Reading Room

Citizens Watch Newsletter August 2000

More Security for Less Cost: New Study Outlines Alternatives to U.S. Stockpile Stewardship

by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' August 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

The nearly five billion dollar a year Stockpile Stewardship program for managing U.S. nuclear weapons is "a gold-plated path to nuclear proliferation," according to the author of a new study released on July 20, 2000. The report, "Managing the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile," compares five alternatives for the future of the U.S. arsenal based on a comprehensive set of criteria. The report finds that three of the options analyzed offer substantial improvements in national security at much lower cost than the present Dept. of Energy (DOE) program.

The new study was authored by Dr. Robert Civiak, a physicist who served from 1988 to July 1999 in the White House Office of Management and Budget as a Program Examiner for DOE national security programs.

Joining Dr. Civiak at a Washington, DC news conference to release the report were Dr. Frank von Hippel, a Princeton professor and physicist who served as Assistant Director for National Security in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Marylia Kelley, Executive Director of Tri-Valley CAREs, the organization that sponsored the report.

"The current Stockpile Stewardship program undermines U.S. nonproliferation goals. Moreover, it is not the best way to assure the safety and reliability of the arsenal," explained Dr. Civiak. "The government and the taxpayers both will be better served by reorienting the U.S. program."

The report evaluates five options for managing the nuclear arsenal against a comprehensive set of criteria, including the ability to maintain safety, ability to maintain reliability, compatibility with nonproliferation and arms control objectives, and environmental impact.

Additionally, the report analyzes in detail the costs associated with each approach, and finds dramatic differences. The most expensive is the Return to Testing Option at $5.1 billion a year. This is closely followed by the still-escalating Stockpile Stewardship budget at $4.9 billion per year. The Remanufacturing Option would reduce costs to $3.9 billion each year, while the Curatorship Option represents an even greater savings at $2.7 billion annually. The Passive Arms Reduction Option is the least costly at $1.7 billion per year.

Dr. von Hippel noted, "Stewardship of the stockpile is not the only purpose of the present program. There has been an additional requirement, written out explicitly in the 1994 Nuclear Posture Review, to maintain the capability to design, fabricate and certify new warheads [without full scale testing]. This is the objective that creates the demand for gadgets like the National Ignition Facility and the enormous supercomputers. Further, this is the objective that makes the Stockpile Stewardship program suspect in the eyes of other nations. They ask if the U.S. is simply pursuing the arms race by other means."

Like Dr. Civiak, Dr. von Hippel, served in government during the 1993-1994 timeframe when the current Stockpile Stewardship program was created.

Since the last full-scale U.S. nuclear test in 1992, the debate over management of the arsenal has become alarmingly narrow - as if the range of choices were limited to DOE's expensive, proliferation-provocative Stockpile Stewardship program or a return to the days of full-scale underground nuclear testing. This is a dangerous and false choice.

The new study provides the first comprehensive review of the Stockpile Stewardship program and its alternatives, and demonstrates that superior alternatives exist. Additionally, it illuminates a pathway that will provide more security to the nation, and the world, for less cost.

While in Washington, Dr. Civiak and Marylia Kelley also met with officials in DOE, the Pentagon and the Congress, among others. Overall, many expressed a desire to rein in Stockpile Stewardship. Even in offices where that view is anathema, such as DOE Headquarters, the report's findings and recommendations were treated seriously.

The Executive Summary for the report follows. The full text of "Managing the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile: A Comparison of Five Strategies" is available on Tri-Valley CAREs' website or by mail. Call us to order a hard copy.

Executive Summary

Managing the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile:
A Comparison of Five Strategies

by Dr. Robert Civiak
an insert in Tri-Valley CAREs' August 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch


Under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) the United States and the other four major nuclear powers have pledged to

". . . pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."

