Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have recommended
no research funding for a Stimulated Isomer Energy Release (SIER) that
could, some researchers predict, lead to the development of a new weapon.
The Bush Administration requested $4.0 million in FY 2005 funding for
SIER in the DARPA budget.
This program was described in the FY 2005 RDT&E DARPA budget estimates
document as follows:
"Nuclear isomers, such as hafnium 178m2, store in the nucleus
10,000 times as much energy per gram as TNT. The goal of the Stimulated
Isomer Energy Release program is to develop a technique to control the
release of this energy. It will develop a way to make these isomers
in gram-size quantities. The program will demonstrate that as much energy
can be released as is used to initiate the reaction (a breakeven experiment)."
The Program Plans were as follows: 1.) "Determine if the hafnium
isomer can be triggered with photons in the x-ray range that will release
more than 50 times the energy input of the trigger." 2.) Identify
a hafnium isomer production process that is affordable and cost effective."
3.) "Develop a physics approach to a chain reaction for the hafnium
Readers desiring more information on this program should see an article
in the May 2004 issue of PHYSICS TODAY by Bertram Schwarzschild,
"Conflicting Results on a Long-Lived Nuclear Isomer of Hafnium
Have Wider Implications," at http://www.physicstoday.org/vol-57/iss-5/p21.html
The House Armed Services Committee and Senate Armed Services Committee
explained in their reports accompanying the FY 2005 defense authorization
bills the reasons why they recommended against DARPA funding of this
program. This report language is as follows:
HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE REPORT 108-491:
"Stimulated isomer energy release
"The budget request contained $339.2 million in PE 62702E for
tactical technology applied research, including $4.0 million for stimulated
isomer energy release.
"The committee is aware that the Defense Advanced Research Project
Agency (DARPA) is funding research to investigate the feasibility of
stimulating the release of energy stored in nuclear isomers. The committee
understands that the DARPA-sponsored research is investigating two of
the most difficult technical challenges in this program and that the
research is being conducted in the national laboratories, the Department
of Energy, the military service laboratories, and other facilities.
Given the significant policy issues associated with any eventual use
of an isomer weapon and given the inability of distinguished scientists
to replicate the reported successful triggering experiment of 1998,
the committee believes that the Department of Defense should not be
engaged in this research. The proper agency to investigate the feasibility
of this technology is the National Nuclear Security Administration and
its national laboratory complex. The committee questions the utility
of this research in any circumstances and is particularly skeptical
of research into nuclear isomer production before triggering is shown
to be possible.
"Accordingly, the committee directs the Secretary of Defense to
terminate this program, and recommends no funding for the stimulated
isomer energy release in PE 62702E, a reduction of $4.0 million."
SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE REPORT 108-260:
"The budget request included $339.2 million in PE 62702E for applied
research on tactical systems. The committee recommends a total reduction
of $25.0 million from this account. The committee recommends a reduction
of $4.0 million from the Stimulated Isomer Energy Release program. The
committee agrees with the majority of expert technical opinions that
this effort, though carrying a large potential payoff, should be a smaller
fundamental research effort at this time."