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FOR NUCLEAR WEAPONS
National Ignition Facility at Livermore Lab Slated for Simulation of
Effects of Nuclear Explosions on Underground Targets
Despite public claims that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is being de-emphasized, Defense Department Science and Technology planning documents recently obtained by Western States Legal Foundation reveal that research continues in U.S. weapons laboratories on new ways to use nuclear weapons against a variety of targets. According to Western States Legal Foundation Program Director, Andrew Lichterman: “This research is aimed in large part at making nuclear weapons more useable, both by exploring options for use of nuclear weapons with lower yields and by better understanding their effects. The military hopes that this will provide more ways to use nuclear weapons by reducing the potential for ‘collateral damage,’ which means in most cases the killing of large numbers of civilians.” Experiments studying the effects of nuclear weapons are planned for several locations, including the controversial National Ignition Facility, now under construction at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. These plans make clear that the Department of Energy’s “Stockpile Stewardship” program, portrayed to the public as intended only to preserve the existing U.S. nuclear stockpile, is part of a continuing effort to expand both knowledge about how nuclear weapons work and the role of nuclear weapons in warfare.
The Defense Science and Technology Plans, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, consist of a number of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) science and technology planning documents prepared in 1999 and 2000. The documents are described by the DoD as presenting “the DoD S&T [Science and Technology] vision, strategy, plan, and objectives for the planners, programmers, and performers of defense S&T.” U.S. Department of Defense, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Science and Technology), 1999, Defense Technology Area Plan, p.xiii.
The “Nuclear Technology” chapter of the 1999 Defense Technology Area Plan states that a current priority is “to provide national leaders with improved options by increasing the responsiveness of strategic forces and developing more discriminate options, as done most recently with the introduction of the B61–11 earth-penetrating weapons.” (At XI-7). The B61-11 is an earth penetrating nuclear bomb with a variable yield, and is a modification of an earlier design. The modification was completed without underground explosive testing, using only the test and simulation capabilities of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) “Stockpile Stewardship” program. The same document shows plans to simulate low-yield nuclear attacks against tunnels and other underground targets (where, for example, a target nation might have command centers or missile facilities). Goals for 2001 include “Prepare attack plans for tunnel testbed #2. Demonstrate the effectiveness of nuclear weapons capabilities in defeating deep structures using precise, low-yield attacks by HE [high explosive] simulation.” Table XI-3, p. XI-9.
Part of the effort to study low-yield nuclear weapons effects on tunnels and other underground structures may be conducted at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), a huge inertial confinement fusion laser device intended for a wide range of nuclear weapons research, including the study of the effects of nuclear explosions. An additional goal listed in the Defense Technology Area Plan is to “conduct laser/fireball test in National Ignition Facility (NIF) to improve understanding in-tunnel airblast.” Table XI-5, at p.XI-14.
The NIF is slated to be used for other nuclear weapons effects tests as well, including “nuclear effects x-ray testing.” Id. And despite the controversy over whether the NIF can reach its advertised energy output goals, other documents in the set confirm earlier information that the NIF is slated for use for some types of nuclear weapons effects testing before achieving full power “FY2005: Reduced energy operation of the National Ignition Facility supports nuclear effects x-ray testing.” Defense Technology Objectives for Defense Technology Area Plan, (2000), “NT.01, Nuclear Operability and Survivability Testing Technologies,” p.II-356. Earlier this year, President Clinton told the American people and the world that
“Our nuclear weapons are no longer targeted against any country; our Army, Marine Corps, and surface and air Navy no longer deploy nuclear weapons; and our bomber force no longer stands on alert.” Statement by the President, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary March 6, 2000In reality, however, Pentagon planners are looking not to reduce the use of nuclear weapons to target perceived threats, but rather to increase their understanding of how nuclear weapons work so that the United States can use them more easily against more types of targets:
Technical challenges are presented by the rapidly developing need to hold evolving enemy targets at risk using the reduced stockpile, and recognizing greatly increasing political and environmental constraints. As a result, we must improve our understanding of weapons outputs and target interactions without underground testing, using only calculations and the ASCI [Accelerated Stategic Computing Initiative] capabilities of DOE laboratories, and apply this understanding to update effects calculational capabilities and develop innovative targeting techniques to defeat increasingly clever enemies—both national and terrorist. Defense Technology Objectives for Defense Technology Area Plan, (2000), “Nuclear Phenomenology,” p. II-372.To accomplish this, weapons lab researchers are to develop “improvements in the warfighters ability to hold at risk very hard targets with greatly reduced collateral damage. Significant new techniques for nuclear weapons effects analysis for exploitation will lead to increased confidence in the lethality of new and existing military systems.” Id.
