Category Archives: Nuclear

The Real Cost of Nuclear Deterrence

“Military critics” are already anticipating how to disembowel critical elements of the U.S. military — especially its aging nuclear deterrent — when the defense budget will be unveiled by the administration and sent to Congress February 9, 2016. In two recent essays, for instance, Gordon Adams, previously at the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton administration, and Lawrence Korb, at the Center for American Progress, are both calling for dismantling the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

Korb has long claimed that nuclear deterrence itself is obsolete. He blames U.S. nuclear modernization plans for providing an excuse for North Korea to test and build nuclear weapons of their own. It is an echo of Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s 1984 warning that when things go wrong in the world, many critics of American policy will “always blame America first.”

Korb complains that twenty years ago the U.S. Senate failed to ratify the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. And that fifteen years ago, the U.S. withdrew from the ABM treaty with the former USSR. These two actions, claims Korb, were responsible for providing the North Korea regime an incentive to test and build nuclear weapons. Any further nuclear modernization by America, claims Korb, will similarly force North Korea into more testing of nuclear weapons and building a bigger nuclear arsenal.

The Real Cost of Nuclear Deterrence

Satellites Show Mystery Construction at Iran’s Top-Secret Military Site – The Daily Beast

A series of images, taken from space, show furious construction at a key Iranian facility. Was it to hide nuclear weapons work?

Newly released satellite images of Iran’s top-secret Parchin military complex reveal that even as Iran was working to negotiate a nuclear deal, it was apparently working to hide its atomic work of the past and hedge its bets for the future.

Forecasting site Stratfor.com says the images published Monday show Iran building a tunnel into a heavily guarded mountain complex inside the Parchin facility, some 20 miles southeast of Tehran, while also working to erase signs of alleged high-explosive testing at another area on the site.

Satellites Show Mystery Construction at Iran’s Top-Secret Military Site – The Daily Beast

The keeper of America’s [nuclear] arsenal sends an S.O.S. about its deterioration

Mr. Moniz went on to note that “a majority of NNSA’s facilities [Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration] and systems are well beyond end-of-life.” Also, “infrastructure problems such as falling ceilings are increasing in frequency and severity,” as more than 50% of facilities are at least 40 years old and nearly 30% date to World War II. “The entire complex could be placed at risk if there is a failure where a single point would disrupt a critical link in infrastructure.” Yet the White House is set to request only half the funding needed for facilities between 2018 and 2021.

Higher-tech parts of the system are struggling, too. “There has been a steady decline in the performance of the nuclear weapons computer codes needed to ensure the safety, security, and reliability of the nuclear stockpile,” Mr. Moniz wrote, but the current budget seeks less than a third of what’s needed, despite an executive order on “strategic computing” issued six months ago. He added that uranium-enrichment programs and satellite systems are short some $715 million.

Mr. Moniz’s Nuclear Warning – WSJ

Report: US starting to think North Korea might have tested hydrogen-bomb components – Business Insider

According to CNN, inconclusive sampling of air near the test site by US spy aircraft, along with the unusual depth at which the test is believed to have occurred, have led some US officials to suspect that North Korea actually did test elements of a hydrogen device.

“The test was conducted more than two times deeper underground than originally assessed — at a depth consistent with what might be needed for a hydrogen bomb,” CNN reports, while cautioning that “the size of the seismic event and other intelligence indicates it was not likely a fully functioning device.”

Seismic information indicates that North Korea tested a weapon with a comparable explosive yield to the nuclear device the country detonated during its last previous test in 2013 — a 10-kiloton bomb that created a fireball one-fifth of a mile wide. After the January 6 test, numerous arms-control experts said it was highly unlikely that North Korea had tested a hydrogen bomb, though possible it had tested a more typical fission-based atomic weapon “boosted” with hydrogen isotopes for increased yield.

Report: US starting to think North Korea might have tested hydrogen-bomb components – Business Insider

The Other Dangers From That North Korean Nuke Test – WSJ

Unless the North Koreans were lying through their teeth when they claimed it was a hydrogen explosion, there is another possibility—one with lower technological demands, but still potent implications. A small amount of thermonuclear fuel, say a tenth of an ounce, inserted into a so-to-speak standard fission warhead can markedly improve its performance while allowing a very substantial reduction in weight. Known as a “boosted” fission weapon, it was invented in the late 1940s at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the U.S., so the technology is nearly 70 years old.Boosted fission technology results in lighter warheads, which means they can fit on missiles. It also—and most concerning for those of us in the nonproliferation business—permits a fission bomb to use any type of plutonium, including so-called reactor-grade, without degradation in performance.

Here’s how it works: When about 1% of the fission reaction has taken place, the thermonuclear fuel—deuterium and tritium (doubly and triply heavy hydrogen)—reacts and floods the remaining nuclear explosive with neutrons. Thus, the weapon needs less conventional explosive to trigger the nuclear reaction, and less heavy material surrounding it to keep it together long enough for the fission to take place. With a boosted weapon there is no concern about stray neutrons starting the fission chain reaction too early and having the bomb blow apart before attaining full yield.

The Other Dangers From That North Korean Nuke Test – WSJ

You can bet that Iran is learning everything North Korea knows. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are sharing data on a regular basis if not working together.

