WASHINGTON, Dec. 2 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Council plans to continue developing a new nuclear weapons program even though recent studies suggested that existing stockpiles are in better condition than had been thought, The Washington Post reported Saturday.
The announcement by the council, consisting of senior Defense Department and National Nuclear Security Administration officials, came Friday, two days after the release of studies by the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories showing that plutonium triggers in currently stockpiled weapons will remain reliable for 90 to 100 years, the report said.
A major reason for starting the new weapons program - known as the Reliable Replacement Warhead - was the belief that highly radioactive plutonium would degrade so much within 45 years that it could affect the reliability of the weapons in the current stockpile, many of which were built in the late 1960s.
The Nuclear Weapons Council determined that competing designs submitted by both national labs could result in reliable warheads "without underground testing," a key requirement of the program, the report said.
The council members are expected to choose one of the two designs in the next few weeks and to develop cost estimates. Moving to the next phase of warhead development will require the approval of Congress.
The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration said earlier this week that the plutonium used to trigger U.S. nuclear warheads and bombs will remain reliable for about 100 years, far longer than had been believed, the Post reported Thursday.