Christopher Paine, Arms
Control Association, March 7, 2004
At the National Nuclear Security Administration
(NNSA), it is as if the Cold War never ended. Despite the reduced likelihood
of a major nuclear conflict, massive cuts in the deployed U.S. arsenal,
and a long-standing moratorium on U.S. nuclear testing, the budget of
the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons agency has steadily grown
during the last decade. The Energy Department now spends 35 percent
more on the U.S. nuclear arsenal each year than it did on average during
the standoff with the U.S.S.R. between 1948 and 1991 (when it spent
the equivalent of $4.2 billion annually in current dollars). In addition,
if the White House prevails with its fiscal year 2005 budget request
and stays on the track outlined in its "Five-Year Nuclear Security Program,"
the growth in spending for nuclear weapons will continue without respite.
In fact, if President George W. Bush's
request of $6.6 billion is approved, U.S. spending on "weapons activities"-nuclear
weapons research, development, testing, and production, as well as administration
of the nuclear weapons stockpile-will have virtually doubled over the
past decade. If the administration has its way, the trend is not about
to end. The NNSA has told Congress that it plans to increase spending
on the U.S. arsenal to $7.76 billion by 2009.
Indulging the Weaponeers
U.S. nuclear spending has soared since
a 1995 decision to adopt a complex, simulation-based "virtual testing-virtual
prototyping" strategy as the paradigm for "stewardship" of the U.S.
nuclear stockpile. Since then, the Energy Department has spent tens
of billions of dollars on new and upgraded experimental facilities,
computers, networks, code development, and computer-controlled production
equipment. It remains largely unable to implement this grandiose and
technologically aggressive strategy, however, as key experimental capabilities
remain unfinished, mired in technical difficulties and huge cost overruns.
The intellectual premise behind this massive
expenditure was that absent nuclear test explosions, confidence in the
performance of new or modified nuclear weapons could only be gained
from building costly new experimental facilities to generate data that
would inform three-dimensional computer simulations of the entire nuclear
explosion sequence, beginning with the detonation of chemical explosive
and ending with the combined thermonuclear burn and fissioning of the
weapon's secondary stage. Moreover, DOE officials insisted that these
simulations could be relied upon to predict the performance of stockpiled
'war reserve' weapons only if they had first been "validated" by successfully
predicting the results of similarly complex integrated experiments conducted
in the new "science-based stockpile stewardship" facilities. Examples
of such code-validating tests include inertial fusion capsule gain experiments
and primary stage implosions, diagnosed with highly-penetrating, three-dimensional,
time-resolved radiographic imaging.
Critics at the time charged that the entire
"virtual testing" strategy was needlessly complex and costly for the
relatively simple task at hand: sustaining confidence in the safety
and reliability of a modest but sufficient, enduring stockpile of nuclear
weapons, for as long as needed. Detailed studies also noted that the
large unclassified research component of the effort to model fundamental
physical processes involved in generating nuclear explosions could well
exacerbate proliferation of nuclear weapons knowledge. Subsequent
events have proven many of these criticisms well founded.
Indeed, because of technical flaws and
delays in its more ambitious efforts, the NNSA is slowly reverting to
an alternative method put forward a decade ago by its critics: "engineering-based"
stewardship. This approach seeks to assure the ability to produce and
replace non-nuclear components and subsystems that can be thoroughly
tested while attempting to minimize changes to primary- and secondary-stage
nuclear components that cannot be tested to nearly the same extent.
In this more conservative approach, confidence in the performance of
these nuclear explosive components is maintained, not through elaborate
computer simulations of uncertain fidelity but through careful engineering
efforts that ensure maintenance and remanufacture of weapons at current
(or improved) quality levels.
These efforts rely on tried and true techniques
for ascertaining that the primary's high-explosive driven plutonium
shell continues to hit the performance benchmarks required for the onset
of nuclear fission and subsequent ignition of fusion reactions in heavy-hydrogen
"boost gas," which is confined and heated within the imploding core.
The flood of extra neutrons released by fusion "boosts" fission of the
plutonium to a level that ensures a superabundance of radiation for
imploding and igniting the secondary stage, which typically accounts
for the vast bulk of the total energy released in a large nuclear explosion.
