Volume 23, Number 3 July 1994


The following article, by Alex DeVolpi, critiques the recent Office of Technology Assessment and National Academy of Science studies concerning the management and disposition of excess weapons plutonium. To provide perspective, Physics and Society reprints, immediately following DeVolpi's article, the public briefing given by Wolfgang Panofsky upon the release of the National Academy of Science study; Panofsky chaired the NAS study.

The Physics and Policy of Plutonium Disposition

Alex DeVolpi

Recent studies by the Office of Technology Assessment (1), the National Academy of Sciences (2), and other organizations encourage temporary measures to condition nuclear materials so they are less susceptible to diversion. Adoption of the NAS recommendation for interim--but indefinite--storage of pits and unadulterated plutonium would, I think, postpone irreversible arms reduction. Though surplus plutonium would be kept in secure storage, it would remain in forms that could be reused in weapons.

A shibboleth of some current policy analysis is that all plutonium is "weapons usable." This is a deceptive oversimplification that could result in delaying effective steps to defuse the caliber of weapons-grade plutonium. Moreover, it could provide a rationale to stall further nuclear arms reductions.

Some serious policy implications hinge on the semantics of weapons-usable plutonium. Some of these are outlined below, leading to a recommendation that the American Physical Society (APS) undertake to clarify certain technical issues and standards.

The arms control agenda

Prevailing problems for international arms control and nonproliferation, in order of urgency, are 1) management of existing weapons and fissile-material stocks, 2) deactivation of missiles and weapons, 3) termination of testing and production of nuclear weapons, 4) dismantlement and verification of warheads, 5) safeguarding of fissile materials, 6) demilitarization of uranium and plutonium, and 7) elimination of weapons-usable nuclear materials.

In terms of constructing an international context for these problems, the NAS report provides a thorough review and identification of significant policy choices. However, some conclusions of the Academy's committee are influenced by issues extraneous to the problems of arms control. In particular, the hypothetical threat of diversion is magnified by the same technique used to sustain the Cold War, namely worst-case analysis. In William Arkin's words (3), "proliferation is methadone for Cold Warriors who can no longer get the real thing."

As Thomas Cochran, Nuclear Program Coordinator for the Natural Resources Defense Council, continues to emphasize (4), the "main problem" is the diversion risk of separated fissile materials in Russia, where unstable conditions exist now. Other problems there include military reactors now needed to produce heat and electricity.

Of the 125,000 nuclear weapons manufactured globally, about 50,000 remain in stockpiles. Over 250 tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium and over 2100 tonnes of highly enriched uranium were produced for these weapons. Civilian plutonium stockpiles are even larger, being created at the rate of 1 kg from every tonne of mined uranium.

Is the task of controlling plutonium so intractable that the only solutions are to curtail all reprocessing and shut down all nuclear reactors?

The physics of isotopic depletion

Technical analysis (5) shows that both weapons uranium and plutonium can be degraded by isotopic depletion, that is, replacing fissile isotopes with fertile isotopes. A natural dilutent exists for uranium, and artificial dilutents can be manufactured for plutonium.

The NAS report has a disappointingly imprecise description of the differences between reactor and weapons plutonium. Moreover, their discussion of isotopics does not go beyond reactor-grade plutonium. Higher burnup can further degrade plutonium, even without recycle. Eleven physical effects deleterious to explosive potential occur when the even-isotope fraction of plutonium is increased. The average explosive yield decreases and the statistical uncertainty in yield worsens.

The means have been demonstrated worldwide to demilitarize plutonium by increasing the fraction of its even-isotopes. Advanced reactors are not necessary for this purpose, as operating reactors can demilitarize plutonium sufficiently to exclude its return to existing nuclear warheads. Durable nuclear weapons have been designed, constructed, and tested to satisfy military objectives. If refitted with sub-grade plutonium, precisely machined military weapons cannot be effective, fusion boosting is likely to be less useful, and secondary fusion of multistage thermonuclear weapons would not be properly triggered.

Of fifteen nations known to have produced nuclear weapons or to have embarked on their development, none have chosen anything less than high-quality fissile materials.

Therefore, both fundamental physics and historical experience reinforce the military inadequacy of poor grades of fissile materials. Of course, safeguards need to be maintained and enhanced to deter diversion and production of all fissile materials, civilian and military.

Reference (5) is a 100-page technical review and analysis of plutonium disposition options, containing specific technical data and estimates of explosive yields.

Demilitarization benefits

Plutonium demilitarization will not only buy time, it might avert policy disappointments. Although military and civilian plutonium should not have fundamentally different material controls and accountability (6), they could be treated in two distinct time phases to conform with national security, economic, and technical constraints. Developing a practical methodology for keeping plutonium from being reused in existing warheads should be a major priority.

One example of a looming policy disappointment is the fissile-material production cutoff. Although agreements have been reached for shutting down three Russian plutonium production reactors, no deadline has been negotiated. Thus, indefinite reactor operation with current fuel and burnup would have the effect of prolonging weapons-grade output and processing. Instead, Russian military reactors could be upgraded in safety and quickly modified to yield low-grade plutonium. Russian resistance to immediate reactor shutdown is primarily based on the need for electricity and heat--lacking deliverable interim alternatives.

Another example related to demilitarization is the "spent-fuel standard" proposed by the NAS: The standard might be a more formidable barrier than credited. Mixing U.S. weapons-grade plutonium with existing spent fuel is likely to give sufficient chemical, radioactive, and isotopic contamination to render it too difficult for reuse in weapons. In fact, if weapons and separated reactor plutonium were blended in equal proportions, the resulting "fuel-grade" mixture might be sufficiently demilitarized without additional reactor burnup.

A consequence of a perceived inability to demilitarize plutonium is the unintended strengthening of the argument that further arms reductions should be delayed. If all plutonium were truly "weapons usable", there would be little incentive to dismantle and demilitarize nuclear weapons.

