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Labs Compete to Build New Nuclear Bomb 949

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the who-is-tha-bomb-at-makin'-bombs dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Yahoo! News is reporting that two labs are currently competing to design the first new nuclear bomb in twenty years. The new bomb was approved as a part of the 2006 defense spending bill. From the article: 'Proponents of the project say the U.S. would lose its so-called "strategic deterrent" unless it replaces its aging arsenal of about 6,000 bombs, which will become potentially unreliable within 15 years. A new, more reliable weapon, they say, would help the nation reduce its stockpile.'"
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Labs Compete to Build New Nuclear Bomb

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  • Strangelove (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jediman1138 (680354) on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @10:35PM (#15529556) Homepage Journal
    Yeeehaw!
  • Perhaps... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Microsift (223381) on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @10:38PM (#15529565)
    If there were a greater investment in grammar checking programs, the article's headline would be readable.
  • Old hat (Score:4, Funny)

    by DigiShaman (671371) on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @10:38PM (#15529569) Homepage
    Pfftt, please! Such old technology. Shouldn't we be building anti-matter bombs these days?
    • Re:Old hat (Score:5, Funny)

      by RsG (809189) on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @10:43PM (#15529599)
      Antimatter is so old fashioned. Bring on the singularity weapons and matter-energy conversion beams, I say!

      Actually, can you imagine what a pain in the ass antimatter weapons would be? One power failure, and BOOM - say goodbye to your stockpile, and most of the continent you were storing it on.
  • by Mikachu (972457) <jjburke@@@hunter...cuny...edu> on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @10:41PM (#15529588) Homepage
    Did we completely forget the point of the Moscow Treaty? [wikipedia.org] We're trying to REDUCE the number of nukes, and get rid of them as much as possible. The last thing we need for peace is to bring attention to nukes again. When will it stop?
    • No, no, you don't understand! That treaty only applies to everyone else! That way, only the US will have advanced weaponry, so they can defend everyone else from the REAL bad guys!

      I think I just choked up a lung.
    • by RsG (809189) on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @10:57PM (#15529670)
      If they retire their old weapons and build new ones, isn't that reducing their armaments? If I get rid of a dozen old guns and buy a single new rifle, am I not reducing the number of weapons I have?

      I can see why people would want them to get rid of all nukes, and not just some, but you'd never convince a military-minded government to do that. It's probably better that they keep a smaller, less destructive arsenal purely as a deterant.

      And I don't see why this article would neccesarily mean more nuclear weapons yet. If the labs develop better bombs, and those bombs are built while the old ones are taken out of storage and dismantled, that at least accomplishes something (since old bombs lying around in storage are probably more of a safety hazard than new ones). Plus, there is no guarantee that the next administration will be as military focused as the current one, so even if they do build a better moustrap, it may not be deployed.

      As long as the total number of nukes is decreasing, there is progess.
  • by SpottedKuh (855161) on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @10:42PM (#15529594)
    I think they meant, "Labs Compete to Built New Nuke-u-ler Bomb."
  • by Trogre (513942) on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @10:43PM (#15529603) Homepage
    The US is confirmed to be producing weapons of mass destruction.

    Who's up for 'liberating' them?

    • by Frangible (881728) on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @10:48PM (#15529618)
      Hey, you're not supporting the troops. It's ok for the US to do it, because the US would never use a weapon of mass destruction like a nuke against a civilian population.
      • by evilviper (135110) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @11:24AM (#15532993) Journal
        It's ok for the US to do it, because the US would never use a weapon of mass destruction like a nuke against a civilian population.

        Nice straw man. The US isn't worried about the use ofIranian atomic bombs, but about unprovoked (terrorist) use, in a holy war, against an idealogical enemy, who poses no real threat. Civilian targets or not, doesn't make that big of a difference. Use of atomic bombs during a war with an approximately equally matched enemy doesn't make much of a difference. Just look at India and Pakistan's bomb programs, where the US did not threaten to invade. Of course, this is nothing like Japan.

        Back in the 40s, there wasn't pin-point accuracy bombing. War was all about carpet-bombing your enemies industries, population, etc. The only alternative was to sit around and do nothing as your enemy bombed your country instead.

        People look at the first atomic bombs in terms of the modern day, but that's just not the way it was. Looking at the evidence, even in hindsight, it was the least-terrible option.