Very little uncertainty attends the detonation of a proven secondary
design in the presence of a minimally adequate primary yield, so under
a prolonged test moratorium the major uncertainties tend to focus on
the continued performance of the primary stage.
As for sustaining the ability to forecast
the ultimate force of an explosion with high confidence, the strict
nuclear explosive performance criteria used in the Cold War are no longer
as relevant as they once were. Even for those who subscribed to the
oddly detached moral psychology and doctrines of nuclear war-fighting
deterrence, worry about how unexpected degradations in nuclear explosive
yield ("unreliability") might affect "kill probabilities" against hardened
"counterforce" targets, such as missile silos and command centers, no
longer seems to be of vital importance. Even the Pentagon's own Defense
Science Board has come round to the view that there is no need to rebuild
large numbers of high yield "legacy" nuclear weapons to support a credible
and effective deterrence policy.
For post-Cold War deterrence, it matters
little (except perhaps to the population of the targeted nation) whether
or not a nuclear weapon detonates at its full thermonuclear yield (typically
tens to hundreds of kilotons of TNT equivalent). Even if the secondary
stage fails to ignite, the weapon would still achieve yields in the
low kiloton range, sufficient to deter nuclear use by "rogue" states.
All this means that using computer simulations
to guarantee that a nuclear blast will reliably yield the greatest possible
explosive power is no longer vital for deterrence. Moreover, the vast
improvements in guidance technology provided by global positioning system-aided
systems can be expected to make up for losses in lethality against most
targets from less-than-expected yields. The only exception might be
when striking very deeply buried targets, which can only be destroyed
by weapons with yields of several hundred kilotons or more. Yet, using
such a high-fallout weapon against a non-nuclear-power would be both
monstrous and implausible. And its use against a nuclear-weapon state
such as Russia or China would be indistinguishable from all-out nuclear
warfare, and thus confers no deterrent advantages.
Given the reduced relevance of large-scale
nuclear capabilities to countering today's U.S. security challenges-it
is inexcusable that more has not been done to reduce the scale of the
size and scale of the nuclear complex. On the contrary, Bush's budget
calls for a series of so-called campaigns bent on resurrecting a modern,
highly automated, and networked version of the old Cold War nuclear
weapons complex. These plans would cost $1.9 billion in fiscal year
2005 and more than $12 billion over the next five years. That is nearly
50 percent more than the Energy Department will spend on the nuts-and-bolts
costs of the U.S. arsenal: the warhead development, refurbishment, and
stockpile maintenance tasks that have been agreed upon with the Department
A look inside these various NNSA "campaigns"
reveals an astonishing world of unaccountable spending, gross mismanagement,
and technological excess by a laboratory elite that confuses its own
narrow "weapons science" interests with those of the nation and its
At the base of the stewardship pyramid
one finds the so-called Science Campaign, which is really a wide array
of applied science and technology projects to improve U.S. capabilities
for predicting the performance of nuclear weapons. This account funds
such items as improving Nevada Test Site (NTS) readiness to resume underground
nuclear test explosions ($30 million in fiscal year 2005) and reviving
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's (LLNL) Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope
Separation (AVLIS) pilot plant, which was mothballed at the close of
the Cold War. The pilot plant will likely separate additional supplies
of a highly prized plutonium isotope, Pu-242, which can be used to test
the behavior of a bomb's core of plutonium and high explosive at full
scale without producing an explosive nuclear chain reaction. These "hydrodynamic
tests," so named because the compressed material behaves like a moving
fluid, are a key tool of stockpile stewardship.
A major preoccupation of the Science Campaign
in fiscal years 2005 and 2006 will be fixing the Los Alamos National
Laboratory's (LANL) Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrotest (DARHT) facility,
arguably the most technically important facility in the science-based
stockpile stewardship program. The facility is designed to provide rapid,
high-resolution x-ray photographs simultaneously along two axes. Weapons
scientists want to use this detailed three-dimensional imagery of surrogate
primary-stage explosions as a benchmark to ensure the accuracy of computer
simulations of the implosion process in the absence of nuclear testing.
