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"The Arms Control Association’s work is an important resource to legislators and policymakers when contemplating a new policy direction or decision."

– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
United States

Reshaping U.S. Nonproliferation Strategy: An Interview With Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph

Wade Boese and Miles A. Pomper

The Department of State currently has a full plate of issues on nonproliferation and arms control matters, ranging from trying to resolve nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea to promoting a far-reaching U.S. initiative to engage in civilian nuclear commerce with India. Arms Control Today met May 18 with Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph to discuss these issues as well as the upcoming Biological Weapons Convention review conference.

ACT: When talking about Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs, U.S. officials say that each country should make a strategic decision to give up its nuclear programs. How does this administration define “strategic decision”?

Joseph: Iran and North Korea pose strategic threats to our security interests in vital regions, the nuclear nonproliferation regime, and the international community. We believe that in both cases what is required is a strategic decision. By strategic decision, we mean a decision that these governments will end their programs and will ensure that there is full confidence that these programs have been ended. I would point to Libya as a case in which we achieved a strategic decision on the part of a government pursuing nuclear weapons. The Libyans made the calculation that the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction was no longer in their interest. They announced their decision [December 19, 2003] to eliminate these programs and to allow full access by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as well as the United States and the United Kingdom, to their programs, the individuals involved, and the facilities involved. We have confidence that the decision was permanent and it applied comprehensively.

ACT: How would Tehran or Pyongyang, were they to take such a decision, demonstrate it? Would they have to take the same steps [as Libya] in terms of making a public announcement and providing access to all the relevant people?

Joseph: The Iranian regime denies that it is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. It says that its program is entirely peaceful. We of course believe that it is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. Clearly, the concerns of the international community in that regard are reflected in the long line of IAEA resolutions and more recently by a [March 29] presidential statement from the UN Security Council. Iran has concealed its program for over 18 years. It has, according to the IAEA Board of Governors, violated its safeguards commitments. U.S. and other intelligence agencies and the IAEA have uncovered indications that [Iran] has pursued not only the capability to enrich uranium for fissile material for weapons, but indications of weaponization work. North Korea in September [2005] agreed to eliminate all of its nuclear programs. We believe all of those programs are related to nuclear weapons.

A strategic decision on the part of these governments would reflect the same conditions we saw with regard to the Libyan decision, which was a voluntary decision. Strategic decisions by their very nature have to be voluntary. One can look to the Libyan model as a model that applies in these other countries in the context of what a strategic decision would look like. Clearly, Libya is different from North Korea and North Korea is different from Iran. All of the proliferation challenges that we face are unique.

ACT: As you know because you participated in them, the administration engaged in direct negotiations with Libya. Why won’t the administration do that with Iran or take a multilateral approach like the six-party talks with North Korea as recommended recently by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger? [1]

Joseph: We do have a multilateral structure for discussions with North Korea. We did have discussions with the Libyans. I would not characterize them as negotiations in the classic sense where you trade X for Y. We had discussions. We were very clear in terms of how we characterized what needed to be done in order for us to have confidence that a strategic decision had been made on the part of the leadership to eliminate their weapons of mass destruction programs. In the case of Iran, we have of course approached this in a very multilateral way. We have approached it in the context of the IAEA process in Vienna. We have approached it in the context of the [UN] Security Council in New York. We have supported the various efforts by the EU-3 [France, Germany, and the United Kingdom] and others to find a negotiated outcome, a diplomatic outcome to this threat.

ACT: But why won’t the United States actually take part in talks as it has with North Korea?

Joseph: We have made very clear to Iran what our position is on these issues. We have a wide range of fundamental differences with the Iranian regime. We have not only the nuclear threat, but we have Iran as the central state sponsor of terrorism. It is a regime that is using terror and terrorist organizations to undercut the prospects for peace in the Middle East, for the fulfillment of the aspirations of the Lebanese people, and for undercutting the movement to democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have got a set of fundamental problems with the Iranian regime. I do not think there has been any lack of clarity in terms of the U.S. position on each of the key issues with Iran.

ACT: Would Iran’s compliance with the IAEA board’s requirements be sufficient to support a “diplomatic negotiated solution that guarantees Iran’s nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes,” as outlined in the March 29 UN Security Council presidential statement?

Joseph: It is very important for Iran to meet the call of the Security Council in the context of the presidential statement and the resolutions of the IAEA board in the first instance by suspending its enrichment activities, which of course represents the most visible and urgent threat. Iran removed in January [2006] the IAEA seals on its facilities related to enrichment and has moved very fast down the enrichment path. It has announced that it has conducted enrichment activity at the 164-centrifuge cascade [at Natanz]. It has stated that it has converted over 110 tons of UF6, the feed material for centrifuges. It has stated that it has enriched uranium to over 3.5 percent.[2] All of these are very troublesome to us, and not just to the United States but to the international community. These activities on the ground have had a great deal to do with bringing together an international coalition that is determined to stop Iran from acquiring the capability to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. It is a first step. Suspension [of Iran’s enrichment activities] is a first step. The Iranians need to demonstrate that any peaceful program is entirely peaceful.

ACT: But what evidence would provide you confidence that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons?

Joseph: What is important is that Iran not pursue the sensitive fuel-cycle technologies of enrichment or reprocessing. Another great concern, for example, is the construction of a heavy-water reactor. We, along with the other members of the IAEA board and the Security Council, believe that should stop.

ACT: Returning to North Korea, a couple of things. First, there was a mention in The New York Times today that the administration was talking about moving forward with a peace treaty proposal independent of whether there is an outcome on the nuclear talks. [3] Can you confirm that? Second, on the nuclear talks, would the United States participate in providing North Korea with energy supplies if North Korea froze operation of or dismantled its existing nuclear reactor?

Joseph: I cannot confirm anything in The New York Times story. We have been very clear in terms of what we believe should be the next step. North Korea should come back to the six-party talks, and we should implement the agreed statement that was reached last September. That statement emphasizes the need for North Korea to eliminate all of its nuclear programs, and that is the emphasis that we would certainly agree with.

ACT: If North Korea went forward [with dismantlement], would the United States participate in providing Pyongyang with energy supplies?

Joseph: We have made clear both in our June 2004 proposal and more recently that if in fact North Korea’s nuclear programs were eliminated, we would work to provide incentives, including in the energy area, that would be of benefit to the North Korean people.

ACT: Does the United States have a verification proposal that we are willing to share with North Korea so we could be certain that they are fulfilling their commitment to dismantle their weapons program?

Joseph: We are putting a lot of time and effort into developing a type of verification proposal.

ACT: Another issue that has garnered a lot of attention recently is the U.S. proposal to resume full civilian nuclear cooperation with India. Notwithstanding the broader U.S.-Indian strategic relationship, is this a net gain if assessed only on nonproliferation grounds?

Joseph: My assessment is that this is a net gain for nonproliferation. My assessment is that the steps that India has agreed to take as reflected in the commitments from last July [18] do, on balance, strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime. It is important that India will harmonize and implement the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) regulations for its exports, along with the guidelines of the Missile Technology Control Regime.[4] It is important that the civilian programs and civilian activities in the nuclear area will be safeguarded.[5] It is important that India will sign and implement an [IAEA] additional protocol. It is important that India has agreed not to transfer enrichment or reprocessing technologies to states that do not have them. Collectively, these commitments and the other ones that India took on in July move India closer into the mainstream of nonproliferation as opposed to keeping India on the outside. It is a net gain. I have never tried to oversell this, but I do believe that it is a net gain.

ACT: You mentioned the July 18 statement. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had committed India to “assume the same responsibilities and practices” as other leading countries. Given that the five recognized nuclear-weapon states have enacted or are understood to have enacted a fissile cutoff [for weapons purposes] and have all signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, why aren’t these actions expected of India as well?

Joseph: We have encouraged India to stop the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. But that is not part of the July agreement.

ACT: Did the United States originally seek to have India end its fissile material production for weapons?

Joseph: We did. India was not willing to do that. We have made very clear that we will not recognize India as a nuclear-weapon state, which is something that it wanted us to do. We have made very clear that nothing that we provide under this or any other arrangement will be used for India’s nuclear weapons program. We have made explicit in our testimony and our public statements that we believe the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)[6] is of fundamental importance and that we will not do anything in the context of our relationship with India or in any other context to undercut that treaty. We have said the same about the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which is a very important nonproliferation tool. We are not going to take any steps that would undercut its validity.

ACT: With regard to the NSG, if other countries were to oppose the U.S. initiative to exempt India from the guidelines, would the United States still act on a bilateral relationship with India to pursue full civil nuclear cooperation, or would we try to change the NSG consensus rule?

Joseph: We have said all along that we have to achieve a positive outcome both with Congress and with the NSG in order to move forward. We have said that we would not seek to change the rules of the NSG. The NSG operates on the basis of consensus. We know that we have our work cut out for us [in the NSG], just like we do to achieve passage of legislation with our own Congress. There are many legitimate questions that have been raised both by Congress and in the NSG. We are addressing those questions, and we think we have good answers to those because we do think overall this is a net gain for nonproliferation.

ACT: What is the current status of the U.S.-Indian negotiations on the bilateral cooperation agreement? Our understanding is that India has received a U.S. draft and came back with a half-dozen criticisms or questions. Could you fill us in on the status of the negotiations?

Joseph: We provided India with a draft of the so-called 123 agreement.[7] India has not gotten back to us formally on this. We anticipate that they will provide their comments in the form of an alternative draft in, we hope, the near future. We have heard that there are some difficulties in terms of the draft that we provided, but that is why one has negotiations. These agreements often involve intense negotiations.

ACT: Returning to fissile materials, the United States just offered a new fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) proposal at the Conference on Disarmament (CD). Why now, and is it directly tied to trying to win congressional approval for the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation deal?

Joseph: The administration’s position on the fissile material cutoff treaty has been clear for some time. In July 2004, [then-U.S. Permanent Representative to the CD] Jackie Sanders stated our position on an FMCT before the conference. (See ACT, September 2004.) This is the next step. We have translated our position on FMCT issues into a draft text, and today we laid that text down. We hope that it will become the basis for negotiations in Geneva.

ACT: Have you heard back from India whether it supports this new proposal?

Joseph: It is clear that there are differences in terms of the approach to an FMCT between the United States and India. But we both support the negotiation of a treaty to cut off fissile material production for nuclear weapons or other explosive purposes.

ACT: You mentioned differences. That largely goes to the issue of verification. With regard to the new U.S. proposal, if negotiations were to begin, is there anything that would prevent other countries from raising the issue of verification in those negotiations, and would the United States be receptive to potentially adding verification measures to this draft agreement?

Joseph: Clearly, there is nothing to prevent any participating government in the CD from raising whatever it wants to raise. We anticipate that more than one government will raise the question of verification in the context of an FMCT. We have looked at verification very closely. We did a full-scale assessment on verifiability of a cutoff, and we have come to the conclusion that it is simply not verifiable.

ACT: Would that preclude the United States from being receptive to adding some type of verification measures or confidence-building measures to the draft that we have submitted?

Joseph: We are not in a position where we are going to accept provisions in a treaty that we do not think are effective. In fact, we believe that they could be counterproductive in the sense that they may give a false sense of complacency.

ACT: Aside from the scope of an FMCT, talks on that agreement have been held up in the CD because of other linkages. Other countries have wanted to talk about nuclear disarmament and prevention of an arms race in outer space. Is the United States prepared to hold discussions and negotiations on those topics so we can begin discussions on the FMCT proposal?

Joseph: There has been a long-standing paralysis within the CD. Perhaps the clearest reason for that paralysis has been this hostage-taking, this linkage of one issue to another. We do not think that we should move forward on negotiations on these other issues. We think we should have the CD concentrate on an FMCT, and let’s see if the conference can make a contribution in that context. We know that this paralysis will continue if the hostage-taking continues. We would like to focus on an FMCT.

ACT: You mentioned negotiations, but my understanding is that other countries merely want to set up ad hoc groups that are for discussions rather than negotiations. Are we willing to discuss these subjects?

Joseph: I will just say that our preference is that we focus on an FMCT. It has been years since the CD has produced anything of value. We would like it to have productive negotiations on a topic of importance to the United States as well as to the broader international community.

ACT: Last year, the State Department consolidated the arms control and nonproliferation bureaus. Media reports have alleged that key officials say that the reorganization was politically motivated and will weaken U.S. efforts to address global weapons dangers. How would you respond to those charges?

Joseph: The reorganization was not politically motivated. The call for the merger of the arms control and nonproliferation bureaus surfaced for the first time in a review by the [State Department inspector general (IG)]. The objective of the merger was and remains to restructure these two bureaus so that they and the very talented people that reside in them can make the greatest contribution to dealing with today’s national security threats. I would start from the basic question, how can the State Department and, specifically, how can the bureaus [under the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security] make the greatest contribution to our national security? At the top of the list of the threats we face is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, whether it is Iran, North Korea, other rogue states, or terrorists. We have restructured these two bureaus. We have created new offices in these bureaus to deal with the new threats that we face today to ensure, with regard to our traditional tools of nonproliferation, that we are making the greatest contribution, whether that is in terms of strengthening the treaty regimes or improving our export control assistance to other countries or in the context of new missions promoting the effectiveness of the Proliferation Security Initiative or implementing Security Council Resolution 1540 or expanding programs that will help to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

ACT: You mentioned the IG report. Why were the responsibilities of the Verification and Compliance Bureau increased while the IG report recommended that the bureau should have its functions and role narrowed?

Joseph: We looked at the issue across the bureaus, and it seemed to me and to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the best approach was to create a new bureau that focused on proliferation threats. This is the International Security and Nonproliferation Bureau. The traditional arms control implementation functions, we believed, fit more appropriately with the verification bureau. It was those offices that were transferred into that bureau.

ACT: The 1991 START, including its extensive verification regime, is set to expire in December 2009. Has this administration initiated discussions with Russia on ways either to extend the treaty or continue the verification system?

Joseph: We have had some very recent communications with Russia on this issue, and we are creating a U.S.-Russian group that will look at that question. This is a group that will be chaired by [Deputy Foreign Minister] Sergei Kislyak and myself.

ACT: Will this administration seek additional strategic arms reductions or negotiations with Russia?

Joseph: We have the reductions that are called for in the Moscow Treaty [Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty] that will take us through 2012.[8] It is our view that we ought to focus on other threats. We are working with the Russians on other issues. It is much broader than the old arms control agenda. We are working with them on a lot of nonproliferation and counterproliferation initiatives.

ACT: Is the administration interested in negotiating or discussing with Russia the issue of tactical nuclear weapons?

Joseph: We would very much like to engage on the issue of tactical nuclear weapons in the sense that there is a real imbalance. Russia is moving to put even more reliance on these weapons, while we have drastically reduced our inventories of tactical weapons. We would like to have that discussion. The question is, are we going to negotiate? We would like to have that discussion because we think it is important to understand Russian motivations.

ACT: This November, there is a Biological Weapons Convention review conference. What potential topics would the administration want to see addressed, and what would you view as the ideal outcome of the conference?

Joseph: We think that the work program that has been in effect since the last review conference has been very productive. Instead of focusing on what we consider to be a counterproductive “nonverification” regime, we focused on the more practical and more concrete measures of security of biological agents, codes of conduct, and the need for nations to criminalize the proliferation of biological weapons. We think that these measures are very important, and we would like to see a work program that continues in that same vein.

ACT: Aside from trying to resolve the problems that Iran and North Korea present to the nonproliferation regime, what other measures does this administration plan to pursue to help bolster the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and is the administration looking at the Seven-Nation initiative that is backed by the United Kingdom and Norway as something that might be a way forward?

Joseph: This administration, starting with President George W. Bush, has been very innovative in trying to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime and the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. I would refer you to the speech that the president gave at the National Defense University in February 2004 in which he laid out seven initiatives, most of which were directed at strengthening the NPT: the ban on the transfer of sensitive technologies related to enrichment and reprocessing to countries that do not already have that capability, the establishment of a special committee on verification, and the list goes on and on. (See ACT, March 2004.) We are very proud of the record we have in that regard.

