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The Nuclear Weapons Complex: In the "Pits"?

Yesterday's news that plutonium triggers in nuclear warheads ("plutonium pits") last two times longer than had been thought created a PR nightmare for spinmeisters at the Department of Energy (DOE). For many months, the Department has been marketing its $150+ billion blowout plan to rebuild and reconfigure the nation's nuclear weapons complex, including a $1+ billion modern pit facility. Fundamentally underpinning that plan was the purported need to replace the aging warheads with a Reliable Replacement Warhead. The news gave weight to the sense held by many that the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) concept was cooked up to perpetuate the existence of the nuclear weapons complex jobs program.  These findings close the door on any debate that Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory needs to maintain its store of plutonium, as the only mission using the material at the Lab was to study aging plutonium pits.  

Last week, the Government Accountability Office recommended that the new Congress make transformation of the nuclear weapons complex and the RRW program a top priority "oversight target" (pdf), citing "DOE's history of poor project management." DOE's poor performance was on vivid display yet again with the release of the first government investigation results from the CREM de Meth scandal at Los Alamos National Laboratory exposed by POGO.  According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, explanations were lacking for why hundreds of pages of highly classified nuclear weapons information were discovered at a meth drug lab bust in Los Alamos, NM:

  A federal investigator blasted Los Alamos National Laboratory on Tuesday for "non-existent" and "seriously flawed" security in relation to an incident where classified information apparently left the nuclear weapons laboratory.

The government has already spent "tens of millions" to upgrade lab security and undertaken two major cyber-security initiatives, and the lab went into a 2004 shutdown in an effort to fix problems involving the handling of secret data, a report from the U.S. Department of Energy's Inspector General said.

  As we have previously pointed out, earlier this year DOE walked away from its responsibility to oversee Los Alamos Lab on cybersecurity as well as safety issues despite the Lab's deplorable track record in both areas.

By: Peter Stockton
Sr. Investigator, POGO

Peter Stockton, Sr. Investigator Peter Stockton is a senior investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Peter's investigations include security and safety issues at the U.S. nuclear weapons complex and nuclear power plants.

Authors: Peter Stockton

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