Letter to Congress on the B61 Nuclear BombSee the PDF Version
February 5, 2013
The Honorable Dianne Feinstein
Chair, Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
Committee on Appropriations
Washington DC 20510
Dear Senator Feinstein:
As representatives of national organizations working on global security issues, we respectfully request that Congress withhold funding in fiscal year (FY) 2014 for the B61 bomb Life Extension Program (LEP) until a public, independent review of technical options, U.S. security requirements and scheduling alternatives is completed.
To be clear, we support the cost-‐effective maintenance of nuclear weapons until they are retired from the stockpile. However, there may be alternatives to the planned B61 LEP, currently estimated to cost from $7 to $10 billion, which are more budget-‐friendly. Moreover, because future arms reductions may make it unnecessary to extend the life of some or all of these bombs, it makes sense to delay the B61 LEP for as long as practical.
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the B61 program, currently estimates that it will cost about $7 billion and produce its first rebuilt bomb in FY 2019. But in July 2012, a Pentagon review projected that the program would cost $10.4 billion and take three years longer to start. Four hundred B61s are reportedly planned for refurbishment, at roughly $25 million per bomb.
The United States currently keeps about 180 tactical B61s in Europe to assure allies of the U.S. commitment to NATO. However, U.S. and NATO military leaders recognize that U.S. strategic nuclear forces—not tactical forces in Europe—provide the ultimate guarantee of Alliance security. Moreover, some NATO members, such as Germany, have called for the B61 to be removed from Europe. It is possible that a future agreement between Russia and the United States would, as the Senate has directed, address tactical nuclear weapons, which could reduce or eliminate these warheads. Thus, tactical B61 bombs might not be deployed a decade from now, when the proposed rebuilding program would be complete.
Even if tactical B61s remain in service, there appears to be no rush to rebuild them. B61s, like all modern nuclear weapons, have two components (neutron generators and gas transfer systems) that have limited life and are replaced on a regular basis. However, the scope of the B61 LEP goes well beyond these limited life components and involves replacing hundreds of other non-‐nuclear parts, such as switches, foams, and cables, as well as the bomb’s uranium secondary.
These parts are continually assessed by the stockpile surveillance program, run by Sandia National Laboratories, and, according to scientists with weapons expertise, there is no evidence that they need to be replaced soon. Moreover, the strategic B61-‐7 already underwent significant upgrades in 2009. Leaving aside the limited-‐life parts, it does not appear that the B61 LEP must be completed by 2022, as NNSA asserts.
Thus, Congress has time to explore alternatives to a $10 billion B61 LEP. Indeed, simply replacing the limited life components could provide a 15-‐year window that would allow the NNSA time to complete the delayed W76 LEP. This schedule change would relieve budget pressure and increase clarity about the future need for the B61 before the United States makes major investments in retaining it.
Safety concerns are another motivation for the B61 LEP. Tactical versions of the B61 stored in Europe are potentially more vulnerable to theft than the strategic B61 bombs based in the United States. The NNSA has proposed to address this concern, in part, by folding four of the B61 versions into a new one, the B61-‐12, that would have less fissile material than some current versions.
Rather than pursue this expensive consolidation, the security of forward-‐deployed B61s could be enhanced in other ways, such as by providing more secure storage in Europe, consolidating the warheads at fewer locations, or by stationing these bombs in the United States.
Another option would be to scale-‐back the program by replacing only the parts that are known to be at the end of their lives and only for the weapons that are likely to still be deployed a decade from now. For example, the NNSA could only upgrade the strategic B61-‐7, of which there are an estimated 120 in service, and replace only the limited-‐life parts and possibly the radar (which is an old model that still uses vacuum tubes). As for the roughly 180 tactical bombs based in Europe, such limited upgrades could be made only for those planned to be deployed into the 2020s. This scaled-‐back approach could save billions of dollars.
In FY 2012, Congress required an independent review of the B61 LEP by JASON, a group of independent science advisers to the government. That review found no technical problems with NNSA’s preferred option for the B61 LEP, but indicates that there is no technical rationale for the timing of the planned LEP. Rather, the report states that keeping to the schedule is important for “political reasons involving our NATO allies.”
In light of its high cost, uncertain need, and lack of immediacy, Congress should fence funding for the B61 LEP in FY 2014 until a public, unclassified review of a range of reasonable alternatives is completed.
We appreciate your attention and would be happy to meet with you about the concerns raised in this letter. (For purposes of correspondence, please contact Tom Z. Collina, Arms Control Association, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-‐463-‐8270 x104)
Nuclear Watch New Mexico
Santa Fe, NM
Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers)
Katherine M. Fuchs
Alliance for Nuclear Accountability
Lisbeth Gronlund, Ph.D.
Co-‐Director and Senior Scientist, Global Security Program
Union of Concerned Scientists
William D. Hartung
Director, Arms and Security Project
Center for International Policy
Campaign for a Nuclear Weapons Free World
Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation
Daryl G. Kimball
Executive Director and
Tom Z. Collina
Arms Control Association
Director, Nuclear Information Project
Federation of American Scientists
Paul Kawika Martin
Political and Communications Director
Georgia Women's Action for New Directions (Georgia WAND)
Peace Action West
Kathy Crandall Robinson
Senior Public Policy Director
Women's Action for New Directions
Catherine Thomasson, MD
Physicians for Social Responsibility