        In fact, even today, when faced with the option of droping atomic bombs on a waring country, or losing millions of American lives, droping the bomb would still be the better option, and nobody would argue, until 50 years later, when some idiot will post some brainless comment on the web about it.
    • You forgot the accent:

      Libratn'

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @11:23PM (#15529803)
      Who's up for 'liberating' them?

      No no no, we only need to liberate countries that are run by mad men. You know the type that torture people, spy on their citizens, and violate international law.
  • by ween14 (827520) on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @10:47PM (#15529614)
    People need to read the article more closely. They aren't working on these new weapons to increase the US stockpile of nukes, but just to maintain it. They are trying to create safer and more stable nukes that can be kept for long periods of time without the problems we have with current nukes. Then they plan to replace, not add to, the current nuclear stockpile with these new weapons. I am not making a judgement here on whether nukes are good or bad at all, but if the only choice is between unsafe and unstable nuclear weapons and more stable ones I will take the stable ones anyday.
    • by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @11:34PM (#15529846) Homepage Journal
      Add to that that the US was the only nuclear armed nation that didn't have bomb manufacturing capacity in a good while. I think the previous factory was shut down due to contamination issues, and I think the LANL security fiasco hindered it as well.

      I would prefer no nuclear weapons, but unfortunately, the nuclear genie is out of the bottle, I don't see any practical way out. A total global disarmament just doesn't seem likely, and is possibly hopelessly idealistic. I think history shows too many times that those without a strategic deterrence are the conquerred ones, and at times, they are are ones that get massacred.
    • by Eloquence (144160) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @02:28AM (#15530405) Homepage

      There is not only the choice between safe and non-safe nukes. There is also the choice of no nukes at all. Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad actually pledged that he would be happy to give up Iran's nuclear ambitions if there was a genuine commitment of all nations with nuclear weapons to disarm. Now, this is a dishonest offer, because he knows that it is not going to happen. But what better way to, literally and figuratively, disarm Iran than taking him up on it? What is the use of nuclear weapons in this world? Who are you going to nuke? "The terrorists"?

      If you look at the comments in this thread, you will find that America has no moral leadership anymore whatsoever. It's gone. Note that this is an America-based forum. Don't even try to suggest any kind of moral leadership of the United States in a European context. You will quickly hear: Iraq civil war. Abu Ghraib. Secret CIA prisons. Guantanomo. Police state. Religious fanaticism. Violation of international treaties. And so on, and so forth. What's the last moral defense against an undeniably terrible regime like Iran or the PRC? Democracy? Bullshit. Hardly anybody outside the US takes this so-called democracy seriously anymore. We are talking about an electoral system which tolerates the candidate in an election running the election, legally. Third world countries have more refined democratic systems than the US.

      It's time to stop using false dichotomies and poorly constructed slippery slope arguments. "We can have safe nuclear bombs, or unsafe ones!" "We can invade countries, or let terrorists kill us!" "If we let the evil homosexuals marry, goats and chickens will be next!" "We must scare teenagers so they won't have sex and get pregnant!" "We must lock up 2 million people so there won't be criminals in the streets!" What scares me the most is that there are a lot of people who actually believe that.

      • by Shihar (153932) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @06:42AM (#15531067)
        The US still has nukes because the US is likely to need them in the future as a deterrent. Europe has NOT picked up the mantel of world leadership that the US held since after World War II. It was the US has badgered Europe into going into Korea and Serbia. The US is the titan the plops down on occasion trying to fix the worlds wrongs. Now, I am not going to argue that every time the US juggernaut stomps its foot it is doing right. I am arguing that no one else has bothered to do so. There IS a need in this world for a nation or group of nations that is willing to show up around the world with guns to stop unprovoked assaults, such as in Korea, or genocides, such as in Serbia.

        Answer me this. If China was to launch an assault on Taiwan tomorrow, would Europe run to the defense of a fellow democracy? Of course not. The only friend Taiwan could expect to come to its aid would be the big evil US. The US would park a battle fleet off the coat of Taiwan, drop a few thousand marines on the shore, and start sinking anything that tried to cross the channel despite the fact that it would be rumbling with the most populace nation in the world off of its own coast.