ACT: Thank you very much.

Click here for a complete transcript of this interview.


1. Henry A. Kissinger, “A Nuclear Test for Diplomacy,” The Washington Post, May 16, 2006, p. A17.

2. Low-enriched uranium nuclear fuel usually is enriched to 3-5 percent. Any material enriched to more than 20 percent is considered highly enriched uranium and is capable of being used to produce bombs. However, the level of enrichment considered ideal for weapons is more than 90 percent.

3. David E. Sanger, “ U.S. Said to Weigh a New Approach on North Korea,” The New York Times, May 18, 2006, p. A1.

4. The NSG is a voluntary export control regime consisting of 45 countries that agree to abide by common guidelines in their civilian nuclear commerce. The Missile Technology Control Regime is also a voluntary export control regime that calls on its 34 members to exercise restraint in their missile exports, particularly of technologies that can be used to deliver a 500-kilogram payload a distance of more than 300 kilometers.

5. In a March 2 military-civilian separation plan agreed to by the United States and India, New Delhi committed to put a total of 14 of its 22 current and planned nuclear reactors under safeguards by 2014. Because a total of six reactors already have or were previously slated for safeguards, India essentially agreed to put eight additional reactors under safeguards. Aside from the eight reactors left outside of safeguards, India also refused to put its existing breeder reactors, enrichment and reprocessing facilities, and spent nuclear fuel under safeguards. New Delhi also reserved the right to declare any future nuclear facilities it builds as off-limits for safeguards.

6. Along with Israel and Pakistan, India has refused to join the 1968 NPT, which commits all of its states-parties, except for China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, to forswear nuclear weapons. However, the five nuclear-weapon states are obligated by the treaty to work toward abolishing their nuclear arms. India, Israel, and Pakistan all have nuclear stockpiles but are not recognized by the treaty as nuclear-weapon states because they did not conduct a nuclear explosion before January 1, 1967.

7. Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 requires that the terms of U.S. nuclear trade with other governments be set out in bilateral cooperation agreements and establishes eligibility conditions for potential recipients of U.S. nuclear commerce. However, India does not meet all of the conditions, so the Bush administration has proposed legislation to exempt India from them and alter the normal congressional review process of Section 123 agreements.

8. The treaty obligates the United States and Russia to reduce their operationally deployed strategic nuclear forces to between 1,700-2,200 warheads apiece. The treaty has no destruction requirements.

 

U.S. Bars Future Arms Sales to Venezuela

Wade Boese

Underscoring its continuing unhappiness with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, Washington announced May 15 that future U.S. arms sales to Venezuela would be prohibited. Although Venezuela is not a major U.S. arms buyer, Venezuelan officials denounced the action.

Department of State spokesperson Sean McCormack said May 15 that the ban stemmed from a determination that Venezuela was not being helpful in the U.S. war on terrorism. McCormack provided more specific examples a day later, saying Venezuela was cementing closer intelligence ties with Iran and Cuba, serving as a transit point for arms and individuals of concern, and maintaining links to Colombian guerrilla groups.

The U.S. move outlaws any new U.S. government and commercial arms deals with Venezuela. The ban is not retroactive, so deals previously concluded can be filled. In addition, U.S. exporters can, up to 24 times a year, provide spare parts worth less than $500 for previously sold equipment, according to statements by McCormack May 17.

A precise accounting of what might be in the arms pipeline to Venezuela is difficult to ascertain as companies have four years to act after a commercial arms sales license is approved. In addition, the Pentagon does not have to publicly notify Congress of any arms sales it concludes with a foreign government unless the deal exceeds $14 million. The last agreement with Venezuela that topped this reporting threshold occurred in 1996.

Still, Venezuela in recent years has been procuring some U.S. arms, including spare parts for 24 F-16A combat aircraft purchased in the early 1980s. In its latest comprehensive accounting of weapons deals with foreign governments, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency reported that, from fiscal year 1994 to fiscal year 2004, Venezuela received approval for $184 million in arms purchases from the Pentagon and $103 million in arms buys from U.S. companies. Whether all these agreements were completed is unknown.

Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister Alí Rodríguez Araque blasted the U.S. move May 16 as an attempt to “handicap our defenses” and “prepare the political conditions for an attack.” In a May 19 op-ed in The Los Angeles Times, Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, Venezuela’s ambassador to the United States, denied the U.S. allegations and asserted Washington was seeking to “isolate, antagonize, and destabilize Venezuela.”

McCormack responded May 16 to Araque’s statements by arguing that “instead of throwing up sort of diversionary rhetoric and overheated rhetoric, [Venezuela] might focus instead on actually taking steps to fight terror.”

Washington recently also has been pressing Brazil and Spain to deny arms, such as military aircraft and naval patrol boats, to Venezuela. (See "Latin American Arms Sales Moving Forward," March 2006.) Comments by Araque and Herrera suggest that the United States is having some success, although Arms Control Today inquiries to confirm the status of the deals were not answered.

 

U.S. Offers Iran Direct Talks

Paul Kerr

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with Germany, are continuing their efforts to craft a new package of incentives and disincentives designed to persuade Iran to end its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a significant U.S. policy shift May 31 by dangling the prospect of direct talks before Tehran.

In late May, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States resumed their efforts to devise an offer after the Security Council failed earlier in the month to agree on the text of a legally binding draft resolution on Iran’s nuclear program. France and the United Kingdom introduced the draft resolution after International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei reported in late April that Iran had failed to heed a nonbinding March presidential statement from the council. That statement had urged Iran to take several steps, including resuming a suspension of its enrichment program and increasing its cooperation with an agency investigation of Iran’s nuclear activities. (See ACT, April 2006.)

But the European resolution met resistance from Russia and China because it would have invoked Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows the Security Council to take punitive action, such as imposing sanctions or using military force, “to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

Moscow and Beijing have expressed skepticism about the efficacy of sanctions and have also been resistant to invoke Chapter VII, fearing that it could give Washington a pretext to take military action against Iran. (See ACT, May 2006.)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said May 16 that “neither Russia nor China will be able to support” a Security Council resolution “that would contain a pretext for coercive, let alone military, measures,” the Interfax news agency reported. But John Bolton, U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, downplayed such fears while speaking to reporters May 5, saying that Chapter VII was merely being used because it is required to make Iran’s compliance with the resolution mandatory. Washington is willing to consider other formulations that would make the resolution’s demands legally binding without invoking Chapter VII, Bolton added.

Bolton also said that the United States would like the Security Council to adopt a unanimous resolution but added that Washington does not want “unanimity at any price.” He suggested that the United States might seek a vote on a resolution, even if Russia or China were to object.

Bolton also reiterated that Washington might take action outside the council by undertaking measures with other like-minded countries to constrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. For example, the Bush administration is seeking to persuade institutions in Europe, Japan, and the Persian Gulf to halt financial transactions with Iranian entities. (See ACT, May 2006.)

Whether Tehran’s compliance with the Security Council’s requests would satisfy Washington remains unclear. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph would not directly respond when asked during a May 18 interview with Arms Control Today if such compliance would be sufficient to address U.S. concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. He did say that a re-suspension of Iran’s enrichment program was a sina qua non.

Iran has a pilot centrifuge facility and is constructing a larger commercial facility. Tehran has told the IAEA that the pilot and commercial facilities will eventually contain approximately 1,000 and 50,000 centrifuges, respectively. Gas centrifuges enrich uranium by spinning uranium hexafluoride gas at very high speeds in order to increase the concentration of the uranium-235 isotope. Iran also has a conversion facility for turning lightly processed uranium ore into uranium hexafluoride.

Iran suspended the program in late 2004 before beginning negotiations with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom designed to resolve international concerns about its enrichment program. Those negotiations ended when Iran restarted its uranium-conversion facility last August. (See ACT, September 2005.)

Proposal Discussions

Since the early May setback, diplomats representing the permanent Security Council members and Germany have been circulating drafts of the European proposal in an attempt to reach a consensus, a European diplomat familiar with the discussions told Arms Control Today May 26. The Europeans are trying to unify the Security Council around the proposal by persuading Washington to support an offer of incentives to Iran and by convincing Moscow and Beijing to support the threat of Security Council sanctions.

The idea, the diplomat said, is to present Iran with “a stark choice:” give up its enrichment program and gain the benefits of integration into the international community or keep the program and “suffer the consequences.” The Europeans have been trying to present Iran with such a choice since beginning talks with Tehran in 2003.

The proposal’s incentives reportedly would include a multilateral consortium to provide Iran with a light-water nuclear reactor for energy production, as well as a guaranteed supply of nuclear fuel. Similar but less-detailed incentives were contained in an August 2005 proposal that Tehran rejected at the time. (See ACT, September 2005.)

The European diplomat said that there is “nothing particularly new” about the incentives but argued that “explicit endorsement” of the proposal by Washington, Moscow, and Beijing would constitute “one key difference” between this proposal and the one offered in 2005.

The proposal, when finalized, may also address the issue of Iran’s security. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in recent interviews that Washington has not been asked to provide “security assurances” to Iran. But the European diplomat said that the proposal may include the initiation of a “regional dialogue” regarding security issues in the Persian Gulf region, adding that the matter is “still under discussion.”

The proposal’s disincentives will reportedly include an embargo on exports of arms and refined petroleum products to Iran, as well as sanctions designed to target the Iranian leadership, such as a travel ban on Iranian officials and the freezing of certain Iranian assets. (See ACT, April 2006.)

The European diplomat also indicated that if Iran complies with the resolution, the Security Council will agree not to take up the nuclear issue and will instead leave the matter to the IAEA.

Iranian officials have repeatedly called for such an arrangement as Tehran is wary of the Security Council’s power to impose wide-ranging demands and penalties—power that considerably exceeds the IAEA’s authority. For example, a senior Iranian diplomat told Arms Control Today in April that Tehran is concerned that the Security Council may give IAEA inspectors unlimited authority to investigate possible nuclear-related activities in its defense facilities. Washington could use such inspections to gather military intelligence, the diplomat said, citing UN weapons inspectors’ espionage activities in Iraq during the 1990s.

Iran has allowed the IAEA to visit some defense-related facilities. (See ACT, March 2006.)

Getting to Yes?

Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, indicated in a letter posted on Time magazine’s website May 10 that Iran is willing to alleviate the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program by, for example, “invest[ing] the time and effort necessary to receive the IAEA clean bill of health.” The IAEA still has a series of outstanding questions regarding Iran’s nuclear activities.

Rowhani, a representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Iran’s National Security Council, listed several other steps that Tehran would be willing to take, most of which have been articulated in past Iranian proposals. These include negotiating with “the IAEA and states concerned about the scope and timing of its industrial-scale uranium enrichment,” including setting verifiable limits on the production of centrifuge feedstock; and negotiating an agreement with the IAEA regarding the “continuous presence of inspectors in Iran.”

Nevertheless, it appears the two sides will have difficulty finding common ground. The Europeans will initially ask Iran to suspend work at its conversion and centrifuge facilities as a precondition for beginning negotiations, although they may ultimately agree to allow Tehran to continue conversion, the European diplomat said.

Such a compromise appears unlikely to be reciprocated, however. Iranian officials have repeatedly indicated that Iran will not stop work on its centrifuge facility.

The Europeans are not expected to offer to allow Iran to operate a pilot centrifuge facility for research purposes, although the diplomat acknowledged that the idea has been discussed. Iranian officials have said repeatedly that Iran will not forswear enrichment on its own territory.

Agence France Presse reported May 25 that, according to ElBaradei, Iranian officials have said that Tehran had “agreed in principle that for a number of years” Iran’s nuclear fuel production “should be part of an international consortium outside of Iran.” The issue of Iran’s enrichment research was “still being discussed,” he added.

In addition to proposing Iranian participation in a Russian enrichment facility, the draft European proposal would guarantee a nuclear fuel supply for Tehran by providing for a five-year enriched uranium reserve under IAEA supervision. Iran has previously expressed interest in multilateral fuel-supply schemes but has so far insisted on having a domestic enrichment capability as a hedge against possible supply disruptions.

Iranian officials, however, have said that Iran would accept limits on the number of centrifuges in its pilot facility. For example, the Iranian diplomat indicated that Tehran would have been willing in March to limit the number of centrifuges to between 164 and 500. A former European diplomat who maintains contact with Iranian officials said in a May 22 interview that, according to an Iranian official “directly involved” in the matter, Khamenei agreed in the spring of 2005 that Iran would accept a limit of 164 centrifuges.

Iran is currently operating a 164-centrifuge cascade in its pilot facility and is building two others.

But Gary Samore, a former Clinton administration National Security Council aide who maintains contact with Tehran, told Arms Control Today May 17 that Iran is determined to have an industrial-scale enrichment capability and does not want a constraint on its enrichment facilities. According to Samore, Iranian officials say privately that they want to have a “breakout capability” for developing nuclear weapons. Interestingly, the Iranian diplomat who spoke with Arms Control Today also suggested that there are some officials in Tehran who may want Iran to have a nuclear weapons option.

A former senior intelligence official offered another view. Former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia Paul Pillar told Arms Control Today May 22 that, in his judgment, Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program but is not on an “irreversible course.” Pillar cautioned that such assessments are only judgments, noting that U.S. intelligence about Iran’s nuclear programs is limited.

Iranian officials have also told ElBaradei that if the negotiations resume, Tehran is willing to resume implementing its additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement—another of the Security Council’s demands. Additional protocols provide the agency with increased authority to detect clandestine nuclear programs, including by inspecting facilities that have not been declared to the IAEA. They supplement mandatory IAEA safeguards agreements, which are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Iran has signed but not ratified its additional protocol. Tehran had been implementing the agreement but stopped doing so in February.

Will Washington Talk to Tehran?

In recent months, calls for direct talks between Washington and Tehran have increased, particularly from members of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Among others, advocates for such talks include one-time Bush administration officials such as former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and former Department of State Policy Planning Director Richard Haass; Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and committee member Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.); former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Henry Kissinger, who was also secretary of state under President Richard Nixon; and William Perry, who was secretary of defense during the Clinton administration. In remarks to the European Parliament on May 30, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, also suggested that Washington participate in direct talks.

Previously, the Bush administration had responded coolly to such suggestions. But White House Press Secretary Tony Snow implied a shift during a May 24 press briefing, telling reporters that Washington might be willing to talk if Tehran agreed to suspend its enrichment activities.

Rice was more explicit in May 31 remarks to the press, saying that “as soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, the United States will come to the table with our EU-3 colleagues and meet with Iran’s representatives.” She said similar remarks had been delivered directly to Iranian diplomats.

She also endorsed the elements of the proposed European package of incentives and disincentives, adding that “the Iranian regime can decide on one of two fundamentally different futures for its people and for its relationship with the international community.”

However, while Rice said that President George W. Bush “wants a new and positive relationship between the American people and the people of Iran” including enhanced trade and investment, “the nuclear issue is not the only obstacle standing in the way of improved relations.” In particular, she cited Iran’s alleged support for terrorism and “violence in Iraq,” as well as claims that Tehran has interfered (through terrorist proxies) in Lebanon.

Some nongovernmental experts have argued that a lengthy May 8 letter to Bush from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was an attempt at a diplomatic opening, although the letter did not directly address the nuclear standoff. State Department officials have also confirmed that Iran had recently sought direct talks.

Iran has made overtures to speak to Washington in the past. In the spring of 2003, Iran sent the United States a detailed proposal for negotiations to resolve several bilateral issues. For example, Iran offered to sign an additional protocol and end its opposition to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, according to a copy obtained by Arms Control Today.

The United States and Iran have previously said that, in principle, they are willing to discuss Iraqi security issues, but no such talks have taken place.

