snow geese banner
If you have trouble forwarding this email, please choose "forward as attachment" from your email program menu.

For immediate release 3-26-10

Labs Strike Back at Efforts to Halt Nuclear Warhead Innovation
in Upcoming Obama Nuke Strategy

Los Alamos and Livermore CEOs lobby for policy preferences that would lead
to further funding for their institutions

Clear call for new bombs, new production, new spending

Contact: Greg Mello, 505-265-1200; 505-577-8563 cell

Albuquerque – Yesterday Rep. Michael Turner, Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee’s Strategic Forces Subcommittee, released a statement (appended below) containing letters (linked below) from the three nuclear weapons laboratory directors commenting on last November’s study (pdf) of nuclear weapons Life Extension Program (LEPs) by the elite JASON defense science advisory group. 

These letters, the contents of two of which are at sharp variance with prior representations by the authoring institutions, are likely to have considerable political impact. 

As an introduction and to save time, I would like to recommend the discussion of these letters in an accurate article by Jen DiMascio and Josh Gerstein at

The central finding of the 2009 JASON LEP study was that there are no inherent long-term reliability problems associated with the careful refurbishment of existing types of warheads and bombs.  Crudely put, JASON found that there will never be a need for new kinds of warheads or bombs, as far as reliability is concerned. 

This was not a new finding.  It first appeared in a letter from Norris Bradbury, Richard Garwin, and Carson Mark in 1978, in which these very senior weapons scientists asserted that the existing analytical capabilities of the nuclear weapons laboratories were completely adequate to maintain the then-U.S. stockpile during a nuclear test ban of unlimited duration (available on request).  It was reiterated in 1987 in a review conducted by Dr. Ray Kidder at the request of Congress (available on request).  It was repeated again in secret debates held at the Department of Energy by then-Secretary Hazel O'Leary in the early 1990s. 

It was repeated in an important JASON study in 1995, which like other JASON studies was able to draw on the most senior technical talent in the three nuclear weapons laboratories.  

The November 2009 JASON LEP findings are of a piece with entire body of work JASON work on this subject. 

Two of the three letters released yesterday – the ones from Michael Anastasio from Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS) and from Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC (LLNS), are the most important, as discussed below. 

The third letter, by Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) director Tom Hunter, is rather a straightforward clarification that the issues, language, and findings of the JASON LEP report do not apply directly to non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons, i.e. to the work of SNL, but rather address themselves to the so-called nuclear explosive package, which is the responsibility of LANS and LLNS. 

The “perspectives” (their term) provided by Drs. Anastasio and Miller begin with explicit advice as to normative stockpile policy, i.e. what features should be present in U.S. nuclear warheads and bombs, not just the technical question of how to provide those features should they be requested by the Commander in Chief. 

Provision of the features mentioned would require extensive design and production, more than requested in President Obama’s budget.  It may not be possible to certify the performance some of the “improvements” they want in the absence of nuclear testing. 

For example, former laboratory director Siegfried Hecker has said it was not advisable to replace a nuclear warhead “primary” (i.e. first-stage nuclear explosive) conventional high explosive with an insensitive high explosive (IHE) primary, without nuclear testing.  The same concern applies to all changes in nuclear weapons primaries. 

Personal and institutional policy perspectives ramify throughout the letters, weaving in and out almost imperceptibly with technical issues, making it impossible to separate policy preferences from technical observations. 

This can be seen, for example when Dr. Anastasio identifies his desire for a stockpile with a) all IHE primaries, b) security features built into the nuclear components themselves, and c) “substantially increase[d]” (as opposed to adequate) performance margins with “technically sound stockpile management,” objectively considered. 

Up to now, “technically sound stockpile management” – including all that which Dr. Anastasio has overseen – has never included those objectives. 

Study Group director Greg Mello: “I think it is clear that the lab directors have taken the unprecedented step of lobbying Congress for specific stockpile preferences at this time in order to influence the content of the upcoming Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) as well as the authorization and appropriation processes in Congress.