Elimination of plutonium

Another policy dilemma is emerging over the ultimate disposition of plutonium. If the recommendations in the reports cited above were adopted, a stronger rationale might be created for postponing deep cuts in nuclear arsenals.

The Presidential Nonproliferation and Export Policy Statement of 27 September 1993 establishes an interagency group to review long-term options for plutonium disposition, inviting other nations to participate in the study. The Department of Energy, under special assistant Robert DeGrasse, is organizing its own initiative for "safe, secure, environmentally sound control, storage, and ultimate disposition of surplus fissile materials".

The most realistic options for long-term disposition of U.S. plutonium are storage and fission. For geologic storage, plutonium would be sorted underground as vitrified waste in corrosion-resistant containers. For destruction by fission, either nuclear reactors or accelerators could be used.

Research policy is likely to be more effective if expressed in terms of goals rather than singling out specific means. Some examples regarding vitrification and fission illustrate the stakes involved in prematurely focusing on specific choices.

Vitrification has serious flaws

The most touted form of storage--mixing heavy doses of weapons-grade plutonium into radiologically contaminated vitrified waste--has two afflictions from which it might never be free: the need for perpetual safeguards and the risk of nuclear criticality.

Vitrified weapons plutonium would remain forever recoverable. Chemically re-separating plutonium after vitrification is considered less difficult than deriving cocaine from cocoa leaves (7). The main benefit of radioactive and chemical contamination--without isotopic depletion--is the creation of a rate-limited barrier to quick reconstitution.

The other serious problem with vitrification of plutonium is susceptibility to an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction. Proposed mixtures of plutonium in borated glass have ranged from 0.1 wt% to more than 4 wt% plutonium in a 1.5 tonne glass log. Because the smaller fraction is considered expensive, consideration has focused on incorporating at least 3 wt%. This amounts to about 45 kg of pure plutonium in a single log; yet much less than 1 kg could become critical if moderated by water. Hampered by the fact that intruding water can readily leach boron differentially, one would have to prove that each log would remain subcritical under foreseeable conditions (7). Both criticality physics and derivative regulatory requirements would stand as serious obstacles to licensing.

These flaws could be fatal for vitrified plutonium, because freedom from these technical concerns might never by provable (8).

Responsibility should not be postponed

Another problem with geologic storage is an extension of the NIMBY (not in my backyard) syndrome, namely NIMT: not in my time: Put it off for future generations. Instead, the national goal should be to eliminate plutonium. Our Cold War generation created the dilemma, and we should not transfer the cost and problems to future generations.

Although recognizing fission as an option for plutonium elimination, the National Academy report proposes that the U.S. limit itself to undefined "conceptual" research for advanced options--foregoing modest development and demonstration of existing, promising ideas. The Academy places the hypothetical risk of reactor-grade material diversion above the contemporary dangers of weapons-grade plutonium.

Because the NAS concludes, "consumption fractions...between 50 and 80 percent...are not sufficient to greatly alter the security risks posed by the [plutonium] remaining in the spent fuel," they advise that "...technologies designed to fission or transmute nearly 100 percent of the plutonium are the only plausible elimination approaches." However, if demilitarization of plutonium at lesser grades were accepted, such extreme burnup measures would be unnecessary.

APS role

As indicated in the foregoing examples, functional definitions can affect policy choices. Toward both interim and ultimate goals, standards need to be formulated for demilitarizing and denaturing weapons-grade plutonium. For this purpose, an independent scientific organization such as the APS could fulfill an important role.

Policy decisions on fissile material disposal options should be based on assessment that have objective criteria. The government will have to establish explicit priorities for environmental impact, cost avoidance, energy recovery, economic subsidies, public risk, nonproliferation concerns, and rearmament peril. A cost-benefit-risk public-policy equation ought to be adopted and its implications understood.

The utility of fissionable materials in the manufacture of nuclear weapons is subject to confusion and obscuration, some rooted in semantics and policy disputes. This is in contrast to the reality that reactor-grade plutonium is yet to be chosen for militarization by any of the acknowledged or suspected nuclear-weapons states.

The semantic issue is centered in part on definitions of nuclear weapons. Those who fear the malevolent use of low-grade nuclear materials stress that a devastating fission explosive can be made with any isotopes of plutonium. This qualitative contention is quite misleading. Policy-makers need to have a more sophisticated understanding of the relative risks and tradeoffs for fissile materials, especially reactor-grade plutonium. Based on the fundamental physics of nuclear reactions, standards for reconstitution of plutonium in existing weapons could be devised.

During its comprehensive treatment of the nuclear fuel cycle in 1978 (9), the APS examined issues related to isotopic denaturing, drawing some qualitative conclusions. Picking up at that point, a limited study could help in developing standards, allowing for information that has been more recently declassified and discovered about domestic and foreign programs.

Until eliminated, international plutonium will need to be cooperatively managed. Meanwhile, research, development, and demonstration could be conducted to benefit sound policy choices. The present administration should not defer action to another generation. Qualified scientists could help in establishing goals and standards for timely and cost-effective plutonium disposition.

1.	Office of Technology Assessment, "Dismantling the Bomb and Managing
	Nuclear Materials", U.S. Congress (1993).
2.	National Academy of Sciences, "Management and Disposition of 
	Excess Weapons Plutonium," National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. 
	(1994); a briefing on this study appears immediately below in this 
	issue of Physics and Society.
3.	W.M. Arkin, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March/April 1994, 
	p. 64.
4.	T. Cochran in International Policy Forum "The Disposition of Weapons 
	Grade Plutonium & HEU," Leesburg, Va. (8-11 March 1994).
5.	A. DeVolpi, "Whither Plutonium?  Demilitarization and Disposal of 
	Fissile Materials," Argonne National Laboratory report ANL/ACTV-93/3 
	(March 1994).
6.	P. Leventhal, International Policy Forum (op cit.).
7.	J.C. Martz and J.M. Haschke, "Technical Issues in Plutonium Storage," 
	presented at DOE Plutonium ES&H Vulnerability Assessment, Working 
	Group Meeting, Gaithersburg, Md. (Mar. 28, 1994).
8.	N. Oreskes, K. Shrader-Frechette, and K. Belitz, "Verification, 
	Validation, and Confirmation of Numerical Models in the Earth 
	Sciences," Science, Vol. 263, pp. 641-6 (1994).
9.	APS, Rev. Mod. Phys., Vol. 50, No. 1, Part II (1978).  
The author is at 7778 Woodward, Woodridge, IL 60517.

