The administration dumps its nuclear chief.

Notes from different corners of the world.
Jan. 8 2007 12:06 PM

Atomic Fallout

The administration dumps its nuclear chief, but can anyone else do better?

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"In theory, it was a good idea to separate nuclear weapons from the day-to-day White House political considerations that encumber any Cabinet-level agency," said Phil Coyle, a former associate director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and now a senior adviser at the Center for Defense Information. "But in practice it has only played into the perception that the NNSA and its contractors are not accountable to higher-level authorities, in this case the secretary of energy."

But firing Brooks won't fix the labs, and the administration has yet to answer a fundamental question: What would they have had him do differently? We suspect Brooks' answer would have been much like his response to our questions. When we asked him 18 months ago about why he was unable to persuade Congress to fund the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, a controversial push to design a bunker-busting nuke, he said, "I don't know what I would have done differently, but we'll see."

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The critics were right: Linton Brooks failed to fix the labs, but who can? Like Charlie Brown in his eternal quest to kick the football, we wonder if Brooks ever really had a chance. As for why he was fired—and why now—we suspect that Brooks is asking the same question.

Nathan Hodge and Sharon Weinberger are working on a book, called A Nuclear Family Vacation, about travels through the world of atomic weaponry. Last year, they wrote a series of dispatches about their travels to nuclear sites in the former Soviet Union; in 2005, they wrote another series about their tour of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

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