Nuclear Weapons NEWS ONLY

bobbymike

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Decided to start a new topic capturing current nuclear weapons news of interest. Other SP members please feel free to to add stories, links, reports, etc. that you find in your Interwebz searches ;)

Further U.S. Nuclear Tests Highly Unlikely: Former NNSA Chief
Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011 By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire WASHINGTON -- The United States is “almost certain” never to conduct another test detonation of a nuclear device, a former top U.S. nuclear weapons official said on Monday (see GSN, Oct. 21). In the nearly 20 years since the nation’s last nuclear trial, technological alternatives to such detonations have advanced substantially while political obstacles to testing have grown close to insurmountable, said Linton Brooks, who headed the National Nuclear Security Administration from 2002 to 2007 under President George W. Bush.


The negotiation in the early 1990s of a global ban on atomic trial blasts marked “the beginning of the end of the U.S. nuclear testing era,” Arms Control Association head Daryl Kimball added in a panel discussion. The independent expert called for U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the Senate previously rejected in 1999. Upon taking legal effect, the pact would prohibit explosive nuclear testing by any member state. “The United States current bears all the responsibilities of a CTBT signatory state, but because we haven’t ratified, we do not enjoy the considerable benefits of a legally binding global ban,” including the ability to demand on-site inspections of suspected violators, Kimball said.


The 182-signatory pact cannot become binding until it is ratified by 44 "Annex 2" states that participated in drafting the 1996 treaty while operating nuclear power or research facilities. Nine of those nations have yet to acquire legislative approval for the agreement: China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the United States. The U.S. Stockpile Stewardship Program has achieved significant strides in obviating the need for test explosions to ensure the U.S. nuclear arsenal remains safe, secure and reliable, Brooks said. The effort, which includes surveillance of aging weapons and production of replacement components, is overseen by the semiautonomous Energy Department agency he once led. During his tenure, Congress repeatedly refused to provide funding for basic preparations that would be required to resume testing. “We aren’t going to test,” Brooks said. “Therefore, the question is not, ‘Should you support stockpile stewardship because you like the CTBT?’ The question is, ‘Should you support stockpile stewardship because you think it’s important that nuclear weapons remain safe, secure, reliable and effective?’”


Nuclear test blasts carried out during the Cold War were not intended to confirm that fielded U.S. systems operated as intended, said the former official, now a consultant to four Energy Department laboratories and a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “This was not like you pull every 18th device off an assembly line and test it to make sure it works,” he said. “It gathered data, it was a tool of scientific exploration. And the question, therefore, for the Stockpile Stewardship [Program] is, ‘Can we replace that tool [testing] with another?’” Advocates consider the treaty a means of discouraging explosive tests necessary for the development of new or more sophisticated nuclear weapons, but detractors contend that a U.S. pledge never to conduct such work could undermine confidence in the country’s nuclear deterrent (see GSN, July 15).


The Obama administration has pledged to bring the treaty before the Senate for ratification, though the schedule for that initiative remains unclear. Kimball warned that insufficient time remains for the Senate to scrutinize, debate and vote on the test ban treaty prior to the November 2012 elections. To help lay the groundwork for legislative consideration of the pact in 2013, the Obama administration should “step up its CTBT outreach work and … pursue a fact-based, quiet discussion with Senate offices and staff about the issues that are at the center of the [treaty] discussion,” he said. Brooks said he had observed no serious discussion of a potential resumption in regular U.S. nuclear testing. “What’s on at the very most, even from enthusiasts for testing outside the government, is two or three tests. And nobody is prepared to divert the funds from stockpile stewardship into two or three tests,” he said.


