[Federal Register: October 10, 2002 (Volume 67, Number 197)]
[Page 63081-63082]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



[Recommendation 2002-2]

Weapons Laboratory Support of the Defense Nuclear Complex

AGENCY: Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

ACTION: Notice, recommendation.


SUMMARY: The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has made a 
recommendation to the Secretary of Energy pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 
2286a(a)(5) concerning weapons laboratory support of the defense 
nuclear complex.

DATES: Comments, data, views, or arguments concerning the 
recommendation are due on or before November 12, 2002.

ADDRESSES: Send comments, data, views, or arguments concerning this 
recommendation to: Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, 625 Indiana 
Avenue, NW., Suite 700, Washington, DC 20004-2901.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kenneth M. Pusateri or Andrew L. 
Thibadeau at the address above or telephone (202) 694-7000.

    Dated: October 7, 2002.
John T. Conway,


    In the past, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (Board) 
has issued recommendations addressing the need for weapons laboratories 
to support the safety of nuclear explosive operations at the Pantex 
Plant. Specifically, Recommendation 93-6, Maintaining Access to Nuclear 
Weapons Expertise in the Defense Nuclear Facilities Complex, addressed 
preserving expertise in the defense nuclear facilities complex. Both 
the Board and the Department of Energy (DOE) have devoted significant 
resources to implementing this recommendation and to maintaining access 
to the unique knowledge of individuals who were engaged for many years 
in critical defense nuclear activities, such as weapons design and 
testing. The continued support by such individuals is necessary to 
avoid future safety problems in these and related activities, and to 
maintain the safety of activities with existing weapons.
    The Board is encouraged by the initiatives undertaken thus far to 
ensure access to the capabilities and experience of such individuals 
while they are still available. Activities such as those at the 
Theoretical Institute for Thermonuclear and Nuclear Studies at Los 
Alamos National Laboratory and the Intern Program at Sandia National 
Laboratories provide excellent opportunities to introduce new personnel 
to the weapons programs.
    However, after visiting each of the weapons laboratories (Los 
Alamos National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and 
Sandia National Laboratories) to discuss laboratory support for the 
safety of nuclear explosive operations at the Pantex Plant, the Board 
has become increasingly concerned that an additional problem regarding 
technical expertise must be addressed. The weapons laboratories have 
not taken adequate steps to ensure that experienced staff members who 
can employ their specialized knowledge are readily available to the 
defense nuclear complex, especially to operations at the Pantex Plant. 
While some new talent is being developed, it will be years before these 
new individuals can be shepherded adequately through the nuclear 
weapons complex, inculcated with the unique knowledge gained through 
years of dedicated weapons laboratory work, and mentored in those 
skills required to maintain the stockpile safely. In the meantime, 
highly experienced specialists responsible for individual weapon 
programs are leaving the complex and delays in addressing safety issues 
continue to occur.
    Some of these delays were highlighted in a letter dated August 1, 
2002, from the Board to the Acting Director of the National Nuclear 
Security Administration, which addressed a specific safety improvement 
at the Pantex Plant. In that letter, the Board emphasized the need to 
designate a single person who would serve as the point of contact for 
each weapon system at each appropriate weapons laboratory. That 
individual should be empowered to integrate and coordinate for his or 

[[Page 63082]]

laboratory all information needed to respond to questions concerning 
the system under his or her purview and to provide the technical 
support required by the defense nuclear complex with regard to that 
system. The significant responsibilities assigned to these individuals 
will require care in their selection. There should be an internal 
process in place that provides for training and mentoring to ensure 
that they fully understand their weapon system and can competently 
judge how and when to draw on appropriate laboratory resources for the 
support needed by the complex to ensure safety. DOE is not adequately 
addressing this issue.
    The example highlighted in the Board's August 2002 letter also 
indicated the need for better coordination between points of contact. 
In the example, both internal laboratory and inter-site communications 
were necessary between personnel who had been developing a technical 
application for several weapon programs and those responsible for one 
of the weapon programs. Both lines of communication broke down. As part 
of its actions to establish adequate points of contact, DOE will need 
to address proper communications amongst groups working on cross-
platform projects, and to ensure that the appropriate resources are 
prioritized to provide critical stockpile support.
    In formulating its Recommendation 93-6, the Board recognized some 
of the difficulties DOE would face in its stockpile stewardship 
program. That recognition was implicit in the statement: "Although it 
may be relatively straightforward to maintain these capabilities in the 
near term, ensuring their availability 5 to 20 years in the future may 
be very difficult." The Board is concerned that, without attention to 
the near-term problems associated with supporting the stockpile, the 
gains achieved in addressing Recommendation 93-6 are in danger of being 
    Further, since the size and scope of the nuclear weapons stockpile 
have been reduced, and research and development leading to new weapons 
has been restricted, it appears that there has been an increase in 
"work-for-others" programs. The focus of the nuclear weapons 
laboratories on the nuclear weapons complex as their number one 
priority has waned. The Board was encouraged by the Secretary's 
statement at DOE's October 2001 Quarterly Leadership Meeting that DOE's 
"overarching mission is national security." However, it appears that 
this message is still not being effectively implemented within DOE and 
its weapons laboratories.


