Lab Chiefs Question JASON Study Summary

The unclassified summary of a major study on technical efforts to maintain the U.S. nuclear stockpile does not present a fully accurate picture of the challenges that the stockpile faces, directors of U.S. national nuclear weapons laboratories said in letters to a key congressman.

U.S.-Captiol-StepsThe unclassified summary of a major study on technical efforts to maintain the U.S. nuclear stockpile does not present a fully accurate picture of the challenges that the stockpile faces, directors of U.S. national nuclear weapons laboratories said in letters to a key congressman.

In December, Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, solicited comments from the three lab directors on last year’s JASON study of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) warhead Life Extension Programs (LEPs). The NNSA is a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy.

The directors wrote the letters in January; Turner released them in late March.

JASON, an independent panel of prominent scientists, undertook its classified study last year at the request of the strategic forces panel. A declassified executive summary of the JASON findings was released last November and concluded that the “[l]ifetimes of today’s nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence, by using approaches similar to those employed in LEPs to date.” (See ACT, December 2009.)

In a press statement issued when he released the letters March 25, Turner said, “I welcomed the release of the JASON scientific advisory panel’s review of warhead Life Extension Programs last November. However, I was concerned about the manner in which certain unclassified findings were being interpreted, so I asked the lab directors for their views on the issues addressed in the JASON report.”

“I am releasing these letters to build upon the JASON’s work to further inform the public discussion on U.S. nuclear weapons policy and strategy,” he added.

Two of the letters appeared to share Turner’s skepticism of the unclassified executive summary. “With respect to the JASON report, I agree in general with its findings and recommendations. However, there are certain findings that have been misinterpreted, especially as presented in the unclassified summary,” wrote Michael Anastasio, director of Los Alamos National Laboratory. The other two letters were written by George Miller, who directs the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Thomas Hunter, head of Sandia National Laboratories.

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Source: Arms Control Association