13 August 2016

Everything grows old. I’m told one day the stars and planets will turn to dust. So I suppose it’s no surprise that America’s arsenal of nuclear weapons is also showing signs of advancing age, and may have to be replaced.

One would think that the growing decrepitude of our nukes would be a fine time to dismantle and junk these horrible weapons. President Barack Obama has fulsomely preached for the past seven years on the need to get ride of the nukes. Very nice.

Yet once away from the microphones, Obama has let the military-industrial-financial complex generate plans to refresh and update the US nuclear arsenal in a massive project estimated to cost at least $1 trillion.

No major effort has been made to assemble the world’s declared and undeclared nuclear powers and hammer out a plan to junk all nukes and make sure they are not replaced. On the contrary, it’s full speed ahead in the devil’s workshop.

The US Air Force wants to replace by 2044 all of its 1960’s vintage Minuteman ICBMs with 642 new ground-based, silo-launched ICBMs. Some $7 billion was already spent over the past two decades modernizing them.

Way back in the early 1980’s, I was invited to inspect the US Air Force’s Space Command HQ and Air Defense Command buried deep inside Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. I was shown a hanger-size room filled with a hundred upright computers, all whizzing away. An officer whispered to me, ‘ my laptop has more power than all these computers together.’ Similarly, advancing technology has left many of our defense systems either outmoded or totally obsolete. So some renewal may be necessary.

New ICBM’s are still not enough for the US Air Force. The flyboys also want a new nuclear-armed cruise missile to replace the venerable 80’s vintage AGM-86B carried by B-52 heavy bombers and the yet to be built B-21 stealth bomber.

Meanwhile the US Navy, always a darling of Congress, is planning to replace its Ohio class nuclear-armed submarines with a new, more powerful class of 12 subs that will each carry 16 Trident D5 missiles. Each missile can fly well over 8,000 km and carry 8-10 warheads.
Many other US nuclear-powered warships, both underwater and surface, will need new nuclear plants.

A trillion dollars is a lot of money even for the world’s wealthiest nation. Many will question such a huge expenditure at a time when bridges across the US are collapsing, airports are decaying, the air traffic control system is obsolete, and 44 million people live on food stamps.

We need those nukes badly, say the Pentagon’s top brass, their civilian supporters in Congress, and the booming US arms industry, which looks set for a record year. We must defend ourselves against the Russians and Chinese!

Russia has a powerful triad of air, sea and ground-launched nuclear missiles. Some are being modernized. Moscow has made clear that given its sharp reduction in land forces, increasingly reliance will be placed on strategic and tactical nuclear forces. This important new policy should cause Washington to think twice about its current dangerous policy of putting a military squeeze on Russia in Ukraine, Crimea, the Baltic and Black Seas.

China is also slowly developing its nuclear forces, but they remain modest for a world power and focused on deterring a foreign nuclear strike. So far, China appears only interested in its own region.

In short, neither Russia nor China has tipped the current nuclear balance of terror. Unfortunately, Washington’s updating its nuclear arsenal will likely cause them to upgrade their strategic nuclear forces.

The next US president will inherit this problem. Everyone says they hate nukes but we can’t seem to break the habit. Candidate Donald Trump rightly asked what the purpose of these weapons is, and was blasted for asking this proper question. The biased media keeps claiming Trump can’t be trusted with the red button. But it was Hillary Clinton that actually threatened to use them against Iran if it dared attack Israel.

Instead of debating transgender toilets, American voters should be demanding: `Mr President/or Mrs President, get rid of our nukes!’

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2016

This post is in: USA

3 Responses to “EVEN NUKES GROW OLD”

  1. The human animal likes to claim it was given dominion over the other animals, but can`t even live in peace and harmony with other members of its own phylum and likes to call some other animals beasts in a derogatory sense, while its own acts worse. Capitalism without any constraints is barbaric and has proven itself so by turning into a social cancer, which threatens to devour everything in its way. The only alternative to it is socialism, unless we allow Armageddon, which is death or total slavery of mankind, which is worse than death.

