Ask Few Questions, Get Few Answers:
The JASONs' "Science Based Stockpile Stewardship" Study A Review for Tri-Valley
by Greg Mello
February 1, 1995
- The Department of Energy (DOE) asked the JASONs, a respected group
of academic defense advisors, to evaluate its science-based stockpile
stewardship (SBSS) program. The JASONs were not asked, however,
about the relative merit of specific projects in SBSS, or which of
these projects -- if any -- were essential, or to evaluate projects
by their benefit-to-cost ratio. As a result their report is
not very helpful in evaluating the DOE program.
- The JASON group cannot be considered "independent," since many
of the group, including the chairman Dr. Sidney Drell, are closely
connected to the DOE.
- In the JASONs' view, "compensation" to the weapons labs for the
loss of underground testing is the "basic principle" of the SBSS plan.
They recognize, however, that if other nations view SBSS as
compensation, this could conflict with U.S. nonproliferation goals.
- The JASONs nowhere demonstrate the need for most aspects of SBSS
to maintain a deterrent.
- The JASONs assume that new nuclear weapons must be developed and
deployed and that SBSS is necessary to accomplish this. At the
same time, the JASONs do not want the perception of this activity
to be widely shared.
- The JASONs' analysis of the nonproliferation impacts of the SBSS
is quite abridged. They essentially ignore the requirements
of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
- The JASONs propose declassifying many of the technical details
of the SBSS program in order to defuse nonproliferation concerns.
A senior DOE declassification officer strongly disagreed with
this approach, citing direct proliferation risks. The JASONs'
declassification proposal seems calculated to gain more scientific
users of the new machines and therefore more political support for
- The JASONs endorse most of the proposed new facilities that will
be the foci of the SBSS program, including all the hydrodynamic testing
upgrades planned for this century and the National Ignition Facility
(NIF). Yet they offer no reasons why these facilities, including
NIF, are in any way necessary. They call for a public-relations
campaign to sell NIF within the scientific community.
- The JASONs' prescription for plutonium capabilities calls for a
narrowly-defined "curatorship" and for exact reproduction of existing
designs, contradicting the rest of the report.
In November of 1994, 17 members of the JASON group published their
study of the Department of Energy's (DOE's) science-based stockpile
stewardship (SBSS) program, which is in its first year of implementation.
Even in its draft form, DOE was very pleased with the results
of the study and was, in October of 1994, looking forward to reprinting
it for wide distribution. (1)
The JASON study is likely to be influential in the policy debates of
1995 and beyond and so deserves careful scrutiny.
The JASONs are an elite group of academic defense advisors periodically
convened to study selected scientific issues for the military.
Their origins lie in the secret studies sponsored by the Pentagon in
the late 1940s and early 1950s, most often coordinated by the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT). The first of these was Project
Lexington in 1948, which started the ridiculous nuclear-powered bomber
program. This was followed by Project Charles, which studied civil
defense against nuclear war, and then by many others. By 1966,
the JASONs had become a permanent institution, enthusiastically advising
McNamara regarding the promise of the "electronic battlefield" in Vietnam,
an effort later described by one JASON as "very naive -- extraordinarily
It is not clear from whence the name of the group was taken; one long-time
JASON recently joked that it comes from the legend of Jason and the
golden fleece. The JASON office is at the MITRE corporation, reflecting
its MIT roots.
The point of this brief history is that even bright and well-meaning
groups like the JASONs are often wrong, sometimes very wrong. They
are especially vulnerable if the questions posed to them are too narrow
or if those questions imply a narrow range of answers, all of which
are yes. Such is the case in the present study.
Quoting from the abstract,
The DOE asked JASON to review its Science Based Stockpile
Stewardship program with respect to three criteria: 1) contributions
to important scientific and technical understanding and to national
goals; 2) contributions to maintaining and renewing the technical
skill base and overall level of scientific competence in the defense
program and the weapons labs, and to the broader U.S. scientific and
engineering strength; and 3) contributions to maintaining U.S.
confidence in our nuclear stockpile without nuclear testing through
improved understanding of weapons physics and diagnostics.
Pointedly, the DOE did not ask the JASONs their opinion about
which elements of the proposed SBSS program were necessary, or even
to rank them in importance. Where multiple projects were being
advanced toward the same end (as, for example, in hydrotesting) DOE
did not ask the JASONs which facility or facilities to fund.
DOE did not ask the JASONs to evaluate any other approach
to maintaining the arsenal other than SBSS, or whether big-ticket SBSS
projects could take resources from stockpile surveillance and remanufacturing.
DOE did not ask how many scientists and engineers were necessary
to retain in the labs' nuclear weapons programs, with which skills,
and DOE did not ask in detail about the nonproliferation impact
of the SBSS program. Unbelievably, the JASONs were apparently
not asked, nor did they volunteer, to evaluate the programs and
projects proposed on the basis of cost.
In short, the DOE appears to have not asked any of the hard
questions it should have asked to help set its programmatic priorities
and overall funding level. Quite the contrary: it is difficult
to see the above questions as anything but an invitation -- indeed a requirement
-- to glorify SBSS, using the outline conveniently provided by DOE. The
charge to the JASONs assured that their report would be positive and devoid
of any detailed tradeoffs between policy options. And so it is.
While the narrow technical qualifications of the JASONs cannot
be impugned, it is not obvious that the JASONs comprise a truly independent
review. Many of the authors of this report have worked or still
do work for institutions which receive substantial funding from the DOE.
