N.M. – Standing next to a 12-foot nuclear bomb that looks more like
a trim missile than a weapon of mass destruction, engineer Phil
Hoover exudes pride. “I feel a real sense of accomplishment,” he
as Hoover knows, looks can be deceiving. He and fellow engineers at
Sandia National Laboratories have spent the past few years designing,
building and testing the top-secret electronic and mechanical innards
of the sophisticated B61-12.
Hoover, an engineer at Sandia National Laboratories, shows off a
flight test body for a B61-12 nuclear weapon. Sandia engineers have
spent the past few years designing, building and testing the
top-secret electronic and mechanical innards of the bomb.Credit:
Jerry Redfern for Reveal
when nuclear explosives are added at the federal Pantex Plant near
Amarillo, Texas, the bomb will have a maximum explosive force
equivalent to 50,000 tons of TNT – more than three times more
powerful than the U.S. atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, 70
years ago this August that killed more than 130,000 people.
U.S. government doesn’t consider the B61-12 to be new – simply an
upgrade of an existing weapon. But some contend that it is far more
Kristensen, a nuclear weapons expert at the nonpartisan Federation of
American Scientists in Washington, is resolute that the bomb violates
Obama administration pledge not
to produce nuclear weapons with new military capabilities.
do not have a nuclear guided bomb in our arsenal today,” Kristensen
said. “It is a new weapon.”
organization was formed in 1945 by nuclear scientists who wanted to
prevent nuclear war. And it’s not the maximum force of the B61-12
that worries him the most on that front.
he says he fears that the bomb’s greater accuracy, coupled with the
way its explosive force can be reduced electronically through a
dial-a-yield system accessed by a hatch on the bomb’s body,
increases the risk that a president might consider it tame enough for
a future conflict.
shared similar concerns in rejecting other so-called low-intensity
nuclear weapons in the past. But most of the national criticism of
this bomb has focused on its price tag. After it goes into full
production in 2020, taxpayers will have spent about $11 billion to
build 400 B61-12 bombs. That sum is more than double the original
estimate, making it the most expensive nuclear bomb ever.
Kristensen and others, if President Barack Obama’s pledge was
serious, the bomb shouldn’t exist at any price.
the B61-12 entered the U.S. arsenal of weapons is a tale of the
extraordinary influence of the “nuclear enterprise,” as the
nuclear weapons complex has rebranded itself in recent years. Its
story lies at the heart of the national debate over the ongoing
modernization of America’s nuclear weapons, a program projected to
the next decade.
enterprise encompasses defense contractors, including the subsidiary
of Lockheed Martin Corp. that runs the Sandia labs for the
government, as well as the U.S. Department of Energy and the nuclear
weapons-oriented wings of the U.S. military – particularly the Air
Force and Navy. With abundant jobs and dollars at stake, the nuclear
enterprise is backed by politicians of all sьripes.
review of several thousands of pages of congressional testimony,
federal budgets and audit reports, plus an analysis of lobbying and
campaign contribution data, shows that the four defense contractors
running the two New Mexico nuclear weapons labs, Sandia and Los
Alamos National Laboratory, enjoy a particularly symbiotic
relationship with Congress.
relationship begins with money.
1998, these four contractors have contributed more than $20 million
to congressional campaigns around the nation. Last year alone, they
spent almost $18 million lobbying Washington to ensure that funding
for nuclear weapons projects continues even as nuclear stockpiles
Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics,
said the outlay is a bargain considering what’s at stake for the
an insignificant cost of doing business relative to the potential
income from these contracts,” she said.
arid, impoverished New Mexico, the nuclear weapons enterprise thrives
on particularly close connections between business interests and
politicians, doors revolving in both directions and successful
efforts to minimize oversight of corporate behavior.