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U.S. Plans for New Nuclear Warheads

  • MIT Room 24-213 42.360817, -71.091771 (map)

Lisbeth Gronlund

Co-Director, Global Security Program
Union of Concerned Scientists

For decades, the United States produced a stream of nuclear warheads, with new types replacing previous types on an ongoing basis. It did not really consider the behavior of aging warheads until it declared a moratorium on nuclear explosive testing in 1992. At that time the United States believed it could not validate new warhead designs without nuclear testing, and that it would therefore have to extend the life of existing warheads. Two warhead types have undergone life extension programs that were straightforward refurbishments. However, the latest plan is to replace—not refurbish—one of the warheads deployed on silo-based missiles. The weapons designers now believe their computer models allow them to validate new designs without explosive testing. I will discuss the rationale for this new warhead and the downsides of deploying it.