Jeffrey LewisJASON Questions RRW

Here is the Unclassified Executive Summary of the Jason Report on RRW.

As Walter Pincus reported over the weekend (Nuclear Warhead Design Hits Snag) the report basically argues that certification of the design will require more than the current certification plan:

The certification plan presented needs further development. … Certification for WR1 will require new experiments, enhanced computational tools, and improved scientific understanding of the connection of the results from such experiments and simulations to the existing nuclear explosive test data. We recommend:

  • continued investigation and development of quantitative measures that assess the connection of WR1 with the legacy nuclear test data,
  • additional hydrodynamic and other (non-nuclear explosive) experiments beyond those indicated in the certification plan presented. Such experiments are intended to extend modeling and simulation capabilities so that future computational tools are predictive not only of device performance, but also of device failure and the limits of validity of the computer simulations. This effort will require the continued availability of hydronamic test facilities;
  • that an improved understanding of materials aging and interactions over the proposed multi-decade lifetime of RRW systems be developed.

I would think this is both a short-term blow to RRW and a long term blow to NNSA.

In terms of NNSA’s reputation, I read the sentence “The certification plan presented needs further development” to suggest that NNSA’s certification plan might have led to the development of a warhead that could not be certified without testing.

But that is just my first impression.

Update: NNSA has a press release that says everything is just fine and the Jason “concluded that NNSA’s current approach, with additional technical, experimental and peer review enhancements, could determine that RRW can be certified for the stockpile without the need to conduct an underground nuclear test.”

I suppose the Hindenburg, with additional technical, experimental and peer review enhancements, would also have been just dandy.


  1. John Fleck (History)

    It’s worth noting NNSA’s own press release on this, before the unclassified executive summary emerged into public view. I quote:

    “An independent panel of scientists issued a report today confirming that the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) approach towards developing a Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) was proceeding with appropriate scientific principles. This report, tasked by NNSA at the request of Congress, concluded that NNSA’s current approach, including its technical, experimental and peer review processes, could determine that RRW can be certified for the stockpile without the need to conduct an underground nuclear test.”

  2. m

    This is Washington. I wonder how many of the JASON members were also on the NNSA panel. It is not odd to say the same thing twice and have it interpreted two different ways by different audiences. On second thought, maybe it is just hard to say the same thing twice in Washington – especially when different people are paying you.

  3. John Fleck (History)

    An alert reader pointed out to me that the press release bit I quoted above, which is the one emailed to me at the Albuquerque Journal, is not the same as the one later posted on the NNSA web site. You’ll see the additional caveat in the words Jeffrey quoted above. The web-published news release also offers a fuller discussion of the report’s concerns in areas like peer review.
    Ideally, I would have hoped that the NNSA would also post the JASON report’s unclassified executive summary itself. But it’s now widely available, so whatever.

  4. Haninah (History)

    There’s a pair of sentences that have not been highlighted so far that I found jaw-dropping: “To ensure that the new manufacturing processes do not have a deleterious effect on WRl performance we recommend that … proven manufacturing processes be maintained as contingency.”

    If all the old, expensive, obsolete, inefficient, dirty, dangerous production lines that RRW eliminates will have to be “maintained as contingency,” RRW has just lost a HUGE part of its raison d’etre. I think David Hobson must have thrown up a little when he read those words – there goes nuclear complex transformation through RRW right out the window!

  5. Beryll1um (History)

    At some stage, one of 3 things will happen.
    1) “The West” will find a good rationale for testing one.
    2) Our delivery systems will be burdened by carrying extra weight in order to be VERY sure that they are “reliable” (argues in favour of 1).
    3) Everyone agrees that nukes have become pointless and packs up and goes home.

    Somehow, I think we’re a long way from 3 and I think we’ll go for 1 … eventually.

    Maybe we’ll even pay the Norks to do it !