For immediate release 3-26-10
Contact: Greg Mello, 505-265-1200; 505-577-8563 cell
Albuquerque – Yesterday Rep. Michael Turner, Ranking Member
of the House Armed Services Committee’s Strategic Forces
Subcommittee, released a statement (appended below) containing
letters (linked below) from the three nuclear weapons laboratory
directors commenting on last November’s study (pdf) of nuclear weapons Life Extension Program (LEPs) by the elite
JASON defense science advisory group.
These letters, the contents of two of which are at sharp variance
with prior representations by the authoring institutions, are likely
to have considerable political impact.
As an introduction and to save time, I would like to recommend the
discussion of these letters in an
accurate article by Jen DiMascio and Josh Gerstein at Politico.com.
The central finding of the 2009 JASON LEP study was that there are
no inherent long-term reliability problems associated with the
careful refurbishment of existing types of warheads and bombs.
Crudely put, JASON found that there will never be a need for new
kinds of warheads or bombs, as far as reliability is concerned.
This was not a new finding. It first appeared in a letter
from Norris Bradbury, Richard Garwin, and Carson Mark in 1978, in
which these very senior weapons scientists asserted that the existing
analytical capabilities of the nuclear weapons laboratories were
completely adequate to maintain the then-U.S. stockpile during a
nuclear test ban of unlimited duration (available on request).
It was reiterated in 1987 in a review conducted by Dr. Ray Kidder at
the request of Congress (available on request). It was repeated
again in secret debates held at the Department of Energy by
then-Secretary Hazel O'Leary in the early 1990s.
It was repeated in an
important JASON study in 1995, which like other JASON studies was
able to draw on the most senior technical talent in the three nuclear
The November 2009 JASON LEP findings are of a piece with entire
body of work JASON work on this subject.
Two of the three letters released yesterday – the ones from
Michael Anastasio from Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS) and
from Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC (LLNS), are the most
important, as discussed below.
The third letter, by Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) director
Tom Hunter, is rather a straightforward clarification that the
issues, language, and findings of the JASON LEP report do not apply
directly to non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons, i.e. to the
work of SNL, but rather address themselves to the so-called nuclear
explosive package, which is the responsibility of LANS and LLNS.
The “perspectives” (their term) provided by Drs.
Anastasio and Miller begin with explicit advice as to normative
stockpile policy, i.e. what features should be present in U.S.
nuclear warheads and bombs, not just the technical question of how to
provide those features should they be requested by the Commander in
Provision of the features mentioned would require extensive design
and production, more than requested in President Obama’s
budget. It may not be possible to certify the performance some
of the “improvements” they want in the absence of nuclear
For example, former laboratory director Siegfried Hecker has said
it was not advisable to replace a nuclear warhead “primary”
(i.e. first-stage nuclear explosive) conventional high explosive with
an insensitive high explosive (IHE) primary, without nuclear
testing. The same concern applies to all changes in nuclear
Personal and institutional policy perspectives ramify throughout
the letters, weaving in and out almost imperceptibly with technical
issues, making it impossible to separate policy preferences from
This can be seen, for example when Dr. Anastasio identifies his desire for a stockpile with a) all IHE primaries, b) security
features built into the nuclear components themselves, and c)
“substantially increase[d]” (as opposed to adequate)
performance margins with “technically sound stockpile
management,” objectively considered.
Up to now, “technically sound stockpile management” –
including all that which Dr. Anastasio has overseen – has never
included those objectives.
Study Group director Greg Mello: “I think it is clear that
the lab directors have taken the unprecedented step of lobbying
Congress for specific stockpile preferences at this time in order to
influence the content of the upcoming Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) as
well as the authorization and appropriation processes in Congress.
“Surely we all realize that these gentlemen’s
utterances fall into a long line of (generally successful) efforts by
the nuclear laboratories to spin their technical “needs”
in a manner that protects and enhances their budgets. This may
be especially important at Livermore, where “ignition” at
the National Ignition Facility (NIF), a multi-billion-dollar laser
program, may soon fail.
