Skip to main content

You are here

Presented to the East Tennessee Economic Council

March 03, 2006

Presented by Linton F. Brooks, Administrator, NNSA

Thank you. It is nice to be back in Oak Ridge.

My name is Linton Brooks and I am the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which means, among other things, that I am responsible for the nuclear weapons complex, including Y-12. That means I am very familiar with the site, its first rate leadership team, its more than 60-plus year history of achievement, and its historic strong community support.

Yesterday I was able to view the construction sites for two new buildings at Y-12. I would like to congratulate our team here on their innovative alternative-financing effort that will allow us to bring together more than 1200 people who are currently housed in 20 separate, inefficient and in some cases, obsolete buildings while saving the taxpayers’ money.
All Americans owe a very personal debt of gratitude to those at Y-12 who dedicate their lives to our national security. Under the leadership of Steve Leitle and now, George Dials, they are doing important work protecting our nation. NNSA is proud to be part of this effort. We are also very proud of the community support in East Tennessee. We are truly partners in security and partners in community.

Today, I want to talk about the nuclear weapons stockpile, the infrastructure supporting it and how our work supports the President’s goal of reducing nuclear weapons. It was not all that long ago that our children were taught to fear the possibility of sudden death from a bomb. From “Duck and Cover” in the fifties to “The Day After” in the 80s, Americans lived with a nuclear cloud over their heads. With the end of the Cold War, the nation is safer and more secure. I do not mean to minimize the threat of terrorism, but it pales beside the possibility of societal destruction that dominated much of my professional life.

Why was it only a Cold War? Why, when the West was faced for years with an expansionist power with a messianic ideology did global war never break out? The truth is we do not know. It is the nature of deterrence that you can never prove it worked, only that it failed. But, I believe that it was the American nuclear deterrent that made global war unthinkable. And, I know that deterrent was critically dependent on the work done here in East Tennessee.

Now we face a new era, one we still have no better term for than “the post Cold War world.” The end of the Cold War did not end the importance of nuclear weapons. The United States will, for the foreseeable future, need to retain both nuclear forces and the capabilities to sustain and modernize those forces. I do not see any chance of the political conditions for abolition arising in my lifetime, nor do I think abolition could be verified if it were negotiated.

But, the size and composition of our stockpile can and should change. President Bush has advanced a clear nuclear policy since the earliest days of the Administration. On 1 May 2001, at the National Defense University, he said: “We can, and will, change the size, the composition, and the character of our nuclear forces in a way that reflects the reality that the Cold War is over. I am committed to achieving a credible deterrent with the lowest-possible number of nuclear weapons consistent with our national security needs, including our obligations to our allies.”

Remarkable progress has been made in fulfilling the President’s commitment to reducing the number of nuclear weapons and the U.S. reliance on them. Two specifics:

  • The Moscow Treaty of May 2002 will reduce operationally-deployed strategic nuclear weapons to 1,700 to 2,200 by December 2012, down from about 5,300 at the end of 2003. These levels, which would have been unthinkable when I negotiated START I in the late1980s, are far lower than many of us thought possible just a few years ago.
  • In May 2004, the President took steps to reduce the total size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile - non-deployed as well as deployed. By 2012, the stockpile will be lower by nearly one-half from the 2001 level – down by roughly a factor-of-four since the end of the Cold War and the lowest level since the Eisenhower Administration.

While these are impressive achievements, I believe that further reductions are both possible and desirable. The key to making those reductions lies in an important conceptual breakthrough made by the Administration’s 2001 Nuclear Posture Review. That review recognized that other capabilities could substitute for functions traditionally assigned to nuclear forces. As a result, it was organized intellectually around a “New Triad” of offenses, defenses, and the supporting research and development, and manufacturing base.

From our standpoint at NNSA, the recognition of the critical role of the industrial base was the most fundamental change, and one that holds out the promise of additional reductions in the total stockpile. Once we demonstrate we can produce warheads that guard against the emergence of new threats and have the capability to respond in a timely way to technical problems in the stockpile, we may no longer need to retain extra warheads as a hedge against such problems.

Together with the Department of Defense, we are taking the first steps down the path toward a responsive nuclear infrastructure. In this, we have been aided immensely by a concept first formalized last year of a “Reliable Replacement Warhead” or RRW. Our Cold War design constraints sought to maximize yield-to-weight ratios and thus were designed to operate near performance “cliffs.” Today, we must design replacement components that are safer and more secure, easier to manufacture, eliminate environmentally dangerous materials, and increase design margins. This will increase safety, security and reliability, and reduce the chance we will ever need to resume nuclear testing.

This combination, the pairing of the Reliable Replacement Warhead with a truly responsive infrastructure - each enabled by the other – is transformational – even though it builds on the decade old Science Based Stockpile Stewardship Program. Today, Stockpile Stewardship is working. The stockpile is safe and reliable, and there is no requirement at this time for nuclear tests. Each year, the Secretaries of Energy and Defense reaffirm this judgment when reporting to the President their annual assessment of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. But, we need to think about the long term.

Here is the challenge. We can change our declaratory policy in a day. We can make operational and targeting changes in weeks or months. In a year or so we can improve integration of nuclear and non-nuclear offense. By contrast, the infrastructure and the stockpile it can support cannot change as quickly. Full infrastructure changes may take a couple of decades.

