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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 24, March 1998

US Energy Department 1999 Defense Budget Request

Prepared Statement of Energy Secretary Federico Pena to the Senate Armed Services Committee, 26 March 1998


"[F]irst, let me briefly describe the budget request that we recently forwarded to the Congress. In Fiscal Year 1999, we are requesting $12.1 billion for the Atomic Energy Defense Activities account - or DOE's portion of the national defense budget. This $12.1 billion request represents an increase of some 6 percent over our FY 98 budget request for national security activities, and constitutes about 67 percent of our total budget request of $18 billion for the Department in FY 1999.

This $12.1 billion request supports a broad range of programs within the Department's defense account, for example:

  • More than a third of our overall request ($4.5 billion) will support our Stockpile Stewardship Program. This is the program that we initiated with your help and direction nearly five years ago to maintain our nuclear deterrent without underground nuclear testing after the Congress entered the United States into a testing moratorium;
  • Another third of this request ($4.78 billion) will support clean-up of our nuclear weapons production complex;
  • Funds will also be used to prevent and detect the spread of weapons of mass destruction through our non-proliferation efforts at the Department, whether it be through helping Russia and other former Soviet States secure their nuclear materials against theft, through developing advanced technologies to help detect and counter chemical and biological weapons, or through helping to permanently dispose of excess weapons grade materials both here and in Russia so that those materials may never again be used in nuclear weapons.
  • For the Navy, we are developing the next generation of nuclear propulsion, and providing for the safe and reliable operation of existing naval reactors.
  • And finally, this budget also supports assistance to our workers who have been separated as a result of downsizing and restructuring our nationwide production complex. ...

Defense Programs

... The Department's ability to assure the safety and reliability of the nuclear deterrent without underground nuclear testing - through Science Based Stockpile Stewardship - is fundamental to our national security under a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). We are requesting $4.5 billion for the Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP) in FY 1999. ...


The FY 1999 request allows us to build upon significant accomplishments of the Stockpile Stewardship program during FY 1997 and FY 1998. DOE's production plants at Pantex, Savannah River, Oak Ridge, and Kansas City continue to support the day-to-day needs of the enduring nuclear weapons stockpile by making the necessary repairs and annually providing the thousands of replacement parts needed by the stockpile. I would like to now focus on a few of the key actions that we are taking to ensure the continued safety and reliability of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile.

Reestablishing Critical Production Capabilities

Just last month the Department's Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) took a significant step toward the successful reestablishment of a capability to build plutonium 'pits' - this is the component of a nuclear weapon that triggers a fission reaction. DOE has not had this capacity since 1989 when the Rocky Flats Plant that used to manufacture this essential nuclear component was closed.

Los Alamos manufactured an early development unit for the W-88 warhead. The Laboratory will manufacture more of these development units while it is validating these new production processes, and will eventually fabricate a 'war reserve' pit - a pit that will be certified for use in the stockpile - by the fourth quarter of FY 2001. By 2007 Los Alamos will have the capability to manufacture approximately 20 pits per year.

In addition, in April DOE also plans to resume uranium processing operations at our Y-12 facility at Oak Ridge. These operations were shut down in 1994 due to violations of administrative safety controls.


Tritium gas, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, is a critical element used in all of our stockpiled weapons today. Tritium decays at a rate of 5% per year. We have not produced tritium in the US since 1988 and must develop a new tritium production source by 2005 in order to meet current directives. DOE is in the final year of analyzing a dual track strategy using an existing commercial right water reactor or using a newly developed accelerator. A primary source for tritium production will be selected in 1998.

We foresee no technical difficulties associated with the production of tritium in a light water reactor. A key test was begun in October of 1997, at the TVA's [Tennessee Valley Authority] Watts Bar 1 Nuclear Plant. The test involves the irradiation of 32 specially designed twelve-foot 'target' rods in the plant's reactor core. These targets are designed to replace a standard component of reactor fuel assemblies. During the plant's normal 18-month operating cycle, the rods will produce and retain small amounts of tritium. The Watts Bar test completes, on a small scale, the demonstration of the entire commercial reactor tritium production cycle, from fabrication of components through completion of regulatory approvals.

