Stockpile Stewardship


For Immediate Release 4/20/98

Greg Mello or Maya Sinha at the Los Alamos Study Group (NM), 505-982-7747
Christopher Paine at the Natural Resources Defense Council (Wash., DC), 202-289-2370
Jackie Cabasso at the Western States Legal Foundation (Oakland), 510-839-5877
Marylia Kelley at Tri-Valley CAREs (Livermore), 510-443-7148

Disarmament Groups Force DOE to Release Portions of Secret "Stewardship" Plan for Nukes;
Agency Now Admits It Will "Replace" Nuclear Weapons in Stockpile and Develop "New Nuclear Options for Emergent Threats"


The Department of Energy (DOE), in an attempt to fend off a legal challenge to its nuclear "stewardship" program brought by the above groups and others, has released a declassified version of its October 1997 "Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan" to a federal court.  This newly-released "Green Book," so called, provides new admissions regarding DOE's plans to indefinitely maintain a large nuclear arsenal, gradually replace existing weapons with modified or new ones, develop "new nuclear options for emergent threats," and create the capacity to build thousands of additional nuclear weapons if "needed."  The provision of "new nuclear options" has been, up to now, strenuously denied by DOE. 

The lawsuit that produced the document was brought by 39 disarmament and environmental organizations, represented by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).  The stewardship plan was supplied last month in response to plaintiffs' arguments against production of plutonium pits at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and construction of the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in Livermore.  Both projects have capital costs in the $1.2 billion range.  New information on environmental and safety risks at both sites has led plaintiffs to redouble their earlier request for injunctive relief from Judge Stanley Sporkin in Washington. 

The clearest plain-language statement of DOE's plans to continue nuclear weapons development can be found in the following passage: 

The requirement to maintain the capability to design and engineer new weapon systems to military requirements [was] stated in the DoD Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).  Nuclear weapons in the enduring stockpile will eventually be replaced.  (New system development may be needed even to maintain today's military characteristics.)  This work is anticipated to begin around 2010. (1)  In the meantime, future national policies are supported for deterrence by retaining the ability to develop new nuclear options for emergent threats...Miniature, modular building blocks for nuclear weapon systems are being developed...proof-of-principle flight tests will demonstrate alternative concepts to address new threats and will provide the technology for new approaches to deterrence, should the nation ever need them, as well as attract and train new nuclear weapon system engineers. (p. 7-34, emphasis added)
"These statements reveal a shocking disregard for U.S. commitments, especially those enshrined in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), to end the nuclear arms race," said Study Group Director Greg Mello.  "It's imperative that these plans be stopped.  If we don't abide by the treaties we've signed, how can we get other countries to do so?" 

Advocates of a conservative approach to maintaining U.S. nuclear weapons will be dismayed to learn that DOE believes it can gradually replace the fully-tested weapons in the U.S. stockpile with weapons whose "physics packages" have never been fully tested but rather have been designed or redesigned on computers, perhaps several times, by people who have never had real nuclear testing experience.  Several prominent DOE advisors have advocated against such an approach. 

Other features of DOE's plan, revealed for the first time in this document, include: 
  • The supposed "need" for a 10 petaflop or faster supercomputer -- a machine at least 10,000 times faster than the fastest experimental supercomputer operating today (p. 8-18);
  • The near-term "need" to certify modifications to the nuclear explosive portions of some U.S. weapons, including a new fire-resistant-pit-containing primary for B61 tactical gravity bombs (p. 4-15 and 1-11);
  • A program to provide a "continuum of warhead design options" (p. 5-9) to replace the warheads on the Navy's submarine fleet, giving new ground-burst (and hence hard target kill) capability for those reentry vehicles which now carry W76 warheads -- the most numerous weapon type now deployed (p. 10-20);
  • Provision for the actual manufacture of these new submarine-launched warheads, an admitted driver for DOE's manufacturing modernization plan (called "ADaPT," for "Advanced Design and Production Technologies") (p. 10-21); 
  • A DOE plan that would allow the agency to double the "shot" rate at NIF after the facility is built, yet the "[c]ost for implementing the increased shot rate is not in the baseline project [i.e. not in the budget submitted to Congress for funding] (p. 9-28); and
  • "Hedge" production plans and "demonstrations" that, when implemented, would allow DOE to quickly increase U.S. nuclear weapon production to "cold war levels of building" (p. 6-18).
Much of the "Green Book" remains classified, including details of how DOE plans to use its multi-billion-dollar suite of "surrogate" testing facilities to design weapons and thus complete its "end run" around the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). 

1.  Compare:  "I'd hate to say we'll be done [with subcritical tests] in 10 years," said LANL's Wolkerstorfer.  "In 10 years, we're going to be building different pits, different weapons.  And that means different issues coming up."  Ian Hoffman, "Managing the Nuclear Arsenal," (Back to text)   Albuquerque Journal, 6/1/97. 

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