DARHT began life in the fiscal year 1988
budget request as a modest $30 million upgrade of the existing single-axis
x-ray capability to a dual axis machine. Sixteen years later, DARHT
is still not finished, but now it costs $327 million, according to the
Energy Department's inspector general, who predicted in May 2003 that
the facility "would not be fully operational until June 2004." As
the fiscal year 2005 budget request makes clear, even this recent assessment
is obsolete: deep within the document, the NNSA reported that the high-tech
second axis is suffering from "high voltage breakdown" and that the
"first 2-axis shot in support of stockpile assessment" would not be
conducted until fiscal year 2007. That would be 19 years after the project's
inception-a project that the Energy Department claimed was absolutely
critical to the success of its stockpile stewardship strategy.
While Science Campaign projects mainly
flow to the two nuclear design laboratories, the Engineering Campaign
element is largely within the purview of Sandia National Laboratory,
managed for the NNSA by Lockheed Martin, the nation's largest defense
contractor. Sandia is tasked with conducting non-nuclear component engineering
and weapons system integration of the nuclear components developed by
LANL and LLNL. The centerpiece of Sandia's engineering campaign is the
$519 million Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Application (MESA)
Complex in Albuquerque.
Its purpose is to develop new microelectronic
machine ("microsystem") components to meet a postulated need for "continual
advances in technologies" to improve nuclear weapon "surety" (i.e.,
built-in technical features that ensure against both unauthorized and
accidental detonations). The complex will also endeavor to produce modern,
highly integrated miniaturized replacement parts for the larger number
of discrete non-nuclear components currently used in nuclear weapons,
to meet the needs of the NNSA's large "refurbishment" programs for enduring
All in all, the MESA complex will comprise
approximately 391,000 square feet and house some 650 engineers working
on new microcomponents for nuclear weapons. How much of this is minimally
necessary in order to extend the service life of existing weapons and
how much is self-serving empire building by Sandia and corporate parent
Lockheed Martin is difficult for outside observers to gauge. We do know,
however, that, until two years ago, this project consisted only of a
proposed $51 million upgrade for retooling the existing Microelectronics
Development Laboratory. One may therefore surmise that some of the recent
additional work, such as the new Weapons Integration Facility with state-of-the-art
"visualization" facilities for designing new weapon components, is a
gold-plated pork barrel add-on that is not strictly required to sustain
the nuclear weapons stockpile.
Advanced Simulation and Computing
Initiative (ASCI) Campaign
In the NNSA's fiscal year 2005 request,
the Bush administration reveals that it intends to spend $740 million
next year on nuclear weapons simulation and computing and an astonishing
$4.03 billion through fiscal year 2009-an average of $806 million per
year just on nuclear weapons computing alone. Each of the nuclear weapons
laboratories now has a new supercomputing center under construction
or recently completed. The NNSA is nearing completion of a program to
equip them with the second generation of ASCI supercomputing systems.
From the inception of the ASCI program
in fiscal year 1996 through fiscal year 2004, the Energy Department
spent at least $4.75 billion on nuclear weapons computing. This sum
does not include all the costs involved in setting up and gathering
data from experiments designed to refine the physics models embedded
in the various linked modules of code that attempt to simulate each
stage of the implosion-explosion process. From fiscal year 2005 to fiscal
year 2009, the NNSA plans to spend another $4 billion on further ASCI
hardware and software development, for a total of $8.75 billion, or
an average of $2.92 billion to equip each weapons laboratory with "state
of the art" simulation capabilities.
In an era when "the network is the computer,"
apparently no one in government (save perhaps the General Accounting
Office [GAO]) thought to ask why the NNSA weapons labs could not make
do with networked access to a single center for "massively parallel"
computing, rather than constructing and equipping three such centers,
particularly in view of the GAO's repeated findings in the late 1990s
that the Energy Department's existing supercomputer resources were seriously
underutilized: "In 1997, for example, less than 5% of the jobs run on
the largest supercomputers used more than one-half of the machines'
Inertial Confinement Fusion and High-Yield
After ASCI, the second-largest NNSA "campaign"
in Bush's request in terms of funding ($492 million) is the Inertial
Confinement Fusion and High-Yield Campaign. It is slated to account
for total spending of $2.43 billion over the course of the NNSA's projected
"Five-Year National Security Plan." Most of this planned funding is
directed toward the National Ignition Facility (NIF), a massive, 196-beam
laser facility under construction at LLNL. The funds will be used both
to complete the facility and to achieve the technical readiness to begin
NIF fusion ignition experiments. NIF is by far the largest single project
in the NNSA budget and, quite possibly, the most expensive experimental
facility ever built.
