the Peace Farm
Can you spell a-r-m-s r-a-c-e?
When Congress killed the nuclear "bunker buster" this year, they set a new direction for U.S. Nuclear policy - toward a program aimed at producing a smaller arsenal of more reliable weapons.
By funding research on what is called the reliable re- placement warhead, or RRW, they indicated a policy shift that could end up costing billions of dollars.
Though some arms control advocates hailed the deci- sion, seeing it as a scaling back of the Bush administration's "soaring nuclear ambitions," the "victory" isn't all that clear. The RRW program has been called a "striking elastic concept" that has only one Congressional restraint: it must be deployed without underground testing, banned since 1992.
"The answer to every question at this point is 'It depends,'" said Philip Coyle, a senior Pentagon official in the Clinton administration and a nuclear scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for 33 years. "A new warhead can be new in a wide variety of ways, and nobody knows what that will mean yet." And few agree that the RRW can be deployed without underground testing.
One thing on which there is agreement is that the pro- gram will mean spending billions of dollars to ensure that nuclear weapons remain a "fundamental element of military planning," at a time when many other countries are making the same decision. The commitment is, in short, part of a global trend.
Nikolai Sokov, a senior research associate at the Monterey Institute for International Studies and a former Russian arms control negotiator, said, "What you're seeing now is a whole wave of policies of this kind being discussed in Russia and the United States and other places. They are all exploring the option of nuclear weapons."
"We're not talking disarmament," he added. "We're talking optimization. What you're doing is reducing the warhead to a more appropriate size."
Some see the program as a modest upgrading of existing weapons. For example, optical fiber detonator cables would replace electrical wires and safer high explosives would be used to initiate the implosion of the radioactive core, which starts the nuclear chain reaction.
Nuclear proponents, however, see the program as an efficient new production platform for rapidly developing new warheads for specialized missions. This increases the possibility that the warheads may not only need testing, but also the development of heavily modified missiles or new missiles to deliver them, adding billions of dollars to the ultimate cost.
Although there are disagreements in Congress, there are also critical areas of bipartisan agreement. First, is that maintaining the Cold War-era stockpile the life extension program cannot last indefinitely because the warheads are aging. There is technical disagreement on this, but Congress seems to have accepted the view that a new approach is required.
The second area of agreement is that the U.S. Nuclear weapons manufacturing capability, all but ended after the Cold War, needs to be rebuilt. The current program of developing a capacity to produce up to 100 warheads a year at Los Alamos National Laboratory is seen as inadequate, even if feasible.
It is also likely that making the new warheads safer and more reliable will also make them heavier, and it is uncertain that the missiles will work as designed without extensive modifications. The first warhead to be up- graded will be the W76, which is deployed on the submarine-based Trident missile.
At the end of the Cold War, some demanded that the nuclear stockpile, with more than 10,000 warheads, be scrapped. The Clinton administration instead started increasing the budgets for the nuclear design labs for what was called the "science-based stockpile stewardship" program, to maintain and refurbish aging warheads. Since the mid-1990's the nuclear weapons budget has more than doubled to about $6.5 billion, but some argue that the existing weapons are too powerful for deterring new types of enemies, such as North Korea or Iran.
Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's energy and water subcom- mittee, and an influential voice for restraint, acknowl- edges that they expect the government to try at some point to expand the RRW program, but insists that he and others will be vigilant in attempting to prevent the development of new nuclear weapons and the resumption of testing.
