Sandia Claims Technology Supports the CTBT While Modernizing Weapons

Above its masthead the hard copy 12/4/09 Sandia Lab News has a cool NNSA/DoD “W76-1/MK4A” badge with a black submarine and a vertical warhead above it with a slanted trident across it. MK4A is the reentry vehicle for the W76. The sub, of course, is a Trident submarine.

To summarize some points:

• It states that Life Extension Programs (LEPs) can extend warhead life up to 60 years. That’s significant, especially given the continuing push by some for new-design replacement warheads. Previously I had heard only up to 30 years.

• Please note the pending resumption of broad-scale nuclear weapons production with this W76 LEP.

• Please note “reinventing the weapon’s AF&F [arming, fuzing & firing] system” …. which “provides packaging and performance enhancements. Though the W76-1 is emphatically not a new weapon system, the scope of the LEP effort was very demanding.”

Maybe it’s not a new “system,” but the W76-1 has new military characteristics. That new AF&F system being produced now at the Kansas City Plant is believed to endow the warhead with a selectable height of burst.

In 1997 Navy Admiral George “Pete” Nanos wrote :

The demonstrated capability of the D5 [the new Trident II missile] is excellent. Our capability for Mk 4 [reentry vehicle with W76 warhead], however, is not very impressive by today’s standards, largely because the Mk 4 was never given a fuse that made it capable of placing the burst at the right height to hold other than urban industrial targets at risk. With the accuracy of D5 and Mk 4, just by changing the fuze in the Mk 4 reentry body, you get a significant improvement. The Mk 4, with a modified fuze and Trident II accuracy, can meet the original D5 hard target requirement. Why is this important? Because in the START II regime, of course, the ICBM hard target killers are going out of the inventory and that cuts back our ability to hold hard targets at risk.

Strategic Systems Update,” Rear Admiral G.P. Nanos, The Submarine Review, April 1997

In other words, with a new fuze and increased missile accuracy the military characteristics of the refurbished W76-1 are transformed from being a countervalue weapon of deterrence (“city buster”) into a counterforce weapon (“hard target killer”). This directly contradicts the constantly repeated statements by senior U.S. Government officials that military characteristics won’t be changed and that “new” nuclear weapons will not be created.

For more, please Hans Kristensen’s excellent 2007 “Administration Increases Submarine Warhead Protection Plan

(Side note: Adm. Pete Nanos later became LANL Director, didn’t quite get along, and at one point famously called Lab scientists “cowboys” and “buttheads”).

The article ends by noting that the W76 LEP has laid the foundation for a future B61 LEP, which itself is an issue of current controversy.

Separately it was recently revealed that Sandia manager Lockheed Martin pays Sandia Director Tom Hunter $1.7 million a year. Lockheed Martin is also the dominant corporate partner running the U.K’s Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston. On December 4 the Obama Administration nominated Donald Cook to be NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs. Cook is an American who worked at Sandia for 28 years and was the Managing Director of the UK’s AWE from 2006 to 2009. The W76 is the U.K’s main (if not only) currently operational nuclear weapon.

I find the overarching headline in this e-version of Sandia Lab News announcing that Sandia technology “comprehensively” supports the CTBT to be ironic while it then goes on into an article about broad-scale nuclear weapons production of the W76-1. I understood the original intent of the CTBT to be a disarmament treaty cutting off the further advancement of nuclear weapons by any country.

What NIF Might Do?

The gist of NNSA’s important announcement: After $5 billion and counting,
(emphases mine)

NIF’s laser beams CAN BE effectively delivered and ARE CAPABLE of creating sufficient x-ray energy to drive fuel implosion, an important step toward the ultimate goal of fusion ignition.

Further,

NIF will be a cornerstone of a critical national security mission, ensuring the continuing reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile without underground nuclear testing…

This is more of Tom D’Agostino’s positioning of NIF as essential for CTBT ratification (which he has done face-to-face to me and others). That’s not a prudent deal, to hinge CTBT ratification on what NIF “MIGHT” be capable of.

… while also providing a path to explore the frontiers of basic science, and potential technologies for energy independence. It is a prime example of how our investment in nuclear security is providing the tools to tackle a broad range of national challenges.

