Another century of nuclear weapons — how is that good news?

The Deproliferator

The Arms Control Organization’s Darryl Kimball explains:

. . . the Department of Energy announced in 2006 that studies by Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories show that the plutonium primaries, or pits, of most U.S. nuclear weapons “will have minimum lifetimes of at least 85 years,” which is about twice as long as previous official estimates.

Contrary to the myth perpetuated by some CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] critics, maintaining the reliability of proven U.S. nuclear warhead designs does not depend on a program of nuclear test explosions. Instead, the existing U.S. nuclear arsenal has been maintained and modernized through non-nuclear tests and evaluations, combined with the replacement or remanufacture of key components to previous design specifications. …

According to weapons physicist Richard Garwin, the new evidence on the longevity of weapons plutonium “has removed any urgency to engineer and manufacture new design replacement warheads.” Garwin says the continued performance of legacy warheads can be more reliably certified than new ones. [Emphasis added.].

In other words, because current nuclear weapons are in the prime of their life, there’s no need to develop and manufacture new models. Wait, if they’re still years from retirement, aren’t we still stuck with the threat of being blown to kingdom come for the foreseeable future? Business as usual, in other words.

True, but the CTBT is only one tool in the box and if it halts nuclear progress, it’s performed its function. Actually rolling back nuclear weapons has, of course, been the domain of START-1 and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. In a matter of days, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss a new arms reduction deal to replace START-1, which expires at the end of the year. The next NPT review conference is scheduled for next year.

Meanwhile the United States Senate needs to step up to the plate and ratify the CTBT. As Kimball says:

With Obama’s leadership, bipartisan support from opinion leaders, and significant improvements in the ability to maintain the U.S. nuclear arsenal and detect nuclear test explosions, the case for the CTBT is stronger than ever.

Cross-posted at Newshoggers.

1 reply »

  1. Here’s to hoping that Obama and his team get this one right…lord knows that they need to get something right pretty soon.