Unfortunately, achieving the goal of complete disarmament does not appear imminent. The United States still maintains some 10,400 nuclear weapons in operational condition. Until all nuclear weapons can be eliminated, we must maintain the safety and security of the remaining stockpile. In addition, present policy dictates continued reliance on the nuclear stockpile to deter others from using nuclear weapons against us. Maintaining the safety, security and deterrent value of the U.S. nuclear stockpile must not, however, impede efforts to reduce or eliminate nuclear weapons. We are concerned that the current approach to managing the stockpile does just that.

The Department of Energy (DOE), manages the nuclear stockpile under a program called the Stockpile Stewardship Program. The DOE approach goes well beyond merely maintaining current nuclear weapons. DOE's Stockpile Stewardship Program is a multifaceted effort to:

  • Expand the scientific knowledge and understanding of nuclear weapons physics and engineering using a host of sophisticated experimental facilities;

  • Model the behavior of exploding nuclear weapons using the world's fastest computers; and

  • Refurbish and modernize all the weapons in the stockpile by replacing components with updated versions and, in some cases, by designing and manufacturing completely new nuclear weapons.

The DOE approach is a massive program whose cost is approaching $5 billion per year. At the height of the Cold War, DOE spent $3.8 billion per year (in today's dollars) on nuclear weapons' design, testing, and manufacture.

This 63-page report examines other ways to ensure the safety and reliability of the stockpile, including options that are simpler, less costly, and more certain than the DOE approach, and which better match U.S. commitments to end the arms race and eliminate nuclear weapons.

We take a comprehensive look at a wide range of strategies for managing the nuclear weapons stockpile. Each option is precisely defined and the activities that would be conducted and facilities that would be needed are specified. Each option is evaluated on its ability to meet five criteria, which we believe must be satisfied to adequately maintain the nuclear weapons stockpile and achieve broad political support.

  • Maintaining weapons safety and security;

  • Maintaining weapons reliability and performance;

  • Supporting arms control and nonproliferation;

  • Controlling costs; and

  • Minimizing adverse environmental impacts.

We also evaluate the options on their ability to improve and modernize nuclear weapons.

The Five Options Are:

  • The current DOE Stockpile Stewardship Program;

  • A Remanufacturing Option, under which DOE would periodically replace all the components in every nuclear weapon with new ones. Nuclear components would be remanufactured as closely as possible to the original designs, but other components could be modified;

  • A Curatorship Option, under which DOE would rely on surveillance and nonnuclear testing to determine when repairs are necessary to nuclear weapons. Only if there is compelling evidence that components have degraded or will soon degrade, and could cause a significant loss of safety, reliability, or performance, would DOE replace the affected parts with new ones. All the new components would then be remanufactured as closely as possible to the original designs;

  • A Passive Arms Reduction Option, in which DOE would replenish tritium supplies and replace traditional "limited life components," such as batteries and neutron generators, but would make no other repairs to nuclear weapons; and

  • A Return to Testing Option, under which DOE would conduct two to four underground nuclear explosive tests per year, in addition to continuing nearly all the activities of the current Stockpile Stewardship Program.

Under each of the options, the Department of Energy could adequately maintain a sizable U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile for many years. That is not meant to imply our lack of support or interest in rapid reductions and eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons. Active steps to bring about U.S. and international arms reductions are beyond the scope of this report. Rather, this report looks solely at options for managing U.S. nuclear weapons until they can all be eliminated.

Assessment of the Options for Managing the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile

Our assessment of the five options against each of six criteria is shown in Table ES-1 (see pdf version on this website for Tables). The assessments are summarized below. Table ES-2 shows our estimates of the likely annual costs to pursue the major elements of each option for the next five to ten years.

The Curatorship Option is the only one of the five options that we rate as superior or good on all five criteria that we believe must be satisfied to adequately maintain the nuclear weapons stockpile and achieve broad political support. Curatorship rates superior for Maintaining Weapons Safety and Security and good for Maintaining Reliability and Performance. Those high ratings are due primarily to the strong emphasis under this option on replacing degraded components with new ones as close to the original designs as possible. DOE would not attempt to make any improvements. In general, the fewer changes one attempts to make in safe and reliable warheads, the more likely they are to remain safe and reliable.

