Aging nuclear arsenal grows ever more costly
By Ralph Vartabedian, W.J. Hennigan
Nov 8, 2014
Pipes, tanks and other equipment rust in the humid Southern air. Leaky roofs leave puddles on factory floors. Abandoned buildings are scattered across an 800-acre site contaminated with hundreds of tons of mercury.
If this were a factory making cars in Detroit or steel in Pennsylvania, it would have long ago been shuttered...
..At its root, it is bloated and mismanaged, say former Energy Department officials, outside experts and members of Congress.
The nation's nuclear weapons stockpile has shrunk by 85% since its Cold War peak half a century ago, but the Energy Department is spending nine times more on each weapon that remains. The nuclear arsenal will cost $8.3 billion this fiscal year, up 30% over the last decade.
The source of some of those costs: skyrocketing profits for contractors, increased security costs for vulnerable facilities and massive investments in projects that were later canceled or postponed.
"We are not getting enough for what we are spending, and we are spending more than what we need," said Roger Logan, a senior nuclear scientist who retired in 2007 from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. "The whole system has failed us."...
Now the Obama administration is moving forward with a plan to modernize the strategic weapons system over the next decade, an effort the Congressional Budget Office estimates will cost $355 billion. ...
"Simply stated, there is no plan for success with available resources," said Norman Augustine, a former Pentagon and defense industry official who is leading a review of the Energy Department's bomb program. ...
When the U.S. stockpile reached its peak in 1967 with 31,255 warheads and bombs, it cost $7 billion annually in today's dollars to build and maintain nuclear weapons.
In that year, the government had seven reactors humming to make plutonium; it built submarine reactors, refined large quantities of plutonium and uranium and manufactured new weapons. Almost once a week, it set off a bomb underground in Nevada.
Today, it does none of those things, but simply maintains the existing 4,804 weapons at $1.3 billion more than in 1967. ...
Don Cook, chief of the nation's nuclear weapons program for the Energy Department, argued that the size of the stockpile doesn't matter, because the facilities still have to have capability and special machines to repair even small numbers of weapons.
Profits paid to the contractors that run the system have tripled since 2006 to $312 million, The Times found.
The eight major nuclear weapon labs and production sites are run by a network of joint ventures and private companies, including the University of California, Bechtel Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp., Honeywell International Inc. and Lockheed Martin Corp.
Cook said the agency knew it would have to pay more to attract top-tier defense contractors. "Part of the deal was profit," he said.
As a result, profits paid to the new consortium hired to run the Los Alamos lab jumped tenfold to $59 million in 2013. At Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is now run by the University of California and San Francisco-based Bechtel, among others, profits grew from $4 million to $41 million.
Full article is at
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Wednesday, November 12, 2014
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