 

U.S. Fissile Material Production Proposal Flawed; Highlights Need to Draw India Into Nuclear Restraint Regime

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For Immediate Release: May 18, 2006

 

Press Contact: Daryl G. Kimball, (202) 463-8270 x107

(Washington, D.C.): Today, U.S. officials submitted a proposal for a multilateral ban on fissile material production for weapons purposes to the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and said they believed negotiations could be achieved in a year. However, the proposal does not include a system to verify compliance making it unlikely that key states will support it.

"A global fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) can be verified and negotiators should work toward that end. By opposing verification measures and parallel discussions on arms control issues of importance to other states, Washington is undermining its own proposal," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the nonpartisan Arms Control Association. "Still, it points to the importance of halting the production of material that can be used to make nuclear weapons and the opportunity for key states to take interim steps toward the realization of a global and verifiable treaty," he added.

Ending the production of fissile material—plutonium and highly enriched uranium—for weapons purposes has been on the international arms control and nonproliferation agenda for decades. But since the late 1990s, the concept has been relegated to the diplomatic shadows as talks on a global verifiable FMCT have sputtered due to differences over negotiating priorities. In a break with longstanding U.S. policy, Washington announced its opposition to a verifiable FMCT in July 2004.

"Though flawed, the U.S. proposal for a multilateral fissile production ban highlights why Congress should not agree to renew U.S. civil nuclear trade with India until it unilaterally halts the production of fissile material or else join the United States and other nuclear-weapon states in a multilateral fissile material production cutoff," Kimball said.

In July 2005, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed that India would “assume the same responsibilities and practices” as other countries with advanced nuclear capabilities in exchange for access to U.S. civil nuclear technology, which has been denied to India since it conducted its first nuclear test in 1974. New Delhi has also elected to stay outside of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. U.S. negotiators have failed to win any tangible commitments from India to halt its production of fissile material for weapons purposes.

Nevertheless, President George W. Bush has been pressing Congress to support his controversial legislative proposal to exempt India from current U.S. nuclear trade laws and the guidelines of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which restrict trade with non-nuclear-weapon states, including India, that do not accept international safeguards over all their nuclear facilities. Safeguards are measures to deter or detect the diversion of civilian nuclear materials and technologies for building bombs.

Many nuclear experts and members of Congress have suggested that India should stop producing fissile material for weapons before the United States engages in full civilian nuclear trade with India in order to ensure that such assistance does not contribute to New Delhi’s bomb-making capacity. They also argue that such a move would be significant in helping curb nuclear arms competition between India, Pakistan, and China.

U.S. and Indian diplomats have tried to deflect suggestions that the deal should limit India’s bomb program, noting that as part of the civil nuclear cooperation proposal, India has declared support for negotiating an FMCT. “This pledge means nothing given that India and many other states insist on a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty, while the United States does not," charged Kimball.

In a speech to the Conference on Disarmament yesterday, India's representative Jayant Prasad said "we believe that an FMCT should incorporate a verification mechanism in order to provide the assurance that all States party to it are complying with their obligations."

Kimball suggested another way forward: "If India and U.S. leaders are serious about curbing fissile material production and living up to their nuclear nonproliferation commitments, they should be willing to join China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Pakistan in a multilateral treaty to halt fissile material production as a first step toward a verifiable global fissile production cutoff treaty," he said.

France, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom have already publicly halted fissile material production for weapons, and China is understood to have stopped. These five states, along with India and Pakistan, have all acknowleged they have nuclear weapons and have tested nuclear weapons.

"Congress should not be fooled and settle for weak commitments to a fissile material production cutoff. Congress and other governments should refuse to relax nuclear trade rules with India until it halts production of fissile material for weapons purposes and urge the Bush administration to pursue a 7-nation fissile material production cutoff treaty pending completion of a verifiable, global ban," urged Kimball.

For more information please visit http://www.armscontrol.org.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies. It publishes Arms Control Today.

 

 

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Reports Grow That U.S. Plots Strike Against Iran

Paul Kerr

Even as the Bush administration continues its diplomatic efforts to resolve the international dispute surrounding Tehran’s nuclear programs, recent press reports have increased concern that the United States may take military action against Iran in order to end the perceived threat posed by the programs.

The press for more than a year has reported that the Pentagon is drawing up plans for possible air and missile strikes. But several April reports have brought greater attention to the issue.

An April 10 New Yorker article reported that the Department of Defense is considering a range of targets. These include Iran’s nuclear facilities, as well as unrelated targets. Striking these other targets could be part of a broader strategy to bring about regime change in Tehran, the article said.

Perhaps most alarming, the magazine also reported that the United States may attack some of Iran’s nuclear sites with nuclear weapons. According to the article, one of the “military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11 [bomb], against underground nuclear sites.”

Iran has buried key elements of its nuclear program including its gas-centrifuge uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz and has constructed tunnels at its uranium-conversion facility located near Isfahan.

The possibility that Iran also has clandestine, underground, nuclear-related facilities has vexed U.S. intelligence for some time. A Department of State official told Arms Control Today in February that the United States believes Iran has such facilities because of the underground construction at Natanz and Isfahan, as well as military bases. Iran is also known to have buried many of its missile facilities, the official said. (See ACT, March 2006.)

But two former State Department officials familiar with the matter indicated in interviews with Arms Control Today earlier this month that the United States has no specific information about other buried Iranian facilities. “I have been wondering myself about the ‘numerous’ buried facilities,” one former official said, adding that “press reporting about other facilities is unconfirmed.”

That has not stopped experts from debating responses to the possibility of such facilities. Some experts have argued that air strikes would not stop Iran’s nuclear program because Tehran could just continue to work at its secret sites or reconstitute any damaged facilities or equipment. On the other hand, the New Yorker article indicated that, according to some U.S. officials, the Pentagon needs to retain a nuclear option in case it lacks sufficient information about a newly-found Iranian underground nuclear facility to mount a successful conventional attack.

Whether the administration is seriously considering the use of nuclear weapons against Iran is unclear. Recent Bush administration national security planning documents have suggested that the United States might use nuclear weapons against such targets, perhaps pre-emptively. (See ACT, September 2005.)

However, the New Yorker reported that U.S. military commanders do not support the use of a nuclear weapon against Iran. And British Foreign Minister Jack Straw called the notion of a nuclear strike “completely nuts” in an April 9 BBC interview.

U.S. allies and other countries involved with the ongoing diplomatic efforts have not voiced support for any sort of military action against Iran.

President George W. Bush and administration officials have stated repeatedly that Washington will not take any options “off the table” but have generally refrained from overtly threatening Iran with military force. Bush dismissed reports of military action as “wild speculation” during an April 10 speech in Washington.

View From Tehran

In response to the reports of U.S. military strike planning, Iranian officials have displayed both concern and bravado. For example, Iran’s Foreign Ministry sent a complaint to the UN Security Council in March protesting “thinly veiled [ U.S.] threats of resort to force against” Iran. Some Iranian officials have suggested that they want an assurance that the United States will not attack.

But other Iranian officials have downplayed the possibility of a U.S. strike, citing such factors as the U.S. military’s ongoing difficulties in securing Iraq following the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

Iranian officials have hinted at Tehran’s likely response to a military attack. According to the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said April 26 that Tehran would retaliate against “ U.S. aggression” by damaging the U.S. interests worldwide “twice as much” as any military strikes. Iranian officials have made similar threats of retaliation in the past.

Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, stated the previous day that military strikes would fail because Iran would respond by starting “covert” nuclear activities, IRNA reported.

 

U.S. Unable to Meet CWC 2012 Deadline

Michael Nguyen

The United States has announced that it will not be able to destroy its stockpile of chemical weapons before a final deadline required by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), even with the maximum one-time extension permitted by the treaty.

In April 10 letters to the chairs of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that by April 2012 the United States anticipated destroying only 66 percent of its stockpile, the second largest in the world. As of mid-April, the United States has destroyed about 39 percent of its 38,000-metric-ton stockpile. A Department of Defense official said that based on the current timeline, destruction activities will not be completed at all sites until 2017.

The convention requires the United States to destroy its stockpile by April 29, 2007. However, the treaty does permit states-parties to request a one-time, five-year extension to the final deadline, allowing destruction activities to continue until April 2012. The Conference of States-Parties, the CWC body that must approve all deadline extensions, effectively granted the United States the one-time extension in 2003 when it extended an interim deadline for destroying 45 percent of the stockpile to December 2007.

During an April 20 informal meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Executive Council, Eric Javits, the U.S. ambassador to the international body, indicated that the United States planned to formally request the final deadline extension to April 2012, but acknowledged that the United States would not be able to meet even that target. The executive council will consider the U.S. request at its next meeting May 16-19 and send any recommendations to the Conference of States-Parties for approval in December.

“It has taken longer than anticipated to build facilities and to obtain the necessary permits and consent to begin destruction of chemical weapons, and we have found that, once operating, our facilities have not destroyed weapons as rapidly as we initially projected,” Javits said.

During an April 17 briefing in Washington, a State Department official said that although the United States might miss the 2012 deadline, it was not a reflection of the commitment to the goal of the CWC, which remains “strong.”

The consequences of the U.S. failure to meet the CWC’s final deadline are unclear. Article XII of the convention permits states-parties to take measures to address issues of noncompliance but does not spell out any automatic penalties. CWC states-parties could choose to pursue various individual or collective actions against the United States. (See ACT, June 2005.) However, the State Department official did not believe the other states-parties would impose any serious sanctions and downplayed the possibility of amending the CWC to extend the deadline.

The United States is not alone in its tardiness. Of the five other states that have declared stockpiles of weapons, only Albania is expected to complete destruction activities by April 2007, a State Department official said. Despite claims that it will destroy its entire stockpile in accordance with the CWC, Russia is also widely expected to miss the 2012 deadline. Russia has destroyed less than 3 percent of its stockpile, which at 41,000 metric tons is the largest declared stockpile.

South Korea has already received a deadline extension until the end of 2008, while the Executive Council will be considering May 16-19 requests from India and Libya along with that from the United States. Libya is awaiting a U.S. decision about whether to provide destruction assistance (See "Libya Chemcial Weapons Destruction Costly"). India and Libya, said the State Department official, are expected to request one-time extensions of less than five years. Japan and China have also requested an extension to the deadline to destroy the chemical weapons Japan abandoned in China at the end of World War II.

In the United States, at least six of nine chemical weapons disposal facilities will be continuing operations beyond 2012, including four U.S. Army incineration facilities. Of these, a facility in Umatilla, Oregon, is not expected to finish until 2017. A fifth Army-operated disposal facility in Newport, Indiana, has begun neutralizing chemical agents but has encountered resistance from the public and certain state governments to a plan to transport hydrolysate, a caustic by-product of the neutralization process, to New Jersey for further treatment. Construction of an on-site treatment plant could add $300 million in costs and up to four years to the destruction process, said a Defense Department official.

Two other planned destruction sites in Pueblo, Colorado, and Blue Grass, Kentucky, are still in the design phase. Both facilities, which are operated by the Defense Department independent of the Army, are not expected to be operational until 2011 and would not complete their destruction activities until 2017.

In the past, Senators from Colorado and Kentucky have blasted the Defense Department for failing to adequately fund efforts at both sites (see ACT, March 2005). Recently, Colorado’s two Senators offered a non-binding resolution acknowledging the importance of meeting the treaty’s deadline and calling upon the department not to slacken its efforts.

A Defense Department official estimated that, without further changes, the final costs of destroying the entire stockpile, including the costs of cleaning up and closing the disposal facility sites, would be $32 billion. That number is up from the initial estimate of $14.6 billion and the 2001 estimate of $23.7 billion. (See ACT, May 2004.)

 

U.S. Steps Up North Korea Sanctions

Paul Kerr

The Department of the Treasury announced March 30 that it had imposed penalties on a Swiss company, along with one of its owners, for procuring “goods with weapons-related applications” for North Korea. The move follows about a dozen similar sanctions under a June 2005 executive order issued by President George W. Bush and comes as multilateral talks designed to resolve the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula remain stalled.

A Treasury Department press release said it had designated Kohas AG and its president, Jakob Steiger, as being involved in the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons or related delivery vehicles.

Describing the firm as an industrial supply wholesaler, which acts as a “technology broker in Europe for the North Korean military,” the press release added that both the company and Steiger have been involved in activities of “proliferation concern on behalf of North Korea since the company’s founding in the late 1980s.” The department did not provide further details.

The designation freezes any U.S. assets either of the company or Steiger. It also prohibits the company or Steiger from engaging in transactions with any U.S. citizens or companies. Whether this action will have any practical effect on the entities is unclear. The Treasury Department cannot disclose whether designated companies have any U.S. assets, a department spokesperson told Arms Control Today April 24.

Moreover, the assets may already be frozen. The Treasury Department last October similarly punished Korea Ryongwang Trading Corp., a North Korean company that owns just under half of the Swiss firm’s shares. Any U.S assets the company had “would have been frozen at that time,” the spokesperson said.

Steiger owns the remainder of the firm’s shares, the press release said. The spokesperson emphasized that the designations also “prohibit the individuals and entities from accessing the U.S. financial system.”

Both the company and the Swiss government have disputed the Treasury Department’s account. Othmar Wyss, an official at the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, stated, “we don’t believe the company has shipped goods to North Korea without approval or that these goods have been used for the production of weapons of mass destruction,” Reuters reported March 31.

Steiger told Reuters the same day that the company imported aluminum brackets from North Korea to manufacture shelving. But the firm does not export to that country, he said. He also denied that North Korean entities owned any part of his company, Reuters reported.

North Korea’s proliferation activities have long been a source of concern. Stuart Levey, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said March 30 that North Korea’s efforts “to build and sell weapons of mass destruction depend on a vast network, the reach of which extends beyond Asia.”

North Korea is believed to have used overseas networks to transfer ballistic missiles and related technologies as well as acquire components for a suspected clandestine nuclear weapons program.

During an April 6 Senate hearing, Levey touted the success of other recent U.S. actions to curb Pyongyang’s proliferation activities, such as the Treasury Department’s September designation of a Macau bank as a “money laundering concern.” The United States asserts that Banco Delta Asia provided financial services to North Korean government agencies and front companies engaged in such activities as drug trafficking, the distribution of counterfeit U.S. currency, and smuggling of counterfeit tobacco products and pharmaceuticals.

Since the September designation, the bank has frozen the relevant accounts. Other financial institutions have also curtailed their dealings both with the bank and North Korea, according to U.S. officials.

Levey also indicated that the United States would continue such efforts, saying the Internal Revenue Service’s investigation would “exploit underlying North Korean account information at Banco Delta Asia.” Such an investigation will enable the United States to “gain an even greater understanding of...[North Korea’s] illicit activities,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Treasury Department has undertaken another measure designed to stem North Korean illicit activities. The department announced April 6 that it is amending the Foreign Assets Control Regulations to place new restrictions on U.S. transactions involving North Korean property. The amendment prohibits “[U.S.] persons from owning, leasing, operating, or insuring any vessel” flying the North Korean flag. The new restrictions become effective May 8.

Still No Talks

Despite a March meeting between North Korean and U.S. officials to discuss the Banco Delta Asia matter, Pyongyang continues to refuse to agree to another round of six-party talks, citing its objections to the actions taken against the Macau bank. The six parties, which also include China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, last met in November. (See ACT, April 2006.)

North Korea has repeatedly called on the United States to lift the “financial sanctions,” which Pyongyang asserts are part of a U.S. policy to undermine the regime and to pressure the country to make concessions in the six-party talks.

The Chosun Ilbo reported April 13 that North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan told reporters Pyongyang would return to the talks if the United States lifted the freeze of Banco Delta Asia’s funds, which total approximately $24 million. Kim reportedly tried to meet with Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill during the conference, but Hill refused to do so.

Washington maintains that it is ready to return to the talks but has not indicated that it will agree to Kim’s request. Hill reiterated the Department of State’s position that the two sides could meet bilaterally in the context of the six-party talks to discuss the Banco Delta Asia issue, South Korea’s semi-official Yonhap News Agency reported April 11.

