Death's pork barrel in a blonde wig

Having gone to a war that is ending up as "Vietnam in the desert," and getting ready to start another one that could end up being "Waterloo in the sand," against nations accused of thinking about developing weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration in collaboration with UC Lawrence Livermore and UC Los Alamos national laboraties is set to fund development of a new generation of nuclear bombs. Although billions more of American taxpayers' money will flow toward California, removed from life-supporting programs into this weapons of mass destruction program, only an idiot would crow about it. Wiser eyes would weep at the state's public research university taking advantage of the administration's might-makes-right policy to enrich itself with this deadly work. The press covers the routine mechanics of empire.

This program is the ultimate pork barrel of fear and hatred. But it will provide UC with money, power and prestige, which we are told is a good thing. Somehow, because the Bush administration selected UC's Livermore lab over UC's Los Alamos lab, California is somehow a bigger, stronger, better province within the home states of the empire than puny little New Mexico.

Locally, we can be exceedingly proud that the Livermore lab got the contract to build the next generation of nukes because the most tangible connection the new UC Merced has to the greatest public research university in the universe (just ask them) is its memorandum of understanding with Livermore lab. Put that together with UC Livermore's plans for a biowarfare lab just outside Tracy to handle the most deadly toxins known to man and the recent increase in bomb testing going on at the same site, and the San Joaquin Valley is really moving up in the world. Our congressional leaders, who fought so valiantly so long against such overwhelming odds to bring us this lethal pork deserve our respect and highest praise. Maybe we didn't make it as the new Silicon Valley, but, by God and the United States of America, we got bombs and all the defense contracts behind them.

Success is right around the corner for the Valley. Our arrival on the Big Stage will be celebrated later this spring by the UC/Great Valley Center's annual conference. Now that UC has taken over the Center, gone are those conferences where local people were caught awkwardly in the act of stumbling through the mental effort of thinking and planning for the Valley future, coping with those tedious old-style problems like idiotic, unplanned development, air and water pollution, loss of farmland, ranchland and natural resources. This year, the new UC/GVC will present the vision of Dr. Carol Channing, keynote speaker of the conference, one of the most remorselessly positive entertainers on the face of the earth. Her most famous song, "Hello Dolly," was a ubiquitous, nauseating act of happy-happy-happy flak adopted by the Democratic Party to persuade the public to forget the Vietnam War.

Channing is expected to speak about her foundation's program to rebuild the rubble of arts programs in California's public schools, colleges and universities caused by 30 years of rampant growth that did not pay for itself. Now that we have the new nuke program, more depleted uranium and ebola on the way, I guess our leaders feel safe enough to promote an art class or two in high school.

Valley provincials might have preferred Lola Montez or at least Rose Maddux. The wigs of Dr. Channing, the world's most famous living blonde, remind us of the "atomic" beehive hairdos promoted by Las Vegas casino gangster flaks back in the days when the gambling tourist could actually watch a real nuclear bomb test in real time, out on the desert.

However, despite the mesmerizing power of "Hello Dolly," a few lyric fragments managed to sneak through at the time, for example:

There's somethin' happening here,
What it is ain't exactly clear.
There's a man with a gun over there,
Tellin' me I gotta beware.
I think it's time we stop,
Hey, what's that sound,
Everybody look what's going down...

- For What It's Worth, Stephen Stills, Buffalo Springfield, 1966


San Francisco Chronicle
Bush administration picks Lawrence Livermore warhead design...Scott Linklaw, AP
The Bush administration selected Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's design Friday for a new generation of atomic warheads, advancing a plan to update the nation's arsenal amid criticism from nuclear weapons opponents. The Lawrence Livermore design beat one submitted by Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico because it can be built with more certainty in the absence of underground testing, the National Nuclear Security Administration said. If approved by Congress, the new weapon would be much larger than Cold War-era ones...

US to Develop New Hydrogen Bomb
by Ralph Vartabedian

Los Angeles Times

The Energy Department will announce today a contract to develop the nation's first new hydrogen bomb in two decades, involving a collaboration between three national weapons laboratories, The Times has learned.

The mushroom cloud of the first test of a hydrogen bomb is seen in a 1952 file photo. The Bush administration is planning to develop a new hydrogen bomb - undermining efforts to stop nuclear proliferation. (Handout/Reuters)

The new bomb will include design features from all three labs, though Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the Bay Area appears to have taken the lead position in the project. The Los Alamos and Sandia labs in New Mexico will also be part of the project.

Teams of scientists in California and New Mexico have been working since last year to develop the new bomb, using the world's most powerful supercomputers.

The weapon is known as the reliable replacement warhead and is intended to replace aging warheads now deployed on missiles aboard Trident submarines.

The contract decision was made by the Nuclear Weapons Council, which consists of officials from the Defense Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration, part of the Energy Department. Plans were underway Thursday to announce the award this afternoon.

The nuclear administration will issue the contract and run the program.

The cost of the development is secret, though outside experts said it would cost billions of dollars — perhaps tens of billions — to develop the bomb, build factories to restart high-volume weapons production and then assemble the weapons.

If Livermore does become the lead laboratory, confidence in the facility is likely to be bolstered, and political suggestions that its role in weapons development is unnecessary could be quelled.

