DOE Roundtable on Subcritical Experiments May 7, 1997
Notes by Maureen Eldredge, May 9, 1997

US Government
Joan Rohlfing, Office of the Secretary, DOE
Robin Staffin, DOE Defense Programs
Anita Capoteri, DOE General Counsel
Steve Ferguson, DOE General Counsel
John Harvey, Pentagon
John Norman, DOE Office of Nonproliferation (detail from LLNL)
Lisa Evanson, DOE Office of Nonproliferation (did NIF nonproliferation review)
Ambassador Tom Graham, Arms Control Disarmament Agency (ACDA)
Rusty Johnson, House National Security Committee staff
About 30-35 various staff from Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Labs

Arjun Makhijani, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research
Tom Cochran, Natural Resources Defense Council
Bob Tiller, Physicians for Social Responsibility
Maureen Eldredge, Military Production Network
David Culp, Plutonium Challenge
Daryl Kimball, Campaign to Reduce the Nuclear Danger
Frank Von Hippel, Princeton
Bruce Hall, GreenPeace
David Albright, Institute for Science and International Security
Tom Zamora-Collina, Union of Concerned Scientists
Spurgeon Keeny, Arms Control Organization (not sure on the name of his group)
Joe Cirincione, Stimpson Center (invited, did not ever show)

The following are some general notes from the meeting, which was marked by a lengthy physics lesson and relatively little understanding of the REAL issues on the part of the DOE/ACDA staff. I took about 12 pages of notes and will not try to transcribe them here. If you would like the fax of my scribbling, please send me an email with your fax number.

The really brief summary: Main items of "news" are that the first test will be in late June, the second test would be between June and late August (not the fall), and that there is no pre-set series, no end in sight, they plan to do as many subcritical experiments as they need to get the necessary data. Also, DOE refuses to state that the SBSS program is NOT for the design of new nuclear weapons.

Also of interest, DOE General Counsel was there due to the lawsuit against DOE, but only spoke out once (see **).

Opened with general discussion of schedule. First test in June, Second test between June and late August. This is a departure from earlier statements that the second test would be in September. Further questioning later got DOE to narrow in on the later half of June for the first test.

Amb. Graham: Personally and professionally view subcriticals as essential to bringing CTBT into force, without the stockpile stewardship (SBSS) program there would be zero chance of getting CTBT through the Senate. SBSS was a firm commitment made during CTBT negotiations around the 10 Year-Out clause and the zero-yield decision. Jakarta has said the subcriticals are ok. We were fortunate to achieve a zero-yield CTBT, subcriticals are the ticket we have to buy to get the CTBT into force, have to live with it in balance against other problems. Other countries understand our need to do the subcriticals (for our Senate) Graham stated rather vehemently that we should not listen to the Indians: India is not a party to the NPT, CTBT, spit in the face of the CTBT, wont give up their nukes, are the Opposition, not friends of the CTBT. Years from now we will have to deal with India, first job is to get the CTBT through the US Senate and Russian Duma.

Graham was queried in several different ways as to whether ACDA had done a review of the nonproliferation impacts of the subcrits/SBSS program. Specifically, he said they had not done an Arms Control Impact Statement since the law requiring that had expired and they no longer did those at ACDA. Pressed about any further reports, he referred to various speeches, documents prepared during CTBT negotiations, but it was clear that there was not any central, developed basis for his argument, nor any substantive document prepared on subcriticals or SBSS by ACDA.

Compliance with Vienna Convention - signatory is obliged to refrain from acts that would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty during the time between signing and ratification. Graham's personal opinion is that any nuclear test would defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT (therefor we are bound not to test) but that there is no official government position.

The general impression I got from Graham is that work on negotiating the CTBT was so difficult that he would do just about anything to get it ratified.

Physics Presentation (I will be trying to get the overheads from this. They weren't too eager to hand them out)
Los Alamos - Frank Cverna, Robert Hixson (on Rebound)
Lawrence Livermore - Pat Egan, Glenn Mara (on Holog)

Robin Staffin: In past, did tests, swept uncertainties, unknowns under the rug. Now rug is very lumpy, need to lift it up and figure things out. Subcriticals will provide basic information on plutonium Thermodynamics (equations of state, pressure, volume, temperature); Surface properties (ejecta, reflectivities); Constitutive properties (strength, melt point); mechanical properties (spall); surface velocity vs. time.