For their part, other participants in the talks have continued to call on North Korea and the United States to be more flexible. For example, Chinese President Hu Jintao acknowledged during an April 20 press conference with Bush that the negotiations “have run into some difficulties” and said that all parties should “further display flexibility, work together, and create necessary conditions for the early resumption of the talks.”

 

New Details Emerge On NK Enrichment Program

Paul Kerr

A former Department of State official familiar with Pyongyang’s nuclear program told Arms Control Today April 18 that North Korea’s suspected uranium-enrichment program has received a more advanced type of centrifuge from a black-market network than has previously been made public.

The claims had first been reported in the New York Times the previous day.

The official said that North Korea received the advanced P-2 centrifuge from Pakistan. Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf acknowledged last fall that a proliferation network run by former Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan had provided Pyongyang with 12 to 20 complete centrifuges, as well as centrifuge designs and components. (See ACT, October 2005.)

U.S. officials had earlier claimed that Pyongyang received centrifuge components from the Khan network. Libya is also known to have obtained P-2 centrifuges from Khan (see ACT, July/August 2004). Iran has acknowledged obtaining P-2 centrifuge designs from the network but has denied receiving the actual centrifuges (See "Security Council Mulls Response to Iran").

Gas centrifuges enrich uranium hexafluoride by spinning it at very high speeds to increase the concentration of the relevant fissile isotope. Highly enriched uranium can be used as fissile material in nuclear weapons. Pyongyang has repeatedly denied having a uranium-enrichment program.

Even if North Korea has received P-2 centrifuges, it is not clear whether or to what extent North Korea has made use of either of the centrifuge technologies. State Department officials told Arms Control Today last fall that North Korea has enough components sufficient for a “pilot” enrichment facility. But there appears to be considerable doubt as to whether Pyongyang has an operating facility or possesses all necessary centrifuge components.

North Korea also has a plutonium-based nuclear weapons program. In 2003, Pyongyang restarted a nuclear reactor and related facilities whose operation had been frozen under a 1994 bilateral agreement with the United States. Pyongyang claims to have extracted plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel and used it to produce nuclear weapons. (See ACT, December 2005.)

The U.S. intelligence community assesses that North Korea probably has nuclear weapons but has not yet confirmed the accuracy of Pyongyang’s claims.

 

 

 

Reliable Replacement Warhead: Does the United States Need a New Breed of Nuclear Weapon?

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Arms Control Association Press Briefing
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
1:00 - 2:30 P.M.

Henry L. Stimson Center Conference Room, 12th Floor
1111 19th Street, NW

TRANSCRIPT OF BRIEFING WITH QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

The Department of Energy and U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories are proceeding with a program, the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), to develop new nuclear warheads to substitute for existing warhead designs. They say the initiative is supposed to lead to warheads that are safer, more certain of working, and easier to produce and maintain. Proponents of RRW herald it as crucial for transforming the nuclear complex and preserving U.S. deterrent capabilities in the coming decades.

However, U.S. officials regularly say that the U.S. stockpile is safe and reliable. And the future viability of U.S. nuclear forces is not dependent upon developing a costly generation of new warheads. But RRW could lead to a resumption of U.S. nuclear testing, especially if weapons designers veer away from proven designs. If the United States resumed nuclear testing or pursued warheads for new military missions, it could lead other countries to follow suit, causing irreparable damage to the global nonproliferation regime and diminishing U.S. security.

Panelists:

Richard L. Garwin, IBM Fellow Emeritus at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center. Dr. Garwin will assess possible technical options for a RRW design, what types of changes could be done without requiring nuclear proof testing, and whether they would be necessary or worthwhile.

Ivan Oelrich, Vice President for Strategic Security Project at the Federation of American Scientists. Dr. Oelrich will explain why Congress has sought to restrict the RRW program so it does not lead to new military capabilities for new attack missions.

Robert W. Nelson, Senior Scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Dr. Nelson will discuss the safety and reliability of the existing U.S. nuclear stockpile and why the RRW program is unnecessary.

Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association will moderate the discussion.

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The Arms Control Association is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting effective arms control policies.

 

 

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Arms Control Association Press Briefing

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Reliable Replacement Warhead: Does the United States Need a New Breed of Nuclear Weapon?

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PANELISTS:

RICHARD L. GARWIN,
IBM FELLOW EMERITUS,
THE WATSON RESEARCH CENTER

IVAN OELRICH,
VICE PRESIDENT,
THE STRATEGIC SECURITY PROJECT,
THE FEDERATION OF AMERICAN SCIENTISTS

ROBERT W. NELSON,
SENIOR SCIENTIST,
THE UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS

MODERATOR:

DARYL G. KIMBALL,
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR,
ARMS CONTROL ASSOCIATION


APRIL 25, 2006

Transcript by:
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.

DARYL G. KIMBALL: Ladies and gentlemen, if you could please find your seats, we'll begin our program. I'm Daryl Kimball. I'm the executive director of the Arms Control Association, and I want to welcome you to the Henry L. Stimson Center. We're using this facility for the first time. It's a new office for the Stimson Center. We hope you didn't get lost finding your way here. There may be a few other people coming in a little late because we're at a location that we typically don't use for our events. We have many members and friends of the Arms Control Association here, but for those of you who are not familiar with us, we're a non-profit, non-partisan research and public education organization. We're devoted to work regarding the threats posed by nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and practical strategies to deal with those weapons dangers, and we publish the journal Arms Control Today.

This afternoon's session is but the latest of our ongoing efforts to encourage critical thinking and practical solutions about how to stymie global arms competition, nuclear arms competition in particular, and how to reduce the saliency of nuclear weapons. The Arms Control Association and many of our other colleague organizations have sought to strengthen the norm against nuclear testing to stop the development of new nuclear weapons for new military missions. And just as a backdrop for today's session on the Reliable Replacement Warhead program and whether the United States needs a new breed of nuclear weapons, let me just recount for you some of the recent developments that led to the initiation of this program.

As you are aware, there has been a debate over the last four years in Congress about the Bush administration's research and development proposal for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP), as well as a proposal for research called the Advanced Concepts Initiative, which was, in part, intended to pursue new warheads with new capabilities designed to destroy chemical and biological targets. Now, due to the efforts of several members of Congress, Congress rejected those proposals, the RNEP program in particular, and the Bush administration proposed a new effort to develop a new family of so-called reliable replacement warheads: RRW. You'll hear that acronym over and again this afternoon.

The purpose, according to the [Department of Energy's] National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), is to sustain existing nuclear weapons capabilities at lower cost and without nuclear test explosions. Now, at first glance the program goals might seem appealing, but we-the Arms Control Association, other organizations, and experts-were skeptical and last year we called on Congress to take a harder look at the assumptions used to justify RRW. We suggested that RRW isn't necessary if the existing Stockpile Stewardship program to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing arsenal is working. We noted that if new RRW designs introduce new, untested concepts, it could increase doubts about the reliability, not decrease doubts about the reliability, of the enduring nuclear stockpile. We cautioned that RRW could, perhaps in future years, become a backdoor means to create new warheads with new military capabilities that the Bush administration continues to assert are needed for the United States national defense in the future. And of course, if the United States were to resume nuclear testing or to pursue new weapons for new missions, we believe that this could lead other states to pursue countermeasures and lead to increased nuclear competition and a decrease in global security.

So last year what Congress decided to do was to approve funding for the program, but it established in law a set of parameters to help ensure - and I'll quote here briefly from the Energy and Water Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2006. They stipulated that "Any design work done under the RRW program must stay within the military requirements of the existing deployed stockpile and any new weapon design must stay within the design parameters validated by past nuclear tests." So here we are a year after the RRW program was proposed. The weapons laboratories and the National Nuclear Security Administration have clearly expanded their vision for the program. And as outlined in recent congressional testimony and in an interim report to Congress, the NNSA states that it not only wants to build a replacement for the W-76 warhead, which is on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, by 2012, but it wants to replace each of the several types of warheads in the existing arsenal over the course of the next three decades with RRW warheads. The NNSA's interim report also asserts, without much explanation, that nuclear weapons lab directors have concerns about the continuing ability of the Stockpile Stewardship program to maintain the existing stockpile. It also suggests that new features should be introduced into RRW warheads, such as those relating to safety characteristics or use control.

Finally, officials at the National Nuclear Security Administration argue that RRW is "an enabler" for building a new and modernized nuclear weapons production complex. So as each of our speakers will explain in the next few minutes, we think there remains ample reason to continue to be wary and skeptical about the program. I also would argue that in the next year Congress needs to further clarify and limit the program to avoid mission creep. If program justifications continue to be inadequate, Congress should not hesitate to cut funding for RRW. Early next month the congressional committees that have jurisdiction are going to mark up their respective bills that relate to RRW, and later this year the NNSA is scheduled to select a candidate design for the first RRW weapon.

So with that, let me introduce our panelists. Each of them will speak for a few minutes and then we're going to take your questions.

First we have Richard Garwin, who is an IBM fellow emeritus at the Watson Research Center. Dr. Garwin has a long and extremely distinguished résumé and decades of experience dealing with nuclear weapons design and nuclear policy issues. He's going to describe possible technical options for RRW design, what types of changes could be done, which should not be done, and what the implications are for possible nuclear testing. Dr. Ivan Oelrich is vice president of the Strategic Security Project at the Federation of American Scientists. He is going to address why Congress has sought to restrict the RRW program, specifically with respect to changes that could lead to new military capabilities in the arsenal. Finally, Dr. Rob Nelson, who is a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, is going to discuss the status of current efforts to maintain the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile under the current Stockpile Stewardship program, and why, in his view, the RRW program is unnecessary. And Rob also has written an excellent article in this month's issue of Arms Control Today.

So with that, I'll turn the microphone over to Dick Garwin.

RICHARD L. GARWIN: Thank you. I have a lot of papers on my website, which is not listed here, but it is http://www.FAS.org/rlg/, and once you get there you'll find a number of background papers, including a 2001 paper "Maintaining Nuclear Weapons Safe and Reliable under a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty", which discusses this subject.

There also is a very thorough paper by Jonathan Medalia [of the Congressional Research Service], that you will find on the FAS website. This describes the arguments in favor and those against the RRW program, and also the budgetary actions which seem to be reducing efforts for stockpile life extension, which is predictable because there is an RRW program in the wings and people are paid to make it look more appealing. One way to make it look more appealing is to eliminate the alternatives. At the end of Jonathan's paper there is an appendix, "Nuclear Weapons and the Nuclear Weapons Complex."

That sets the general stage on what is a thermal nuclear weapon. All of the weapons that we're talking about have a primary nuclear explosive, which is boosted. It has gas that is put in at the last moment so that the fission explosion is boosted to a higher level and the soft x-rays come out captured by a radiation case, and they are held there so as to implode a secondary that has the fusion fuel. So we're talking about the primary, the secondary, the radiation case, and a lot of parts outside the so-called physics package.

Now, we do have replacement warheads. That's what this life extension program is all about. Rob will talk about this more. Nobody is suggesting that the weapons that we will use to replace the weapons, whose life has not been extended, are unreliable, but you wouldn't want to call this just a new fangled replacement warhead; you call it a reliable replacement warhead, which unfortunately has the implications that the other things are not reliable, but they are.

When you talk to the laboratory directors, which I have done for many years, their concern over the long-term effectiveness of the life-extension program, the Stockpile Stewardship program, is people. They don't have, or they fear they won't have, challenging jobs for people, for weapon designers. They're not advocating testing. But there are no new designs because what we're doing is to maintain the weapons of existing type in the stockpile for decades. The W-87 Life Extension Program makes that weapon survive at least until the year 2030. We've learned a lot; that is, the core of the primary nuclear weapons, according to the laboratories, will now last at least 60 years. And every year, with accelerated aging of plutonium, we get 14 years more of experience. So just wait three years and we'll know whether they will last 100 years or not. But luckily we have a good many decades to do something about it if they won't.

What's likely to happen? Well, because there is all this advertising to make [RRW] look more necessary and more desirable, a number of things may be different from the very conservative approach that we have now of simply maintaining in the stockpile weapons of existing type. For instance, you could have more emphasis on variable yields. If you have a 500-kiloton weapon, which is 40 times the explosive yield of the Hiroshima weapon, you might want to also, for a lesser target, to have a one-kiloton weapon or a five-kiloton weapon. Of course, the fact is that we do have those. Every weapon that we have now has the capability of being fired either with the boosted primary yield, which is in the range of some kilotons, or the unboosted primary yield without putting in the boost gas, which is substantially less. Some of them may not have the little switches that allow you to do that, but they can be put in with absolutely no prospect of unreliability.

It is argued that in the new environment of terrorism, people might capture one of our nuclear weapons and detonate it on the spot, which would be bad, or they might take it away and detonate it where there are even more important targets, such as those in cities. And our current nuclear weapons, although they are proofed against accidental detonation, are not proofed against being stolen and researched for months and months and then used as a nuclear explosive. It's very difficult to imagine how you would make a weapon which is proofed against that. I worked on the first permissive action links in the early 1960s, and Johnny Foster and others had all kinds of wonderful ideas, and now what they will try to do is to improve the current permissive action links, make them buried more in the explosive, but you can always take the pin out and put more explosive around it. There are other ways. When somebody is breaking into your nuclear weapon, you can arrange that it will render itself unusable - not just resistant but unusable, and we need to look to see what can be done with weapons of existing type rather than involve this in the RRW.

The RRW, though, in the tri-lab May 20, 2005 paper Sustaining the Nuclear Enterprise is supposed to be much more than that. It's supposed to lay the basis with a responsive nuclear weapons infrastructure for quickly responding to new needs for new kinds of nuclear weapons. You can bet that the designers will, and in my opinion should, look at designing new types of nuclear weapons. Without an RRW, they won't actually manufacture new nuclear weapons; they will design nuclear weapons, among them those that exist. They will test them by simulation in computers. The Stockpile Stewardship program and the Advanced Strategic Computing Initiative, or whatever it is now called, is what makes an RRW program possible, but it doesn't make it desirable.

My principle fear is that all the technical people, including me, will, at some time, five years from now, agree that the RRW design is sufficiently conservative that it can be put into the stockpile with a high reliability of working when it is called upon to work. But after we have a stockpile with [reliable replacement warheads] replacing a lot of the old tested weapons, how many in Congress does it take, or in the military, to say, "nobody has ever tested this design of nuclear weapon and I will not be responsible for managing the stockpile and assuring that it will work during wartime without at least one test."

So I worry not that it's necessary but that it's almost inevitable that a generation of replacement warheads that are not as identical as possible to the ones that we have in the inventory will sooner or later call forth a politically demanded nuclear test. And that will open the floodgates to the Russians testing and the Chinese testing. The Chinese can make real improvements in their nuclear weaponry with a few tests because they've had only 43 compared with our more than a thousand nuclear tests. Planning ahead, these folks (the Chinese and the Russians) are not going to wait, they will make the same calculation I do; they will prepare to test. We will see them preparing to test. We will not allow them to test first, and so we will have, for absolutely no good reason and much to our security detriment, an outbreak of nuclear testing that will then legitimize the acquisition of nuclear weapons by those people who don't have any.

I'll be glad later to answer questions.

KIMBALL: Thank you very much, Dr. Garwin. Let's turn this over to Ivan, if you would, please.

IVAN OELRICH: Daryl has asked me to talk about missions for nuclear weapons. The administration, as Daryl pointed out, sends some mixed signals about new nuclear missions and new nuclear capabilities. It's virtually axiomatic within the arms control community that we should not add any new nuclear missions, and the surrogate for new missions is new warheads, and so we oppose functionally new warheads. The administration realizes that this is at least an important political issue and sometimes says the right things, giving reassurance that regardless of whether the RRW turns out to be a variant of an existing warhead or a new design it will only fulfill existing nuclear missions. Congress seems to agree that this is a constraint, or at least it should be a constraint, but at other times statements from both the Departments of Defense and Energy point out that the legacy arsenal that we've inherited from the Cold War is not the most appropriate one for current conditions. Strategic Command's commander has implied that he no longer has a need for multi-hundred kiloton warheads in the war plan, suggesting that we need smaller, more tailored new weapons. Sometimes these capabilities are set forth in terms of countering WMD threats, typically chemical and biological weapons.

