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The Military United States Technology

US Should Cancel Plutonium Plant, Say Scientists 214

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Rachel Oswald reports that the Union of Concerned Scientists, an independent science advocacy organization, says that the United States should cancel plans to build a multi-billion dollar plutonium research facility in New Mexico and criticizes Obama administration plans for nuclear facilities and weapons. They argue that the plans to build new fissile-material handling plants are unnecessarily ambitious given the expected future downward trajectory of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement plant (CMRR) building at Los Alamos would replace a Cold War-era site at a cost of $6 billion. It is intended to assist in ensuring new and existing plutonium pits are in working order absent a return by the country to nuclear-weapons testing. The 81-page UCS report, 'Making Smart Security Choices,' (PDF) says if the U.S. carries out limited reductions of its nuclear arsenal over the next-quarter century — as President Obama has said he would like to do — current facilities at Los Alamos can produce sufficient plutonium cores to maintain the warhead stockpile. The CMRR complex is designed to have the capacity to produce between 50 and 80 plutonium pits annually even though no more than 50 cores are needed yearly and Los Alamos currently has that production capability, says report co-author Lisbeth Gronlund. 'The idea that you would need to produce up to 80 [cores] is not warranted,' says Gronlund. 'We think it's time just to cancel the whole thing.'"
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US Should Cancel Plutonium Plant, Say Scientists

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  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) * on Saturday October 19, 2013 @03:03PM (#45176563) Journal

    .... while the US, UK, and France haven't fielded new warheads or delivery systems since the 90s. Russia has deployed new ICBMs, a whole new class of SSBN, she just tested an "ICBM" that may well be a IRBM in disguise (running afoul of the INF in the process), and nobody is quite sure what China is up to with her nuclear arsenal. The latter bit is particularly troubling, at least with the Russians there's a diplomatic framework in place for each side to verify what the other has. The size of China's arsenal and her deployed delivery systems is a huge geopolitical question mark.

    The West needs to maintain a credible deterrence force; this means modern warheads and delivery systems. At the same time, we really ought to be making an effort to bring China into a disarmament and verification diplomatic framework, the kind we've had with the Russians for decades. It baffles me that none of our leaders talk about China when discussing nuclear weapons policy.

    • by nojayuk ( 567177 ) on Saturday October 19, 2013 @03:37PM (#45176779)

      The USAF test-fired one or more missiles recently, it caused a delay for the SpaceX Falcon launch from Vandenberg last month. The missiles in stock will do the job if called upon. There doesn't seem to be any real necessity for a brand-new missile to replace the existing fleet other than as the existing hardware ages out. Any new models would have the same basic capabilities as the older Minuteman III designs so other than fitting them with larger tailfins and spending a lot of money with defence contractors why bother?

      The US has very good warheads; over half of all nuclear weapons tests since 1945 have been carried out by the US and there really isn't much room for improvement or a real need to develop new warhead designs. The focus is on maintaining the existing arsenal in a working condition which is what the new Pu facility mentioned in the article is intended to do from what I understand.

      As for China its long-range missiles are 1970s technology, liquid-fuelled multistage designs which are cumbersome and vulnerable to pre-emptive attack. They have no SSBN capabilities despite spending a lot of money and effort in trying to develop that capability and they have no long-range bomber force either. China probably has about the same number of nuclear weapons as France or Britain, less than a tenth of the arsenal the US or Russia hold. Bringing them into a START process would be pointless - what counterbalancing incentive could the US offer to the Chinese to get them to reduce their current holdings from 250 warheads down to, say, 100? The US and Russia can negotiate as equals as they have similar stockpiles, the Chinese are a second-rate nuclear force in that regard.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Shakrai ( 717556 ) *

        Why confine the conversation to ICBMs? They are the least destabilizing nuclear weapons delivery system. China's growing stockpile of short and intermediate range missiles are far more worrisome. They directly threaten our friends in Asia (Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore, etc.), the Russians, and even American soil (Guam and the Marianas)

        Russia has been making rumblings for a few years now about withdrawing from the INF treaty. A lot of analysts blame the US Missile Defense progr

        • by nojayuk ( 567177 ) on Saturday October 19, 2013 @04:26PM (#45177059)

          The Ohios and their replacements are a platform, not a missile or a warhead. The new SSBNs will carry a Trident derivative, probably a slightly tweaked version of the D5 (as will the postulated replacement for the British SSBNs) and the warheads will be the same designs with the same yield and functionality as currently deployed because there is nothing to be gained in spending 50 billion dollars to develop and produce missiles and warheads that would be only fractionally better than what they replace.

