U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: How the Country Can Profit and Become More Secure by Getting Rid of Its Surplus Weapons-Grade UraniumTweet
Table of Contents
U.S. HEU Security Protections Not Consistent
Accelerate the Downblending Rate
Any New or Modernized Uranium Facility Should Advance Downblending
Market Impact of Increased Downblending is Overstated
DOE Has No Financial Incentive to Speed Up Downblending
Declare More U.S. HEU Surplus to National Defense Needs
Misconceptions Surround Naval Reactor HEU Requirements
Hundreds of Metric Tons of HEU Being Stored at Y-12
New Arms Control Agreements Provide Opportunity to Secure HEU
U.S. HEU Stockpile
Accelerate the Dismantlement Rate
Acronyms and Glossary
A huge opportunity to save the U.S. taxpayers money, generate up to $23 billion in revenue for the Treasury, and improve security is right under the government’s nose. The U.S. has nearly 400 metric tons (MT) of highly enriched uranium (HEU), a fissile material used in nuclear weapons, that is not necessary for U.S. defense needs and either has been or should be declared surplus and properly disposed of.
Although not necessary for defense purposes, this vast store of HEU could be used for nefarious purposes by terrorists. With just enough to fill a shoebox, terrorists could create what is known as an improvised nuclear device that has the potential for a blast on par with the weapon that devastated Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. They could do this within minutes if they gained access to the material—a distinct possibility given the chronic and well-documented weaknesses in securing nuclear materials at numerous U.S. sites.
Despite this danger, one of the most practical ways of reducing the risk has fallen by the wayside. The pace of converting surplus, expensive-to-secure HEU into low enriched uranium (LEU), which is unusable in weapons, has slowed to a snail’s crawl.
Just years ago, this process—known as downblending—was occurring at a rate close to ten times that of the downblending rate planned for the next four decades. The reason for the slow-down is that the Department of Energy (DOE) has not made downblending a priority.
The U.S. government has the capacity to ramp up downblending of surplus HEU to previous levels, and even exceed them. Also, far more HEU can be declared surplus than has been. The results would be win-win: Jobs would be created during the economic downturn; billions in revenue could be generated for the U.S. Treasury while security costs could be radically reduced; and Americans would be less vulnerable to devastating terrorist attacks.
In an investigation into the government’s downblending efforts, POGO has found:
- As much as 300 MT of HEU is unnecessary for America’s defense needs and can be designated as surplus.
- Downblending more HEU into LEU would reduce a security risk, cut government spending, and raise up to $23 billion through sales of the LEU to nuclear power plants (minus the cost of downblending).
- The federal government has slowed efforts to downblend the HEU already declared surplus from a high of 20 MT downblended in fiscal year (FY) 2004 to 3 MT to be downblended in FY 2010.
- The government plans to downblend 90 MT of HEU from now until 2050, a rate of only 2-3 MT a year.
- The government has the capacity now to downblend at a much faster rate.
- A blueprint to “transform” the U.S. nuclear weapons complex does not include increasing the downblending rate.
- The DOE has slowed its rate of dismantling the backlog of retired nuclear weapons, creating a hurdle to increasing the downblending rate.
- The DOE’s lack of emphasis on downblending weakens efforts to encourage other nations, such as Russia, to reduce their stockpiles of weapons and fissile materials.
- Security of nuclear materials is still insufficient. For example, there are three varying security standards for the same kind of nuclear material, depending on which government agency is in charge. While security of the nuclear weapons complex has improved since 9/11, there have been some troubling steps backwards; the results of performance tests make it clear that security is uneven, posing significant risks.
When President Barack Obama took office, he acknowledged that securing nuclear materials is critical to global security. “We must ensure that terrorists never acquire a nuclear weapon. This is the most immediate and extreme threat to global security….Al Qaeda has said it seeks a bomb and that it would have no problem with using it. And we know that there is unsecured nuclear material across the globe. To protect our people, we must act with a sense of purpose without delay.”
