Planned U.S. Nuke Updates Could Backfire: Report

A U.S. Senate analysis issued this month suggests plans to augment the safety and security capabilities of B-61 gravity bombs as part of their refurbishment might endanger the weapons' dependability over an extended period, the Albuquerque Journal reported on Tuesday (see GSN, June 16).

The Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration intends to set aside $1.6 billion through 2016 for B-61 life-extension efforts. Accounting for the process of physically updating the weapons -- a stage expected to begin in 2017 and to wrap up in the initial part of the following decade -- the refurbishment program's total expense could reach $3.9 billion, according to federal projections.

The nuclear agency "plans to incorporate untried technologies and design features to improve the safety and security of the nuclear stockpile,” says the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee analysis.

“The committee supports enhanced surety of weapon systems to avoid accidents and unauthorized use, but it should not come at the expense of long-term weapon reliability," the document states. "New safety and security features should be incorporated in weapon systems when feasible, but the primary goal … should be to increase confidence in warhead performance without underground nuclear testing.”

Bob Peurifoy, a former vice president at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, said the U.S. nuclear-weapon laboratories and the National Nuclear Security Administration are “risking a very reliable system” by seeking the modifications.

Roger Logan, a former nuclear weapons maintenance manager, said the planned updates are “the exact opposite of what should be done.”

Rather than seeking to improve the bombs, any alterations to the weapons should bring them more into line with the layouts of previously vetted systems, said Logan, who worked at the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories.

“I would much rather that the B-61 be left alone,” he said (John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal, Sept. 20).

September 21, 2011
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A U.S. Senate analysis issued this month suggests plans to augment the safety and security capabilities of B-61 gravity bombs as part of their refurbishment might endanger the weapons' dependability over an extended period, the Albuquerque Journal reported on Tuesday (see GSN, June 16).