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U.S. is speeding up nuclear disarmament

The Nation

June 07, 2007|Ralph Vartabedian | Times Staff Writer

The Energy Department will announce today that it has accelerated its program to dismantle surplus nuclear weapons by more than 50% and has already met its goal for the fiscal year, about four months early.

Since the Cold War ended, the U.S. has been sharply reducing its stockpile. But reductions in the active weapons held by the Defense Department have left hundreds or even thousands -- the exact numbers are classified -- of surplus obsolete weapons in storage.

Thomas D'Agostino, the designated chief of the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration, said in an interview Wednesday that he ordered the agency's main bomb factory in Amarillo, Texas, and other facilities across the nation to step up the pace.

The agency is developing procedures, special tools and a trained workforce to disassemble decades-old bombs, in some cases with rusty bolts, in as safe a way as possible, he said.

The agency is spending $800 million annually on security to protect its weapons and facilities. With fewer bombs, the agency will have less to protect, he said.

Disarmament advocates have criticized the Energy Department for not moving faster to get rid of the weapons. Some experts had estimated it would take decades to reduce the backlog.

Separately, the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday voted to eliminate funding for development of a new nuclear bomb known as the reliable replacement warhead.

The bomb, being designed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is intended to replace the W76 warhead used on submarine-launched missiles.

D'Agostino said he was "concerned" about the political fate of the program and said "more engagement" with Congress was needed.

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ralph.vartabedian@latimes.com

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