Experiments at Russian and US underground sites are used by both nations to help ensure their nuclear arsenals remain viable but are conducted under a blanket of secrecy. And so they’ve given rise to suspicions, and accusations, that they violate a 1996 global treaty designed to stymie nuclear weapons innovations by barring any nuclear explosions.
Nuclear Watch New Mexico is a staunch supporter of arms control treaties, particularly since they can be confidence building steps toward the long term goal of creating the nuclear weapons-free world articulated by President Obama.
However, we fear that arms control treaties will be turned on their heads to become in effect armament treaties for the American nuclear weapons complex. We think our fears are now concretely realized by the Obama Administration’s “modernization plan” attached to yesterday’s submittal of New START to the Senate for ratification.
As you probably know, the Obama plan is to increase funding for the NNSA’s nuclear weapons programs from $6.4 billion in FY10 to $9 billion by FY 2018, which is a 76% increase above the Cold War annual average of $5.1 billion. We think that is obviously a serious step backwards on the road to a nuclear weapons-free world, especially when the labs seem intent on introducing new military capabilities to existing types of U.S. nuclear weapons.
There have been calls for unconditional public support of New START. Yet current political realities are that New START will be heavily conditioned by both the Obama Administration and the Senate to include the revitalization of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.
In concrete terms, this means dramatically increased funding for huge new production plants for plutonium, uranium and nonnuclear components, respectively the Los Alamos CMRR-Nuclear Facility, the Y-12 Uranium Processing Facility and the new Kansas City Plant.
It also means future aggressive Life Extension Programs that will substantially modify the nuclear explosives package, a serious threshold that we have not yet crossed (and which could effectively recreate the Reliable Replacement Warheads that NNSA sought but Congress rejected, but by another name). We also need to remain aware of the failure to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1999, but which nevertheless profited the nuclear weapons labs and complex by some $100 billion to date under the Stockpile Stewardship Program to compensate for the loss of underground full-scale testing.
We don’t question that appeals for public support of New START should go forward. But as NGOs we are also entrusted with public responsibility to provide a fuller picture.
We argue that certain conditions for New START ratification, such as increased funding for new production facilities, LEPs and stockpile work, should be publicly explained, and lead to qualified instead of unconditional support of New START ratification.
While Obama’s rhetoric soars toward a grand nuclear weapons-free world, his Office of Management and Budget is getting ready to ask Congress for a 10% increase in research and production?
Apparently our president is preemptively surrendering to the 40 Republican senators +1 (“independent” Lieberman) that demanded linkage of ratification of a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia to “modernization” of the nuclear weapons research and production complex, along with a “modern warhead,” whatever that is. A huge fight was always expected over a second round of attempted ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT. However, the Republicans +1 cunningly chose to move that fight up to START ratification in order to leverage Obama’s proposed FY 2011 federal budget slated for release on February 1. They apparently have succeeded: he has caved into them.
The Republicans seek to mandate the construction of two controversial new production facilities, the plutonium “Nuclear Facility” at Los Alamos and the Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 near Oak Ridge, TN, both designed for production levels of up to 125 nuclear weapons per year. Additionally, groundbreaking for the new privately financed Kansas City Plant for nonnuclear components production, responsible for 85% of all components that go into U.S. nuclear weapons, will occur soon. Ironically, that may be just before the NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference that begins May 3 at the United Nations. We can expect Obama’s oratory to again excel at the UN while claiming that the U.S. is indeed working toward a nuclear weapons-free world. He will be contradicted by these new plutonium, uranium and nonnuclear nuclear weapons components production plants, together costing $7 billion or more.
Obama should put his money where his mouth is, not give it to the nuclear weaponeers. A decade ago Clinton and Congress delivered bucket loads of money to the nuclear weapons labs, only to have their directors damn the Test Ban Treaty through faint praise before the Senate in 1999 which killed it (and they got to keep the money!).
Today, the Labs internally state that there is little technical difference between a ratified Test Ban Treaty and the current testing moratorium in effect since 1992. Their real concern is to leverage treaty ratifications to ensure expanded design and production capabilities for both existing weapons and possible “replacement designs,” which they have not given up on despite previous congressional rejections of “Reliable Replacement Warheads.” They want to “Get more money” for expanded capabilities through Treaty “Safeguards.” They are apparently succeeding. ( more ).
Studies by independent nuclear weapons experts have concluded that the all important plutonium pit triggers last a century or more, and existing nuclear weapons can be reliably maintained under existing programs for many decades. In pending budget and treaty ratification processes our New Mexican Senators should be pushing for increased funding for alternative missions and cleanup at our Sandia and Los Alamos national labs, instead of supporting Obama’s preemptive surrender that will further entrench our state in the nuclear weapons business. That is the right thing to do for both the long-term creation of jobs in New Mexico and working consistently toward a nuclear weapons-free world.
Given exploding national debt the American taxpayer should not be further burdened with unneeded and provocative nuclear weapons production facilities. The labs want to pervert disarmament treaties into armament treaties by enshrining expanded nuclear weapons design and production capabilities for themselves as treaty “Safeguards.” Hope we don’t get fooled again!
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.