Jeffrey LewisThe other shoe … (Nuclear Testing)

Looks like the Bush Administration has identified the “stockpile problem” to justify a resumption of nuclear testing.

You may remember the reassuring speech delivered by National Nuclear Security Administrator Linton Brooks to defend, among other items, the President/’s proposal to enhance test site readines. Brooks said: “While we have no plans to resume such testing, we need to maintain the ability to do so as a prudent hedge in case a problem is discovered in the stockpile that cannot be resolved without a nuclear test.”

Now, the Albuquerque Journal reveals that Brooks’ Deputy had already “discovered” a “problem” in the stockpile that may require new nuclear testing:

Some U.S. nuclear weapons experts have quietly questioned whether the backbone of the U.S. nuclear arsenal suffers from a fundamental design flaw. If the problem is real, it has “national security implications for the United States,” Everet Beckner, deputy chief of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s nuclear weapons program, wrote in a letter in the fall.

The Journal reports that, according to a preliminary list of agenda items, one of the questions discussed at a meeting was “the question of whether the weapons labs had been planning a test to deal with the W76 question that was canceled by the 1992 moratorium.”

Starting to get the picture? The Journal also contacted Bob Peurifoy, a retired Sandia National Laboratories weaponeer who worked on the W-76. He described the problem as old, trivial and resolved: “There was a device-yield test during development that, because of some engineering oversight, did not deliver the expected yield. That was corrected.”

Peurifoy told the Journal that he believed this was a pretext to resume testing.

Which seems right since, even if the problem weren’t transparently bogus, there is no need to resume testing: There are at least two warhead designs in the stockpile that could be substituted for the W-76. [See: Steve Fetter, Toward A Comprehensive Test Ban (Cambridge, Ballinger, 1988)86-87.]

Late Update: John Fleck and Bill Broad have filled out the story. And it wasn’t the Bush Administration pushing to revisit the W-76.