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"Forget the Rest" blog

Meditations for managers of the warhead complex, with emphasis on CMRR

December 2009

  1. The goal of disarmament conflicts least with the goal of nuclear sustainment when infrastructure and other investments are kept to a safe, secure, and prudent minimum.

Official U.S. nuclear weapons policy is not solely one of indefinite warhead maintenance. It also includes binding legal commitments to complete nuclear disarmament.1 These disarmament requirements have not only legal weight but also the force of nearly overwhelming global public opinion founded on the common-sense, universal truth that “temperance cannot be preached from a bar-stool.”

To avoid undermining nonproliferation diplomacy and U.S. leadership in it, as well as to avoid stimulating nuclear weapon investments by rival nuclear weapon states, NNSA managers must make infrastructure decisions that reflect U.S. disarmament commitments to the extent possible given the agency’s other, and what most would say primary, mandate – namely to maintain nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future.

Maintaining nuclear weapons “for the foreseeable future” (or “indefinitely”) is a different and better formulation than maintaining nuclear weapons “forever.” 2 That difference could become much more positive for U.S. security and much more important fiscally, politically, and diplomatically, as follows.

Disarmament conflicts with sustainment least when investments are kept to a safe, secure, and prudent minimum. This seems obvious enough, granting definitional difficulties. It is a policy which rejects “options” and “hedges” that lie outside those criteria, however they may be defined.

I suggest that “prudently minimized” investments be defined as those adequate to safely and securely sustain a nuclear arsenal composed of an agreed-upon subset of today’s arsenal, without innovation in primaries or secondaries for a period of time that required to respond to stockpile contingencies.

In other words, if a nascent problem can be seen five years before it becomes a real problem, and if it will take 3 years to fix that problem once it is seen, it would be imprudent to start fixing it before it even appears in its earliest form.

Such a standard – and not the open-ended creation of “capabilities” – is the framework for decision-making recommended here. “Capability” can be, and often has become, a word used in lieu of well-defined, or even definable, missions.

This framework can be applied to any size of stockpile and within any otherwise-supportive nuclear posture, again provided that a) that posture does not seek new-design nuclear explosives, and b) the nuclear stockpile is a subset of today’s. Within that framework I would argue for other policies such as deep stockpile cuts and refraining from design (not just production) of novel nuclear explosives, but to decide whether or not to build CMRR or UPF these other policy elements – desirable in my view – are not necessary.

The warning time available for each potential contingency dictates the most appropriate planned response. There are no stockpile contingencies which would take more than twenty years at the very longest for a complete response, a time frame which includes designing and building a new factory for pits followed by a significant production run. There is no need to initiate any nuclear weapons project whatsoever that will only reach fruition after that bounding timeframe.

“Indefinitely,” then, as in “indefinitely sustaining the arsenal,” acquires specific fiscal meaning from this bounding time horizon and others shorter ones nested within it. Investments which provide “value” 3 to the stockpile only after a time horizon exceeding their required lead times (surveillance warning + mobilization + production) are by definition imprudent.

No prudent business or individual would incur costs known to be unnecessary at present, or expend scarce capital to prepare for every possible emergency. Investing to cover all contingencies, including those which a) require expensive responses, b) will come with adequate warning, and c) are very unlikely, is obviously wasteful. Such waste has immediate (as well as long-term) fiscal, personnel, management, and other consequences. If NNSA freights up its ship with everything that might someday be needed, that ship will sink. Recruitment of skilled sailors will not be too easy either, given the ship’s condition. NNSA’s ship may be slowly sinking right now, from just such decisions.

The course of action recommended here would substitute prudent planning, scientific knowledge, and intelligence for what amounts to an inflexible, unresponsive “Maginot Line” approach to infrastructure. Realistic contingency planning better preserves agency financial resources and staff and can better track the evolution of nuclear policy and the stockpile itself than would the policy of pouring large masses of concrete for what amounts to an increasingly post-hoc combination of obsolete, uncertain, and provocative purposes.

Very simply, then: a) if a warhead or component is not broken it’s not necessary to replace it; and b) don’t built facilities decades before they will, even in the worst hypothetical case, be needed. A stitch in time – but not before – saves nine. And it has to be in the right place. There is only so much thread, a fact which Cold-War-accustomed senior managers seem never to understand. They must be made to understand it.