“There is no plausible situation in which current stockpile stewardship and the deep scientific understanding … will not be enough to ensure the safety, security and reliability of our nuclear weapons for the indefinite future,” Brooks later added. The program “has been successful to date,” though its future effectiveness would depend on updates to nuclear weapons facilities and a continued infusion of skilled personnel, said Marvin Adams, a veteran nuclear weapons scientist who has served at the Los Alamos, Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories. To date, the U.S. arsenal’s safety, security and reliability -- and the absence of need for new tests -- has been verified each year by the Defense and Energy secretaries, the directors of the three nuclear-weapon laboratories and the head of the U.S. Strategic Command, Adams said. Brooks noted that the NNSA administrator cannot influence the findings of the annual stockpile assessment.


Brooks said he was unaware of any proposal for a new nuclear weapon that would require testing, including a potential deep earth penetrator. “It’s not just against our current policy, it’s solving a problem that we don’t appear to have,” he said. The former NNSA chief said he had not heard from technical experts “opposed to the CTBT” any potential “safety or security problem that’s so great that the only way you can fix it was to involve nuclear testing.” In addition, it is “extremely difficult” to conceive of a problem that would require testing to diagnose a problem or certify a solution, he said. Putting the treaty into effect might deter Iran from potentially conducting a nuclear-weapon test, panel experts suggested. The Middle Eastern nation maintains its uranium enrichment operations operations are strictly civilian in nature (see related GSN story, today).


Brooks noted, though, that every past test of a uranium-based weapon has proven successful, and South Africa maintained a small nuclear arsenal for a period with no testing. “CTBT does not prevent people from developing nuclear weapons,” he said. If Iran opted against nuclear testing under a potential CTBT regime, it would have less confidence in any nuclear-capable missile it produced, Adams said. The nation might still move to produce such delivery systems, he added.


U.K. Commits $3.1B to New Nuke Facilities Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011 The United Kingdom has committed $3.1 billion for work on new nuclear arms facilities before the government has made a final determination on whether to replace its submarine-based nuclear deterrent, the London Guardian reported on Monday (see GSN, Oct. 24). The Conservative Party, which leads the current British coalition government, has thrown its support behind a Labor-era initiative to build four new ballistic missile submarines to replace Vanguard-class vessels slated for retirement in the 2020s. Cost estimates for the plan have risen in the last year to as much as $40 billion, according to a previous report. The government has said it would delay a final decision to construct the submarines until after the 2015 election. A decision is also pending on replacing the nuclear-tipped missiles carried by the submarines. The funds would play a role in preventing problems involving the nation's current nuclear warheads, and would uphold the capacity to develop an additional weapon "should that be required," the British Defense Ministry said. The money includes $1.15 billion for a weapon construction and dismantlement site dubbed "Mensa"; a $989 million bomb-grade uranium site dubbed "Pegasus"; and a $361 million explosives facility dubbed "Circinus."



"This investment maintains the safety of the current Trident warhead stockpile by sustaining essential facilities and skills," according to a Defense Ministry spokeswoman. "It also helps maintain the capability to design a replacement warhead should that be required following decisions in the next parliament." "The fact that the [Defense Ministry] signed off on these costs before a decision has even been made on replacing the Trident warhead makes a complete mockery of the democratic process," countered Green Party lawmaker Caroline Lucas. The new facilities could remain operational for more than four decades, said Peter Burt of the Nuclear Information Service. "By spending billions of pounds now, the MoD is trying to force the hands of future governments into developing a new nuclear warhead, regardless of whether it will be necessary or affordable," he said (Rob Edwards, London Guardian, Nov. 28).
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It would be very interesting if US politicians tied our weapons laboratories and scientists hands to the point that we "subcontract" our weapons work to the British. Some say it all started with Rutherford anyway so there is a fine tradition of British Boffinry. I say why not.
 

