For those who were hoping for a nuclear weapons-free world or at least the dismantling and destruction of most of the world’s arsenal, blame this disappointing news on asteroids. Buried deep in a Government Accountability Office report on the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is the revelation that U.S. nuclear warheads scheduled to be dismantled by 2015 will instead be saved in order to defend the planet against wayward asteroids.
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February 2013 has world leaders nervous, at least when they’re not worrying about Ebola, ISIS or hackers. On the other hand, it has those fretting the demise of nuclear weapons excited to have a reason to keep them around. The GAO report says the warheads …
… are being retained in an indeterminate state pending a senior-level government evaluation of their use in planetary defense against earthbound asteroids.
Will this cause a war between space rock lovers anxiously awaiting the Rosetta probe dropping the Philae lander on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November and trigger-happy leaders wanting to protect their countries or at least areas that will vote for them in the next election? NASA says that, of the over 1,400 asteroids it’s identified that could cause serious damage, none will hit for at least 100 years. A nuclear weapon wouldn’t stop those anyway. This nuke-the-asteroids plan is for deflecting smaller bodies, like the Chelyabinsk meteor, before they can hit the Earth.
Using simulations (of course), NASA has determined that a standoff explosion where the warhead blow up near the asteroid, would be best for deflection, rather than a direct impact which could break it into smaller pieces that would continue on their destructive path to impact.
Can it work? With the amount of effort expended just to get Rosetta to comet 67P, it seems like a daunting task.
What do you think? Is this a possible solution to saving the Earth from meteoric disaster or a just a sneaky plan to maintain the stockpile of nuclear weapons to keep us on a path to an entirely different disaster?