          A the moment the Chinese have no usable SSBNs never mind the small number (three minimum, one on patrol, one working up, one being refitted and if possible one spare above that) needed to maintain a credible second-strike worldwide retaliatory capability all the other members of the Big Five possess.

          As for the capabilities of missile systems the Chinese see India and Russia as their most likely nuclear foes in any future shooting war; unlike the insular and isolated US such exchanges can and probably would be conducted with IRBMs and nuclear-capable cruise missiles hence their interest in developing such weapons and the lesser regard they have for ICBMs and SSBNs.

          None of the other Big Five nations or the adjunct non-NPT nations with proven nuclear weapons (Israel, India and Pakistan) allow outside inspection and verification of their warhead stocks; the START deal is purely between the two 800-lb gorillas in the nuclear destruction biz. Just because China is big doesn't mean it's on the same scale as the US and Russia; I'd worry more about India's nuclear weapons stocks as they face an existential threat from their nuclear rivals, Pakistan.

          • by khallow ( 566160 )

            I'd worry more about India's nuclear weapons stocks as they face an existential threat from their nuclear rivals, Pakistan and China.

            Fixed it for you. Recall that India developed its first nuclear bomb in response to the Chinese not the Pakistanis. And that India also shares a common border with China.

            A the moment the Chinese have no usable SSBNs never mind the small number (three minimum, one on patrol, one working up, one being refitted and if possible one spare above that) needed to maintain a credible second-strike worldwide retaliatory capability all the other members of the Big Five possess.

            "At the moment." It's clear that China is working hard to change this and that they have the resources to do so. My view is that China will be a true superpower inside of 50 years and when it does, it will have a considerable nuclear capability of some sort. How much and the nature of the delivery systems will depend on who's in charge the

            • by nojayuk ( 567177 )

              I did mention that China and India have a shared border (and with Kashmir too, of course). However they are not shooting at each other at the moment which is not the case with India and Pakistan over Kashmir. I sometimes claim the first real nuclear war was between India and Pakistan in 1998 but it was carried out underground and nobody was killed, when both countries tested several devices with a few days of each other to prove their nuclear capabilities.

              I'm not sure that China will become a military and n

        • The Ohios need to be replaced. The hulls can only be used for so long. The oldest of them is over 30 years old already. Any replacement will need to be done using modern manufacturing processes and techniques. So there is talk about modifying the more modern Virginia submarine class to suit that role.

          IMO the French are the ones who have improved their submarine and SLBM technology more quickly. Technology which they may be sharing in the recent future with Brazil. While Brazil does not have any history of c

        • by Empiric ( 675968 )

          Neither the U.S. nor Russia has been able to defeat a bunch of desert-dwellers with rifles during either country's sustained military campaigns.

          Such asymmetric warfare would the the last thing to overcome, waged likely better by standard U.S. citizens than the Taliban, -if- they survived all the ICBM's, sub-launched missiles, stealth and conventional bombers, Army, and Marines--to name a few.

          Engaging in such a thing would only be a catastrophically foolish thing for any country to attempt, and they know it.

          • I think you are ignoring a purpose of the ICMB and sub launched missiles. You are correct that both Russia and the US has failed to defeat a bunch of desert-dwellers with rifles during either country's sustained military campaigns. But while that is called war, it pales in comparison to wars we traditionally waged like WWI and WWII and before.

            We have had a hard time in any war in which we didn't go all out on and instead attempted to protect the populous or portions of an area. But because of ICBMs and the

      • You are wrong in several counts. Topol-M and several other more recent designs are built specifically with counter-measures against ABM systems which cannot be easily retrofitted into Minuteman III. Remember the spirals over Norway? Not to mention that Minuteman III is silo based and hence highly vulnerable to a preemptive attack while Topol-M is road mobile.