So depending on how you view our current and evolving U.S. nuclear doctrine, the combination of RRW, the Reliable Replacement Warhead, and talk of tailored weapons may or may not cause any additional worry. The development of new doctrine and a plan called global strike, laid out in great detail in a recent FAS report by Hans Kristensen, seems to shift significantly the emphasis toward nuclear preemption, even against non-nuclear-weapon powers. I think this comes about in part because of the profligate use of what I consider this unfortunate term of weapons of mass destruction, which includes at least chemical and biological weapons, as I said. But it's wrong because people realize that WMD is a way of getting the attention of the bureaucracy and of getting budget priorities, and so the definition has expanded, and I've seen briefings in the Pentagon that include cyber attacks and radiological weapons, and even large truck bombs in the definition of WMD.

So by using this overly broad term we conflate nuclear weapons with much less dangerous and devastating weapons. We obscure the fact that nuclear weapons are in a class all to themselves, and we're setting ourselves up to justify preemptive attack against a non-nuclear-weapon power because we think they might be thinking about using chemical weapons, for example. That's why I said before that RRW may cause no additional concern. We have enough to worry about already just with global strike.

In one sense, none of these suggested missions are new missions for nuclear weapons because how could there possibly be any new missions for nuclear weapons? Back in the 1960s and 1970s there were few missions for which nuclear weapons were not considered. Looking back on those years, we see that anything that we could put a nuclear warhead on, we did put a nuclear warhead on. We had nuclear-armed torpedoes and depth charges and nuclear artillery and nuclear anti-aircraft missiles, and even rockets.

One by one, nuclear weapons were displaced from each mission, and it wasn't because of arms control treaties, it wasn't because of political pressure or moral revulsion against nuclear weapons, but because advances in sensors and miniature electronic computers made precision-guided conventional weapons the militarily preferred solution. Nuclear weapons will always be efficient at blowing up large military installations and cities, and their enormous power is required to quickly and reliably destroy certain hard-point targets, for example, missile silos, but nuclear weapons have simply become obsolete for almost all tactical missions. That's why I said that these are not really technically new missions. But now with global strike I think we're seeing some reversal of this long-term trend away from nuclear weapons, and I believe the direction of RRW can't help but be affected by this continuing doctrinal evolution.

One of these new essential missions will be destroying chemical and biological weapons. Whenever this mission, or any other nuclear mission, for that matter, is suggested, I recommend that you just ask for the details. By running through the actual use, from targeting to consequences, you'll find that nuclear weapons are the weapon of choice only under the most contrived circumstances and often require a cooperative enemy. In general, a nuclear attack requires identifying a target with a fixed location that lies in this band where it's challenging enough that conventional weapons are not adequate, but it's not so challenging that even nuclear weapons are thwarted.

Justifying nuclear weapons for attack of chemical and biological weapons, for example, requires that they not be in bunkers or stored on the surface where conventional explosives and incendiary weapons could destroy them, but they're not so deep that they're out of range of the sterilizing effect of a nuclear fireball, which is a surprisingly short range in rock. Nuclear mission are often based on unrealistic tactical assumptions. As Michael Levi pointed out in a recent New York Times op-ed, the immense power of nuclear weapons is required only when the results have to be instantaneous, such as attacking a missile silo because the missile might be launched at any second. But the Iranians are years away from maturing a gas centrifuge plan. Why do we need to make it go away in the blink of an eye? If we decide to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities, not something I'm recommending by the way, we could do so over a period of months with conventional weapons. There's no need for the instantaneous effect of nuclear weapons.

Finally, we have to consider consequences. In the short term these will be horrendous. Most of the nuclear missions being discussed require substantial nuclear yields, at least multi-kiloton if not tens of kilotons. We have to put these things in perspective. We have to remember that in definitions used in legislation, a so-called small nuclear weapon is one that's a third of the size of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, or 2,000 times more powerful than the Oklahoma City bomb. Small nuclear weapons are big bombs, so blast and fallout effects will be severe.

The long-term damage will be just as severe. Breaking the six-decade-long taboo against nuclear weapons will legitimize nuclear weapons, of course, and that can only work against the interests of the one nation with the clear-cut global conventional superiority. I believe this long transition away from nuclear missions is the right path and we should not let the RRW divert us from the path. We should not let arguments for new missions push the RRW. We need to step back and ask what the real mission of the RRW might be.

Last fall, I wrote a short piece on the RRW in the form of "if X, then Y" because I didn't really know what the RRW was. I'm still not sure. I don't think the program is very well defined. But as Dr. Garwin pointed out, everything I learned about the RRW suggests that at least part of the justification might be that it's really a means to an end rather than an end in itself. The end, the real mission of the RRW, is to focus a design effort and eventually a build effort as a part of the program to keep a warm standby nuclear production capability. If this is the primary mission, so to speak, of the RRW, then that should be our primary focus. But keeping a substantial nuclear production capability rests on some big assumptions about where we think we should be going with nuclear weapons and their salience and what we want the world's nuclear picture to look like decades in the future.

I said that RRW should not open up new nuclear missions, but I think in the long term we should be more ambitious. Rather than simply avoid new missions, we could design the RRW, if it comes to pass, to actually eliminate old missions. More generally, can we use the RRW as a focus of debate, specifically in Congress, about where we want to be heading with nuclear weapons? Just one specific example to illustrate how these requirements come out from just unquestioned assumptions is that virtually all of the concern about possible need for nuclear testing, the concerns about warhead aging, the need for a special standby weapons manufacture capability, and the need for a reliable replacement warhead-all the current warheads are reliable-come about because of the potential problems with the plutonium in the core of a two-stage thermal nuclear weapon. All of the weapons in the current nuclear stockpile are two-stage thermal nuclear weapons, but who says they have to be? Far simpler uranium bombs would put to rest forever any question about warhead aging and reliability. It's true that the simplest possible gun-assembled uranium bombs might not be one point safe, but who says they have to be stored assembled? We could keep half here and half there and the explosive charge someplace else.

We need plutonium-powered weapons only because we have to have multi-hundred kiloton weapons on constant alert, mounted atop land-based missiles and forward-deployed submarines. Simple uranium weapons with 1/20th the yield can't meet the current mission requirements. But rather than solve the problem of plutonium cores, we need to reexamine the mission requirements. If we limited nuclear weapons to one mission and one mission only-that is, threatening retaliation against military and economic targets of a nuclear power that might attack us with nuclear weapons-then uranium bombs are perfectly adequate for the job. Eventually, we might need new weapons, but we should do that only when we've decided that nuclear weapons are weapons of last resort and they only have this one mission remaining.

KIMBALL: Thank you very much. Rob, do we need to have RRW? What's the situation with the current Stockpile Stewardship program?

ROBERT W. NELSON: Well, I basically have one point to make, and that is that the current nuclear arsenal isn't broken. There is nothing unreliable about it. But the tremendous danger is that Congress, other policymakers, and the public will get the perception that there is something unreliable with our current stockpile and it will probably lead us to fiddle with the existing stockpile and lead us to the road to resume nuclear testing.

The Stockpile Stewardship program that we have today was designed to maintain the U.S. nuclear arsenal in an era without testing. It is working. That's not just me saying that; that's Linton Brooks, the director of the National Nuclear Security Administration. He repeatedly states that the Stockpile Stewardship program is working: "We are absolutely convinced the stockpile is safe and reliable."

Today we have an arsenal of almost 10,000 nuclear warheads based on 60 years of research and development. The U.S. conducted over 1,000 nuclear tests to design and certify these weapons, and we essentially froze that stockpile after the last testing ended in September of 1992.

The U.S. currently maintains its nuclear arsenal through a $6.7 billion Stockpile Stewardship program. As part of the program, each year 11 sample weapons are disassembled, taken apart, and looked at for any signs of aging and corrosion. If there are non-nuclear components that have to be replaced, they will be replaced. Even if eventually some of the nuclear components have to be replaced, we can manufacture them according to their original specifications. But as Dick said, the very name Reliable Replacement Warhead suggests that there is something unreliable about the current stockpile. Statements from the labs or from the NNSA seem to contribute to this perception that there is something wrong. At least they're always very unclear and equivocal. For example, "Over the longer term, we may face concerns about whether accumulated changes in age-affected weapons components, whose replacements might have to be manufactured by changed processes, could lead to inadequate performance margins and reduce confidence in the stockpile." In other words, there's nothing wrong now; we're just speculating that there might be, in the future, some uncertainty in the confidence of the stockpile.

That has led already committees in Congress to be concerned about the current status of the stockpile. In the House Appropriations Committee report accompanying the fiscal year 2006 Energy and Water appropriations bill, it was stated that, "Congressional testimony by NNSA officials is beginning to erode the confidence of the committee that the Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship program is performing as advertised." So, as you can already see, even though there is no public evidence that there is anything wrong with the current stockpile, it's simply the perception that something is not going well that will eventually lead us to resume testing.

At one time there was concern that the plutonium pits at the core of every nuclear weapon might be damaged over time due to the radiation caused by the plutonium in the pit itself. The self-irradiation, in principle, could have damaged the metal lattice that binds the material together, but as Dick mentioned briefly, there are currently so-called accelerated aging experiments going on at Livermore and, I believe, Los Alamos that have, at least in the press, been reported to predict pit lifetimes in excess of 90-plus years. Now, we haven't gotten an official number yet. Those data are supposed to be released at the end of this year, and I hope that the Department of Energy eventually does release an actual number. But, in any case, it appears as though the weapons we have already will last at least another 50 years before there are problems with pit aging. Even if there were problems, we could always manufacture those pits and replace them according to original specifications.

It seems absurd that given that we don't have any problems with the current stockpile-it ain't broke-why are we planning to try to fix it? The RRW program would reorient the primary post-Cold War mission in the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories from stockpile maintenance to the development of new replacement warhead designs. It seems implausible to me, and both Dick and Ivan have mentioned this, that if we start placing weapons into the stockpile that have never been tested, regardless of what the technical people at the labs and outside the labs say, invariably there will be political pressure by members of Congress, members of the military, to test those weapons, and inevitably then we end up in the cycle where our testing is responded to by both Russia and China.

The main point that I want to make that you should go away with is that there is no evidence, at least in the public domain, that has been put forward to suggest that there is anything wrong with the current U.S. nuclear stockpile. Before we start replacing it, we ought to ask hard questions about what are the fundamental reasons why. So I'll stop there.

KIMBALL: Thank you. I want to thank all the three panelists for their excellent presentations. We've presented you with a lot of information and now it's your turn to ask us some questions, clarifications, so the floor is yours. Raise your hand and identify yourself and tell us who you want to direct your question towards. Have we answered every question possibly imaginable about RRW? Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Ira Shorr, PSR. I would like to ask a question about what you believe - and this could be to anybody on the panel - the strategic and ideological underpinnings of this program might be? We've talked about - some have already spoken of the fact that we need different kinds of nukes, maybe smaller nukes, for different kind of target scenarios, but Dr. Garwin talked about the fact that we could change nuclear weapons without RRW to fit those scenarios if we wanted to. So, aside from the issue of jobs and scientists and keeping scientists fresh, what might be the ideological and strategic underpinnings of those that are sort of moving us in this direction?

GARWIN: Well, I think there are two questions and one is the creation of the program and the other is support for the program. Creation of the program I mentioned. The laboratory directors really worry where in 20 years they're going to find people who are interested in nuclear weapons. These are jobs in an old industry; you are not allowed to redesign the automobile. This lasts for a long time and they weren't used to that. But we have had the experience with the Stockpile Stewardship program. We've learned a vast amount about these things. The fact that plutonium does not swell because of the decay-induced dislocation and helium is really a very nice surprise. It's a finding from the program and it's something that we now take into account with these long lifetimes.

Now, some folks will support an RRW that is a program of new design, and to exercise the new production capabilities as well. That's what they would like to do. On the other hand, the weapon laboratories have no understanding, in my opinion, of the cost. Is this warranted on the basis of cost in many of the public pronouncements by Linton Brooks and others that the cost of maintaining the Stockpile Stewardship program with life extension is high and continues to increase? No, it doesn't have to increase. We know a lot more about it and we can use that knowledge to reduce the cost. Will [RRW] be cheaper? Well, it depends how many nuclear weapons you have in the stockpile. If you're going to reduce the number by a factor five or 10, then the number that you have to keep up to snuff is reduced by a factor five or 10. But the infrastructure that you have to lay in designing new ones and certifying them doesn't depend on the number of weapons of the given type that you're going to build.

This is all pie in the sky so far. When it comes down to selecting one of the competitive designs and getting a good cost and a comparative cost for the program, it may sort itself out. Now, the program manager's opportunity is to get the decision made before the facts are in, and so that's what you see happening. A lot of people are ideologically in favor of this program because they want something new; because they rely on simplistic arguments like the stockpile was built for the Cold War. It would be a miracle if it were optimum for the present situation. Of course, it's not optimum. But how much more does it cost us than if we were given the optimum stockpile and how much will it cost us to obtain the optimum stockpile, and what difference does it make anyhow?

So it's something new; everybody likes something new. It goes against the current program, which are legacy programs. The more you get rid of that, the better off you are in some people's minds. That's my judgment. I don't know; other people may differ on this.

NELSON: You asked about new military requirements. At the moment, the labs, the NNSA, and Congress, by legislation, requires that the RRW design does not have new military requirements; that is, not have new effects to attack new types of targets. What they do intend to do is to, "relax the military characteristics," and that essentially means allowing the size, the shape, the weight of the actual warhead to be somewhat larger in order to, in their mind, increase the so-called performance margins of the weapon. But there certainly will be cost associated with that. For example, if you start increasing the size and weight of the nuclear effects package inside the warhead, you have to recertify it to fly within its reentry body. So one issue related to cost is how expensive will it be to flight test and possibly recertify the reentry body that goes along with the warhead, and will the Navy and other departments in the Defense Department be willing to spend those funds ultimately if we deploy this weapon?

KIMBALL: Further questions? Yes, sir, in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah, Pete Stockton with POGO. Brooks has said a number of times that a rationale for going ahead with RRW is that there is a problem with the safety and surety of the weapons and that they could be upgraded in RRW. It's our understanding from talking to the people that actually certify the weapons and are involved in the [Lifetime Extension] program that they are upgrading the surety and safety of the weapons currently. So it's unclear to me, you know, what we're going to get from RRW, but tell me about this.

GARWIN: Well, if you look at the actual statements, it's not that there is a problem. It's that we now know how to make things even safer and surer. And then you engage in a dialogue and you say, "well, are they safe enough?," and then they say, "it's never safe enough." But how much does it cost to get that little increment of safety. Does that mean that we're going to eliminate perfectly good weapons that were otherwise being stockpiled with their life extension program already completed until 2030 in order to get this increase in safety and surety? Now, once you have the 10 to the minus 9 probability of accident during the weapon's lifetime, and I could reduce that by a factor of 10-it's never going to happen anyhow-so reducing by a factor 10, and then you get that and you'll say I can reduce it by another factor 10. What are we paying for this very minor improvement?

So that's what's involved and you have to go behind it and say, look, you want us to pay for it; what will be the benefit? What is the expected loss; the probability of loss times the number of deaths or the damage caused on a cost-benefit relationship? Does this pay? Then, if they have an answer to that, you ask them, what is the discounted present value of that? You know, benefits much later, costs upfront. We do that on every other program; we ought to be doing that here too.

KIMBALL: I would just note that one of the first issues that Congress wanted clarification from the Department of Energy and NNSA about-and this is in last year's fiscal 2006 Defense Authorization Act-"is to identify existing warheads recommended for replacement by 2035 with an assessment of the weapons' performance and safety characteristics of the replacement warheads." So this is one of the issues that Congress needs to get to the bottom of. Are these improvements necessary? How marginal are they? And are they ultimately worth the tremendous costs of going through this new kind of program?