Hixon - Rebound is looking at Equations of State (my notes get fuzzy here, I was falling asleep). A six shot experiment. Release about 4 joules of energy, equivalent to dropping a shoe off a table. Compared to energy found in a TWINKIE, about 4 megajoules. (ed. note - so we should call these the Twinkie experiments. For foreign readers, a twinkie is a snack food, a yellow cake-like substance with cream in the middle popular during the 70s. DOE staff seem to like comparing their work to food items, e.g. peanut butter).

Egan - Holog is looking at ejecta, surface properties. Involves about 50 grams of High Explosives. Again, energy output less than 4 joules, small compared to natural decay.

Facility will be the U1a facility, former known as LYNER, at the test site. Experimental chambers would be sealed off permanently after the test. DOE claims that they "never lose sight of the priority of worker and public safety". Stated the paucity of date in the equation of state area as one reason the experiments must be done.

Question and Answer

Keeny: The Equation of State for plutonium has been a concern for 50 years, how can you not have data?

Staffin: Not enough detailed information gathering during tests, imprecise equipment, not good enough data. Were always in a rush to deploy weapons, not gather data.

Hixon: We don't know the spall strength of PU and how it will change with age (ed. note - what is spall strength?)

Staffing: The codes are rich in fudge factors, need to get rid of some of that fudge. Goal is to understand the entirety of the whole puzzle (of how nuclear weapons work).

Zamora: JASONs didn't say subcriticals were essential, what is the urgency, why underground?

Staffin: Didn't ask JASONs if they were essential (just if they were subcritical). Speaks to credibility of the program, need to know the scientific underpinnings of warheads.

Timing - not just Rebound, Holog, but whole series to get data to broaden, deepen understanding of PU, need to start soon, before the original scientists who designed warheads die (he didn't put it quite that way, but that is the gist of it).

Location: Building and certifying an above ground facility would take too long.

Discussion on whether they could do the experiments in existing facilities. Basically, couldn't say they needed to be below ground for Rebound and Holog, but implied that future experiments would have larger amounts of High Explosive necessitating the below ground facility, and for consistency, etc. would start there.

How long is the program? - No finite end, authorized for two, would do as many as needed to get necessary data. Would not answer question regarding whether DOE intends to put weapons configurations into these tests. Implication is that yes, they will be doing that.

Why do them? Pit remanufacturing questions are only part of the question. Also the aging of the Pu and its impacts on weapons function. Staffin raised the possibility that the US would have to pull out of the CTBT if we couldn't verify the warheads. Experiments will reassure others, provide knowledge to support US policy.

Question of Transparency: Transparency with respect to foreign governments had been a large part of earlier discussions in 1996. Yet Rohlfing and others at this meeting acted as if they had never heard of this issue or earlier proposals. In Dec. 1996, we were informed that there was a transparency package being worked on in the interagency review process. Again, Rohlfing acted as if they had no knowledge of this package.

Intent: Long discussion on intent, raised concerns about Staffin's remarks that they are trying to understand equations of state, eliminate fudge factors, understand whole picture - leads directly to ability to design and certify new weapons without testing.

DOE responded with requirement that they retain the capability to design new weapons. Would not want to make a policy statement that the SBSS program is not for the development of new nuclear weapons. CTBT doesn't prevent design of new weapons. The purpose of the SBSS program is to maintain deterrence. Will not press for a statement that the US will not design new nuclear weapons.

**Discussion of Safety vs. Reliability: - First strike definition of deterrence if they are trying to maintain reliability at such high levels.

Staffin: It is not a gradual loss of confidence, e.g. 95%, 93%, etc. but big jumps, e.g. 95% to 50%.

Makhijani: Has DOE ever done a comparison of the variability between pits due to manufacturing process and the impact on performance compared to the variability that might arise due to aging?

**DOE General Counsel prevented an answer to that question.
Maureen Eldredge
Program Director
Military Production Network
2000 P St. NW, Suite 408
Washington, DC 20036
Ph: 202-833-4668 Fax:202-8334670

Proposition One Guide