MTA Project Completed
During the past year, a Monitoring and Technical Assis- tance grant has provided the Peace Farm with the oppor- tunity to review data, including the radionuclide and radiation results obtained by the Texas Department of Health Bureau of Radiation Control (BRC) during its monitoring of air, milk, vegetation, soils, sediments, and water during the years 1993-2003. (Radiation Monitoring at Pantex: a review of the Bureau of Radiation Control Environmental Data 1993-2003, August 2005)
The project also included evaluating the Department of Energy's Risk-based End State rules and how these DOE policy changes have affected cleanup at other sites. Although Pantex representatives have assured the com- munity that these changes would not affect the cleanup at the Pantex Plant, it seemed important to understand the issues and experiences of other community groups especially, in light of the fact that Pantex was required to meet a May 2005 deadline to continue cleanup under the old Texas rules. (December 2005 Advocate)
The grant also allowed the Peace Farm to collect and analyze its own samples with which to gather some knowledge about patterns of uptake of radionuclides by plants. Although both Pantex and the BRC collect vegetation samples and report
their analytical results, neither have provided any information about the sample - was it an annual, 2nd-year perennial, or woody plant? roots, leaves, fruit or seeds? a weed, a plant that cattle graze, or one that goes to human markets?
This small study provided some information about radionuclides uptake by different plant species growing at the same location, and patterns across the area. The samples were analyzed by gamma spectroscopy, which allowed concentrations to be reported forAmericium- 241; Bismuth-212 and-214; Cobalt-60; Cesium-137; Potassium-40; Paladium-234; Lead-210, -212, and - 214; Radium-223, -226, and -228; Scandium-46; Thorium-228; Thallium-208; and Uranium-2 3 5 and - 238. The results reported from a vegetation sample from one location in the Pratt Lake watershed was reported to have the highest results for 11 of the 18 radionuclides. A vegetation sample from Pantex Lake placed second with 4 of the highest results and 6 of the next-highest.
This project has raised more questions than it has answered, but will, hopefully, encourage the EPA to look more closely at the sampling results for radionu- clides for the Pantex site - and reconsider the ad- equacy of the Pantex dataset before prematurely writing off the site as having a clean bill-of-health.
Nuclear Strike Plan Revision Proposed;
The Pentagon has drafted a revised doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons that envisions commanders requesting presidential approval to use them to preempt an attack by a nation or terrorist group using weapons of mass destruction. The draft, written by the Joint Chiefs of Staff dated March 15, was to be finally signed this fall, also includes the option of using nuclear weapons to destroy known enemy stockpiles of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.
The document would update rules and procedures governing use of nuclear weapons to reflect a preemption strategy first announced by the Bush administration in December 2002. It is the first update since a previ ous version completed in 1995 during the Clinton Administration, which contains no mention of using nuclear weapons preemptively or specifically against threats from weapons of mass destruction.
The new document is unclassified and available on a Pentagon web site.
A "summary of changes" included in the draft identifies differences from the 1995 doctrine, and says the document "revises the discussion of nuclear weapons use across the range of military operations."
According to a Washington Post article, the first example for potential nuclear weapons use listed in the draft is against an enemy that is using or 'intending to use WMD" against U.S. or allied, multinational military forces or civilian populations."
That and other provisions in the document may refer to initiatives proposed by the administration but which Congress has so far declined to support. If also refers to nuclear attacks against deep, hardened targets, but Congress also halted funding of a study to determine viability of the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, or "bunker buster."
The draft doctrine explains that despite the end of the Cold War, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction "raises the danger of nuclear weapons use." It says there are "about 30 nations with WMD programs" along with "nonstate actors" (terrorists) either indepen- dently or as sponsored by an adversarial state.
To deter the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States, the Pentagon paper says preparations must be made to use nuclear weapons and show determination to use them "if necessary to prevent or retaliate against WMD use."
It also notes that U.S. Policy of the past has "repeatedly rejected calls for adoption of a 'no first use' policy of nuclear weapons since this policy could undermine deterrence."
Hans M. Kristensen, a consultant for the Natural Resources Defense Council, who discovered the document on the Pentagon web site, said that it "emphasizes the need for a robust nuclear arsenal ready to strike on short notice including new missions."
"This doctrine does not deliver on the Bush administra- tion pledge of a reduced role for nuclear weapons," he said. "It provides justification for contentious concepts not proven and implies the need for RNEP."