QUESTION: Thank you. This question is for Mr. Nelson. You stated that if it turns out that there are serious problems with pits we can always remanufacture them to original specifications. At present I believe that's not exactly true because the original specifications called for wrought plutonium pits and today we only have the capability to build the cast ones. So I guess my question to you is there has been some debate which has not been resolved, as far as I know, for whether the properties of cast and wrought pits are exactly identical. My question to you is, in making that statement, are you coming down on one side or another on that debate? Do you believe that there is no difference, or are you supporting building a modern pit facility that will allow us to build wrought pits?

NELSON: Well, actually I think that I'm going to throw this one to Dick because he's much more of an expert on this than I am.

GARWIN: This was an early question when people at Los Alamos started manufacturing pits there. They had them made at Rocky Flats, but Rocky Flats was shut down and Los Alamos was made to bite the bullet and build new pits at TA-55 for the W-88 nuclear weapon. I was on the visiting committee that looked at this. We have made certifiable pits. They are made by cast and machine process. The decision was made and people have judged that cast and wrought perform equivalently. One can find minor differences in strength, and the more we know about it, the more they are equivalent within the range that you need.

There is not a significant difference in primary yield and you don't need to reopen that question. That decision has been made. Remanufacturing to original specification will allow the substitution of cast plutonium for wrought plutonium so long as the dimensions are correct.

KIMBALL: There was a gentleman back here that had a question.

QUESTION: My name is Michael Glenzer. I'm a reporter with Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor. With respect to the cost question, remanufacturing to existing capabilities, part of the cost considerations that have been brought up by NNSA with respect to that is that that requires the maintenance of a vast infrastructure that costs a lot, not only in terms of the physical maintenance but also security maintenance as security requirements increase. Is there a way to decrease those costs without going to an RRW, which is NNSA's case at this point, that it's necessary?

GARWIN: Well, again, that depends on the scale. If you look back at the 1995 era, the early days facing the no-test era, Sandia put out a remanufacturing schedule that assumed that every weapon would be remanufactured exactly 30 years after it was built. So it had enormous peaks, a couple thousand weapons per year. That means you needed a tremendous capital investment in people and facilities to be able to remanufacture at that rate.

Faced with that, any sensible person would have said, let's remanufacture a few years earlier; it can only be better, and we'll spend a lot less on the infrastructure and we'll have to pay the money a little bit earlier, but it's a clear win. Now that we know that we're going to have fewer nuclear weapons, and if people will really decide that we want only 2,000 weapons in the stockpile instead of 2,000 operationally deployed strategic weapons, which is a big difference, then we could decide what kind of structure we need. The Los Alamos pit manufacturing is a dozen or so weapons per year. It's not limited by the production rate; it's limited by some other things like little storage facility for the pits that you've made. In my opinion, if they really wanted to do it, they could improve that and make at least one pit a week there. So with green eyeshades, you know, cut down what you don't need.

A lot of decisions in the Department of Energy are made on workload leveling or need for work in this district versus some other. Let's start from a bottom-up approach. We could build new pits where it is cheaper on a one-for-one replacement, and that's what we ought to do. Whether one calls that a responsive infrastructure or whether one calls it simply rebuilding the system because of aging or routine replacement. It makes no difference.

KIMBALL: There is one other issue to consider with respect to cost comparisons, which is that the Department of Energy is suggesting that the life extension programs will continue for 30 or so years while RRW warheads replace the Lifetime Extension programs (LEPs), which means that in my view there is a strong possibility that RRW projects are going to be layered over existing LEP projects. In other words, you're not going to substitute one for the other until several decades down the road.

What that implies is that rather than spending $6.7 billion a year on the current program, you may be spending more than that in future years. The Department of Energy and NNSA have not yet answered Congress's question about that. That's another one of Congress's questions. The interim report that [the Departments of Energy and Defense] delivered in March does not address that issue, and they need to be pressed on that because if that is true, then the RRW program is a net addition to three or so decades rather than a substitution for the current approach. Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: My name is Stacey from the Threat Reduction Support Center and I have a question for all the panelists, maybe if you're able to answer, how the Russians might react to the RRW program? But first I'd like to look back to what Dr. Garwin had mentioned about the RRW program leading to nuclear testing. Actually, I believe you had said that it's inevitable that it would lead to nuclear testing and then that would also open the floodgates to China and Russia to nuclear testing as well. But it's on the books of Congress isn't it that nuclear testing isn't part of the RRW program-

GARWIN: Well, neither was invading Iraq part of the response, and somehow it happened. (Laughter.)

KIMBALL: So your question is what will be the Russian reaction?

QUESTION: Yes, aside from the nuclear testing; because testing isn't part of the RRW program as the feasibility study is ongoing, and also taking into account that the Russians have an aggressive R&D program themselves.

GARWIN: That's right. The Russians have an active program at their test site. They spend a lot more money there than we spend at ours. They will of course look at this program. They will make their own judgment. They'll look beyond the words. They'll ask what will happen-as much as they can predict in American society-what will happen if the RRW program goes forward and they manufacture never-tested warheads? Particularly, with all of the statements on the record, including mine and weapon laboratories directors and others, that [we] would never put an untested weapon into a stockpile.

Well, these are old statements from 10 years ago and 20 years ago. We will know more, so it may be scientifically justifiable to put an untested weapon into a stockpile. But there will be people still with the old mindset who, after they are faced with this and are told to assume the responsibility to swear that the weapons will perform as required, they'll say, "I can't do that unless they're tested." There also will be others who [will push for testing] for their own reasons or concerns, or simply because they want to get rid of this stricture of a test moratorium; exactly what happened with the ABM Treaty and many other things. People who do not like treaties, who do not like any restraints on our activities will find common cause with people in other countries who don't want restraints on their activities and we will be back in a nuclear testing era.

KIMBALL: I think this person over here. You had a question and I couldn't see you.

QUESTION: Yes, my name is Erika Simpson and I'm an associate professor of international relations at the University of Western Ontario, which is in Canada. I actually work very closely with Senator Douglas Roche, who is the chair of the Middle Powers Initiative, and he's putting together this Article VI Forum, which is collecting together middle powers from all around the world, and they're trying to encourage support of Article VI [of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)], so my question relates to how RRW will affect the perception that people have that the United States is going to continue to rely on nuclear weapons forever. The bargain in the NPT surrounding Article VI was that the United States and other countries would move toward general and complete disarmament. So I wonder what the implications are going to be for the rest of the world if you do go ahead.

KIMBALL: Ivan, do you want to take a stab?

OELRICH: Well, I mean, I can't get the impression that the current administration takes Article VI terribly seriously. And despite all the discussion about RRW, I have to admit, I don't think the program is well defined yet and so we have to be a little bit cautious about it is this and it isn't that because different people [in Congress] have very different ideas about what "it" is as opposed to when you talk to people at NNSA. So presumably all this will eventually get worked out.

But with that caveat. From what I understand from people in the labs and NNSA is that one of the key missions of the RRW is to provide this mechanism for keeping a design capability fresh and keeping a warm standby production capability into the indefinite future. If you look at the sizes they're talking about, that only makes sense if we are going to continue to maintain an arsenal of a few thousand nuclear weapons, not many thousands, and have the ability to rapidly ramp that up in the future in response to some unforeseen, and by me unforeseeable, future event. It sends the message that we are looking into the indefinite future to having a heavy reliance on nuclear weapons.

GARWIN: As Ivan pointed out, a lot of the cases when you would think about using nuclear weapons require extreme assumptions. It has to be too hard for conventional weapons and just easy enough for nuclear weapons. That's when you would use the responsive infrastructure. It would take you several years to make any significant number of nuclear weapons. So now you have to imagine an event where you will have that much time in order to exercise your responsive infrastructure. But the administration is not deaf to the benefits of showing they know about Article VI, and in fact, in some of the speeches you will find justifications for the RRW that will allow us to reduce the number of weapons. That's one of the desired advantages because we will be able to respond more rapidly to a problem if it arises.

I think I'd rather read Max Kampelman's op-ed piece in the New York Times yesterday about the time President Reagan shocked the National Security Council by revealing that he had discussed with Gorbachev the prospect of eliminating U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons.

KIMBALL: Just to briefly answer your question in a slightly different way. So long as the United States continues to plan to maintain its stockpile for the indefinite future and does not proactively pursue diplomatic strategies that would help lead to the elimination of all nuclear weapons, this kind of activity is going to create concerns among other states. I'm sure that the United States is interested in perpetuating its nuclear arsenal and is not serious about ever doing Article VI. But I'm an American; maybe Canadians can answer the question of how others will react better than I can.

Mr. Ota, please.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Masa Ota, working for Japanese wire agency Kyodo News. My question is regarding a reentry vehicle. Mr. Nelson touched on this issue cursorily. NNSA said their RRW is going to be larger than the current W-76. So that means it doesn't fit to the United States current reentry vehicle Mk4. So do we need a new kind of a reentry vehicle? Does that mean we need much more money for creating a new delivery system in the future?

Also, another question regarding implication for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which has not been ratified due to the opposition by this administration and the Congress. If this administration made a decision to go for RRW by the end of this current administration, 2008, even if the Democrats take Congress and the White House, will that preclude the possibility of a future ratification of CTBT? That's my second question. Thank you very much.

NELSON: I can only answer the first question based on what I know from reading unclassified reports and newspaper reports. My understanding is that the W-76 replacement in this current design competition is not required to fit in the Mark 4, which is the reentry body for the W-76 and the current weapon, but in the Mark 5, which is the reentry body for the W-88, the other, I believe, 400-kiloton modern thermonuclear warhead that's in the Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Now, fitting inside the reentry body doesn't mean that everything is just fine because the size, the distribution of mass in the warhead itself may affect the flight characteristics of the reentry body. You've got to remember that these things are entering the atmosphere at many times the speed of sound. There are instabilities that can develop, and they all have to be tested to make sure that the reentry body can survive its impact, and that's an expensive flight-testing program, and presumably the Navy would have to pay for it. Beyond that, I don't know; it's just my own speculation.

KIMBALL: Presumably, they're going to want to avoid that, but that is not clear at this stage. Mr. Ota, I didn't understand your question on the test ban treaty. If you could just rephrase your question on the test ban treaty.

QUESTION: …Might RRW increase the rationale not to go to CTBT ratification.

NELSON: Part of the reason why the CTBT wasn't ratified in 1999 was because of influential testimony on the part of the lab directors that they couldn't be sure that they could be sure indefinitely under a permanent testing moratorium. You could flip this around and argue that if now claim that you can develop a weapon that has such high performance margins that we don't even have to test it in order to put it in the stockpile, then surely the labs, and other people involved in the program, could endorse a permanent treaty-based comprehensive test ban. I believe that the House Democrats tried that in the FY 2006 legislation, and of course it wasn't taken seriously. This administration has no intention to bring up the CTBT for ratification, but it's certainly a valid question to ask.

KIMBALL: That could be one scenario; that's the glass-half-full scenario. The glass-half-empty scenario would be that the lab directors, if coming up to testify once again on the test ban treaty, were asked, "are you confident that the RRW program will ensure the safety and reliability of the arsenal without testing?", they could very well say, "well, the RRW program is in process. It will not be another 20 years until we replace all the existing warheads with RRW warheads. We're not confident as of yet who would be in the same pickle we were in September and October of 1999."

Fundamentally, I think the point that you take away from our presentations is what Rob was saying, which is that there is no problem with the existing arsenal that should prevent the United States from entering into a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty of unlimited duration. That was the finding of the National Academy of Sciences panel in 2002 and General Shalikashvili's study from 2001. Dick Garwin and others in the audience are very familiar with these subjects. Other questions? Yes, Diane.

QUESTION: Diane Perlman. I'm a political psychologist and I study dynamics of nuclear proliferation. First of all, thank you very much, and what you're all describing in many ways, just to name it, is psychological manipulation and manipulation of perception of a need, and sort of misrepresentation of reality and certain facts to make something look more appealing than what it's not.

I also want to ask you about Article VI. Linton Brooks says we are keeping it in spades, so there's a way of saying that we're doing something that we're not doing, maybe to get people complacent. I think it's obvious that our long-term, indefinite plans are provoking proliferation, so other countries desire to proliferate, which you've all said. So we increase their desire and then try to stop them from doing what we're provoking. So it's an impossible, untenable situation; psychologically impossible. Are you concerned about Congress being seduced by the manipulation of perceptions? Is anyone addressing it on that level? Also, what are your thoughts about the real motivation for why they're doing this?

KIMBALL: Well, I think, Dick, you addressed the question before about what the motivations were. So what does Congress think about this? Perhaps each of you has some observations about what Congress understands and what some of the concerns are.

My quick assessment is that they are still learning, as many of us are still learning, about what the program is actually supposed to be. To some it sounds appealing. The program is supposed to be cheaper, safer, more reliable. It does everything except toast bagels. It's quite appealing, but I think it will take some time for Congress to get the testimony and get the answers, and when it does, I think that some of the problems that we've been trying to identify will come to light and they are likely to take a much more skeptical look than they have so far. That's my quick assessment. Others may have different views based on their personal experiences and meetings.

GARWIN: I don't know enough about enough people in Congress and staffs and how these things are actually done at the moment to make a judgment, but what I try to do is to present exactly what I know without shading the arguments one way or another. If you have a great, big program, any organization is going to find the arguments in favor, the arguments against, and they will emphasize the ones in favor. That's what they're paid to do, and these people are very good at it and they're paid a lot of money to do it.

I will also try to explain to the Congress that this is a typical activity. That shouldn't be any shock to them because they are intelligent human beings. They will know that. But these are important decisions. They're costly decisions. They have implications for our own security and for international security. So that's what I can do. Maybe my colleagues know more about the Congress.

OELRICH: First, the staffers I talk to on the Hill are a very biased selection because I only talk to people who are willing to talk to me and a lot of people aren't willing to talk to me. People tend to be willing to talk to you if they're sympathetic to your view anyway. But even with that, I think that part of the issue here is that it's very, very difficult for Congress-and staffers on the Hill, which are really on the front lines-to make any kind of technical assessment. Even people who are very cautious about nuclear weapons recognize that this is, at least right now, the way the world is, this is kind of the ultimate backstop for our security. Since oftentimes they make a technical judgment based on credentials, and say this guy is saying one thing, this guy is saying another thing, and this guy seems to be more important than this other guy so he's probably going to believe what the important guy is going to say.

But the other thing is that in this situation where they recognize that there is this really fundamental importance on nuclear weapons, even people who are very skeptical about nuclear weapons will tend to be conservative. If one person is telling them that you need to worry about this and another person is saying, nah, don't worry, they're going to say, well, maybe I should worry about this.

The arguments that we're trying to make here are very, very difficult to sell on the Hill because of that sort of natural conservatism about this fundamental security backstop that nuclear weapons today represent, and the fact that the people on the Hill are just not geared up to make technical evaluations about scientific issues.

KIMBALL: Stephen?

QUESTION: Stephen Young with the Union of Concerned Scientists. It's been handed out in various ways, but I wonder if the panel can comment on basically the differences in what the Department of Energy wants and what the Department of Defense wants. My perception is there's big differences that are very important and that's hinted at in lots of ways, but the Pentagon doesn't have a big interest in a more reliable warhead because they already have reliable enough warheads to work-the delivery vehicle is much less reliable for them, so the reliability of the warhead is already so high it doesn't need to be improved that much. They want the ability to make more warheads if need be, and new kinds of warheads for new missions if down the road they decide they want that. The Energy Department's interest is a jobs program and lots of money and more warheads. The Defense Department wants to be able to make more warheads if they need them, and different kinds of warheads down the road possibly. In that sense they might support RRW to an extent, but it's not their priority by any means.

KIMBALL: Would you agree with that assessment, Dick Garwin?

