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LTE: Fewer Nukes Make Financial, Strategic Sense


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JL
- 493 days ago - armscontrolcenter.org
On February 21 Kingston Reif published the following letter to the editor in The Baltimore Sun on the merits of further nuclear weapons reductions.



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JL A. (272)
Friday March 15, 2013, 11:08 am
LTE: Fewer nukes make financial, strategic sense

On February 21 Kingston Reif published the following letter to the editor in The Baltimore Sun on the merits of further nuclear weapons reductions.

...

The recent editorial on arms control ("Avoiding Armageddon," Feb. 18) was exactly on point.

More than two decades have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and U.S. national security strategy has changed drastically. Yet many in Congress still refuse to heed the growing bipartisan chorus of former government officials and military leaders who argue that our current arsenal of approximately 5,000 nuclear weapons greatly exceeds U.S. security needs.

Our government plans to spend approximately $640 billion on nuclear weapons and related programs over the next decade. In an age of fiscal austerity, scarce dollars must address real threats like cyber-attack and terrorism, not programs with diminishing strategic relevance.

One nuclear weapon has the capacity to level an entire city, only a few — not thousands — are required for deterrence. Reducing the size of the arsenal makes both strategic and fiscal sense.

Kingston Reif, Washington

The writer is the director of non-proliferation programs at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
 

Kit B. (277)
Friday March 15, 2013, 1:03 pm

Probably the greatest threat is from Cyber- attack. The right hacker could shut down all of one or many cities, even more things are possible with cyber attacks. We have enough NUKES, it's time to think smart and think 21st Century.
 

JL A. (272)
Friday March 15, 2013, 1:32 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Kit because you have done so within the last day.
 

Terry V. (30)
Friday March 15, 2013, 2:40 pm
noted, thanks
 

JL A. (272)
Friday March 15, 2013, 2:49 pm
You are welcome Terry
 

Carol D. (104)
Friday March 15, 2013, 2:55 pm
noted thanks
 

Angelika R. (146)
Friday March 15, 2013, 3:55 pm
Perhaps the stockpile for Moon, Mars,Venus and whoknows what else? Drop all the zeros-it'll still be 5 too many!
And yes, cyber attacks-what's not there cannot be blown or shut off.
 

JL A. (272)
Friday March 15, 2013, 3:57 pm
You are welcome Carol.
Don't forget Jupiter and Neptune! You cannot currently send a star to Angelika because you have done so within the last day.
 

Stephen Brian (23)
Saturday March 16, 2013, 7:26 pm
Cyber-attack is far more likely than conventional, and conventional attackers now tend not to be susceptible to classical deterrence as they are not tied to territory or fixed visible potential targets. Still, a nuclear deterrent is handy for the same reason as is the power to fight a conventional war. It is a whole lot easier to gear-down to fight modern asymmetric wars than it would be to gear-up from a force optimized for those should a conventional war present itself. Five thousand is certainly enough, and most likely more than enough, to deter any current threat for which classical deterrence works, but there are good reasons why a large number may be needed for such deterrence, as the current stockpile is not as powerful as it may seem.

The effect of a nuclear bomb is badly overstated by the Center for Arms Control and non-Proliferation. A PBS report here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/bomb/sfeature/1mtblast.html says that the blast of a 1 Megaton bomb would reach 12 pounds-per-square inch at a radius of 1.7 miles. For an idea of how much pressure that is, it's a little more than it takes to break a collarbone (if I understand correctly). The W88 warhead, used on the Trident 2 missiles has less than half of that energy (which leaves it with a destructuve blast-radius somewhere over a mile, but substantially less than 1.7). I live in a small town, and while a W88 bomb would be very destructive, it would not destroy the city. The Trident 2 missile might as it carries multiple warheads, but a single nuke would not. Similarly, the W87 on the U.S. ICBMs would not singlehandedly destroy a city (apparently having the same yield as the W88), though an ICBM is likely to carry four of them.