According to the NNSA, when laser system
installation is finally completed in September 2008, construction of
NIF will have "officially" cost $3.5 billion. The Natural Resources
Defense Council (NRDC) estimates that the total actual cost of the project
through fiscal year 2008, including ignition target research and development
(R&D), production, and diagnostics, will actually be much higher,
on the order of $5.2 billion, and further hundreds of millions if not
billions of dollars will be required to reach the first "demonstration"
of the facility's namesake mission, fusion ignition, now variously postponed
Recall that a driving rationale for the
NIF was the ostensibly "critical" need to have an "ignition facility"
capable of "propagating fusion burn and modest energy gain" in place
by last year in order to help "validate" the three-dimensional computer
codes under development in the ASCI program. In initially pointing to
the 2003 date, the Energy Department had said that by last year "most
of the weapons in the stockpile will be in transition from their designed
field life to beyond field life design" and "the number of designers
with test experience will be reduced by about 50 percent."
The NNSA says its Readiness Campaign is
intended to "revitalize the nuclear weapons manufacturing infrastructure"
by improving both its "responsiveness" and its "technology base." Claiming
marching orders from the Bush administration's December 2001 Nuclear
Posture Review, the NNSA claims that "a truly responsive infrastructure
is the cornerstone of the new nuclear defense triad" outlined in this
document. "To be considered a credible deterrent, this infrastructure
must include a manufacturing capability with state-of-the-art equipment
combined with cutting-edge applications of technology, and an ability
to quickly provide modified or enhanced capabilities and products to
meet emerging threats."
In fiscal years 2005-2009, the readiness
program consists of five subprograms with a projected price tag of $1.65
billion. These include thermonuclear component ("secondary") manufacturing,
high-explosives production and weapons assembly/disassembly, electronic
and mechanical components, new computerized production technologies,
and readiness to produce tritium for stockpile weapons. Some of this
work is necessary for maintaining a nuclear deterrent stockpile, but
much of it is not.
Apart from its evident self-serving qualities,
there are some logical flaws to the NNSA's new deterrent construct.
To be credible, nuclear weapons need not be produced with "state-of-the-art
equipment" or "cutting edge technology." Indeed, Bush professes to have
invaded Iraq to forestall development of what clearly would have been
a crudely produced nuclear explosive device, the threat of which he
nonetheless found to be credible. Further, one is hard pressed to see
how, absent far-reaching changes in the global security environment,
the existence of modern production infrastructure per se, rather than
actual weapons and forces, would be considered a deterrent to armed
attack upon the United States or its allies and friends. If this were
true, the administration should have no objection to eliminating the
entire U.S. nuclear arsenal and relying on its fearsome industrial capability
to reconstitute the arsenal to discourage cheating on a global nuclear
The NNSA seems to be positing a novel
extension or reinvention of the concept of deterrence, one that is more
accurately described as "dissuading" or "discouraging" potential rivals
for global preeminence from even seeking to acquire nuclear-weapon capabilities
commensurate with those of the United States. This approach has nothing
to do with classic deterrence of nuclear attack through an assured survivable
capability for nuclear retaliation, nor even with "extended" deterrence
of conventional conflict through calibrated, "not incredible" threats
to use nuclear weapons first. On the contrary, it is a self-serving
argument to justify continued work for defense bureaucracies and their
One particularly wasteful aspect of the
Energy Department's Readiness Campaign has been the expenditure of at
least $2.6 billion since 1996 in maintaining and attempting to restore
U.S. tritium recycling, production, and extraction capabilities.
The Energy Department has spent this huge sum even though U.S. tritium
requirements have been declining steadily with continuing reductions
in the requirement for "active" stockpile weapons and no fresh tritium
was required or produced to support the stockpile throughout this period.
The recent spending has been premised on restoring a capability to support
the Pentagon's declared START II stockpile tritium requirement (i.e.,
4,900 "active" nuclear weapons with filled tritium reservoirs plus a
"five-year reserve" to "surge" deployment of additional weapons or replenish
these reservoirs in the event production were disrupted for a prolonged
period). The NRDC estimates that this artificially inflated requirement
could be met from existing tritium supplies until 2007, at which time
the reserve would dip below its "required" five-year support level.
