"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." — Elie Wiesel

Sunday, October 4, 2009

More Nukes - It's the Pits!


For all the talk coming from The White House, if you want to know where the U.S. is really (and always has been) headed, just listen to the talk coming from the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Of course the name alone should make us all shudder. Since when was there really any security in anything nuclear???

The NNSA is pushing ahead with its plans for "Complex Modernization", a program initiated by our previous President; you know, the one who said "nucular." The program would expand two existing nuclear bomb production facilities to essentially build new plutonium pits and other bomb parts out of enriched uranium. You may remember previous names for this plan; first there was Complex 2030, and then it was Complex Transformation. Heaven knows what they will come up with next.

Although the NNSA speaks of the plan in terms of "transforming... the complex into smaller and more efficient operations while maintaining the capabilities NNSA needs to perform its national security missions", what it really means is that NNSA wants to keep building bombs.

Los Alamos National Laboratories would be building the new plutonium pits (up to 80 per year), while the Y-12 facility in Oad Ridge, Tennessee would be engaged in enriched uranium processing. A fundamental question surrounding all this planning is how this will affect current disarmament and non-proliferation efforts. Will these pits be simply replacing "aging" pits in currently deployed warheads, or are we talking brand new weapons???

Everybody is currently waiting anxously to see whether they get the thumbs up or thumbs down regarding the go ahead for Complex Modernization. That will depend on the recommendations of the upcoming Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). I suspect that the NPR will promote Complex Modernization; there seems to be strong support, primarily from the military side, for getting the biggest bang for our buck.

And therein lies the rub; just how long can those pits (even though plutonium has a very long half life, it still loses its original properties over time) sit in warheads before they will just fizzle (or at least lose a megaton or two in yield) when detonated. That very question brought the brightest minds in the U.S. weapons complex together in 2006 to determine the lifespan of plutonium pits in the U.S. arsenal. Their findings, which were peer reviewed by the JASONS, were that the plutonium in most nuclear weapons would be "reliable" for at least 100 years, and that "the majority of plutonium pits for most nuclear weapons types have minimum lifetimes of at least 85 years." Hmmmm...

The vast majority of U.S. deployed nuclear warheads are cruising the seven seas in Trident submarine launch tubes waiting patiently to unleash their hellish fury. The Trident D-5 missile was first deployed in 1990. The relatively young warheads on these missiles coupled with the fact that sea-based missiles are currently the "centerpiece" of the U.S. nuclear arsenal would counter any argument for a need to build new pits. We simply do not need them; the warheads of the U.S. premier "deterrent" force (Trident) are so new that you can almost still smell the fresh paint!

Tell President Obama that we have plenty of nuclear weapons (too many in fact), and that if we can't do away with all of them long before they reach their "use by" dates, the world will be in deep trouble. Now is the time to act decisively for disarmament and non-proliferation. And while you are at it, tell your members of Congress.

Email President Obama at http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/.

Find your Congressional contact info at http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml.



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