May 24, 2007

Setback for warheads policy

House panel says it won't fund new nuclear weapons

James Sterngold, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, May 24, 2007

In a surprising rejection of the Bush administration's nuclear weapons policy, a House appropriations subcommittee said Wednesday that it would refuse to fund a program to manufacture new warheads designed by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The announcement by the subcommittee marks just the first step in a long legislative process that could still keep the new weapons program alive, but it provided a stark indication of deep resistance to the policy in Congress.

"This is a reflection of the concern that many of us have about the posturing of the administration" regarding its nuclear weapons policy, said Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek.

Tauscher is chairwoman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, which has supported providing a low level of funding for the new program, but only after the creation of a commission that would examine the country's nuclear weapons needs into the future.

The Livermore weapons lab won the initial competition to design the new warhead earlier this year, and officials had said the lab was preparing to move ahead with more detailed design work. A lab spokesman said Wednesday that Livermore is not giving up hope yet and will work with Congress to obtain the needed funding.

"There will be at least four committees with recommendations on this subject, and we will work with all of them," said lab spokesman David Schwoegler.

For several years, the Bush administration has received a low level of funding to do the initial design work on what is being called the Reliable Replacement Warhead program, or RRW.

The administration has argued that the current weapons stockpile, developed during the Cold War, is aging and should be replaced over time with weapons that are safer and more reliable. Opponents of the program have argued that the current weapons will last for decades, and that the country ought to be slowly reducing the stockpile to fight weapons proliferation.

The administration was seeking a little more than $100 million in funding for the program next year. But the chairman of the House energy and water appropriations subcommittee, Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., issued a harsh rebuke, saying he will fight any funding until the administration offers a clear strategy justifying the need for new weapons.

"Until progress is made on this critical issue, there will be no new facilities or a Reliable Replacement Warhead," Visclosky said. "Only when a future nuclear weapons strategy is established can the Department of Energy determine the requirements for the future nuclear weapons stockpile and nuclear weapons complex plan."

Experts described the action as a sign that the program is in real trouble.

"This represents the most significant repudiation of the administration's plan," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, which supports reducing the size of the stockpile. "This may mark the beginning of the end of the plan to build a new generation of nuclear weapons."

The plan's supporters made it clear that the battle will now just move to the full House and then the Senate.

"It is still early in the congressional process, and this is just one of several committees we work with," said Bryan Wilkes, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the weapons complex.

Tauscher said the key at this point will be what level of funding the Senate provides, if any, which would then require a compromise with the House.

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

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Experts described the action as a sign that the program is in real trouble."

Workers at the weapon labs who are hoping that RRW is going to be a means to a secure employment future are in deep denial. The only part of Complex 2030 that we'll see in the next few years will be a small plutonium pit factory which will be sited at LANL.

It's imperative that LANL move to quickly start working in other areas outside of nuclear weapons (i.e., national security). We need to be more like SNL, where over 50% of the funded work doesn't even involve NNSA.

NNSA is a loser. You don't want your major work effort to depend on this broken and very dysfunctional agency. Could it be any clearer?

Anonymous said...

What's clear is that the general public is finally wising up to the fact that nuclear weapons are relicts of the cold ware era, that the mystique surrounding nuclear technology is no longer warranted, that the huge budgets for these national labs can no longer be justified, and that the time has arrived for the employees of these Labs to justify their salaries. More than a few eyebrows were raised last year when the community of Los Alamos surfaced as being the wealthiest community in the nation. I suspect taxpayers are finally beginning to question the huge quantities of money being funneled to these Labs each year, and what they're NOT getting for that investment. They're not getting security, that's for sure. And they're certainly not getting much in terms of major scientific breakthroughs given our high energy costs and the ever increasing threat of global catastrophe linked to global warming. I've sucked on the DOE tit now for nearly three decades at Los Alamos, and if I’m having a hard time anymore justifying taxpayer support for my paycheck, why should it come as any surprise to anyone that taxpayers as a body may be having serious reservations about a weapons complex that never seems to have enough money, or the discipline to say they've finally reached the end of the line as far as needing to fine tune weapons of mass destruction already existing in far excess of any realistic threat or need. Enough is enough!

Eric said...

Anyone want to have a detailed discussion about what new projects LANL staff could do and do better than existing competition?

Anonymous said...

1:18 pm:

"...nuclear weapons are relicts of the cold ware era..." (hey - I didn't do the misspellings)

So ask India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, North Korea, even Russia, if they believe that is true. If so, why are they modernizing and/or establishing NW programs? It would be the height of vanity to think it is all because of the US. Rather it is because of the threats posed by their neighbors. Please explain how the US disarming in this environment will make us more safe?

Anonymous said...

Eric - rather than ask empty questions, why don't you get the discussion going by making some constructive suggestions?

Anonymous said...

Maybe LANL should be working on a Reliable Replacement Polygraph.

Anonymous said...

We don't need no stinking nukes

US fears over China long-range missiles
By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington and Mure Dickie in Beijing

Published: May 24 2007 21:13 | Last updated: May 25 2007 00:15

The US is increasingly concerned about China’s deployment of mobile land and sea-based ballistic nuclear missiles that have the range to hit the US, according to people familiar with an imminent Pentagon report on China’s military.

The 2007 Pentagon China military power report will highlight the surprising pace of development of a new Jin-class submarine equipped to carry a nuclear ballistic missile with a range of more than 5,000 miles.