The President did not overstate the threat. Fissile material—particularly highly enriched uranium (HEU)—is a prime target for rogue states and nuclear terrorists. With only approximately 110 pounds of HEU, enough to fit in a shoebox, it is possible to create within minutes an improvised nuclear device (IND) that has the potential for a blast on par with the weapon that devastated Hiroshima, Japan. As Nobel Prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez explained:
With modern weapons-grade uranium…terrorists, if they had such material, would have a good chance of setting off a high-yield explosion simply by dropping one half of the material onto the other half. Most people seem unaware that if separated U-235 [highly enriched uranium] is at hand, it’s a trivial job to set off a nuclear explosion….Given a supply of U-235…even a high school kid could make a bomb in short order.
Yet, nations around the globe continue to keep stocks of HEU which pose unnecessary security risks, and the U.S. is no exception. The U.S. currently has an estimated HEU inventory of 500-600 metric tons (MT)—equivalent to 20,000-24,000 warheads.
To combat the risk posed by unsecured fissile material around the globe, in April 2010 President Obama called for and hosted a nuclear security summit in Washington, DC. The intent of the summit was to “prevent proliferation…by bringing together more than 40 nations…with the goal of securing the world’s vulnerable nuclear materials in four years.” While the President can be commended for his leadership on bringing this issue to the global stage, it is problematic that he has not taken meaningful action to reduce our own stock of HEU. If the U.S. wants other nations to secure their fissile materials and advance a world free of nuclear weapons, we have to lead by example and reduce our own HEU inventory.
Although the Obama Administration has stated that “modernizing our nuclear infrastructure” is a priority, its version of modernization is to invest in Cold War-weapons production policies rather than in genuine post-9/11 modernization efforts to secure HEU in the U.S. For instance, the Administration is increasing programs that extend the life of the warheads, known as Life Extension Programs (LEP), at the expense of programs that secure nuclear materials, such as dismantlement and downblending, a process that transforms surplus HEU into a safe form of uranium called low enriched uranium (LEU). LEU is not desired by terrorists, and is useable as fuel for nuclear power plants, yet the rate of downblending has slowed. The Administration is also pouring at least $3.5 billion into the construction of a “modern” Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) that does little to accelerate the downblending rate and could actually expand U.S. capability to produce new HEU components of nuclear weapons. Furthermore, despite Obama’s global leadership on nuclear materials, and unlike the last two administrations, the Obama Administration has not yet declared any HEU surplus to national security needs so that it can be downblended. This Cold-War style of “modernization” is being driven mostly by DOE’s and the privately run weapons labs’ campaign to create doubt in the reliability of our nuclear arsenal, even in the face of scientific research indicating otherwise.
This report is an attempt to recapture the term “modernization” and use it to describe how the U.S. can invest in programs that respond to the modern threat of nuclear terrorism. A modern complex only requires the amount of HEU necessary to ensure the reliability of the arsenal, and permanently removes surplus HEU so that it is not itself a security threat and a burden requiring costly systems to store and protect it. True modernization would accelerate the current glacial pace of downblending, declare more HEU surplus to national security needs, and decrease the backlog of warheads sitting in storage awaiting dismantlement. This approach to modernization makes the U.S. more secure, advances our global nuclear security agenda, and generates revenue for the U.S. Treasury from the sale of Cold War-era HEU that has been transformed to LEU for use in nuclear power reactors.
Between 1945 and 1992, the U.S. produced 1,045 MT of HEU for nuclear weapons secondaries (which are added to single-stage nuclear weapons to create a thermonuclear explosion); naval propulsion reactors; and research reactors. Although the U.S. stopped producing HEU in 1992, we still have the world’s next-to-largest stock, second only to Russia.
The exact amount of U.S.-owned HEU is classified. That classification designation is challenged by arms-control advocates. POGO also argues that the unnecessary secrecy is counter to national security as it undermines international nonproliferation efforts by inhibiting a public accounting of downblending efforts. Former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the winner of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize Mohamed ElBaradei and the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre recognized this point in 2006, saying that “to build trust, countries with civilian and military HEU stockpiles should be encouraged to release clear inventories of those stockpiles, and to publish a schedule under which the remaining HEU will be verifiably downblended.”
