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.  
National Journal
Diane Barnes
Add to Briefcase
Diane Barnes
March 31, 2014, 10:55 a.m.

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.

What We're Following See More »
North Dakota Pipeline Protests Turn Violent
9 minutes ago

The protest over the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline turned violent overnight as the police and National Guard sought to remove the protesters, surrounding them with assault vehicles and officers in riot gear. The law enforcement officers used pepper spray and fired bean bags for more than six hours. In response, the protesters "lit debris on fire and threw Molotov cocktails in retreat." One woman pulled out a gun and fired at officers, narrowly missing before being arrested. The protesters claim the pipeline would be constructed on land belonging to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

House Leadership Elections Slated for Nov. 15
15 minutes ago

The House has scheduled leadership votes for Nov. 15, the day after members return from their election recess. "Since mid-September, members of the House Freedom Caucus have weighed whether they should ask leadership to push back the elections so they can see how House Speaker Paul Ryan performs at the end of the year," but leaders don't seem inclined to grant their request.

Feds Announce Rapid GDP Growth in Q3
18 minutes ago

Gross domestic product "expanded at a 2.9% annual clip from July through September. That’s a marked improvement from the first half of the year when the U.S. grew just barely over 1%." The robust numbers make it more likely that the Federal Reserve hikes interest rates at its next meeting.

Oregon Militiamen Found Not Guilty
20 minutes ago

"A federal jury on Thursday found Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan Bundy and five co-defendants not guilty of conspiring to prevent federal employees from doing their jobs through intimidation, threat or force during the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The Bundy brothers and occupiers Jeff Banta and David Fry also were found not guilty of having guns in a federal facility." In a strange "coda" to the decision, Bundy's attorney Marcus Mumford was tackled and tasered by marshals in the courtroom as he argued that Bundy should be free to go.

Clinton Eyes Biden for Secretary of State
21 minutes ago

Hillary Clinton is eyeing Vice President Joe Biden to be her secretary of state, and her campaign is trying to figure out the best way to broach the idea with Biden. Biden has a lifetime of foreign policy experience, serving as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; he can also put eight years as vice president on his foreign policy resume. Biden has previously stated that he would not work in a Clinton administration, so it might be a tough sell for the Clinton camp.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.