“Prudence” must include foresightedness with respect to a full array of national security contingencies, including as a matter of course fiscal prudence and diplomatic prudence vis-à-vis nuclear nonproliferation. Risks have to be “balanced,” as D’Agostino told House appropriators this past March (2009).

After all, it is all the other guy’s nuclear weapon or weapons that could destroy the United States, not ours. Against those weapons, today as in 1945, there is no defense. There never will be. The nuclear weapon which is the most secure, and the safest, is not the one we redesign, recertify, rebuild, and redeploy to be incrementally safer and more secure when in unguarded isolation (a condition which, if seriously contemplated, raises more questions than any warhead redesign could answer). The safest and most secure nuclear weapon is the one that no longer exists.

If NNSA proceeds with the CMRR-NF the agency may awaken a few years from now to discover it is building a white elephant at great cost to the taxpayer and its own programs, a kind of giant bunker with good plumbing that is not necessary to maintain the declining stockpile or anything else, and is itself a maintenance, operational, and decommissioning headache. With the commitment to modernization it implies it will also be a diplomatic stink-bomb and spur to arms racing, making the U.S. less secure. Such a decision would not be prudent.

  1. NNSA will not be able to solve its management and recruitment problems until its nuclear sustainment mission is subsumed within its disarmament and nonproliferation missions.

In the final analysis no amount of concrete and steel can protect NNSA from the declining relevance of nuclear warheads to U.S. security, especially the declining relevance of the marginal or “nth” warhead of the “kth” kind. What is the security contribution of that last warhead, whether of an existing or a redesigned kind? Does anyone know? Is it positive or negative? And what will be “n” and “k” in 2019 – how many warhead types and numbers will remain?

If we step back and look at that “nth” warhead in the broader context of national security, as we plunge headlong into a century that is already being defined by the worst crisis humanity has ever seen bar none – namely, the prospect of runaway global warming, coupled with the near-term decline of liquid hydrocarbon fuel supplies – what contribution does that warhead really make? What should we pay for it? Even more pointedly, what should we pay for its gratuitous redesign, its invariably contested certification de novo, and production in the new factories required? Or instead – what is it worth to us to be rid of it, and its Russian opposite number?

What is it worth to us not to have one, ten, a hundred, or a thousand fully capable weapons of mass destruction, against which we can have no possible defense, aimed at the United States?

The House Appropriations Committee offered a point of view on the value of the “nth” warhead last month.

In the past, the Committee has criticized NNSA’s priorities as disproportionately heavy on Weapons Activities and light on Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation accounts…. the Committee will not belabor the point here, other than to reiterate that the quantity, destructive power, and variety of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile far exceeds any requirement for deterrence of any deterrable adversary in the post-Cold War world. The impact on deterrence of even a series of multiple failures across multiple nuclear weapon types would be almost immeasurably small. In contrast, a single nuclear weapon falling into the hands of a non-deterrable adversary could have an impact on U.S. national security that would be almost immeasurably large.4

I and this organization could hardly agree more with these remarks. The only possible answer as to what to pay for an “immeasurably small” contribution to nuclear deterrence is immeasurably little – zero.

This is not at all a rare point of view. It may be endorsed by a majority of the House of Representatives this year. I believe it is within the Pentagon mainstream.

Neither is it rare within NNSA’s weapons complex. NNSA’s headquarters are in Washington, DC, but its body – the weapons complex – is immersed in broader U.S. society. And the American public just does not like nuclear weapons and as far as I know it never has. Polling over many years strongly suggests that for the foreseeable future there will continue to be a widely-shared perception in this country that goes something like this:

  • We and Russia have far too many warheads, even after planned reductions;

  • Zero is the optimal number of nuclear weapons in the world and should be the goal of our policy; and

  • Parity at one or two hundred is much better than parity at one or two thousand.5

NNSA’s nuclear sustainment mission, as it is currently pursued, is out of synch with our society. NNSA is thus on the horns of a dilemma: it cannot achieve its nuclear weapons goals by walling itself off from society, and it cannot come into harmony with that society without changing its goals. This, not management technique, is the core of NNSA’s management problems.6 Oddly enough, the wisdom of the public might just be worth listening to on this score.

Since the end of the Cold War, NNSA has been struggling to maintain mission “buy-in” even among a significant number of its own (contractor) staff and among potential new recruits.

NNSA cannot solve this problem by retreating within its own ideological echo chamber, say with new, better, and more frequently-repeated slogans. This, what might be called the “Dilbert approach,” destroys scientific culture and of course the agency’s own judgment, NNSA being the first victim of its own propaganda.

