How re­li­able are nu­clear weapons

The United States hasn’t tested any nu­clear weapon for 27 years, and it’s ur­gently re­quired

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Robert Mon­roe

America has just en­tered a nu­clear weapons cri­sis. For the first time in his­tory, the Na­tional Acad­e­mies of Sci­ences, En­gi­neer­ing, and Medicine has just pub­lished a sci­en­tific pa­per, by highly qual­i­fied nu­clear weapons ex­perts, say­ing that we can no longer have con­fi­dence that our nu­clear weapons will per­form as re­quired. See “Is­sues in Science and Tech­nol­ogy,” winter issue.

We de­pend on this nu­clear stock­pile for America’s ex­is­tence. This sci­en­tific pa­per directly chal­lenges the U.S. pres­i­dent’s an­nual cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to the na­tion of the per­for­mance, safety and re­li­a­bil­ity of the weapons in the stock­pile. Re­sump­tion of un­der­ground nu­clear test­ing hangs in the bal­ance.

An im­me­di­ate na­tional re­sponse is es­sen­tial. The pres­i­dent should take four actins with­out de­lay:

• First, Pres­i­dent Trump should im­me­di­ately es­tab­lish a White House panel to re­view the is­sues raised by this sci­en­tific pa­per. The re­view should be per­formed by the na­tion’s pre-em­i­nent nu­clear weapons sci­en­tists from two eras.

Half the mem­bers should be sci­en­tists cur­rently working at our nu­clear weapons labs (Los Alamos, Liver­more and San­dia) who are most ex­pe­ri­enced in the hands-om de­vel­op­ment of com­puter codes which sim­u­late nu­clear det­o­na­tions.

The other half (by ac­tual count) should be those for­mer sci­en­tists from the three labs who are most ex­pe­ri­enced in hands-on de­sign­ing and un­der­ground test­ing of nu­clear weapons in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Two im­por­tant fac­tors: First, this is a sci­en­tific issue; po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions must not in­trude, and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers should not shape the panel nor serve on it. Sec­ond, nu­clear weapons sci­en­tists who were de­sign­ing and test­ing weapons in 1960-1980 are rapidly pass­ing from the ac­tive scene, so ur­gency is vi­tal.

• Sec­ond, Pres­i­dent Trump should im­me­di­ately ter­mi­nate the mora­to­rium on un­der­ground nu­clear test­ing which was es­tab­lished by Pres­i­dent Bush I in 1992. Re­gard­less of the above re­view, there is wide­spread agree­ment among those ac­tively in­volved in the U.S. nu­clear weapons en­ter­prise that America

must soon re­sume test­ing.

There are many rea­sons for this. All the weapons in the stock­pile are far be­yond the end of their de­sign life. Most of our weapons have huge yields and leave im­mense resid­ual ra­di­a­tion. They have no ca­pa­bil­ity to de­ter many of our most dan­ger­ous nu­clear threats. We ur­gently need new nukes, which will re­quire test­ing.

Nu­clear weapons are the most com­plex sys­tems known to man. We have not tested any nu­clear weapon for 27 years. Test­ing is ur­gently re­quired. Vir­tu­ally none of our sci­en­tists has the ca­pa­bil­ity to de­sign and carry out a nu­clear test. Our nu­clear test site in Ne­vada will have to be com­pletely re­built.

Ours is a zero-yield mora­to­rium, per­mit­ting no test­ing what­so­ever, whereas our nu­clear ad­ver­saries are able to con­duct low-yield test­ing, which is quite ad­e­quate for their pur­poses. Russia is a quar­ter-cen­tury ahead of us in ad­vanced nu­clear weapons science, and China prob­a­bly is, also. We are ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble to tech­no­log­i­cal sur­prise. Our nu­clear weapons sci­en­tists and engi­neers must re­gain the ca­pa­bil­ity to de­sign, test and produce nu­clear weapons. In short, the mora­to­rium must be ter­mi­nated.

• Third, to bal­ance ter­mi­na­tion of the mora­to­rium, Pres­i­dent Trump should make a for­mal, of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment that he is not yet au­tho­riz­ing

Our nu­clear weapons sci­en­tists and engi­neers must re­gain the ca­pa­bil­ity to de­sign, test and produce nu­clear weapons. In short, the mora­to­rium must be ter­mi­nated.

any nu­clear tests.

• Fourth, Pres­i­dent Trump should di­rect that the Ne­vada Nu­clear Se­cu­rity Site be ur­gently and com­pletely re­built. My per­sonal es­ti­mate is that this will take about five years and cost about $2 bil­lion.

Each of these four ac­tions is es­sen­tial. In ad­di­tion — sep­a­rately — we must re­al­ize that our stock­pile cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process has failed us, and cor­rect it.

America faces an ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis of our own mak­ing. Half-mea­sures won’t help. Nu­clear weapons are here to stay. Nu­clear threats are be­com­ing more var­ied, more dan­ger­ous and more likely to be car­ried out as each day passes. Our na­tional se­cu­rity de­pends — as it did ev­ery day in the Cold War — on our hav­ing more ad­vanced nu­clear science, su­pe­rior nu­clear weapons and stronger nu­clear forces than any our ad­ver­saries. Robert R. Mon­roe, a re­tired U.S. Navy vice ad­mi­ral, is the for­mer di­rec­tor of the De­fense Nu­clear Agency.


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