A proposal to upgrade the U.S. arsenal has sparked an explosive debate
U.S. nuclear warheads might have been technological marvels a half-century ago, but today they're akin to a fleet of '57 Chevys — at least according to those who say the U.S. arsenal is begging to be traded in for a new model called reliable replacement warheads, or RRW.
For the last half-century, the U.S. has maintained its 5,400-warhead arsenal by replacing degraded plastic and rubber parts. But the most important part of the warhead — its explosive radioactive core — naturally decays over time and has not been replaced.
The warheads will remain dependable for at least 82 more years, or until the year 2091, according to a 2006 report by JASON, an independent scientific advisory group for the U.S. government. At that point, the warheads’ decayed cores could leave the U.S. with an impotent nuclear arsenal. "The concern is, can we keep the nuclear arsenal safe, reliable and effective for as long as we’ll need nuclear forces?" says John R. Harvey, a physicist in the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.