Public Briefing on Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium

Wolfgang K.H. Panofsky

[In order to provide perspective on the preceding article by Alex DeVolpi, Physics and Society presents here the public briefing by the chairman of the NAS study on the management and disposition of excess weapons plutonium.]

With the end of the Cold War, nuclear arms reductions on an unprecedented scale are underway. If current plans are successfully implemented, tens of thousands of nuclear weapons will be dismantled over the next decade. This represents an historical moment of great hope, but also of danger.

The weapons plutonium problem

The weapons to be dismantled contain 100 tons or more of plutonium and hundreds of tons of highly-enriched uranium. These materials are the essential ingredients of nuclear weapons, and limiting access to them is the primary remaining technical barrier to the spread of nuclear weapons capability in the world today. Managing, securing, and accounting for these materials--when even a grapefruit-sized ball weighing only several kilograms would be enough to make a nuclear bomb--will be a monumental task. Indeed, this is one of the most pressing security challenges facing our country today. Plutonium poses special difficulties, as unlike highly-enriched uranium, it cannot be easily "blended down" to a proliferation-resistant form, and it cannot compete economically in the current market for nuclear fuels.

In the former Soviet Union, this security challenge is further complicated by the enormous political, economic, and social upheavals now underway. The risk remains that Ukraine may still decide to go the nuclear road, a possibility that would deal a devastating blow to arms reduction and nonproliferation. And the risk that weapons-grade materials could be stolen in the former Soviet Union remains all too real. Unless urgent action is taken, any day now we could wake up and read in the morning newspaper that enough material for a dozen bombs really had been stolen. There are many false alarms already.

Faced with this situation, the U.S. National Security Council asked the National Academy of Sciences' Committee on International Security and Arms Control to make recommendations on appropriate policy steps for the management and disposition of excess weapons plutonium. Our report is being released here today. It covers three stages of the process of reductions--dismantlement of nuclear weapons, storage of the resulting fissile materials, and long-term disposition of those materials--as well as a broad transparency regime designed to apply to all nuclear weapons and fissile materials, and therefore to all three of these stages. An additional report providing more detail on the reactor-related options for long-term disposition of plutonium, prepared by a separate panel commissioned by the Committee, will be released in about eight weeks, after peer review. All of the main conclusions of that future report, however, are included in the document we are releasing today.

These excess weapons materials, particularly those in the former Soviet Union, pose a clear and present danger to international security. Reducing that security risk must be the driving force in deciding our policy; exploiting the plutonium's energy value (which is tiny on the scale of global energy needs), or influencing the future of nuclear power, are secondary issues. The steps we recommend are designed to meet three key security objectives:

--To minimized the risk that either weapons or fissile materials could be obtained by unauthorized parties;

--To minimize the risk that weapons or fissile materials could be reintroduced into the arsenals from which they came, halting or reversing the arms reduction process;

--To strengthen the national and international arms control mechanisms and incentives designed to assure continued arms reductions and prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

Management of this plutonium must also meet high standards of protection for environment, safety, and health.

Four recommendations

Our recommendations fall into four major areas:

First, we recommend a sweeping new agreement under which the United States and Russia would exchange information on their entire stocks of nuclear weapons and fissile materials. This declaratory regime would be coupled with cooperative monitoring to confirm the information exchanged. A verified cutoff of production of fissile materials for weapons, and monitoring of weapons dismantlement would be key parts of this regime. In particular, we conclude that weapons dismantlement can be monitored without compromising sensitive information, and without imposing substantial delays and costs. Such improved openness and accounting, we believe, would strengthen efforts to reduce nuclear arms and stem their spread, reduce the risks that nuclear materials might "go missing," and allow more democratic participation in decision-making. Virtually none of this regime is yet in place, though the Department of Energy's recent declassifications of the amounts of plutonium produced for the U.S. nuclear arsenal is a most welcome first step.

Second, the United states and Russia should pursue a reciprocal regime of secure, internationally monitored storage of fissile material, with the aim of ensuring that the inventory in storage can only be withdrawn for non-weapons purposes. Both nations should explicitly commit a very large fraction of their nuclear materials from dismantled weapons to non-weapons use or disposal under international safeguards. No such international transparency arrangements are yet in place, though President Clinton announced on 27 September 1993 that U.S. excess weapons materials would be placed under safeguards, and President Yeltsin's government has announced its willingness to do the same.

Third, with respect to long-term disposition, we offer not a final answer but a road map for arriving at one: we outline the criteria on which decisions should be based, the reasons for rejecting most of the options that have been proposed, and the questions to be answered before any one of the remaining contenders could be confidently chosen as the preferred approach. We recommend that the United States and Russia pursue long-term disposition options that:

--minimize the time during which the plutonium is stored in forms readily usable for nuclear weapons;

--preserve accounting and security during the disposition process, seeking to meet a "stored weapons standard"--that is, maintaining the same high standards of security and accounting applied to stored nuclear weapons;

--result in a form which meets a "spent fuel standard"--that is, making the weapons plutonium as difficult to recover for weapons use as the larger and growing quantity of plutonium in commercial spent fuel worldwide;

--meet high standards of protection for environment, safety, and health.

