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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 42, December 1999

US Review of Nuclear Stockpile Stewardship Programme

Editor's note: this report is derived from a US Department of Energy (DoE) press release:

On December 10, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson announced the results of a major internal review of the US Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP) designed to maintain the condition of US nuclear weapons. The review concluded, in the words of a DoE press release, "that the

program, which began in 1993, is sound and developing the science, technology, and production capabilities needed to maintain the long-term safety, security and reliability of the nation's existing nuclear weapons without nuclear weapons." In Richardson's assessment: "The Stockpile Stewardship Program is a cornerstone of our national security, and this review confirms that it is successfully keeping our nuclear deterrent strong, and the American people safe. Every year we've seen important advances in the science and capabilities needed to maintain these weapons without nuclear testing, and we believe this progress will continue."

The Department's detailed summary of the review follows:

"The principal finding of the review is that stockpile stewardship works, both in terms of specific science, surveillance, and production accomplishments and in terms of developing a program management structure that integrates the span of program activities. In science, the program is providing the data to validate advanced nuclear weapons simulation codes. In surveillance, the program is developing the chemical, analytical and materials science tools to anticipate and assess the aging of stockpile components. In production, the nation is restoring its capacity to produce nuclear weapons components to replace aging parts in the enduring nuclear stockpile. The review also concludes that the management and program organization is working to articulate mission goals, integrate program functions and coordinate the span of activities necessary to maintain a strong nuclear deterrent. Thus the program is working today, as evidenced by three certification cycles, and is structured to sustain this long into the future.

Examples of specific accomplishments cited in the report include, having:

  1. completed three annual certifications of the stockpile, which resulted in no requirement for underground nuclear testing;
  2. delivered refurbished W-87 Peacekeeper warheads to the Department of Defense;
  3. developed, certified, produced, and fielded the B61-11, replacing the less safe B53 bomb;
  4. started production of new, replacement neutron generators, a component of all nuclear weapons;
  5. re-established pit production capability at Los Alamos;
  6. started exhaustive life extension studies for the W76 Trident missile warhead and W80 strategic cruise missile warhead;
  7. assured a new source of tritium, a radioactive gas in nuclear weapons that must be replaced periodically; and
  8. performed subcritical experiments that have provided key data on aging plutonium.
The review's findings will be used to help shape future decisions in the program and prioritise investments, schedules and resources. In particular the review emphasizes the need for greater investments in people to assure capability and stability at the production plants and the research environment at the laboratories. The review also identified the need for the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy to refine its process for determining the scheduling of stockpile refurbishments over the next several decades to take into consideration military, human and budgetary needs. These needs are not driven by the ban on nuclear tests.

Secretary Richardson has ordered implementation of the 15 specific actions that emerge from the report's findings, including actions to:

  1. define the workforce needs to meet the next decade's major life extension work;
  2. place stronger emphasis on longer term investments in exploratory science that are necessary to assure that we have the necessary scientific foundation for the future and to attract and retain the next generation of scientists;
  3. recapitalize the weapons complex to update machinery and equipment that will be needed for weapons refurbishment;
  4. establish a Requirements Assessment and Implementation Team in consultation with the Department of Defense to match military requirements to financial, facility, and human resource levels;
  5. develop an overall defense plutonium strategy;
  6. support restoration of Laboratory Director Research and Development funding to six percent and establish a
  7. similar mechanism at the production plants in order to provide the scientific, engineering and manufacturing base for the next generation of stockpile stewardship; and
  8. create an advisory committee for the Office of Defense Programs; and
  9. improve cooperation opportunities for cross cutting work among the sites in the weapons complex. …"
Secretary Richardson ordered the review in October. It was chaired by the Under Secretary of Energy, Dr Ernest J Moniz, and engaged an external group of senior technical advisors with long experience in the nation's national security programmes. The review's scope included the health and status of the nuclear weapons complex; and the status of recruitment, retention and training of top scientists and engineers needed to sustain stockpile stewardship. A copy of the review can be found on the World Wide Web; the URL address is http://www.dp.doe.gov/.

Report: Review concludes Stockpile Stewardship works, US Energy Department Press Release R-99-323, December 10.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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