Communities Against a Radioactive Environment
Our Response to Letters from the Weapons Lab Directors Released at the House Armed Services Committee Strategic Forces Subcommittee Hearing on 3/25/10
Ostensibly, these letters were to address the JASON study on nuclear warhead "Life Extension Programs," or LEPs. The study and its unclassified summary were completed in September 2009. The JASON are a group of prominent scientists often engaged to answer military science questions involving the Departments of Energy and Defense.
The study concluded, in essence, that the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile could be maintained with existing methods for decades. Moreover, the JASON said that certain design changes that the weaponeers desire would require detailed knowledge beyond that which now exists (meaning, in part, that making these changes might risk a return to nuclear testing in order to certify the new warhead's "reliability".) Apparently, the JASON findings did not sit well with the weapons lab directors.
Thus, the three letters released yesterday, one each signed by Livermore Lab director, George Miller, Los Alamos Lab director, Michael Anastasio, and Sandia Lab director, Thomas Hunter, attempt to cast a shadow on the JASON review. In particular, the Livermore and Los Alamos directors seek to use their platform to comment on the JASON report findings as a broad-based fundraising opportunity, even while admitting the report's overall credibility.
Los Alamos director Michael Anastasio's letter opines that the U.S. should replace high-explosives in warhead designs, a move that the Navy had previously rejected for its submarine-launched nuclear warheads that use conventional high explosives. More broadly, Anastasio's letter goes on to promote the development of "reuse" and "replacement" warheads, which would involve substantially new or re-designed nuclear weapons.
Anastasio then writes that "it would be incorrect to conclude from the report that reuse and replacement options are more difficult to certify". Yet, the JASON report actually says, "Certification of certain reuse or replacement options would require improved understanding of boost."
Livermore Lab director George Miller's letter moves the fundraising goal post farther down the field.
First, Miller's letter claims that the more expensive warhead "reuse" or "replacement" options (i.e., a substantially re-designed stockpile) would reduce the risk of loss of reliability, when, if fact, those options could introduce unreliability into the arsenal as a function of the scientific uncertainty related to design changes in the absence of full-scale nuclear testing.
The Miller letter then goes on to hint at "many other areas of weapons physics that require improved understanding if we are to be fully confident of our ability to carry the full range of potential certification tasks without resorting to nuclear testing."
Tri-Valley CAREs' Marylia Kelley responded dryly, "How much will be enough?" Kelley explained, "Miller and Anastasio go far beyond their simple charge to comment on the JASON study. Their letters contain thinly veiled attempts to lay the groundwork for holding the just-completed new START agreement and the as yet unratified Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) hostage, much like the lab directors did in 1999 when the CTBT first came to the Senate for Advice and Consent.
"The important lesson for the Obama Administration is that their strategy for getting the lab directors on board for treaty ratification is not working," Kelley concluded. "The directors knew of the proposed increase in nuclear weapons activities for 2011 when they wrote these letters. Yet, they are angling for billions more. Again, I ask, 'how much will be enough?' Have the lab directors put self-interest above the national interest? I believe they have stepped over the line. It's time for President Obama to walk them back!"
Click here to see the Executive Summary to the JASON Report on Life Extension Programs for the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile.
Click here to see LLNL's Response Letter to Request Regarding JASON Report on Life Extension Programs for the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile.
Click here to see LANL's Response Letter to Request Regarding JASON Report on Life Extension Programs for the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile.
Click here to see SNL's Response Letter to Request Regarding JASON Report on Life Extension Programs for the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile.