Report Urges U.S. to Reduce Number of Labs Doing Nuclear-Weapon Work

(Apr. 9) -An independent proposal would restrict U.S. nuclear-weapon work to three sites, ending high-explosives testing at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory photo).
(Apr. 9) -An independent proposal would restrict U.S. nuclear-weapon work to three sites, ending high-explosives testing at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory photo).

A coalition of nuclear watchdog organizations released a report yesterday urging the Obama administration to end nuclear-weapon work at all but three national laboratories while halting any research aimed at improving the weapons' capabilities, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, March 5).

The United States should remake its atomic arsenal with a strict focus on deterring direct attacks on the nation, a mission that would require a nuclear stockpile of 500 weapons, one-tenth its present estimated size, according to the report released by the Nuclear Weapons Complex Consolidation Policy Network.

"We're going to maintain weapons the way they are, not try to improve them," said Robert Civiak, lead author of the report.

The authors called for a new "curator" program to assume the National Nuclear Security Administration's responsibility of managing the U.S. nuclear stockpile. The report accuses the semiautonomous Energy Department organization of pursuing new military functions for the country's nuclear weapons rather than a policy of simple life extension.

The agency should take on a new role rather than being dissolved, the network said, suggesting that nuclear-weapon sites in California, Tennessee and South Carolina refocus on alternative energy studies and other nonmilitary research. By 2025, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico should take over all nuclear weapons tracking and assessments, the Sandia National Laboratories in the same state should handle all engineering work, and weapons storage and dismantling duties should be centralized at the Pantex Plant in Texas, the report says.

By consolidating the laboratories and canceling new facilities planned at Los Alamos, Kansas City, Mo., and the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, the United States could reduce its nuclear weapons budget by roughly two-thirds, said Christopher Paine, the Natural Resources Defense Council's nuclear program director, who worked on the report.

An NNSA statement defended the necessity of ensuring the arsenal's security, safety and reliability.

Every current U.S. nuclear-weapon site has special responsibilities and major restructuring "would be detrimental to national security and extremely costly to the taxpayer," said NNSA spokesman Damien LaVera.

U.S. President Barack Obama's call on Sunday to work toward worldwide nuclear disarmament "makes our recommendations a whole lot more possible than they were before," said Jay Coghlan, a member of Nuclear Watch New Mexico who also helped write the report (see GSN, April 6; Sue Major Holmes, Associated Press/San Francisco Chronicle, April 8).

April 9, 2009
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A coalition of nuclear watchdog organizations released a report yesterday urging the Obama administration to end nuclear-weapon work at all but three national laboratories while halting any research aimed at improving the weapons' capabilities, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, March 5).