Report critical of NNSA

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By The Staff

The Union of Concerned Scientists says the United States is set to spend $60 billion on new nuclear warheads and facilities. To illustrate its point, the union delivered a 92-page report on its website and talked about how UCS believes this was a misguided plan.

One of the main topics of discussion was plutonium pits production at Los Alamos.

And right out of the box, the report criticizes the performance of the National Nuclear Security Administration, saying it “is not performing its job well. In fact, the NNSA has been struggling to prioritize its work for some time.”

The report states the Obama administration’s initial plan for the nuclear weapons complex was to build two major weapons facilities — the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement–Nuclear Facility in Los Alamos, and the Uranium Processing Facility in Knoxville, Tenn., — and a Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility to dispose of plutonium from dismantled warheads. The administration’s plan also included ambitious programs to extend the lifetime of several types of warheads. However, skyrocketing costs and constrained budgets have led the NNSA to reconsider its plans for all three facilities.

NNSA went on to delay construction of the CMRR for at least five years and is currently working on an alternative plutonium strategy. The report also cites the fact that NNSA has to redesign the UPF and the construction has slowed on the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site and reviews other plutonium disposal strategies.

“Meanwhile, a program to extend the life of the W76 warhead will not meet its schedule or budget. The estimated cost of the life extension program for the B61 bomb has jumped from $4 billion to $8 billion to $10 billion. And plans for extending the life of the W78 warhead entail even more complicated and costly modifications,” the report said.

A spokesman said the lab would not have any comment on the report.

The report offers quite a bit when it comes to an alternative plutonium strategy.

In April 2013, administration officials testified before Congress about a possible alternative to the Nuclear Facility. Under a “modular” approach, the NNSA would build several smaller, single-purpose facilities—an approach that could be less costly, according to Los Alamos lab director Charles McMillan.

As of mid-April, the DOD and the NNSA were pursuing a 60-day “business case analysis,” but no information about the capabilities, costs, or construction schedules of this strategy is publicly available.

The report said the alternative strategy could allow outright cancellation of the Nuclear Facility, although some members of Congress still want to build it. The FY 2013 defense authorization requires the facility to become fully operational by 2026, but also sets a $3.7 billion spending cap, and requires the DOE to provide a “detailed justification” for projected costs above the cap.

The report also stated that the administration has offered no clear rationale for the number of pits it needs to produce annually over the long term.