The Artisanal Nuke
THE ARTISANAL NUKEBYMary C. DixonMentor: Professor Abby Johnson, PhD.ABSTRACTIn the post Cold War era, preservation of the nation's nuclear deterrent has become the provenance of the Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP). The US does not design, build or test new nuclear weapons, but is required to maintain the safety, security, and reliability of those weapons remaining in the active deterrent stockpile. How to do that without nuclear testing is a "grand challenge" considered by many to be as difficult, if not more so, than were the challenges of the original Manhattan Project. It has led to development of new experimental scientific and computing capabilities as well as expanded use of technologies used during the Cold War test and build program. In contrast to the image most people have of a massive industrial effort, it is very much an artisanal preservation effort by teams who work at detailed levels to maintain a product everyone hopes will never be used.This thesis examines the artisanal scientific and engineering challenges inherent in such an effort, and makes clear what is, and what is not, part of SSP. The method of investigation was to review relevant literature on the development of the overall approach to the SSP grand challenge to include program milestones met, scientific and engineering breakthroughs and technological improvements, the value of the intellectual capacity needed in the program, the difficulty of retaining highly educated and trained staff, costs, problems, criticisms, and value of the overall science and engineering represented in such large, costly government programs.The results are impressive in terms of achievements many of which have far ranging implications for the US economy beyond national security goals. The results are mixed in terms of the program's ability to manage costs effectively. The problems associated with obtaining sustained federal funding are seen. The conclusion is that SSP is a reasonable solution to the continued need for a nuclear deterrent, and that there is a continued need for a deterrent. It is worth the dollars being spent but could be more cost effective.
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