The core of NNSA’s management problem is that the agency’s nuclearist ideology assigns a large but fictitious value to nuclear weapons. This “reality deficit” directly and indirectly damages every single institution, contract, and activity in the weapons complex and assures that the whole can never be cost-effective, well-managed, publicly accepted, or adequately staffed with competent, qualified, and motivated people, or be kept truly safe. The nuclear weapons enterprise has drunk too much of its own propaganda. It is sick with its own ideology, the interpretive background for everything that happens. Lessons are not learned. The complex badly needs a new operating manual, a new direction, and a sense of purpose that is real and not just made up from fragments of older missions and Cold War clichés to match politically-supported spending levels. At present the nuclear weapons complex is a caricature of its heroic but deeply stupid Cold War self, an expensive nuclear theme park.

NNSA can’t solve its management problems with money, although this is a usual temptation. Money is an insufficient and in many ways a problematic motivator for the work that needs doing, as a glance at Los Alamos will show. Even during a decade of rising real budgets, Defense Programs’, and then NNSA’s, management problems did not go away. They got worse.

As far as fixing the problems go, it won’t matter much where the nuclear weapons program sits within government. NNSA’s problems are deeper than that. Changing contractors is certainly no panacea, as we see at LANL and LLNL.

I believe that all available data show NNSA cannot even coherently formulate, let alone work by, a set of values that are markedly different from the mores of society as a whole. NNSA must change.

NNSA does have an important set of missions relating to nuclear security. I believe the agency must change how it approaches those missions, “making friends with the trends.” To effectively recruit and manage, NNSA needs to embrace nuclear disarmament as the broader context for its declining nuclear sustainment efforts. When it does so NNSA will find that its fiscal, personnel, safety, and other management challenges are suddenly far more tractable.

Embracing disarmament is the only real way NNSA can attract truly high-quality staff and manage its facilities successfully in the increasingly crisis-plagued 21st century. There have been dozens of studies of how to change DOE and NNSA management of its weapons program and how to deal with the demographic and skills challenges across the complex; I won’t bother citing them here. The severe problems these studies have identified have persisted during years of rising and falling budgets. They continued more or less unchanged before and after the creation of NNSA. “Competing” lab management contracts didn’t help – quite the reverse in fact.

Much more fundamental reforms are required. Unless NNSA can transform its missions and goals it will never successfully “transform” its management of the weapons complex. NNSA is staffed with committed, intelligent public servants, but its nuclearist ideology is one of its biggest problems, hampering objective management up and down the line. NNSA and its White House and congressional overseers must therefore acknowledge the centrality of the dual, matched challenges of getting rid of nuclear weapons, ours and theirs, and of preventing nuclear proliferation. These missions are two sides of one coin. These are the core missions that will attract, motivate, and help manage the talent NNSA wants from the next generation. They are quite likely the only missions within NNSA’s portfolio that can do so.

This is not to say that NNSA won’t be able to recruit warm bodies and few bright lights, given that the U.S. economy is likely to remain weak for years to come (some reasons for this are discussed in the next section). But this is not the same as attracting, keeping, and above all motivating real talent. NNSA’s job is not to get and spend money on buildings full of warm bodies.

NNSA needs to clarify for what purposes it wishes to maintain its institutional capabilities and skills. Ideological slogans will not fulfill this need.

To avoid the deep cuts in staff (with concomitant management problems) otherwise entailed by CMRR-NF and UPF construction, the Perry Commission recommended that NNSA receive a (large) “one time” cash infusion. Would this work?

This “one time” budget increase would in reality need to extend 11 years, through 2021: 9 years to build and equip CMRR-NF and UPF and their ancillary facilities, and two more years to dismantle and dispose (D&D) of CMR and the Building 9212 Complex. In the case of CMRR-NF at least, new annual operating expenses would then arise, perhaps balanced by economies at Y-12.

During this same period NNSA and DOE face other large “one-time” expenses, including other large “one-time” construction projects and other D&D projects, particularly at Y-12. The DOE environmental management program, roughly as large as NNSA, has its own “one-time” expenses planned too.

More importantly, during this same period, to avoid the latent but highly predictable destruction of a large part of the ecology, society and economy of the United States through global warming, and to try to keep ahead of the imminent effects of peaking oil supplies (see below), the country as a whole also needs a “one-time” investment of trillions of dollars in new energy and transportation infrastructure. There will be calls for climate adaptation funding, such as raising levees, which will cost many billions of dollars, and which normally appear within the energy and water appropriations budget allotment.