The two most promising alternatives for this purpose are:

--the spent fuel option, in which the plutonium would be used as fuel in existing or modified nuclear reactors (such as U.S. and Russian light-water reactors, or Canadian CANDU heavy-water reactors), which would consume a fraction of the plutonium and embed the rest in highly radioactive spent fuel similar to that now produced by these reactors; and

--the vitrification option, in which the plutonium would be mixed with intensely radioactive high-level wastes, which are scheduled to be mixed with molten glass to form huge glass logs for ultimate disposal in an underground repository.

A third option, burial in deep boreholes, has until now been less thoroughly studied than the first two, but could turn out to be comparably attractive.

We have concluded that advanced nuclear reactors should not be specifically developed or built for the mission of transforming weapons plutonium into spent fuel, because that aim can be achieved more rapidly, less expensively, and more surely be using existing or evolutionary reactor types.

Fourth, we recommend using the immediate need to deal with excess weapons materials as an opportunity to set a standard of improved security and accounting that would be applied to all fissile materials world-wide. The excess weapons plutonium is only a small part of the global plutonium stock, which includes many hundreds of tons of plutonium in spent fuel, almost 90 tons of separated civilian plutonium, plutonium in scrap and residues, and other materials. We recommend that the United States pursue new agreements to ensure that all civil fissile materials world-wide are under safeguards, with stringent standards of security and accounting. Most urgently, we must take steps to cooperate with Russia to reduce the real danger that weapons-usable materials might be stolen; the spread of nuclear weapons is perhaps the greatest threat to U.S. and international security today, and this risk of theft is one of the greatest current sources of that threat. We have outlined a series of urgent steps that should be taken. New consideration is also needed of steps to further reduce the long-term proliferation risks of all fissile materials, including plutonium in spent fuel; this global effort should include continued consideration of more proliferation-resistant nuclear fuel cycles, including technical concepts that might offer long-term options for a nearly "plutonium free world."

None of the approaches we have identified can eliminate the dangers posed by these materials. All they can do is to reduce the risks. Even the best of the disposition methods cannot make a significant dent in the stockpiles of excess plutonium for more than a decade. Thus the world is condemned to "baby-sit" this dangerous stockpile for many years to come. We believe the U.S. government should elevate the priority given to these issues. A more systematic interagency approach is needed, with leadership from the top, and new initiatives to cooperate with Russia in addressing these challenges. Precisely because management of this plutonium will be a long and complex endeavor, it is important to begin now.

Wolfgang K.H. Panofsky
Professor and Director Emeritus
Stanford Linear Accelerator Center
and Chairman of the NAS Study

Job Crisis: Statistics and Recommendations

Zachary H. Levine I begin with anecdotal evidence.

On 20 February 1994, The New York Times published a front page article titled "End of cold war clouds research as openings in science dwindle." A subtitle asks "Puzzles abound, but why solve them if there's no money in it?" There is a picture of Professor Dudley Herschbach of Harvard, a Nobel prize winner in chemistry, with his daughter Brenda standing behind a nicely equipped optical table. The caption explains that Brenda has a Ph.D. in biology, but is going to law school next year.

In another example, an engineer with a Master's degree left Hughes Aircraft in 1987 for the Cornell University physics department. He finished his work in 1991 and promptly called up his old boss and got his old job back. Think about it.

The parameters are changing

The parameters of the physics job market are changing. I give four examples. The number of job ad pages in Physics Today has declined from 325 in 1986 to 195 in 1993 (Kalamarides, 1993). In 1973, the median faculty age was 41; in 1993, 52. Among new Ph.D.'s, the proportion working in physics has declined from 68% in 1973 to 57% in 1989. The number taking six months or more to find a job upon graduation has increased from 7% in 1980 to 22% in 1991 (Kirby and Czujko, 1993).

Kirby and Czujko (1993) suggest that there may be something like 800 jobs available each year in physics as traditionally defined, including roughly 200 in each of universities, colleges, national laboratories and industrial laboratories. Competing for these positions are the 1300 people with newly awarded physics Ph.D.'s; adjusting for foreigners leaving and entering the U.S. does not change this figure greatly.

But bleak as these estimates are, I believe they are too optimistic. For example, they assume that the Department of Energy laboratories will be stable, but instead they are shrinking. The SSC was canceled leading to a lay-off of 1000 people including 175 physics Ph.D.'s. Los Alamos restructured this year, reducing from about 8000 to 7000 jobs. There is talk of a "DOE laboratory closing commission."

Large corporations are turning away from physics research, including IBM, which eliminated one third of its physics research in 1993, and Bellcore, which has phased out materials research over the last three years. Even when the physics Ph.D.'s find other work in the corporation, e.g., as microprocessor designers or systems engineers, there is no reason to believe the corporations will look to physics to fill these positions in the future. Moreover, some talented scientists choose to take an academic position rather than accept a new assignment; these people are a significant addition of talent to the pool of potential academicians.

For me, the most shocking feature is that despite all of these trends--some of which are over a decade in the making--the rate of physics Ph.D. production in the U.S. is increasing! As seen in Figure 1, the Sputnik scare led to a tripling of Ph.D. production in a decade, leading to a collapse of the job market around the time of the moon landing. The production declined to about 1000 during 1975-85, but has recently edged up, in part because of the very vocal warnings of a looming "scientist shortage" by NSF director Erich Bloch in the late 1980's, among others.

Some say it is impossible to predict the job market a few years hence. However, some of these trends have lasted for more than a few years. The greying of the physics faculty is at least two decades old. Industrial corporations have been turning away from basic research in general and physics research in particular for quite some time, including cut-backs by Xerox in 1980 and Exxon in 1986, as well as more recent events at IBM, Bellcore and AT&T. At the Federal level, we haven't seen a balanced budget since the days of Richard Nixon; burgeoning interest payments as well as entitlement programs combined with strong resistance to higher taxes dating from at least 1981 are bound to pinch Federal programs including government laboratories and academic support. Moreover, the military budget peaked in real terms in 1986, some three years before the Berlin wall fell. This sector too has been in decline throughout the entire recent build-up in graduate student production.

