U.S. Will Have no Experts Who've Used a Nuke Within 5 Years
April 16, 2012 2:25 PM
comment(s) - last by
Lack of qualified experts could hinder defensive readiness
The Cold War is fading like a twinkle in the eye of history, but the transition from recent memory to textbook lessons has gone largely unnoticed. But every once in a while, we receive a reminder about exactly how much the world has changed.
I. A Farewell to Nuclear Arms?
Take the recent report by Thomas D’Agostino, the undersecretary for nuclear security and the administrator of the
National Nuclear Security Administration
(NNSA). He said that the number of nuclear weapons experts at the
U.S. Department of Defense
or testing nuclear weapons today numbers in the low teens.
Most of those experts come from the final period of sparing nuclear weapons testing in the early 1990s. The undersecretary says that these experts could be completely gone within five years, leaving a sizeable knowledge gap.
him as saying at a press breakfast, "Last year, it was in the 17 to 18 range, but I’ve got to believe it’s five fewer than that now. Five years from now, they will no longer be active employees of our laboratories."
The U.S. in five years may have no active experts who have tested a live nuclear weapon.
[Image Source: NDEP]
The knowledge gap is being furthered by budget cuts to pioneering national laboratories, such as Las Alamos National Lab -- often regarded as the birthplace of the atomic bomb. Los Alamos had 557 employees agree to buyouts as part of a Congressional decificit reduction plan. That's nearly 10 percent of the lab's total research staff.
II. Shifting Politics
The last nuclear weapons test by the U.S. was conducted in 1992. Linton Brooks, a former ambassador and administrator of the NNSA at the Energy Department, says that neither party is eager to restart testing, commenting, "As long as it is the policy of the United States — and it has been now for four successive administrations, two from each party — not to test, that is inevitable. So the question becomes: What do you do about it?"
Indeed, it is diffcult for either party to advocate such tests, given that there's a relative bipartisan consensus in terms of rhetoric condemning nuclear testing. In recent years both Democrats and Republicans have admonished nations like Iran, Iraq (during the Saddam Hussein era),
and North Korea
alleged weapons tests
or nuclear aspirations.
The issue becomes whether the U.S. will have enough qualified personnel to keep the weapons stockpile healthy and to potentially deploy it, if the need should ever arise.
But some doubt that will be an issue at all. In terms of tactics, the DOD's recent protocols point to a shift away from considering nuclear weapons a key part of defense strategy, as attention
turns to cyber-defense
and other more modern tools.
President Obama has pushed for a "nuke-free" world.
[Image Source: Mandel Ngan/Getty Images]
Further movement in this direction could come if President Barack Obama can convince the Senate to pass the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty -- a bill that was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, but overturned by the Senate in 1999. President Obama has been pushing Russia to commit to bilateral nuclear disarmanment, and has publicly stated that he wants the U.S. to be free of nuclear weapons in the future.
III. To Test or Not to Test
There's growing debate over whether lack of testing experience will lead to safety issues. Most experts, including Mr. D'Agostino argue that testing is not necessarily a prerequisite of safety.
He states, "If [nuclear weapons] were a car, [surveillance] would be the equivalent of checking to see if the batteries are good, the fan belt works. I would say, based on the information that I review and the information that the laboratory directors review, that we have a much better understanding of what’s going on inside our stockpile now than we ever did during the days of underground testing. We can now explain phenomena that we never could back then."
Others are not so supremely confident that "surveillance" on the health of weapons stockpiles can be reliable without testing. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, comments, "If the [Obama] administration has said they want to abandon testing, then certainly they have no interest in nurturing the knowledge base that would support it."
But an expert report from the National Academy of Sciences disagrees with the Congressman. It argues that surveillance quality is less a function of testing experience and more a function of how high the quality of individuals recruited to the program. It suggested that in order to maintain interest in a time when nuclear weapons faced a shrinking role, experts should be encouraged to participate in the disarmanent proceedings and/or nuclear forensics (monitoring other nations' stockpiles) as a means of increasing enthusiasm for the occupation.
Kingston Reif, director of nuclear nonproliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation agrees with this line of thinking. He says that with national security being a much sought after field, putting experts to work in national security-related nuclear forensics would boost interest in what might otherwise be viewed as a dying profession.
For now the U.S. still has a lot of weapons to manage. While President Obama has pushed a bilateral U.S.-Russia disarmament treaty called START, which would
cut the U.S. stockpile down to 1,500 warheads
, for now the U.S. still
has 5,113 warheads
, according to President Obama (2,200 of which are operational).
A slightly outdated estimation of nuclear warhead counts.
[Image Source: Information is Beautiful]
argues that while mankind -- mostly the U.S. and Russia -- has enough warheads to wipe out most heavily populated areas, that it would take over a million warheads to destroy humanity -- two orders of magnitude more than existing stockpiles.
