February 16, 1999
John G. Davies
Dear Mr. Davies,
We, the undersigned, are writing to urge the University of California Regents to declare a moratorium on construction of the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The facility, being built and to be operated by the University of California, is designed to conduct contained thermonuclear explosions, experiments which may be considered illegal under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The CTBT prohibits "any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion." The CTBT also requires parties to "prevent" nuclear explosions in their jurisdictions.
A July 1998 report by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), Dangerous Thermonuclear Quest, determined that the planned explosions in NIF are banned under the CTBT. While NIF cannot be miniaturized into a weapon, research on it would establish the scientific feasibility of creating fusion explosions without a primary fission trigger -- a first step toward establishing the feasibility of pure fusion weapons. It would feed directly into research at Los Alamos and Sandia on technologies which have the potential for miniaturization.
If the scientific and engineering barriers to pure fusion weapons are overcome, a new class of weapons could emerge that would radically increase the nuclear threat. Pure fusion weapons would not require plutonium or highly enriched uranium, the acquisition of which is one of the main obstacles to nuclear proliferation. These weapons could also be made in various sizes, from very small to very large, and would not produce the highly radioactive fallout of current nuclear weapons. At the same time, the release of large numbers of neutrons would make them very effective at killing people while minimizing blast effects.
Given the grave implications of this research and the troubling questions surrounding its legality, we strongly urge the UC Regents to take immediate action. As the governing body of the University of California overseeing its contract to operate national laboratories, the Regents should take whatever action is necessary for the Laboratory to suspend work on the NIF project until the legal questions are resolved by the CTBT review conference or other appropriate international body. The Regents could also use the time during the work suspension to conduct a university-wide debate on the appropriateness of one of the world's greatest universities continuing with nuclear weapons research. This should be a matter of far wider public debate within the academic community and the country as a whole. We urge that you use the occasion of the NIF review to initiate that debate. We would appreciate receiving your response, which should be sent to Arjun Makhijani and Hisham Zerriffi of IEER at 6935 Laurel Ave., Suite 204, Takoma Park, MD 20912.
Arjun Makhijani President, IEER Ph.D., UC Berkeley, 1972
Hisham Zerriffi Project Scientist, IEER
Cc: All members of the University of California Board of Regents.
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