Jun 21, 2007

Analysis: Expert Backs RRW Program

By Mark Maathuis - The Post Chronicle
Jun 21, 2007

The United States should build the Reliable Replacement Warhead, a National Nuclear Security Administration official said.

The Reliable Replacement Warhead, or RRW, is cheap and secure, John Harvey, the NNSA's policy planning staff director, told a press conference Friday at the New America Foundation, a Democratic-leaning Washington think tank. The NNSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Energy.

"The idea is to provide the same military capabilities as the one it replaces," Harvey said, "not to come out with whole new generations of nuclear weapons."

The RRW is part of the post-Cold War Complex 2030 program that aims to reduce U.S. nuclear warheads to the lowest possible number consistent with national security. Some 2,000 would be deployed. This would be a reduction by a factor of four.

That number is based more on judgment than analysis, Harvey said, because during the Cold War U.S. experts knew how many warheads were needed to strike back after an attack. "Now we can no longer predict where nuclear threats will come from," he said.

Most U.S. nuclear warheads were built in the 1970s and 1980s and are being retained longer than planned, according to a 2007 Congressional Research Service report. A life extension program replaces components, and "the RRW program will simply accomplish that same goals," Harvey said. Rebuilding components as closely as possible to the original specifications means "the warhead can do what it is designed for without testing," he said.

The United States carried out its last nuclear test in 1992. The United States never ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty but it does abide by its own unilateral moratorium on underground nuclear testing. Without the ability to test, scientists rely more on bigger and faster computers and improved computer models to assess changes to weapons in the stockpile.

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