Jun 19, 2007

This Just In -- D'Agostino Says the W-76 is Going to Blow!

This item was sent in by a reader. Apparently our old NNSA buddy D'Agostino is now trying to use scare tactics to invigorate Congressional interest in the RRW. But somehow the logic of

"You know, the last bomb we paid the labs to design and build might have a few teensy flaws in it which could cause it to, well, you know, go BOOM unexpectedly. So you really really really need to give us bazillions of more dollars so that we can have them design and build a bunch more really really really really neat bombs."

just does not resonate very well.

Regardless, here's the news item.


Monday, June 18, 2007
News from the InsideDefense NewsStand

NNSA Nominee: This is No Time for a Several-Year Delay for RRW

June 18, 2007 -- Thomas D'Agostino, the White House's pick to become the
next National Nuclear Security Administration chief, says that even
though the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile is expected to remain secure
and reliable for the foreseeable future, this is no time to consider
slowing down the Reliable Replacement Warhead program by a few years.
Some critics call for delaying RRW because of concerns that its
deployment could undermine American nonproliferation policy.

One argument against such a delay is based on the need to stick to a
schedule for deploying RRWs on the Navy's submarine-launched ballistic
missiles, D'Agostino said June 15 at the Woodrow Wilson Center in

"The introduction of the RRW system provides the benefit of additional
diversity in the nation's sea-based nuclear force, which is needed in
case problems are discovered" in existing warheads like the W-76, he
said. Under the 2002 Moscow Treaty, the United States and Russia have
pledged to reduce their numbers of deployed warheads to between 1,700
and 2,200 each by the end of 2012.

"Although we've not uncovered any problems with the W-76, it is prudent
to hedge against a catastrophic failure of that system," D'Agostino said.

His statements come at a time when Congress is considering major funding
cuts for the RRW effort.

A second argument against a lengthy delay of the RRW program is a
pressing need to train a new generation of weapons designers at places
like Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, CA, and Los Alamos National
Laboratory, NM, D'Agostino said last week. NNSA oversees the labs for
the Energy Department.

"The RRW effort has provided the opportunity to ensure the transfer of
nuclear design skills from the generation that honed these skills
[under] nuclear testing with the generation that will replace them," he
said. "In five years, nearly all of that older generation will be
retired or passed away."

The warheads in the stockpile today were designed in the Cold War, when
scientists could test them for safety and efficacy in full-blown nuclear

RRW, with approval from Congress, would be the first deployed U.S.
nuclear weapon since the Soviet Union's demise, as well as the first
such device designed after the United States adopted a self-imposed
moratorium on nuclear tests.

One of the attractions of RRW among Bush administration officials is the
promise it could be fielded without nuclear testing, especially given
their concerns that life-extension programs for aging Cold War weapons
will eventually be insufficient to certify them as safe and reliable.

If confirmed as NNSA chief, D'Agostino will work with the Defense
Department-led Nuclear Weapons Council, which will make decisions on RRW
design and deployment issues. Earlier this year, the council chose to
pursue a Livermore-designed RRW for possible deployment on Navy submarines.

As envisioned, RRW will be safer and easier to construct and maintain,
using processes that are environmentally friendly. In addition, it will
have built-in safety features, many of which are classified, that could
help prevent any illicit use.

Nuclear weapons safety has become a bigger concern for DOD since the
Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to defense officials.

For fiscal year 2008, NNSA wants $89 million for RRW activities -- $61
million more than the amount sought in FY-07, according to Energy
Department budget documents.

The Nuclear Weapons Council wants "to complete a Phase 2A design
definition and cost study" for RRW, and the budget increase for the
program is "a result of the decision to go to this next phase," one of
the documents states. "Once this acquisition planning is completed and
if the [council] decides to proceed to engineering and production
development, funding will be requested in the outyears . . . to support
an executable program."

But several lawmakers want to put the brakes on the administration's
plans for RRW.

The House version of the FY-08 defense authorization bill reduces the
RRW budget request by $45 million, which would slow down the project
enough to allow a review of nuclear weapons requirements by a bipartisan

The Senate Armed Services Committee in its version of the bill also cut
the RRW program by nearly the same amount.

House appropriators, for their part, eliminated funding for RRW, saying
a new strategy is needed to transform the stockpile and the
infrastructure supporting it before work continues on any new warheads.
The House has yet to vote on the appropriators' bill for nuclear
weapons-related projects.

In a June 13 statement of administration policy, the Office of
Management and Budget criticized the appropriators' position on RRW.

"The administration understands the need to work with the [House
Appropriations] Committee on a plan for transforming the nuclear weapons
stockpile and complex that is aimed at assuring bipartisan support," the
statement reads. "However, the administration strongly opposes the
committee's decision to eliminate funding for . . . RRW.

"Congress has consistently supported this vital effort to modernize the
nuclear weapons stockpile," the statement continues. "Failure to
continue the program will contribute to increasing concern about weapon
performance [and] reliability and may in turn require the maintenance of
a larger size stockpile than was contemplated with RRWs."

Senate appropriators have not begun their mark-up on a bill to fund such
nuclear weapons programs.

D'Agostino addressed concerns raised by RRW critics that deploying the
system could encourage other nations to accelerate or pursue nuclear
weapons development. He said the administration consulted with several
countries before moving ahead with the program -- and not just allies
but Russia and China, as well.

