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Watchdog: U.S. Struggles to Track Nuclear-Arms Design Records Watchdog: U.S. Struggles to Track Nuclear-Arms Design Records

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Global Security Newswire

Watchdog: U.S. Struggles to Track Nuclear-Arms Design Records

Technicians perform maintenance on W-76 nuclear warhead. The United States has failed to keep an adequate paper trail from the assembly and maintenance of individual bombs in its nuclear arsenal, an Energy Department auditor said in a report issued last week.  (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration photo)

photo of Diane Barnes
March 31, 2014

A U.S. Energy Department investigator has lashed nuclear-arms offices for failing to keep a detailed paper trail of how they build and care for each bomb.

The National Nuclear Security Administration has not consistently tracked each of the thousands of nuclear weapons under its charge with a comprehensive file of "drawings, specifications, engineering authorizations, manufacturing records" and other documents from its assembly and maintenance, says a new report by the Energy Department's inspector general.

The missing data exposes the U.S. nuclear arsenal to an array of unnecessary costs and risks, Gregory Friedman said his team had found.

 

In one case, officials incorrectly approved two components to be added to a variant of the W-76 nuclear warhead. The error, they said, cost between $20 million and $25 million, and held up preparation of new parts by an extra 12 months.

The United States never "treated the maintenance of original nuclear weapons [records] as a priority" during or after the Cold War, according to the March 26 assessment. The auditors argued, though, that "recapturing the department's original nuclear weapons data in a configurable format can potentially save tens of millions of dollars."

The report also warns that lax controls on the nation's nuclear-arms records left an opening for possible saboteurs to tamper with arms designs.

In a possible violation of Energy Department rules, Los Alamos National Laboratory granted about 30 design personnel access to sensitive design information, "regardless of whether they were assigned to a nuclear-weapon project," auditors wrote.

According to the New Mexico facility's administrators, restricting the information further would not help security, and "they believed that their internal processes were more efficient."

Energy Department officials agreed with the investigators' calls for record-keeping updates.

"Upgrade requirements continue to be identified and an acquisition strategy will be determined in [fiscal year] 2015," the report states.

This article was published in Global Security Newswire, which is produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative. NTI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group working to reduce global threats from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

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