A lead role by Los Alamos would help extract that facility from deep political problems growing out of security breaches.

The program is not expected to create a surge in employment at any of the labs

The program marks the first time the military has fielded a nuclear weapon design without an underground test. The last time scientists set off a hydrogen bomb was in 1991 under the Nevada desert.

President Clinton ordered a testing moratorium, and it has been continued by President Bush.

Since the reason for building the new bomb is to maintain confidence in the nation's nuclear deterrent, experts say, the Nuclear Weapons Council will want the most conservative design, which gives Livermore the upper hand.

The design details are secret, but Livermore's version utilizes major components that had been tested — though not produced — for a Navy bomb about two decades ago.

By contrast, Los Alamos selected a design that involved an atomic trigger and a thermonuclear component that had been tested individually.

However, the two elements were never tested together, said Philip Coyle, who serves on scientific advisory committees and formerly was deputy director at Livermore.

The Los Alamos design is said to contain highly attractive features, including innovative mechanisms that would prevent terrorists from detonating the bomb should they gain access to it, experts said. Those use controls were cited by military officials as a key factor in developing the weapon.

Proponents of the effort say that the nation's existing nuclear stockpile is getting old and that doubts will eventually grow about weapons reliability. They say the new bomb will not have a greater nuclear yield and could not perform any new military missions beyond those of existing weapons.

So far, those arguments have attracted bipartisan support, including from Democrats who have long played a leading role in nuclear arms issues.

Critics say the existing stockpile is perfectly reliable and can be maintained for decades. The new bomb will undermine U.S. efforts to stop nuclear proliferation, they say. In addition, a recent study showed that plutonium components in existing weapons were aging much more slowly than expected.

New York Times
New Design for Warhead Is Awarded to Livermore

The Bush administration announced yesterday the winner of a competition to design the nation’s first new nuclear weapon in nearly two decades and immediately set out to reassure Russia and China that the weapon, if built, would pose no new threat to either nation.

If President Bush decides to authorize production and Congress agrees, the research could lead to a long, expensive process to replace all American nuclear warheads in the next few decades with new designs.

The first to be replaced with the new Reliable Replacement Weapon would be the W-76, a warhead for missiles deployed on submarines.

Officials said the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California would design the replacement warhead based on previously tested components, allowing the administration to argue that no new underground tests would be necessary before deploying the new weapon.

Officials said, however, the Livermore design might eventually draw on technical contributions from a more novel approach on the drawing boards at Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, Livermore’s longtime rival.

The surprise choice of a single laboratory reversed a tentative decision, reported in January, to combine elements of the Livermore and Los Alamos designs. In a behind-the-scenes debate over the last two months, nuclear experts inside and outside the government faulted the hybrid approach as unusual and technically risky, with some calling it a “Frankenbomb.”

Administration officials said the Livermore design had won primarily because its main elements were detonated beneath the Nevada desert decades ago, making it a better candidate under the nuclear test ban treaty, which the United States has signed but not ratified.

Thomas P. D’Agostino, acting administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration at the Energy Department, told reporters that the Livermore design was “the most conservative approach.”

Administration officials said the hybrid had been rejected after senior members of the Navy, which will manage the W-76 replacement, worried that members of Congress would perceive it as more likely to require explosive testing.

The announcement of the research path had been expected in early January but was delayed, officials said, because of last-minute Navy concerns over control of financing and dividing the scientific labor.

The potentially expensive initiative faces an uncertain future and has generated much criticism from skeptics who argue that a new design for the nuclear arsenal is unneeded and is a potential stimulus to a global nuclear arms race.

“This is a solution in search of a problem,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a group in Washington. “There is an urgent need to reduce these weapons, not expand them. This will keep the Chinese, the Russians and others on guard to improve their own stockpiles.”

Among lawmakers who declared their opposition was Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California.

“What worries me,” Mrs. Feinstein said, “is that the minute you begin to put more sophisticated warheads on the existing fleet, you are essentially creating a new nuclear weapon. And it’s just a matter of time before other nations do the same thing.”

Critics had ridiculed the hybrid approach as a compromise dictated by the politics of survival for the nuclear laboratories, rather than technical merit. In an unusual move, even senior arms designers spoke out publicly against what they called serious risks of merging differing designs from different laboratories.

“A hybrid design by inexperienced personnel, managed by committee, is not the best approach,” John Pedicini, technical head of the design team at Los Alamos, said last month in a public blog entry.

Mr. Pedicini conceded that the Livermore design had features “that are an advance over ours, and if we get the assignment, I would incorporate them in our design.”

“If this is what is meant by hybrid,” he said, “then the outcome would be good.”

The goal is to replace the arsenal of aging warheads with a generation meant to be sturdier, more reliable, safer from accidental detonation and more secure from theft.

The replacements will have the same explosive yields and other military characteristics of the current weapons, officials said, a point that senior administration officials have made to Russia in arguing that the new weapons do not represent an expansion of the American arsenal.

Mrs. Feinstein cited a report in December saying plutonium pits have a lifespan of at least 85 years, leading critics to question whether the new weapons are necessary.

David E. Sanger contributed reporting.