So far, the panel concluded, the president and his cabinet have not made any statements on "the role of nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War, post-9/11 world that make the case for, and define, future stockpile needs."

That assessment adds the influential voices of several former nuclear weapons lab directors and Energy Department weapons officials to fresh calls for a high-level U.S. review of what its nuclear weapons are for, how many it needs and whether new kinds of bombs are needed, such as bunker busters or enhanced radiation weapons.

"This reflects the mood of a growing number of defense and foreign policy leaders who understand that the nuclear posture is still a Cold War policy," said Daryl Kimball, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Arms Control Association.

Gen. James Cartwright, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, as well as former defense secretary William Perry and former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, have called for such a national nuclear policy debate. Whatever course is selected, the AAAS' experts concluded, building replacement bombs and new factories will be costly and span decades. The policy will need bipartisan support across several presidential administrations and congresses, and must balance weapons needs with arms-control needs, the panel said.

But not everyone agrees that such a revamp of U.S. policy is necessary before pursuing the new bombs. Former Livermore director Johnny Foster, one of the nation's first designers, dissented from the AAAS report, saying the new "reliable replacement warheads," or RRWs, ought not to be "held hostage to the resolution of domestic and international political nuclear weapons issues."

For now, the RRW program is limited to one project, the design of a replacement for the W76 warhead riding on U.S. submarine-launched missiles, Foster said.

"I don't think starting that very modest program is something you should call on the president to speak up about," Foster said.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamos, is chair of a House strategic forces subcommittee and represents a district that includes Livermore and Sandia National Laboratories, California, the two labs working on the first RRW design.

She said the panel's report reflected her desire that "clear policy objectives must be outlined so the program can move forward."

Several Republicans in Congress have called on the White House and Pentagon to get more involved in weapons policy. Last week, Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., the ranking Senate appropriator on weapons matters, wrote Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, saying "your voice must be heard."

"You must answer critics who have argued that the RRW will lead to an arms race," Domenici wrote.

He also suggested that the new warheads could be linked with reconsideration of the administration's opposition to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, an idea that Tauscher raised last winter.

The senator's letter is a measure of the difficulty that the new warheads plan faces in Congress, said Kimball of the Arms Control Association.

"It's a cry for help: 'The administration needs to do a better job of selling this program on the Hill,'" he said.

The likelihood of a full-scale nuclear policy review before the end of President Bush's term is waning. The review requires key cost and scheduling figures being developed by Livermore scientists, plus outside reviews of their warhead designs — something that could last beyond the president's last budget request and put future U.S. nuclear policy before the next administration.

"I think it will be a major decision for the next president, assuming Congress maintains the program, to decide what to do," said Tarter.

Contact Ian Hoffman at ihoffman@angnewspapers.com or (510) 208-6458.

[Would somebody please let Heather Wilson know that Sandia has been moved to Ellen Tauscher's district.]

Nuclear arms report puts Bush in bind

Scientists' study suggests U.S. policy, goals must be clear

James Sterngold, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Both supporters and opponents of the Bush administration's effort to restart nuclear weapons production agreed that a highly critical report released Tuesday puts pressure on the White House to launch a political offensive to rescue the program or risk seeing it collapse.

The report was produced by a high-level panel of weapons experts for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, including three former directors of the weapons design laboratories -- two of those from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory -- and so its skeptical tone surprised some experts.

The Bush administration has been arguing that the nation's Cold War-era nuclear warheads are aging and a new generation of warheads should be produced, known as Reliable Replacement Warheads, or RRW. The administration has argued that the RRW program would allow it to slash the size of the stockpile while still ensuring security and cutting costs.

But the report concluded that the new warhead program may never achieve the cost savings claimed by the White House, that the supposed safety and reliability improvements are unlikely to be realized until later generations of the weapons are developed, and that any U.S. effort to restart nuclear bomb production -- which was halted after the Cold War -- could provoke an international arms race.

One of the report's sharpest criticisms was that the Bush administration is pushing the new warhead program without having detailed a new strategy for how the weapons would be used or providing a rationale for maintaining a large nuclear weapons stockpile. It also noted that the military has not insisted on the Reliable Replacement Warheads program.

Since issuing a broad statement on policy in 2001, "there have been no presidential or Cabinet-level administration statements dealing with nuclear weapons," the report says. "In particular, there have been no 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."

Some lawmakers and weapons experts said that without such a clear policy from the Bush administration it would be hard to gain public and, more critically, congressional support for the multibillion-dollar program, which is likely to take decades.

"Without an overall strategy for nuclear weapons, and whether or not they still have a place in the U.S. arsenal, you are not going to be able to gain the necessary support," said Phil Coyle, an Advancement of Science panel member and a former senior official at the Pentagon and at Livermore, who is now a senior adviser at the Center for Defense Information.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek, who chairs the House subcommittee on strategic forces, generally supports the Reliable Replacement Warheads program, as long as the old weapons are maintained properly until the new production begins. In a statement Tuesday, she said the report added emphasis to the need for the White House to provide clearer and more vocal support for the program.

"If RRW is going to move forward and we are to realize the program's real potential, its risks must be identified and clear policy objectives must be outlined," Tauscher said.

Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., chairman of the House subcommittee that controls nuclear weapons spending, suggested that funding for the program should not proceed until the White House has made its case for the new generation of nuclear weapons.

"I believe it is crucial to have a comprehensive defense strategy that defines the future mission, emerging threats, and the specific U.S. nuclear stockpile necessary before proceeding with the RRW," said Visclosky, who has expressed misgivings about the rationale for the program.

The government's key nuclear weapons agency responded by saying that the report appears to support modernizing the country's nuclear arsenal, and signaled that it intends to move forward.

Thomas D'Agostino, acting head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the weapons complex, said, "Several of the AAAS report's recommendations reaffirm our ongoing plans to study the RRW concept and move forward with our modernization and transformation efforts, which will lead to smaller, more efficient and more secure nuclear weapons facilities."

Several panel members have said that the report was supposed to have been released earlier this year, but it was held up by internal infighting over how critical it would be of the Reliable Replacement Warheads program. The dispute was evident in notes that two members of the panel added to the report.

One "personal comment" was by John Foster, a former director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who said the report focused too much on problems in the RRW program and not enough on the risks of trying to maintain the current weapons stockpile.

The other note, by Charles Curtis, a former senior Energy Department official, said he opposes any further work on the RRW program because it could be perceived as overly aggressive by other countries and spur an arms race.

E-mail James Sterngold at Jsterngold@sfchronicle.com.