Orionblamblam

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Georgetown students shed light on China’s tunnel system for nuclear weapons http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/georgetown-students-shed-light-on-chinas-tunnel-system-for-nuclear-weapons/2011/11/16/gIQA6AmKAO_story.html?hpid=z1

Most of the attention has focused on the 363-page study’s provocative conclusion — that China’s nuclear arsenal could be many times larger than the well-established estimates of arms-control experts.
“It’s not quite a bombshell, but those thoughts and estimates are being checked against what people think they know based on classified information,” said a Defense Department strategist who would discuss the study only on the condition of anonymity.
The study’s critics, however, have questioned the unorthodox Internet-based research of the students, who drew from sources as disparate as Google Earth, blogs, military journals and, perhaps most startlingly, a fictionalized TV docudrama about Chinese artillery soldiers — the rough equivalent of watching Fox’s TV show “24” for insights into U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
 

bobbymike

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With China its the old hope for the best but prepare for the worst. That's why I always said Start II's 3500 warhead limit was far enough. I don't think China was prepared to "match us" at those levels at 1550 with a decaying nuclear weapons infrastructure..........maybe?
 

unclejim

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Just a personal feeling but I seriously doubt that the Chicoms would settle for an Israeli level of warheads. I have been hearing and reading that the PRC has about 3-400 warheads for at least fifteen years. That maks no sense to me. Perhaps they have a limited number of delivery systems, ICBMs, H-6s and so forth. Production of warheads say 20 to thirty per year? "Arms-control specialists" are way too credulous about accepting at face value Chinese or indeed any nations claims regarding stockpile size.
 

bobbymike

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Snapshot of ICBM Force:

The Air Force had 448 Minuteman III ICBMs on operational status in their silos as of Sept. 1, according to a State Department fact sheet issued on Thursday based on the periodic data exchanges now occurring between the United States and Russia under the provisions of the New START arms control agreement. It also had an additional 266 Minuteman III missiles on non-deployed status, 58 additional silos not in operational status, and six silos used for tests, states the fact sheet. While the Peacekeeper ICBM fleet is now out of service, some assets remain, and the United States must count them for the purposes of the treaty and its caps on strategic offensive warheads and launchers. The fact sheets states that there are still 58 non-deployed Peacekeeper missiles, 51 remaining silos, and one test silo. The Air Force has announced plans to eliminate 50 of those silos (see below).


New START Silo-Elimination Process Under Way:

The Air Force is moving forward with the task of eliminating 100 deactivated ICBM silos and their associated alert facilities in accordance with the provisions of the New START agreement with Russia. Air Force Global Strike Command officials announced on Thursday that environmental impact assessments are now under way at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., and Malmstrom AFB, Mont., per US law, to clear the way for this empty infrastructure to be imploded or filled with gravel to render it useless. The Air Force intends to get rid of 50 silos and 5 alert facilities at each of the two missile bases. At F.E. Warren, the service will eliminate former Peacekeeper missile silos and alert facilities once belonging to the 400th Missile Squadron. On the books for elimination at Malmstrom are Minuteman III silos and alert facilities formerly used by the 564th Missile Squadron. Under New START, the United States has until February 2018 to eliminate this infrastructure. (Barksdale release)
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Two observations:

1) As OBB's article shows we just don't know what is happening in China with regard to nuclear weapons. It might have been OK to not worry if they had 400 or 2000 warheads when we had 12,000 at the end of the Cold War or 6000 after Start I but we are rapidly disarming down to 1550 we should really insist the Chinese be part of any future weapons negotiations.

2) Under New Start the US is allowed a hedge force of 100 launchers so I would keep the 50+ Peacekeepers (and not destroy their silos) which could be deployed and uploaded to 10 MIRVs - see point 1) above for rationale.
 

bobbymike

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Concerns Remain on New Plutonium Lab After Years of Planning Monday, Dec. 5, 2011

The ultimate function of a planned multibillion-dollar plutonium research facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico is still unresolved after years of planning. the Associated Press reported on Sunday. Questions on atomic safety and other matters also persist (see GSN, Oct. 24). The Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement complex is intended to replace a World War II-era plutonium facility at an earthquake-prone location. However, the specific types of nuclear and plutonium research activities to be conducted there remain in question, according to AP. Officials argue the new plutonium complex will allow the laboratory to continue its role as the nation's leading center for nuclear arms upkeep and development by performing analytical research that will aid the work of the Plutonium Facility at Los Alamos -- the sole facility in the country in which plutonium warhead cores are produced.


