By: Cassandra Peterson March 31st will mark the commencement of
By: Cassandra Peterson March 31st will mark the commencement of
The Obama administration has requested $12.6 billion for the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) as part of its Fiscal Year 2016 Department of Energy budget request. $1.9 billion of that request will go towards Defense Nuclear Non-Proliferation (DNN) programs tasked with preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and materials. The programs facilitate cooperation with international partners to better secure, monitor, and dispose of vulnerable nuclear material (military and civilian) and other radiological waste.
Last week, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released its biennial update to its High Risk List – a compilation of government programs that are identified as “high risk due to their greater vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement or the need for transformation to address economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges.” Department of Defense weapon systems acquisition and Department of Energy contract management have both been on the GAO’s High Risk List for the last 25 years.
Curious how much money US lawmakers appropriated to prevent nuclear terrorism and the spread of nuclear materials for fiscal year 2015? Deep within the 1,600 page Cromnibus, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) received $1.616 billion dollars, a $337 million reduction from FY 14.
Some good programs went unfunded, like cooperative threat reduction work with Russia. Some bad programs were funded well above the Obama administration’s request, like the Mixed Oxide fuel program dubbed the “fuel to nowhere.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.) provided a thoughtful analysis of the United States’ overstocked nuclear arsenal in the Washington Post this week, drawing attention to its costs and safety burdens. To convey Sen. Feinstein’s argument succinctly: “The current level of spending on nuclear weapons is unnecessary and unsustainable.”
Among the listed concerns of Sen. Feinstein, the size and cost of the arsenal appear front and center. “We’re holding far more nuclear weapons than are necessary, and the cost is undermining other national security priorities.”, Sen. Feinstein says, citing the rising annual costs of maintaining the nuclear arsenal and the potential for $1 trillion in nuclear weapons spending within the next 30 years. Sen. Feinstein also cites the nuclear hedge, which preserves two reserve warheads for every active duty warhead, as excessive and worthy of reduction.
Also this week, Sen. Feinstein received an award in recognition of her leadership on nuclear security and non-proliferation. This award was presented to her by nine organizations within the arms control community, including the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation’s sister organization: Council for A Livable World.
Angela Canterbury, executive director of the Council and Center, commended the Senator: “Sen. Feinstein has been a tremendous leader, having worked in a bipartisan manner with Senator Lamar Alexander to conduct much-needed oversight of the nuclear weapons complex. No one in Congress knows these issues better, or is doing more to ensure nuclear security and the right-sizing of the role of these weapons in our overall national security strategy.”
Since 2011, Senator Feinstein has served as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee —the committee that oversees federal spending on most of the nuclear weapons complex, which is managed by the National Nuclear Security Administration under the Department of Energy. Next year, when the Republicans become the majority, Feinstein is expected to serve as Ranking Member of that committee while the current Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is expected to become Chairman. Sen. Alexander has a long history of fighting for nuclear security, including being one of 13 republican senators to vote in favor of the New START Treaty. The two have worked closely together on many issues, including issues of nuclear security.
With an unnecessarily ambitious nuclear modernization plan and tough budgetary decisions on the horizon, the U.S. cannot afford to allow inertia to dictate nuclear policy. “It’s time we take a long look at how we can responsibly reduce our stockpile”, says Sen. Feinstein. “We live in 2014, not 1980. The world is a very different place, and we need to plan accordingly.” Indeed.
David Hoffman’s chapter on Project Sapphire in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Dead Hand reads like a spy-thriller novel — complete with a young American diplomat protagonist, angry Russians, a top-secret “Tiger Team” and enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) to make 24 nuclear bombs.
Project Sapphire was the first major success of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which passed just after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In November 1994, a team of 25 Americans transported 1,322 pounds of HEU from the Ulba metallurgical factory in Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to be blended down to low-enriched uranium. The operation was an enormous success thanks to the cooperation and discretion of the Kazakh and American governments.
In 1994, “the Russian nuclear establishment was showing the same signs of deterioration as the rest of the country.” Fissile material across the country “was stored in rooms and warehouses easy for an amateur burglar to crack;” the 90 or 91 percent-enriched Uranium 235 (nearly weapons-grade) was kept “safe” by what was described by the American diplomat protagonist Andy Weber as “a Civil War padlock.”
The dismal standard of safety and security of nuclear material at the fall of the Soviet Union lends to the fact that threat of nuclear war isn’t our greatest danger, loose nuclear material and weapons are.
Since Project Sapphire, Central Asia and specifically Kazakhstan have become a world leader in non-proliferation efforts. In 1991, Kazakhstan inherited 1,410 nuclear warheads and the world’s largest bioweapons plant. By 2001, Kazakhstan was free of nuclear weapons; and in 2009, all five Central Asian republics ratified the Central Asia Nuclear-Weapons-Free-Zone (CANWFZ) treaty.
At the 20th anniversary event commemorating Project Sapphire at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), David Hoffman and Andy Weber, along with Laura Holgate (Senior Director of WMD Terrorism and Threat Reduction at the National Security Council) spoke of last year’s removal and destruction of chemical weapons from Syria under the auspices of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as the “child” of Project Sapphire and an example of how interagency cooperation and technical experts working together has made the world a safer place.
The destruction of Syrian chemical weapons and Project Sapphire were as much logistical successes as examples of how diplomacy is just as important to our security enterprise as military action. Speaking at the Department of Defense in March 1995, former Defense Secretary William Perry spoke of Project Sapphire as “defense by other means.”