Curatorship rates good rather than superior for Maintaining Reliability and Performance, because DOE would not replace most weapons components until it observed some degradation in their condition. That would entail some risk that once degradation of a component is observed, it might already prevent the weapon from performing properly.

Curatorship rates good on Supporting Arms Control and Nonproliferation, because of its policy of no improvements to nuclear weapons and because DOE would cease all research and experimentation that is not absolutely necessary to maintain the nuclear weapons stockpile. It falls short of superior, because it does not automatically reduce the number of nuclear weapons.

The curtailment of most of DOE's current weapons-related research and experimentation is also the primary reason that Curatorship receives good ratings for Controlling Costs and for Minimizing Adverse Environmental Impacts.

The Curatorship Option rates poor on the criterion of Improving and Modernizing Nuclear Weapons. Efforts to improve U.S. nuclear weapons can encourage other nations to develop their own nuclear weapons. Such efforts are also inconsistent with the U.S. commitments under the NPT to cease the arms race. Therefore, we view the low rating for the Curatorship Option on this criterion as further reason to favor it.

The Remanufacturing Option is the only one that we rate as superior for Maintaining Weapons Reliability and Performance. It also rates superior for Maintaining Safety and Security. Those high ratings are due to the pro-active posture of this option in replacing components on a regular basis, before degradation occurs. Nuclear components would be replaced with new units as close to the original design as possible. Changes would be allowed to nonnuclear components under this option, but since such changes can be thoroughly tested, they do not detract from the superior ratings for these criteria.

On the other hand, since DOE would, under this option, continue an active weapons research and engineering program, begin remanufacturing and replacing nuclear weapons' primaries as soon as possible, and seek to make improvements in the nonnuclear components of nuclear weapons, this option rates only fair for Supporting Arms Control and Nonproliferation.

In addition, the Remanufacturing Option rates poor for controlling costs and only fair for minimizing adverse environmental impact. This option gets low ratings on those criteria because it would promptly proceed to remanufacture a considerable number of plutonium pits, absent significant arsenal reductions. Furthermore, proponents of this option assume that most of DOE's weapons-related research and experimentation programs would be continued.

If, however, weapons-related research activities and improvements to weapons components were constrained under the Remanufacturing Option, it would become more attractive. A hybrid option is possible that retains the pro-active stance of the Remanufacturing Option by replacing components before degradation is observed, and combines that with the restricted research and engineering and prohibition on improvements to nuclear weapons of the Curatorship Option. Such a hybrid might be attractive to those who do not support the approach of the Curatorship Option of waiting for defects to be discovered before making repairs.

The Passive Arms Reduction Option rates superior on four of the five key criteria we believe must be satisfied to adequately maintain the stockpile and achieve broad political support. However, it rates only fair on Maintaining Reliability and Performance. That low rating is due primarily to this option's approach of removing failed weapons from the stockpile, instead of fixing and replacing them.

We assume that under this option DOE would conduct a thorough surveillance and testing program to identify degraded warheads and remove them from the stockpile. In that case, the remaining weapons could be as reliable as under any of the other options. The number of reliable warheads would decline over time, however. Eventually, one or more classes of warheads might have to be removed from the stockpile. This would reduce the flexibility in the United States response to a potential aggressor. This approach is likely to make the Passive Arms Reduction Option politically unacceptable in the current environment.

However, even under the "no repairs" policy of this option, it is very unlikely that the number of reliable nuclear weapons in the stockpile would fall precipitously for at least the next few decades. Thus, those who support a minimum core deterrence role for nuclear weapons might favor this option.

The DOE Stockpile Stewardship Program rates poor and the Return to Testing Option rates inferior on Support for Arms Control and Nonproliferation. In both cases, we assign those low ratings because of their broad programs in weapons research and engineering and their plans for improving nuclear weapons. Such plans are inconsistent with U.S. commitments under the NPT to cease the nuclear arms race. Those options serve to encourage further development of nuclear weapons around the world. In addition, those options are by far the most costly and least protective of the environment.

