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"Reliable Replacement Warhead" Program Could Cost Billions, Diminish U.S. Security, Result in New Nuclear Weapons Designs Less Safe and Reliable Than the Current Arsenal

link to the report (182 KB pdf)      link to the report cover (2.7 MB pdf)

The United States is embarking on a major program that could launch the nation down a "slippery slope" to developing new nuclear weapons, according to a new study released today.

The report, "The Reliable Replacement Warhead Program: A Slippery Slope to New Nuclear Weapons," provides the first comprehensive review of an emerging Department of Energy (DOE) initiative that could "significantly harm our national security, disrupt international cooperation in non-proliferation and diminish pressure on North Korea and Iran to forego their nuclear programs," according to Dr. Robert Civiak, the study's author. Dr. Civiak finds the RRW program may, ultimately, lead to a resumption of full-scale nuclear weapons testing.

Dr. Civiak is a physicist who served for more than a decade in the White House Office of Management and Budget as Program Examiner for DOE national security programs, including Stockpile Stewardship. He also served as a Visiting Scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Joining Dr. Civiak in a teleconference to release the report was Marylia Kelley, Executive Director of Tri-Valley CAREs, the Livermore, California-based DOE "watchdog" group that sponsored the study.

Congress initiated the RRW program in fiscal year 2005 with $9 million and gave direction in the form of a single sentence stating the lawmakers' intent to limit the program to "improving the reliability, longevity, and certifiability of existing weapons and their components." For fiscal year 2006, Congress appropriated $25 million for the RRW program.

"There is a wide chasm between the RRW program Congress believes it is funding and the more aggressive program that the DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration and weapons labs are planning," charged Dr. Civiak. "The weapons labs' goal is a multi-billion dollar enterprise to redesign and replace every nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal." The study warns that Congress will not be able to control the extent of new warhead design in the RRW program without cutting its funding.

"Dr. Civiak's study is both needed and extremely timely," commented Ms. Kelley. "President Bush is expected to highlight non-proliferation challenges like Iran in the upcoming State of the Union address, just before sending his own nuclear weapons budget to Congress in early February. To decry another's nuclear program while readying a budget request that will significantly ramp up one's own is a strategy that is sadly doomed to failure," Kelley added.

Concurrent with the budget release, Tri-Valley CAREs will send a copy of the report to each Member of Congress and to relevant committee staff. "We are recommending that Congress cut the RRW program," said Kelley. "We believe Congress is being asked to buy a 'pig in a poke' in the form of a dangerous, new nuclear weapons program with uncertain boundaries on warhead design and dubious, if any, limitation on the outcome."

"The Reliable Replacement Warhead Program?" finds that there is no need for any replacement program. "The existing stockpile is extremely safe, secure and reliable," Dr. Civiak said. "New warheads resulting from the RRW program might well wind up being less safe and reliable than existing warheads."

For example, adding more plutonium to the "pit" can degrade a nuclear weapon's safety and increase the chance that some of the material could explode or spread in an accident. Changes in a nuclear weapon's core may alter characteristics that were fully tested before each design was certified to be safe and reliable.

"This is why the Department of Defense would likely demand that any new replacement warhead undergo full nuclear explosive tests before the agency would accept it into the stockpile," Civiak explained. "If the U.S. were to conduct even a single full-scale nuclear weapons test, other nations would surely follow suit, which could lead to a new arms race. The danger this would impart to the international non-proliferation regime would far exceed any conceivable advantage the U.S. would gain from new nuclear weapons."

"The U.S. weapons labs are advocating this program for job security not national security," Dr. Civiak concluded. "It will severely damage the latter."


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