As U.S. Modernizes Nuclear Weapons, ‘Smaller’ Leaves Some Uneasy – The New York Times

The build-it-smaller approach has set off a philosophical clash among those in Washington who think about the unthinkable.

Mr. Obama has long advocated a “nuclear-free world.” His lieutenants argue that modernizing existing weapons can produce a smaller and more reliable arsenal while making their use less likely because of the threat they can pose. The changes, they say, are improvements rather than wholesale redesigns, fulfilling the president’s pledge to make no new nuclear arms.

But critics, including a number of former Obama administration officials, look at the same set of facts and see a very different future. The explosive innards of the revitalized weapons may not be entirely new, they argue, but the smaller yields and better targeting can make the arms more tempting to use — even to use first, rather than in retaliation.

Gen. James E. Cartwright, a retired vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was among Mr. Obama’s most influential nuclear strategists, said he backed the upgrades because precise targeting allowed the United States to hold fewer weapons. But “what going smaller does,” he acknowledged, “is to make the weapon more thinkable.”

As U.S. Modernizes Nuclear Weapons, ‘Smaller’ Leaves Some Uneasy – The New York Times

Planning for Armageddon – Washington Free Beacon

American nuclear policy and strategy has largely been marginalized since the end of the Cold War, regarded as a relic from another time. Brad Roberts thinks otherwise, however, and articulates in his new and important book The Case for U.S. Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century why nuclear weapons are still essential to America’s security and interests, as well as to global stability.

Having served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy from 2009 to 2013, Roberts has unique insight into how the United States utilizes its nuclear deterrent and, just as importantly, how America’s adversaries use their nuclear arsenals to further their interests.

The main argument of the book is that nuclear weapons still play a crucial and necessary role for U.S. strategic policy, and thus, Washington should not take any unilateral steps to reduce its nuclear arsenal beyond the levels set by the 2010 New START Treaty with Russia. This is mainly because the United States “is apparently alone among the states with nuclear weapons to believe that it has more nuclear weapons than it needs.” Roberts advocates for a balanced approach to nuclear strategy in which the United States utilizes political and legal means like arms control and nonproliferation to mitigate threats as it simultaneously uses military means to keep a strong nuclear deterrent while nuclear weapons exist.

Planning for Armageddon – Washington Free Beacon

Experts worry that India is creating new fuel for an arsenal of H-bombs – Yahoo News

Only after construction on the site began that year did it finally become clear that two secretive agencies were behind a project that experts say will be the subcontinent’s largest military-run complex of nuclear centrifuges, atomic research laboratories and weapons and aircraft testing facilities. Among the project’s aims: to expand the government’s nuclear research, to produce fuel for India’s nuclear reactors, and to help power the country’s fleet of new submarines, one of which underwent sea trials in 2014.

But another, more controversial ambition, according to retired Indian government officials and independent experts in London and Washington, is to give India an extra stockpile of enriched uranium fuel that could — if India so decides — be used in new hydrogen bombs (also known as thermonuclear weapons), substantially increasing the explosive force of those in its existing nuclear arsenal.

Experts worry that India is creating new fuel for an arsenal of H-bombs – Yahoo News

Putin Tells Defense Chiefs to Strengthen Russian Nuclear Forces – Bloomberg Business

President Vladimir Putin ordered defense chiefs to strengthen Russia’s strategic nuclear forces amid rising tensions with the U.S. over the global balance of power.

New weapons should go to “all parts” of the nuclear triad of air, sea, and land forces, Putin told a Defense Ministry meeting in Moscow on Friday. Action must also be taken “to improve the effectiveness of missile-attack warning systems and aerospace defense.”

Russia’s military will have five new nuclear regiments equipped with modern missile complexes next year, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told the same meeting. More than 95 percent of the country’s nuclear forces are at a permanent state of readiness, he said.

Putin Tells Defense Chiefs to Strengthen Russian Nuclear Forces – Bloomberg Business

The End of Arms Control in the Second Nuclear Age?

Between 1972 and 2015, the number of U.S. and Russian deployed strategic nuclear weapons peaked at roughly 13,000 in each country’s arsenal, then declined to between 1,800-2,500. This reduction represents a cut of more than 80% in their respective deployed arsenals, a remarkable accomplishment.

Despite this progress, advocates of what is termed “global zero” are pressing the United States to reduce even further its deployed and stockpiled weapons to no more than 500-1000 strategic weapons.

The problem, if examined closely, is that such proposals will simply make the military balance between the two nuclear powers, Russia and the United States, highly unstable.

The Russians have between 2,000-6,000 tactical, or theater, nuclear weapons while the United States deploys 500 such weapons — all in the NATO European Theater.

A second area that concerns the Admiral is that Russia also has the capability to build upwards of 2,000 new nuclear warheads a year. The United States cannot at the moment produce nuclear warheads on a sustained basis beyond 10 or 12 a year, although there are approved plans to build a “responsive” nuclear infrastructure capable of doing more in the future.

While Moscow’s nuclear arsenal exceeds that of the United States, there is no current arms control agreement to address these disparities. Monitoring such small nuclear weapons and weapons production capability by satellite is nearly impossible. Thus, the assurances that the U.S. can always “verify” deals with its adversaries is totally inoperable in this case.

The End of Arms Control in the Second Nuclear Age?