Washington is also concerned about the strategic implications of China’s preparations later this year to start deploying a new mobile, land-based DF-31A intercontinental ballistic missile that could target the whole US.

Robert Gates, US defence secretary, on Thursday said the report would not exaggerate the threat posed by China. “It paints a picture of a country that is devoting substantial resources to the military and developing...some very sophisticated capabilities.”

Related story
Chinese build five nuclear subs

The report also outlines concerns about the build-up of missiles across the Taiwan Strait, China’s recent anti-satellite missile test and its development of technologies to deny access in space.

Beijing has strongly criticised previous Pentagon reports on the Chinese military, which it sees as portraying China as a cold war-style enemy, and points out that the Chinese military budget is a fraction of US defence spending.

US experts on the Chinese military have been surprised by the pace of development of the nuclear forces, and particularly the Jin programme. The Pentagon believes that China is developing five Jin submarines. One is already being tested at sea and could become operational next year.

“The Chinese have maintained that they have a ‘no first use’ policy [for nuclear weapons] and that they have a minimal deterrent policy, which means they have only enough nuclear capability to retaliate,” said Michael Green, former White House senior Asia adviser to President George W. Bush.

“But open source journals and discussions and their own modernisation suggest that they are possibly developing capabilities for a more flexible use of nuclear weapons, and survivability and tactical uses that would call into question this declared policy.”

In 2005, Chinese General Zhu Chenghu fuelled US concerns that China might be changing its strategic stance when he told journalists that it might have to use nuclear weapons against the US if attacked during a confrontation over Taiwan. Chinese officials later restated the country’s “no first use” policy and have privately played down Gen Zhu’s influence.

Some analysts have also suggested that the Chinese move could be partly in response to US plans to develop a ballistic missile defence system.

Russia has recently raised concerns about plans by the US to place missile interceptors in Europe.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

Anonymous said...

The writer says nothing about the U.S. disarming in the face of competing nuclear threats in the world, and for anyone to twist the meaning of what’s being said to suggest this is nothing more than a transparent attempt to sidestep the real concern being expressed by the writer. The concern has to do with whether we as a nation can justify spending as much today on the nuclear weapons complex as we did, at the beginning, when the science and related technology was new and unknown, and the world threat was quite different than it is today. The writer also makes a very compelling argument regarding our priorities as a nation. In the face of cataclysmic global warming and ever increasing energy costs, why is the scientific talent of the Los Alamos National Laboratory still flapping around like a fish out of water, looking for more excuses (and trainloads of money) to keep studying nuclear weapons? Why not start working on the REAL and much more immediate threats to our civilization, like global warming for example…fed by ever increasing fossil fuel energy dependency and the corresponding threat that high energy costs represents to economies and people across the globe? Finally, the writer compels us to recognize the smoke and mirrors deception by an entrenched status quo at Los Alamos that has kept the taxpayer funding the contrived threats being conjured up by a self-serving cold war mentality that refuses to evolve no matter what. Indeed, enough is enough!

Eric said...

To anonymous 9:10

I have made suggestions many times before (for years actually) - see ScienceatLANL or WorkingatLANL for some of them.

Right now I need real people who are willing to talk face to face and who are willing to come out from behind their anonymity to do some constructive time consuming work so that the future of the Lab and the county can look better.

Are you such a person?

If so, I will be happy to fill in more details. Let me know a time and place.

Anonymous said...

Eric, why is this blog not a suitable place to discuss such important matters? Or is this just a continuing attempt to drum up business for yourself?

Anonymous said...

Eric gets more audience here than on his own blog.

Anonymous said...

Is it really to late to re-tool LANL to do other work?.....Or are we going to wither on the vine?

Anonymous said...

I visited your blogs, Eric. I see nothing of substance there. Moreover, it looks like I'm one of the few that ever visited them anyway. Clearly your strategy is not working. What you are trying to do I can't fathom, though, other than seeking attention? Sorry, but I just don't get it.

Anonymous said...

What Eric is trying to do is make money off the heart-aches and troubles of others. Anyone who uses Eric as a vocational or financial adviser is probably being foolish. I also suspect that he has few customers for any of the services he constantly hawks on the various LANL blogs. His own blog see almost no traffic, so he keeps coming back here to sell his goods to a wider audience.

Anonymous said...

The end of RRW for ALL

http://www.insidebayarea.com/search/ci_5995089

Anonymous said...

re: 6:39.
Per this excerpt from the referenced article, "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." Not dead yet, though still controversial and its future not yet clear. Even the pro-arms control folks don't appear to have claimed the effort to be dead yet.

Pinky and The Brain said...

The senate will likely give more thoughtful consideration to the issue. As the AAAS report suggests, 'pursuing the initial phases of the RRW path could be a prudent hedge against the uncertainties of an all-legacy future.' Similar to the thoughtful consideration that kept us from ratifying the CTBT before it was proven that pursuing something like RRW was possible without testing.

Eric said...

To the slew of people posting ad hominem attacks above.

Have your attacks improved your situation at all?

If you want to know why I am posting here, ask me. The answer is to help other who would like to be helped.

As for long discussions on this blog, there have been some on the validity of polygraphs, but otherwise what I see are mostly short attacks with no facts behind them.

I wish that things were different.

Anonymous said...

Eric said "mostly short attacks with no facts behind them." So we were wrong - your blog has seen a lot of visitors and provided many meaningful posts that stirred significant discussion? I'm confused - was the 10:08 PM post, attack or fact?

Has your assistance improved our situation at all?