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Controversy Over Replacement of America’s W-76 Warhead

Posted April. 04, 2005 23:27,   


The New York Times reported on April 3 that scientists are disputing the replacement of the W-76 warhead, a small hydrogen bomb, which the U.S. designed during the Cold War.

The U.S. Administration is expected to conduct a through investigation in order to extend the life span of the W-76 by investing two billion dollars (about 2.26 trillion won) over the next 10 years starting 2007.

However, weapons experts are asserting that the government should substitute the W-76 for a new model, due to its structural defects, instead of repairing the W-76.

Out of 5,000 warheads controlled by the U.S., 1,500 units, or one-third of the warheads, are the W-76 model. In particular, as the U.S. lowers its level of dependency on ground missiles and air-delivered nuclear weapons, the W-76, which is loaded in submarine-launched Trident II missiles, has become more important.

Accordingly, whether the U.S. extends the life span of the W-76 or replaces it with another model is linked directly with the change in nuclear power of the U.S.

The U.S. designed the W-76 in order to attack enemy country’s military bases in the 1970s.

However, the problem with the W-76 is that bomb-manufacturing companies excessively emphasized miniaturization and made as lightweight a warhead as possible for intensifying the nuclear weapon’s explosive power. As a result, the thickness of a radioactivity case of the W-76 that surrounds a triggering device and hydrogen became too thin, which is the core of the controversy.

U.S. authorities currently deny the above-mentioned functional defect and only emphasize the necessity of replacement of the old warhead.

Nevertheless, scientists point out that the radioactivity case of the W-76 may not be able to endure the first atomic explosion, which is aimed at gaining a high temperature for nuclear fusion.

Young-Sik Kim spear@donga.com