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FYI Number 38: March 24, 2005

Rep. David Hobson on Administration's Nuclear Weapons Initiatives

Rep. David Hobson (R-OH) will play a very important role in crafting the congressional response to the Bush Administration's FY 2006 request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). As chairman of the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, Hobson has a key role in writing the ultimate funding bill for NNSA. Last year, his subcommittee decided against funding several controversial nuclear weapons initiatives, and his subcommittee's recommendations later prevailed despite opposition in the Senate and from the Bush Administration (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2004/082.html and http://www.aip.org/fyi/2004/154.html.)

The Administration seeks FY 2006 funding for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP), the Modern Pit Facility, Nevada Test Site Readiness Enhancement, and a variant of the Advanced Weapons Concepts program. See FYI #37 at http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/037.html regarding a recent hearing on these initiatives.

A speech Hobson delivered last month before the Arms Control Association provides insight into his approach on these controversial issues. Selections of his speech on RNEP, weapons concepts, and a Modern Pit Facility follow; the full text of Hobson's remarks can be read at http://www.armscontrol.org/events/20050203_hobson_text.asp which include his thinking on the new Stockpile Plan.

"My primary message to you today is that the time has come for a thoughtful and open debate on the role of nuclear weapons in our country's national security strategy. There still is a basic set of questions that need to be addressed:

"How large a stockpile should we maintain?
Should we have a set of older weapons with many spares, or should we have a smaller stockpile of more modern weapons?
What design and manufacturing capabilities do we need to maintain the DOE nuclear weapons complex, and where should these capabilities be located?
Is this the best use of our limited financial resources for national defense?"

"I have been advocating for the past two years that we must get beyond that Cold War legacy to a new strategy that makes sense for the future. . . . Until we have a real debate and develop a comprehensive plan for the U.S. nuclear stockpile and the DOE weapons complex, we are left arguing over isolated projects such as the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator or the ‘RNEP study'.

"I am happy to describe how we dealt with those high profile projects last year, but remember that these are peripheral issues, and we have yet to address the more fundamental questions about our nuclear stockpile."

ROBUST NUCLEAR EARTH PENETRATOR:

"With our FY 2005 [Energy and Water Development] bill, I feel like we had some success putting the weapons program of the NNSA (National Nuclear Security Administration) on a better path. Obviously, the activity that attracted the most attention was the RNEP study, also known as the ‘nuclear bunker buster.' In the FY 2005 bill, Congress zeroed out the funding request for the RNEP study, primarily because of the lack of any programmatic justification for such an effort.

"Neither the Department of Defense nor the Department of Energy has ever articulated to me a specific military requirement for a nuclear earth penetrator. At DoD's urging, I even spent an entire day at Offutt Air Force Base getting briefed by STRATCOM, but I was never told of any specific military mission requiring the nuclear bunker buster.

"The Department of Energy's nuclear weapons complex has so many fundamental management problems that have not received sufficient Federal oversight that it troubles me deeply that Congressional opposition to RNEP generate so much attention. The development of new weapons for ill-defined future requirements is not what the Nation needs at this time. What is needed, and what is absent to date, is leadership and fresh thinking for the 21 st Century regarding nuclear security and the future of the U.S. stockpile."

ADVANCED WEAPONS CONCEPT/RELIABLE REPLACEMENT WARHEAD:

"One other change we made last year was to zero out the Advanced Concepts Initiative and redirect the funding for weapons design work into a new effort called a Reliable Replacement Warhead to improve the reliability and longevity of existing weapons and their components.

"Part of the Department's rationale for the Advanced Concepts proposal was to challenge the skills of the existing group of weapons designers and provide opportunities for the younger generation of designers to conduct design work and thereby maintain a skilled cadre at the national labs.

"The Reliable Replacement Warhead concept will provide the research and engineering problems necessary to challenge the workforce while at the same time refurbishing some existing weapons in the stockpile without developing a new weapon that would require underground testing to verify the design. A more robust replacement warhead, from a reliability standpoint, will provide the stockpile hedge that is currently provided by retaining thousands of unnecessary warheads."

MODERN PIT FACILITY:

"In the FY 2005 bill, Congress rolled back the large request for the Modern Pit Facility until the Department of Energy completes the studies that will determine how big the production capacity will have to be to maintain the stockpile. Until we have that information, it is premature to design and site a pit facility. I do not oppose the eventual design and construction of a pit facility. However, at this stage in the process, my concern and responsibility is to provide sufficient oversight to ensure the American taxpayers their money is being well spent.

"DOE initially proposed a pit facility with a Cold War production capacity of 450 pits per year ignoring the Stockpile reductions decided by the President. I felt that made no sense and argued for a go-slow approach on this new multi-billion construction project until the Department completes the science experiments on plutonium aging to determine the actual production capacity needed to support the long-term size of the stockpile. The FY 2005 bill provides $7 million to continue a conceptual design effort and the only prohibition concerning the modern pit facility is on designating a specific construction site during fiscal year 2005."

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3095

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