Technical Steps to Support Nuclear Arsenal Downsizing

Executive Summary

There is a long history of US Presidents working to reduce the role and the spread of nuclear weapons. Most recently, President Obama voiced America’s commitment “to seek a world without nuclear weapons,” while clarifying that “as long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal.”

Critical Role of Science and Technology
Science and technology(S&T) will play a critical role in advancing the US plan to balance deterrence with downsizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal. In particular, S&T are essential to enable three key goals associated with this plan:

  1. Verifying the process of downsizing and dismantling stockpiles

  2. Sustaining the capability and expertise to ensure that the remaining arsenal is safe, secure, reliable and effective for as long as is necessary

  3. Ensuring the peaceful use of fissile materials.

Steps Toward Verifiable Downsizing and Dismantlement
Consistent with that plan, we recommend the US take the following steps to allow S&T to more fully sustain and support nuclear arsenal downsizing and nonproliferation:

To support the goal of verifiable downsizing and dismantlement:
  • Declassify the total number of US nuclear weapons – deployed, reserve and retired – and encourage other nuclear armed countries to do the same.

  • Establish international centers for verification research and validation to serve as test sites for assessing technologies and methodologies.

  • Support R&D and demonstrations of “nuclear archeology” – a method for examining facilities to determine past material production – as a step to developing an internationally accepted capability to validate fissile materials declarations. To support the goal of sustaining the capability and expertise:

  • Refurbish elements of the US nuclear weapons infrastructure needed to sustain a smaller nuclear weapons stockpile.

  • NNSA and its laboratories must adapt for the broader nuclear security mission that stockpile reduction will bring and for the national nuclear security roles that they will play. To support the goal of ensuring peaceful uses of fissile material:

  • Sustain federal investments in key programs including those to enhance safeguards, detect undeclared nuclear facilities, and address potential risks associated with global growth of nuclear expertise.

  • Elevate the priority of non-proliferation in the NRC licensing process.

  • Establish a program of information sharing among nuclear-related industries.

Taken together, these steps will provide a strong S&T foundation for nuclear arms reduction proposals and nuclear nonproliferation goals.

About APS & POPA

The American Physical Society was founded in 1899, with a mission of advancing and diffusing the knowledge of physics. APS is now the nation’s leading organization of research physicists with more than 48,000 members in academia, national laboratories, and industry.

This report was overseen by the APS Panel on Public Affairs (POPA). POPA routinely produces reports on timely topics being debated in government so as to inform the debate with the perspectives of physicists working in the relevant issue areas. Indeed, APS has long played an active role in federal government; its members serve in Congress and have held positions such as Science Advisor to the President of the United States, Director of the CIA, Director of the National Science Foundation and Secretary of Energy.

Report Committee

Jay Davis, Chair
John Browne
Patricia Lewis
Carolyn Pura
Allen Sessoms
Tom Shea
Francis Slakey
Benn Tannenbaum
Jim Tape
John Taylor
Peter D. Zimmerman

APS Staff

Jodi Lieberman
Jeanette Russo