“Surely we all realize that these gentlemen’s utterances fall into a long line of (generally successful) efforts by the nuclear laboratories to spin their technical “needs” in a manner that protects and enhances their budgets.  This may be especially important at Livermore, where “ignition” at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), a multi-billion-dollar laser program, may soon fail.    

“By saying, in effect, new kinds of warheads and bombs are necessary to have any stockpile at all – not just one kind but, under the proposed policies, many – the two physics labs directors have launched a very public verbal blitzkrieg at the Administration.  It is aimed at the NPR process, a potential START treaty ratification later this year in the Senate, as well as at the authorization and appropriations bills wending their way through Congress. 

“They are calculating that the Administration does not have the courage to do battle with them, and they may be right.

“Prospects of ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in this Administration, which were nearly nil already, are now surely dead.  The extensive program of nuclear innovation and production requested in these letters would scuttle the treaty’s validity in the eyes of the countries which ratification advocates most hope would be influenced by ratification.   

“Stepping back, it appears the White House and liberals in Congress have been outmaneuvered – again – by the nuclear weapons establishment, as occurred under presidents Carter and Clinton.  Only this time the starting point for intragovernmental negotiation was one of near-total appeasement by the Obama White House.  The preemptive surrender offered by February’s budget request was not enough.  Today’s letters make it clear that much more will be required by the nuclear empire – provided Obama remains within the timid ambit of traditional arms control. 

“Unless the views in the letters from the two physics labs are effectively rebutted, qualitative arms control – the prevention of continued nuclear innovation – is likely to be badly wounded if not destroyed as a credible paradigm for reform. 

“Effective oversight of the nuclear weapons establishment may now be slipping from Congress’ grasp.”

***LASG press release ends here***


For Immediate Release: March 25, 2010                                                         

Contact: Josh Holly; 202.226.3988,

Turner Releases Lab Director Letters on JASON Life Extension Report in Advance of Nuclear Budget Hearing

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) U.S. Representative Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio-3) <> , Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, today released letters he received from the directors of the nation’s nuclear security laboratories in which they commented on the findings and recommendations of a recent report, Life Extension Options for the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile.  The report was released by the JASON scientific advisory panel in November 2009.

“I welcomed the release of the JASON scientific advisory panel’s review of warhead Life Extension Programs last November.  However, I was concerned about the manner in which certain unclassified findings were being interpreted, so I asked the lab directors for their views on the issues addressed in the JASON report,” Rep. Turner said.

In their letters to Congressman Turner, the lab directors expressed concern that: “In the absence of the more complete discussion provided in the classified report, the first two findings understate… the challenges and risks… [and] also understate the future risks that we must anticipate” in sustaining the U.S. nuclear stockpile.  Additionally, they emphasized that current approaches cannot sustain our weapons for decades because, “the available mitigation actions… are reaching their limits.”

The lab directors echoed the JASON’s concern about the United States’ ability to sustain its stockpile stewardship program and maintain critical expertise and capabilities.  They also made it very clear that significant efforts have been made by our nation's nuclear workforce to certify today’s nuclear stockpile, and these efforts should not be understated.  However, they emphasized that risks and uncertainties associated with ensuring a safe, secure and reliable nuclear deterrent into the future cannot be fully addressed by relying solely on current life extension approaches.

“I am releasing these letters to build upon the JASON’s work to further inform the public discussion on U.S. nuclear weapons policy and strategy. I look forward to raising these issues at the upcoming Strategic Forces subcommittee hearing with the Director of the National Nuclear Security Administration,” Rep. Turner added.

First established in the 1960’s, JASON is an independent group of scientists which advises the United States Government on science and technology issues.

Following are links to view the letters from the three national nuclear security laboratory directors:

· Los Alamos:

· Lawrence Livermore:

· Sandia:

***End of Turner press release***

Los Alamos Study Group • 2901 Summit Place NE • Albuquerque, NM 87106 • ph 505-265-1200 • fax 505-265-1207

[back to top]


home contact contribute