This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled
The Trouble with Disarmament...
4/16/2012 10:37:29 PM
...is that it's a pretty dumb idea unless your adversary does it FIRST, and you can rest assured that no other adversary will emerge in the future. If neither of those conditions are true (hint: they never are), then you're basically rolling over and presenting your soft, defenseless underbelly to anyone who wants to gut you.
It's OK to be an idealist, or a pacifist, or a utopian, as long as you leave national defense to the realists.
If this simple truth eludes you, however, maybe you'll find this more compelling. The reason many nations (Japan, Australia, Canada, a significant portion of Europe) don't have nuclear weapons is because they rely on the U.S. nuclear deterrent "umbrella" to protect them. In other words, as long as the U.S. remains strong, why worry? If serious concerns about the reliability of the U.S. arsenal take root, not only do adversaries grow bolder but allies grow more uneasy. Eliminating nuclear weapons in the U.S. (again, besides being a diabolically stupid idea) can reasonably be expected to result in an *INCREASE* in the number of nuclear weapons worldwide as arms races are kicked off in several regions.
I know, considering second and third order effects isn't in vogue anymore...they never fit into a convenient sound bite. Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting we need to ramp back up to 10,000 warheads. But unless the U.S. maintains an effective deterrent, the world is going to get less and less safe. And while you can argue that the same tactical objectives can be achieved via conventional means, that's not what we're talking about...we're talking about a psychological factor that precludes the need to use either nuclear or conventional weapons in the first place.
RE: The Trouble with Disarmament...
4/17/2012 1:57:19 PM
+1 for realism
Complete disarmament is NOT a goal I support. Arms reduction? Sure. But as long as anyone else i nthe world has nukes I will not support disarmament.
I also find it very amusing how many people don't seem to realize that the existence of nukes probably
World War 3.
"I f***ing cannot play Halo 2 multiplayer. I cannot do it." -- Bungie Technical Lead Chris Butcher
U.S. Gov Official: Current Generation of Policymakers Lack Understanding of Technology
April 3, 2012, 12:52 PM
North Korea Claims Clean Fusion, Mysterious Radioactive Release Detected
June 24, 2010, 2:45 PM
Pentagon Reveals That U.S. Has Over 5,100 Nuclear Warheads
May 4, 2010, 12:00 PM
Obama Set to Make Significant Reductions in U.S. Nuclear Arsenal
March 4, 2010, 8:08 AM
North Korean Ballistic Missile Launch Fails
April 6, 2009, 11:34 AM
Newly Discovered Costa Rican Glass Frog is Kermit's Doppelgänger
April 22, 2015, 11:26 AM
Researchers Hope to Find "Exotic" Lifeforms Inside Crater of Dinosaur Killing Meteor
April 14, 2015, 8:47 PM
Mathematician's Sociological Formulation May Explain the "Hipster Paradox"
April 14, 2015, 1:13 PM
Cool Science Video: This is What a McDonald's Burger Looks Like in Your Stomach
April 7, 2015, 1:43 PM
Fraud Artist Engineered Stunning UK Jailbreak Via Typosquatting, Email
April 4, 2015, 2:57 PM
Food Chemists at Italy's Barilla Claim to Have Perfect Instant Noodles w/out Frying
March 26, 2015, 4:25 PM
Most Popular Articles
Windows 10 Build 10061: A Quick Review
April 27, 2015, 10:57 AM
Microsoft "Welcomes Developers" to Its New "Edge Browser" (Codename: Spartan)
April 29, 2015, 7:25 PM
Worst Kept Secret -- $35 Million Anonymous Sharing App Startup Shuts Down
April 30, 2015, 7:33 AM
Leather-Bound LG G4 Shuffles Out, "Specially Designed" Snapdragon 808 SoC
April 28, 2015, 4:00 PM
Report: Apple Pulls the Plug on Apple Watch Store Launch
April 16, 2015, 3:18 PM
Latest Blog Posts
Sceptre Airs 27", 120 Hz. 1080p Monitor/HDTV w/ 5 ms Response Time for $220
Dec 3, 2014, 10:32 PM
Costco Gives Employees Thanksgiving Off; Wal-Mart Leads "Black Thursday" Charge
Oct 29, 2014, 9:57 PM
"Bear Selfies" Fad Could Turn Deadly, Warn Nevada Wildlife Officials
Oct 28, 2014, 12:00 PM
The Surface Mini That Was Never Released Gets "Hands On" Treatment
Sep 26, 2014, 8:22 AM
ISIS Imposes Ban on Teaching Evolution in Iraq
Sep 17, 2014, 5:22 PM
More Blog Posts
Copyright 2015 DailyTech LLC. -
Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information