According to the last inventory made public, the U.S. possessed 740 MT of HEU in 1996. Since then, approximately 127 MT have been truly secured through downblending, several dozen metric tons have presumably been consumed by the Navy to power its nuclear fleet, and a modest amount has been consumed by research reactors. That leaves approximately 500-600 MT of HEU that is being kept on hand in nuclear warheads, additional secondaries, and in various forms being stored at Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
U.S. HEU Security Protections Not Consistent
The U.S. stock of HEU is being stored across the country with varying degrees of security. While security of the nuclear weapons complex has improved since 9/11, there have been some troubling steps backwards; the results of performance tests make it clear that security is uneven, posing significant risks.  There are several reasons for this uneven security: complex-wide, there are differing federal agency interpretations of the threat to nuclear materials; three different security criteria for the same material; different armament and equipment to secure the material; dissimilar training standards for security forces; significantly different approaches to force-on-force security testing, with results that cannot be compared; and significant conflicts of interest in the use of the same contractors for protection and testing.
Three agencies—the Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Defense (DoD), and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)—are responsible for setting security standards for the HEU under their protection, and all three agencies have different security requirements for the same material. The majority of the nation’s HEU is stored at facilities managed by DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), with most of that at the Y-12. DOE has, over the years, had numerous security standards based on estimates of potential adversaries’ capabilities called Design Basis Threats (DBT), some of which were rigorous—but the agency has recently weakened its security by adopting the malleable standard of the Graded Security Protection (GSP) plan. The GSP is classified, but sources tell POGO that it varies the security requirements from site to site. Furthermore, the GSP requires sites to be able to defend against fewer attackers than was required in the DBT, and has downgraded the capabilities of those attackers that the site must be prepared to defend against. Whereas the DBT provided a consistent bar to measure security, the GSP is more of a floating bar, able to be increased or lowered based on the alleged weaknesses and strengths of a particular site. According to sources, the GSP emerged after it was clear that several DOE sites could not meet the DBT and did not want to spend the funds to meet it. Another weakness of DOE’s security apparatus is that it employs members of its own protective force, who are not specifically trained as adversary forces, to test the security performance of its sites.
The second largest stock of HEU in the U.S. is deployed and stored at DoD facilities in existing warheads and some in naval reactors. DoD’s protection strategy is strong in several ways, such as how sites are tested. Its Defense Threat Reduction Agency oversees testing of the security of nuclear materials, and the testing itself is conducted by Mighty Guardian, a unit of the Special Operations Command designed to mirror as closely as possible the size, armament, and tactical operations expected to be used by terrorist organizations. Mighty Guardian uses rigorous performance testing at the sites, often with a trained mock terrorist force called the Grizzly Hitch.
Smaller amounts of HEU are found at private facilities for processing and at universities with research reactors, whose safety and security is overseen by NRC. The NRC has by far the weakest security standards of all, and the Commissioners have rejected their staff’s recommendations to bolster the NRC’s DBT. Security of NRC’s licensed nuclear power reactors and nuclear facilities in the U.S. is provided by a hodge-podge of security contractors. The government testing of security at these various sites is done by Wackenhut, under contract with the nuclear trade association Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). The adversary force used by NEI and Wackenhut to conduct force-on-force tests is a composite of guards from other sites. At a number of sites, the security contractor is Wackenhut. It doesn’t take a nuclear scientist to see this system is riddled with conflicts of interest.
ACCELERATE THE DOWNBLENDING RATE
The most important step to modernize the nuclear weapons complex is to accelerate the downblending rate of surplus HEU. Downblending involves diluting HEU with depleted, natural, or low enriched uranium (LEU) to produce a substantially larger quantity of LEU and render the HEU unusable in weapons. NNSA contracts with facilities to do the downblending: the Nuclear Operations Group of Babcock & Wilcox in Lynchburg, Virginia (B&W-Lynchburg); Nuclear Fuel Services in Erwin, Tennessee (NFS), which was recently bought by B&W; and to a lesser extent, the Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina (SRS) and Y-12. Although it is NNSA that tasks these facilities with downblending activities, it is the NRC—with its significantly weaker security standards—that is responsible for overseeing safety and security at NFS and B&W-Lynchburg.