On 3 June, 1997, the Department issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the purchase of one or more commercial light water reactors or irradiation services. Proposals from TVA were received on 15 September, 1997. The DOE expects to make a preliminary selection from the proposals later this spring.

The accelerator alternative made impressive gains in 1997. LANL has completed the construction of the first test items for the accelerator, and others are being manufactured. The first of the accelerator components, an injector, is being tested and is exceeding performance specifications. Thousands of samples of materials, welds, and structures have been irradiated to confirm choices and projections of performance for materials for the 'target-blanket,' the part of the plant in which the tritium would actually be made. First results of these tests are currently being analyzed. The FY 1999 request includes $157 million to pursue the option to be selected in 1998. If the purchase of irradiation services from commercial light water reactors is selected, the budget request will be sufficient to meet current requirements. If the Department selects accelerator production of tritium as the primary option, the Department will need to delay the current target date for initiating new tritium production or request additional funding. To ensure that all options remain open, the Department's Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF) at Hanford is being kept on standby until a decision is made regarding whether it should play any role in the tritium supply strategy.

National Ignition Facility

The National Ignition Facility (NIF) is one of the most important new tools that DOE will need to ensure the safety and reliability of the stockpile under a CTBT. The facility, now under construction at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is on schedule and on budget. NIF is designed to produce for the first time in a laboratory setting conditions of temperature and density of matter close to those that occur in the detonation of nuclear weapons. The ability to study the behavior of matter and the transfer of energy and radiation under these conditions is key to understanding the basic physics of nuclear weapons and predicting their performance without underground nuclear testing.

Experiments at the NIF will test the simulation codes developed under the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) and demonstrate how aged or changed materials in weapons could behave under the unique conditions of nuclear weapons detonation. Two JASON panels, which are comprised of scientific and technical national security experts, have stated that the NIF is the most scientifically valuable of all programs proposed for science- based stockpile stewardship. The first experiments on the NIF will be conducted in FY 2001 using the first eight lasers. Construction will be finished by FY 2003 and full operating capability, using all 192 laser beams will be achieved in FY 2004.

Nuclear Test Readiness

...the Department is maintaining the necessary infrastructure at the Nevada Test Site and the specialized facilities, equipment and skilled personnel required for nuclear testing. The safe execution of a nuclear test requires a complex series of operations that exercise several areas of expertise including: nuclear explosive design and fabrication; diagnostic instrument design; emplacement and calibration; radioactive material containment; timing and firing, data recording, etc. Certification of the personnel and equipment to accomplish these operations will be assured by a number of ongoing and planned experimental activities utilizing both the Nevada Test Site and weapon laboratory facilities.

Part of our test readiness program involves the conduct of subcritical experiments at the Nevada Test Site. Subcritical experiments will provide currently scarce empirical data on the high pressure behavior of weapon materials, realistic benchmark data on the dynamic, non-nuclear behavior of components of today's stockpile, the effects of remanufacturing techniques, the effects of aging materials, and other technical issues.

Last year we successfully conducted two subcritical experiments - Rebound and Holog. These experiments have provided a wealth of data about the properties of plutonium. Three subcritical experiments are planned for this fiscal year and a fourth is planned in October. The FY 1999 budget will support three to four additional subcritical experiments.

Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI)

We know that the level of computation needed to effectively simulate the effects of aging on nuclear weapons, as well as an in-depth understanding of the behavior of remanufactured weapons components is much, much greater than that currently available. We have begun the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) to address this need.

Our goal is to a have a computer system capable of achieving 100 Trillion Operations Per Second (TeraOps) by 2004. We are on schedule to meet that goal: In 1996 we set a new world computing record with the operation of a computer at Sandia National Laboratory that achieved 1 TeraOp. Next year we expect to achieve three TeraOps. We have already begun work with IBM to build a ten TeraOps computer which is scheduled to be completed by the year 2000. And we have already entered into contracts to begin developing the underlying technologies needed to support the procurement of a 30 TeraOps machine.

