Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Worth the expense to refurbish nuclear bombs?

  • Print

A world free of nuclear weapons is an appealing dream, but the reality is that the atomic bomb will not disappear soon. As long as the United States possesses a nuclear arsenal and needs to deter threats, the warheads and bombs must be kept safe, secure and, if deployed, effective. This is a goal of a major U.S. effort to refurbish and extend the life of its existing weapons.

One of the oldest of them is the B-61 gravity bomb, first designed in the 1960s to be dropped over a target by airplane, either as a strategic weapon carried by long-range bombers, or as a tactical or short-range nuclear weapon in Europe. The Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration has been gearing up for a "life extension" program for the B-61, which will replace old parts and add security systems and controls.

The B-61 life extension was estimated two years ago to cost $4 billion. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees the program, announced July 25 that the cost has doubled to $8 billion, according to a new administration estimate. What’s more, Ms. Feinstein said, an independent Pentagon cost estimate is $10 billion. The project is still at an early phase, but it looks to be ambitious and complex, combining four versions of the weapon into one by 2017. The Air Force separately wants to add a new tail assembly to improve the bomb’s accuracy.

Cost overruns are nothing new, but this one raises some difficult questions. The number of refurbished weapons that will result is classified. Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists estimates that 400 will be made, of which about 200 would replace tactical B-61s now deployed with NATO allies at bases in Belgium, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey. These forward-based tactical nuclear bombs were intended to deter a Soviet land invasion of Europe. That threat has gone, and so has the military mission for the bombs. If a nuclear deterrent is needed on the continent, the United States has other options. The sole remaining value of stationing the gravity bombs in Europe is political, to demonstrate that non-nuclear members are sharing in the alliance defense burden. Even that is being debated within the alliance.

Moreover, the tactical nuclear weapons could well be eliminated in a future arms control treaty with Russia, which possesses a much larger arsenal of them.

Congress and the administration should weigh the escalating costs against the mission of the B-61. Nuclear weapons have not been used in combat for 67 years - they are intended to deter. Who will be deterred by the refurbished B-61? Is the symbolism of deploying the nuclear gravity bomb in Europe worth the billions of dollars? Does it make sense to embark on a $10-billion program to refurbish a weapon that could be put on the table in negotiations with Russia a few years from now? In an age of scarce resources, such questions can’t be slighted.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Blake Wheeler talks about past season

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 060711 Chris Pedersen breeds Monarch butterflies in his back yard in East Selkirk watching as it transforms from the Larva or caterpillar through the Chrysalis stage to an adult Monarch. Here an adult Monarch within an hour of it emerging from the Chrysalis which can be seen underneath it.
  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press. Local- Deer in Canola field near Elma, Manitoba. 060706.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you agree with the province’s crackdown on flavoured tobacco products?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google