Nuclear Posturing

A glimpse at federal plans to ramp up the nuclear weapons program

The Bush administration's "Nuclear Posture Review," a Defense Department analysis of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal incorporated into a proposal for congressional funding, was officially released in January 2002, when it was presented to Congress. Attention has focused on the review's call for "tactical" nuclear weapons, sometimes called "mininukes" or "bunker-busters" -- but in doing so, the document also addresses "production infrastructure," including the planning for additional nuclear testing. A few excerpts follow; a more complete version and other related information are available at the Web site of the Western States Legal Foundation, which monitors nuclear policy: www.wslfweb.org/nukes/npr.htm.


The Current U.S. Nuclear Warhead Infrastructure:

Underinvestment in the infrastructure -- in particular the production complex -- has increased the risks that if substantial problems in the stockpile are discovered, future options to refurbish or replace existing designs will be limited. For example, although an interim pit production capability will be established later in this decade, no current capability exists to build and certify plutonium pits, certain secondary components, or complete warheads. ...

The need is clear for a revitalized nuclear weapons complex that will: ... be able, if directed, to design, develop, manufacture, and certify new warheads in response to new national requirements; and maintain readiness to resume underground nuclear testing if required.


Restoring Production Infrastructure

Warhead Assembly and Disassembly: ... Plans are under way to expand the capacity and capability of the Pantex Plant to meet the planned workload for dismantlement and remanufacturing of existing weapons. ...

Uranium Operations: At least seven to eight years of effort will be required to restore the capability to produce a complete nuclear weapon secondary at the Y-12 Plant in Tennessee. ... Plans are under way to expand the capacity and capability of the Y-12 Plant to meet the planned workload for replacing warhead secondaries, and other uranium components. ...

Plutonium Operations: One glaring shortfall is the inability to fabricate and certify weapon primaries, or so-called "pits." Work is under way to establish an interim capability at Los Alamos National Laboratory late in this decade to meet current demand created by destructive surveillance testing on the W88 warhead. For the long term a new modern production facility will be needed to deal with the large-scale replacement of components and new production. ...

Other Component and Material Production: ... Tritium production, halted since 1988, is programmed to resume in FY 03 with first deliveries to the stockpile scheduled for FY 06. Additionally, warhead refurbishment plans require modern facilities at Y-12's Special Materials Complex for manufacturing unique materials.


National Nuclear Security Administration Initiatives for Nuclear Weapons Programs

Advanced Concepts Initiative: ... There are several nuclear weapon options that might provide important advantages for enhancing the nation's deterrence posture: possible modifications to existing weapons to provide additional yield flexibility in the stockpile; improved earth penetrating weapons to counter the increased use by potential adversaries of hardened and deeply buried facilities; and warheads that reduce collateral damage. ...

To further assess these and other nuclear weapons options in connection with meeting new or emerging military requirements, the NNSA will re-establish advanced warhead concepts teams at each of the national laboratories and at headquarters in Washington. This will provide unique opportunities to train our next generation of weapon designers and engineers. DoD and NNSA will also jointly review potential programs to provide nuclear capabilities, and identify opportunities for further study, including assessments of whether nuclear testing would be required to field such warheads. ...


Limitations in the Present Nuclear Force

Today's nuclear arsenal continues to reflect its Cold War origin, characterized by moderate delivery accuracy, limited earth penetrator capability, high-yield warheads, silo and sea-based ballistic missiles with multiple independent re-entry vehicles, and limited retargeting capability. ...

New capabilities must be developed to defeat emerging threats such as hard and deeply buried targets, to find and attack mobile and relocatable targets, to defeat chemical or biological agents, and to improve accuracy and limit collateral damage. Development of these capabilities, to include extensive research and timely fielding of new systems to address these challenges, are imperative. ...

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

George W. Bush, Nuclear Posture Review, Department of Defense, nuclear weapons, mininukes, bunker-busters, Western States Legal Foundation, warheads, Pantex, Y-12, Los Alamos National Laboratory, W88, National Nuclear Security Administration, earth penetrating weapons

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