As we have seen, NNSA construction expenses are predicated heavily on eventually proceeding with the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) or its functional equivalent. In the case of CMRR-NF, they are predicated solely on such a decision. Without RRW, CMRR-NF is not needed.

Our view is different. NNSA can never be a successful agency except in the context of a sober, balanced, and properly-contextualized understanding of the nation’s national security needs, which the Bipartisan Commission, cited above, didn’t begin to provide. Its perspective was myopic, its report built from thought-stopping clichés recycled from the Cold War. Congress was poorly served by that report and NNSA will utterly fail to remedy its management problems if its recommendations are followed.

The NNSA weapons program’s appetite significantly exceeds its budget in many ways, not just in new construction. Until the agency is able – and this will take outside help – to simplify and clarify its fundamental missions, there will never be enough money to accomplish everything NNSA wants to do.

If NNSA fails to understand that our national security paradigm needs to change radically, along with its role in that paradigm, getting and keeping “warm bodies” may be the best the agency can do. In that case don’t look for improvements in management; NNSA will remain crisis-plagued until some serious unplanned event forces unplanned change, quite likely in a downward budgetary direction. From here on out, NNSA’s contractors can no longer count on using today’s failures and mediocrities as foundations for tomorrow’s billings. Not everybody knows it yet, but the party’s over.

  1. Warhead modernization will not stabilize or bring greater safety, security, or reliability to the nuclear weapons enterprise – quite the reverse.

This important topic must be largely deferred for another occasion. It has been discussed previously at some length.7

In brief, focusing on warheads alone (existing vs. hypothetical future ones) as isolated machines apart from the weapons complex, the broader nuclear enterprise, and the rest of the world, is far too narrow to serve as a basis for public policy. Safety, security, and reliability are meaningless when applied to warheads in isolation; the quest for safer and more secure warheads isn’t logical and will lead to substantially increased safety and security risks for society. Warhead performance margins are adequate and could be made greater if desired; reliability is very high and almost always impacted by non-nuclear components, not nuclear ones; existing programs adequately detect and remedy such problems when they appear; there are no signs of warhead aging and none are expected; and there is no reason Life Extension Programs (LEPs) will not work swimmingly if managed well – a goal more difficult to achieve if resources are diverted into unnecessary infrastructure, innovation, and production.

This is all too obvious. Warhead innovation for the supposed sake of increased safety, security, or reliability is not really that at all. It is instead warhead innovation primarily for other purposes, including maintaining institutional skills and capability, providing a matrix from which new or modified warheads can relatively easily arise, providing NNSA spending in certain states and congressional districts and to enrich certain contractors, preventing the gradual denuclearization of foreign policy, maintaining a laboratory fiscal “flywheel” for the sake of other laboratory income streams, and so on. “Safety” and “security,” however sincerely advanced by some people, function as packaging for more potent political forces.

  1. There is some risk that NNSA may not be able to successfully complete or operate the CMRR-NF due to forces beyond its control.

The U.S. together with other polities now faces several interconnected, existential crises we do not understand well, either in themselves or in their interactions with each other. These crises have labels, but these labels do not yet convey to our political leaders or to most opinion leaders any understanding of these crises’ severity, immanence, and intractability, or the unpredictability of their synergistic effects. The downside risks are not improbable and they are utterly unbounded.

Americans have difficulty thinking in tragic terms. We have been so propagandized and infantilized, so mesmerized by ideas of our own supposed uniqueness and freedom from “ordinary” historical constraints, that most people simply cannot imagine tragic outcomes for our own society, unless that tragedy include salvation for a select few in some version of secular or religious millenarianism. Bad things happen to others, not us.

Government almost never pierces this denial. It seldom attempts to talk truthfully about important matters when the news is not good – including and perhaps especially the DOE, with is burdened by an official ideology of technological optimism so extreme it borders on pure fantasy. DOE’s ideology (and public relations brief) has unfortunately included a highly irrational belief in the efficacy of science to protect this society from the adverse consequences of our collective actions. Such fantastic beliefs underlie many a DOE contract and support many a politician and asset portfolio.

Let’s look at just one crisis, namely the observed and predicted decline in petroleum production, and consider its potential effect on CMRR-NF planning, construction, and operation.

