When news broke in mid December that Donald Trump wanted former Texas governor Rick Perry to head the Energy department, everyone made the same two jokes. Politicos, pundits and journalists were either lambasting the ex Republican presidential candidate’s infamous forgetfulness about the department, or remembering that one time (this past season) he served as a contestant on Dancing With The Stars. Unfortunately, most of the responses to Perry’s appointment — joking and otherwise — forgot to highlight a rather important aspect of his potential new gig — nuclear weapons.
Turns out the Energy secretary oversees the maintenance and storage of America’s nuclear arsenal. If President Trump gets the “arms race” he supposedly wants with Russia (and possibly China), appointee Perry will be in charge of developing and testing said arsenal. In an interview with the New York Times, former Energy and Defense department senior official John Harvey said “support from outside the Trump administration for testing will be robust,” but “a strong push to do nuclear testing could upset the consensus.”
The prospect of Perry, a professional politician whose appointment would put him behind “two highly accomplished physicists,” may seem unsettling on its own. At least until one considers the age and condition of America’s nuclear stockpile, which hasn’t been tested since 1992:
Absent testing, the arsenal today is something like a 1967 Chevy that sits for decades without being driven, said Thomas Karako, a senior fellow in the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “You have to have the confidence that if you have to crank the engine, it will turn on,” Mr. Karako said.
Of course Perry’s first job as Energy secretary would be to ensure the department’s current infrastructure is up to snuff. That, and making sure his staff is populated with persons possessing the necessary expertise regarding complex, scientific subjects like nuclear weapons and their upkeep. As the NYT discovered, however, Perry’s particular opinion on nukes isn’t too well known — even among Republican allies.
According to Burton Richter, a physics Nobel laureate who advised various presidential administrations since the ’70s, he asked “technically oriented” members of the Republican party about Perry’s nuclear opinions. “Is he going in with a lot of fixed ideas?” he recalled asking them. “They say they simply don’t know about Perry.”
(Via New York Times)