Saturday, July 23, 2005

DOE report is height of delusion

Title: Recommendations for the Nuclear Complex of the Future
Authors: Nuclear Weapons Complex Infrastructure Task Force (David Overskei, Chair)
Draft report from US Dept of Energy, July 2005.


"As long as people believe in absurdities they will continue to commit atrocities." ~Voltaire


Amazing. Just when I thought public policy regarding nukes couldn't get more absurd, I found this DOE task force report released July 13.(All quotes below, unless clearly stated otherwise, come from the report, but all emphasis in them is mine.)

The absurdities and, worse, blatant contradictions litter the reports 36 pages (excluding appendices, which go on forever). Repeatedly, the task force writers argue a need to support non-proliferation efforts by developing a new generation of nuclear weapons based on what they call the "Reliable Replacement Warhead." and more than that, instituting a system by which the US can continuously develop new weapons over time once new ones get old.

"To demonstrate the US is committed to arms reduction, the Task Force recommends that Pantex focus on the aggressive dismantlement of the Cold War stockpile, while the Complex begins replacing the Cold War stockpile with the sustainable stockpile of the future." (vii)

WTF?!? This is a lot like taking the print version of Hustler away from the kids but giving them internet access to the VoyeurWeb. How does this promote arms reduction?

At one point, they acknowledge that the existing Moscow Treaty calls for reduction to a total of 1700-2200 "operationally deployed strategic nukes" by 2012. That number, however, DOESN'T include the rest of the stockpile, much of which can be made operational very quickly. Later, the report says the total will be "substantially smaller" than present, but also says DOD requires a stockpile "if force augmentation is needed to meet an expanding threat." In essense, the DOD is saying we have to be ready for another arms race, even though the whole objective of this report is to ensure more accurate, effective wpns, which would make huge quantities irrelevant.

Obviously, you know where I stand -- we need to abolish them as soon as possible. But even if we assume there's a need to keep the ability to produce them (as, for example, some of James Morrow's characters suggest in This is the Way the World Ends), we do not need more warheads. With just the existing submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), the US is perfectly capable of dealing unprecedented damage and suffering to any nation who threatens us. (Not that any really do.)

"Cost-benefit" stupidity

The report often talks about cost savings by creating a new Consolidated Nuclear Production Center (CNPC) to replace the several locations that now manufacture nuclear weapons and parts. And "cost-benefit" talk is rife, as in, "A risk-informed cost-benefit analysis should be performed on all programmatic, safety and security recommendations. Rational decisionmaking should balance risks and benefits while implementing change."

"Cost analysis of designs should extend from inception to disposition," they write. That makes sense if you're talking about toasters or computers, but it leaves out some very important calculations when the item in question is intended to obliterate whole cities. Will this analysis include the low-probability but incredibly high-negative-outcome risk that the things might be used?!? If it does not, then anything the "cost-benefit" report says is bullshit.

To me, this nonsense is similar to their various references to "margin", as in creating "high margin conservative designs." What does THAT mean? I assume they intend it to mean "high effectiveness," but since there's no benefit to ever USING them, the only "high margin" I can see in this process is high PROFIT margin for the industries they want to make them... but I'll come back to that.

The way the entire report is written strongly implies that they intend to build a ton of new nukes, let them sit there for a few decades, then dismantle them without ever using them. Obviously, we should never use them, but if we design them intending to never use them, then let's not build them at all.
This is an economic black hole of limitless depth, a perpetual siphon for billions in taxpayer funds with no redeeming cultural value.
Instead, let's save the money, resources, scientific time, unnecessary risks, and other things wasted by their production for use in more socially beneficial scientific pursuits like the space program or cleaning up our environmental errors.

In fact, they claim that "implementing all recommendations now will increase near-term costs substantially, but with substantial future cost reductions" once the CNPC is fully operational. However, the very next line is directly contradictory: It says the plan assumes "accelerated dismantlement rates" and "no reduction in the currently supported stockpile." Which is it? How can you assume both???

"The CNPC should be designed to handle 300 weapons per year" including "producing and dismantling at a rate of 125 devices per year" by 2030 on just one shift, with the possibility of a second (and third?) shift if more wpns are desired. I don't see how that's going to reduce our overall number of nukes, even if the existing site (called Pantex) is devoted solely to destroying old weapons. They later note the entire system is 20+ years behind in dismantling existing wpns "under current planning of dismantlement rates."

Industrial follies

As I noted earlier, the Task Force aims to hand off much of the production process to private industry. That's scary, especially since they argue, "The DOD should work to relax the military chracteristics of its nuclear weapons" so they can be more easily manufactured. WTF??? There should never be anything BUT military characteristics of nukes! This sounds (unintentionally, I'm sure) like they want civilian nukes. Can I buy one? I'll take the blue one on that shelf there. It's a little heavy so make sure you double-bag it.

