United States Begins Working on New Nuclear Weapon to Counter Russia

The U.S. government is developing a new low-yield nuclear weapon to counter the threat it believes is posed by Russia, raising concerns that it could lower the threshold for conflict.

The weapon is being produced at the National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA) Pantex Plant in the Texas Panhandle, in a development revealed in an email to the industry magazine Exchange Monitor and confirmed by NPR.

Known as the W76-2, it is a version of the U.S. Navy's main submarine-launched Trident warhead, the W76-1, but much less powerful.

Hans Kristensen, director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists, told NPR that the new weapon will have a yield of around five to seven kilotons.

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This is much less than the 100 kiloton-yield of the W76-1, which is more than six times the yield of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

The case for smaller nuclear weapons that can be launched from a submarine was made by the White House in last year's Nuclear Posture Review, which stated they help ensure adversaries "perceive no possible advantage in limited nuclear escalation, making nuclear employment less likely."

However, Kristensen says because the new warhead could be launched on the same Trident missile used to launch the much larger W76-1, nuclear war would in fact be more likely.

"It's not like the Russians are going to be sitting there saying, 'Well, let's wait to see this one detonate first. Oh, it's a small mushroom cloud! Well, in that case.... ' A nuke is a nuke.… Once it's used, the gloves are off," he told NPR.

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Stephen Young, a senior Washington representative of the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Guardian: "There are many other scenarios, especially with a president who takes pride in his unpredictability and has literally asked: 'Why can't we use our nuclear weapons?'"

Melissa Hanham of the One Earth Future Foundation expressed concern that adversaries would have no way of knowing how powerful the weapons being used were.

She tweeted: "Hey all you nuclear powers out there. We're just going to trust that you recognize this is "just a little nuclear weapon" and won't retaliate with all you've got. Remember! The US only intends to nuke you 'a little bit.'"

In December, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the U.S. departure from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed in 1987 and warned of a rising risk in nuclear war.

United States Begins Working on New Nuclear Weapon to Counter Russia | U.S.