Most of the world’s major oil fields are now in decline, and there is very little chance that production levels will return to the production plateau of 2005-2008 for long, if they ever do, no matter what the price. Many careful, independent, peer-reviewed analysts, working together over what amounts to several years, amassing data from hundreds of the world’s largest oil fields, are converging toward the perspective that world oil production has probably peaked. Many, myself included, believe production is likely to decline erratically for the next decade at a multi-year moving average rate of between 2% and 4% annually, assuming no sudden catastrophes such as devastating epidemics, wars, or steep economic downturns.8

Oil usage in producer countries is rising, so total net exports (i.e. imports, from the perspective of importing countries) can be expected to fall faster than total production. A country’s transition from oil exporter to importer can be quite swift, as the recent examples of Indonesia and the United Kingdom show. Mexican production is now falling so fast it may cease export altogether by late 2012 or 2013.

High oil prices are necessary to stimulate new production (albeit with a multi-year time lag) but if they rise too high or too fast they are strongly associated with recessions in the U.S.9 At present oil prices are being held down by weak demand. This may (or may not) continue regardless of geologic, economic, and a host of “above-ground” production constraints, the sum of which continues to tighten despite significant new capacity added in selective locations. Prices are volatile, communicate depletion poorly, and the minor variations in production that produce major price swings don’t affect reservoir decline much at all. With localized exceptions that only prove the rule, reservoir decline is inexorable.

These dynamics and others are setting the stage for a severe oil shortage.

There may or may not be much warning. Markets for refined petroleum products operate as complex, contingent, branching networks with inherent time lags. They are buffeted by volatile price signals and large speculative cash flows among other real-world complexities. Experience around the world, including here, shows that impending fuel shortages do not always come with a gradual increase in price, which if present would dampen demand. During a deflationary period, oil shortages may appear suddenly as price spikes, regional shortages, panic buying and sudden supply exhaustion. If even some of American motorists, truckers, farmers, and fleet owners rush out and try to fill their tanks, the fuel supply chain will collapse. Various forms of rationing and queuing then enter the picture. The economic impact of running out of fuel altogether in this fashion for even a short time can be great, leaving lasting economic scars.

Such dramatic scenarios are not the main point, however. It is this: It is very difficult to change the oil efficiency of the job-producing portion U.S. economy as fast as oil production (and, more so, imports) will decline. This decline is likely to be an inexorable 2-4% per year, after averaging away short-term economic ups and downs. We are in the beginning of this process now. It is still harder to improve economic efficiency fast enough to allow for real economic growth within an oil availability envelope declining at this rate. Can the U.S. economy prosper over a decade in which its principal transportation fuel supply decreases by 20-40%?

I don’t think so. This is also the conclusion of a 2005 DOE-sponsored study, which warned that the economic effects of peaking oil supplies would be severe without a two-decade prior investment program involving trillions of dollars in new fuel and transportation infrastructure.10

We face an unprecedented degree of resource scarcity for our society and for industrial society generally, but here we are speaking of something very specific: an impending worldwide shortage of liquid hydrocarbon fuels.11 This crisis is real; it awaits an economic recovery to be fully visible but will appear in a year or two even without recovery; its impacts may worsen with little advance warning; and it will dramatically affect our economy and society during the proposed CMRR construction period. There are no easy answers.

As energy resources get more difficult to acquire, the net energy they bring to society declines. It takes more and more oil to extract the remaining oil, and it takes more energy (including oil uniquely), to procure lower-quality, deeper, and more difficult-to-extract coal and natural gas too. It takes oil, coal, natural gas, and scarce remaining nuclear reactor life to make renewable energy infrastructure and efficient public and private transportation, as well as refit the existing stock of buildings, as well as make the CMRR, UPF, an armada of wind farms, or any other big project.

Beyond this, most of us here at the Study Group, for a host of macroeconomic and political reasons as well as the sheer, intractable decline in oil availability, do not believe there will be real economic growth in the U.S. in the coming decade, even when measured by the optimistic (and deceptive) measure commonly used, the gross domestic product (GDP).

This has many ramifications, all very challenging, for finance, currency trading, and foreign policy as well as for our domestic economy, society, and politics. We enter this crisis with fewer assets than we entered the Great Depression. We are without most of our 1930s endowment of oil and easy natural gas and without many of the widespread practical skills we had then, among other differences. Whatever we call the period we have entered, “business as usual” is clearly over. As one local municipal finance officer recently put it, “Less bad is the new good.”

