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White House orders extra cuts to stockpile

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By Roger Snodgrass

In signaling renewed commitment to a smaller nuclear weapons complex this week, the head of the nuclear weapons agency in the Department of Energy also highlighted the president’s related announcement of an additional unilateral reduction of the nuclear weapons stockpile.For security reasons, neither NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino nor the White House offered actual numbers of weapons that would be dismantled.White House Press Secretary Dana Perino announced Tuesday that President Bush approved a “significant reduction in the nuclear weapons stockpile to take effect by the end of 2007.“We are reducing our nuclear weapons stockpile to the lowest level consistent with America’s national security and our commitments to friends and allies,” Perino said. “A credible deterrent remains an essential part of U.S. national security, and nuclear forces remain key to meeting emergency security challenges.”Following mutual pledges made in the Moscow Treaty of 2002, the U.S. and Russia agreed to reduce their total number of deployed warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200 in 10 years. In 2004, the president directed that the overall stockpile be cut in half by 2012.In his press conference Tuesday, D’Agostino said the dismantlement work had been accelerated and the goal of halving the stockpile would be achieved by the end of this year, after only five years and four years ahead of schedule.He said the White House announcement now called for an additional 15-percent reduction in the stockpile by 2012. When completed, the overall nuclear stockpile would shrink to less than one-quarter of its size at the end of the Cold War.Leonor Tomero, director of nuclear non-proliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said the additional reduction was a good step, but not significant in the broader context.“We’re still looking at about 5,000 weapons (in the stockpile), when the National Academy of Sciences recommended 1,000, 10 years ago,” she said, adding that the numbers should be measured against existing threats, rather than at the height of the Cold War, when Russia and the U.S. were engaged in a massive arms race.Tomero visited Los Alamos last week with Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, a senior fellow at the center, during his talk to the Los Alamos Committee on Arms Control and International Security.In a telephone interview from Washington, she said the reduction would not apply to deployed strategic warheads, but rather to non-strategic and non-deployed weapons.“There have been no new cuts in deployed strategic weapons since the Moscow Treaty,” she said, and time was running out on extending or replacing the legally binding and verifiable provisions of the 1992 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that expires in 2009.A correspondent from the Russian news agency TASS asked D’Agostino during the press conference if the U.S. expected Moscow to take similar steps.“This is not quid pro quo,” D’Agostino said. “We want to make clear to the world that we are interested in reducing the nuclear danger.”Under the NNSA’s transformation proposal Los Alamos National Laboratory would become a center of excellence for nuclear design and engineering, a center of excellence for plutonium, a supercomputing platform host, and maintain production capabilities for about 80 plutonium pits, or nuclear weapons triggers, per year for delivery to the stockpile.