Article 43


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Bad Moon Rising Part 11 - New US H-Bomb



Lawrence Livermore Plans New H-bomb
By Ian Hoffman
Inside Bay Area
March 5, 2007

BUSH administration officials on Friday launched California nuclear weapons scientists on designing the nation’s first H-bomb in more than 20 years.

The decision marked the biggest step yet toward a controversial plan for wholesale replacement of the fully tested U.S. nuclear arsenal with bombs and warheads of the same military missions but redesigned for greater hardiness, safety and security.

For the first “reliable, replacement warhead” designated RRW1 - federal weapons officials chose a highly conservative design produced by a team at Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Laboratories-California over a more free-wheeling design offered by Los Alamos lab and Sandia labs in New Mexico.

The warhead would replace the most numerous nuclear warhead in the U.S. arsenal, the W76, which rides atop missiles on submarines in the Pacific and Atlantic.

Bruce Goodwin, the aeronautics engineer and nuclear bomb designer who heads the weapons program at Livermore, said he and his team were “honored” by the selection. Competing designers at Los Alamos had won the last two races for supplying Navy submarine warheads in the 1970s and 1980s, carving out a near monopoly on U.S. ballistic missile warheads and garnering responsibility for about three-fourths of active U.S. weapons.

That’s always been a sore point for Livermore designers, partly because most modern Los Alamos weapons drew heavily on Livermore innovations yet Livermore had responsibility for fewer weapons to justify its existence. On Friday, Livermore flirted with an end to its dry spell, which began with deployment of its last warhead, the land-based W87, in 1986.

“I’m personally humbled by this. It’s a huge responsibility,” said Goodwin. “I look forward to serving the Navy and getting their weapon out for them.”

The California scientists and engineers now will spend the next eight to 12 months refining their design from roughly a large phone book-sized tome of secret blueprints and specifications into a full-blown study of engineering schedules and manufacturing costs. If approved at two or more stages by Congress, taking the design through prototyping to mass production would take at least six years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than $700 million by one congressional estimate.

Federal weapons officials argue that the hardier warheads would reduce the likelihood of a return to nuclear testing and allow deep cuts in the thousands of warheads stored in reserve as insurance against unexpected breakdown.

So far, federal lawmakers with jurisdiction over nuclear weapons are distracted by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or divided over whether now is the right time to begin buying a new nuclear arsenal when weapons scientists routinely have declared the existing arsenal to be reliable, safe and secure.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, suggested that pursuing the new warheads “could serve to encourage the very proliferation we are trying to prevent” in Iran, North Korea and elsewhere.

“There is a long history of this administration seeking to reopen the nuclear door, and I am 100 percent opposed to this,” she said in a statement. “While I’m flattered that Lawrence Livermore was selected, this in no way answers my questions about the Reliable Replacement Warhead program.”

Two key House members, Reps. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, and John Spratt, D-S.C., have talked of a “grand bargain” that would give the green light to producing the replacement arsenal in exchange for a firm, legal commitment to a nuclear test ban and perhaps sharper reductions in the overall size of the U.S. arsenal.

Other House colleagues are more critical.

“This announcement puts the cart before the horse,” Rep. Pete Visclosky, the Indiana Democrat who chairs the influential House energy and water appropriations committee, said in a statement.

“Although a lot of time and energy went in(to) determining the winning design for a new nuclear warhead, there appears to have been little thought given to the question of WHY the United States needs to build new nuclear warheads at this time.”

So far, Visclosky said, the administration has not supplied a “national security imperative for the RRW. We are not going to begin building more nuclear bombs without a serious and open national debate on that policy question.”

The main problem that critics have with replacing the existing U.S. arsenal is that nothing appears to be wrong with it. Last November, an outside panel of experts reviewing studies by the weapons labs reported that the most sensitive components of the weapons, their plutonium fission cores, last at least 85 years and in most cases more than a century, much longer than most experts suspected.

But weapons lab executives and federal officials say replicating the bombs’ Cold War parts is expensive and that at least one component of the bombs is aging faster than anyone can replace ח the designers themselves. The RRWs are intended to help train a new generation of weapons scientists and engineers.

The other problem that critics have is that the replacement arsenal would not be tested in a nuclear explosion. Federal weapons managers sidestepped that criticism in selecting the California design.

Unlike Los Alamos’ RRW design, which was a compendium of new-fangled features that had been tested but not together, Livermore’s bomb was hardly new at all, but recycled from the Cold War.

The head of the bomb’s original design team from the 1980s doesn’t think much of the new replacement warhead idea, but he’s pretty sure the Livermore bomb won’t ever need testing and can be modified again and again with confidence.

Physicist Seymour Sack, now retired at age 77, has 85 nuclear tests to his name and contributed more to the U.S. arsenal than any surviving designer.

“The overall rationale for RRW is about different things for different people, and I don’t know that all of them make sense. But picking this design makes a good common-sense decision,” Sack said Friday by phone. “It’s a design that performed very well by any standards, and whether it’s necessary or not, at least the entry that’s been chosen is reliable with super high confidence.”


Bad Moon Rising
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5
Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8 - Part 9 - Part 10
Part 11 - Part 12 - Part 13 - Part 14 - Part 15
Part 16 - Part 17 - Part 18 - Part 19 - Part 20
Part 21 - Part 22 - Part 23 - Part 24 - Part 25
Part 26 - Part 27 - Part 28 - Part 29 - Part 30
Part 31 - Part 32 - Part 33 - Part 34 - Part 35
Part 36 - Part 37 - Part 38 - Part 39 - Part 40
Part 41 - Part 42 - Part 43 - Part 44 - Part 45
Part 46 - Part 47 - Part 48 - Part 49 - Part 50
Part 51 - Part 52 - Part 53 - Part 54

Posted by Elvis on 03/07/07 •
Section Bad Moon Rising
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