Is there nothing NIF can’t do? Recall that exactly a year ago tomorrow they had Terminator Gov. Schwarzenegger going “gee whiz,” as follows:

This laser technology has the potential to revolutionize our energy future,” Governor Schwarzenegger said. “If successful, this new endeavor could generate thousands of megawatts of carbon-free nuclear power but without the drawbacks of conventional nuclear plants. This type of innovation is why we are a world leader in science, technology and clean energy, and I could not be prouder that this work is happening right here in California.

Speaking for myself, I will grudgingly concede that NIF has succeeded in its real mission of ensuring that the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory survives as a nuclear weapons lab (NIF-specific funding is 25% of all DOE funding for LLNL). In 1995 the Galvin Commission recommended eliminating the redundancy of having 2 nuclear weapons design labs and ending weapons programs at Livermore. Then rose NIF…..

The bolded emphases on NNSA’s repeated use of qualifying language and future tense is mine. Does this press release really say anything of substance at all?

(Un)Reliable Replacement Rationale

In this YouTube video Energy Secretary Chu and Tom D’Agostino celebrate the Kansas City Plant’s 60th anniversary with a plaque mounted with vacuum tubes for the B61 radar unit. STRATCOM chief Chilton has repeatedly used the presence of vacuum tubes in the nuclear weapon as a rationale for complete new-design nuclear weapons (the Reliable Replacement Warheads, or facsimiles thereof), instead of modernizing just the radar.

Meanwhile, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the General Services Administration are engaged in a complex scheme for private financing of a new Kansas City Plant for which the Kansas City municipal government will hold title because of municipal bonds issued to finance its road and utility infrastructure. This is enabled by Missouri state law, which gives tax abatement authority to municipal governments in order to fight urban blight. In this case, 185 acres primarily used for soybean agriculture was declared blighted in order to grease the deal. The result: a city government owning a federal nuclear weapons production plant in the name of fighting urban blight!

Historically, the Kansas City Plant has manufactured and/or procured 85% of all types of nuclear weapons components by volume. KCP was excluded from analysis in the Complex Transformation Supplemental programmatic environmental impact statement because NNSA falsely argued that its nonnuclear components production mission would not be affected by decisions made elsewhere in the nuclear weapons complex. Au contraire, the rationale for the new Kansas City Plant was originally predicated upon extensive production of new Reliable Replacement Warheads and Life Extension Programs involving existing nuclear weapons numbering in the 1,000’s.

Hopefully that rationale is now seriously outdated.

Los Alamos Director Anastasio’s Two Hats

Apparently the National Nuclear Security Administration reimburses Los Alamos National Security LLC (LANS) $397,341 for LANL Director Anastasio’s salary. Then LANS LLC pays him another $400K to promote the NNSA agenda from which LANS LLC derives a profit. During all this time Anastasio also acts as President of the for profit LANS (for which he gets a combined total of $800K).

Which hat does Anastasio then wear when the country needs his best advice? Obama wants the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ratified as one beginning step toward a nuclear weapons-free world. The Labs want the Senate to attach “Safeguards” to the Treaty during the ratification process that will have the contrary effect of enshrining nuclear weapons design and production capabilities into perpetuity. LANS profits from those capabilities.  How do we know that Anastasio will give untainted advice on serious questions such as whether this country will genuinely lead toward enhanced global security through the verifiable multilateral elimination of nuclear weapons?

For more on what the nuclear weapons labs want through CTBT Safeguards see our September 2009 press release:

Labs Seek “Stockpile Modernization” Through Test Ban Ratification “Updating” of Treaty “Safeguards” to Protect Nuclear Weapons Budgets

Weapons Lab Director Paid Double the Salary of Nobel Peace Prize-Winning President Obama

Santa Fe, NM – On December 10 President Barack Obama will receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway for his beginning efforts to abolish nuclear weapons. The President is paid $400,000 a year for running the country. Michael Anastasio, the Director of the Los Alamos nuclear weapons lab in northern New Mexico, is paid double that of the President, $800,348 a year. Unlike the President, Mr. Anastasio has been an unabashed supporter of new-design nuclear weapons and resumed industrial-scale nuclear weapons production. Over 60% of the Lab’s $2.1 billion annual budget is specifically dedicated to nuclear weapons research and production, while much of its remaining budget supports those core programs.

It is profoundly regrettable that so much taxpayers’ money is misdirected toward nuclear weapons of mass destruction, contrary to the spirit of the Peace Prize that President Obama is about to receive.

Nuclear Watch Press Release

Scroll to top