What does this mean in plain English? According to Andrew Lichterman, it means that: “The United States is not looking for ways to phase out its nuclear weapons. It is looking for ways to use existing and new nuclear weapons systems which can overcome the ‘political and environmental constraints’ against nuclear weapons use. This means making nuclear weapons more useable, and hence more likely to be used.” He added: “These documents are disturbing when viewed together with what we already know about the direction of U.S. nuclear weapons research. It is clear that one approach to making nuclear weapons more useable is reducing their yield – developing so-called ‘mini-nukes.’ Tests to demonstrate the effects of nuclear weapons in ‘precise, low-yield attacks’ obviously are intended to explore uses for such weapons, whether new designs or modifications of existing warheads.”
Design of mini-nukes has been prohibited by legislation for the last few years, but the DOE weapons laboratories have continued to do “concept studies” which they claim do not violate the ban:
There is a legislative ban on the design and development, leading to the production, of low-yield nuclear weapons. These concept studies are not in violation of this ban. Two studies currently under way are the Air Force Agent Defeat Study and the Hard and Deeply Buried Target Defeat Study. The Agent Defeat Study is to identify weapon concepts that could interdict chemical and biological threats. The DOE is providing generic nuclear and advanced conventional concepts for use in effectiveness analysis and are investigating lethality and collateral damage issues. No design work on new nuclear weapon concepts is being conducted under this study. U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Defense Programs, FY 2000 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan, March 15, 1999, pp. 5-26–5-27 (Obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Los Alamos Study Group, Santa Fe, New Mexico).The ban on mini-nuke development, however, is under attack. A provision in this year’s Defense Authorization bill requires the Energy and Defense departments to “conduct a study relating to the defeat of hardened and deeply buried targets.” As part of this study, DOE and DoD are authorized to “conduct any limited research and development that may be necessary” to “assess both current and future options to defeat hardened and deeply buried targets as well as concepts to defeat stockpiles of chemical and biological agents and related capabilities.” (Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001, P.L. 106-398, Sec. 1044, Report on The Defeat of Hardened And Deeply Buried Targets). According to Andrew Lichterman: “There is a danger that this language will be taken as a license for more research on nuclear weapons with improved military capabilities, and in particular on nuclear weapons with low yields.” The Defense Science and Technology Strategy and Plans documents suggest that such research may be going forward, mapping out efforts intended to “lead to increased confidence in the lethality of new and existing military systems,” with the goal being the “ability to hold at risk very hard targets with greatly reduced collateral damage.” (emphasis added) Defense Technology Objectives for Defense Technology Area Plan, U.S. Department of Defense, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Science and Technology), 2000, NT.09, “Nuclear Phenomenology,” p.II-372.
The new documents reveal that the U.S. is seeking “more discriminate options” in order to minimize the “political and environmental” constraints on nuclear weapons use. According to Andrew Lichterman: “U.S. programs aimed at developing low-yield nuclear weapons concepts and researching intensively ways to use nuclear weapons against chemical and biological weapons systems, command and control facilities, and other targets, manifest a dangerous drift towards a lower threshold of nuclear weapons use, including possible use against states without nuclear weapons. These efforts make the world less safe, not more. They also make disarmament efforts far more difficult by calling into question the sincerity of U.S. commitment to its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligation to ‘pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.'”
At this year’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, the United States and the other nuclear weapons states affirmed their “unequivocal undertaking... to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.” (emphasis added) They also committed to “a diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies to minimize the risk that these weapons will ever be used and to facilitate the process of their total elimination.” And the U.S. agreed that a no-backtracking “principle of irreversibility” applies to “nuclear disarmament, nuclear and other related arms control and reduction measures.” 2000 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, FINAL DOCUMENT, NPT/CONF.2000/28, 22 May 2000.
Ten years after the end of the Cold War, U.S. efforts to expand its nuclear weapons capabilities are going on with little public debate. Serious discussion is dampened by U.S. government assurances to the world and to its own people implying that the role of nuclear weapons is being reduced. Informed debate is being further restricted by the reduction of information available to the public about U.S. nuclear and other high technology weapons programs. As a consequence, it is becoming more difficult for the public to know just how far efforts to develop more useable nuclear weapons are going inside the highly secretive DOE and DoD laboratories. According to Andrew Lichterman: “The ability of the public to monitor how its tax dollars are being spent and its interests served on issues of critical importance has been eroding over the past several years. The Defense Science and Technology Strategy and Plans documents quoted here are a case in point. These documents contain no classified information, and previous year versions were available to the public via the Internet. Nonetheless, these documents no longer are readily available, requiring Freedom of Information Act requests which are likely to take months or more. The main effect of withholding these documents is to deny the American people timely knowledge about what is being done with their money and in their name.”
Lichterman concluded: “The opportunity which came with the end of the Cold War for humanity to escape the constant threat of nuclear destruction, is slipping away. The United States, the richest and most powerful nation on earth, is using its unmatched resources to continue the nuclear arms race into the 21st century. It is time for a real national debate on these issues, before it’s too late.”