Conclusion and Recommendations

We have identified three distinctly different options that offer substantial improvements over the Stockpile Stewardship Program. They are the Curatorship Option, the Remanufacturing Option, and the Passive Arms Reduction Option. We rate all three of those options higher than the Stockpile Stewardship Program for maintaining weapons safety and security; supporting arms control and nonproliferation; controlling costs; and minimizing environmental impacts. We therefore recommend the following:

Recommendation 1. The U.S. Congress should request from the Congressional Budget Office and the General Accounting Office financial and policy analyses of the five strategies identified here for managing the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.

Recommendation 2. Congress should hold comprehensive oversight hearings examining DOE's Stockpile Stewardship Program in comparison to the full suite of stockpile management options.

Recommendation 3. Congress should redirect funds from DOE's efforts at expanding nuclear weapons science and engineering and improving nuclear weapons designs. Instead, some of the funds should be used to increase support for basic programs in surveillance, testing, and evaluation of existing weapons in the active stockpile.

Recommendation 4. The Department of Energy should conduct a comprehensive reevaluation of how it manages the nuclear weapons stockpile. The reevaluation should consider a range of options, such as those presented here, and evaluate the options against a set of criteria similar to those used here. The reevaluation should give special consideration to options that are more supportive of U.S. arms control and nonproliferation objectives than is Stockpile Stewardship.

Recommendation 5. Citizens groups and the general public should use the information presented in this report to advocate for changes in U.S. nuclear weapons policy that would reduce the worldwide danger from nuclear weapons.

Not Ready for Prime Time

adapted from an issue brief by Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers, for Tri-Valley CAREs' August 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

"The kill vehicle failed to do its job," said Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald T. Kadish, the director of the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, minutes after the latest flight test of the "limited" national missile defense (NMD) system under consideration for deployment by the Clinton administration. This second bungled intercept test in a row demonstrates that the NMD technology cannot be relied upon even under a highly- controlled test environment, let alone in real-world conditions.

What Went Wrong

Between midnight and 1:00 am (EDT) on July 8, 2000, the third test of the proposed national missile defense system failed when the exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) did not separate from its booster, dooming the test.

The latest failure is all the more telling given the results of the first two tests. In October 1999, the Pentagon initially claimed the NMD flight test a complete success, but was forced to admit that the EKV was off-course before it saw the large, bright decoy balloon and was able to recover and intercept the mock warhead. In January, a clogged cooling line shut down the EKV's infra-red sensors, leading to an out-and-out miss.

In a weak attempt at dismissing the July 8 failure, General Kadish said that "I don't think we should draw conclusions from any one test that are irrevocable. What we have is a number of tests and legacy tests for all the elements of the system. When added together, it provides us a great body of evidence of the capability of the system." Unfortunately, Kadish may ignore his own advice and rely too-heavily and irrevocably on the October 1999 test -- the only one of the three to come close to "working."

Moreover, the communication failure between the surrogate Minuteman III booster rocket and the EKV suggests that there may be bigger problems ahead: the prototype booster rocket is already eight months behind schedule, partly due to "systems integration" problems like the one that led to the latest miss.

As General Larry Welch reminded the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 29th: "We're talking about reliability, and we're talking about a very complex system. There's probably only about a thousand things that can go wrong."

Growing Skepticism and Opposition to NMD Deployment

Since the July 8 NMD test flight failure, key political leaders have called upon President Clinton to defer any decision on deployment to the next administration. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) told The New York Times: "The technological piece of this is not yet in place. The cost obviously is not in place." Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, told the Colorado Springs Gazette, "I'm not in favor of just plunging ahead and hoping it works."

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin (D-MI), told Bloomberg News: "The failure of the national missile defense flight test is a reminder that we are still a long way from knowing whether this system will be operationally effective." Levin, who had been silent on whether he favors going ahead with construction of the system, added: "There are simply too many unresolved technical and policy issues for President Clinton to make a decision."

