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Tuesday, January 24, 2006  
Report claims warhead program would promote new nukes

By: Betsy Mason
Published In: Contra Costa Times

LIVERMORE - A report commissioned by a local nuclear watchdog group concludes that the federal Department of Energy has embarked on a program that will eventually lead to the design and production of new nuclear weapons and could ignite a new arms race -- a contention DOE rejects.

The DOE's Reliable Replacement Warhead program, which recently received $25 million in congressional funding for a second year of feasibility studies, is a "slippery slope to new nuclear weapons," according to the author of the new report, physicist Robert Civiak. He worked for more than a decade on national security issues in the president's Office of Management and Budget, and was a visiting scientist at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in 1988.

The report is part of an ongoing effort by Livermore-based Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment to expose U.S. nuclear weapons research and development activities, and was funded through donations from individuals and public interest groups.

Marylia Kelley, executive director of Tri-Valley CARES, said the report will be distributed to every member of Congress in the next few weeks.

According to the DOE, the Reliable Replacement Warhead program is geared to improve existing nuclear weapons in the U.S. stockpile, not to create a new generation of them.

"(Reliable Replacement Warhead program) is a feasibility study to determine a better approach to maintaining the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile into the future," said Bryan Wilkes, spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semiautonomous branch of the DOE that oversees the national nuclear weapons complex. "This research effort is intended to maintain military capabilities provided by existing warheads, not develop warheads for new military missions."

But Civiak claims that the NNSA and Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories want to grow the program into a multi-billion-dollar effort to design and build new nuclear weapons.

"We believe it's important to cut it off now, before it gets too far," Civiak said in a press conference call today.

According to Civiak, the current nuclear weapons stockpile is reliable and capable, and new weapons aren't critical to national security. The exact opposite is true, he said, because building new weapons would "significantly harm our national security, disrupt international cooperation in non-proliferation and diminish pressure on North Korea and Iran to forego their nuclear programs."

Kelley worried that developing new nuclear weapons would put residents in the vicinity of Livermore Lab at further risk from radioactive pollution. "We already have elevated levels of plutonium in the city park behind my house," Kelley said.

Civiak also speculated that the replacement warhead program would make future testing of actual weapons necessary in the future.

The NNSA disagrees. "Our intention is to do this without the need for nuclear testing. In fact, RRW will decrease the possibility we will have to test nuclear weapons in the future," Wilkes said.

Betsy Mason covers science and the national laboratories. Reach her at 925-847-2158 or

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