(3) Some are the
recipient of awards from the DOE. Dr. Sidney Drell, chairman of
this and other studies on related subjects for the DOE, works at the Stanford
Linear Accelerator (SLAC), which receives some $180 million annually from
the DOE. This is not to imply that Dr. Drell or any of the other
authors of this report are dishonest. But it is difficult for any
of us to provide an entirely dispassionate analysis when the funding,
perhaps even the survival, of institutions to which we have devoted ourselves
could be at risk.
Neither is it obvious that the JASONs have in every case carefully thought
through, or sought expert advice on, some of their conclusions. An
illustrative case concerns the nonproliferation impact of SBSS activities.
When Dr. Drell was asked by Joe Cirincioni of the Campaign for the Non-Proliferation
Treaty what scientific data he could provide to support his assertion
that the National Ignition Facility (NIF) need not, in the eyes of other
nations, compromise U.S. commitments under Article VI of that treaty,
he replied that he had obtained no data -- that he and the other JASONs
had relied entirely on personal judgement and intuition for their conclusion
in this area. (4)
Conversely, Jonathan Medalia of the Congressional Research Service reports
Many nonnuclear nations ... view a halt to all nuclear explosions
of all types for all time as the minimum scope of a CTB [comprehensive
test ban]. Some want to go further, restraining stewardship to
cement shut the door to testing and encourage further denuclearization.
For example, Indonesia would ban computer simulations of nuclear tests;
Egypt, Germany, and Sweden would ban preparation for nuclear tests;
and Iran, Nigeria, and Pakistan would close test sites. Nuclear
states feel themselves to be on a treadmill of rising expectations...
This information is widely available. We must assume that the JASONs
simply weren't interested in it or didn't take the time to obtain it.
Unfortunately, the JASON study is replete with unsupported judgements
such as the ones Dr. Drell described to Mr. Cirincione.
At the same time, a large stewardship program might jeopardize indefinite
NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] extension. Many nonnuclear
states want the scope of a CTB drawn to eliminate the nuclear nations'
ability to design, test, and certify new nuclear weapons. These
states may view a large stewardship program as preparing to pursue the
nuclear arms race by other means, circumventing the spirit of a CTB.
(5) (emphasis in original)
Unlike the JASONs, we cannot hope to convince by mere prestige. Nor
do we have their access to classified information -- information which
is always carefully selected as it is provided to them. Our comments
therefore seek to point out inconsistencies and to draw the reader's attention
to facts and testimony the JASONs may have overlooked. We urge the
reader to look beyond the knowledge of physics that went into the JASONs'
report and to face the policy choices to be made regarding the future
of the nuclear weapons program.
"Compensation" (note the pun) for the ending of underground nuclear testing
is understood by the JASONs to be the "basic principle" of the SBSS plan,
to be achieved by "improved diagnostics and computational resources that
will strengthen the science-based understanding of the behavior of nuclear
weapons" (p. 1). Yet when the subject of nonproliferation is broached
a few pages later, the JASONs say that the SBSS program
must avoid the appearance that, while the U.S. is giving up
nuclear testing, it is as compensation introducing so many improvements
in instruments and calculational ability that the net effect will be an
enhancement of our advanced weapons design capabilities." (p. 17,
emphasis in original)
It is not clear how the SBSS program can "compensate" on p. 1 and "avoid
the appearance...[of] compensation" on p. 17. This contradiction is
a fundamental theme underlying much of the JASON report and indeed much
of the SBSS program. It reflects poorly on the thoughtfulness with
which the JASONs approached their subject. This quote makes clear,
as we will see again below, that the JASONs think any nuclear weapons research
and development (R&D) effort -- short of one giving the appearance
of designing advanced new weapons -- does not conflict with nonproliferation
While the JASONs do not want the SBSS program to "be perceived as
an attempt by the U.S. to advance our own nuclear weapons with new designs
for new missions" (p. 3, item 2, emphasis added), we find later in the report
Over time it may become desirable to introduce design changes
in some components of the present stockpile ... It will require considerable
computational analyses of both primaries and secondaries in order to develop
even a limited capability for redesign of warheads without proof-testing.
We have already seen elsewhere (6)
how DOE, while publicly abjuring new weapons, is actually seeking
to design and fabricate a new so-called "robust" warhead and has design
teams working on several other concepts as well, some of which do indeed
involve new designs and new missions.
So the "threefold" purpose of SBSS (p. 2) must really be expanded to "fourfold,"
with the additional purpose being to provide, to the greatest degree that
is consistent with a CTB, the capability to certify new weapons. The
Pentagon made this requirement crystal clear in its September 22, 1994 briefing
on the Nuclear Posture Review, which included the following viewgraph language:
DOD requirements to DOE:
- Demonstrate capability to refabricate and certify weapon types
in enduring stockpile
- Maintain capability to design, fabricate, and certify new
This language is echoed by the JASONs on p. 12, where they assume that
"The US nuclear infrastructure under the SBSS will retain a capability
to design and build new weapons, which could be deployed should the need
Quite apart from this contradiction, it is not clear why it is necessary
to "compensate" for the termination of underground testing, since:
a) the reliability and especially b) the safety of existing nuclear weapons
do not require such compensation, as is discussed elsewhere in depth.
