Wednesday, April 28, 2004
I caught this today linked from [kuro5hin.org] : [Our Hidden WMD Program - Why Bush is spending so much on nuclear weapons.]
This is just another instance of the "reporter" not doing his homework. The author mentions conventional earth penetrating weapons, but seems to think that the Air Force does not have unconventional (nuclear) penetrating weapons. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, the case of the [B61-11] is entirely the reverse of the portrait the Slate author tries to paint.
Currently it is not U.S. policy to develop new nuclear weapons. This has a number of consequences: from the slimming of the [nuclear "brain trust"] of weapons designers to the shrinking stockpiles of weapons-grade tritium. In the case of the [B61-11 nuclear penetrator], a new weapon was developed around an existing warhead. The [need for a penetrating nuclear weapon] was discovered in the early 1990s as Libya and other countries drove their WMD programs literally underground to avoid detection and interdiction. North Korea, for example, has most of it's nuclear infrastructure underground in hardened shelters that would survive both attacks with convention penetrators and non-penetrating nuclear weapons. The United States felt it had to [hold such targets at risk] - to keep the North Koreans from using and expanding their WMD programs, the US needed to be able to threaten them. The US also had to do it with existing nuclear warheads: thus the B61-11 is a radical rebuilding of an existing, proven nuclear weapon to take on a new role. The original B61 bomb was nothing like the B61-11, but the core nuclear warhead is unchanged.
All of the author's comments come from a very flawed Natural Resources Defense Council report on nuclear policy that not only "bends" physical law to present the numbers it wants to, but seems unmindful of current U.S. law regarding nuclear weapons development. The line "But Paine calculates that the current U.S. stockpile doesn't require any new tritium until at least 2012" is out of line with reality. Tritium has a half life of 12.3 years. For the author of the NRDC report to make any assessment of US DOE/DOD tritium needs, he would have to have intimate knowledge of the tritium fueling schedules for the US nuclear stockpile.
Yeah, fat fucking chance of that! The figure of 2012 would have assumed that all US nuclear weapons had been topped off with tritium during or after the year 2000, which is very unlikely. The NRDC report also claims "If the stockpile is reduced to the level required under the terms of the most recent strategic arms treaty, none is needed until 2022.". That's just out of line with physical law.
The simple truth is that all of this money being spent on "nuclear weapons development" is for keeping the existing weapons safe and operable. Currently there is a test ban, which means we have to spend money on simulating the effect of age and storage on the existing weapons. Since no production-levels of fissile material are being produced, tritium production has suffered greatly (tritium is largely a "bonus" of operating a production reactor). The accelerator-based tritium production facility means that the DOD/DOE are far less dependent on the reactors at Hanford - you would think that this would have the NDRC rejoicing, not complaining.
[ 4/28/2004 08:33:00 PM ] [