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Monday, November 10, 2014

Foundation of US nuclear system showing cracks

Long article but to the point...

Foundation of US nuclear system showing cracks


WASHINGTON (AP) — The foundation of America's nuclear arsenal is fractured, and the government has no clear plan to repair it.

The cracks appear not just in the military forces equipped with nuclear weapons but also in the civilian bureaucracy that controls them, justifies their cost, plans their future and is responsible for explaining a defense policy that says nuclear weapons are at once essential and excessive.

It's not clear that the government recognizes the full scope of the problem, which has wormed its way to the core of the nuclear weapons business without disturbing bureaucracies fixated on defending their own turf. Nor has it aroused the public, which may think nuclear weapons are relics of the past, if it thinks about them at all.

This is not mainly about the safety of today's weapons, although the Air Force's ...

Rather, this is about a broader problem: The erosion of the government's ability to manage and sustain its nuclear "enterprise," the intricate network of machines, brains and organizations that enables America to call itself a nuclear superpower.

What have been slipping are certain key building blocks — technical expertise, modern facilities and executive oversight on the civilian side, and discipline, morale and accountability on the military side.

The shortfalls are compounded by tight budgets and what experts call a decline in political support for the nuclear system. In the absence of a headline-grabbing nuclear accident in recent decades and receding fears of nuclear war, these problems generally are paid little heed.

The scientific and military capability is arguably the best in the world, but its underpinnings have weakened gradually.

The White House and Congress have paid little attention, allowing the responsible government agencies to "muddle through," according to a congressional advisory panel. This is the case despite the fact that the U.S. still has thousands of nuclear weapons — more than it says it needs — and is approaching decision points on investing enormous sums to keep the arsenal viable for future generations.

"This lack of attention has resulted in public confusion, congressional distrust and a serious erosion of advocacy, expertise and proficiency in the sustainment" of the nation's nuclear weapons capabilities, the panel on "Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise" said in a report in April that is expected to be updated soon.

The panel was led by retired Adm. Richard Mies, a former commander of U.S. Strategic Command, in charge of all U.S. nuclear forces, and Norman Augustine, a retired chairman of Lockheed Martin Corp.

Nuclear weapons, the panel said, have been "orphaned" by Washington. Although today's weapons are technologically sound, "there is no affordable, executable (government) vision, plan or program for the future of nuclear weapons capabilities." ...


The rest is at


Anonymous said...

The "cracks" makes no difference. Reports like this have been circulating for well over a decade but as soon as the noise dies down, Congress and the White House continue with their pattern of neglect.

Anyone who has worked at NNSA facilities for at least two decades has probably seen the decline, but, again.... no one in authority cares about it.

Congress and the White House don't really care because they feel that it is highly unlikely these weapons will ever be used by the US. However, many of America's enemies are upgrading their facilities. It appears they are very willing to do what it takes to remain viable nuclear powers.

The US, in contrast, has become increasingly dysfunctional in nuclear weapon matters. The costs of "maintenance" continue to go up (lab privatization profits, life support for decrepit 1950s facilities, stifling micro-management, etc) and the level of real work that is done continues to go down. It shouldn't come as a big surprise that officers in the US nuclear weapons corp are asleep at the wheel and that morale at the NNSA labs is extremely low.

Anonymous said...

No one in DC leadership cares. Too busy pushing personal agendas. Hard for democracies to be vigilant without a villian to motivate.

An accident, nuclear terrorist event, or intolerable beligerance by nuclear armed opponents might change this, but relying simply on dicipline will lead to inevitable decline.

Anonymous said...

Here a few quotes from an article in the LA times:
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.

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. And the costs would be even higher if items such as submarine reactors, included in the 1967 budget, were added....."

So the conclusions are from that artilce:
1. privatization was a failure
2. NNSA is a failure through micromgmt and bloated bureaucracy
3. politicians are not willing to make changes.

That is our triad.

Anonymous said...

Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!

And what branch of government has the oversight function? Oh yeah… congress.

Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!


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