In such discussions, "we found what I would classify as great
understanding as to what we were doing from a concept standpoint," he said.

These nations, according to D'Agostino, were receptive to an idea
underpinning much of the administration's expectation that deploying
RRWs would not usher in a new wave of nuclear proliferation among
nation-states: The proposed new warhead does not represent a new
military capability, and it would be a safer, less expensive and more
secure alternative to exiting warheads.

The power of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, in terms of total yield, would
decrease if RRWs are deployed, he said.

"In fact, many of the nuclear weapons states are looking at doing this
on their own anyway," D'Agostino said. "The Russians, in particular,
have asked us to come back and participate in more in-depth discussions."

DOD officials are planning to follow up on that request, he added.

As for rogue states or terrorist groups, their desire for nuclear
capabilities is not directly linked to U.S. stockpile decisions,
D'Agostino said.

"A major nonproliferation objective of the United States is to prevent
rogue states and terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction,
or the materials to make . . . weapons of mass destruction on their
own," he said. "U.S. nuclear modernization will not increase incentives
for terrorist to acquire such weapons; their incentives are already high
and are almost unrelated to nuclear capabilities.

"Terrorists are typically driven by hatred and ideology and not by the
[United States] wanting to replace its nuclear stockpile with safer,
more secure warheads," he continued.

"RRW is not likely to have an impact on rogue states, either,"
D'Agostino said. "Over the past decade, we've seen some very significant
reductions in the numbers of U.S. nuclear weapons, reductions in the
alert levels of nuclear forces, no nuclear testing or production of
nuclear materials or nuclear weapons -- and very little U.S. nuclear

"There's absolutely no evidence that these developments have caused
North [Korean] or Iranian leaders to slow down their programs to acquire
capabilities to produce warheads and weapons," he continued.

-- Keith J. Costa
Date: June 18, 2007


Anonymous said...

Face it, if *anybody* would be fooled by that logic, it would be Congress.

Michael Anastasio said...

I think I just came a little.

Anonymous said...

The W76 might not go BOOM unexpectedly, but it could go fzzzllllll when it should have gone BOOM after the fuse was lit.

At least that is what D'Agostino would have us believe.

K. Boland said...

OKay the second poster owes me a new keyboard because I just laughed so hard I spit. But I digress...

I thought the whole problem was that the W76 wouldn't fire. Dick Morse says so.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's what Morse says. From This reference:

The chief concern regarding the warhead's design is the extremely light radiation case employed:

Leaders at Los Alamos wanted the case to be as lightweight as possible, so they envisioned it as extraordinarily thin - in places not much thicker than a beer can (albeit with plastic backing for added strength).
Its physical integrity was vital. The case had to hang together for microseconds as the exploding atom bomb generated temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun, forcing it to emit radiation that kindled the thermonuclear fire. If the case deformed significantly or shattered prematurely, the weapon would fail, its thermonuclear fuel unlit.

Although the very small performance margin implicit in this design caused concern when it was first developed the current controversy stems from a reivew of the warhead conducted in 1995-1996. Richard L. Morse, a physicist at Los Alamos until 1976 returned in 1996 to participate in the review.

Morse, who directed advanced concepts for bomb design as well as a separate group devoted to laser fusion, initiated simulation studies of the W76 and found that the margins were so thin that tiny irregularities in manufacture could lead to turbulence that would disrupt the case causing the weapon to fail.

Although this issue was dropped at the time, Morse reintroduced it in 2003 during work on the W76-1 life extension modification. Although the subject of a heated March 2004 secret meeting at Los Alamos, no work on this issue is known to have been initiated.

Anonymous said...

D'Agostino is so full of shit! After the way he orchestrated the LANS fiasco only someone as despicable. as D'Agostino would nominate him to become the next NNSA head. Someone, who like him, has lied to get his way. Someone who lied to get us into a war to ensure the oil industry a reliable source of product. Only someone capable of lying as convincingly as D'Agostino, would ever consider this man best qualified for this NNSA.job. And given all this, who in their right mind could ever believe a word this man spews? I'd just as soon trust a wino on the street to tell me why we need to move forward with the RRW than to trust D'Agostino with my wallet.

K. Boland said...

but what I don't understand is that beer cans always seem to work so well. Maybe the W76 used the Keystone Light "specially lined can."

Anonymous said...

Duct tape and beer cans. Keeps the world together and happy ....

Pinky and The Brain said...

All those submariners who've been drilling holes in the ocean for years in boats full of duds are going to be really, really pissed.

Anonymous said...

The W-76 was a LANL design. Good thing Mike helped give the RRW to LLNL, right? We can't have mistakes like the '76 happening again, now can we?

BTW, I hear that Udall will be offering relocation costs to Livermore for all LANL employees.

Anonymous said...

There was no Boom! Boom! in Yucca Flat...

Anonymous said...

After reading this, I think I want Billy Mullins to take over NNSA.

Pinky and The Brain said...

For those trying to read the reference cited by 6/19/07 9:04 PM, try this instead.

Anonymous said...

Are we sure it's the W76 and not Tom that blows?

The question is..does he swallow?

Anonymous said...

Maybe the question should be does Eric blow?

Marrage made in heaven.