Stockpile Stewardship


Ask Few Questions, Get Few Answers:
The JASONs' "Science Based Stockpile Stewardship" Study A Review for Tri-Valley CAREs

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 them. 

  • 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 naive." (2)

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 that: 
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... 


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)
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. 

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. 

Overall Comments

"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 efforts. 

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 that 
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. (pp. 89-90) 
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 warheads

  • (emphasis added) 

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 arise..." 

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 language. (8)

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 unnecessary. 

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 enforces.
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 added)

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 threat real. 

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. (10)

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 addressed by: 

  • 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 needed; and 
  • opening U.S. weapons facilities to credible domestic and international inspectors, perhaps from Canada, Australia, or other appropriate non-nuclear-weapon states. 
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. 

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, not quantity. 

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 stockpile employ... 

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)
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. 

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 job. 

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 about NIF. 

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, not objective. 

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 of all. 

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 Science 

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 do it. 

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. 

Concluding Remarks

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 and others. 


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 author. 

4.  This exchange occurred at the DOE workshop on NIF, Washington DC, September 8, 1994; Joe Cirincione, personal communication. 

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. 

7.  Ibid. 

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 control." 

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 following. 

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 of tritium... 

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.

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