(7) Improved diagnostics
and computational resources are certainly not necessary to maintain reliability
or safety; maintenance of a small core of technical staff, with continuing
investments in surveillance and a small remanufacturing capability would
be effective for these ends. The purpose of a CTB is to end the
testing of new weapons, not merely shift its location.
The JASONs regard a "strong" SBSS program as an "essential component for
the U.S. to maintain confidence in the performance of a safe and reliable
nuclear deterrent under a comprehensive test ban" (p. 3). Nowhere
do they, however, specify just how "strong" the program should
be, nor do they ever clearly state why particular SBSS elements are actually
needed. The entire question of need is simply dismissed with a wave
of the hand and an invocation of the mantra of safety and reliability.
The JASONs assume that the same aging warheads will need to remain in
the stockpile for "at least several decades" (p. 1). It is not at
all clear why this need be the case. Warheads can simply be rebuilt
whenever their reliability falls below some desired level. Furthermore,
the United States has rightly committed to eliminating all its nuclear
warheads in Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treat (NPT). It
is hard to understand why the JASONs see no conflict between keeping a
nuclear stockpile for "at least several decades" and the clear language
of the NPT. In this connection, note that their periphrasis of that
Article on p. 18 bears shockingly little resemblance to the actual treaty
Finally, it is by no means clear that an "improved understanding of warheads"
is necessary or desirable for U.S. or global security purposes.
Knowledge is not free of costs, and investments in the U.S. nuclear weapons
program will have a variety of serious costs: to the federal fisc,
to the effectiveness of the world's nonproliferation regime, to the environment,
and to every other kind of scientific pursuit. It is not knowledge,
but wisdom, that is in short supply in the nuclear weapons business. The
JASONs have not improved this situation.
The JASONs' Chapter 2: Basic Assumptions
Much has been made, in the JASON report and elsewhere, of President
Clinton's July 3, 1993 statement that "we will explore other
means of maintaining our confidence in the safety, the reliability and
the performance of our own weapons" (emphasis added). Note that
the President said "explore;" he did not say "we will establish, for
the indefinite future, a Cold War level of funding for science-based
stockpile stewardship" -- which is how his statement is being taken
by the JASONs and others in the nuclear weapons community. The
next sentence in the President's speech has been ignored, by both DOE
and the JASONs:
We will also refocus much of the talent and resources of our
nation's nuclear labs on new technologies to curb the spread of nuclear
weapons and verify arms control treaties.
Unfortunately, there has been no such refocus. The attitude at the
weapons labs is instead typified by a conversation recently overheard
by a UNM professor between lab managers on an airplane flight in which
the two gentlemen assured one another that they would "outlast" the Clinton
administration's attempted refocusing. (9)
The JASONs assume that old, more "robust," stockpile designs could be
introduced into the stockpile, apparently with modifications to allow
more modern "engineering and manufacturing practices" (p. 12). It
is far from clear that this would be acceptable to the military. The
assumption that new or redesigned warheads should and will be introduced
and built is one that pushes the cost of stockpile stewardship very high,
both in dollars and probably also in reliability. It is entirely
Missing from this chapter and this report are any quantitative assumptions
about the arsenal or any descriptions of the warheads it will contain.
The JASONs say the arsenal will continue to decrease in number and variety
-- but how? Failure to specify their assumptions about the arsenal
more closely makes the reader suspect that the SBSS program they review
is independent of the stockpile and its real-world requirements and problems.
Since the criteria by which the JASONs evaluated the SBSS program (their
Chapter 3) have been strongly criticized for their narrowness already,
we turn now to nonproliferation concerns.
The JASONs' Chapter 4: Nonproliferation
The JASONs understand that:
Ultimately, non-proliferation can only be successful if the
NNWS [non-nuclear weapons states] are persuaded that their national
security is better served without nuclear weapons than by possessing
them (p. 19).
How can all these countries possibly be persuaded of this when the nuclear
weapons states (NWSs) assert just the opposite for themselves -- that
nuclear weapons are central to their national security? These
NWSs are of course not just armed with nuclear weapons, but also with
qualitatively and quantitatively superior conventional weapons as well.
Yet still they assert that nuclear weapons are indispensable.
Nowhere do the JASONs face or even acknowledge the fundamental
contradiction between their statement above and U.S. plans, not just to
maintain its nuclear arsenal indefinitely, but to continually "improve"
it, an effort the JASONs acknowledge, approve, and seek to facilitate.
The JASONs, in their rush to bless DOE's plans, have fundamentally misread
the politics of nonproliferation. After squirming their way past
the clear language of the NPT and failing to address the fundamental contradiction
of U.S. nonproliferation policy, they limit their concerns about the proliferation
impact of SBSS to basically just one:
One worrisome aspect of the SBSS program is that it may be
perceived by other nations as part of an attempt by the U.S. to continue
the development of ever more sophisticated nuclear weapons. (p. 19)
But this is hardly the entirety, let alone the root, of the problem. They
compound their error with arrogance in the next sentence:
This perception is particularly likely to be held by countries
that are not very advanced technologically since they are less able
to appreciate the limits on advanced weapons design that a lack of testing
Yet on the same page, the JASONs confirm this "perception":
While the potential for future developments cannot be excluded,
the SBSS activities should not be interpretable as laying the
basis for the development of newer generations of nuclear weapons...(emphasis
It appears that the only policy consistent with all these confused statements
is a policy of deception, which is the height of folly. Such deception
would have to be aimed at the American people as well as other nations,
and cannot succeed even temporarily. Clandestine vertical proliferation
would be implicitly or explicitly used as an excuse by some horizontal
proliferant some day, and would, by its very nature, threaten the integrity
of the nonproliferation regime, which requires clarity and transparency
to work. Such a policy would be very costly to U.S. national security.