So, the lack of fresh tritium supplies would not begin to affect the
ability to deploy actual weapons until 2012.
Suffice to say, after the force reduction
envisioned in the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT),
this tritium requirement scenario is now outdated, but it has yet to
be formally replaced with another, more realistic one. Supporting the
reduced but still large nuclear force levels called for under SORT,
for example, 1,700 "operationally deployed" strategic weapons and 300
operationally "deployable" nonstrategic weapons with a five-year tritium
reserve, would not "require" resumption of tritium production to prevent
a decline in the reserve until around 2012; actual weapons would not
need fresh tritium until 2017. Clearly, the Bush administration and
the Congress have a lot of flexibility and additional time to determine
both "required" operational nuclear force levels and when or, indeed,
whether to resume tritium production.
They should use this time to reconsider
the administration's tritium plans. They could begin with the need for
a five-year tritium reserve. The existing requirement makes no economic
sense for a costly decaying asset such as tritium. Moreover, the president
has the inherent authority under the Atomic Energy Act to direct production
of tritium in any one of 100 civilians reactors in the (unlikely) event
of a genuine national security "emergency." So, shifting to a shorter
two-year reserve makes more sense and would further extend until 2015
the point at which new tritium production might be needed. Additionally,
if the United States and Russia were to make further cuts, say, to a
level of 1,000 deployed nuclear warheads each, such a U.S. force could
be maintained with a two-year reserve until around 2022 without producing
Additionally, the NNSA's plans to satisfy
future tritium requirements, largely inherited from the previous administration,
are fraught with inefficiency, bad management, and a continuing failure
to consolidate tritium R&D operations. The NRDC estimates that the
tritium capabilities spending outlined in the administration's budget
projections for fiscal years 2005-2009 totals at least $1.2 billion.
Rather than consolidating or eliminating
sites where tritium R&D activities are conducted, in which each
site requires their own (decaying) minimum inventories of tritium and
carries high fixed-overhead costs for security and environment, safety,
and health, the Energy Department has continued under President Bill
Clinton as well as President George W. Bush to sustain tritium operations
at both LANL and LLNL as well as at SRS. Indeed, the Bush administration's
particular contribution is to reinvigorate the tritium R&D facility
(B331) within LLNL's "Superblock Complex." Successive administrations
have allowed the Energy Department to maintain tritium, plutonium, and
radiographic hydrotest facilities in triplicate at LLNL, LANL, and NTS,
as though the nuclear arms race with the former Soviet Union had never
Pit Manufacturing and Certification
This weapons complex "campaign," ongoing
since fiscal year 1993, has the immediate goal of "restoring [at LANL]
some limited capacity to manufacture pits of all types" that was lost
in 1989 when the main Cold War pit manufacturing plant, located at Rocky
Flats northwest of Denver, imploded in a multibillion dollar debacle
of contamination, criminality, and managerial incompetence. The longer-range
NNSA objective is the design and construction of a $2-4 billion Modern
Pit Facility (MPF) to support long-term pit manufacturing beginning
late in the next decade. This comes even as LANL is well along in a
$2.3 billion, decade-long modernization of its pit fabrication and plutonium
chemistry complex, which is scheduled to reach a capacity for producing
20 pits a year by 2007. (Another article in this issue looks in detail
at the debate surrounding the need for the Modern Pit Facility. See
Quite apart from the MPF, however, the
administration's five-year national security plan calls for spending
$1.3 billion on pit manufacturing and certification from fiscal year
2005 to fiscal year 2009, on top of the $1.2 billion already expended
during fiscal years 1998-2004. It is something of a mystery how so little
capability could have resulted from the huge amount already expended.
In the next budget year, the NNSA intends
to manufacture "at least six certifiable W88 pits" to augment the six
being produced this year, with the goal of having these certified for
use by 2007 as replacement pits for the 450-kiloton thermonuclear warheads
for the Trident II submarine-launched missile. Manufacture of these
six "certifiable" pits, not including the cost of the plutonium itself,
will cost $132 million in the next fiscal year, or $22 million per pit,
which amounts, at current prices, to roughly 480 times the value of
the pit's weight in gold.
By comparison, the Manhattan Project produced
the first significant quantities of separated plutonium in human history
and manufactured it into pits within three years. Now, we are supposed
to believe that a half century of experience later, and tens of thousands
of pits later, that LANL legitimately requires 11 years and more than
$2.5 billion to confidently manufacture and certify one "war reserve
pit" for the nuclear weapons stockpile?