Antinuclear groups accuse the Energy Department of seeking to ramp up generation of new nuclear bombs by turning what had primarily been a scientific institution into a weapons production plan. The activist Los Alamos Study Group has filed two separate lawsuits against the project. The anticipated final $5.8 billion expense for the facility exceeds by close to $1 billion New Mexico's entire yearly budget and represents a twofold boost from the annual appropriation for entire Los Alamos site. It comes at a time of severe federal belt-tightening. Still, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages the nation's nuclear-weapon complex, is progressing forward with the laboratory. Project chief Herman Le-Doux said the blueprints have been modified to incorporate advice from the country's foremost specialists on earthquakes.


The semiautonomous Energy Department agency has "gone to great extremes" to make certain the complex could handle a seismic eruption of a maximum 7.3 magnitude. The majority of earthquake specialists think that a 7.3 magnitude earthquake is the strongest Los Alamos is likely to experience. However, a number of residents living in the area say there is not sufficient justification for taking the risk. The laboratory has faced danger from wildfires on two occasions in the last decade. "The Department of Energy has learned nothing from the Fukushima disaster," watchdog group Citizens Action New Mexico Director David McCoy said at a recent hearing on the laboratory. The meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan was caused by an earthquake and tsunami in March. The damaged plant has leaked radiation on a level not seen since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and has forced tens of thousands of residents to evacuate from the area. Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Chairman Peter Winokur said "the board believes that no safety issue problem (in the nation's nuclear complex) is more pressing than the Plutonium Facility's vulnerability to a large earthquake" (see GSN, Nov. 18).


Winokur said the safety board has no worries about radiation fallout from an earthquake at the planned plutonium center so long as NNSA officials "follow through" in implementing all design plans. Los Alamos Study Group head Greg Mello countered that laboratory officials could not be trusted to implement all of the safety designs for the new plutonium center. "Los Alamos doesn't have the safety ethos needed for a facility that will store the bulk of the nation's stockpile of plutonium." Winokur highlighted two recent documents that touched on issues with atomic safeguards at Los Alamos. The memos show "that the operations out there are very challenging and that there is plenty of room for improvement," he said. Nonetheless, "it's fair so say" the contracting team that assumed management of Los Alamos in 006 has "improved safety at the sites," Winokur added.


The board chairman said he would leave it to Washington to judge the wisdom of building a new plutonium center near major earthquake fault lines. "I'll leave that to Congress and DOE about whether or not they want to build a facility of that nature in that region of the country where they do have a fairly large earthquake threat" he said (Jeri Clausing, Associated Press/Google News, Dec. 4). -------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Red print, really? The US needs to stay on the leading edge of all things nuclear and be able to research, develop and build a new generation of modern, robust nuclear warheads if required (also delivery systems but that is for another post).
 

bobbymike

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From the Chicago Municipal Code.<blockquote> Phase-out of present activities. No person shall knowingly, within the City of Chicago, design, produce, deploy, launch, maintain, or store nuclear weapons or components of nuclear weapons. This prohibition shall take effect two years after the adoption and publication of this ordinance...


...Each violation of this ordinance shall be punishable by up to 30 days’ imprisonment and a $1,000.00 fine. Each day of violation shall be deemed a separate violation.
</blockquote>

Nuclear Free Zones- because nothing deters nuclear terrorism like the threat of 30 days in prison.
 

Orionblamblam

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bobbymike said:
No person shall knowingly, within the City of Chicago, design, produce, deploy, launch, maintain, or store nuclear weapons or components of nuclear weapons.
A fun thing to do: find some local designer/manufacturer of some mundane little trinket - a nut or bolt, say - and then show how that would be used in a nuclear weapon (thus they "design" a "component" of a nuclear weapon). Convince a city prosecutor to bring cherges. Then sit back and watch as the defense attorneys eviscerate the city, hopefully suing the city into bankruptcy.