What should be done?

The physics community should prepare students for jobs that actually exist. We should end the physics-research-or-bust mentality in graduate schools. We should get advice from industry on curriculum. We should study trends in technology and employment to see where graduates can fit in. For example, the "clean car" program, the environment, software, medicine, science education, Wall Street, and the Small Business Innovation Research program all show signs of life. Physics can couple to these, but perhaps students need some acculturation to understand how. We should care about national needs; if the physics community doesn't care, other fields will and gain primacy.

More specifically, to professors, I suggest that you should prepare students for the world as it is, not as it was or as you would like it to be. For job seekers, I recommend that you take a good job outside of physics if it is offered. A post-doctoral fellowship is not much of an asset outside of the physics community, and there are no guarantees inside of physics these days. To the government, my constant-dollar recommendation is to transfer support from physics graduate students to more mature physicists.

Specialized education carries an implicit promise that a career using that training will exist. Neither the public interest nor the interest of the students themselves are served by lengthy specialized training for nonexistent jobs.

1.	A. Kalamarides, Physics Today (letter), Aug. 1993, p. 15.
2.	K. Kirby and R. Czujko, "The Physics Market:  Bleak for Young 
	Physicists" Physics Today, Dec. 1993, p. 22.

The author is a research specialist at Ohio State University, a member of the Young Scientists Network, and a General Councillor of the APS.

Symposium: After the Cold War: What Now for Science? A Discussion of Economic Conversion

The following three articles are based on talks given at our Forum's invited symposium held at the March 1993 APS meeting in Seattle, Washington. A fourth article based on this symposium, "An Insider's Perspective: Grappling with Change at TRW" by Jeff Newman, appeared in our previous issue (July 1994). Physics and Society was unable to obtain a copy of the other talk at this symposium, "Government funding for basic research in physics," presented by Melvin Lax, City College of the City University of New York.

Introduction to the Forum on Economic Conversion

George Reiter

It is a remarkable fact that three years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and in a climate of fiscal austerity, a $262 billion dollar "defense" budget, larger than the average budget, in real dollars, during the cold war period, and containing such manifestly pointless and expensive items as B-2 bombers, D-5 missiles, and F-22 fighters, passed the house in 12 minutes. We are told by the president, in his state of union address, to wild applause, that we will not compromise our defenses by any further cuts in that budget. This, even though the enemies the defense department can muster up are so implausible that we must be assured that it is necessary to fight two of them simultaneously and independently in order to conjure up a sufficient threat. Such an overwhelming political consensus is a tribute to the central role that military spending has played in sustaining our economy during a decade and a half of military Keynseanism.

Such spending has had a disastrous effect on the economy. The growth of manufacturing productivity over the last decade in this country has been the slowest of any industrialized nation. While it is difficult to assign causal relationships in such a complex system, it is the case that countries that spend less on the military have higher rates of growth of productivity, and that military Keynseanism is the least effective form of Keynseanism, producing significantly fewer jobs compared to what would have occurred if the money were spent in the civilian economy. It is also common sense that if you have forty percent of your scientists and engineers engaged in projects whose end product is something that you may put in a hole in the ground and hope never to use, you will not be doing as well as if those people were working on doing something new and useful for the civilian society, the spin off argument not-withstanding.

Physicists, whether in universities, national labs or industry, have a direct stake in the question of how the Cold War defense budget is to be reallocated. For those in labs such as Livermore or Los Alamos, or in the defense industries of Southern California, the stake is immediate and obvious. But even those of us in universities with no direct funding from the defense department, have a major interest in the outcome of what has so far been a non-debate.

The transfer of Federal funds to the military has been at the expense of all other federal programs, with the exception of the S&L bailout, and has resulted in direct losses to state budgets, both from having less federal funds, and from having to pick up social programs the federal government was no longer funding. At the same time the general weakening of the economy by the diversion of resources to non-productive use has limited the ability of the state to raise revenue by taxation and exacerbated the social need for services. As a consequence, many states are in financial trouble. Higher education is a significant part of most state budgets, and an area where cuts do not, in the short run, produce major dysfunction and outrage. As a consequence we have seen a widespread attack on university budgets throughout the country. At the same time, universities are being asked to remedy the effects of decades of waste of resources on the productivity of our industrial base by encouraging technology transfers and joint ventures with industrial partners. In fact, such transfers have always occurred, as Silicon Valley and the Golden Triangle attest. There has been no study of the ecology of science that indicates that the present network of interactions between basic science, technological projects, and industry is in any way flawed or ineffective. The pressure does not reflect any deep understanding of the way our society works, but is essentially a political attack. This attack has the effect of shifting the emphasis in universities from scholarship to entrepeneurship, from inquiry based on intellectual curiosity and wonder to an instrumental notion of research, and could succeed in severely damaging the creative core of science in this country.

With the sense that the problem of the conversion of the military economy to a civilian one was both a central issue for society and one in which physicists needed to be involved and to take a stand, we brought together a panel of people who have been fighting this battle for some time. Seymour Melman has for decades been providing intellectual leadership to bring attention and rationality to the problems created by the growth of the military economy. Frank Emspak has been working extensively with people throughout the country who have been developing and implementing practical plans to convert their own workplaces to civilian use. Jeff Newman [Physics and Society, April 1994, p. 4], trained as a physicist, was active in a program at TRW Systems to find ways to produce products for the civilian market. His story illustrates some of the difficulties involved, and affirms Emspak's point on the need for a coordinated societal industrial policy, if we are to succeed in directing our resources back to useful production. More than that may be needed.

The existing structures of our society, as we have witnessed, have sustained the military economy long past the point that any rational argument for its existence could be made. It is worth asking if any interpretation of events can explain the persistence of such a feature. Of course, one could point to the fact that profits in defense industries are twice as high as those in other industries, on average, as sufficient explanation. Putting that fact in a larger context, while recognizing the difficulty of analyzing a system as complex as our society, I find the following interpretation to be the most convincing analysis that I know of.

