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Let the nukes die

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From the Foreign Policy article: A French atmospheric nuclear test in the Mururoa atoll
in French Polynesia in 1971. 

I have a new article in Foreign Policy. I write about the reasons that Russia and the United States might go back to nuclear explosive testing and suggest that we might let nuclear weapons decay out of existence.

That suggestion has some historical precedent. In 1989, Carson Mark, at that time the director of weapons design at Los Alamos and earlier a designer himself, proposed with others that a way to decrease the nuclear arsenal could be to stop producing tritium. Tritium is a component of nuclear weapons that boosts their yield and whose 12-year half-life requires its regular replacement. The dissolution of the Soviet Union overtook the arms control negotiations to which Mark contributed his suggestion.

Now there are concerns about the plutonium parts in nuclear weapons. Modernization efforts will include plutonium replacement. Other parts of the weapons, like the conventional explosives, age as well.

The US is trying to restart production of plutonium parts with great difficulty, and Russia will be strapped for funds after the Ukraine war ends. It’s not possible to negotiate an arms control agreement with Russia now, but an agreement that lessens the need for modernization may be attractive to a poorer Russia.

Last night’s takedown of six of Russia’s “unstoppable” Kinzhal missiles should also help to change Russian thinking. Cold War concepts of deterrence and nuclear warfighting are obsolete. We all need to rethink them.

Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner

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