Monday, July 2, 2007

Nuclear Programs Language from Report on Senate FY2008 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill

Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its markup of the FY2008 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, which I already wrote about in detail here.

The Committee has released its report on the bill, which explains in detail its funding decisions for each program. Below is the report’s language for two of the biggest nuclear weapons programs, the Reliable Replacement Warhead and Complex 2030, which together seek to design a new generation of nuclear weapons and build the infrastructure to support subsequent production of these new warheads. I have highlighted some of the key statements from the Committee.


The Committee is divided on the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program, but unified in its desire to review and discuss our national strategic defense policy and the role of nuclear weapons in the post-cold war and post-September 11th world. The President requested $88,000,000 for the RRW program and the bill will provide funding of $66,000,000. This is the amount required to complete phase 2a, design definition and cost studies, of the RRW research and planning outline. Following the completion of phase 2a, Congress will have to authorize any continuation of the RRW program.
To clarify, "phase 2a" is fancy jargon for saying that the funding can only be used for research and design. The RRW program cannot go into production or deployment if the funding is restricted to phase 2a activities.
The information developed from phase 2a will be helpful in assessing the role RRW might play in the reliability, safety, and nonproliferation areas of the nuclear weapon arsenal, but the information alone will not be enough upon which to base a decision on it construction or deployment. Congress should have a more vigorous analysis and debate of our national strategic defense policy prior to deciding whether to continue or terminate RRW development.

Specifically, we need to decide the type and size of our future inventory of nuclear weapons. We have thousands of warheads. Under treaties we have committed to substantial reductions and eventual elimination of nuclear warheads. We must decide the methodology of meeting those obligations and over what time. In the meantime, we also have to determine how we maintain the warheads we decide we must keep. Do we continue the Stockpile Stewardship Program, which has been used for many years to maintain our nuclear deterrence, or do we develop the RRW program to replace the current nuclear warheads with new ones?

These are important questions that must be answered before we decide whether to continue with or terminate the RRW program. Some of these answers will be influenced by how long the current nuclear warheads can be maintained in the Stockpile Stewardship Program without degradation. New evidence suggests that the life of those warheads is decades longer than previously estimated. The future funding requirements for a new RRW program will also have to be weighed against and compared to the costs of the Life Extension Program within the Stockpile Stewardship Program.

We should also consider what impact the RRW program would have on international nonproliferation efforts. The United States is engaged around the world on trying to halt the spread of nuclear weapon capability and we must consider the role of RRW in those efforts. These are among the most important issues policy makers will face in the months and years ahead. The question of whether the RRW program should be continued must be based on accurate information and thorough debate.

The Committee favors the development of a bipartisan commission created by the Congress to evaluate and make recommendations on the role of nuclear weapons in our future strategic posture. That commission should engage the administration, the Congress and the best minds in the public and private sector to evaluate the future role of nuclear weapons as a part of our defense and strategic policies. That Commission report can form the basis of information and advice from which the President and the Congress can make decisions about the future of RRW and other weapons programs.
So, the Senate bill allocated $66 million for the RRW program, which is significantly more than the House version of the bill—the House allotted ZERO dollars for RRW. However, both the House and Senate agree that nuclear weapons programs will not be expanded until there is a serious discussion about the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security policy. Furthermore, the Senate emphasized that future nuclear programs must help the U.S. fulfill its treaty obligations to reduce and eventually eliminate its nuclear weapons arsenal.


Complex 2030 is a comprehensive plan to update, reorganize, and rebuild the nuclear weapons complex. Both the House and Senate have expressed deep skepticism about he program.
The Committee rejects the Department's premature deployment of the NNSA Complex 2030 consolidation effort. This plan was based on the adoption and deployment of the Reliable Replacement Warhead systems. The Government Accountability Office found this proposal to be lacking critical details about the size and military mission of the RRW system, which of course would dictate the size and makeup of the future stockpile including the necessity for a new pit manufacturing capability.

The Committee has previously canceled the Modern Pit Facility, because the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Nuclear Weapons Council and the Department of Defense were unable to make a compelling case for a significantly larger pit manufacturing need. The Committee has not provided any funding for the Consolidated Pit Center for the very same reason.

For as much thought as the Department has given to supporting Complex 2030 and its deployment, the Committee is concerned about sustaining the science capability at the laboratories and ensuring a balanced program that continues to make critical investment in improving the scientific mission. For example, the NNSA has established a preeminent capability in super computing to simulate warhead reliability without underground testing. However, the Department has no plans to advance the field of high performance computing, but instead proposes to reduce computing capacity within the laboratory system. This, however, doesn't mean that the NNSA doesn't have plans to purchase additional platforms in the future, but it is unclear what is driving these decisions. The Committee is frustrated by the lack of planning to ensure that the laboratory mission is not compromised.

The Committee directs the Department to provide a comprehensive computing proposal that involves the input from the weapons laboratories that includes a long term strategy to maintain the necessary simulation capabilities within the complex and to drive innovation and competition for technology and performance. The Committee is also frustrated with the lack of scientific development vision for the labs. The NNSA has focused on its transformational plan, based on the RRW systems, but appears to have given little thought to the scientific path forward.

The Committee directs the Department, drawing on the resources within NNSA and the Office of Science, to provide to the Committee a research and development plan that addresses unresolved physics and materials questions that win support national security mission as well as contributed to improving our energy independence, nonproliferation mission and to support biomedical applications. This plan should explore technology options that can be deployed and provide an added capability to our R&D program to update the scientific capabilities at each of the laboratories.

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