Even at this early stage of the program there has been a extraordinary increase in the speed of our computers at the Laboratories. More importantly, the actual number of calculations on weapons issues has increased. For example, in 1992, the last year of underground testing the estimated number of weapons related calculations was 5 GigaOps-years, or about 5 CRAY-YMP supercomputers running for a full year. In FY 1997 due to ASCI that number was 500 GigaOps-years, it will rise to 2400 in FY 1998, and in FY 1999 we plan on executing 7000 GigaOps-years of weapons related code. (A GigaOps=l billion calculations per second.)

This phenomenal computing power is also being made available to the university community through the Department's Academic Strategic Alliances Program (ASAP). The Department of Energy announced on July 31, 1997, initial awards to five major US universities - Stanford University, California Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, the University of Utah and the University of Illinois. These universities are conducting unclassified advanced simulation research on important, large-scale applications with potential for broad societal and economic payoff. The benefit for the weapons program is the validation of the methodology of simulation and to accelerate the development of simulation science and engineering. The program will also help us attract the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Stewardship is Working Now

These are but a few highlights of the activities that are going on and are planned for the Stockpile Stewardship program. While the program is hardly without risk, I am confident that we have a high probability of success. Why do I feel as I do?

First, it is important to understand that we start from a solid position. The current stockpile is well tested and well understood. An extensive data base is available on each weapon as well as a cadre of scientists, engineers, and technicians that can with confidence certify the safety and reliability of the weapons in the stockpile, we have laid out a plan for the stockpile stewardship program on a weapon by weapon, pan by pan, that projects the tasks required to maintain the stockpile over the next ten years, and beyond. ...

History tells us that great labs need great missions, and stewardship, like the Manhattan and Apollo projects, is just such a mission. Most importantly, we are doing stewardship now, and doing it successfully. ...

Finally, in the unlikely event that testing should be required, the Department is maintaining...the capability to conduct underground nuclear tests. I believe the Stockpile Stewardship program, with continued bipartisan support, will meet its goal of a safe and reliable stockpile, indefinitely, without nuclear testing, and I look forward to working with you and members of this committee over the coming year. I know of no national security issue that is more important. ...

Non-Proliferation and National Security

... Let me highlight some of our accomplishments of the past year:

  • Our program of cooperation between DOE laboratories and nuclear facilities in Russia and the Newly Independent States to improve the protection, control, and accounting of weapons-useable nuclear materials is yielding dramatic results. Today, I am happy to say that we are working with authorities in Russia and other former Soviet States to upgrade security at 53 sites - these 53 sites comprise every known nuclear material storage site in the former Soviet Union. We expect to have completed upgrades at 27 FSU sites by the end of the year. Overall, we are looking at improved security for over a thousand tons of weapons-usable materials. ...
  • ...the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention program seeks to draw scientists, engineers, and technicians from the former Soviet Union's nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs into long-term commercial ventures, thereby working to reduce the potential for 'brain drain' to proliferant States or organizations. This program serves as to fulfill a larger goal of the US Government's policy to downsize the former Soviet nuclear dries.
  • Our strong technological capabilities allow us to work today to fulfill future technical needs for implementing important non-proliferation and arms control treaties. DOE plays a key role in supporting the United States's efforts to monitor and verify a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We are developing technologies that will detect nuclear explosions underground, underwater, or in the atmosphere. This past summer, we deployed a small-satellite, known as FORTE, which is demonstrating improved ability to detect and characterize electromagnetic pulses from nuclear explosions in the atmosphere an important aspect of our treaty monitoring capability. Additionally, we are currently developing technical solutions to fulfill requirements of the warhead dismantlement transparency provisions of a potential START HI agreement, predicated by Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin at the Helsinki Summit.
  • As we have seen by events over the past few months in particular, but also particularly since the end of the Cold War, the threat of chemical and biological terrorism has grown. The Department's Chemical-Biological Non-proliferation Program leverages our extensive investment in the chemical and biological sciences at our National Laboratories to develop next generation sensors to detect and characterize chemical and biological agents in the field rapidly and with high accuracy. The Department's investment in the human genome project has also enabled us, through forensic analysis, to help determine the geographic origin of biological agents. Such attribution is important for ultimate criminal prosecution. This program complements efforts of the other federal agencies to develop critically needed technologies. We are also working in support of the US Government's overall programs to combat terrorism as well as protect the nation's critical infrastructure.
  • Together with our international activities, we are equally responsible for ensuring a comprehensive safeguards and security program for DOE's domestic sites. At several sites, based on comprehensive reviews, security systems are being upgraded and protective forces are being increased. We recently completed an interactive television seminar with the FBI on WMD planning. The session, which originated from our Central Training Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was the first-ever cooperative effort among DOE security managers, FBI special agents, and State and local law enforcement officials on WMD counter terrorism planning and responsibilities. Under Deputy Secretary Moler's direction, Sandia National Laboratories leads a special Security Review Team to address and resolve other key issues which have been raised as a result of our recent site-specific safeguards and security plan reviews. ...