Perhaps most significantly, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) told Bloomberg that the failure persuaded him to change his mind: "I was open to the thought that we might take the next step,'' Daschle said. "But I concluded as a result of this test it does not make sense to me that we make any decision to move forward until we have more information."

Senate Says No to Realistic Tests

Despite the July 8 test failure, the Senate defied common sense and rejected by 52-48 an amendment to the FY 2001 Defense Authorization bill that would have required the Pentagon to conduct more realistic testing. The defeat of the amendment, offered by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), puts many Senators in the embarrassing position of endorsing national missile defense whether or not it is adequately tested.

The Durbin amendment called for additional testing of the Clinton NMD system against decoys and countermeasures and for the Welch panel to review the test results. The vote illustrates that many Senate NMD proponents are so ideologically committed to NMD deployment that they do not care to determine if it works or not. As Senator Durbin said: "Facing an honest test of the National Missile Defense system, Senate Republicans ran like scalded cats."

In a letter July 11, 2000 letter to Durbin supporting the Senator's amendment, Philip Coyle, formerly of Livermore Lab and the current director of the Pentagon's Office of Operational Test and Evaluation wrote: "As we move forward, test realism will need to grow with system capability, and it will become more and more important to achieve realistic operational conditions in NMD system tests."

The Pentagon-appointed panel tasked with reviewing the NMD testing program, chaired by former Air Force Chief of Staff Larry Welch, is also concerned that the current system cannot deal with likely countermeasures. In its third report, the panel called for a "well-defined, funded program to match the target-decoy discrimination capability to future likely countermeasures."

Can Clinton Have It Both Ways?

Although the NMD test record and the growing domestic and international political opposition make it increasingly unlikely that President Clinton will decide to deploy the "limited" NMD system, he may still decide to commit funds and the next President toward deployment by issuing contracts for construction of the Shemya Island X-band radar, beginning in mid-2001. How is this possible?

Despite the dubious results of the first test and the failure of the second and third, the Pentagon can, under its criteria for success, declare the national missile defense system ready for construction. The Pentagon's assessment of the "technical readiness" for deployment, the Deployment Readiness Review (DRR), is expected by next month.

The Pentagon's criteria for technical readiness is relatively low: it requires two successful intercept tests, provided one is a full-system test. To lower the bar even further, the DRR can give a provisional green light based on one intercept, as long as a successful full-system intercept occurs before construction begins. If a "yes" decision is made, construction is scheduled to begin as early as April 2001, by which time two further intercept tests are possible.

Clinton to Re-Interpret Treaty?

Construction of the X-band radar threatens to violate of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. To avoid having to make a decision on whether to notify Russia of the United States' intention to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, Clinton may try to assert a new and "broader" legal interpretation of what constitutes an ABM Treaty violation that redefines "under construction," pushing back the date when that breach may occur.

However, this approach would only slightly delay when NMD construction violates the ABM Treaty, a day that could arrive early in the term of the next President. If President Clinton asserts this new ABM Treaty interpretation, it could undermine the credibility of our commitments under every Treaty to which the U.S. is a party, and, in response Russia may feel compelled to act, e.g., by withdrawing from other Treaties such as START II and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

"Shield of [Dangerous] Dreams"

The failure of the $100 million NMD flight test underscores that NMD is still only a "shield of dreams." There remains an absence of a credible, imminent long-range missile threat from any of the so-called "states of concern" to justify a crash program. Furthermore, the costs of NMD remain too high: the Clinton administration proposal would cost in excess of $60 billion through 2015. A precipitous NMD deployment decision threatens cooperative security and arms control arrangements that have enhanced U.S. security for decades. NMD deployment would prompt other states to build up their offensive strategic nuclear arsenals, which could ignite renewed nuclear weapons competition between the U.S., Russia and China, and even in South Asia. On balance, a decision to deploy would make the United States less not more secure.

The facts are in. It is time for President Clinton to acknowledge that the serious unresolved strategic, technical and political problems surrounding national missile defense justify a decision not to authorize construction of the system.