        IMO the main deterrent the US has today is Trident. Minuteman is mainly useful as a deterrent against states which have embryonic or non-existent missi

        • by nojayuk ( 567177 )

          The Topol-M missile has a shorter range than the Minuteman III and the road-mobile Topol-M version is believed to be less capable than the siloed version as well as being obviously more vulnerable to nuclear airbursts compared to the silo-protected base Topol-M and Minuteman III. The extra maneuverability functions designed to avoid threatened US ABM deployments eats into payload which isn't a problem for the Minuteman III mission of course. Most of the other currently deployed Russian ICBMs like the SS-N-1

          • Russia has a larger landmass than the US so their missiles do not need to have the same range to achieve global coverage. Yes the Russians still have large amounts of ancient liquid fueled rockets in silos but those are proposed to be replaced with the RS-24 Yars missile which is operational and in production since 2010. The US did have a plan for the road mobile Midgetman missile at one point in the 1980s but it was canceled for budgetary reasons.

            With silos the only questions are how accurate and how big i

    • China's arsenal is small, that's why it isn't discussed much. You confuse warheads and delivery systems. What new warheads are there? What difference would a "new" warhead design make? none, that's what. We don't need to make any new warheads, we have plenty and they are maintained.

    • Are you really serious??? So because China a Russia are blowing money and resources on making new nukes, the US had better do it too?

      For fucks sake man, the US has near-as-makes-no-difference 8000 nuclear weapons. Even if they were the original style we dropped on Japan, who fucking cares???
      It is a nuke and there are 8000 tries to get somewhat near a target.
      No, I am sure you are right. China will say, Hey Russia let's attack the US with nukes because they have only 8000 bombs from the 90's.

      Brainwashed much?

  • by ArbitraryName ( 3391191 ) on Saturday October 19, 2013 @03:05PM (#45176579)
    I thought we needed to restart plutonium production for spacecraft RTGs?
  • I don't get it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by khallow ( 566160 ) on Saturday October 19, 2013 @03:08PM (#45176589)
    What makes this "unnecessarily" ambitious rather than "necessarily" ambitious? Overwhelming nuclear force by a foe remains a means of defeating a MAD strategy. You can't counter that unless you have the capability to expand your own nuclear force in response.
    • That would be the US's cyber weapons platform. If any other countries try to build a nuclear weapons stockpile, they end up having to shut down their facilities due to all the viruses. This is one of the few cases in which weakening the other side really is a more viable and ecological strategy than building up your own strength.

    • by osu-neko ( 2604 )

      What makes this "unnecessarily" ambitious rather than "necessarily" ambitious? Overwhelming nuclear force by a foe remains a means of defeating a MAD strategy. You can't counter that unless you have the capability to expand your own nuclear force in response.

      Right, and we already have that capability. Thus, the new facility is unnecessary.

      As an aside, we are signatories of the NPT [wikipedia.org]. We can hardly go around beating other countries over head for violating the treaty when we ourselves are violating our obligations under it. If we don't want new nuclear weapons being developed by previously non-nuclear nations, or nuclear nations giving nukes to others, it behooves us to live up to our obligations under the same treaty to reduce our own nuclear arsenal. If we're

      • by khallow ( 566160 )

        If we're not planning on reducing our arsenal anymore, then we're already in violation of the treaty, so we might as well stop complaining when our enemies start developing their own weapons.

        Why is that implied? The problem here is that if you do have to expand your nuclear force for purpose of survival MAD-wise, whether in violation of the treaty or not, then you need to have some capability in place to do so.

    • There is no means of defeating a MAD strategy. Your enemy can only get so dead, and the same goes with you.

      • by khallow ( 566160 )

        There is no means of defeating a MAD strategy. Your enemy can only get so dead, and the same goes with you.

        The problem with that assertion is that even a full blown nuclear war doesn't get you dead enough. The USSR thought there was considerable advantage to the strategy I mentioned, resulting in their strategy of building up nuclear forces throughout the 70s and early 80s. If the US hadn't countered by building up its own nuclear forces, then things might have gotten a lot hairier in the late 80s.