Fissile Materials Disposition

The Department of Energy's Office of Fissile Materials Disposition is responsible for implementing the Administration's approach to irreversibly dispose of the Nation's post-Cold War stockpiles of surplus plutonium and highly enriched uranium and for providing technical support for Administration efforts to attain reciprocal actions for the disposition of surplus Russian plutonium. ...

We have begun to implement a hybrid plutonium disposition strategy that calls for pursuing both immobilization and burning mixed oxide (MOX) fuel in existing, domestic commercial reactors. The Fiscal Year 1999 budget request for these activities is $169 million, an increase of $65.3 million over the Fiscal Year 1998 comparable amount. The increase in Fiscal Year 1999 will allow the Department to begin the design of key US plutonium disposition facilities for disassembling and converting nuclear weapons pits to unclassified forms and for fabricating MOX fuel and to expand joint technical work with Russia by designing a pilot-scale plutonium conversion system in Russia. DOE is also completing the analyses necessary to select the sites where surplus plutonium disposition will take place and we expect to announce shortly the Department's preferred alternatives for siting the Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility and the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility. The Savannah River Site, which has an operational high level waste vitrification facility has already been identified as the Preferred Alternative for immobilization. Following completion of an Environmental Impact Statement, final site selection would appear in a Record of Decision scheduled for release in late 1998.

Fiscal Year 1999 efforts on the immobilization approach are aimed at resolving technological issues, developing and demonstrating production-scale processes and equipment, and conducting the necessary verification testing of the preferred can-in-canister approach in order to be confident that it can be successfully implemented in a timely and cost-effective manner. For the MOX/reactor approach, we plan to complete fuel qualification design, licensing efforts, process development for MOX fuel fabrication, irradiation tests of the MOX fuel as well as to begin the design of a MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility with a capability to process 3.5 metric tons of surplus plutonium oxide per-year.

The next two to three years will be a crucial period in the US-Russian relationship concerning the storage and disposition of surplus weapons plutonium. Work with Russia on small-scale tests and demonstrations of disposition technologies is moving forward and negotiations with Russia have begun on a framework of agreements for plutonium disposition. We recognize, however, that the United States cannot proceed independently to dispose of our surplus plutonium without significant progress from Russia. As a result, the Administration will not construct new facilities for disposing of surplus US plutonium (scheduled to begin in the FY 2001-02 time frame) unless there is significant progress with Russia on plans for plutonium disposition.

Beginning the design of key US disposition facilities, developing a pilot-scale system in Russia to demilitarize weapons plutonium, and implementing a framework of agreements on plutonium disposition are significant steps in this important non-proliferation program. I believe that these efforts will send a clear signal to the world community regarding our non-proliferation goals and will further encourage the Russian Government to take significant reciprocal actions to initiate plutonium disposition. It is an investment in our future well worth making. ..."

Source: Text - DOE Secretary Pena testifies before Senate Panel, United States Information Service, 30 March.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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