The impacts of the SBSS program on nonproliferation efforts are certainly
not confined to problems caused by the "perception" or "interpretation"
that the U.S is engaged in further weapons development. This was
thoroughly discussed at the September 8 workshop mentioned above, with
Dr. Drell in attendance. It is worth reviewing the whole issue briefly
from first principles.
The basic goal of nonproliferation, as it is perceived officially in the
United States, is one of preventing other countries from acquiring nuclear
materials and, especially, nuclear weapons. Most countries, of course,
have no interest in taking on the dangers, cost, and opprobrium of nuclear
weapons. But it is not the Danish bomb that is of concern. To
effectively prevent proliferation in every case, even the difficult
ones, a variety of tools are required: international treaties, national
laws, bi- and multi-lateral agreements, and unwritten norms -- all of
which must, to be effective, carry with them an implicit or explicit possibility
of political, economic, criminal, or military sanctions, directed against
countries, companies, or individuals as appropriate. Positive rewards
for compliance with nonproliferation norms also can be and have been used.
These potential sanctions, in their variety and comprehensiveness, are
the real deterrent to proliferation in the most important cases. They
must be credible to work. They are not likely to be credible if
they are not very broadly based among nations, especially among the nuclear
powers. And surely it is difficult to get very broad-based cooperation
in enforcing tough nonproliferation sanctions if we ourselves violate
the norms we would enforce. We cannot get treaties implemented by
others that we do not follow or intend to follow. Nor can we easily
enforce, except at great and often prohibitive cost, provisions of treaties
-- like the NPT -- that we ourselves do not honor.
Let's get real: we will not stop nuclear proliferation unless we
have tough laws and effective sanctions, actively supported by nearly
every nation involved. This requirement is incompatible with our
ongoing violation of the NPT, and with the maintenance and "improvement"
of our own large nuclear arsenal, especially as this arsenal is accompanied
by a declaratory policy of possible first use and configured to make this
The conflict between U.S. nuclear policy, including SBSS, and U.S. interests
in nonproliferation is therefore much more fundamental than the perception
that we might develop more advanced nuclear weapons. This perception
would, of course, simply make our nonproliferation and credibility problems
even worse, while advanced weapons and weapons science would provide no
deterrent against a proliferant threat.
The JASONs faulty and superficial analysis of the nonproliferation problem
leads them to a questionable recommendation for relieving the well-deserved
"suspicions" of the non-nuclear weapons states. The JASON approach:
declassify most of the SBSS program.
This strategy attempts to remove the potential complaints of the non-nuclear
weapons states -- which could, after all, have negative ramifications
for SBSS funding -- by simply inviting them to the weapons technology
table. Any problems concerning proliferation of technology out of
the SBSS program would be solved, in effect, by a redefinition of proliferation.
Proliferation done officially wouldn't count anymore.
History provides a warning: in every case since 1950, programs
to build fission bombs have been conceived, hidden, and matured within
the womb of fission energy programs. If we follow the JASONs' advice,
we may have fusion weapons being developed under the cover of fusion energy
programs -- using data, codes, and techniques developed and disseminated
in and by the U.S.
Aside from the rationale the JASONs provide, another political motivation
for the declassification they propose is that it will to create a broader
user community -- and hence a broader constituency -- for the stewardship
program and its funding. This is particularly the case for NIF.
Of particular concern is the possible declassification of all but "critical"
parts of the weapons codes (p. 21) in order to allay the "suspicions"
of the non-nuclear weapons states. Even if these suspicions did
comprehend the entire nonproliferation impact of the SBSS program, which
they don't, why would the declassification of technical arcana allay anything?
More to the point would be the declassification of policy
and planning documents, such as the nuclear stockpile memorandum.
Looking at the problem of nonproliferation impacts of the U.S. nuclear
weapons program as a whole, non-nuclear states' concerns -- which are
a matter of public record, not merely a possibility -- could be better
To succeed in its nonproliferation goals in the long run, the U.S. needs
to accept the same level of transparency that it demands of other nations.
Publishing major portions of U.S. nuclear weapons codes has not exactly
been on the top of anybody's non-proliferation wish-list, however.
- a stronger and more successful effort toward a CTB;
- a change in U.S. declaratory policy on first use;
- the elimination of tactical weapons;
- bilateral reductions in strategic forces below START II;
- a ban on weapons-usable fissile material production;
- a limit on stockpile stewardship to the minimum that is actually
- opening U.S. weapons facilities to credible domestic and international
inspectors, perhaps from Canada, Australia, or other appropriate non-nuclear-weapon
The JASONs assert that most new proliferators could derive no immediate
benefit from these codes. Even if this is true, what about China,
or Israel, or Japan -- or India or Pakistan, for that matter? Wouldn't
the knowledge that scientists from these countries get by using the NIF
and its related computer codes train them to do secondary physics, just
as U.S. scientists are trained? Or perhaps they could take the now-unclassified
codes and modify them for weapons analysis, saving themselves person-years
of work on the way to deliverable boosted fission or thermonuclear bombs.