    To address the above issues, the Board makes the following 
recommendations to ensure safety in weapons programs:
    1. That the Secretary of Energy update and reemphasize DOE policies 
and Orders (e.g., DOE Order 5600.1, Management of the DOE Weapon 
Program and Weapon Complex) as needed to ensure that the nuclear 
weapons program is assigned the top priority among all activities at 
the weapons laboratories.
    2. That a process be developed to ensure the assignment of a senior 
individual, as the point of contact for each weapon system under the 
purview of each weapons laboratory. This process should include:
    (a) Adequate selection criteria;
    (b) Appropriate training and mentoring programs (as necessary) to 
ensure that each individual selected is fully knowledgeable about the 
weapon system assigned to him or her, as well as internal weapons 
laboratory programs and procedures;
    (c) Formal planning for succession of individuals when they retire 
or are replaced; and
    (d) Periodic dissemination of updated listings of points of contact 
to the defense nuclear complex.
    3. That the internal organizational structure, programs, and 
procedures of the weapons laboratories be aligned to ensure that these 
senior, technically competent individuals are empowered (i.e., given 
the authority and the funding) to direct appropriate resources of their 
laboratories to provide the support needed to ensure the safety of 
operations in the nuclear complex related to the weapons under their 
    4. That DOE establish a position at each DOE site office with 
responsibility for a nuclear weapons laboratory to ensure that 
requirements of the defense nuclear complex for support by that 
laboratory are tracked and met. These positions should be filled by 
personnel with the appropriate competence and experience who have the 
authority to resolve competing requirements for resources.

John T. Conway,

Appendix--Transmittal Letter to the Secretary of Energy

Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board

October 3, 2002.
The Honorable Spencer Abraham,
Secretary of Energy, 1000 Independence Avenue, SW., Washington, DC 

    Dear Secretary Abraham: The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety 
Board (Board) has been following the Department of Energy's (DOE) 
efforts to provide appropriate technical support to its defense 
nuclear facilities, particularly the Pantex Plant. The complexity 
and uniqueness of the technical safety issues that arise in the 
nuclear weapons complex require the concerted effort of a cadre of 
highly competent individuals with expertise not generally available 
in industry or academia. Most of the personnel with this training 
and experience are employed at Los Alamos National Laboratory, 
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Sandia National 
    The Board is concerned that the number of nuclear weapons 
experts is declining and the focus of remaining experts is being 
diverted to other areas. Action is required to change this trend and 
to re-emphasize the primary role and obligation of the weapons 
laboratories to support DOE's nuclear weapon-related activities, 
including the formal training and development of new experts.
    As a result, the Board on October 3, 2002, unanimously approved 
Recommendation 2002-2, Weapons Laboratory Support of the Defense 
Nuclear Complex, which is enclosed for your consideration. After 
your receipt of this recommendation and as required by 42 U.S.C. 
2286d(a), the Board will promptly make it available to the public. 
The Board believes that the recommendation contains no information 
that is classified or otherwise restricted. To the extent this 
recommendation does not include information restricted by DOE under 
the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, 42 U.S.C. 2161-68, as amended, please 
see that it is promptly placed on file in your regional public 
reading rooms. The Board will also publish this recommendation in 
the Federal Register.

John T. Conway,
[FR Doc. 02-25846 Filed 10-9-02; 8:45 am]