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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 53, December 2000 - January 2001

Reports Place US Stockpile Stewardship in Critical Focus

On January 4, the US General Accounting Office released a support raising concerns over the current operation of the US nuclear weapons Stockpile Stewardship Programme (SSP). The report - Nuclear Weapons: Improved Management Needed to Implement Stockpile Stewardship Program Effectively - describes a programme behind schedule, over budget by some 70%, and hampered by considerable management and organizational difficulties. Particularly acute problems were identified with efforts to extend the life of the W87 MX strategic warhead.

Doubts over the adequacy of the SSP are related to concern over the long-term ability of the United States to maintain its nuclear weapons without full-scale, underground nuclear tests. On November 28, an article in the New York Times - 'Testing the Aging Stockpile in a Test Ban Era', by James Glanz - highlighted the issue, quoting weapons scientists from Los Alamos arguing the scientific case for a resumption of explosions. In the words of senior designer Dr. Merri Wood, stewardship without testing is "a religious exercise, not science". According to Dr. Charles Nakhleh: "The vast, vast majority [of the scientists at Los Alamos] would say there are questions you can answer relatively definitely with nuclear testing that would be very difficult to answer without nuclear testing..." The article produced a strong response from pro-CTBT scientists, including Dr. Sidney Drell, a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and Non-Proliferation Advisory Panel, who observed in an issue brief for the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers (December 1): "Scientist will always welcome more quality data, but the question is what is necessary, not what makes the job easier or what is merely useful. ... [L]ow-yield underground nuclear explosions have little to contribute, and nothing essential, relative to what US scientists are presently learning from a multi-faceted, well-supported stewardship program." Dr. Drell concludes that "relative to other countries, the US SSP is the most advanced...in existence. With unsurpassed diagnostic/simulation tools and capabilities, it affords the United States an important advantage in managing and maintaining confidence in the enduring stockpile. It is adequate to the task!"

Notes: on January 19, the Department of Energy submitted to Congress an exhaustive report on Long-Term Stewardship, available from the Department at http://www.em.doe.gov. See next issue for details and comment

At the Nevada test site on December 15, the US conducted Oboe-6, the twelfth subcritical nuclear test since the 1992 moratorium on underground nuclear tests came into effect.

Reports: Testing the aging stockpile in a test ban era, New York Times, November 28; Dr. Sidney Drell on Stockpile Stewardship under the CTBT,' Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers Issue Brief, Vol. 4, No. 20, December 1; Letters - maintaining nuclear weapons, New York Times, December 5; Subcritical experiment conducted successfully at the US Department of Energy's Nevada Test Site, Department of Energy Statement http://www.nv.doe.gov, December 14; Nuclear maintenance program plagued, Associated Press, January 13; Effort on missile upkeep falters, report finds, New York Times, January 13; Energy Department issues report to Congress on long-term stewardship of nuclear weapons complex, Department of Energy Press Release R-01-025, January 19.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.