The secretive JASON group of academic physicists have given a thumbs up to the current program of refurbishing nuclear warheads in the U.S. stockpile instead of building new, more reliable ones. The report should bolster efforts by the Obama Administration to keep dead the Reliable Replacement Warhead program, a Bush-era program to build new nukes. Bush's Energy Department and Pentagon officials had argued that flaws in the refurbishment program were a key rationale for new bombs, but Obama disagreed. (Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover, tried to revive the program this past summer, but failed.) The strong endorsement of the status quo by JASON, says Arms Control Wonk:
should drive a stake through the heart of the RRW and warhead “replacement” in general.
They turned back arguments that refurbishment efforts—known as Life Extension Programs— introduced enough changes to the bombs so as to raise questions about their effectiveness:
JASON finds no evidence that accumulation of changes incurred from aging and LEPs have increased risk to certification of today’s deployed nuclear warheads.
This finding is a direct consequence of the excellent work of the people in the US nuclear weapons complex supported and informed by the tools and methods developed through the Stockpile Stewardship program. Some aging issues have already been resolved. The others that have been identified can be resolved through LEP approaches similar to those employed to date.
The Energy Department's nuclear weapons agency endorses the report's recommendations to continue the program.