Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Take a Sunday drive in your RRW

The Bush Administration appears to be using new talking points to convince Congress and the public that developing a new nuclear warhead is good policy. Both the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy have been using a new analogy, likening the new thermonuclear warhead that the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Los Alamos are designing to… a restored 1965 Mustang!

From the Department of Defense, General James Cartwright, Commander of US Strategic Command (nominated to become Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) stated during his testimony at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee on March 28, 2007:

“You also want to ensure that they [nuclear warheads] are the most secure that they can be. And we, in the 1950s, 60s and 70s as we put these weapons together, did not have the technologies that we have today for safety and security. We have learned a lot. And we use this example of the 1966 Mustang. Sure, I'd like to have it, but I'm not sure I want to give it to my teenager or grandson without disc brakes, seatbelts, airbags, et cetera. We have the technologies today readily available to make these safe and secure.”

So a new hydrogen bomb would be a fitting gift for his grandson?

From the National Nuclear Security Administration, Thomas D’Agostino, Acting Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, on June 15, 2007 at a briefing at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, as well as at a National Defense University breakfast briefing on May 9, 2007:

“Consider this challenge: Your 1965 Ford Mustang, which you maintain as a collector’s item, has been sitting in your garage for 40 years. You monitor it for such items as a clogged carburetor, corrosion in the engine block and battery discharge, and you replace parts when you deem it necessary. However, you don’t get to start the engine and take it for a test drive. The trick is to assure that if you do need it right away—to take your spouse to the hospital in an emergency—that it would work with certainty. That’s what we have to do in our nuclear weapons life extension program.”

While driving to the hospital at speed and in style sounds great, here is my question: If my spouse needs to go to the hospital, why not call an ambulance? Or use the family car built on a tested design that we know works, rather than a car that has never been tested or driven before?

And how is this like using a nuclear weapon to threaten hundreds of thousands of people with instant death? It isn’t.

New nuclear warheads are unnecessary (because, while the oldest nuclear weapons date to 1970 as referenced by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the 2006 JASON group report on plutonium pit aging concluded that the triggers for nuclear weapons have “credible lifetimes of at least 100 years,” resulting in the plutonium pits in the current warheads remaining viable for at least another 60 years). New nuclear warheads also undermine US non-proliferation efforts (because the modernization of the US arsenal brings into question the United States’ commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty).

Aside from these arguments against developing new nuclear warheads, it remains uncertain whether a new warhead design would actually be more reliable compared to proven designs which have benefited from over 1000 tests.

In fact, prominent nuclear weapon scientist Dr. Richard Garwin, who contributed to the design the first thermonuclear weapons, in his testimony before the Energy & Water Development Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on March 29, 2007, stated that:

“The technical question as to whether the weapon can with confidence be placed into the stockpile after development but without nuclear explosion testing deserves more study” and “ Beyond the technical judgment of engineers and scientists, however, is the question whether at some future time after the weapon enters into service there may be political questioning by some president or presidential hopeful, or even by some future STRATCOM commander about the wisdom of having a growing stockpile of untested nuclear weapons. It seems likely that such high-level concerns would lead to a nuclear explosion test…”

There will be many more arguments made by supporters of new nuclear warheads, but I hope they put forth national security justifications that include more than weak analogies to antique muscle cars from the 1960s.

In the meantime, if we’re going spend millions of tax dollars on a design (Phase 2A) of a new nuclear warhead and on a cost study anyway, I’d like the RRW to have satellite radio and heated seats.

1 comment:

  1. In an emergency, would we ride the RRW just like the pilot did at the end of Dr. Strangelove? Yee-Haw!

    The idea of making nukes "safer" without eliminating them entirely is so incredibly delusional it boggles the mind.