Increasing Nuclear Transparency with Satellite Imagery

FAS was pleased to welcome experts Matthew McKinzie with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Hans Kristensen with FAS, and Tamara Patton with the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) this Thursday to present and discuss their use of satellite imagery to monitor nuclear forces and proliferators.

Matthew McKinzie spoke about the use of Geographic Information Systems and satellite imagery for arms control, human rights, and environmental advocacy work. Google Earth has exposed IBCM silo complexes, and observations of changes in images of the same location over time have evidenced mass building destruction on the Eritrea-Ethiopia border after the 2000 cease-fire and home demolitions in the Gaza Strip. Using knowledge from North Korean refugees, what at first appeared from satellite to be towns we now know to be prison camps. An examination of geographical overlap can also reveal locational information about Hezbollah terrorism targets in Beirut. In addition, when given known information about prevailing winds, McKinzie was able to calculate the radiation plumes that would result from a meltdown of each US power reactor at specific times during the day. The NRDC also collected data on radar throughout the US, including weather, airport surveillance, and air route surveillance radar, which, when combined with information about prevailing winds and elevation, can give essential information to the DOD about high interference areas. Continue reading

Revolution in Nuclear Detection Affairs

FAS held a briefing Tuesday about the new strategies and technologies being used in nuclear detection. Dr. Huban Gowadia, Deputy Director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office at the Department of Homeland Security, gave the presentation and described the “revolution” taking place.

Throughout history, various technologies have redefined the way wars have been fought, e.g. the long bow, gunpowder, tanks and eventually nuclear weapons. There is a gap, however, between the development of technology and when it becomes operationally and strategically effective. After all, it was centuries after gun powder’s invention that the use of muskets and cannon drastically changed warfare. In the case of nuclear detection, the technology, which once took up an entire room and required a trained physicist to analyze, has been compressed into a handheld device that any trained law enforcement officer can use. Continue reading

DOE Plan Would Reduce Nuclear Arsenal By Up To 40 Percent But Would Result in Few Cost Savings or Reductions In Size Of Weapons Complex

–SCIENCE GROUPS RELEASE BUDGET PLAN PUBLICLY FOR FIRST TIME–

WASHINGTON DC (July 13, 2010) – The Obama administration is planning to cut the U.S. nuclear arsenal by as much as 40 percent by 2021, but also wants to spend nearly $175 billion over the next twenty years to build new facilities and to maintain and modify thousands of weapons, according to sections of an administration plan made public today by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

The proposal, the “FY2011 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan,” part of the Department of Energy’s proposed fiscal year 2011 budget, was drafted by DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and presented to members of Congress in May.

“Nuclear weapons are now a liability, not an asset, so the plan to reduce the U.S. nuclear stockpile is a step in the right direction.”  said Lisbeth Gronlund, co-director of UCS’s Global Security Program.

The plan calls for the United States to reduce its nuclear arsenal 30 to 40 percent from today’s total of approximately 5,000 weapons. Reductions already underway will reduce the arsenal to 4,700 weapons by the end of 2012. According to the plan, “the future NNSA infrastructure will support total stockpiles up to a range of approximately 3,000 to 3,500 [warheads],” about twice the number of warheads the New START treaty permits to be deployed on strategic forces. (For more details, see “Plan Promises Nuclear Reductions, but Few Savings,” a fact sheet prepared by FAS and UCS.)

“The 3,000 to 3,500 total warhead target is a ceiling,” said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists. “Of course, the United States could reduce its arsenal to even lower levels through negotiated agreements with Russia and the other nuclear weapon states.”

The plan also includes cost estimates beyond what NNSA has previously released. It calls for the United States to spend nearly $175 billion (in then-year dollars) from 2010 to 2030 on new weapons production, testing and simulation facilities, and on modernizing and extending the life of the remaining weapons in the arsenal. That price tag does not include the cost of maintaining and operating nuclear weapons delivery systems, which are covered by the Department of Defense budget.

Given NNSA’s spotty record for meeting deadlines and budgets, experts at FAS and UCS predict that the costs are likely to be higher.

The two science groups also questioned some of NNSA’s key assumptions. For example, they questioned the need to maintain the capability to support 3,000 to 3,500 weapons, even if the number of weapons in the stockpile dropped below 1,000.

“Weapons expenditures will remain high because the plan calls for retaining a large, capable weapons complex independent of the size of the arsenal,” said Gronlund. “This could be a problem for deeper reductions that are needed since it would be possible for the United States to rapidly rebuild.”

“That calculation makes no sense,” said Kristensen. “It is like saying that today’s stockpile of about 5,000 weapons requires a complex of nearly the same size and cost as when the stockpile had 8,000 warheads. Given the size of the federal deficit, the Obama administration needs to think more clearly about how it spends the taxpayers’ money.”

Finally, the groups cautioned the Obama administration against against making extensive modifications to U.S. nuclear weapons in the future, at a time when the United States is seeking additional reductions with Russia and other nuclear weapon states and needs the support of non-nuclear countries to implement the administration’s nonproliferation agenda.

“Not only could extensive ‘improvements’ reduce the reliability of the warheads, they would send the wrong message when we are trying to get other countries to reduce their arsenals,” Gronlund said.

The “FY2011 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan” consists of five sections (three are unclassified):

·      FY 2011 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan Summary (unclassified)

·      Annex A – FY 2011 Stockpile Stewardship Plan (unclassified)

·      Annex B – FY 2011 Stockpile Management Plan (classified)

·      Annex C – FY 2011 Science, Technology, and Engineering Report on Stockpile Stewardship Criteria and Assessment of Stockpile Stewardship Program (classified), and

·      Annex D – FY 2011 Biennial Plan and Budget Assessment on the Modernization and Refurbishment of the Nuclear Security Complex (unclassified)

Analysis by Hans Kristensen.
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