The polarization of our society that has been going on for two decades, with the great majority of the population experiencing declining real wages, and the financial benefits of increased productivity being experienced by only the top few percent whose incomes have risen dramatically, has meant that the majority of people cannot buy back all that their labor has produced. Productivity is so high now, that the top few percent cannot consume the remainder of what is produced either. There are, after all, just so many Mercedes, houses and shoes that one can put to use. The military economy in this light, is seen as an essential source of waste, allowing profits to be made without the necessity of having to produce goods that would have to be sold to a population that cannot afford them. Our children then pay for the things produces and wasted in the form of taxes to pay off the national debt.

If such an interpretation of the dynamic of our society is substantially correct, we will not be able to convert the military economy to civilian purposes without a fundamental restructuring of our economy as a whole. Conversion will be difficult enough in any case, and it is essential that it be done. I invite you to join in the debate and action required to do it.

The author is Professor of Physics at the University of Houston.

Symposium: After the Cold War: What Now for Science? A Discussion of Economic Conversion

The following three articles are based on talks given at our Forum's invited symposium held at the March 1993 APS meeting in Seattle, Washington. A fourth article based on this symposium, "An Insider's Perspective: Grappling with Change at TRW" by Jeff Newman, appeared in our previous issue (July 1994). Physics and Society was unable to obtain a copy of the other talk at this symposium, "Government funding for basic research in physics," presented by Melvin Lax, City College of the City University of New York.

Notes on Disarmament

Seymour Melman

The long U.S. Cold War experience included a concentration of government supported R&D funding on military as against "advancement of research" objectives. Thus, for 1989, the percent of total government R&D spending for military purposes was:

	U.S.	65.6%
	Germany	19.0%
	Japan	9.0%
For the same year the percents by each government for "advancement of research" were:

	U.S.	3.8%
	Germany	20.7%
	Japan	13.8%
Similar experiences--all unfavorable to the U.S.--were evident in R&D resources addressed to "energy" and to "industrial development."

These and related data are from the National Science Board, The Comparative Strength of U.S. Science and Technology: Strategic Issues, Washington, D.C., 1992. They are, in my view, a powerful justification for attention by the science community to the problems of carrying out a reversal of the long arms race. Disarmament is the name of the process of demilitarization that must be fashioned and set in motion everywhere.

Accordingly, I offer these Notes on Disarmament, based upon my The Demilitarized Society: Conversion and Disarmament, Harvest House, Montreal, 1988.

Disarmament discussions prior to 1962

Disarmament is a process for diminishing the power of war-making institutions by mutual agreement among governments. Mutual agreement on military, political, and economic matters must include, crucially, agreements for the carefully phased and inspected reduction of armed forces, weapons, budgets, military-serving factories, laboratories, bases, and the number of people--civilian and uniformed--under their control.

More than a definition of disarmament is needed at this time. For Americans educated in U.S. high schools and universities from 1963 to 1993 were not informed about the idea of disarmament. If mentioned at all, then it was treated as a visionary ideal at best and, at worst, a device for leaving the U.S.helpless, without weapons in the face of Soviet threat. Most important perhaps, what was wiped out during 1963-1993 was the fact that the U.S. government, in the person of President Kennedy, had formally presented plans for carrying out a reversal of the arms race, and that this had been done in concert with the Soviets. That history was simply withdrawn from public discussion--put down the memory hold after the Orwellian fashion of 1984.

While the expansion of Department of Defense budgets dominated the activity of President Kennedy's first year in office, there were also initiatives in other directions. With strong encouragement and support from his science advisor Jerome Wiesner and leading members of the Senate (notably Hubert Humphrey and Joseph Clark), President Kennedy supported legislation establishing an Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in the State Department. To chair the advisory committee of that agency Kennedy appointed John J. McCloy, then recently retired as president of the Chase Bank in New York City. McCloy took this post very seriously, and proceeded to address banking and other business groups from coast to coast arguing the importance of peace and disarmament on economic, moral and political grounds.

During 1961, in order to explore the international disarmament terrain, McCloy engaged in discussions with Valerian Zorin, the Soviet chief UN delegate. Following six meetings in the U.S. and Europe, these men formulated a three-page text comprising a set of criteria, principles to which detailed disarmament plans by the U.S. and Soviet governments should conform. This short text was announced with much fanfare and was unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly. Thereafter, senior government staffs in both the U.S. and the Soviet Union proceeded to formulate disarmament plans.

President Kennedy announced the U.S. disarmament plan in April 1962. The proposal bore the title "Blueprint for the Peace Race: The U.S. Plan for General and Complete Disarmament in a Peaceful World." The Soviet disarmament plan was formally presented in September 1962.

But the Cuban Missile of October 1962 put an end to serious negotiation on these disarmament proposals. The Soviet high command emerged from that crisis with determination never to be caught again in the same position of gross military inferiority. On the American side, the dominant view in the White House staff was one of exhilaration: they had learned how to play nuclear chicken and win. Thereafter the Cuban Missile Crisis was celebrated as a crowning and model achievement in the wielding of nuclear military power for political effect.

Managing (not reversing) the arms race since 1962

Against this background, arms control strategy for managing (not reversing) the arms race dominated the field. The arms race was to be made into managed, regulated activity, to the exclusion of disarmament. Soon after the Kennedy administration was established in 1961, concerted efforts were launched by departments of the government, by the major private foundations, by principal universities--all to the point of establishing arms control, the regulation of the arms race, as the primary orientation for wielding American military/political power--all this at the side of strategic studies with their classic emphasis on superiority in military/political operations.

The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, which together have accounted for about 85 percent of international relations research grants at American Universities, set in motion elaborate programs of arms control activities: institutes, seminars, conferences, research grants, journals. The word was out in the universities: graduate students and university faculties could immediately see where money was to be had for graduate work in international affairs. The arms control emphasis by the foundations and the universities was, of course, strongly supported and politically validated by the participation of senior members of the government in arms control and arms control-related activities.

