Apr 5, 2007

New U.S. Warhead Design Selected

Wade Boese

After months of delay, U.S. officials announced recently that a team led by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory won the first design competition in roughly two decades for a new nuclear warhead. The news received a tepid greeting from U.S. lawmakers, who will need to fund the design if it is ever to be built.

The competition's origins date back to 2004 when Congress allocated $9 million to explore making existing nuclear warheads last longer without diminishing their explosive power. This Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program soon morphed into a more ambitious effort to produce new warheads that ostensibly would be safer, more reliable, and easier to maintain than the nine types populating the current stockpile of approximately 10,000 nuclear warheads. In early 2006, Livermore in California and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico submitted competing designs for the inaugural RRW warhead.

The Department of Energy's semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which runs the nuclear weapons complex, recently reported to Congress that existing warheads are safe and reliable. The agency, however, also says that small maintenance changes made to the explosive devices might someday corrupt them. Almost all the warheads are more than 20 years old, but recent studies found that the plutonium core of the warheads will last at least 85 years without degrading performance. (See ACT, January/February 2007.)

[Read the full article here.]


We know this isn't exactly news to LANL blog readers, but we are so impressed with Wade's style we couldn't resist posting it.

Pinky and The Brain


Anonymous said...

Old news is good news...

Anonymous said...

PATB, it's great to have you in the neighborhood. Readers may be interested to know that Mikey received a $20K raise in Feb07. We're talking base-building, not bonus pay. Perhaps this is LANS's way of congratulating him on a job well done on RRW. Integrate... consolidate...

Dr. Strangelove said...

I hated to see the RRW project go to LLNL, as I prefer our approach and design over theirs.

More than that, I hated to know that it was all decided in a smoke-filled back room or under a table or on the golf-course, or maybe on a duck-hunting expedition (where some of us apparently like to shoot our friends in the face).

I liked the idea of developing a new, more reliable warhead over trying to second-guess the reliability of the ones we designed and developed, mostly over 20 years ago.

It also seemed like a good opportunity to revisit how many of those nasty buggers we really needed in our arsenal.

More than that, I liked what Joe Martz (private citizen) had to say about RRW as a route to disarmament. It is far from perfect, but it makes sense to "de-escalate" an arms-race against nobody.

Does LLNL have a Joe Martz to speak up about such things? I doubt it.

Brad Lee Holian said...

I've talked personally, and in considerable depth about RRW and the Lab and life in general, with both Martz and Pedicini. They are honorable men, and I, too, have my sincere doubts about Livermore bomb designers. Politically, Martz and I are somewhat closer to the old Oppenheimer school, but Pedicini and I share some Libertarian attitudes, even though he claims that we are WAY far apart politically. I like to think of politics as a circle, and sometimes people like Pedicini and I back up slowly and ... run into each other's ass, having passed as far as we can get from Stalin and Hitler (who also bumped into each other's ass, as you can recall from your history books).

I suspect that the good Doctor and Joe and I ... and even guys like John, who use their "Right" brains in patriotic defense of our country, could have a civil beer together. And for this reason, and the fact that Doug Roberts and I have drunk many a beer together, I am not so completely pessimistic that there are still some people at LANL who are not, as Pat, the Dog called them, "sheeple." -Though I still carry about in my mind the "1984" image of the LANL staff posted by Pat on the intermediate blog.


P.S. Doc: You can identify yourself to me; I am an old LANL guy who knows how to keep a secret. The prize is that I'll buy you a good beer -- no Bud Lite.