US plan to upgrade nuclear arsenal criticised by scientists

18 October 2013
By Tereza Pultarova
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US scientists have voiced their concerns about the country's plans to invest into modernisation of the nuclear arsenal

US scientists have voiced their concerns about the country's plans to invest into modernisation of the nuclear arsenal

A US plan to invest $60bn (£37bn) over the next 25 years into modernising the country’s nuclear arsenal violates international agreements to reduce the amount of nuclear weapons, an independent think-tank has said.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit organisation behind the report, believes the current $60bn investment plan to upgrade US nuclear warheads is only the tip of the iceberg, as further investment into manufacturing facilities and delivery systems like submarines would increase the amount.

Despite signing the New Start treaty with Russia in 2010 committing to decrease deploying nuclear weapons in the future, US President Barrack Obama has recently succumbed to the pressure from Republicans warning about the problems of the aging US nuclear complex.

In June this year, the National Nuclear Security Administration put forward a plan to reconfigure and upgrade the country's nuclear arms.

"NNSA's plan violates the spirit if not the letter of the administration's pledge to not develop new nuclear weapons. It sends the wrong message to the rest of the world," said Philip Coyle, a researcher at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation who co-authored the report.

The US has ceased the production of nuclear weapons in 1990, relying back then on technology developed in the 1970s. Two years later, underground nuclear testing was halted and replaced with computer simulations. Since then, older weapons have been refurbished to extend their lives.

Lisbeth Gronlund, a co-director of UCS's Global Security Program who worked on the report, said in an interview that modernization efforts by NNSA could undermine confidence in the reliability of the arsenal.

Weapons in the US arsenal have elements for a primary and secondary explosion. Under the new approach, Gronlund said, some primary and secondary elements would be mixed and matched, even though they may not have been physically tested together.

"People could well raise this as a concern and suggest we need to resume testing," she said. "So I don't see any reason to go down that road."

The United States has seven warhead types. The new program would reduce the number of types and make some interchangeable on different weapons. There would be three warhead types for long-range missiles and two for bombs and cruise missiles.

Gronlund said the idea behind moving to a smaller number of interchangeable warheads was that it would make it easier to reduce the size of the nuclear "hedge," the non-deployed warheads that are held in reserve.

The United States is thought to have as many as 2,650 non-deployed warheads, plus about 3,000 waiting to be dismantled, according to The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

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