When the JASON declassification proposal was brought up in the context
of NIF at DOE's September 8, 1994 NIF workshop, a senior DOE classification
officer rose to vigorously contest the appropriateness of declassifying
information from experiments at temperatures and pressures at or approaching
those of a nuclear explosion, data which would definitely be useful in the
design of weapons. (11)
International scientific cooperation is in general a very good thing.
But scientists at the weapons labs of the various countries have more in
common with each other than they do with their respective governments, as
Dr. Hecker at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) once remarked about
Russia. The U.S. weapons labs have already been the source of a great
deal of knowledge for foreign weapons programs.(12)
Why open the door wider?
The JASONs' Chapter 5: Stewardship Program Elements
To provide a justification for enhanced SBSS capabilities, the JASONs
refer on p. 24 to the "limited" number of cases where nuclear testing
was needed to remedy or validate the remedies to stockpile problems
of the past. These cases -- fifteen in number -- are extensively
discussed by senior Livermore weapons scientist Ray Kidder in his 1987
study of weapon reliability under a test ban, and his conclusions --
(1) that these resulted from rushing inadequately tested designs into
the stockpile, and (2) that these problems are all lessons learned,
i.e. of historical, but not predictive, importance -- still stand. (13)
As discussed elsewhere at length, there are no known safety
or reliability problems in the U.S. arsenal. (14)
Certainly we need to retain, at least for now, some nuclear weapons
scientists, as the JASONs point out on p. 24. It is not clear
that we need to retain the thousands of scientists, engineers,
and technicians now working in this program. If the intent is
merely to retain our existing knowledge and expertise about nuclear
weapons, there are cheaper and less provocative ways to do it than SBSS,
namely by emphasizing retention of unique knowledge in archives and
in a relatively few staff members. The emphasis should be on uniqueness,
The JASONs' Chapter 6: Hydrotesting
The JASONs' treatment of hydrotesting and the proposed Dual-Axis Radiographic
Hydrotest (DARHT) facility at LANL provides further examples of their
lack of careful analysis. The JASONs believe that this facility
will provide "capabilities of importance" (p. 4) to the SBSS program.
In fact, they appear to offer unqualified support for all the hydrotest
upgrades planned for this century, drawing the line at the Advanced Hydrotest
Facility planned for the out years. But nowhere do they say why
these capabilities are important.
In Kidder's 1987 paper we find the following.
During the past decade [1977-1986], new boosted primaries have
been designed and developed by the weapons laboratories...performed satisfactorily
the very first time they were tested, the observed yield in no case falling
short of that expected by more than...(See Tables H1 and H2 and Fig. H1)
The one new primary that failed was of a more complex, less predictable
design than the others. This primary was subsequently redesigned,
tested, and failed again. None of the primaries in the existing
This "impressive" capability existed between seven and seventeen years ago,
in the design of new primaries. It is not clear why
it is not enough to simply maintainexisting primaries today.
This experience demonstrates that the ability of the weapons labs to predict
the performance of newly designed, as yet untested, boosted primaries
of the kind currently in stockpile is indeed impressive -- there were
no significant surprises. This could hardly have been the case had
these primaries been sensitive to differences that inevitably exist between
the weapon configuration calculated and the weapon tested. (15)
Kidder's last point, which speaks to the insensitivity of primary yield
to minor variations in manufacture, was corroborated by a manager (name
withheld) at Los Alamos, who told Dr. Kerlinsky of the Galvin Panel that
deliberately "off-spec" pit(s) had been manufactured at Los Alamos and tested
successfully at the Nevada Test Site. (16)
Then why are all these new facilities needed? The JASONs answer this question
on p. 27.
Such information [from hydrotests integrated with code development]
will lead to greater confidence in our understanding of weapons and, perhaps
ultimately, to a willingness to make relatively simple changes in primary
design without underground tests. (emphasis added)
Once again, it is not simple maintenance of a deterrent through remanufacture
of existing weapons that is driving the "acknowledged need" (p. 28) for
increased radiography capability, but the desire to design and certify
new weapons in the absence of nuclear tests. It is the "design community"
(p. 29) that has this "need," not the stockpile surveillance program,
and certainly not the nation. The surveillance program has never
depended upon hydrotesting, let alone advanced hydrotesting, to do its
Overall, it is far from "clear" that "improved hydrotesting is crucial
to continued confidence in the safety and reliability of nuclear primaries"
(p. 32). As far as reliability is concerned, this statement is contradicted
by the data collected and presented by Kidder. And in Kidder's paper,
the JASON opinion is contradicted by that of Hans Bethe, Carson Mark,
Norris Bradbury, Richard Garwin, and Andrei Sakharov, all of whom felt
that simple remanufacturing -- without advanced new hydrotesting
facilities -- was completely feasible. (17)
The JASONs' Chapter 7: The National Ignition Facility
The JASONs find the NIF "exciting" (p. 37). They are crazy about
it. And crazy is hardly too strong a word, for they quickly gush:
"Nuclear weapons operate under conditions...of great interest
to astrophysics." Yes, no doubt this is true, but it is hardly
the central point, and it is not reassuring to hear it put quite that
way. Avoiding the "operation" of nuclear weapons is what
this report is, or should be, about. In their passion for hotter
hohlraums, (18) they
neglect the human. It is not the JASONs' chilling objectivity
which is distressing here, but their chilling lack of objectivity.
Their enthusiasm is about physics, not nuclear weapons policy.
