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Nuclear Weapons Information: Overview

Smaller Bangs, but Still Testing the Bomb

Stockpile Stewardship: Nuclear Weapons for the 21st Century

Reclaiming the Comprehensive Test Ban

2002 Nuclear Posture Review Resources

U.S. Nuclear Weapons Programs-- Overview

         Contrary to historical expectations that the completion of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) would halt the modernization of nuclear weapons and lead inexorably to disarmament, nuclear weapons research, development and testing has continued in the U.S. Since signing the CTBT in September 1996, the U.S. has conducted 12 so-called “subcritical” nuclear tests (involving weapons-grade plutonium and high explosives) 980 feet underground at the Nevada Test Site. In addition, construction of the world’s largest laser installation, the National Ignition Facility (NIF), is underway at the Livermore National Laboratory in California. The NIF is intended to produce contained thermonuclear explosions and provide data for the “advance” of nuclear weapons science. It will cost more than $2 billion to build, and over its 30-year projected lifetime, at least $4 billion more to operate.

        The subcriticals and the NIF are components of a vast laboratory-based infrastructure to preserve the U.S. ability to maintain, test, modify, design and produce nuclear weapons well into the next century. Included in the DOE's “Stockpile Stewardship” program are explosives testing facilities as large as sports stadiums, an elaborate system of high-tech laboratories, and extensive new manufacturing capabilities. Data generated by new lab experiments will be combined with archived data from more than 1000 past U.S. nuclear tests and processed using the world's fastest supercomputers. The ultimate goal is to create a “virtual testing and prototyping capability for nuclear weapons.”

        The Clinton Administration promised the nuclear weapons establishment over $4.5 billion a year for the Stockpile Stewardship program, an amount which appears likely only to increase in the future. Moreover, spending on nuclear weapons is increasing, while funding for environmental cleanup is being slashed. The Stockpile Stewardship program has also strengthened a driving political force in the arms race -- the Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia National Labs. Since their inception, these labs have competed to develop ever more sophisticated nuclear weapons systems, “selling” their ideas to Presidents, Congresses and the Pentagon, and, for decades, successfully opposing a CTBT. Now, the labs are forging ahead with nuclear weapons research and development in the absence of full-scale underground tests.

Nuclear Weapons Proliferation

        Replacing underground nuclear testing with an expanded laboratory infrastructure demonstrates a continued commitment to nuclear weapons as core instruments of national policy. This commitment legitimizes nuclear weapons and provides arguments for those in non-nuclear weapons states who wish to acquire them. Aggressively maintaining and developing nuclear weapons design and production capabilities allows the nuclear states to rekindle the arms race at any time. In 1996, the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, (a group of international experts established by the Australian government to propose practical steps towards a nuclear weapon free world), warned that "the possession of nuclear weapons by any state is a constant stimulus to other states to acquire them.”

        Despite public claims of “dwindling” stockpiles, the U.S. plans to maintain indefinitely a nuclear arsenal of more than 10,000 warheads (including strategic and tactical; active and reserve). In 1997, the first new nuclear weapon since 1989 entered the U.S. stockpile. The U.S. covertly threatened to use this earth-penetrating weapon, the B61-11 (then under development),in 1996 against an unconfirmed underground chemical weapons plant in Libya. In January 1998, its potential use against Iraq was hinted at. The apparent unwillingness of the nuclear powers to give up nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future does not bode well for efforts to halt their global spread, as evidenced by the entry in 1998 of India and Pakistan into the “nuclear club.”

        Continued production and deployment of nuclear weapons by the nuclear weapon states also runs contrary to the obligation under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to work towards disarmament. In July 1996, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) provided an authoritative interpretation of Article VI, applicable to all states: “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects.” If the U.S. is serious about stemming the spread of nuclear weapons, it must take leadership in ending the international nuclear double standard it helped to create.

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