As for disarmament: no research grants from the major foundations; no research grants at all from the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency; no courses at universities; no doctoral dissertations leading to degrees on disarmament topics; no treatment of disarmament topics in major journals of opinion. For twenty-five years, major publishers did not produce a single book on disarmament authored by an American writer.

But by 1988 the blackout on the idea of reversing the arms began to dissipate. After forty years of arms race and Cold War, parts of the ruling elites of the U.S. and the Soviet Union confronted their internal economic condition and found that grave problems could not be addressed without damping down and reversing the arms race (1). The idea of disarmament could no longer be kept under wraps. The very onset of the U.S. debate on the Intermediate Nuclear Force Treaty set in motion a discussion that called attention to the merits and limitations of this treaty, not only within a narrow compass, but also in light of possible future agreements--as on intercontinental ballistic missiles and with respect to conventional forces. That discussion compelled attention to the merits of formulating an orderly process for carrying out a reversal of the arms race in all its aspects. In order to do that, we will need to address a series of problems that are intrinsic to a disarmament process.

Disarmament problems today

Since 1962 virtually no attention has been given to the problems of designing, negotiating, and implementing a disarmament process in the principle countries of the world. Moreover, since that time the technical, political, and economic problems entailed in reversing the arms race have been complicated by the great enlargement of armed forces, the stockpile of their weapons, the size of their budgets and of supporting manufacturing and scientific establishments. Accordingly, it is vitally important to give fresh attention to the array of problems whose solution is essential for confidence in designing and implementing a disarmament process.

I start from the assumption that mutual assurance for carrying out a disarmament process for common security cannot be achieved on the basis of vaguely defined mutual trust. Thus, reliable inspection methods are needed to verify compliance with the terms of a disarmament process.

In the ordinary conduct of our lives, we rely on compliance with a great array of agreements on codes of behavior whose violation is commonly viewed as unthinkable, even apart from the presence of law-enforcing institutions. A special problem surrounding a disarmament process is that its subject is a network of war-making institutions whose operators have along tradition and extensive training in secrecy, deception, surprise, and evasion--the better to overcome the opponent. These ordinary, thinkable and valued aspects of military institutions, together with the many millions of people who participate in them, tell us that the design and execution of a disarmament process must give elaborate attention to workable and reliable ways of ensuring compliance by the participating states. This will require multiple barriers against successful evasion of the terms of a disarmament agreement. That assessment derives not from a paranoid, unreasonably exaggerated view of armed forces and their supporting organizations, but rather from sober and prudent understanding of quantity and quality of resources that have been made available to secret intelligence and military organizations trained to carry out covert military, political, industrial and research operations on a large scale.

On a recent visit to Los Alamos National Laboratories, I found that scientists in its X-Division--responsible for all aspects of nuclear warhead design--are probably one of the best equipped groups in the world to carry out functions under a demilitarization process. Recall that there are now tens of thousands of nuclear warheads in the nuclear states, and a disarmament process cannot--for obvious reasons--tolerate an accounting error or physical loss of even one whole warhead or component. This imposes unprecedented requirements for inventory reliability.

However, since the physical inspection and control methods cannot offer 100 percent reliability, such conventional methods would have to be supplemented by ways of observing people. That leads me to ask: By what means could scientists observe the professional activities of their colleagues so as to make any effort to evade a disarmament agreement vulnerable to detection?

Such issues were first addressed 35 years ago (in my report on Inspection for Disarmament, Columbia University Press, 1958). It is now timely to address these issues once again.

1.	Seymour Melman, The Permanent War Economy, (Touchstone, New York, 
	1985), and Profits Without Production, (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 

Seymour Melman is Professor Emeritus of Industrial Engineering at Columbia University, and Chairman of the National Commission for Economic Conversion and Disarmament. He is author of, most recently, The Permanent War Economy, (Simon and Schuster), Profits Without Production, (Alfred A. Knopf), The Demilitarized Society, (Harvest House), and Rebuilding America, A New Economic Plan for the 1990s, Open Magazine, Pamphlet Series. A report by Professor Melman, "What Else is There to Do?", examining neglected prospects for substantial new employment in America, is forthcoming from The National Commission for Economic Conversion and Disarmament, 1828 Jefferson Street, N.W., Washington D.C. 20036.

Symposium: After the Cold War: What Now for Science? A Discussion of Economic Conversion

The following three articles are based on talks given at our Forum's invited symposium held at the March 1993 APS meeting in Seattle, Washington. A fourth article based on this symposium, "An Insider's Perspective: Grappling with Change at TRW" by Jeff Newman, appeared in our previous issue (July 1994). Physics and Society was unable to obtain a copy of the other talk at this symposium, "Government funding for basic research in physics," presented by Melvin Lax, City College of the City University of New York.

A Discussion of Economic Conversion

Frank Emspak

Conversion means the redeployment of existing machinery, capital, intellectual and managerial talent from the manufacture, design and sale of military goods to goods and services that supply or support the commercial, non-military sectors of the society. Conversion implies changeover of existing systems. The notion harkens back to the conversion of the WW II production system to producing civilian goods. In that case many of the same factories used for the production of war material were transformed into the production of civilian goods with little delay.

Diversification suggests a less complete redeployment of productive capacity. It implies that an institution primarily dedicated to military work broadens its product line. Diversification can be carried out by expanding the products produced in one place to include non-military goods, or it can be accomplished by acquisition of new plants and sale or abandonment of military facilities. However diversification implies that the firm will maintain some military production.

We favor conversion in place. This means that we emphasize maintaining the capital investments, physical plant and above all that organism that represents the sum total of skills, abilities and interactions of a functioning factory or work place. We favor policies that maximize the possibilities of converting existing institutions from military work to productive, profitable non-military work. We would want to use a substantial amount of the existing capital equipment and most of all, the manpower associated with current defense production.