  2. solum temptare possumus says:

    Mr Margolis,

    I don’t think the Nuclear Nations will give up their weapons. It is the best Defence to stop other nations aggression. MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) is a great deterrent. No boots on the ground; no soldiers body bags. For this reason Politicians like the Nuclear Option.
    As these weapons reach their planned life expectancy, the problem becomes, what to do with all that Plutonium used as the fission source.
    Enter Thorium . Thorium is ‘fertile’ but not ‘fissile’. It can be transmuted to Uranium 233 which is fissile and a good power reactor fuel. Thorium is 4X as abundant as Uranium of the Earth. U-233 is joined by another isotope U-232. It is not ‘fissile’. Separating the two is next to impossible due to the close atomic weights of the atoms. Thus this system is ‘Terrorist’ protected if you will; ie. very very unlikely will it produce nuclear weapons.
    So you need a fissile material, such as the Plutonium in those old weapons. Think of a peanut butter sandwich. The bread is Thorium and the peanut butter is Plutonium. The Thorium transmutes to Uranium-233 to produce steam/energy. An added bonus it that the Plutonium is ‘burned’ up in the reactor.
    Enter the LFTR. A liquid Flouride Thorium Reactor. It can use the above process to produce energy. Thorium melts at 500 Celsius (1060 Fahrenheit). It does not need expensive stainless steel plumbing to pressurize the light or heavy water in the core and transmit it to steam turbines.
    1. It works at atmospheric pressure.
    2. It does not need a large footprint, and can be decentralized.
    3. It is a proven technology. A MSR (Molten Salt Reactor was built beginning in 1956 at ORNL – Oak Ridges National Laboratory and went ‘critical’ in 1965. (It was producing power and was stable and controllable and safe).
    4. It can ‘breed’ its own nuclear fuel. It can run virtually for a lifetime
    5. It can remove fission wastes easily because they can be ‘bled’ out of the liquid fuel. Especially Xenon-132, a neutron scavenger that ‘poisons’ all Uranium solid fuel reactors.This is why the fuel pellets in the fuel rods must be changed every 2 to 3 years. And you have to do something with the radioactive spent fuel. It gets stored somewhere (NIMBY) Also, only about 5% of the energy in the Uranium is used; 95% is still in the spent fuel, which will most likely never be recovered. A waste of potential energy.
    India is well on its chosen path of producing a tri-reactor system that utilizes Thorium (PHWR-FBR-AHWR: Pressurized heavy water reactor {the CANDU reactors that Canada sold to India in the 1960s}, Fast Breeder Reactors (produces the U-233 from Thorium using Plutonium from the first reactor), and an Advanced Heavy Water Reactor that will use the U-233 and Thorium to power India into the 22nd Century. India has vast reserves of Thorium but little Uranium. Scoop a handful of sand from some Indian Ocean beaches and the Thorium present could power Mumbai (Bombay) for a year.
    The International Nuclear Energy Agency estimates the United States has 440,000 tons of Thorium Reserves!
    We are awash in potential energy. We just need to begin using the Thorium energy cycle. All that Plutonium in our nuclear bombs can be used to power the worlds Energy ‘Plowshares’.
    Ad iudicium

  3. M Shannon says:

    Two problems.

    1) Who gets rid of theirs first? What if someone else keeps a few for a rainy day? If everyone does we’re back to 1950 and the chance a nuclear war would be “winnable”.
    2) Nuclear weapons seem to have had a sobering effect in South Asia on both parties and in Korea on the US. I suspect we’d have been spared the invasion of Iraq if the US thought Saddam had a few atomic bombs. A successful Arab invasion of Israel is now obviously impossible and if not suicidal with the result war between Egypt and Israel is far less likely.

    I agree that we shouldn’t spend a lot on nuclear weapons upgrades but we have gone 71 years without a general war between NATO and USSR/Russia and some (much? all?) of the credit should go to the fear of Armageddon nuclear weapons bring.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.