Let me offer one example. If, as most of us assume, the Reliable Replacement Warhead requires pit manufacture, and if everything works as we hope, we might be able to produce 40 pits a year starting early in the next decade. Greater production must await a restored pit production capability, which may not be available for at least 15 years. So, fully implementing the Reliable Replacement Warhead and the Responsive Infrastructure portion of the New Triad will take a while. But, it is worth working toward and is well worth waiting for.

Y-12 is and will continue to be a key player in the development of the Reliable Replacement Warhead. Y-12’s unique expertise in the manufacturing of secondary and case components is being brought to bear on this effort. Our engineers at Y-12 are working closely with design teams from the national laboratories to develop designs and manufacturing approaches. The goal is to develop designs that are not resource intensive or rely on hard to make hazardous and exotic materials. In the future, as we move forward with this effort, Y-12 will have a key role in manufacturing components to support the stockpile of the future.

Let me take you forward 20 or 25 years to a point when the Administration’s vision of a nuclear weapons enterprise of the future has come to fruition. The deployed stockpile - almost certainly considerably smaller than today’s - has largely been transformed.

Reliable Replacement Warheads have relaxed warhead design constraints imposed on Cold War systems. They are more easily manufactured at fewer facilities with safer and more environmentally benign materials. They have the same military characteristics, are carried on the same delivery systems, and they hold at risk the same targets as the variants they replaced - but they have been redesigned for reliability, security, and ease of maintenance.

By 2030, confidence in the U.S. stockpile is high because of the RRW’s large design margins and because we continue to gain a deeper understanding of nuclear phenomena from principles enabled by Stockpile Stewardship and the advanced technology tools that came with it. The deployed stockpile is backed up by a much smaller non-deployed stockpile than today. The United States has met the Responsive Infrastructure objective of being able to diagnose and correct minor warhead problems and redeploy them within one year. The elimination of dangerous and environmentally difficult materials like conventional high explosives and beryllium has made this possible and obviated the need for large numbers of spare warheads to hedge against reliability problems.

Unfortunately, the world has not grown more predictable in the same twenty-five years. We still must worry about a hedge against attempts by others to instigate an arms race. But our hedge against those concerns no longer lies in aging and obsolete spare warheads; it is in the Responsive Infrastructure. We have met the goal established in 2004 of being able to produce sufficient additional warheads well within the time demands of plausible geopolitical changes.

In 2030, our Responsive Infrastructure can also produce weapons with different or modified military capabilities as required. The weapons design community that was revitalized by the RRW program can adapt an existing weapon within 18 months and design, develop and begin production of that new design within 3-4 years of a decision to enter engineering development – again, goals that were established in 2004. Thus, if Congress and the President direct, we can respond quickly to changing military requirements.

Security remains important in this future world. But, advancements in technology have allowed us to transform the infrastructure with security in mind. One example is the design of the new High Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, optimized to improve defense against terrorists. In addition, new, intrinsic features built into the growing number of Reliable Replacement Warheads have improved both safety and security.

This is not the only possible future, of course, but it is the future we should strive for. It offers the best hope of achieving the President’s vision of the smallest possible stockpile consistent with our nation’s security needs. We should not underestimate the challenge of transforming the enterprise, but I believe it is clearly the right path for us to take.

I hope you find this vision of the future coherent and compelling. I believe it is the right vision to guide our near term planning and to ensure the nation’s long-term security.

But, is it the right future for our broader objectives? Some responsible critics have suggested that U.S. nuclear weapons research and development programs hamper our efforts to advance global nonproliferation. I disagree. The major U.S. non-proliferation objective is to prevent rogue states and terrorist groups from acquiring the materials needed to make weapons of mass destruction, the weapons themselves or systems for their delivery.

Our efforts to sustain and, if necessary, modernize U.S. nuclear forces do not increase the incentives for terrorists to acquire such weapons - their incentives are already high and in fact, are unrelated to U.S. nuclear capabilities. Our efforts are not likely to have any impact on rogue states, whose proliferation activities march forward independently of the U.S. nuclear program.

Over the past decade and more we have seen very significant reductions in the numbers of U.S. (and Russian) nuclear weapons, reductions in the alert levels of nuclear forces, and the suspension of nuclear testing by the five nuclear weapons states. No new warheads have been deployed and there has been little U.S. nuclear modernization. There is absolutely no evidence that these developments have caused North Korea or Iran to slow down covert programs to acquire capabilities to produce nuclear weapons.

States such as these may be seeking such weapons in part to deter the United States from coming to the aid of our friends and allies. If so, they are reacting more to U.S. conventional weapons superiority than to anything we have done or are doing, in the nuclear weapons arena.

Thus the charge that our policies have harmed nonproliferation is simply wrong. Our nonproliferation record is exceptionally good. Our nuclear posture and our nonproliferation policy are mutually supportive and entirely consistent with our international obligations. We have a record to be proud of.

Our accomplishments are helping to realize the President’s vision of achieving the lowest possible number of nuclear weapons consistent with national security needs. They also demonstrate strong U.S. adherence to its nonproliferation commitments. Transforming the nuclear weapons complex to be more responsive will allow us to continue this trend while preserving our ability to respond to an uncertain world. We are committed to seizing this opportunity. And, as we do we will continue to rely on the dedication and expertise of the men and women of Oak Ridge and on the support of the surrounding communities. On behalf of the American people, let me thank them and you.
God bless you all and may God continue to bless America.