Projects like the National Nuclear Administration’s (NNSA) Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) established in 2004 have demonstrated the power of defense by other means.In the past 10 years, the GTRI has shut down 49 HEU reactors in 25 countries and disposed of more than 4,100 kilograms of HEU and plutonium. But some of the most difficult countries to extract from, such as Belarus and South Africa, still have weapons-usable nuclear materials.
In his historic 2009 Prague speech, President Obama reinvigorated efforts to secure rogue nuclear materials:
“Today I am announcing a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. We will set up new standards, expand our cooperation with Russia, [and] pursue new partnerships to lock down these sensitive materials.”
The administration surged funding for the GTRI after the President’s 2009 and since, funding for non-proliferation programs such as GTRI has been on the decline. For the third year in a row the FY 2015 budget request for the NNSA was slashed.
While it is all fine and good to celebrate the success of GTRI and its predecessor programs in helping secure loose nuclear material, the program’s progress should be measured not by how much material has been secured, but by how much could potentially end up in the hands of terrorists. Funding for nuclear weapons programs at the expense of non-proliferation efforts is counterproductive to U.S. national security.
As Obama mentioned in his 2009 speech, cooperation with Russia is integral to reducing nuclear threats worldwide. At the CSIS event, Laura Holgate spoke of the need for the non-proliferation advocacy community to be creative in encouraging Congress to engage diplomatically with Russia. It is in the interest of U.S. national security to continue working with Russia on areas of consistent cooperation such as the elimination of chemical weapons from Syria, and as members of the P5+1 and Iran negotiations.
An amicable relationship between Russia and the United States is not only good for national security but for the world.
FRONT & CENTER
An update on arms control, national security & politics from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
Know any accounting experts interested in working at a mission-oriented non-profit? Because the Center and Council are looking for a full-time financial controller to join our team. Please share the job description–applications are due by October 20!
Planes, Trains, and Mobile-Basing?
Cold War ideas of where to house our nuclear weapons—such as hiding missiles on trains and trucks—are beginning to re-surge. Writing on the Center blog, Scoville Fellow Greg Terryn reminds us that “mobile-basing”—like nuclear weapons themselves—is an expensive and dangerous idea that is better left in the past. [10/2]
Don’t Forget About the Other ‘Rogue State’:
For over a year, the U.S. has been all eyes on Iran, but is this distracting us from states that already have nuclear weapons—such as the ever-unpredictable North Korea? On the blog, Sarah Tully suggests that the DPRK’s nuclear program is “flying under the radar” while the U.S. spends its days engaging Iran and refusing to engage North Korea. [10/2]
Who’s Minding the Nukes?
It’s no secret our nuclear weapons enterprise has been under fire this year for a truly inexcusable culture of complacency. Katie McCarthy underlines the irony that poor management in the NNSA has arisen despite the NNSA’s initial mission: to escape poor management. However, the incoming NNSA director, Frank Klotz, may come as a ray of hope for much-needed reform. [10/3]
Almost to 5,000 Followers!
Just last week, the National Security Council’s WMD advisor cited the Nukes of Hazard Twitter handle and blog as an “expert source” at the Military Reporters & Editors Conference. Make sure you follow Nukes_of_Hazard on Twitter for all your nuclear and national security related news!
ICYMI: the Iran Talks on Buzzfeed
When it comes to these complex international negotiations, sometimes it helps to dumb down the wonk for a moment and just have some fun. That’s why we teamed up with our friends at Win Without War to break down the talks with quotes from the 2004 hit film, Mean Girls. If you’re ready for a laugh, check out our BuzzFeed article—and don’t forget to give it a share on Facebook and Twitter!
The Inspector General of the Department of Energy reported on September 24th that the Office of Secure Transportation (OST) failed to correctly report an incident involving unauthorized access to nuclear weapons.
The OST is managed by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and is responsible for safely and securely transporting special nuclear material owned by the U.S. Government. “Special nuclear material” can include nuclear weapons, nuclear weapon components and fissile material. The OST implements the Human Reliability Program (HRP), which ensures that only authorized individuals with the “highest standards of reliability as well as physical and mental suitability” have access to special nuclear material. The vetting process includes a Q-level clearance, drug testing, and more. While the HRP was created with the aims of streamlining management and clarifying responsibilities, problems most assuredly remain.
As this IG report suggests, there continues to be management and clarity issues within the NNSA-run office, of which this incident is a clear example considering the main cause was a lack of understanding of the duties, responsibilities and reporting requirements of personnel.
First, the OST agent who was allowed access to nuclear weapons was not properly checked for HRP status. Consequently, limitations that had been placed on the agent while temporarily off HRP status were not upheld.
Secondly, the OST failed to submit a complete report of the incident relating to the actions of the Unit Commander, and an internal investigation reached a flawed conclusion based on the incomplete report. (The IG report notes that the “Unit Commander did not take physical possession of the nuclear weapons.”)
The Report is marked For Official Use Only (FOUO) so further details are currently unavailable but can potentially be attained through a Freedom of Information Act Request.
This incident is the latest in a list of security and transparency issues that plague the NNSA and nuclear laboratories. As recently reported, Congress and the Government Accountability Office eagerly await a “roadmap” promised by the NNSA outlining a new clear vision and structural improvements to mitigate further ambiguity and security incidents. For more on the NNSA restructuring, click here.