And the fact that nuclear weapons "operate" only with unimaginable
horror is not a noticeably important factor in the JASONs' thinking
Their discussion of NIF's importance as a "proof-of-principle" experiment
appears overblown. Ignition of deuterium-tritium pellets has already
been achieved in experiments at the Nevada Test Site. The NIF
would not so much demonstrate the principle as demonstrate -- what?
That inertial confinement fusion (ICF) is feasible? No,
not this either. Perhaps this: that ICF can be funded, papers
can be published in the subject, and careers can be pursued by real
people with real ambitions. ICF is, by all accounts, a remote
and unlikely source of energy, one that has already been superseded
by proven renewable sources that do not share its enormous costs, its
environmental and social externalities, its proliferation problems,
or its uncertainties.
The attainment of ignition is not the major problem in developing fusion
energy, in any case. It is the engineering and materials problems
in any practical ICF system that are more likely to be insurmountable
at anywhere near a realistic life-cycle cost per unit energy produced.
While the JASONs downplay the uncertainty of ignition, some scientists
at both LLNL and LANL do not. (19)
The margin of uncertainty in the minimum energy needed to
overcome instability and other difficulties may be significantly larger
than the 1.8 megajoules NIF will deliver. Therefore, the statement
on p. 41 that "...the attainment of ignition in NIF will demonstrate..."
seems too confident and a little premature. It betrays the lack
of objectivity that concerns us throughout this report.
There is no question that NIF could provide interesting experiments
in several fields of physics. But a closer look at the JASONs'
zeal for creating a user community for NIF (pp. 43-47) goes far beyond
science to reveal the JASONs as a special interest lobby, calling for
an active sales effort for the NIF project. They wrap up this
four-page discussion by saying that:
...the growth of this nascent enterprise [user communities]
needs to be further encouraged by way of the vigorous dissemination
of information about the capabilities and accomplishments of the ICF
program and about the scope of activities to be undertaken at the NIF...if
scientific goals are to be a significant component in the justification
of the construction of the NIF (as we strongly believe they should be),
then the ICF community bears a special responsibility in fostering an
"out-reach" program...Succinctly stated, the NIF represents a credible
and powerful opportunity to strengthen otherwise disjoint efforts in
the weapons, the ICF, and the university communities. (p. 47)
Why are the JASONs so interested in promoting NIF? Why are they,
here and elsewhere, so preoccupied with the "credibility" of cross-linking
the nuclear weapons community with ICF and university science? Why
is it necessary to encourage a "vigorous" program of disseminating information
about NIF -- can't scientists decide for themselves whether it can help
them? Why is it so desirable to recruit the ICF "community" to support
NIF? The simple truth to which these questions point is that, when
it comes to NIF, the JASONs themselves view their role as promotional,
The weapons applications of NIF, which the JASONs leave to last, are not
convincing. There is no need to quantify the "effects of low tritium
concentration" (p. 49) and no need to study cracked radiation cases (p.
50). Replacing the latter is cheaper than studying whether or not
to replace them, and retiring them is the safest and cheapest solution
The defects of the JASON analysis of the nonproliferation impacts of NIF
have been discussed above. It is important to make one addition
here. Contrary to what the JASONs say, "balancing non-proliferation
objectives of the United States with responsible stewardship under a[n]
SBSS program" (p. 50) is not
the problem. Given that weapon
safety and reliability "problems" are not difficult to solve and the requirement
for an effective deterrent rather easy to meet, responsible stewardship
can only be defined as that form of stewardship which best supports nonproliferation
goals. Stewardship should be a subset of nonproliferation efforts.
The JASONs' Chapter 8: LANSCE, Stockpile Surveillance, and Materials
The JASONs assume that weapons will remain in the stockpile far beyond
their lifetime, and therefore will require intensive study of issues
relating to aging. It is not clear why this need be the case.
This chapter, like most of the others, does not really begin with the
needs of the stockpile surveillance program but with what a particular
facility -- the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE) -- might
be able to do for the program. Again, the approach is one of a
major facility looking for missions to justify it, and several possibilities
are suggested. The JASONs are lukewarm, however, about these possibilities
and make any endorsement of LANSCE contingent upon several "ifs."
The claim that a 1 mm resolution in neutron radiography would "perhaps"
be enough to see cracks, etc. in pits seems optimistic (p. 61). A
1-mm crack is very large. It would be better to begin with, or
at least mention, the needs of the program rather than the capabilities
of the projects already being promoted.
The JASONs' Chapter 9: Pulsed Power
There is no real need for any of these facilities for stewardship of
the existing stockpile, and the JASONs have not provided any justification
for them. Further weapons effects testing, beyond what is already
known, is a relic of warfighting strategies and should be dropped from
the stockpile stewardship program. Likewise, the (further) study
of cracks in implosion need not be of particular interest. If
one wants reliable weapons of mass destruction, replace the cracked
ones. Better still, help meet our treaty obligations and retire
them. And why not? The START II strategic arsenal of 3500
weapons is enough to create a 5-psi overpressure spike -- a lethal amount
-- over most of the area of all the cities over 500,000 people
in the world. To deter one or two countries requires a very tiny
number of weapons.
The JASONs' Chapter 10: Special Nuclear Materials [SNM] and Processing
This chapter does not share with the preceding and succeeding ones
the assumption that new weapon designs are inevitable and desired; in
fact, it assumes quite the contrary.