We favor a conversion-in-place strategy over the "close and migrate" strategy, although we recognize that some dislocation will undoubtedly occur especially as remote bases and specialized military support facilities are closed. However the idea that defense workers should be laid off, retrained for jobs that may not exist, migrate to those new jobs, and then become re-employed, does not appear to be a good policy option.

Some of the impediments to a conversion in place strategy

Unlike after WWII there are severe structural barriers to immediate conversion. Among them are:

No markets. After WWII there was the phenomenon of "pent-up demand." In the U.S. there was a hunger and ability to pay for civilian products especially consumer durables such as housing and automobiles. Today these markets are saturated and in addition American producers face extreme competition in these areas.

Export demand. The domestic markets were supplemented by large potential export markets--especially in consumer durables and capital goods. The export market was stimulated by the Marshall plan, but nonetheless contributed to a net need for production. The export markets today are also the scene of extreme competition and our European and Japanese competitors produce many of the same items competitively with American produced goods and services.

Divergence in production methods. After WWII, especially in consumer durables, the changeover from military production to civilian production was relatively simple. This is no longer the case.

Divergence in design methods. Design is the more important and controlling factor--as compared with production. Over the last 50 years a military design culture has grown up. Defense design criteria emphasize performance with cost a secondary factor. In commercial markets, performance, cost, and throughput time must be taken into consideration with special emphasis on cost and throughput time. Simplicity, meaning ease of production, also becomes more important.

All of the above taken together suggest that conversion in place will not be immediate. Even if there are policy decisions to maximize such a strategy, there will be a necessary period of market development, retraining of engineers, and designers (not so much the skilled work force) and product development before full productive employment will be achieved.

Advantages of a conversion in place strategy

A skilled work force. There exists in the defense industry, and especially in the electronic and aircraft industry, the most skilled and technologically literate blue collar work force compared to any industrial sector. The engineering, design and technical work force is also among the most skilled and knowledgeable in the American economy.

Modern facilities. A good proportion of US industrial defense production takes place in highly capitalized and modern facilities. Machinery and communications systems are often new and in some cases "state of the art".

Significant installed capacity. This is a corollary to number two. The machinery and equipment is in place. There is not necessarily a need to write off investment but rather alter or reconfigure. Sometimes we forget that machine tools and a good deal of manufacturing equipment in general is "universal"--specific pieces of equipment can make many parts.

Publicly Owned Assets. Assets that are already government owned could play a special place in developing a conversion program. Government owened but privately operated facilities may be a means to experiment with alternative use committees, democratic development and labor management committees with significant authority. Perhaps as one means of encouraging conversion the firms would only be allowed to hold the contract if they worked with the work force and communities to convert.

The best strategy

What strategy can we pursue that will make the best of existing work force skills and the installed manufacturing and R&D base? In the first place we must convince the defense dependent firms to talk with their work force about the future. The same idea applies to base closures and to government owned but contractor operated facilities. I emphasize the proposition "with." Talking with someone implies back and forth discussion--dialogue. It implies a recognition of the other party.

In the framework of current labor relations we call the above mechanism "Labor-management co-operation". It sounds trite but it is not. Our definition of co-operation goes beyond good will and nice phrases. Serious co-operation in unionized firms would mean negotiations with the work force regarding what is possible to produce in the plant and a strategy to achieve the development and manufacture of new products.

Such co-operation would include, but not be limited to joint design of training and education, inclusive of both the technical and blue collar work force; and restructuring of authority and concomitantly the division of labor so as to involve a segment of the work force in the redesign and transformation of existing production methods to meet those of the new more competitive commercial environment.

An illustrative example

The above system has worked in a variety of places, but I would like to give an example of one plant: the AM General Facility in South Bend Indiana. The factory makes the HUMVEE--the funny looking truck/jeep. It is an off-road vehicle.

Their program started in the summer of 1990 when the union, UAW local 5, insisted that the firm work with them to engage in a "self-directed work project". The object was for a union work team to build an ambulance body and place it on the truck chassis. The ambulance was in part for the military and in part for governmental but not necessarily military use. At any rate we were asked to come in and train the team and work with the company and union to find ways to empower the work force to solve problems. Of course, the management had to let go of some of their authority. The ambulance project was a success and ambulances were built at about 60% of the previous cost and with much higher quality.

That project encouraged the union to insist that the firm do other projects--namely a civilian humvee. To that end the AM General has begun to produce a civilian version. There have been some redesign of the vehicle.

Meanwhile the DoD cut the acquisition of the humvee to almost nothing, which had it gone through would have closed the factory. However during the week of March 8, a substantial portion of the funds were restored based on the fact that over time the factory would not be dependent on the DoD because AM General was in the process of implementing a plan to move out of the military business.

In terms of my earlier definitions, what we see at AM General is product diversification. But we also see a decision to do that product diversification in place enabled by the participation of the work force. In fact the work force has continued to be a major diving force behind improvements in quality, scheduling and changes in production equipment.

Something else in regards to DoD policy also happened at AM General. The Defense Department made it clear that they were willing to restore funds to AM General for continued production of the humvee at that facility because the firm had embarked on a process of diversification.

Principles of Conversion

From all of the above we arrive at some principles for conversion.

The objectives of any conversion plans needs to be to maintain/enhance the productive base of our country. An industrial or economic policy that seeks to enhance our productive base must be founded on a democratic decision-making system.

Thus the first principle that will enable sensible defense conversion must be democratic decision-making. What does democratic decision making mean? Affected communities and work force must be invited into some form of collective decision-making with the owners/operators of the facilities. Included in the scope of those decisions would be: product development--alternative use committees; process redesign--labor-management organizations empowered to make decisions; and content and organization of retraining programs.

A second principle is the concept of sustainable economic development. We want production for use, not for destruction, but we want to produce new products in such a fashion as to enhance the environment, not be more costly to it. D