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Report backs continued national nuclear effort

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By Roger Snodgrass

A key report intended to address strong differences of opinion concerning national nuclear policy reached a number of conclusions favorable to the national weapons laboratories, including Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The Congressional Commission on the Nuclear Strategic Posture of the United States released their final report Wednesday, after more than a year of deliberation.

A 12-member bipartisan commission, selected half and half by the House and the Senate Armed Services committees, endorsed a bottom line proposition that as long as other countries have nuclear weapons the United States must maintain “an appropriately effective nuclear force.”

Introducing the study in a press conference Wednesday, commission chairman and former Secretary of Defense William Perry said it was “a long and complex report.”

Perry summarized the study in relation to current recommendations by the Obama Administration, noting one major discrepancy.

The Obama Administration and Perry himself believe that the country should seek ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. But on that issue, he said, “We have a split commission and were unable to resolve our differences.”

Some members, he added, would probably testify against ratifying the treaty that stalled short of Senate approval during the Clinton Administration.

The commission, among many recommendations, encouraged the completion of the controversial Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility at LANL, even if funding cannot be found for another high-priority project in the weapons complex, the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 complex in Tennessee.

If funding cannot be found for both, the report prioritized the Los Alamos project based on the rationale that, “a short-term loss of plutonium capabilities may hurt the weapons program more than a short-term loss of enriched uranium capabilities.”

Chapter Six in the report is devoted to the issue of transforming the nuclear weapons complex.

“The commission considered a variety of studies from recent years about how to update the complex. It is apparent that, for various reasons, none of these has achieved sustained political support.”

Because of doubtful political support, the commission recommended that the National Nuclear Security Administration be established as an independent agency reporting directly to the president through the secretary of energy, rather than a preferred option of establishing NNSA as an independent agency reporting to the president with a “Board of Directors” composed of the secretaries of energy, defense, state and homeland security, plus the director of National Intelligence.

In general the commission endorsed more and fuller funding, greater independence and reduced regulatory supervision for the weapons complex. The report called for formally changing the name of the complex from nuclear “weapons” laboratories to nuclear “security” laboratories, in recognition of a broader set of responsibilities on behalf of the country.