        Europe has merrily thrown the defense of democracies to the wind and has actually tried to sell China weapons for which it could use to attack Taiwan despite pleading from the US not to. Europe has not entered into any sort of defense pact to defend Taiwan as the US has. Europe has put their economic prosperity and safety above defending fellow democracies.

        When Europe can unite and show a willingness to strap on their boots and go kick some ass for democracy, I would be more then happy to see the US put down its arms and call it a centaury. I don't see that happening. The only time Europe comes out guns blazing is when it has to do with one of their former colonies or the US is leading the charge and carrying over half of the load. As long as the US is the only nation swinging its weight, you can expect the US to have a hefty supply of nukes to keep the people it pisses off at bay.

        Personally, I think that the South Park guys sum up the argument for the good that the US provides to the world pretty eloquently in Team America, World's Police.

        We're dicks! We're reckless, arrogant, stupid dicks. And the Film Actors Guild are pussies. And Kim Jong Il is an asshole. Pussies don't like dicks, because pussies get fucked by dicks. But dicks also fuck assholes: assholes that just want to shit on everything. Pussies may think they can deal with assholes their way. But the only thing that can fuck an asshole is a dick, with some balls. The problem with dicks is: they fuck too much or fuck when it isn't appropriate - and it takes a pussy to show them that. But sometimes, pussies can be so full of shit that they become assholes themselves... because pussies are an inch and half away from ass holes. I don't know much about this crazy, crazy world, but I do know this: If you don't let us fuck this asshole, we're going to have our dicks and pussies all covered in shit!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @10:48PM (#15529621)
    The design is so advanced it suspends causality.
  • Deterrent? Who? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by grisken (776441) <heno@helges.net> on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @10:48PM (#15529622) Homepage Journal
    With terrorists being the nr 1 threat against the US as a nation, isnt it counterproductive to renew such a large stockpile of WMD's? What kind of nation poses a direct threat to the US with equal capacity in nuclear arms? Woudnt this country serve itself and the world community if it REDUCED its nuclear stockpile?
  • Hmmm Interesting (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ruins (981807) on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @10:51PM (#15529635)
    Even though I don't technically live in the US, I do live in one of its "colonies", namely, Australia. We are in the process of getting similar IP laws to the US, we show ~80% US tv shows on our free-to-air TV stations and we followed the states in not signing the Kyoto treaty as well as going into Iraq.

    Here is what I *think* the US is trying to do:
    1) Strengthen it's military power as well as the fear and respect it generates
    2) Use this military power (as well as its expertise with finance) to obtain new resources as well as improve the result of bargaining situations
    3) ???
    4) Profit!

    Developing new weapons, especially those designed to inflict maximum civilian damage, pretty much follows the US plan. I wonder if China will actually take the bait of going into an arms race with the US, given that it will be ahead economically in a decade or less.

    Oh well, since Australia is both an ally to the US and China (uranium deal), I think we will be fine...
  • Atoms for peace? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Herger (48454) on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @10:52PM (#15529643) Homepage
    Shouldn't we focus on building cleaner, safer atomic power for civilian use? I'm shocked there was the potilical willpower to build more weapons when we can't build a CANDU electric plant or develop reprocessing or other waste reduction technology. But why fight global warming when you can start a second global arms race?
  • by HermanAB (661181) on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @11:00PM (#15529688)
    Why doesn't the US just buy some new designs from South Africa, Israel, India or Pakistan?
  • The point... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by j. andrew rogers (774820) on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @11:01PM (#15529701)
    ...in case anyone missed it, is to reduce the plutonium stockpiles and make the weapons safer (such as they can be). Not to increase production. The US has dramatically reduced its own nuclear arsenal since the end of the Cold War per treaty obligations, and has been essentially paying for Russia to dismantle their Cold War arsenal which is currently far larger and pretty far behind on treaty obligations. The object is to dismantle the big old inefficient designs and to start producing a new generation of very clean and efficient low-yield fission devices. More and more of the "weapons" in the US nuclear arsenal are nothing more than plutonium triggers that are not currently mated to a proper warhead.

    Bottom line: much less plutonium lying around, smaller yields, cleaner designs, and reduced risk profile. They are not expanding the arsenal, just cleaning it up. Since the US is going to have nukes regardless, I do not have a problem with this.

