Reliable Replacement Warhead Program Will Lead to New Nukes

Reliable Replacement Warhead Program Will Lead to New Nukes

In a recently released report, Dr. Robert Civiak analyzes the Reliable Replacement Warhead program (RRW) implemented by the Department of Energy (DOE). The report finds that the RRW program could cost billions of dollars, lead to new nuclear weapons, require a resumption of testing and diminish U.S. security.

The RRW program was originally funded by Congress to improve "the reliability, longevity, and certifiability of existing weapons and their components." This language implies that the program would only extend the life of the existing stockpile without making significant enhancements to its capabilities. However, there are already programs, such as the Stockpile Stewardship and Life Extension Programs, which are intended to maintain the current stockpile. In this light the RRW program is redundant. The report also notes that recent DOE studies have found that plutonium stabilizes with age so that the current stockpile will become more reliable over time, rather than less.

The vision of DOE administrator Linton Brooks differs from that of Congress. In a recent interview, Brooks stated that the program would provide weapons for a changing defense mission. Brooks said, "I will personally be very surprised if we can get the advantages we want without redesigning the [components of the bomb that create the nuclear reaction]." This type of enhancement will require new plutonium pits, and most likely a new facility in which to build them. Furthermore, the report states that it is unlikely that the Department of Defense will allow warheads that have been significantly enhanced to be included in the stockpile without testing.

Congress appropriated $9 million for the program in fiscal year 2005 and $25 million for fiscal year 2006. However, if the program necessitate a new facility or a resumption of testing, its budget could rise to billions of dollars.

In the 2006 Energy and Water Appropriations Act, Congress required that new designs stay within the military requirements of the existing stockpile and within the parameters validated by previous nuclear tests. The report states that these limitations do not significantly restrict what can be developed with RRW program. Civiak said, if weapons labs are to interpret the language of the limitations themselves, they will most likely interpret them as loosely as possible.

In order to prevent the development of new nuclear weapons, the report recommends that Congress cancel the RRW program. However, if the program is to go forward, the report states that Congress must require a significant amount of accountability from DOE for the work done. The report recommends that Congress prohibit the use of RRW funds to significantly enhance or develop new nuclear weapons, require congressional approval before DOE makes any changes to existing warheads and appoint an independent commission to examine maintenance alternatives.

The report states that if significant developments were to be made under the RRW program it would undermine international cooperation for nonproliferation. Likewise, a resumption of nuclear testing would initiate a new arms race. The report states "the damage [developments under the RRW program] would impart to the broad non-proliferation regime would far exceed any conceivable advantage the U.S. could gain from new nuclear weapons."

Back to News Index