Revival of some phased-out research recommended
FROM STAFF REPORTS
LIVERMORE — Nuclear bombs aren't aging as well as the Energy Department thought they would.
"The number of weapons facing refurbishing is substantially larger than was expected," Energy Undersecretary Ernest Moniz said Friday after the release of an annual report on the nation's Stockpile Stewardship Program.
"These refurbishment campaigns, in the next decade, are very considerable," Moniz said.
Under current U.S. policy, the Energy Department no longer builds new warheads; it repairs and maintains the old ones. At the same time, the government is stepping up supercomputer research for improved virtual detonations of bombs so that weaponeers can keep their skills sharp.
The Energy Department recommends some nuclear weapons research programs be revived after having been phased out. Officials did not provide details.
"The nation is restoring its capacity to produce nuclear weapons components in the enduring nuclear stock pile," according to a government statement.
Each year for the past four years, the Energy Department has conducted a review and certified the stockpile "safe and reliable."
Troubles with the construction of the National Ignition Facility laser complex at Lawrence Livermore Lab — a project that lab and Energy Department managers have called a keystone of this stewardship program — likely will not cause a major disruption in the program, officials said Friday.
Marylia Kelley, a frequent lab critic and executive director of Livermore based Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment, said she viewed the plan as a recipe for a return to the Cold War.
"It's an outline for reconstituting the size and style of the Cold War nuclear weapons complex," she said. "It is a plan that says the Cold War is back on track, and it's going to cost the American taxpayer one hell of a lot."
Ordered by Energy Secretary Bill Richardson in October, the review recommends 15 Energy Department actions. Moniz served as chairman for a panel of experts who assisted with the review.
Assembling a work force that can increase production of nuclear weapons materials, recruiting top researchers, revisiting its weapons refurbishment program and developing a plutonium manufacturing and testing strategy are among the recommendations outlined in the review.
Developing a long-term budget plan for the U.S. nuclear weapons complex and seeking "to restore programs at the laboratories that support weapons related research" are also recommended goals.
The report said the Stockpile Stewardship Program is effective, and for the fourth year in a row the active nuclear weapons arsenal will be certified as reliable.
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