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Nuclear problems

A new report by the Pentagon and Department of Energy warns that the U.S. nuclear weapons deterrent is in serious trouble.

“While the service lives of existing warhead types are being extended through refurbishment, at present the United States does not have the ability to produce new nuclear weapons,” the September report says.

The report warns that the ability to maintain a “credible” U.S. nuclear deterrent is declining despite the need for such weapons to protect allies in Europe and Asia and to deter nuclear powers and rogue states. It says nuclear weapons remain “vital” to U.S. strategy in a dangerous and unpredictable world.

In addition to the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran, the report warns that terrorists are seeking nuclear weapons and China and Russia also are concerns. “China and Russia are each modernizing their nuclear capabilities; the future political direction of each remains uncertain,” the report says.

The report says that the current nuclear weapons stockpile is safe, secure and reliable but that “the current path for sustaining the warhead stockpile - successive refurbishments of existing Cold War warheads designed with small margins of error - may be unsustainable in the future.” The heads of the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories “have expressed concerns” about whether warheads can be maintained in the future without nuclear testing, currently halted under a moratorium.

Also, the shutdown of the nuclear weapons “pit” manufacturing plant in Colorado several years ago left the United States less able to produce nuclear weapons, the report says.

“The United States has not designed a new nuclear warhead since the 1980s and has not built a new warhead since the early 1990s,” the report says, noting that as a result, “the nuclear weapons infrastructure has atrophied and existing U.S. nuclear weapons” have been extended beyond their life expectancy. Critical personnel needed to build nuclear weapons also is being lost through retirements and aging.”

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, in a recent letter to Senate colleagues blamed Congress for failing to make needed investments and warned that “the downward spiral of atrophy and risk threatens the U.S. nuclear stockpile.”

“Congress has failed to make the necessary investments for far too long,” he said. “It is our responsibility to fix the consequences of that failure now.”

Congress recently cut $23.3 million from the Navy for the Reliable Replacement Warhead program designed to upgrade existing warheads.

Campaign intelligence

President Bush recently authorized U.S. intelligence analysts to brief both Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns with classified intelligence on world events, according to Thomas Fingar, the deputy director of national intelligence for analysis.

“The president authorized us to reach out to the campaigns to offer substantive briefings at a time and place of their choosing,” Mr. Fingar said in a Sept. 4 speech in Florida.

Mr. Fingar, who also heads the National Intelligence Council, which produces intelligence estimates, stated that “our approach in this is complete transparency. If one campaign asks for something or receives something, we notify the other. We don’t want to be an issue. We don’t want to appear to be or enable anybody to construe us as being partisan in this. We’ve provided an array of topics that we think sort of collectively in the community are ones that might want to know about early on. But we’ll of course receive any request.”

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