At the turn of the century, the United States had been observing a self-imposed nuclear-explosion test moratorium for more than seven years and was in the early stages of learning how to maintain its nuclear arsenal in the absence of nuclear-explosion testing. Concerns about the feasibility of this task were an important factor in the 1999 Senate decision not to give its advice and consent to ratification of the CTBT.
The 2002 Report provided important background and tutorial material on many topics relevant to nuclear weapons. This included an historical perspective on nuclear-explosion testing; a description of the origin of the Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP); a discussion of the process by which a warhead enters the stockpile and is then maintained; and the factors influencing the safety, security, and reliability of the weapons.
The focus of these sections was on the ability to maintain the existing stockpile in the absence of nuclear-explosion testing. The implied premise was that the military requirements were frozen and that each system would be maintained in a form as close to the original military specifications as possible. Under these assumptions the assessment in the 2002 Report was that the safety and reliability of the U.S. stockpile could be maintained via careful adherence to past practices and that six measures were most important to accomplishing that purpose:
We judge that the United States has the technical capabilities to maintain confidence in the safety and reliability of its existing nuclear-weapon stockpile under the CTBT, provided that adequate resources are made available to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) nuclear-weapon complex and are properly focused on this task. The measures that are most important to maintaining and bolstering stockpile confidence are:
• maintaining and bolstering a highly motivated and competent workforce in the nuclear-weapon laboratories and production complex
• intensifying stockpile surveillance,
• enhancing manufacturing/remanufacturing capabilities,
• increasing the performance margins of nuclear-weapon primaries,
• sustaining the capacity for development and manufacture of the non-nuclear and nuclear components of nuclear weapons, and
• practicing “change discipline” in the maintenance and remanufacture of the nuclear subsystems. (NRC, 2002, pp. 1, 9.)
The 2002 Report offered many cautionary notes about the risks associated with any change from the initial configuration of the warhead, especially in the nuclear explosive package. The report was quite positive on the ability to maintain the stockpile without nuclear-explosion testing as long as these risks were respected and the six measures were followed.
The U.S. Stockpile Stewardship Program
At the time of the 2002 Report, there was uncertainty about the nascent SSP and maintaining the stockpile in the absence of nuclear-explosion testing. The intervening 10 years have seen major successes in the discovery and resolution of significant stockpile issues, as well as notable problems in maintaining the physical and human infrastructure needed for the SSP. The successes indicate that it is possible to maintain a safe, secure, and reliable stockpile