Given the many problems with the NNSA's
approach to the stockpile stewardship program, Congress needs to take
action. It should defer consideration of any new facility or weapons
refurbishment request until the administration has submitted and Congress
has examined, debated, and approved the essential contours of a plan
to reduce the nuclear weapons stockpile to levels that make sense for
the post-Cold War world. Congress needs to cease ducking the nuclear
weapons issue and have the debate, examining what can and should be
changed. There are potentially billions of dollars in annual savings
to be had from shifting to a far more compact, less alert, and less
deployed nuclear force, supported by a smaller and more sustainable
nuclear complex. This money could be used to reduce the federal budget
deficit or improve U.S. national security by substantially increasing
the $500 million annually NNSA spends on nonproliferation initiatives
in Russia and other foreign countries.
Once Congress has approved a revised nuclear
stockpile plan, it must determine how to rationalize and consolidate
the NNSA complex to eliminate Cold War redundancies, reduce its environmental
footprint, and reduce the security and safeguards overhead burden, which
is growing rapidly. A key element will be to streamline and simplify
the current, needlessly complex "virtual testing" paradigm for stockpile
stewardship. After a decade, the current program has not built the kind
of disciplined and conservative protocols that would permit indefinite,
confident retention of a nuclear weapons stockpile at minimum cost.
The NNSA and its laboratories have mystified
the basic tasks of sensible stockpile stewardship in ways that are beyond
the bounds of fiscal sanity and reason. Far from boosting confidence,
the current program is actually structured to function as a constant
wellspring of uncertainty, thereby fostering continuing costly "requirements"
and "milestones" for ever more elaborate experimental and computational
facilities. Of course, the need to resolve the accumulated conflicts
and inconsistencies in the data generated by numerous scaled experiments
and weapons computations could just as easily lay the groundwork for
what will appear to be an earnest case for a "limited" return to nuclear
explosive testing to "resolve the uncertainties" and "calibrate the
Indeed, the notion at the heart of the
current bloated stewardship effort-that the United States must continually
expand its nuclear weapons knowledge and capability while threatening
or attacking others whom we suspect of doing the same thing -is an Orwellian
mismatch with US nonproliferation objectives. The Administration's errant
initiatives to increase readiness to resume nuclear test explosions,
build a large Modern Pit Facility, and modernize thousands of Cold War
legacy weapons-including conversion of high-yield strategic bombs to
"robust" nuclear earth penetrators-all share the distinction of being
both wasteful and politically destabilizing. Congress should decline
funding for these efforts while taking meaningful steps to restructure
and reduce the nuclear weapons complex.
1. See Christopher E. Paine, "A Case Against
Virtual Nuclear Testing," Scientific American 281, no. 3 (September
1999): 64; Christopher E. Paine and Matthew G. McKinzie, "Does the U.S.
Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship Program Pose a Proliferation Threat?"
Science and Global Security, vol. 7 (1998): 151-193; Matthew G. McKinzie,
Thomas B. Cochran, and Christopher E. Paine, "Explosive Alliances: Nuclear
Weapons Simulation Research at American Universities," Natural Resource
Defense Council (NRDC) Nuclear Program, Washington, DC, January 1998.
2. "The nuclear weapons program as currently
conceived-a program focused primarily on refurbishing the legacy stockpile-will
not meet the country's future needs." Defense Science Board, "Report
of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Future Strategic Strike Forces,"
Washington, DC, February 2004, pp. 1-10.
3. Office of Audit Services, Office of
Inspector General, U.S. Department of Energy, "Audit Report: Dual Axis
Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test Facility," DOE/IG-0599, May 2003, p.
4. The report cites an official "total project cost" of $270 million,
plus $57.5 million in additional costs "associated with work elements
transferred outside of the project." But NRDC estimates that the final
cost of the fully commissioned DARHT facility will be even larger, probably
on the order of $500 million.
4. The funding history of the MESA project
supports this view. The fiscal year 2003 omnibus appropriations bill
provided $113 million, an increase of $38 million above the request.
