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SCI/TECH: Decaying Nuclear Warheads; Repair, Replace, or Retire?

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posted on Apr, 3 2005 @ 09:11 PM
A debate that began at Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory has spilled out into the media. The focus of the debate is the W-76 nuclear warhead, a centerpiece of the American nuclear arsenal. One side of the debate proclaims the warheads suffer from a flaw that will undermine their effectiveness and make them impractical to rely upon. The other side maintains upgrades and maintenance will be sufficient to prolong the life of these warheads and fix any problems associated with their construction. The principle disagreement is the potential necessity for more nuclear testing before informed decisions can be made. Some fear that restarting nuclear testing will rekindle the arms race and lead to more global insecurity.
For more than two decades, a compact, powerful warhead called the W-76 has been the centerpiece of the United States' nuclear arsenal, carried aboard the nuclear submarines that prowl the oceans. But in recent months it has become the subject of a fierce debate among experts inside and outside the government over its reliability and its place in the nuclear arsenal.

The government is readying a plan to spend more than $2 billion on a routine 10-year overhaul to extend the life of the aging warheads.

Please visit the link provided for the complete story.

This should prove to be interesting. On one side we have scientists who state that the warheads have a critical design flaw, on the other side scientists say that upgrades and maintenance will mitigate the problems. Neither side is capable of talking very openly about the subject matter for obvious reasons, so what is spilling into the arena of the press appears to be mostly opinion, albeit scholarly opinion. At least one scientist has left Los Alamos as a result of this disagreement, and if the debate continues to heat up, more are sure to follow.

The same people who are proponents of the upgrade/replace/maintain strategy are not coincidentally reliant on the continuation of this program and others like it. As many a Fortran programmer can tell you, aging technology provides great income potential if one can find a way to preserve the perceived necessity of the technology for as long as possible. More nuclear tests means more jobs for nuclear scientists and weapons specialists. This is hopefully not the driving factor in their crusade, more likely it's an unpleasant blend of political posturing and job security.

On the other side you have the opponents of the decision to maintain our aging nuclear arsenal. They argue that the weapons are useless in contemporary conflicts, and they fear that doing the testing necessary to safely and effectively upgrade the warheads would violate the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. This might, in turn, lead to another arms race with one or more nuclear states across the globe. This debate has been charged with politics from the start, and I fear political 'wisdom' may, as it often does, override scientific rigor and objective analysis.

Related News Links:

[edit on 3-4-2005 by WyrdeOne]

posted on Apr, 3 2005 @ 09:27 PM
Interesting stuff. This is going to be a real political football for Bushco. This will be used to divert public attention from other matters.

Now it's out- the US nuclear weapons are not 'safe.' That's kind of an oxymoron anyway.

posted on Apr, 3 2005 @ 11:41 PM
Seeing as how they supposedly dont make them anymore I wonder how much they could be improved. Say if they built brand new ones with the latest tech and just dissassembled the other ones or just shoot them off to space? lol

posted on Apr, 4 2005 @ 12:51 AM
Combine this with the russians talking about developing new nukes and you could have an interesting situation.

posted on Apr, 4 2005 @ 05:06 AM
It's simple. Detonate. That's what we built them for wasn't it? Me, my father, and my grandfather paid good tax money for those things. Let's see some mushroom clouds!

They'd make a heck of a fireworks display if nothing else.


[edit on 4-4-2005 by ServoHahn]

posted on Apr, 4 2005 @ 07:20 AM
Why put years of hard work to waste? Just use them. Have some target practice on the asteroid belt.

posted on Apr, 5 2005 @ 07:35 PM
I read about a new computer simulation that should help in determining new development strategies, and there is the matter of Russia designing new nukes...

I'm of the mindset we don't need them, but they can probably still be useful.

What about micro reactors for things like cars or houses?

What about using the fuel to 'burn' in nuclear plants already operational?

What about ADM, there's some safety risks, but it's accepted for some operations, especially deep, dry earth with a real low water table and low habitation. Maybe Australia could use 'em.

Or how about selling them other nuclear powers? If they don't work right, let them take the risk of wasting the shot.

Perhaps retool them to be part of a multi-warhead deployment system? That way if the individual bang is not so impressive, the combined force might be worthwhile to employ in case it's necessary.

Of course I don't think it will be necessary, since the chance of a full scale nuclear war seems pretty slim at this point. There's too much to lose, and not enough to gain by engaging in that sort of scenario.

Any other thoughts?

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