...the primary -- if not the sole -- nuclear weapons manufacturing
capacity that must be provided for in an era of no nuclear testing is
the remanufacture of copies of existing (tested) stockpile weapons...the
ultimate goal should be to retain the capability of remanufacturing
SNM components that are as identical as possible to those of the original
manufacturing process and not to "improve" those components. This
is especially important for pits...(p. 81)
If nuclear weapons must be manufactured at all, this is the best way to
The JASONs point out that it is the finished pit that must be the same
as the proof-tested model, not every manufacturing detail or process along
the way. And they suggest that a production capacity of "ten or
so" pits per year is adequate for the present time (p. 85).
This is a scale of activity consistent with practical maintenance of an
arsenal. While it does not imply rapid drawdown of that arsenal,
as we might wish, this approach is compatible with such drawdown. It
is highly unlikely that a smaller scale of effort would meet current political
realities. In any case, Los Alamos already has a nascent capacity
to manufacture pits at least ten times this great. (20)
The JASONs do not take up the issue of how best to make tritium. They
correctly point out that a number of options exist for procuring this
material, and that any need for it may be postponed by further stockpile
reductions. They appear to err, however, in saying that
Dismantlement of U.S. nuclear weapons under START II and correspondingly
large reductions in tactical nuclear weapons will result in a recovered
amount of tritium adequate to supply the needs of the remaining operational
stockpile until close to the end of the first decade of the twenty-first
century. (p. 83)
The best information available to us strongly suggests that current supplies
of tritium are adequate to maintain the larger START I, not just
the START II, arsenal, until approximately 2014. (21)
The JASONs conclude this chapter by saying that
Having an open research program on the physics and metallurgy
of uranium and plutonium is highly undesirable from the perspective
of nuclear proliferation. Consequently, we see the SNM manufacturing
component of the stewardship program as a narrowly defined, sharply
focused engineering and manufacturing curatorship program. (p. 85)
There is absolutely no reason that this excellent, common-sense approach
cannot be applied to the other elements of the stewardship program as
well, thus eliminating the "need" for expensive new SBSS facilities
with their attendant proliferation impacts.
In fact, if this approach is to stand at all, it logically must
be applied to the stewardship program as a whole. For what is
the point of designing improvements in weapons if it is decided in advance
not to make them? And making them would be a bad idea, for the
sound reasons the JASONs articulate in this chapter. So not just
the assumptions, but the conclusions of this chapter -- with which we
find little fault -- are quite inconsistent with the rest of the report.
The JASONs' Chapter 11: Advanced Computing for Stewardship
Aside from the dangerous assumptions incorporated into this chapter
on p. 89 (quoted on page 4 above) and what may be applied from our
other comments to the question of the purpose and need for weapons
computing advancements, we offer few additional comments.
Obviously, the proliferation dangers of weapons codes that have been
brought up to date, documented properly, and translated to run on
inexpensive and universally-available computers are increased in the
event of any security breach. This is a specific case of a general
rule: the more weapons activities that are going on, and the
more open these activities are, the greater the likelihood that somebody
will steal or be given something important.
The JASONs are clearly enamored with science, and they clearly want
to see the weapons labs fully funded to do work they consider interesting.
Their approach to the issues surrounding stockpile stewardship is
too narrow and too vague, however, to be of much use in evaluating
even the technical questions, let alone the policy and nonproliferation
questions. It is hoped that the DOE will seek further clarification
of these issues before continuing its marketing of science-based stockpile
stewardship, based as it is upon specious assumptions and the questionable
goals of keeping weapons scientists busy and producing new weapon
designs. These activities are costly and dangerous to this country
1. Personal communication with Dr. Victor
Reis, October 1994.
2. This history is from Gregg Herken, Counsels
of War, expanded edition, Oxford University Press, NY, 1987. Quote
is from p. 211.
3. Christopher Paine of the Natural Resources
Defense Council made this point in a conversation with the present
4. This exchange occurred at the DOE workshop
on NIF, Washington DC, September 8, 1994; Joe Cirincione, personal
5. Jonathan Medalia, "Nuclear Dilemmas: Nonproliferation
Treaty, Comprehensive Test Ban, and Stockpile Stewardship," Congressional
Research Service, December 1994, 94-1107F.
6. See "Redefining Stockpile Stewardship,"
Greg Mello for Tri-Valley CAREs, Livermore, CA.
8. The actual language of Article VI of the
NPT is: "Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations
in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear
arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty
on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international
The JASONs paraphrase this as "The NWS [nuclear weapons states] will
reduce their nuclear weapons stockpiles and will reduce, over time,
the reliance of their national security policy on nuclear weapons,
thereby decreasing the discriminatory nature of the non-proliferation
regime" (p. 18). The legal commitment made by the U.S. and the
other nuclear powers to nuclear disarmament is entirely discounted
by the JASONs.
Aside from this, the JASONs' "interpretation" is illogical: if
a NWS like the U.S. decreases its arsenal to only 1000 or even 100
nuclear weapons, as versus zero for a non-nuclear weapons state, this
does virtually nothing to "decreas[e] the discriminatory nature of
the non-proliferation regime."
9. Denise Fort, personal communication.
10. It is not just the JASONs that recognize
the importance of expanding the political constituency of the nuclear
weapons program. In 1993, Dr. Immele of LANL waxed glowingly
about the new corporate "sponsors" of the LANL weapons program in
his "State of the Nuclear Weapons Program" address in December, available
in video from LANL. Numerous other examples could be provided.