There is no sign that the Administration grasps the gravity of the economic or resource problems. No signs suggest it is ready or even able to defuse the financial “bombs” remaining in place, which an oil shock, epidemic, or just “failure to thrive” for potent macroeconomic reasons could trigger. Yet attempting to govern now with only minor tweaks of policies based on past experience will result in very bad outcomes, with 100% certainty.

These oil and economic crises are parts of a larger picture. Worldwide:

  • Poverty, food shortages, and related emergencies are widely growing. Perhaps a third of humanity is in danger; hundreds of millions are in acute danger.

  • Fresh water supplies are declining and unstable in many areas, threatening regional agricultural collapse.

  • The climate has already been degraded past major tipping points and could pass a “point of no return” in just a very few years if immediate, very drastic action isn’t taken. This crisis has a longer latency than the oil crisis but is already very apparent and its dangers to life are extreme. The construction period for CMRR falls within the period of greatest hope for saving most life on earth. It is the period in which we and our trading partners must make rapid progress in weaning ourselves from coal. We shall need a great deal of cement, steel, capital, skilled labor, and political leadership.

  • Infectious diseases pose serious and growing threats, at both chronic and pandemic levels of infection. They could easily throw all other calculations and predictions into a cocked hat.

All political systems everywhere will be deeply challenged by these negatively synergistic realities and their sequellae. Any society challenged in such fundamental ways – or merely one entering an unprecedented period of uncertainty with profound psychic losses for many people – as ours is today, is unstable.

The most salutary response to this collection of existential problems lies in a “New Deal” or “World War II” level of effort that builds on the skills and institutions we have throughout society, shoring up, and expanding out of, existing institutions, many of which are themselves threatened. We need to build the infrastructure, economy, social commitments, and understandings required to save human communities and the land and sky we live on and beneath, while we as yet can. To avoid the worst economic outcomes we must substantially modify or replace much of energy and transportation infrastructure in the next couple of decades. It is essential to make rapid progress in this very decade.

Under no conditions can runaway positive climate feedbacks by allowed to take hold, which is already beginning to happen, as anyone looking at Arctic temperature increases can see.

The resources necessary to respond to these crises are politically scarce: capital, materials like concrete and steel, liquid fossil fuels, engineering skills, as well as more specialized materials.12 There simply aren’t enough resources to service our follies as well as our needs. Decisions like building CMRR vs. building a renewable, climate-saving electricity supply for New Mexico have the overall character of a zero-sum decision, even if they don’t seem related at first glance.

As a society, we can’t afford to support two diametrically-opposed national security visions. This would be true even if one were not already failing.

Can the CMRR-NF, with its (ballpark) 138,000 cubic yards [now – 355,000 cubic yards] of concrete and more than 15,000 tons of steel,13 its highly-complex mechanical and electrical systems costing hundreds of millions of dollars, and its 8-9 year construction period [now – 12 years] be completed in these unprecedented circumstances? We just don’t know. The risks centrally include political ones: what if appropriators, authorizers, or Executive branch officials change their minds about CMRR in the wake of changed circumstances or new information? They might.

Actions taken in other countries might effectively “pull the plug” as well, including decisions regarding monetary policy, energy, and infrastructure. Events might evolve in such a way as to degrade the dollar’s purchasing power. Many of our advisors regard such an outcome as more or less inevitable during the coming decade. The cost of CMRR would then rise significantly, and its cost in relation to other social goals would rise even further.

Suppose CMRR construction was approved in 2011. It is quite possible that political leaders in 2013 or 2015 might come to rue that choice, should they see nothing but red ink in the federal fisc for the out-years, and over-budget entries in project management accounts, should high prices and shortages of transportation fuels, concrete, steel, copper, and other materials appear, as is increasingly likely. Wouldn’t these factors generally hamper progress, lower quality, and drive up project cost?

Then, assuming the CMRR is physically completed, who will be recruited to work there, and what will they do? This too is not very clear. By 2019 the lineaments of our converging existential crises will be all too clear. Bitter experience will be accumulating. At that point, a “national security” theory based on churning the U.S. nuclear stockpile – that is, doing dangerous, expensive things that don’t have to be done while avoiding treaty commitments that could help keep nuclear weapons from terrorists – may make about as much sense as burning money in a fireworks factory.

