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Is the Energy Department’s explanation true?

Chris Laurence wrote in his Signifying Nothing that the energy department explanation for the pit production facility is convincing. 

By the time the new production facility is onlinein 15 yearsit is quite possible that considerable portions of the current nuclear deterrent force will be over 60 years old. Unlike Alec, I think it would be irresponsible for the government to have nuclear weapons that simply dont work (or, worse, could accidentally detonate due to aging components), and I dont think complete disarmament is a realistic alternative, particularly with both China and North Korea developing their arsenals and the likelihood of more nations going nuclear in the coming decade.

Further digging reveals some very interesting facts that I didn’t know about.  In U.S. and Russian Warhead Production Capabilities, ACT reveals that the average American pit has a 40 to 60 year shelf life, which means that they will need to start replacing them at a rate of about 500/year over a 20 year period, starting in roughly 2020. Russia’s need to be remanufactured every 10 years because they start with much lower quality. 

The Federation of American Scientists publishes a Nuclear Forces Guide which outlines the status of declared nuclear powers as of 1999.

The major threat to the US is/was Russia.  Russia has over 21,000 warheads still in existance, and a weapons complex that (while it is devoted to maintaining the current stock) could conceivably manufacture a lot more weapons quickly.  The US has 12,000 warheads, and a stockpile of an additional 4,000 pits. 

China, in contrast, has 500 warheads, of which 375 are in service.  They can deliver these via a grand total of… 30 long range missiles.  They also have one submarine, with 12 submarine launched missiles. No long range bombers.  The rest of China’s stockpile are theatre weapons.  China appears only to have developed a tactical defensive capability.

But even if you accept Chris’ argument that there is a requirement to maintain the current stockpile, then why is there a need to reopen the Nevada Test Site?  The test site is used to test new warheads, like the bunker buster being contemplated.

This looks and smells like a return to a cold war footing.   The US should be working with Russia to reduce their overall stocks, not developing new theatre weapons.

  

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