Nonproliferation Expert, James Doyle, Still Fighting for Nuclear Security

Los Alamos National Lab, Los Alamos, New MexicoJames Doyle, a non-proliferation expert and former Los Alamos National Laboratory employee, released a report with Nuclear Watch New Mexico on the effectiveness of the United States’ arms-control technology and detection capabilities. In the report, Doyle argues for the further development of technologies that would strengthen nuclear detection and monitoring capabilities, but which have lost funding in lieu of increases to the nuclear weapons budget.  These capabilities are essential for preventing the spread of nuclear material or a rogue nuclear detonation, and ensuring that arms control agreements are verifiable and that no cheating is taking place.

Doyle’s report is the continuation of his life’s work, which is now sponsored by arms-control groups, instead of the federal government. Last summer, after 17 years of non-proliferation expertise, Doyle was fired from Los Alamos National Laboratory. While the Lab claims the move was motivated by budget cuts, Doyle challenges that claim and believes his termination was related to an article he published months before.  Numerous press reports on Doyle’s case have identified that article as “Why Eliminate Nuclear Weapons.” In the article, Doyle details arguments against the continued valuation of nuclear weapons in security strategy, identifying their existence and potential use as a dangerous and immeasurable risk. The Lab’s response to the piece was bizarre; the piece was originally cleared by the Lab’s classification staff, but after publication, was retroactively classified by the Department of Energy. Doyle was then placed on a brief, unpaid leave. While Doyle’s current federal whistleblower case is still pending, he continues his efforts in the nonprofit world, working to improve nonproliferation strategy and reduce the threat of a rogue nuclear detonation.

Meeting with Doyle at a National Security Retreat last week, I was impressed by his continued dedication to the field of national security.  Even when faced with legal complications and frustrating circumstances, his focus was on improving nuclear security and reducing the dangers of nuclear weapons. When asked what motivated him to compile the report:

“The current and future nuclear security environment requires the United States and its allies and partners to develop more robust nonproliferation, verification and monitoring capabilities.  The most likely nuclear threats we face are not prevented, deterred or countered by offensive nuclear weapons systems that receive the vast proportion of limited defense funds.  The national laboratories should play a leading role in improving these capabilities.  My personal situation does not change that reality and I hope my professional efforts continue to support national and global security objectives.”


The report highlights the dangers of an improvised nuclear explosion; a threat which an arsenal of nuclear weapons do not address. Doyle argues the nonproliferation efforts and verification technology necessary to confront these challenges have long been deprioritized as a “soft power.” While identified as an area in need of improvements in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review  these technologies were never given the funding and priority needed to establish full capacity. Instead, Doyle wants to qualify these technologies as “smart power,” yielding far higher security benefits than building one more nuclear weapon at considerably lower costs.

Doyle recommends a renewed focus on the development of nonproliferation, verification, and monitoring technologies, fostered by the establishment of “a new, integrated multiagency program.” This program is intended to redirect funding, expertise, and collaborative efforts to the nonproliferation mission. By increasing international partnerships and bringing technologies that have been developed, but not deployed and implemented, off the shelves and into the field, Doyle believes this program will help prepare the United States and its allies to better monitor, detect, and prevent nuclear threats.

Doyle and Nuclear Watch New Mexico see this program as essential and in urgent need, going so far as to say it should be implemented in the FY16 budget. At a cost of $125-$150 million, Doyle argues the costs are practical and only a fraction of the potential $1 trillion that the U.S. will spend on the nuclear arsenal over the next 3 decades. For the estimated $1.5 billion cost of the proposed tail-kit  of the B61 Mod12 nuclear bomb, the Obama Administration could fund this new program for a decade.

Whether or not you support the nuclear modernization plans, all can agree nuclear security is critical to keeping the United States and its allies safe. Reinvesting in the technology to detect and secure nuclear threats would be both a worthy and achievable goal for the Obama administration in 2016 and beyond.

To read the whole report by Doyle and Nuclear Watch New Mexico, click here.