Nuclear Weapons

GAO Report Challenges Nuclear Weapons Spending Spree

02.14.11 | 2 min read | Text by Hans Kristensen
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.

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.