        A foe knowing that the US has the potential in place to rebuild a large nuclear force in a short span of time is

  • by Astrophysician ( 1566619 ) on Saturday October 19, 2013 @03:15PM (#45176637) Homepage
    What about using this to make scientific-grade plutonium for ourselves? There has been some [wired.com] news lately that the US has only a few dozen kilograms of non-weapons-grade plutonium left, putting the future of NASA's deep-space exploration program. If we had access to a dependable supplies, we might be able to really think about missions to Europa, Enceladus, and other places in the solar system where life may exist.
  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Saturday October 19, 2013 @03:17PM (#45176645)
    All the while [wired.com], NASA's Plutonium shortage [en.ria.ru] is threatening the future of deep space exploration.
  • Blech (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jiro ( 131519 ) on Saturday October 19, 2013 @03:28PM (#45176717)

    The Union of Concerned Scientists includes some scientists, but is an anti-nuclear political organization. This headline is like saying "Teenagers have unhealthy fantasies playing D&D, say mothers" amd omitting from the headline that "mothers" really refers to "Mothers Against Dungeons and Dragons".

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      First comment I've seen noting what the UCS really is and where is said comment? 3/4 down the page. Sigh.
    • This exactly.

      Can we please stop using the term "scientists" in headlines? Anybody can call themselves a scientist (whether or not they are a competent one,) and scientists usually work for a particular organization - name that organization instead.

    • I thought it was Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, not Mothers Against Dungeons and Dragons... so hard to keep track these days...

    • See also: Weasel Words [wikipedia.org].
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Mendenhall ( 32321 )

      The Union of Concerned Scientists includes some scientists, but is an anti-nuclear political organization. This headline is like saying "Teenagers have unhealthy fantasies playing D&D, say mothers" amd omitting from the headline that "mothers" really refers to "Mothers Against Dungeons and Dragons".

      This is not even close to correct about the policies of UCS. See:

      http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear_power/
      and
      http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear_power/nuclear-power-and-our-energy-choices/nuclear-power-and-global-warming/house-testimony-on-nuclear.html

      They are very strongly looking at nuclear safety issues, but specifically are neither pro-or-con on nuclear power itself. The organization does a great deal of research into all matters related to energy and safety and sustainability issues. They are well aware of the

      • by Jiro ( 131519 )

        I stand corrected, somewhat. However, they are definitely a left-wing politcal organization and have opposed most forms of nuclear power in practice. Referring to a political organization as "scientists" in a headline is misleading.

        As for Mothers against D&D it may very well be a mistake, so if you like, change the example. You wouldn't have a headline saying "Muslims a danger, say the British" without mentioning that "British" refers to the British National Party.

    • by Kohath ( 38547 )

      Union of Concerned Scientists [discoverthenetworks.org]

  • What no one seems to get is that no one in federal government(*) cares what's right for society, for the people, or even for their own survival.

    The purpose of government is to siphon funds away from individuals and give it to corporations. That's the length and breadth of it, there are no other considerations.

    The purpose of airport security is to give money to scanner companies. (Oh, these scanners don't work? We'll throw them out and purchase your newer model.) The purpose of Obamacare is to give money to

  • neutral? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by onyxruby ( 118189 ) <onyxrubyNO@SPAMcomcast.net> on Saturday October 19, 2013 @03:44PM (#45176815)

    The union of concerned scientists is effectively a front for Greenpeace. They are rabidly anti-nuclear in any regard. It's a bit like saying your going to claim the Tea Party to be neutral on taxes.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Thirty seconds worth of Googling shows that the Union of Concerned Scientists is an environmental business, like Greenpeace, not "an independent science advocacy organization." Is it really a news story than a bunch of environmentalists are anti-nuke?

    • by mvdwege ( 243851 )

      Not toeing the Military-Industrial Complex' party line seems pretty bloody independent to me

  • I want my wmd.
    And I want it now!

  • We are having a huge shortage of several forms of plutonium and some of the other byproducts of nuclear fission (helium for example) in several of our scientific fields. Most of the cold-war era plants have shut down because we don't want any more weapons nor the risk of clean nuclear energy from the 70s, we'd rather set back medical imaging and energy production back a century than have safe -BUT NUCULAR- (and 50 years more progressive than the current average nuclear plant) energy production in our backyard.

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