Today’s decisionmakers have been largely ignorant of these facts. If you are reading these words you now know better. We must think carefully about these issues and talk about them. Much of what I have described is just data, which will remain unnoticed only so long.

Building the CMRR under these circumstances is worse than “preparing for the last war.” It’s preparing for a war we never could have had, with weapons we could never have used or could use now. It’s these weapons which we would now rebuild, even though they don’t need it, for the sake of doing so. Our strategy is one of “preemptive spending.” It’s a theory that has never made military or management sense at any time, let alone today as we enter an entirely novel period of existential security challenges that one perceptive interpreter has called “The Long Emergency.”14

With this general background we are now in a position to examine the CMRR project in somewhat greater detail. These details build on and do not always repeat the detailed project information provided in Appendix A.

1 The binding character of the NPT Article VI obligation has been unambiguously upheld by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). See Lawyer’s Committee on Nuclear Policy, throughout, or, in especially cogent summary,

2 A. E. Whiteman, NNSA Albuquerque, “DOE Nuclear Weapons Complex Production Facilities and Technologies,” March 2000 briefing slides, Study Group files.

3 I do not think the stockpile has any value whatsoever, but NNSA is required by law to sustain it and this section is written accordingly.

4 House Report 111-203, July 13, 2009, p. 130.

5 Many polls could be cited but see for example (short) and (detailed).

6 Of great but secondary importance is the privatized nature of the nuclear weapons business. See Damon Hill and Greg Mello, “Competition - or Collusion? Privatization and Crony Capitalism in the Nuclear Weapons Complex: Some Questions from New Mexico, May 30, 2006, at

7 For example see Mello, “The Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) Program Can't Meet Congressional Objectives,” April 16, 2007, at This needs to be updated and fleshed out but the conceptual outline is I believe quite sound.

8 For example see the analysis of Tony Erickson (“Ace”), e.g. “World Oil Production Forecast - Update May 2009, May 19, 2009, at A good basic overview is available from Gail Tverberg at A vast amount of independent analysis is available on and through links at this web site and from the various international associations for the study of peak oil.

9 See for example Jeff Rubin: “Oil Prices Caused the Current Recession,”

10 Robert Hirsch, et. al., “Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, & Risk Management,” Science Applications International, February 2005, at

11 If fuel is made from food, and it is, the fuel crisis very quickly becomes a food crisis, which is a global economic war by the rich against the poor. Alexis Ziegler has an interesting treatment of this subject: “Biofuels and the Rise of Nationalistic Environmentalism,” at

Secretary Chu believes fuel can be made from “waste” primary production instead, which would be laudable if it had a scientific basis energetically or ecologically. See the cellulosic ethanol results in, for example, David Pimentel and Tad Patzek, “Ethanol Production Using Corn, Switchgrass, and Wood; Biodiesel Production Using Soybean and Sunflower,” Natural Resources Research, Vol. 14, No. 1, March 200, at The ecological concerns raised by harvesting “waste” biomass are severe.

12 For example see Kurt House and Benjamin Urquhart, “Putting the cost of going green in context, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July 15, 2009, at

… achieving Gore's vision of removing fossil fuels from electricity production by 2020 will require 50 percent of the capital and 60 percent of the steel required to wage World War II as well as 25 percent of the concrete that was used to construct the Interstate Highway System. …the annual expenditures required to achieve the Gore and Google plans would require 60 and 90 percent, respectively, of the concrete used annually for the highway system and about 20 percent of the steel consumed annually during the peak of war spending.

Granting the general principle that resources are scarce, I am not at all sure we should accept these estimates at face value, for two reasons. First, they may well be factually wrong (and they do not show their work). Neil Howe at the University of Sydney calculates that “the steel required to build 60 GW wind capacity per year would be 6.9 million tonnes (115tonnes /MW capacity), about half the amount of scrap steel that could be recovered annually from scrapped N American automobiles, using electric arc furnaces.”

Second, what would be the “cost” of “going brown, with all it implies?” What House and Urquhart call “costs” are actually people’s paychecks, and life-saving interventions. Mass death is the “cheapest” option to be sure, if life has no value. Their central point is sound, however: it will take a great of materials, energy, capital, and labor to transform our society’s energy production and use, and all these are limited.

13 Oral, rough estimates by Tom Whitacre, CMRR project engineer; August 10 and 11, 2009 teleconferences with Whitacre and Fong. [These have been superceded.]

14 James H. Kunstler, The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, 2005, Atlantic Monthly Press.

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