Still, the power to destroy a thousand cities seems a bit excessive to maintain, but not all of these nukes are the same. During the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. found that its bunker-busters could not penetrate into caves. The U.S. now possesses a nuclear bunker-buster, a lower-yield weapon intended for striking underground targets, should such a thing be useful. Many of these bombs are different, and intended to be used for different strategic roles. Not only that, but their delivery-platforms are as well. Submarine-based weapons are effective means of preventing any nuclear firstr-strike, while ICBMs appear to be most useful for such a strike. Aircraft-based weapons, ith their large numbers and lower yields, seem to be intended for a war where such weapons are used tactically, while avoiding escalation to ICBM-scale weapons. The overall power of the arsenal is enormous, but in any given application, only a fraction of it would actually be useful.

Still, assuming half of the arsenal is actually useful in a conflict, and we look at them in groups of four (as they are mounted on weapons) rather than individually, the ability to destroy 625 major targets does seem like far more than would actually be necessary. There is one more problem, though: we don't know how many of them actually work. When was the last time the U.S. actually tested any of these weapons? I don't know whether old weapons with the effects of age, or weapons so new their designs have never been tested would be more reliable. Computer-models are great, but they're not perfect and they cannot account for wear and tear, effects of budget-cuts, or anything else that those maintaining the weapons might not have noticed. The effective arsenal of packages of nuclear weapons for any given war, then, may be in the low hundreds. Nobody can really know without testing.

I am no general, but that still sounds like lot to me. The arsenal can likely be reduced further should the budget demand this, but unless some changes are made, like raising the yield and testing new weapons, the number should probably remain pretty large.
 

JL A. (272)
Saturday March 16, 2013, 8:04 pm
Thanks for providing a plethora of additional information Stephen/
 

John S. (297)
Sunday March 17, 2013, 5:48 am
Really? I was thinking 5,000 is not enough. Thankfully sequestration has offered the opportunity for this review to occur.
 

JL A. (272)
Sunday March 17, 2013, 7:47 am
You cannot currently send a star to John because you have done so within the last day.
 

Alice C. (1797)
Monday July 22, 2013, 1:01 pm


By Michael E. LongPhotographs by Peter Essick



The search for permanent solutions heats up as tons of highly radioactive sludge, spent fuel, and contaminated soil pile up around the nation.



Read or print the full story.

World War II was still being fought in the Pacific during the first week of August 1945, a time when my father and I were vacationing in Atlantic City, New Jersey, eating soft-shell crabs and lazing by the ocean. In a games arcade I fed nickels to a toy machine gun and fired at Japanese Zero fighters flitting across a screen. On the boardwalk, rifles shouldered, platoons of United States soldiers marched and sang: The Stars and Stripes will fly over Tokyo, Fly over Tokyo, fly over Tokyo, The Stars and Stripes will fly over Tokyo, When the 991st gets there. . . .
One morning my dad showed me a newspaper with red headlines that said a huge bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, and Japan surrendered. The bombs were so big that the boys of the 991st wouldn't have to go to Tokyo after all.
The strong nuclear force, the binding energy that makes atomic nuclei the most tightfisted entities in all creation, had been sundered, unleashing enormous power—the equivalent of 15,000 tons (13,600 metric tons) of TNT in the Hiroshima bomb—as well as a race to create bigger weapons. Seven years later our first hydrogen device, code-named Mike, yielded a blast equal to 10.4 million tons (9.4 million metric tons) of TNT. Mike would have leveled all five boroughs of New York City.
By the mid-1960s, the height of the Cold War, the U.S. had stockpiled around 32,000 nuclear warheads, as well as mountains of radioactive garbage from the production of plutonium for these weapons. Just one kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of plutonium required around a thousand tons of uranium ore. Generated from uranium bombarded by neutrons in a nuclear reactor, the plutonium was later separated from the uranium in hellish baths of acids and solvents still awaiting disposal.
A long deferred cleanup is now under way at 114 of the nation's nuclear facilities, which encompass an acreage equivalent to Rhode Island and Delaware combined. Many smaller sites, the easy ones, have been cleansed, but the big challenges remain. What's to be done with 52,000 tons (47,000 metric tons) of dangerously radioactive spent fuel from commercial and defense nuclear reactors? With 91 million gallons (345 million liters) of high-level waste left over from plutonium processing, scores of tons of plutonium, more than half a million tons of depleted uranium, millions of cubic feet of contaminated tools, metal scraps, clothing, oils, solvents, and other waste? And with some 265 million tons (240 million metric tons) of tailings from milling uranium ore—less than half stabilized—littering landscapes?

 
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