11. Marylia Kelley, personal communication.
In the case of the NIF, and the inertial confinement fusion
(ICF) program in particular, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency
(ACDA) recognized these direct proliferation dangers as early as 1980
in their FY 1981 Arms Control Impact Statements (written for the committees
on Foreign Affairs and Foreign Relations of both houses of Congress).
As they put it then, "If an advanced non-nuclear weapon state
with an ICF research program undertook a nuclear weapon program, it
might subsequently be able to move more quickly to develop boosted
fission and thermonuclear weapons than would otherwise be the case."
The subject of direct proliferation impacts is discussed more
fully in Mello, op. cit.
12. For examples, see William E. Burrows
and Robert Windrem, Critical Mass: The Dangerous Race for
Superweapons in a Fragmenting World, Simon and Schuster, NY, 1994.
13. Ray Kidder, "Maintaining the U.S. Stockpile
of Nuclear Weapons During a Low-Threshold or Comprehensive Test Ban,"
LLNL, 1987, UCRL-53820, p. 25.
14. Mello, op. cit.
15. Kidder, op. cit.
16. Dr. Dan Kerlinsky, personal communication.
17. These men all speak with great authority
on this issue. Nobel Laureate Hans Bethe directed the Theoretical
Division at Los Alamos during the war and has consulted at LANL up
to the present day; Carson Mark was his successor and directed that
Division for 26 years; Norris Bradbury was Oppenheimer's successor
and directed Los Alamos for 25 years; Richard Garwin has been a consultant
to Los Alamos since 1950 and is highly regarded for his analysis of
a range of defense issues; and Andrei Sakharov, preeminent among Soviet
weapons designers, was responsible for the independent development
of the Soviet thermonuclear bomb.
18. Hohlraum is a German word which
means to physicists what "black body" does in English: an idealized
non-reflective cavity which radiates energy in accordance with its
temperature. The interior of a nuclear weapon, and the hollow
target cylinder at NIF, resemble and are called hohlraums.
19. It is best not to say who, because even
so senior a scientist as Dr. Steven Younger at LANL has already been
called on the carpet by Assistant Secretary Reis for his true statement
that NIF has nothing to do with safety of nuclear weapons, made at
the September 8, 1994 DOE NIF workshop.
20. The original design specifications of
Building PF-4 of TA-55 at LANL were reported by John Fleck of the
Albuquerque Journal on December 8, 1993. In 1978, PF-4
had a capacity of 100 kg Pu per month for casting and machining, or
about 20 weapons/month. Since then, occupational radiation exposure
limits have decreased from 5 rads/yr to 2 rads/yr, and PF-4 has been
reconfigured, both of which decrease this capacity, according to LANL.
A presentation by Larry Woodruff of LLNL to the Galvin Panel on August
8, 1994 entitled "Downsizing the Capacity of the Nuclear Weapons Complex"
shows a capacity for making 150 pits/yr in the downsized complex,
i.e. at LANL. While LLNL now has the capacity make pits, the
presentation to the Galvin Panel, along with interviews with LLNL
personnel by Dr. Kerlinsky of that Panel, make it clear that LLNL
anticipates transferring its pit manufacturing technology to LANL.
The LANL FY1995-2000 Institutional Plan says on p. 51 that
LANL's Pit Rebuild Program will be capable of building pits for W88
warheads "by FY1996."
21. The statement of Dr. Harold Smith, Assistant
Secretary of Defense for Atomic Energy, to the House Appropriations
Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, March 15, 1994 contains
The Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Plan, which outlines specific requirements
for the nuclear weapons program...requires an active nuclear stockpile
that supports the START I limits through 1999 and then transition
to START II in subsequent years...[The Plan requires the U.S.] to
retain the capability to reactivate weapons from the inactive stockpile
if necessary, to maintain a policy that provides an assured supply
In the absence of a new source, in [deleted] the U.S. may not have
sufficient tritium to support the nuclear weapons stockpile and
required reserves consistent with START I commitments...The current
goal is to make a decision on a new source for tritium in FY95 with
initial funding for the development of that source beginning in FY96."
(pp. 737 and 741, Vol. 6, Energy and Water Development Appropriations
for 1995, emphasis added)
In his oral remarks that day, Dr. Smith emphasized that the U.S. must
be able "to return to START I in the 21st century" (Ibid, p. 415).
This cannot be done without a tritium supply consistent with
a START I arsenal. Dr. Victor Reis, Assistant Secretary of Energy
for Defense Programs, shed additional light on the subject during
that same hearing in response to a question:
If one assumes...that a new [tritium] facility is to be built, then
based on the current stockpile plan and the conservative view that
a new tritium production source could take as long as 15 years to
produce new tritium, a funding decision would be necessary in FY1996.
That would allow the facility to be in production 3 years before
strategic reserves of tritium are exhausted. (Ibid, p. 458)
Congressman Myers was hearing different dates from DOE and DOD regarding
the acquisition of a new source of tritium, and asked for clarification.
Reis gave an enigmatic reply, then Smith said, "There is plenty of
discussion going on between the two Departments, between Dr. Reis
and myself. The driver here is the assumption on whether
or not we want to have the ability to maintain or return to levels
consistent with START I." (Ibid, pp. 423-424, emphasis added)
It appears that there is adequate tritium to support a START I arsenal
until 1996+15 years for construction+3 years, i.e. until 2014. The
"START II arsenal" appears to include the capacity to bring enough
reserve weapons back into the active arsenal to reconstitute a START
I force level.