  • Bear in mind... (Score:4, Informative)

    by ThousandStars (556222) on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @11:12PM (#15529751) Homepage
    That the US already has a sufficient number of nuclear weapons to annihilate the planet; combined with Russia we have more than a enough weapons to make the planet fit only for spiders and bugs. The issue is a) whether the US will maintain that number and b) whether we have weapons appropriate for counterforce measures. The weapons we have now are actually over-, rather than under-powered. Do we raelly want to use hydrogen bombs against North Korea under any circumstances? The answer is no in the foreseeable future.



    For example, one possible use for US nuclear weapons is a strike against hardened targets in North Korea. At the moment we don't really have appropriate bombs for that purpose. If North Korea started lobbing nuclear weapons, we'd want to take as many out on the ground as possible. The current arsenal is poorly suited for that purpose.

    Also remember that the only way the US can credibly deter others from using nuclear weapons is to convince those others that the US is willing and able to strike back. Building new weapons is part of that plan.

    For more on the aspect of prevention and counterforce, you could read The Wizards of Armageddon [amazon.com], which is about how such issues played out in the 50's - 80's. Building new nuclear weapons is business-as-usual rather than a radical departure.

    • Re:Bear in mind... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mtenhagen (450608) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @02:19AM (#15530379) Homepage

      Also remember that the only way the US can credibly deter others from using nuclear weapons is to convince those others that the US is willing and able to strike back. Building new weapons is part of that plan.


      Also remember that the only way IRAN can credibly deter others from using nuclear weapons is to convince those others that IRAN is willing and able to strike back. Building new weapons is part of that plan.
  • One Issue (Score:3, Insightful)

    by collectivescott (885118) on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @11:14PM (#15529758)
    An updated design that is cheaper to maintain sounds like a good idea to me. However, who's to know the scope of the research? I would be shocked if they didn't design some new tactical nukes as well. And frankly, tactical nukes scare me the most because we will actually consider their use (bunker busting and such).
  • Boobs & Guns (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doytch (950946) <markpd@gmailFORTRAN.com minus language> on Tuesday June 13, 2006 @11:49PM (#15529920)
    It's funny(strange) that the two things that propel innovation in their fields are weapons and pornography.

    SNAFU
  • WTF? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Runefox (905204) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @12:04AM (#15529992) Homepage
    The nuclear stockpile in the United States needs to be reduced for a whole other reason than "it's old". It needs to be reduced because there's not a single nuclear threat to the United States today that isn't kept in check by every other nation in the world, or that wouldn't be kept in check with maybe a dozen nukes, versus the number of ICBM's currently stockpiled in the USA. You can't use nukes in a war on terror (unless you're a complete idiot and decided to blow away every country that "could" harbour terrorists), and most nuclear-capable nations are either friendly or so new into the "nuclear community" that it really doesn't matter, since they don't have the capability to actually deliver the payload. The only way it could possibly happen is through black-market sales of some sort, and even then, the USA nuclear stockpile doesn't exactly deter a terrorist organization.

    The United States should be more focused on fighting 'conventional' (specifically urban and desert) warfare than nuclear warfare. The fact that there is currently no superpower poised to take over the world makes these relics of the Cold War era obsolete both in technology and in practice. They simply aren't needed. If even half of the USA nuclear stockpile were to be dismantled tomorrow, there would still be more than enough deterrent to wipe out any prospective enemy that might arise in the foreseeable future. As it stands, America has the power to blow most all countries on the planet to kingdom come and have some left over for the Martians, too.

    Nuclear weapons have their purpose, but to have so many is insane. Deterrence is fine; Hell, even tactical nuclear weapons are fine, but why so many? And why bother researching more into the subject? The only possible plus I can see to research into new nuclear weaponry is to reduce the amount of radioactivity left over from the blast (or to increase the rate at which it dissipates or decays). Aside from that, it's still just new technology to do the same thing.

    I say that if keeping the stockpile is that important, then just dismantle the ones that are ready to fall apart, and upgrade/repair the newer ones. Saves a lot of time, effort, and money.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @12:25AM (#15530064)
    Nuke design's not physics, its COMP-SCI 'surety' !

    Really.

    A W87 warhead (our last and greatest warhead from 1987), is a bitch to open and reservice the tritium. That part should have been made a tad easier, but opening a warhead is MEANT to be a monumental puzzle. tritiums half life is short enough that the damned things are useless without recharge after 15 or so years.

