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Richmond Times-Dispatch July 12, 2005

Nuclear analyst: Warheads moved from Yorktown

By Bill Geroux

YORKTOWN -- The Navy quietly moved the last nuclear warheads out of the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station several years ago after storing hundreds of them at the base after the end of the Cold War, a prominent nuclear analyst says.

Thomas Cochran, nuclear director for the National Resources Defense Council, said Yorktown's last 175 warheads were transported to the Navy submarine base at Kings Bay, Ga., as part of an effort to cut costs through consolidation, possibly as early as 1997.

The Navy last week would neither confirm not deny Cochran's assertion. The Navy's policy is never to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons at bases, including the Yorktown weapons station, whose long pier juts into the York River along the much-traveled Colonial Parkway.

Despite the Navy's silence, Cochran's group and other watchdogs of defense and nuclear policy have said for years that Yorktown served as a nuclear weapons depot. In 2000, anti-nuclear weapon protesters led by the Most Rev. Walter F. Sullivan, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, staged a protest at the Yorktown base.

Cochran said in an interview that the Navy apparently handled a small variety of nuclear weapons at Yorktown during the Cold War. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the first President Bush ordered nuclear weapons removed from warships and most submarines. More than 600 warheads designed for submarine-based Tomahawk cruise missiles were stored at Yorktown, the group said.

Cochran said the warheads stored in Yorktown were cylindrical drums about a foot in diameter and 2 or 3 feet long, which could be fitted into side compartments of cruise missiles before launch.

Cochran's organization tries to track the movement of nuclear weapons around the globe. In a widely cited report in 1997, it said the number of warheads at Yorktown had dwindled to 175. The Navy may have removed those weapons that same year, Cochran said. In any event, he said, "there are none in Yorktown any longer."

Another well-known defense analyst, John E. Pike of globalsecurity.org, said he did not know if the last nuclear warheads had been moved from Yorktown. But he deferred to Cochran, saying, "I would not seek to disagree with him. He tracks those closer than I do."

. . .

Outside of Yorktown, Hampton Roads is home to a large cluster of nuclear reactors -- those that power most of the aircraft carriers and submarines stationed at the Norfolk Naval Station.

The five Norfolk-based carriers carry a total of 12 reactors, including four in the aging Enterprise and two each in the Theodore Roosevelt, the Dwight D. Eisenhower, the George Washington and the Harry S. Truman. Twelve attack submarines based in Norfolk carry one reactor apiece, and the latest round of military base-closings may bring eight additional subs to Norfolk.

The Navy would not discuss details of its protective measures for the reactors. Each warship is protected by layers of security on land and at sea, and within the nuclear-powered ships, access to the reactor areas is restricted. On carriers, a special Marine detachment protects the nuclear operation.

A Navy spokesman in Norfolk, Ensign Brian Hoyt, said the Navy has operated nuclear-powered ships for years without a single serious incident.

"The Navy has a 100 percent safety record with nuclear materials, he said. "That's more than most countries can say."


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