December 23rd, 2007 04:04 EST
D'Agostino gives vision of the nuclear weapons complex of the future
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Saying that the nation's aging Cold War-era nuclear weapons complex is too big and too costly, the National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA) top official announced its proposal to create a nuclear weapons infrastructure that is smaller, safer, more secure and more cost effective.
NNSA Administrator Thomas P. D'Agostino said that as the numbers of U.S. nuclear weapons continue to decline consistent with the nation's evolving nuclear deterrence strategy, and with flat or declining budgets in store for the maintenance and upkeep of the remaining warheads, the infrastructure to support this mission must be consolidated, made more efficient, and updated in a few key areas in order to meet the needs of the future.
Over the next decade, the proposed transformation would likely result in a 30 percent reduction in the square footage of the nuclear weapons infrastructure. In general, an overall reduction in the workforce directly supporting the weapons program of 20-30 percent may also take place over a decade, mostly through retirements, with many others moving into growing and critical national security programs such as nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear incident response and forensics, and intelligence analysis.
"Today's nuclear weapons complex needs to move from the outdated, Cold War complex into one that is smaller, safer, more secure, and less expensive. It needs to transform into a 21st century enterprise that leverages the scientific and technical capabilities of our workforce, is safer for our workforce, and meets evolving national security requirements for the future," D'Agostino said. "I believe this can be done within our existing budget."
NNSA, a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy, is meeting nuclear stockpile requirements today. But officials say that transformation is needed to prevent an escalation in costs for both securing and maintaining the complex. Nuclear materials are stored at too many sites, making security costs extremely high. The current complex also relies on hazardous, toxic and exotic materials that are causing increasing concerns for NNSA's workers and the environment. Finally, there are many redundancies in missions, capabilities and facilities that are no longer necessary or affordable.
The proposed plan announced today is described in a draft Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (SPEIS) that NNSA will issue in January. It is the result of a process that began in 1992 with NNSA's Stockpile Stewardship program. This program uses sophisticated supercomputers and experiments to certify, without underground nuclear testing, to the President that the nuclear weapons are safe and reliable. As the Stockpile Stewardship program progressed, NNSA identified needs that would become greater in the future.
These needs include facilities that are safer and more secure, consolidating special nuclear materials, eliminating duplicative capabilities, establishing a plutonium capability, and implementing more efficient and uniform business practices throughout the complex.
"I feel a sense of urgency," D'Agostino said. "We must act now to adapt for the future security needs of the country, and stop pouring money into an old, Cold War-era nuclear weapons complex that is too big, too expensive, and doesn't offer updated and safer ways of maintaining our nuclear stockpile or that is responsive to other national security needs."
The plan would also achieve President Bush's vision of the smallest stockpile consistent with our national security needs. Over the next several years, the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile will be reduced by nearly 50 percent from the 2001 level, making it the smallest stockpile since the 1950s.
The draft SPEIS evaluates four alternatives to address NNSA's needs: maintaining the status quo, distributed centers of excellence, consolidated centers of excellence, and a capabilities-based complex. The SPEIS also contains a preferred alternative, the distributed centers of excellence, which would consolidate missions and facilities within the existing NNSA sites. This means that NNSA would eliminate redundancies in missions, capabilities, and facilities, eventually saving money in the future. A copy of the executive summary of the SPEIS is available at www.nnsa.doe.gov.
The plan for a future complex would:
- Consolidate special nuclear materials at five sites by the end of 2012, with reduced square footage within those sites by 2017;
- Close or transfer from weapons activities about 600 buildings or structures, many by 2010;
- Cease NNSA operations of two major testing sites supporting our laboratories by 2015;
- Reduce the square footage of buildings and structures supporting weapons missions by as much as one-third, going from greater than 35 million to less than 26 million square feet;
- Employ 20-30% fewer workers directly supporting weapons missions consistent with a smaller, more efficient complex;
- Dismantle weapons at a significantly faster pace.
NNSA's nuclear weapons complex consists of the eight major facilities across the country that work together to keep the nation's nuclear weapons safe and reliable without underground nuclear testing. The facilities are: Los Alamos National Laboratory (NM), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (CA), Sandia National Laboratories (NM and CA), Pantex Plant (TX), Y-12 National Security Complex (TN), Kansas City Plant (MO), Savannah River Site (SC), and Nevada Test Site (NV).
Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a separately organized agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the United States and abroad. Visit www.nnsa.doe.gov for more information.