GARWIN: The Department of Defense, that is Strategic Command, the only potential user of nuclear weapons, hasn't asked for new kinds of nuclear weapons. Last year and the year before we had this Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, and that was misguided and oversold and misunderstood to the extent that Linton Brooks apologized to the Congress for not clearing up the confusion sooner; the fact being that deep penetration of nuclear weapons, in that case for enhancing the ground shock, is achieved if the weapon would go to two or three meters' depth before exploding, not to 10, 20, or 100 meters' depth. Once that was cleared up, as it was through outside reports and then a definitive report by the National Academy of Sciences that had a lot of weapon people on the panel, you would think the problem had been solved. But, no, NNSA still wants to continue with a nuclear earth penetrator program. They want to penetrate that two or three meters into granite or reinforced concrete in order to be able to use a lower-yield nuclear warhead with reduced fallout, not because it's suppressed by the underground explosion but because the ground shock is 20 times bigger when it explodes a couple meters underground.

What they have not faced is that if that's what you want to do, then you can fit an existing nuclear weapon with a conventional one-time, high-explosive shaped charge that will make a hole in the reinforced concrete or the granite so that the existing nuclear weapon can go a couple of meters. It's a system whereby there is very little technical flexibility and understanding, and in that case the desire for a nuclear weapon of new performance characteristics would be quenched because you could use existing nuclear weapons and give them this new capability by the mode of employment by having a new nuclear weapon. The same thing is true with going to the primary-only yield, for instance, in case the accuracy of the delivery system against the particular target is good enough.

So Strategic Command has not asked for new kinds of nuclear weapons. They may ask in the future, but they're pretty much realists. They know they won't get an answer right away and the need may pass, or the desire may pass. Take two of these and call me in the morning. (Laughter.)

 

KIMBALL: Any further questions? I think we've got time for maybe one more. If not, we will conclude. I want to thank everyone for being here. I want to thank all three of our panelists for some excellent presentations. There is more information at the Arms Control Association website, http://www.armscontrol.org. There will be a transcript of today's briefing on our website in a couple of days. I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the fas.org website and the ucsusa.org website, both of which have excellent information on this topic. Thanks again. (Applause.) (END)

 

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If it Ain't Broke: The Already Reliable U.S. Nuclear Arsenal

Robert W. Nelson

The Bush administration through the Department of Energy has proposed developing a new family of nuclear warheads to replace the aging weapons in the current U.S. nuclear stockpile. The Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program is intended to improve the “reliability, security, and longevity” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal without requiring the United States to resume nuclear testing.[1]

The Energy Department’s ambitious plans would reorient the primary post-Cold War mission of the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories from stockpile maintenance to the development of new replacement warhead designs.

At first glance, the RRW program seems a promising solution to the long-term maintenance of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. The stated goal is to develop new replacement warheads that will be easier and less costly to maintain than current weapons, will be more reliable and easier to certify, and will meet modern safety and environmental requirements. Moreover, the Energy Department contends that the program could help support future steep reductions in the total number of U.S. nuclear weapons by increasing confidence in the effectiveness of the remaining arsenal.

On closer examination, however, the RRW program seems premature and inherently risky. As administration officials have repeatedly testified, the warheads in the current well-tested U.S. nuclear stockpile are already highly reliable, more so than the missiles that deliver them. Simple changes to existing procedures could increase war head “performance margins” even more . By contrast, even the modest design changes envisioned under the RRW program, ultimately intended to replace large parts of the U.S. nuclear deterrent with untested warheads, will inevitably lead to renewed demands that the United States resume underground nuclear explosive testing. This would encourage other countries, such as China, to resume their own nuclear testing programs and allow them to improve the capabilities of their own nuclear weapons.

Additionally, if the ultimate goal is to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, Congress and other policymakers should first re-examine the requirements dictated by the nation’s outdated nuclear targeting doctrine. Current U.S. nuclear planning requires the ability to threaten thousands of sites in Russia, China, and elsewhere. It also demands that warheads be far more predictable than other weapons components. Rather than funding a new and costly weapons program, lawmakers would be better served if they confronted the need to end an irrational nuclear targeting doctrine a decade and a half after the end of the Cold War.

 The Current U.S. Nuclear Arsenal and Stockpile Stewardship

The United States has not deployed a new nuclear warhead since 1989. The last U.S. underground nuclear explosive test occurred in September 1992. Later that year, President George H. W. Bush halted further design work on new nuclear weapons and signed legislation initiating a moratorium on nuclear testing. As a result, the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories underwent a fundamental change in mission, from an earlier focus on developing and testing new warhead designs to their current focus on maintaining the U.S. nuclear stockpile without nuclear testing.

As of January, the United States possessed nearly 10,000 nuclear warheads. Approximately 5,700 warheads based on nine design types are currently deployed on missiles, bombs, and other operational weapons or otherwise maintained in ready-to-use status. The United States also maintains a reserve stockpile of approximately 4,200 inactive warheads.[2] Although it greatly reduced the number of its deployed nuclear weapons at the end of the Cold War, the United States chose to keep a stockpile “hedge,” arguing that additional weapons might be needed if a serious performance problem were ever discovered in an entire class of deployed warheads or if it faced a renewed strategic threat, such as a nuclear buildup by a resurgent Russia, and needed to deploy a larger arsenal rapidly.

Whether the United States could maintain its nuclear deterrent without conducting nuclear explosive tests was hotly debated during the 1990s, but a key endorsement came from the JASON committee, a prestigious group of academic and industrial scientists that has advised the U.S. government for decades. The JASON commit tee determined that, under a ban on nuclear explosive testing, the United States could “have high confidence in the safety, reliability, and performance margins of the nuclear weapons that are designated to remain in the enduring stockpile.” In reaching this conclusion, the group explicitly assumed that the United States would not need to develop new nuclear weapon designs. They also warned that the laboratories should not try to make changes to existing weapons: “greatest care in the form of self-discipline will be required to avoid system modifications, even if aimed at ‘improvements,’ which may compromise reliability.”[3]

The Energy Department currently maintains U.S. nuclear warheads through the Stockpile Stewardship Program, a $6.4 billion per year research, engineering, and monitoring program designed during the Clinton administration to maintain the long-term safety, reliability, and security of the U.S. nuclear arsenal without nuclear explosive testing. Each year, 11 sample weapons of each of the nine warhead types are subjected to an extensive series of tests to ensure they will perform as designed and that no age-related problems have developed.

In some cases, nuclear warheads have been rebuilt as part of the stockpile Life Extension Program: engineers refurbish existing nuclear warheads by fixing or replacing the non-nuclear components before aging-related changes jeopardize warhead safety or reliability. Weapons are rebuilt as closely as possible to original specifications, minimizing design changes that could reduce confidence in the reliability of these weapons.

As a result of this approach, since 1997 the secretaries of defense and energy each year have been able to formally certify to the president that the U.S. nuclear stockpile continues to be safe and reliable. As Linton Brooks, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said recently, “[The] Stockpile Stewardship [Program] is working. We are absolutely convinced today’s stockpile is safe and reliable.”[4]

Despite the acknowledged success of the Stockpile Stewardship Program, however, some officials at the Energy Department and at the nuclear weapons laboratories have never been happy with restrictions that prevent them from working on new and more exotic warhead designs. Over the last several years, the Energy Department has sought authorization and funding from Congress—sometimes successfully, sometimes not—to begin design work on new low-yield nuclear weapons (mini-nukes),[5] a Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator for destroying deeply buried and hardened targets, [6] a Modern Pit Facility capable of rapidly producing the plutonium cores of new warheads,[7] and a reduction in the time needed to prepare and conduct an underground nuclear test.

The RRW program seems to be the latest and most ambitious Energy Department proposal yet. If approved, it would certainly keep the nuclear weapons laboratories fully engaged and funds flowing for many years.

 RRW Origins

The RRW program emerged in its current form from the Energy Department’s fiscal year 2005 budget request. The Energy Department had asked for funds to study new warhead designs through the Advanced Concepts Initiative. Not wanting to fund a program that he believed distracted the laboratories from their primary steward ship mission, Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee, zeroed out the $9 million Advanced Concepts Initiative request. Instead, he provided equivalent funding, later increased to $25 million, for a RRW program intended to “improve the reliability, longevity, and certifiability of existing weapons and their components.” Hobson believed the program would “challenge the skills of the existing group of weapons designers…without developing a new weapon that would require under ground testing to verify the design.”[8]

In fact, the RRW program appears to be a broadly expanded version of an earlier Navy/Energy Department collaboration, which focused on developing replacement warheads for the Trident missiles with designs that would have “decreased sensitivity to aging, increased design margins, [and] increased ability for surveillance” but could be “certified without an underground nuclear test.”[9]

Hobson’s subcommittee further made clear its intent to avoid a return to nuclear testing by requiring in its report that “any weapon design work…must stay within the military requirements of the existing deployed stockpile…and within the design parameters validated by past nuclear tests.”[10]

These provisions were elaborated in the statutory requirements of the fiscal year 2006 defense authorization bill that governs current spending.

Almost immediately, the weapons laboratories enthusiastically endorsed the RRW program and greatly expanded its vision. The directors of the national laboratory weapons programs explicitly endorsed an article by four weapons scientists describing the RRW program as a means of “Sustaining the Nuclear Enterprise” while portraying the goals of the Stockpile Stewardship Program as “increasingly unsustainable.”[11] They argued the laboratories “should shift from a program of warhead refurbishment to one of warhead replacement.”[12] The Secretary of Energy Advisory Board further described the RRW program as “the first of a family of warheads” for a stockpile that is “continuously modernized through a series of design-production cycles that would al low the stockpile to meet an evolving or changing threat environment.”[13]

Furthermore, the Energy Department’s request for the RRW program is just one part of a more ambitious program that will enable the nuclear weapons complex to transform to a “responsive nuclear weapons infrastructure” capable of quickly producing new warheads “on a timescale in which geopolitical threats could emerge.” The most immediate proposal is to re-establish the capability of designing and manufacturing the plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons on a large scale. Although the Energy Department does not propose funding for a Modern Pit Facility in its current fiscal year 2007 budget request, the facility remains a long-term goal.[14]

The budget request describes the RRW program as a program aimed at “identifying [nuclear warhead] designs to sustain long- term confidence in a safe, secure, and reliable stockpile.” Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National laboratories are reported to be in a warhead design competition for replacements for the W76 and W88 warheads used in the submarine-launched Trident I and II missiles.[15]

Congress clearly intended the RRW program to be limited to improvements in existing weapons, but some reports describe the RRW program as potentially leading to weapons with new, more exotic capabilities. The Defense Science Board, for example, recently endorsed the RRW program as part of a larger effort to develop weapons that would produce “special effects,” such as enhanced electromagnetic pulse, enhanced neutron flux (a new neutron bomb), and reduced fission-yield (low- radiation) weapons.[16] Advanced weapon effects like these would clearly involve designs that would have to be tested before entering the stockpile.

Faulty Assumptions

The Energy Department claims that the weapons labs could certify any new RRW design as long as it remains well within the parameters of previously tested designs. At a March 1 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Brooks testified that weapons designers are “confident that their designs will meet our requirements and be certifiable without nuclear testing.”

But the Energy Department’s plans for the RRW program are based on a set of misleading and faulty assumptions that, if acted on, are likely to worsen rather than improve U.S. national security.

Assumption 1: Stockpile Reliability is Degrading.

First, the very name, “Reliable Replacement Warhead program,” wrongly suggests that existing U.S. weapons may be unreliable and need to be replaced. Indeed, the weapons laboratories have reinforced this perception with vague and speculative assertions: “Over the longer term, we may face concerns about whether accumulated changes in age-affected weapons components, whose replacements might have to be manufactured by changed processes, could lead to inadequate performance margins and reduced confidence in the stockpile.”

In fact, there is nothing unreliable with the nuclear weapons the United States already maintains. As a result of the Stockpile Stewardship Program’s basic research efforts, weapons scientists understand the performance and reliability of U.S.nuclear warheads better today than they did when full-scale nuclear weapons tests were allowed. Further, the Energy Department has offered no public evidence to suggest the Stockpile Stewardship and the Life Extension Programs have been anything but remarkably successful.

To the contrary, Seymour Sack, one of the nation’s most prolific weapon scientists who designed most of the nuclear primaries in the current nuclear arsenal, asserts, “We’ve got a reliable stockpile. We have a test base for it. We have now in the last 10 or 15 years far more sophisticated computational abilities than we had doing these designs originally, so things are extremely well understood in terms of the performance.… I don’t see any reason you should change those designs.”[17]

Indeed, the critical nuclear components appear to be lasting longer than originally expected. Earlier concerns that the plutonium pits would be damaged by self-irradiation as they age have not yet been realized. The Energy Department is scheduled to release the results of these “accelerated aging” experiments later this year, but administration officials have already hinted that minimum pit lifetimes are likely to be much longer, and initial reports have suggested lifetimes in excess of 90 years.[18]

Moreover, the JASON committee suggested as early as 1995 a simple way to improve the warhead “primary performance margins” simply by changing the composition of the tritium boost gas or by replacing it more frequently.

Assumption 2: Design Changes Can Be Made Safely, Cheaply, and Without Nuclear Tests.

Second, there are few design changes the laboratories could make to existing weapons without compromising safety or other military requirements and without requiring nuclear test explosions.

When the United States still conducted nuclear tests, any new or modified warhead was required to undergo a series of nuclear explosive tests during the development and production phases before it could be certified to enter the stockpile. Indeed, a 1991 report to Congress estimated a minimum of three to four nuclear explosive tests would have to be conducted in order to certify a replacement warhead for the W88.[19]

In contrast, the RRW program proposes to make changes to the nuclear explosive package itself, the core of the weapon containing the fissile and thermonuclear materials.

Weapons designers could increase the predictability of the primary by adding additional plutonium and increasing the amount or altering the type of the chemical high explosive that initiates the explosion. Doing so, however, would have a ripple effect on other relevant design dimensions for warheads: their weight, size, shape, and safety.

The Department of Defense requires that any new warhead not alter the aerodynamic characteristics of the re-entry vehicle that would carry it to its target. Current warheads were designed to minimize size and weight so that multiple warheads could fit on long-range ballistic missiles as well as to meet minimum safety requirements. Adding additional plutonium or high explosive to current designs would make warheads heavier or larger than existing weapons or alter their shape. If the warhead has a different shape or has its mass distributed differently than current designs, it might affect how the re-entry vehicle flies. The Defense Department would then be faced with the major expense of either recertifying that the re-entry vehicle achieves its military goals or designing and flight-testing a new re-entry vehicle to accommodate the new warhead.

In fact, the Navy in 1993 considered and rejected the opportunity to upgrade the safety of the W88 warhead to use insensitive high explosive in large part because of the expected cost required—$3.8 billion in 1993 dollars—to retrofit the Trident third-stage rocket motor. Redesigning a new re-entry vehicle or even a new bus for the Trident missile could be far more expensive than developing a new warhead.

A new design might also create new safety concerns. U.S. nuclear weapons are required to be “one point safe”—having a very small probability of generating a nuclear explosion if struck by a bullet or projectile, for example, or if exposed to a high temperature fire or a nearby chemical explosion. Yet, adding plutonium to in crease “reliability” would bring the primary fission device closer to its critical mass, making it easier to detonate at full yield. This would increase the primary performance margins, but it would also increase the probability that the warhead could detonate accidentally and hence be less “safe.” As a consequence, designers are limited to how much they can increase performance margins without undermining existing safety restrictions.

Assumption 3: The RRW Program Will Mitigate, Not Increase, Political Pressure to Test.

Finally, even if the nuclear weapons laboratories somehow manage to stay within the design parameter “space” of previously tested warheads and produce nuclear primaries with higher performance margins, there would be tremendous political pressure for the United States to conduct nuclear explosive tests before new warheads can enter the stockpile. After all, the Senate failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1999, in part because of skepticism that the laboratories could guarantee confidence in the existing well-tested stockpile without continued testing. The U.S. nuclear arsenal is based on 50 years of research and more than 1,000 underground nuclear tests. It is implausible that that the Pentagon or a future Congress would accept new war heads, ultimately replacing the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal, based on designs that have never been tested.

