Outsource Nukes?

In early 1943, J. Robert Oppenheimer – professor of theoretical physics at the University of California (UC) – set out to recruit a scientific staff for a purpose he could not disclose, to work at a place he could not specify, for a period of time he could not predict.

In April, Robert M. Underhill, the secretary to the Board of Regents of the University of California, signed a contract to operate "Project Y," already under construction at Los Alamos, N.M. Underhill was not even told what "Project Y" was all about until November. And he was prohibited from passing that on to the UC Regents.

Kept largely in ignorance about the nature of the project until after the war, the UC Regents, nevertheless, reluctantly agreed in 1947 to continue to operate Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory for the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) – the civilian successor to the wartime Manhattan Engineer District.

A second nuke design lab was established by the AEC at Livermore, Cal., in 1952, and the UC Regents agreed to operate that lab, too.

The "physics package" that has been incorporated into every U.S. nuke ever produced has been designed and tested at a lab managed by the UC Regents!

Let’s hear a round of applause for the UC Regents.

Now, fast forward to 1995. A "defector"’ from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) provides the CIA 13,000 pages of classified documents.

The CIA immediately translated the titles of each major section, but fully translated only a 76-page section which appeared to contain classified information about certain U.S. nuke-carrying re-entry vehicles. In particular, it referred to the Navy’s MK5 Re-entry Vehicle, into which the W-88 warhead – designed by Los Alamos – is integrated.

Now, the info was on the Navy’s MK5 RV, and Los Alamos had little or nothing to do with it.

Nevertheless, the counter-intelligence weenies focused on Los Alamos and on a particular Taiwanese-born U.S. citizen named Wen Ho Lee.

Of course, the FBI counterintelligence investigation in 1996 at Los Alamos came up empty.

Then, in 1998, Speaker Gingrich commissioned a select committee to look into what was alleged to be a wholesale transfer of U.S. space and missile technology to the People’s Republic of China.

Notra Trulock, a counterintelligence weenie at the Department of Energy, testified before the Cox Committee in secret session, about his long-held suspicions of Chinese "moles" at Los Alamos, his thwarted "Kindred Spirit" investigation and the refusal by Attorney General Janet Reno to authorize a wiretap on Wen Ho Lee.

Trulock was later to claim that the Cox Committee “overreacted” to his testimony. Trulock says his testimony as to what “might” have happened was transformed by the committee into what “did” happen.

Chapter II of the redacted Cox Report begins as follows:

"The People’s Republic of China’s penetration of our national weapons laboratories spans at least the past several decades, and almost certainly continues today.

"The Select Committee judges that the PRC’s intelligence collection efforts to develop modern thermonuclear warheads are focused primarily on the Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, Sandia and Oak Ridge National Laboratories.

"As a result of these efforts, the PRC has stolen classified U.S. thermonuclear design information that helped it fabricate and successfully test a new generation of strategic warheads."

As of this writing, there is no evidence that any of that is true. No evidence of moles, then or now. No evidence that the PRC has stolen anything from our nuclear labs. No evidence that the PRC has developed and tested a new generation of nukes based on our designs.

But the Cox report triggered demands by influential congresspersons that the contract to run Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore labs be taken away from the UC Regents.

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) – with an annual budget of approximately $1.2 billion – is one of the largest and most prestigious multidisciplinary institutions in the world. LANL enjoys that prestige, today, largely because of the 60 years of stewardship by the UC Board of Regents.

Bowing to congressional demands, the secretary of Energy has announced that the contract to operate Los Alamos will be subject to bid next year. It seems likely that the UC Board of Regents will not even bid. Why should they?

It would be better to close LANL down than to entrust its operation to some Beltway bandit.

But, you ask, with LANL shut down, who would we turn to in the event we need a new nuke?

Well, why not "outsource" it to China, like we do everything else?

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.