The fiscal year 2004 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act,
P.L. 108-137, enacted December 1, 2003, provided $87 million for MESA,
an increase of $25.2 million above the request. These increases were
almost certainly done at the behest of the senior senator from New Mexico,
Pete Domenici (R), chairman of the appropriations energy and water subcommittee.
5. The first generation of ASCI machines
deployed from 1996-2000 had processing speeds ranging from roughly 1-10
teraOPS (trillions of floating point operations per second); the current
second generation has speeds in the 10-100 teraOPS range; and the third
generation, starting in 2005, will have speeds of hundreds of teraOPS
6. U.S. General Accounting Office, "Problems
in the Management and Use of Supercomputers," GAO/T-RCED-99-257, July
7. NNSA 2005 CBR, p. 158 (Weapons Activities/Readiness
Campaign). See ibid., app. 20 (details of the Energy Department's efforts
in "virtual prototyping" and increased automation of the nuclear weapons
8. Tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen,
is used to boost the fission reaction in the primary stage of nuclear
weapons, enabling the use of lesser amounts of plutonium and high explosive
and making the weapons more resistant to accidental nuclear detonation.
Tritium decays at the rate of 5.47 percent per year, so the stockpile
must ultimately be replenished when stockpile reductions can no longer
keep pace with the decline in the tritium inventory.
9. In 1989, nuclear weapons production
at Rocky Flats was abruptly halted because of serious environmental,
safety, and health problems at the plant. Operations at the plant and
the site contractor, Rockwell International, were the subject of an
intensive two-year federal grand jury investigation that began in 1989
after FBI agents raided the plant. Rockwell, which had operated Rocky
Flats for more than a decade ending in 1989, later pled guilty to 10
environmental crimes and paid an $18.5 million fine.
10. With gold priced at $405 an ounce.
Expensive Life Support for the U.S.
Extending the life of the current massive
U.S. arsenal does not come cheap. If the NNSA sticks to its present
"life extension" plans, over a seven-year period that will end in 2009,
its direct costs for maintaining and updating nuclear warheads will
amount to $11 billion, including $3.2 billion for 2,500-3,500 upgraded
submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads; almost $2 billion for
1,700-2,500 air-delivered gravity bombs; $1.6 billion for 1,500-2,500
cruise missile warheads; and $1.3 billion for up to 1,500 ICBM warheads.
On the other hand, it will spend only $235 million retiring and dismantling
Yet, that only scratches the surface.
Looking at the next five years, only a little more than one-quarter
($8.2 billion) of the $36 billion that the Bush administration has proposed
spending on the nuclear weapons complex will go toward the actual work
that is needed for military commanders to be sure that their weapons
are in working order. These tasks, "directed stockpile work," are spelled
out in the president's annual Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Memorandum.
The rest of the five-year nuclear weapons
budget, amounting to some $27.5 billion, represents a 330 percent "overhead
charge" on top of the direct costs for the NNSA's "deliverable" product:
stockpiled nuclear warheads.
Tellingly, the largest single category-almost
$8.6 billion-in the Bush administration's five-year, $36 billion spending
plan for nuclear weapons is not for actual programmatic work but for
an amorphous category called "Readiness in Technology Base and Facilities."
According to the budget request, this spending is used to operate and
maintain a wide range of "program infrastructure and facilitiesŠin a
state of readiness, ensuring each capability (workforce and facility)
is operationally ready to execute programmatic tasks identified in 'Campaigns'
and 'Directed Stockpile Work.'"
FY 2005 FY 2006 FY 2007 FY
2008 FY 2009
chart at http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2004_05/Paine.asp
What? We're Spending Twice As Much Now on Nuclear Weapons Than We Did
Ten Years Ago
By Joe Rothstein - Editor,
When the Cold War ended the U.S. and Russia
mercifully stepped back from hair-trigger reliance on their respective
nuclear arsenals. Then both countries signed an agreement promising
to vastly reduce those arsenals. The U.S. agreed to trim its nuclear
warhead deployment from 6,480 to 2,440 by 2012. Russia agreed to cut
back from 5,600 warheads to no more than 1,200.
At the time of that agreement, in 1992,
the U.S. budget for nuclear activities was $3.4 billion. With the end
of the Cold War and the reduction in weapons you would logically assume
that today we would be spending a lot less. Right?