    In fact... to set off a nuke (w87) its mainly designed to mistrust rogue theft even if using really clever computer hackers.

    If you DO MANAGE to get all three launching keys (15 digits total) (Class-F its called I believe) (one key is merely in-flight key, or vessel key) ,the nuke has multiple safety mechanisms in it :

    it cannot be detonated by lightning, fire, or explosive shock, however it can disintegrate itself if casing compromised or tampering detected. The explosive used in the fission component of the bomb (fission-fusion design obviously) is a special newer type of explosive resistant to fire, and lightning, but before critical temperatures can be reached the bomb immolates itself to destroy most components, though the housing will rupture and the "enriched goodies" could be harvested and utilized in a new-from-scratch weapon

    To detonate :

    It needs to be spinning about its central axis at a specific range of RPMS to detonate.

    It needs to be increasing barometric pressure to detonate (simulating descent trajectory).

    It needs to sense a specific airspeed flowing past the w87 warhead.

    It needs to armed (yield set, keys set, timers set) a certain amount of time to detonate.

    Its casing monitor needs to not detect atmospheric oxygen within (evidence of tampering) though pure nitrogen used in drilling entry could thwart that single test.

    It needs to not sense large amounts of magnetic "ferrous" material nearby (unconfirmed).

    All circuitry boards (three or so, totally uncoupled) need to pass tamper checks of runtime code on firmware, and some other paltry stuff.

    There are a few other clever sensors in it.

    But nuke design of ultra high tech SDAMS (small micro nukes similar to w87, but with negligible fusion litium payload) is all about SURETY, not physics.

    Physics was completed and reached state of the art in late 1980s.

    Everything about SDAMS and generic multiple warhead ballistic W87 design is anout anti-computer hacking. ALL OF THE HARD STUFF is about how to make it impossible for even an expert from being able to hack one up and use it in a non-ballistic manner.

    SDAMS are even more of a bitch as they are Abrams "tank shell" style weapons used for all manner of non ballistic purposes, including dam-busting, bunker busting, building demolition, etc.

    SDAMS are slated for use in upcoming invasion of Iran to get at the enrichment centers that are all 600 feet underground (no daisy-cutter or modern MOAB can cause harm at 600 feet deep, only a SDAM or reduced yield w87.

    But SDAMS have no axis spin to thwart, have no barometric pressure to thwart, have no restriction on detecting ferrous metal in environment, have no airspeed safety... in fact an SDAM has so few safety mechanisms, its practically a terrorist weapon in an of itself in my opinion. and of course it fits neatly inside a classy looking anodized metallic Zero-Halberton brief case.

    The fed program want surety design... not physics design. They want DRM. DRM for nuke logic boards. And Even the xbox360 was hacked in a week.

    I am shocked that the posts here do not realize this fact at the time I posted this.

  • outsource (Score:5, Funny)

    by Fry-kun (619632) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @01:04AM (#15530189)
    hey, let's outsource this project...
    xD
  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @05:59AM (#15530941)
    Quite a few gotchas with this news flash:
    • Most of the designers of the current stockpile of bombs have retired and/or died.
    • The new guys have been twiddling their thumbs for 20 years now, just designing bombs on paper (CRT's more likely). And cleaning up their predecessors FORTRAN programs. And running simulation after simulation.
    • They've never had the opportunity to actually test any of these designs.
    • Not underground, and certainly not above-ground where everybody can enjoy it.
    • And these NEW, "better" designs are not going to be tested either.
    • Never mind that simulations can't simulate what we can't forsee.
    • Plenty of things were not foreseen in the last generation of bombs-- the effects of corrosion for one.
    • These new bombs are not going to reduce the amount of plutonium in the world, just move it from warhead bunkers to storage bunkers. There isnt a single reactor built or planned that can burn all the excess plutonium, so the net amount of it will not decrease. Just a bigger risk of it getting hijacked when in transit. Not a big improvement IMHO.

    Excuse me if I'm cynical, but couldnt this just be another way of keeping the bomb-builders employed and busy? Isnt there something more useful they could be doing, like fusion research?

  • by rbarreira (836272) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @06:22AM (#15531004) Homepage
    ... for you US taxpayers that your taxmoney is being used on initiatives started by the influence of weapon industry lobbyists instead of being used for your own good.

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