GAO Report Challenges Nuclear Weapons Spending Spree

The General Accounting Office concludes that NNSA lacks the basis for justifying multi-billion dollar modernization projects such as the Chemical and Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

At a time when the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is asking Congress to authorize billions of dollars to modernize what it calls its “aging” nuclear infrastructure for maintaining and producing nuclear weapons, a new report from the General Accounting Office (GAO) concludes that “NNSA does not have accurate, reliable, or complete data on the condition and replacement value of its almost 3,000 weapons activities facilities.”

The new budget request to be released today is expected to request billions of dollars to modernize the nuclear weapons complex.

In a blunt statement that appears to challenge the administration’s request for more money to build new nuclear weapons factories, the GAO report points out that “NNSA has not estimated total costs for the largest projects it is conducting—the Chemical and Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. DOE regulations do not require a total cost estimate until the initial design phase is complete, but without reliable cost and schedule data NNSA does not have a sound basis to justify decisions and planned budget increases.”

[Addition: The GAO report unfortunately makes the same mistake that the news media makes all the time when describing the New START treaty. According to the report, “As part of this plan and arms control treaties, the United States has agreed to reduce the size of its strategic nuclear weapon stockpile from a maximum of 2,200 to 1,550 weapons.” But the United States has not agreed to reduce its strategic nuclear weapon “stockpile” to 1,550 weapons. The limit it has agreed to is to deploy no more than 1,550 strategic warheads on operational launchers (essentially all ballistic missiles because bomber weapons are not counted even if they were loaded on the aircraft). Several thousand reserve but fully intact strategic warheads as well as nonstrategic warheads are not limited by New START. The new treaty is important for many reason, but the difference is actually important. The U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile currently contains approximately 5,000 nuclear warheads.]

See also this blog about the Obama administration nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship management plan.

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

Nuclear Research Highlighted by Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

By Hans M. Kristensen

The Nuclear Notebooks Robert Norris and I publish in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists are now the most frequently read articles in the magazine, according to their latest announcement.

The highlight of the announcement is Senator John Kerry’s use of our estimate of Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the New START treaty on December 19, 2010.

The Bulletin announcement states that all current and previous Nuclear Notebooks are now freely available online. Issues back to 1999 are here. You’ll have to scroll down to the end of each table of content to find the Notebook in each issue. Earlier versions are available on Google Books.

In the past, Norris and I have urged the publisher of the Notebooks to make them freely available to the public to ensure that this important resource on the status of the world’s nuclear arsenals is available for the debate about the future of nuclear weapons.

The Notebooks are very popular. As of January 4, 2011, our Notebook on Chinese nuclear forces from November 2010 was listed as the most read article on the Bulletin’s web site, and 11 of the 50 most read articles were Notebooks.

Good estimates on nuclear arsenals don’t come easy or cheep but require time-consuming and persistent research. We’re grateful for the generous support we have received to do this work over the years from foundations including the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation, and the Ploughshares Fund.