Think again. This year the Department
of Energy is spending $.6.5 billion on nuclear weapons. For next year
the Bush administration is asking for $6.8 billion for the maintenance,
modernization, development and production of nuclear bombs and warheads.
That’s about what Ronald Reagan had us
spending in inflation adjusted dollars back in the 1980s when he was
playing nuclear table stakes with the leaders of the former Soviet Union.
In February, President Bush delivered
a speech in which he made a number of specific proposals to advance
the cause of nuclear non-proliferation.
His concerns about nuclear weapons were
based on some very real and dangerous situations. Iran and North Korea
either have or are apparently working to develop nuclear weapons. Israel,
although it has never admitted it, has its own arsenal. Pakistan and
India confront one another every day, and as we’ve learned recently
Pakistan has peddled its technology to unfriendly and unstable customers.
Maybe most dangerous of all, China has an estimated 500 nuclear warheads
and is making great progress in its ability to toss those missiles around
Experts have nodded approvingly at President
Bush’s program for non-proliferation enforcement. Leaders of all the
nuclear nations agree—for the record—that the nuclear ogre must be brought
But here’s the problem. Any nation that
might be inclined to live by the President’s nuclear control words has
to be highly unsettled by his deeds.
For instance, take the case of the “robust
nuclear earth-penetrator” (RNEP). This is a proposed device that could
burrow deep into the earth before exploding. Its goal is to destroy
underground bunkers that the Defense Department says can’t be destroyed
by conventional means.
I first heard about this program last
year when I watched Secretary Rumsfeld justifying it to a concerned
congressional committee on grounds that his $6 million budget request
was only for a study. This year, Rumsfeld’s back with a five year, $485
million program, which includes “development ground tests” on “candidate
weapon designs.” Readers of Bob Woodward’s book describing the sleights-of-hand
used to slip Iraqi war spending past Congress will recognize this pattern.
Why be concerned about the nuclear bunker
buster? Because it brings nuclear weapons into the tactical battlefield.
For the first time, we would consider it reasonable to use nuclear weapons
in conventional battle situations.
For anyone interested in big picture of
what the Bush administration has in mind for the U.S. nuclear weapons
program, I’d recommend going to the web site of the Natural Resources
Defense Council. Take a look at the http://www.nrdc.org/nuclear/weaponeers/contents.asp impressive
report just published by weapons analyst Christopher Paine.
Well, you might say, the old Soviet threat
may be gone, but danger lurks in many other places. Keeping up our nuclear
arsenal is the price we have to pay for security. You might say that.
Or you might consider some alternative views.
For instance, a task force of the Defense
Science Board, a panel sanctioned by the Defense Department itself,
issued a report in March that said current plans to refurbish the U.S.
nuclear stockpile won’t protect the nation from rogue states and terrorist
They recommended greater emphasis on non-nuclear
weapons and techniques more appropriate to fighting smaller, fast-moving
targets. Some examples:
--Keep 50 ICBMs now set for deactivation,
and re-deploy them for use with conventional, non-nuclear warheads.
This would give the U.S. 30-minute response capability, at significantly
lower cost, without forcing the President to make a nuclear-only decision.
--Develop a new cruise missile that could
be launched from an offshore submarine and hit a target 1,500 miles
away in 15 minutes. (Planned strikes to hit Osama bin Laden before 9/11
were compromised by the long lead times between having him located and
the time needed for a missile to reach him).
--Build and deploy warheads filled with
sensors that penetrate hidden bunkers and stay in place to guide more
powerful missiles. Or, the sensors could be deployed the old fashioned
way, through spies attaching them to vehicles and other targets.
In short, the message from these defense
experts---a panel that included some of the most experienced people
in the field--was get off of the dependence on nuclear weapons that
carried us through the Cold War stand-off. Different threats require
President Bush is talking a good game
about stopping nuclear proliferation. But all the others nations in
the nuclear “club” can look at our nuclear budget and future plans and
see that we’re not putting our actions where our words are. The U.S.
is not exactly leading the way to nuclear sanity by its example.
Comic strip character Pogo used to say,
"We have met the enemy, and it is us."
When it comes to stopping the spread of
nuclear danger throughout the world, we may be our own worst enemy.
Joe Rothstein, editor of http://www.uspoliticstoday.com/ USPoliticstoday.com,
is a former daily newspaper editor and long-time national political
strategist based in Washington, D.C.