“By saying, in effect, new kinds of warheads and bombs are
necessary to have any stockpile at all – not just one kind but,
under the proposed policies, many – the two physics labs
directors have launched a very public verbal blitzkrieg at the
Administration. It is aimed at the NPR process, a potential
START treaty ratification later this year in the Senate, as well as
at the authorization and appropriations bills wending their way
“They are calculating that the Administration does not have
the courage to do battle with them, and they may be right.
“Prospects of ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
(CTBT) in this Administration, which were nearly nil already, are now
surely dead. The extensive program of nuclear innovation and
production requested in these letters would scuttle the treaty’s
validity in the eyes of the countries which ratification advocates
most hope would be influenced by ratification.
“Stepping back, it appears the White House and liberals in
Congress have been outmaneuvered – again – by the nuclear
weapons establishment, as occurred under presidents Carter and
Clinton. Only this time the starting point for
intragovernmental negotiation was one of near-total appeasement by
the Obama White House. The preemptive surrender offered by
February’s budget request was not enough. Today’s
letters make it clear that much more will be required by the nuclear
empire – provided Obama remains within the timid ambit of
traditional arms control.
“Unless the views in the letters from the two physics labs
are effectively rebutted, qualitative arms control – the
prevention of continued nuclear innovation – is likely to be
badly wounded if not destroyed as a credible paradigm for reform.
“Effective oversight of the nuclear weapons establishment
may now be slipping from Congress’ grasp.”
***LASG press release ends here***
For Immediate Release: March 25, 2010
Contact: Josh Holly; 202.226.3988, Josh.Holly@mail.house.gov
Turner Releases Lab Director Letters on JASON Life Extension
Report in Advance of Nuclear Budget Hearing
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – U.S. Representative Michael
R. Turner (R-Ohio-3) <http://www.turner.house.gov>
, Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces
Subcommittee, today released letters he received from the directors
of the nation’s nuclear security laboratories in which they
commented on the findings and recommendations of a recent report, Life Extension Options for the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile.
The report was released by the JASON scientific advisory panel
in November 2009.
“I welcomed the release of the JASON
scientific advisory panel’s review of warhead Life Extension
Programs last November. However, I was concerned about the
manner in which certain unclassified findings were being interpreted,
so I asked the lab directors for their views on the issues addressed
in the JASON report,” Rep. Turner said.
letters to Congressman Turner, the lab directors expressed concern
that: “In the absence of the more complete discussion provided
in the classified report, the first two findings understate…
the challenges and risks… [and] also understate the future
risks that we must anticipate” in sustaining the U.S. nuclear
stockpile. Additionally, they emphasized that current
approaches cannot sustain our weapons for decades because, “the
available mitigation actions… are reaching their limits.”
lab directors echoed the JASON’s concern about the United
States’ ability to sustain its stockpile stewardship program
and maintain critical expertise and capabilities. They also
made it very clear that significant efforts have been made by our
nation's nuclear workforce to certify today’s nuclear
stockpile, and these efforts should not be understated. However,
they emphasized that risks and uncertainties associated with ensuring
a safe, secure and reliable nuclear deterrent into the future cannot
be fully addressed by relying solely on current life extension
“I am releasing these letters to build upon
the JASON’s work to further inform the public discussion on
U.S. nuclear weapons policy and strategy. I look forward to raising
these issues at the upcoming Strategic Forces subcommittee hearing
with the Director of the National Nuclear Security Administration,”
Rep. Turner added.
First established in the 1960’s,
JASON is an independent group of scientists which advises the United
States Government on science and technology issues.
are links to view the letters from the three national nuclear
security laboratory directors:
· Los Alamos: http://turner.house.gov/UploadedFiles/JASON_letter1.pdf
· Lawrence Livermore: http://turner.house.gov/UploadedFiles/JASON_letter2.pdf
· Sandia: http://turner.house.gov/UploadedFiles/JASON_letter3.pdf
***End of Turner press release***