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"Forget the Rest" blog

For Immediate Release February 6, 2006

Sweeping Plan to Build New Warheads to Be Part of Bush Nuclear Budget; Los Alamos Is Pivotal Site

Weapons head Linton Brooks’ remarks in Livermore imply that $4 billion Los Alamos plutonium “pit” program is now primarily aimed at producing new warheads

Contact: Greg Mello, 505-265-1200 and 505-577-8563

Albuquerque and Los Alamos, New Mexico – Information about the scope of the proposed new Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) has been trickling out from a number of sources over the past two years.  Today, the Department of Energy (DOE) and its semi-autonomous nuclear weapons fiefdom the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) will release the Administration’s budget request for FY2007. 

First the Big Picture: Defense Spending a Huge Drain, No Security In Sight

Today’s budget request will include more than $700 billion(B) in military spending, when the proposed $120 B supplemental for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other military programs are included.  (An analysis will be posted shortly at and until then is available upon request).  

Study Group Director Mello: “We believe that a careful analysis comparing apples to apples would show that U.S. military spending now exceeds that of all the rest of the world combined.  It ought to be clear that the ‘military solution’ to our various national problems has spiraled out of control.  In today’s budget, every form of real security, both human and environmental, is being sacrificed on the altar of a so-called ‘long war’ which we need not fight and which is destroying us as a democratic society and as a competitive economy.”  

When the defense portion of debt service is included, the total military commitment proposed this year, excluding Homeland Security programs, will approach $900 B. 

Final numbers must await analysis of today’s budget request.  Federal interest payments vary with market conditions and can be known only in retrospect.

Historically, nuclear weapons have consumed about $8 trillion to date in today’s dollars, if one brings the Brookings Institution’s multi-year study up to date. 

Nuclear Weapons Program Reaching for Comprehensive Innovation, Renewal by Redirecting Portions of “Stewardship” Program to Production of New Weapons

In an important article in yesterday’s Tri-Valley Herald (“Times good for bomb designers: scientists drawing up plans for new nuclear weapons with aim of replacing U.S. arsenal,” 2/5/06), veteran nuclear weapons journalist Ian Hoffman provides the clearest picture to date of the stated goals of the RRW program. 

According to Hoffman, NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks says that if the RRW program succeeds, “in perhaps 20 or 25 more years, the United States would have an entirely new nuclear arsenal, and a highly automated factory capable of turning out more warheads as needed, as well as new kinds of warheads.”  He has said this before (see, for example, a key article by James Sterngold, “U.S. alters nuclear weapons policy: Congress rejects 'bunker busters' for more reliable arms,” San Francisco Chronicle 1/28/06).  Prior to these recent admissions these goals can be found in a less explicit form in a variety of NNSA documents.  The clarity with which this sweeping ambition was expressed last week is new.

Hoffman’s second scoop is this: “If manufactured, the first RRW would replace two warheads on submarine-launched missiles, the W76 and W88, together the most numerous active weapons and the cornerstone of the U.S. nuclear force.”

Mello: “This means that all the plutonium bomb core (“pit”) production preparation which has been underway at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for many years, and which also is now underway at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), will be redirected, if all goes ‘well,’ to the RRW once the capability to manufacture pits is in place.  The goal of building "remanufacturing" capability for existing high-yield Trident pits (W88 pits) is now morphing into manufacturing RRW pits.  LANL does not have the production capacity to build both RRW pits and W88 pits.  Inferences from internal documents have long pointed to a ‘bait and switch’ strategy, but until now we had no way to prove this.” 

Brooks’ statement means that the RRW program, whatever else it may also be, is a continuation of the Submarine Warhead Protection Program (SWPP), something long suspected by the Study Group but until now not proven.  An overview of the highly-secretive SWPP program, launched during the Clinton Administration by Admiral Pete Nanos, later LANL’s director, and others can be found in the January/February issue 2000 of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, here

The Study Group, which has been investigating LANL pit production program since its inception, has added up the cost of the program.  Through FY2006 the LANL pit production program has cost about $2.5 B in 2006 dollars, according to DOE budget requests compiled by the Study Group.  Complex-wide, pit production and certification programs have cost $3.5 B to date in 2006 dollars, according to the DOE, in the Study Group’s accounting. 

At LANL and elsewhere, in addition to these sunk costs, pit production is entailing new construction.  LANL’s proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research “Replacement” (CMRR) building, to be built at LANL’s TA-55 technical area in order to expand plutonium operations and storage for pit production, is estimated to cost about $900 million.  This facility will not be usable, however, without a comparable investment in related LANL facilities, which will be at or approaching the ends of their useful lives by the time the CMRR is completed. 

Mello: “When future program and construction costs are added to these sunk costs, it appears that NNSA will have spent at least $5 or $6 billion on pit manufacturing by the time RRW production is supposed to crank up in 2012 at LANL.  Of this, about $4 billion will have been spent at LANL, not counting ancillary waste disposal, security, and other overhead.” 

Public Relations, Institutional Perpetuation, at Heart of New Program

Mello: “Two of the most frequently-repeated myths about the RRW is that it will be more reliable and easier to manufacture than existing weapons.  Will it?   This is not at all clear, nor do I think it very likely.  No data has been offered to support these contentions.  By contrast, the public relations themes of ‘reliability,’ ‘surety,’ and ‘replacement’ have been under development for a long time.  Given Brooks’ recent remarks we can now safely infer that the name of the RRW program is itself the product of long-standing public relations efforts in connection with Trident warheads.”

As the Mello 2000 article notes: “At a June 6, 1996 Energy Department meeting, damage control was in full swing, as evidence by official minutes:

Karen Lombardo [of] DOE HQ (DP-17) explained for the benefit of the Labs and AL [Albuquerque] the political climate that is evolving in Washington concerning the development of new nuclear weapons.  Questions of whether WPP [(Submarine) Warhead Protection Program] constituted a new weapon have been raised…Therefore, it is paramount that the program develops and maintains a direction that emphasizes Stockpile Stewardship and de-emphasizes new warhead development.

In addition HQ [headquarters] was concerned about the name of the program and the name of 'High Margin Warhead' [the LANL design effort] and suggested that we consider changing them. The group raised some concerns over changing the name of the program. LANL stated that they had already considered a name change to 'Replacement Warhead.'  It was suggested that the use of the word 'warhead' may not be acceptable.  Because of the confusion over wording, Karen Lombardo had been asked at the Program Review to develop a Program Definition Glossary." [Source: Glenn Bell, DOE DP-17, "Meeting minutes, DOE Team Meeting for the SLBM WPP, Germantown, June 6, 1996."]

Mello’s 2000 article continues:
“With or without the "glossary," it proved impossible to entirely expurgate the word "warhead" from a program to develop new warheads. A second-best option--couching the program in vague and reassuring language--was chosen.  In a May 1997 status report, the current activities in the replacement warhead project included "Warhead Surety Theme being developed." [Source: Sandia National Laboratories, "Replacement Warhead Summary and Status Charts for SWPP Program Review Meeting," May 1997].

Mello: “It is crucially important for journalists to question the public pronouncements related to this year’s NNSA budget, and especially the sweeping plan to eventually replace all the nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal with new ones.  Many of the key arguments in favor of this proposal are based on fallacious statements and assumptions, and originate from institutional interest and ideology alone.”

Further analyses and data are available upon request from the Study Group.


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