Sunday, April 03, 2005

At war over aging warheads

A semi-gruntled LANL employee writes:

I have heard lots of people wonder why the NNSA has so many Admirals, and why UC and other bidders are hiring Admirals as their go-betweens with NNSA. I think one of the reasons can be seen in the article:

At war over aging warheads

The New York Times

Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times, 2002 USS Michigan crew members stand guard as the submarine cruises down Hood Canal. U.S. submarines carry 1,500 of the 5,000 active W-76 warheads in the U.S. arsenal.

For more than two decades, a compact, powerful warhead called the W-76 has been the centerpiece of the nation's nuclear arsenal, carried aboard the fleet of nuclear submarines that prowl the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. But it has become the subject of a fierce debate among experts inside and outside the government over its reliability and its place in the nuclear arsenal. [...]

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2002229327_nuclear03.html


Comments:
I've known Dick Morse for thirty years. He is smart and a nice enough fellow, but he doesn't know what he is talking about.
 
This issue appeared in the news early last summer, then it showed up again last fall, and now it is news again. This is a perfect example of the fact that DOE is not doing their job.

This accusation casts serious doubt about the ability of a major weapon to work properly. If the allegation has merit, it should have been dealt with before the story was released to the public.

There is a real problem with this administration that it allows dirty laundry to be aired before it is washed.
 
Ironic that the Director's "March Hydrotest" of this weapon fired on April 1st. You can add Nanos to the long list of people who know absolutely nothing about the 76. We can all hope it does not matter...
 
I think dirty laundry has been a problem for the last several administrations.. (the previous even worse with blue dresses). The problem is being aired for specific reasons. If you can't verify the warhead then you have to test it or get rid of it.

The Navy have become a big nuclear weapons holder, and so NNSA has become Navy land. Los Alamos is still seen as an Applied nuclear research facility.. attempts to diversify from that in the 1990's did not take hold in the minds of Congress and DOE.. and so the places primary mission is seen as one of being a weapons plant. There are many scientists here who do not feel that this is not the case.. and I think this is the reason of a lot of the headaches we have had over the last 4 years.

If the lab wishes to change its basic mission in the eyes of Congress, DOE, and the American people it needs to do more than just post to a blog and write letters to its congressman. It will need someone who is articulate that they can rally around. It will need multiple someones who the average American citizen can feel that they trust their money too. And they will need a mission with a goal that can be accomplished.
 
Brave words, 5:48, especially coming from one who chooses to "just post to the blog". Unless, maybe, you are also willing to actualy put words into action at the workplace.
 
As a former weaponeer who was wounded in the diversification wars of the 90s (by "freindly fire" from Hecker), I say Good Luck.
 
Let's consider the possibilities concerning the New York Times article.
1. There were problems discovered during the W76 development program and these problems have been kept hidden for thirty years until revealed by Dick Morse.
2. The W76 development program failed to discover a fatal flaw in the warhead, but this flaw was discovered by Dick Morse.
3. There is no problem with the W76 but Dick Morse has some motive for claiming that there is a problem.

Next, let's explore who stands to benefit from the New York Times article.
1. Dick Morse, if he gains recognition or financial reward from revealing a problem with the nation's nuclear deterrent.
2. Livermore, if it can reduce the number of W76 warheads that are refurbished during the W76 Life Extension Program. Livermore likes to control the activities of the plants for its own work. It also benefits if some of the W76 warheads are replaced by a Reliability Replacement Warhead, the design competition for which Livermore hopes to win.

I can see plenty of motivation for Livermore, but the motivation for Dick Morse seems weak. Can anyone suggest a better explanation?
 
As a non-nuke, knowing nothing about the W76, but as a long time acquaintence of DOE, I have to conceed the distinct posibility that a weakness in the design escaped unnoticed until production, and now all the powers that be would love to have that mistake buried.

Where have we seen that behavior exhibited just recently by those very same powers that be?
 
A modest proposal:
Some people in our government are probably getting pretty worried at this point. The nation's most prominent newspaper has reported that the most important element of this nation's nuclear deterrent might not be reliable. Los Alamos is in turmoil, so it can't be trusted to handle the situation.
The obvious solution is to give the warhead to Livermore to make sure the W76 questions are handled properly.
(Can we discover a connnection between Livermore and Dick Morse?)
 
6:55, Say what? The "Seattle Times" is our nations most prominent newspaper?

We branched to an alternate reality and I didn't even notice.
 
The article is by William Broad and appeared in the New York Times.
 
Care should be taken as to where this discussion is going. However, one does wonder what questions would have been answered already had we not spent $1B (POGOs estimate) on the Nanos stand down.

To the orignal poster, Nanos and Foley are not representative of most of the admirals I know.
 
The W-76 design was tested a number to times. Mother nature voted. It worked. Why speculate about its performance when it was measured?
 
To 8:23:

Nanos, Foley, and Brooks _are_ representative of most of the Admirals I know.
 
To 8:51: I've known a few very capable admirals, e.g. James Ellis, Daniel Murphy, John Butts, Parker, but on reflection I don't know all that many admirals.
 
Morse really likes to be "important", but he has absolutely no standing in regard to weapons design. He certainly was not the first to recognize turbulance in nuclear weapons. Yes there were many tests of the 76 and it always worked just fine. Some better choices on the diagnostics on some of the tests would have put all this speculation to bed, but the bottom line is it worked every time.
 
It seems that LANL has "certified" this warhead for over 10 years now. It was tested a number of times in Nevada. It seems that, unlike some other components, the case either works or it doesn't, and it seems to work. The claim is not that it is age related, but that the original design was wrong. Seems to me like Morse is a bit too excited by his simulations. Tests have always worked better than simulations.
As to who benefits from such dust ups, other than Morse; the labs do. The have been wanting to test ever since they stopped, and this is one more driver for testing.
Look for testing before 2010.
 
Eventually there might be scores of reasons that could precipitate a "supreme national interest" return to nuclear testing. Morse's simulations that directly contradict measured empirical data will not be numbered among those reasons. Always beware of retrospective simulations that contradict actual history, including the extensive test history of the W-76. Need I say anymore?
 
Los Alamos is preparing for a final design review of the rebuilt version of the W76 under a life extension program. Livermore is providing peer review of this program. The NNSA and the Navy are closely supervising the program. Nothing is proposed for change as a result of Dick Morse's concerns. Not one of the above players has identified an issue that requires a nuclear test of the W76 or its rebuilt version. The New York Times article was completely bogus.
 
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