Send This Letter!

This letter is meant to be sent multiple times by folks all around the world. It has already been sent by Oscar Aries, Nobel Peace Laureate, author Jonathan Schell and many others. Please copy the text of the letter, paste into the body of your email message to, sign your name at the bottom and send it today. Or, create your own letter.

Dear President Clinton:

Nuclear weapons pose a great threat to human survival, but ballistic missile defense is not the answer. During the Cold War, a key argument in favor of star wars was that if the Soviet Union got such a system first, it would pose a grave threat to the U.S., because they could launch their missiles without fear of retaliation.

Even if such a system did in fact not work, a leader who falsely believed it would work could be tempted to strike first. Thus it is understandable that Russia and China are fearful because the U.S. wants to build unilaterally a ballistic missile defense, and that they vow they will have no choice but to increase their arsenals to prove they could penetrate such a system.

Ballistic missile defense, even if it worked perfectly, could not protect anyone from the threat of a nuclear bomb in a suitcase, on a truck or on a sailboat.

The main beneficiaries of a decision to build a ballistic missile defense are U.S. defense contractors, who stand to make an estimated $60 billion and are therefore lobbying to build it.

We urge you to cancel the proposed ballistic missile defense system, which would violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and could unravel the whole process of arms control.

The only effective protection against nuclear destruction is complete nuclear disarmament with thorough verification. We urge you to take the lead and call a conference of the heads of all nuclear weapons states to set an early fixed date for the elimination of nuclear weapons with international verification.

You can leave the greatest legacy by helping free future generations from the Damocles sword of nuclear weapons hanging constantly over all of our heads.


(Email to:

Notice from Tri-Valley CAREs' August 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch


DATE: Saturday, August 26, 2000

TIME: 10 AM - 4 PM

PLACE: San Damiano Retreat Center, 710 Highland Drive, Danville, CA

SETTING: Located on 60 acres of wooded hillside, San Damiano retreat center offers us a tranquil space-full of gardens and graceful beauty-in which to ponder our group's path and goals for the coming year.

WHO SHOULD ATTEND? Tri-Valley CAREs' members, staff, board and volunteers.

WHO WILL FACILITATE? Back by popular demand for the third straight year will be Dan Geiger of Geiger and Associates.

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO? RSVP to Tri-Valley CAREs at (925) 443-7148. We will mail you a packet with guidance for strategic planning, an agenda and the directions to San Damiano.

Citizen's Alerts

from Tri-Valley CAREs' August 2000 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Tuesday, August 8
An evening with Bruce Gagnon
"The Return of Star Wars: the Weaponization of Space"
7 PM, Friends Church, Corner of Sacramento and Cedar
near No. Berkeley BART station RSVP requested: (925) 443-7148

Pot-luck. Bring a dish if you can. This is your chance to learn about U.S. plans to dominate the planet from space by the year 2020, using nuclear weapons and laser technology. We will have U.S. Space Command handouts.

Saturday, August 12
"Living in the Shadow of the Lab"
A roundtable discussion for residents
2 PM - 4 PM, Tri-Valley CAREs' offices
2582 Old First Street, Livermore
RSVP required: (925) 443-7148

Livermore residents are invited. We will explore what we think, feel and perceive about living with a nuclear weapons lab in our midst. Tri-Valley CAREs' goal is to learn more about what the community's needs are, and to discuss ways our locally-based group might meet them. There will be a group facilitator, and we are limiting each session to ten participants in order that everyone may have sufficient opportunity to share and to be heard. Call us.

Thursday, August 17
Tri-Valley CAREs meeting
7:30 PM, Livermore Library
1000 South Livermore Ave.
(925) 443-7148 for details

Got the summertime blues? Cure them by joining like-minded folks to stop nuclear weapons development and attendant pollution. Your participation - even if you can only spare a few hours a month - will help us to create positive change at Livermore Lab and around the world. A nuclear weapons-free 21st century beckons us, and - together - we are making that dream a reality. Join us.

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