Chicago sucks.
 

Orionblamblam

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Triton said:
The nuclear weapon problem has just gotten out of hand in Chicago. ;)
Given how well Illinois' anti-gun laws have done in Chicago, I can only imagine that by sometime next week gangbangers will be setting off H-bombs at various liquor stores along Lakeshore Drive.
 

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IIRC, the world's first nuclear reactor lit off under a football stadium in Chicago. Could this ordnance be just a NIMBY reminder of those heady days of early bomb research?

Best Regards,

Artie Bob
 

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Possibly related to Iran's Nuclear weapons program? :

An explosion at a steel factory in Iran has killed seven people including foreign nationals, say reports in Iranian state media.

The blast in the city of Yazd was caused by discarded ammunition which arrived at the plant with a consignment of scrap metal, the official Irna news agency reported.

It happened late on Sunday at the privately owned plant, Irna said.

At least 12 other people are reported to have been injured.

The governor of Yazd region in central Iran, Azizollah Seyfi, said "several of those killed were foreign nationals".

He gave no further details of their nationalities or what caused the blast, although he did say it was being investigated.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16144780
 

Lauge

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Grey Havoc said:
Possibly related to Iran's Nuclear weapons program? :

"The blast .... was caused by discarded ammunition which arrived at the plant with a consignment of scrap metal...."

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16144780
If the quoted article is correct, I'd say it has no relation to any nuke program. Why in the Wide World of Sports would you transport discarded ammunition to a nuclear weapons research facility? Or scrap metal?

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg
 

Grey Havoc

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The official Iranian explanation is that the blast was caused by discarded ammunition which arrived at the plant with a consignment of scrap metal.
 

Orionblamblam

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Lauge said:
Why in the Wide World of Sports would you transport discarded ammunition to a nuclear weapons research facility? Or scrap metal?
Discarded ammo: old Soviet suitcase nukes.
Scrap metal: bits of enriched uranium.

It's all in how you sell it.
 

bobbymike

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I am trying to find an article I read recently that said "at this point the US is capable of producing about 40 new warheads a year at Los Alamos and will not have the ability to ramp up production until the 2023 completion of another facility"

Sorry for the paucity of information but this situation is scary given the lack of information we have about China's nuclear program. Also given that Russia has active production lines how did we let this happen?

Combine this with the lack of will, it seems, to modernize the Triad's deliver systems.........
 

Hobbes

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You must be very pessimistic to think that the US needs more than 40 new warheads per year.
 

bobbymike

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Strategic Review Suggests Potential New U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cuts

The United States might have opportunities to achieve additional nuclear arsenal cuts without undermining its strategic deterrent, the Obama administration said in a defense planning document issued on Thursday (see GSN, Dec. 16, 2011).


"As long as nuclear weapons remain in existence, the United States will maintain a safe, secure, and effective arsenal. We will field nuclear forces that can under any circumstances confront an adversary with the prospect of unacceptable damage, both to deter potential adversaries and to assure U.S. allies and other security partners that they can count on America’s security commitments," the defense strategic guidance states. "It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy" (U.S. Defense Department release, Jan. 5).


The document, released by President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at a Pentagon press briefing, calls for an increased U.S. armed forces focus on Asia and the withdrawal of some military personnel from Europe, Reuters reported. The paper, which addresses spending plans only in general terms, was published amid efforts to reduce defense spending by no less than $450 billion over the next 10 years. ???
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Submitted without commentary - gnashing teeth :mad:
 

bobbymike

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Meanwhile;


Russia this year intends to conduct 11 ICBM trial firings, ITAR-Tass reported on Wednesday (see GSN, Dec. 21, 2011). “Four launches will be carried out for the purpose extending service life and seven under experimental programs to test new missiles and improve existing ones with a view to piercing missile defense systems,” said Col. Oleg Koval, spokesman for the Russian strategic missile forces.
 
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