May 27, 2007

Congress kills funds for new warheads

By Ian Hoffman, STAFF WRITER
Article Last Updated: 05/26/2007 02:56:40 AM PDT

In several recent moves, Congress has dealt blows to two cornerstones of the Bush administration's nuclear-weapons policy: a new nuclear arsenal and a multibillion dollar factory to build it. In effect, it blocked those projects until President Bush has left office.

A key Senate defense committee Friday killed all funding for the new bomb plant, as well as a third of the money for the first in a planned series of "reliable, replacement warheads" meant to replace thousands of existing bombs dating from the Cold War.

The Senate Armed Services Committee echoed its House counterpart and said weapons designers working on the new warhead at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory cannot go beyond conceptualdesign and cost studies to engineering a prototype bomb.

That consensus between the Senate and House defense committees doesn't end work on the new warhead, but it does mean the most important elements of Bush administration policy are unlikely to move beyond paper studies before a new president takes office.

The Senate appropriations committee has yet to weigh in on nuclear weapons matters this year, and both chambers still must iron out differences. But the legislation passed so far strongly suggests that the latest administration policy on weapons is headed for deferral to a new president, if not defeat.

"I think they're not going to be able to begin, much less complete, the nuclear agenda that they came in with," said Christopher Paine, senior nuclear weapons analyst for the Washington, D.C.-based Natural Resources Defense Council, a group favoring arms control. "Their most dangerous nuclear arms initiatives have been averted by Congress."

House and Senate lawmakers differ somewhat on who should decide the next step in U.S. nuclear policy. U.S. Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D.-Walnut Creek, who chairs a House committee on strategic forces, wants to name a high-level commission to decide what U.S. nuclear strategy should be and how many weapons it needs. Her counterparts in the Senate would pass the matter directly to the next president, in a request for a more traditional nuclear posture review.

The Bush administration conducted such a review in 2001, and the final version called for de-emphasizing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense.

Classified portions of the review that were leaked, however, called for designing new nuclear weapons, including earth-penetrating "bunker busters," and expanding the traditional deterrence role for U.S. nuclear arms to include attacking targets in less than a full nuclear war. Administration officials talked of extremely low-yield nuclear weapons and more exotic devices, such as electromagnetic pulse weapons. The 2001 Nuclear Posture Review also called for contingency strike plans against Iran, North Korea, China and other countries, including several without nuclear arms.

Congress funded programs to explore the new bombs for the next three years, although with growing opposition. Critics argued pursuit of new nuclear weapons by the world's greatest military power made it harder for the United States and its allies to dissuade other nations from building nuclear arsenals of their own.

"The Bush administration's proposals met at first with skepticism and on closer examination, outright opposition," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a nonpartisan group of diplomats, scientists and policy experts.

"Lots of nonproliferation and arms-control efforts have been used up just blunting these bad administration policies, while the U.S. has lost valuable time and credibility abroad," Paine said.

Starting in 2004, Congress began turning back almost every major proposal from the administration for new weapons designs or new weapons manufacturing facilities. Key lawmakers began calling for a broad debate about what U.S. nuclear weapons are for and what size arsenal is required.

The latest evolution of administration policy called not for militarily new bomb designs but for cheaper, hardier replacements for each type of Cold War-era warheads and bombs in the arsenal. The new "reliable, replacement warheads," or RRWs, would be simpler, last longer and be harder for terrorists to detonate if they stole one.

And breaking with long tradition, the new bombs never would be tested live. If successful, weapons scientists and administration officials said, the new warheads could allow for a smaller arsenal, with fewer bombs held in reserve against some unknown failure.

But the moves in Congress so far this year suggest lawmakers are taking a go-slow approach, noting the lack of evidence that anything is wrong with the existing bombs and warheads that would warrant a new multi-billion-dollar bomb program.

"I would call it the beginning of the end of the RRW," said Kimball of the Arms Control Association. "At a minimum, the next administration is going to decide whether some form of RRW is pursued or whether we pursue the existing strategy, which has been working quite well, to maintain the stockpile."

Contact Ian Hoffman at or (510) 208-6458.


Anonymous said...

So let me get this right. While the rest of the world and many terrorist countries are gearing up for a nuclear confrontation, we, the good old USA is going to tuck their tails between their legs, bend over and talk it like a bunch of idiots. Well that tells me what brand of politicians we have running the country. I am voting Republican.