Snark aside, they mean that the process should be simplified so that fairly common automated industrial processes can build future nukes, thus reducing the number of people actually handling dangerous materials, making the weapon parts more interchangable, and supposedly reducing costs. That's great in theory. But I have a problem with that, too, for a few reasons.

I. Simplicity: They want "pit designs that are simpler to fabricate and thus conducive to lower production cost and higher throughput." Translation: easier to make lots of them for fewer bucks. Sounds like a market for terrorists, who would find it easier to steal the ideas than the weapons themselves.

The effort to convert most of the process to an automated one is ostensibly to reduce costs, increase efficiency and reduce human exposure to the toxins... But I think this will simply further dehumanize the horrors nukes present. If a human is actively building these things, there's always a chance they'll realize how awful they are and begin to fight for a nuke-free world (maybe even sabotaging production so it doesn't explode at all?), but more distance will make them more likely to just see it as "another job." Building nukes should NEVER be seen as "just a job" any more than serial murder or dumping toxins in rivers should be.

II. Security: The report is probably accurate in saying that the current system of "guards, guns and gates" at the 8 wpns-related facilities "increases cost with no apparent limit." By consolidating the system, it would certainly be easier to maintain security of the weapons and facilities, although the weapons' existence is itself the cause of that insecurity.

They want to improve security, but why is the "more economical industrial security" model better? As we've seen, computers have been responsible for numerous false warnings due to errors or outside hacking that could've led to nuke war if a human being hadn't been there to prevent it. Likewise, industrial computers are often being hacked, as the recent spate of "identity theft" cases proves. Industrial security is no panacea. Given the horrible nature of these devices, we should have both technology and well-armed human beings guarding them. Again, the fact that they exist at all means insane wackjobs will want them because of the destruction they can do.

III. Staffing: "The enduring key to maintaining a safe, reliable stockpile of nuclear weapons is the quality of people who make expert judgments and their sustained dedication to their work." In general, that's true, but given what we're discussing, it's also incredibly absurd in two key ways:

1. Reliable nukes are by definition NOT safe for civilization to have. Period. They're only somewhat less dangerous than unreliable nukes, especially if the unreliability might cause the bomb to go off in storage. Of course, if the unreliability would prevent the bomb from detonating at all, that's a different issue!

They argue their proposed changes "should lead to a new family of nuclear weapons ... incorporating state-of-the-art surety requirements." Huh? Do they mean certainty of explosive effectiveness, or safety of handling? I suspect latter, which makes this incredibly delusional. That feeling is reinforced elsewhere by references to older weapons containing beryllium and other toxic materials "now subject to environmental, safety, and health restrictions." Let's see... the builder can go home sure he's not being poisoned except by the knowledge he's building a thing designed to kill millions. If he has any conscience, that's a great trade-off -- healthy body with a traumatized mind.

(Oh, and I also love the "family" reference. Mr. Bomb, can I take your daughter to the prom? I promise she'll be home by two minutes to midnight...)

2. A key goal of this report is to automate as much of the system as possible, thus eliminating the human element, at least from direct production. Having fewer people consolidates expert judgment into the hands of those who have more vested interest in continuing the insanity and usually those who can't see how absurd their work is. The world can do without that kind of "dedication."

Logically, nobody should have first-hand experience of how these weapons work, b/c thet means they've been used. Unfortunately, as we all know, they have been. But the fact that we've had a test ban since the early 1990s and nobody's used one in combat since 1945 is seen as a problem by the nuclear delusion squad.

They wrote, "In some critical skill areas, this on-the-job training takes 5 or more years to gain sufficient experience, and such training may not be possible in the future." (I sure hope so!) Specifically, they note the declining numbers of people with testing experience, saying, "This reinforces the absolute necessity of resuming design activities now...."

That would give the upcoming generation of weapons scientists opportunity to train with those who tested the existing nukes, a rational thing to do if we were talking about anything but nuclear weapons. With nukes, however, we run into an obvious moral quandary: How will that give the upcomers, or future generations, test experience themselves? At some points they mention that computer tech makes it possible to design "for certification without (underground tests)", but elsewhere say the new CNPC will have the capability to put a new weapon through such a test w/in 18 months of starting design work and recommends keeping the Nevada test site operational.

To me, this seems like a between-the-lines suggestion that resuming testing is itself the "absolute necessity" in their eyes. Between real tests and Chernobyl, we've had decades of experience in what that does to people...

There were several other disturbing points, but I think I've made my point. This is a bad plan from any genuinely long-term point of view, since our survival may require eliminating nukes altogether.

They claim centralizing the process will enable them to "Record lessons learned from the past." Obviously, though,they haven't learned much, have they? They clearly slept through the crucial class in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki were wiped off the planet. Yes, they were rebuilt, but that's only b/c there were outsiders to provide care who hadn't experienced the Bomb firsthand. Encouraging this plan only makes future Hiroshimas and Nagasakis more likely.

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