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Nukes: Betcha Can't Make Just One!

Remember those commercials for Lay's potato chips where the announcer says that Lay's are so good that you can't eat just one? Well, with a slight modification that slogan now applies equally well to the nuclear bureaucrats at the DOD, the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, weapons designers at the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories, and their patrons in Congress.Warhead.jpgKudos to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists for discovering that the ambitious Reliable Replacement Warhead program (see my previous post on that subject here) isn't just about developing one new, more robust, standardized design to eventually replace every weapon in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which was its original purpose when proposed by Congress in late 2004. According to a chart on the web site of the Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters, DOD's long-term vision is that in about 14 years there will be as many as four RRWs in the arsenal, along with up to four types of "refurbished, legacy warheads" from the existing stockpile. There are presently nine operational warhead types in the arsenal.Teams from Los Alamos and Livermore each submitted their proposed designs for a replacement for the 100 kiloton W76 warhead (some 1,600 of which are currently deployed on Trident II D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles) to the NNSA earlier this year. One proposal alone reportedly ran to more than one thousand pages. As early as November, the NNSA will select the winning design, sending the program into its next phase.Even before today's revelation, however, others were working to expand the scope of the RRW. In a revealing interview with the San Francisco Chronicle last January, NNSA administrator Linton Brooks indicated that new weapons--most likely with new or enhanced capabilities--would be the probable outcome of the RRW program. "I don't want to mislead you," said Brooks. "I will personally be very surprised if we can get the advantages we want without redesigning the physics package [the explosive components of the warhead]."In late June, Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee with responsibility for nuclear weapons funding, added $35 million to the administration's $27 million request for the RRW to accelerate the program, including $10 million for the specific purpose of initiating a second warhead design competition.It remains to be see whether this extra funding survives a House-Senate conference on the fiscal 2007 spending bill. But it is noteworthy that longtime critic of the NNSA, supporter of the RRW, and Domenici's House counterpart, Rep. David Hobson (R-OH), bluntly warned administration officials last March against using the RRW to develop new nuclear weapons. Said Hobson, "This is not an opportunity to run off and develop a whole bunch of new capabilities and and new weapons.... We're not going out and expanding a whole new world of nuclear weapons as we get in[to] this Reliable Replacement Warhead situation."-- Stephen I. Schwartz

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