Japanese Optical Glass Giant Involved in U.S. Nuclear Weapons Development

Nuke Info Tokyo No. 86 Nov./Dec. 2001 p.7

By Masa Takubo
Senior Researcher, International Division
Japan Congress Against A- and H-bombs (GENSUIKIN)

A US subsidiary of the Hoya Corporation, a Japanese optical glass giant, is supplying a US hydrogen bomb research facility called the National Ignition Facility (NIF) with laser glass slabs, key components of the facility. Immediately after Hoya's involvement in NIF was reported in early Feb. this year in Japan, Hoya announced that it would withhold delivery to NIF for the time being due to strong opposition. But on 22 March the company declared that it would resume delivery as of 26 March. Many people believe that the struggle is over, because the announcement of the resumption was not reported widely. But the struggle continues.

NIF is under construction at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), one of the two US nuclear-weapon design laboratories, located near San Francisco. The aim of NIF is to achieve the fusion explosion phenomenon of hydrogen bombs in a laboratory environment by using laser energy.

Hoya's glass slabs (79 x 44 x 4.5 cm), mixed with a slight amount of neodymium to amplify the laser, are essential for NIF. Hoya plans to supply half of the approximately 3,500 slabs needed for NIF, with the other half being supplied by Schott Glass Technologies, a US subsidiary of the Schott Group headquartered in Germany. They are the only companies that have the mass production technology for this special glass, and are also producing glass for Laser Megajoule, a similar weapons research facility being constructed by France. According to LLNL, by January this year, Hoya had produced 600 slabs for NIF and 125 for LMJ.

In a letter to the Japan Congress Against A- and H-Bombs dated 20 Feb. 2001, Hoya tried to justify its relation with NIF by saying that it understands that "the main focus of the NIF project is not the maintenance and expansion of the defense technology." Yet a US General Accounting Office report dated Aug. 2000 says about 85% of the facility's experiments will be for nuclear weapons physics.

Hoya also maintains that "one of the NIF's missions is to avoid the danger of leaving nuclear weapons unattended." But the US is not going to leave nuclear weapons unattended, with or without NIF. And NIF is not helpful in preventing accidental nuclear explosions which might occur due to defects in the "primary" of the weapon, involving chemical explosives and plutonium. NIF's research concerns the "secondary," involving hydrogen isotopes that are designed to undergo fusion using the energy coming from the "primary." The "secondary" is not going to detonate on its own.

Frank von Hippel, a former scientific advisor to the Clinton administration, explains: "Since 1994, the leaders of the US nuclear-weapons design program have insisted that, in the absence of nuclear testing, NIF will be essential to their ability to maintain and enhance the laboratories' understanding of nuclear weapons physics. This is the principal mission of NIF." He also points out that NIF is an important part of "the US 'Stockpile Stewardship Program,' the program by which the US hopes to evaluate modifications in its nuclear weapons and train a new generation of US weapon scientists without conducting test nuclear explosions."*

In September 2001, the assemblies of two Japanese municipalities, Chofu City in the suburbs of Tokyo and Fuchu Town located within the city of Hiroshima, passed a resolution demanding the cancellation of Hoya's delivery to NIF. This makes the total of the municipalities now officially opposed to Hoya's involvement in NIF four, since the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have also sent protest letters to the company. The number may increase significantly in the December session of the local assemblies. A signature-collecting campaign against Hoya is also under way.

* The Mission of the U.S. National Ignition Facility (April 16, 2001) Japanese translation published in Kagaku Aug. 2001 Vol.71 No.8. For the English original, see http://www.gensuikin.org/english/NIF_mission.htm