An Aging Nuclear Weapons Stockpile

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 10 months ago

Glenn Reynolds linked a report that the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are calling for refurbishment of the existing nuclear weapons in the U.S.  Good find by Glenn.  A brief word of explanation.

It has always been true that we can’t sit on the nuclear weapons stockpile without working to maintain the purity of the materials.  Uranium and transuranics (e.g., Plutonium) do decay, albeit most isotopes with very long decay half lives (e.g., Pu-239 has a half life of 24,100 years).  Decay introduces impurities into the material, and purity is a requirement for miniturization of nuclear weapons, something the Chinese have not yet learned like the U.S. (this means that weapon delivery is made easier).

But by far the larger effect of decay is tritium, which is used as material for fussion in thermonuclear weapons in conjuction with the fission to enhance their power.  The half life for tritium is 12.32 years.  In other words, as the stockpile sits, its effectiveness decays away.  This must be considered in thinking about national security as we move forward into the twenty first century.  In the ongoing work to maintain the effectiveness of the stockpile, TVA won a bid for a government program to produce Tritium (this is done by activation of Lithium) at their Watts Bar Nuclear Power Plant.

How does Obama stack up against the nuclear stockpile?  Opposed.

Senator Barack Obama will propose on Tuesday setting a goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons in the world, saying the United States should greatly reduce its stockpiles to lower the threat of nuclear terrorism, aides say.

In a speech at DePaul University in Chicago, Mr. Obama will add his voice to a plan endorsed earlier this year by a bipartisan group of former government officials from the cold war era who say the United States must begin building a global consensus to reverse a reliance on nuclear weapons that have become “increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.”

Mr. Obama, according to details provided by his campaign Monday, also will call for pursuing vigorous diplomatic efforts aimed at a global ban on the development, production and deployment of intermediate-range missiles.

“In 2009, we will have a window of opportunity to renew our global leadership and bring our nation together,” Mr. Obama is planning to say, according to an excerpt of remarks provided by his aides. “If we don’t seize that moment, we may not get another.”

This places Obama and current military leadership (Gates and Mullen) on a direct collision course over national security and the need for maintenance of nuclear weapons.




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This article is filed under the category(s) Nuclear and was published October 27th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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