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USA nuclear agency up to its old tricks – secretive over-spending on nuclear weapons

New Documents Raise Questions About Increased Nuclear Spending, A nuke agency is up to its old tricks   War is Boring,  WIB POLITICS May 22, 2018 Lydia Dennett

There are many reasons to keep certain parts of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex a secret. But fraud, waste, and abuse run rampant when the mystique and awe of nuclear bombs gets in the way of effective oversight. And it is the taxpayer who ends up suffering.

The secrets to creating a nuclear explosion and the materials to do so are kept by the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semi-autonomous agency within the Department of Energy, and it has a $1.2 trillion plan to build new nuclear warheads and facilities over the next 30 years.

But new documents obtained by the Project on Government Oversight discussing the life expectancy of nuclear weapons components show that the uranium cores may have a longer life span than originally thought. This may undermine some justifications for an expansive—and expensive—nuclear modernization plan.

Although much of the documents are redacted, likely to keep safe the most sensitive details of the U.S. nuclear enterprise, the remaining details seem to suggest that initial life-span estimates were too conservative. These initial estimates were partially used as justification for plans to build an expensive new facility and revising plans based on these findings could result in billions of savings for taxpayers.

But there’s no getting around the fact that twice now the NNSA has either obscured facts that would suggest a more limited capacity is all that’s required or has pursued an expensive plan without knowing all the facts beforehand.

In light of NNSA’s rhetoric about the aging nuclear arsenal and the desperate need for more money to modernize, POGO endeavored to determine exactly what upgrades were truly needed to support a credible nuclear deterrent. In 2013, we released a report that called for a study into the lifetime of uranium secondaries in order to determine what capacity would be required of a proposed new facility.

A study would make clear how many of these secondaries would need to be manufactured in the new building. POGO’s report on the proposed Uranium Processing Facility highlighted how the public was being kept in the dark about this number, an important justification for continued and increased funding. At the time, a number of Energy Department sources told POGO several hundred warheads had already gone through the life extension process and would not need remanufactured secondaries.

Initially, the NNSA had claimed publicly that it needed a “big box” design, a large facility that would replace several different buildings in the complex and that had the capacity to remanufacture 160-200 secondaries per year. But just a few years later the department’s own Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan stated the need was really only 80.

Given this shift within the department, as well as a litany of design missteps, cost overruns, and poor project oversight, POGO recommended a lifetime study for uranium secondaries and a scaled-down design utilizing existing facilities.

Shortly after POGO released our UPF report, the NNSA formed a “Red Team” to review the design. That review echoed many of POGO’s findings and recommendations including the need for “significant and sustained oversight” as well as immediately scrapping the big box design.

“Design efforts on the current ‘big box,’ single structure UPF concept should be stopped while a comprehensive reevalution of program requirements and applicable design standards is undertaken,” the report stated.

The new documents from the time suggest that a study into the lifetimes of secondaries supported this decision. One of the newly obtained documents is a 2010 peer review analysis conducted by the Los Alamos National Laboratory of the life expectancy study for one nuclear warhead type, the W78. The review committee examined work and analysis done by the “life expectancy team” charged with concluding how long these secondaries will remain effective…………

NNSA’s pattern of exaggerating spending needs

A remarkably similar situation occurred with the agency’s planned plutonium operations replacement facility. The NNSA claimed the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement – Nuclear Facility needed to be able to manufacture 450 plutonium cores per year. But after a lifetime study found they can last for over 150 years without significantly degrading the number plummeted to less than 80 per year, dramatically decreasing what would be required of the new building.

Congress ultimately canceled the facility when cost overruns and delays made it impossible to continue, and the NNSA is now pursuing a scaled down approach. But there’s no getting around the fact that twice now the NNSA has either obscured facts that would suggest a more limited capacity is all that’s required or has pursued an expensive plan without knowing all the facts beforehand. Either explanation is an unacceptable exploitation of taxpayer dollars.

……… Despite these nearly constant warnings and recommendations for improvement from all the four corners of the nuclear complex world, the NNSA plans to move full steam ahead with their incredibly expensive upgrade plan. A plan that is partially justified by rhetoric suggesting that age has significantly deteriorated parts of the complex.Without an independent study it’s impossible to know if these claims are true. And with NNSA’s track record, Congress would be more than justified in asking questions. Before pouring billions of dollars into this effort, Congress should commission an independent, scientist-led study by the JASON advisory group to ensure NNSA’s future spending plans match up with the overall U.S. national security needs.

This story first appeared at the Project on Government Oversight.


May 25, 2018 - Posted by | business and costs, secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA, weapons and war

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