Well LLNL, you only have one big project that is keeping most everyone employed and afloat up there, and that would be NIF. With NIF to take a $108 M cut this year and most of the procurements completed whereby they are going into the assembly mode, I would say that there is not enough employment for the 8000 people you have. So what are you going to do now? Can you say 25% cut in work force is needed immediately if not shortly after LANS,LLC takes over in Oct.

I wonder how long it will before congress catches on to this project spending too, and also cuts the funding off at the knees. What congress isn't aware of is what the actually cost of doing experiments on this machine is going to be nor the cost of the man power it will take to keep all 192 beams up and operational. Wait until that leaks to congress. My question is, who in the heck is going to pay for the daily operational cost of this machine if all of the funding in 2013 are supposed to come from outside resources?

Anonymous said...

You idiot all that was asked for was a nuclear startegy plan from the morons in the executive branch. I think that is a reasonable expectation prior to funding a new nuke.

I agree that the new weapon is worth developing, but a statement of need should be published first.

Anonymous said...

duh...guess I am the idiot to ;-)

that is strategy not staRTegy.

Anonymous said...

For all of you (I am only employed at LANL to pay the mortagege types)
the Gravey Train is coming to an end , you may have to get a real job,:meet deadlines,produce something , come in under budget, kinda like the rest of the world....what do you think of that!

Anonymous said...

I think with about half the Lab forecast on indirect codes, the LANS cost structure looks good. Would be interesting to see what the cost structure will be at LLNS.

Anonymous said...

OK, so let me see if I read this correctly, we're going to leave it up to Hillary or Obama to decide.

Is Google hiring?

Anonymous said...

"you may have to get a real job,:meet deadlines,produce something , come in under budget, kinda like the rest of the world....what do you think of that!"

I think a lot of people are going to leave either voluntarily or involuntarily for many reason and one is exactly for the reason you have stated. They are not use to doing things logically, on time or efficiently.

For me what's been most disheartening is having watched the transition of two national labs sold to the public as a cost savings and promised efficiency put under the same management umbrella. My conclusion is that this transition was for the sole purpose of shafted as many UC employees as they could over the age of 50 in order to liberate themselves from any current and future liabilities and to assure that the pay out from UCRP was brought to a minimal by forcing as many people into TCP-1 knowing that if it fails those people will only get .66 cents on the dollar, whereas if they would have stayed in UCRP they would have gotten 100% of what was due. If there are facts to dispute my assumptions please state them on this blog with factual information about why TCP-1 is so much more better then TCP-2

Anonymous said...

Is this any way to treat the world's best and brightest? True...we don't need new and better nukes, but how the hell do you expect me to retire in comfort unless we keep fleecing the taxpayer? And hard as it may be for my fellow butt-head colleagues to believe, I do still work at the Lab. It's just that I'm fed up with game we keep playing just to keep the money train coming our way. As brilliant as I am in my field, I can't shake the fear of having to leave Los Alamos to feed my family.

Anonymous said...

How many of you could really make a living in the real world? Some of us are sooo smart that we probally couldn't survive away for the Gray Train...why do you think we are still here , walking around on egg shells and kissing any ass thats available...what a life...

Anonymous said...

"5/27/07 12:33 PM asked a question and it seems that no one can answer the question. Did 90% of you take TCP-1 because you looked at the take home pay at age sixty and since it was greater you said, "that's it", TCP-1 is for me because the government would never let me down"
Why is TCP-1 so much more better then TCP-2 when financial advisors told you differently?

Anonymous said...

LANS must be filling spots for those that leave fairly quickly. There are more LANS FTEs planned for the remainder of the FY than the actual avg for the first 7 mos of the FY (excluding students and Staff Aug). There is a suspect drop in Sept that could be an error, which would make the remaining total even higher.

Anonymous said...

3:12 Could you please clarify your post? Are you saying that there will be more hires in the next few months than the average hiring of the past? If so put down the Kool Aid, and take a sip of reality....

Anonymous said...

4:56, no, I am not saying that. The comment is based on estimates.

A cursory look at estimates vs actuals indicates the estimates tend to be higher than the actuals, which would indicate a net decrease. I look at the figures somewhat at random when I get an occasional inquiry about jobs at LANL. No particular interest other than seeing how the total workforce is changing over time.

There has been a net loss of about 115 LANS Regular/LT since the beginning of the FY thru 3/07, and a net gain of about 10 postdocs. Hardly earthshaking, no?

Anonymous said...

Dear Congresspersons, do any of you remember the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review? THERE's your nuclear weapons strategy. Now can we please get back to work?