(Courtesy of Susanne)
Lab officials excited by new H-bomb project
By Ian Hoffman
Inside Bay Area
For the first time in more than 20 years, U.S. nuclear-weapons scientists are designing a new
H-bomb, the first of probably several new nuclear explosives on the drawing boards.
If they succeed, in perhaps 20 or 25 more years, the United States would have an entirely new nuclear arsenal, and a highly automated fac- tory capable of turning out more warheads as needed, as well as new kinds of warheads.
"We are on the verge of an exciting time," the nation's top nuclear weapons executive, Linton Brooks, said last week at Lawrence Livermore weapons design laboratory.
Teams of roughly
20 scientists and engineers at the nation's two laboratories for nuclear-explosive design — Livermore and Los Alamos in New Mexico — are in a head-to-head competition to offer designs for the first of the new thermonuclear explosives, termed "reliable replacement warheads" or RRWs.
Designers are aiming for bombs that will be simpler, easier to maintain over decades and, if they fell into terrorists' hands, able to be remotely destroyed or rendered useless. Once the designs are unveiled in September, the Bush administration and Congress could face a major choice in the future of the U.S. arsenal: Do they keep maintaining the existing, tested weapons or begin diverting money and manpower to developing the newly designed but untested weapons?
Administration officials see the new weapons and the plant to make them as "truly transformative," allowing the dismantlement of thousands of reserve weapons.
But within the community of nuclear weapons experts, the notion of fielding untested weapons is controversial and turns heavily on how much the new bombs would be like the well-tested weapons that the United States already has.
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