As Sidney Drell, a physicist and longtime adviser to the government and the nuclear weapons labs, has said, “I can’t believe that an admiral or a general or a future president, who are putting the U.S. survival at stake, would accept an untested weapon if it didn’t have a test base.”

A worldwide resumption of nuclear testing would decrease U.S. security. Were the United States to resume underground nuclear testing, it is highly likely that Russia, China, and other countries would resume their own test programs as well. Those countries could improve their own nuclear arsenals far more than could the United States if there was a return to testing. Resumed testing by China, for example, would help it to miniaturize its own warhead designs, allowing it to deploy multiple warheads placed on a single missile. Such a breakdown in the moratorium would also profoundly undermine efforts to limit nuclear proliferation.

A Look at Targeting

Warhead reliability ultimately enters the Pentagon’s nuclear war-fighting calculations in predicting the mathematical likelihood that a planned nuclear strike will destroy its intended target. Although specific numbers are classified, a U.S. nuclear warhead is thought to be required to detonate with an energy within 10 percent of their design yield, under worst-case battlefield conditions.

Yet, the target “damage expectancy” depends on more than just the precise size of the explosion. It depends far more, in fact, on the performance of the non-nuclear components of the weapon, particularly the accuracy of the final re-entry vehicle in reaching its target. An improvement in accuracy by a factor of two, for example, decreases the required explosive yield by a factor of eight. It hardly matters, for example, if the W76 warhead detonates with a yield of 100 kilotons or 90 kilotons, when a 15-kiloton explosion will do.

The reliability of these non-nuclear components is high, but their uncertainty still greatly exceeds any uncertainty in the reliability of the core nuclear package. In order to increase the damage expectancy significantly, the Pentagon would have to redesign and improve the reliability of all of these components at very great expense.

Rather than doing that, the Pentagon builds in a great deal of redundancy as it selects weapons and modes for any particular targeting scenario. It may increase the yield or the number of weapons targeting a particular site to hedge against any uncertainty.

So, ultimately the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and the need to maintain a large hedge of inactive warheads derives not from small uncertainties in the precise yield of our stockpiled weapons, but in the belief that the United States needs to maintain the ability to put at risk the thousands of sites on its current target list. Before initiating a major rebuild of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, Congress and other policymakers should re-examine the implications and logic of the U.S. nuclear targeting posture.

 The Role of U.S. Nuclear Weapons

Almost 15 years ago, President George H. W. Bush determined that the United States had no need to continue to design new nuclear weapons. This policy made it possible for the United States to push for an end to the development and testing of new nuclear weapons by all countries and to negotiate the CTBT. Although the Senate has not ratified the CTBT, the global moratorium on nuclear testing still stands and has prevented other countries, such as China, from advancing their own thermonuclear designs.

A great danger, as Congress and other policymakers consider the merits of the RRW program, is that they may accept the false premise that the U.S. nuclear deter rent is already degrading. If this happens, there will be tremendous pressure for the United States to resume underground nuclear testing whether or not a more reliable warhead could technically be developed without testing.

The debate over the RRW program also obscures a more fundamental and practical development: the utility of U.S. nuclear weapons is receding in importance with high-precision conventional weapons increasingly capable of accomplishing many missions that, until recently, would have required nuclear yields. Given that the United States has overwhelming superiority in conventional weaponry, U.S. military strength is undercut, not enhanced, by actions that ascribe greater importance to nuclear weapons. If the world’s greatest military power continues to rely on nuclear weapons, then why would countries that the United States considers to be a threat not see even greater reason to acquire nuclear weapons of their own?

Corrected online August 29, 2008. See explanation.

 

What Does Reliability Mean?

Robert W. Nelson

What does it mean for a nuclear warhead to be “unreliable”? To the Departments of Energy and Defense, a warhead is considered un reliable if it risks detonating with an explosive energy slightly different from its design yield even if it still is guaranteed to destroy its target. But any uncertainty in the target “kill probability” stems primarily on the non-nuclear components of the weapon.

The official Energy Department definition of nuclear weapon reliability is “the probability of achieving the specified yield, at the tar get, across the Stockpile-to-Target Sequence of environments, throughout the weapon’s lifetime, assuming proper inputs.”[1]

The “specified yield” is a classified number for each warhead, but it has historically been understood to mean the design yield “with an allowable variation of 10 per cent.” In other words, if there is more than a minimal probability that a 350-kiloton warhead might detonate with a yield less than 315 kilotons or greater than 385 kilotons, that warhead would be considered unreliable even if it was certain to destroy its intended target.

A reliable warhead must be able to operate in the “hostile environment” of a nuclear battlefield. “Across the Stockpile-to-Target Sequence of environments” means the war head must survive the intense temperature and radiation effects of other nuclear detonations, for example, if an enemy were to develop a nuclear-tipped missile defense. The warhead also must function “throughout the weapon’s lifetime,” even under the worst-case scenario where its tritium boost gas is at its lowest level.

Yet, these reliability requirements on the nuclear explosive package itself are reportedly more stringent than on the missiles’ delivery systems. These requirements are quantified in the damage expectancy, the mathematical likelihood that a planned nuclear strike will destroy its intended target. The damage expectancy depends not only on the warhead’s explosive yield but on the overall weapon performance: a successful missile launch, the separation of the first and second missile boost stages, the performance of the missile guidance system, the disengagement of the multiple re-entry vehicle warhead from the missile bus, and the accuracy of the final re-entry vehicle in reaching its target. These damage expectancies, in turn, are embedded in the thousands of lines of computer code used in the Single Integrated Operation Plan (SIOP), the Pentagon’s comprehensive plan to conduct thermonuclear war.[2]

Any remaining uncertainty comes far less from the warhead’s nuclear components than its non-nuclear-components: the arming and fusing mechanism, the chemical high explosive, and the neutron initiator. These are regularly tested without explosive nuclear tests as part of the stockpile maintenance program. As long as these non-nuclear components perform correctly, current U.S. nuclear weapons are extremely reliable.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, if the firing, neutron-generator, and boost-gas subsystem function within their specified tolerances, the nuclear subsystems in the enduring stockpile historically have been certified to achieve the specified yield range with 100 percent certainty over the entire range of specified stockpile-to-target sequences.”[3]

 


ENDNOTES

1. R. L. Bierbaum et al., “DOE Nuclear Weapon Reliability Definition: History, Description, and Implementation,” Sandia National Laboratories, April 1999. See S. I. Schwartz, “Defining Reliable,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (March/April 2001), pp. 55-56.

2. The United Sates has actually formally changed the name of its strategic nuclear war plan. Known throughout the Cold War as the Single Integrated Operations Plan, it is now known as Operations Plan 8044. See Robert S. Norris and Hans Kristensen, “ U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2006,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (January/February 2006), pp. 68-71.

3. National Academy of Sciences, “Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty,” 2002, p. 25.

 

 

Improving Warhead Reliability: Boosting the Boost Gas

Robert W. Nelson

During the Cold War, the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories developed more than 100 types of nuclear warheads and conducted more than 1,000 nuclear explosive tests.

Their primary goal was to develop ever- smaller and -lighter warheads that could be carried in groups over intercontinental distances by long-range ballistic missiles and bombers.

The first deployed thermonuclear weapon was almost 24 feet long and weighed more than 40,000 pounds.[1] In contrast, the 1980s-era W87 warhead weighs approximately 500 pounds and was originally designed to fit with a total of 10 warheads mounted on the MX (Peacekeeper) ICBM.

Most if not all U.S. nuclear warheads are two-stage thermonuclear devices (hydrogen bombs) with plutonium primaries. The “primary” plutonium trigger is really a small atomic bomb, similar in concept to the Nagasaki weapon, used to generate the high temperatures needed to ignite a “secondary” device containing fusion fuel.

A key technology that dramatically in creased the efficiency of the primary and decreased the required size and weight of nuclear warheads is thermonuclear “boosting.” The plutonium pit is shaped in a hollow spherical shell and filled just before detonation with a gaseous mixture of hydrogen isotopes: tritium-deuterium “boost” gas. When the weapon is detonated, a chemical explosion first compresses the plutonium shell to supercriticality, initiating a fission chain reaction. The fission energy released compresses and heats the boost gas enough for it to undergo thermonuclear fusion; the boost gas releases a burst of high-energy neutrons into the imploded plutonium shell, which subsequently fission a much larger fraction of the plutonium than would otherwise occur. This process thus dramatically increases, or boosts, the yield of the primary to a level where it can detonate the secondary thermonuclear device. A boosted primary thus uses a minimum amount of plutonium material and chemical high explosive, decreasing the overall size and weight of the warhead.

By contrast, the physics governing the performance of the secondary is relatively simple: as long as the primary explosion releases a certain minimum energy, the secondary is guaranteed to burn all of its fusion fuel and the weapon will detonate with its designed explosive yield.[2]

Consequently, the yield of the boosted fission primary is designed to always exceed, by the “primary margin,” the minimum energy required to ignite the secondary, even under worst-case conditions . The major uncertainty in the performance of the warhead physics package is thus determined by any uncertainty in the primary margin.

Because tritium in the boost gas decays over time, with a radioactive half-life of 12 years, at some point there will not be enough to guarantee that the primary has the yield needed for the secondary to burn all its fusion fuel. To guard against this, the tritium gas must be replenished at regular intervals. Primaries are said to be in their worst-case condition right before these replenishments take place. The Department of Energy already guards against any diminution in reliability by requiring that primaries be capable of triggering a boosted explosion even if the tritium gas is at the end of a transfer interval.

Because of these design parameters, there are simple ways to ensure warhead reliability without resorting to a Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW)-type program. The easiest way is to add additional boost gas to the primary or decrease the time interval when the gas is replaced. As early as 1995, the JASON defense advisory committee recommended such an approach to the Energy Department. “The primary yield margins can be increased by simple changes in initial boost-gas composition, shorter boost-gas exchange intervals, or improved boost-gas storage and delivery systems. These modifications have been validated by previous nuclear test data and would not require additional testing.”

Thus, the Energy Department could improve the reliability of the weapons in the existing nuclear stockpile without making any changes to warhead design simply by adding additional boost gas or decreasing the time interval between gas transfers. These simple steps had not been taken as of 1999, however, when the JASON committee expressed “disappointment at the slow pace, low priority and limited scope of the lab/Energy Department efforts to provide enhanced primary performance margins.”[3]

 


ENDNOTES

1. Mk-17 weighed 19 metric tons and had a yield of 15-20 megatons.

2. R. L. Garwin and V. Simonenko, “Nuclear Weapons Development Without Nuclear Testing,” Pugwash Workshop on Problems in Achieving a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World, October 1996.

3. “Primary Performance Margins,” JASON Report JSR-99–305, December 1999, found at www.fas.org.

 

 

Legal Authority for the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program

The following language in the fiscal year 2006 Defense Authorization Bill provides the current legal authority for the Reliable Replacement Warhead program. The key legislative language is excerpted below:

(a) Program Required—The Secretary of Energy shall carry out a program, to be known as the Reliable Replacement Warhead program, which will have the following objectives:


1. To increase the reliability, safety, and security of the United States nuclear weapons stockpile.

2. To further reduce the likelihood of the resumption of underground nuclear weapons testing.

3. To remain consistent with basic design parameters by including, to the maximum extent feasible and consistent with the objective specified in paragraph (2), components that are well understood or are certifiable without the need to resume underground nuclear weapons testing.

4. To ensure that the nuclear weapons infrastructure can respond to unforeseen problems, to include the ability to produce replacement warheads that are safer to manufacture, more cost-effective to produce, and less costly to maintain than existing warheads.

5. To achieve reductions in the future size of the nuclear weapons stockpile based on increased reliability of the reliable replacement warheads.

6. To use the design, certification, and production expertise resident in the nuclear complex to develop reliable replacement components to fulfill current mission requirements of the existing stockpile.

7. To serve as a complement to, and potentially a more cost-effective and reliable long-term replacement for, the current Stockpile Life Extension Programs.


(b) Report—Not later than March 1, 2007, the Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the congressional defense committees a report on the feasibility and implementation of the Reliable Replacement Warhead program required by section 4204a of the Atomic Energy Defense Act, as added by subsection(a).

The report shall—

1. identify existing warheads recommended for replacement by 2035 with an assessment of the weapon performance and safety characteristics of the replacement warheads;

2. discuss the relationship of the Reliable Replacement Warhead program within the Stockpile Stewardship Program and its impact on the current Stockpile Life Extension Programs;

3. provide an assessment of the extent to which a successful Reliable Replacement Warhead program could lead to reductions in the nuclear weapons stockpile;

4. discuss the criteria by which replacement warheads under the Reliable Replacement Warhead program will be designed to maximize the likelihood of not requiring nuclear testing, as well as the circumstances that could lead to a resumption of testing;

5. provide a description of the infrastructure, including pit production capabilities, required to support the Reliable Replacement Warhead program;

6. provide a detailed summary of how the funds made available pursuant to the authorizations of appropriations in this Act, and any funds made available in prior years, will be used; and

7. provide an estimate of the comparative costs of a reliable replacement warhead and the stockpile life extension for the warheads identified in paragraph (1).

 


Robert W. Nelson is a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.


ENDNOTES

1. For a recent discussion of the RRW program goals, see Linton Brooks, Presentation on “The Future of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile,” Washington, DC, January 25, 2006, found at www.armscontrol.org (hereinafter Brooks presentation); Raymond Jeanloz and David Mosher, Remarks on “The Future of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile,” Washington, DC, January 25, 2006, found at www.armscontrol.org.

2. Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, “ U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2006,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, (January/February 2006).

3. “JASON Nuclear Testing Study: Summary and Conclusions,” JASON Report JSR-95-320, 1995.

4. Brooks presentation.

5. Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, “What’s Behind Bush’s Nuclear Cuts?” Arms Control Today , October 2004, p. 6.

6. Wade Boese, “Congress Cuts Nuclear Bunker Buster Again,” Arms Control Today, December 2005, p. 23.

7. Steve Fetter and Frank von Hippel, “Does the United States Need a New Plutonium-Pit Facility?” Arms Control Today, May 2004, p. 10.

8. David Hobson, Address to the Arms Control Association, “ U.S. Nuclear Security in the 21st Century,” February 3, 2005.

9. Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Nuclear Weapon System Sustainment Programs,” May 1997, p. 18. For a more in-depth discussion, see Natural Resources Defense Council, “End Run: Simulating Nuclear Explosions Under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty,” 1997.

10. Conference report of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee accompanying the fiscal year 2005 energy and water development appropriations bill, H.R. 2419.

11. K. Henry O’Brien et al., “Sustaining the Nuclear Enterprise—A New Approach,” Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratory, May 2005.

12. Ibid.

13. The Department of Energy, “Recommendations for the Nuclear Weapons Complex of the Future: Report of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Nuclear Weapons Complex Infrastructure Task Force,” July 13, 2005.

14. See Fetter and von Hippel, “Does the United States Need a New Plutonium-Pit Facility?”

15. See Ian Hoffman, “Times Good for Bomb Designers: Scientists Drawing Up Plans for New Nuclear Weapons With Aim of Replacing U.S.Arsenal,” Tri-Valley Herald, February 5, 2006.

16. Department of Defense, “Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Future Strategic Strike Forces,” February 2004.

17. See Ian Hoffman, “Lab Officials Excited by New H-bomb Project,” The Oakland Tribune, February 7, 2006.

18. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that “a study due later this year will project an extended life span for plutonium bomb components, of perhaps 100 years,” J. Sterngold, “Upgrades Planned for U.S. Nuclear Stockpile; Agency Leader Expects Significant Warhead Redesigns,” San Franciso Chronicle, January 15, 2006. For a discussion of the technical issues related to warhead aging, see Raymond Jeanloz, “Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship,” Physics Today, December 2000, pp. 44-50.

19. R. Kidder, “Assessment of the Safety of U.S. Nuclear Weapons and Related Nuclear Test Requirements: A Post-Bush Initiative Update,” UCRL-LR-109503, December 10, 1991.

 

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