There are pragmatic reasons to downblend our surplus HEU. One reason is that doing so will make the U.S. more secure from terrorist attacks. Unlike HEU, LEU is not weapons-usable and therefore does not pose serious security risks or require expensive security systems to guard it. Terrorists have no interest in LEU because reactor-grade LEU contains less than 20 percent U-235, making it virtually impossible to sustain an explosive nuclear chain reaction.
Another reason is that downblending our surplus HEU would advance the U.S. goal for world leaders “to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.” For this goal to be realized, the U.S. must practice what it preaches. As Harvard University’s Matthew Bunn notes, “Convincing foreign countries to reduce and consolidate nuclear stockpiles, to put stringent nuclear security measures in place, or to convert their research reactors from HEU to LEU fuel will be far more difficult if the United States is not doing the same at home.”
A third reason to downblend our surplus HEU is that it would generate revenue for the U.S. Treasury. A lot of it. In fact, the U.S. is sitting on a veritable gold mine, one that could be worth billions of dollars. Russia, for instance, has been downblending 30 MT a year and shipping it to the U.S. since 1995, and projects to earn as much as $12 billion from having partnered with the U.S. on the “Megatons to Megawatts” program to downblend its surplus military HEU. And LEU is in demand as fuel for nuclear power reactors, both in the U.S. (nuclear power provides 19 percent of U.S. electricity) and around the world. In fact, demands for LEU are likely to increase from anywhere between 38 and 80 percent by 2030 as nuclear power technology improves. The amount of HEU that the U.S. could declare surplus and downblend could be worth as much as $23 billion, minus the cost of downblending.
Despite the benefits of downblending, U.S. policy-makers have placed little priority on accelerating the rate of transforming the HEU that has already been declared surplus. Congress has instead focused on multi-billion dollar facilities for the disposition of U.S. plutonium, such as the troubled Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, and on the disposition of HEU and plutonium abroad. And the Administration’s FY 2011 budget will actually slow the downblending process: the budget shrank from $39.2 million in 2009 to $34.7 million in 2010, and shrank again in the FY 2011 request to $26 million.
The DOE has also made it clear that downblending is not a priority. NNSA boasted in 2009 that “374 metric tons (MT), or roughly 15,000 nuclear weapons-worth, of highly enriched uranium (HEU) was removed from U.S. stocks”: 174 MT had been declared surplus in 1994, and 200 MT was declared surplus in 2005. But NNSA’s statements are misleading. First, the term “removed” refers to how much HEU has been declared surplus, and while it has technically been removed from the military stockpile, it appears that only 127 MT has actually been removed by downblending it into LEU. (Appendix A) Second, of the 200 MT declared surplus in 2005, 160 MT were reserved for naval fuel; only 40 MT is to be downblended. NNSA’s schedule for transforming the approximately 90 MT of remaining surplus HEU, most of which was declared surplus in 1994, has slowed to an almost glacial pace: downblending the 90 MT isn’t scheduled to be completed until 2050, averaging out to only 2 MT per year. (Appendix A) This rate is unnecessarily slow—NNSA downblended 20 MT in 2004 (Appendix B), 14 MT in FY 2008, and 10 MT in FY 2009 (Appendix A), clearly indicating that a rate far higher than 2 MT per year is possible.
In fact, NNSA has the capacity to downblend significantly more than even the 20 MT per year. One of the privately owned facilities NNSA contracts with for downblending, B&W-Lynchburg, performed almost no downblending in 2009. POGO sources say the facility is considering closing its downblending operation because it is not profitable, a move that would even further impede U.S. downblending goals. In addition, POGO has learned from sources that NFS, too, has a large unmet capacity for downblending, with a number of downblending lines sitting idle. Y-12 also has a downblending capacity, although it’s unclear how much of one. Y-12 could be given more capacity by utilizing mobile downblending units, which could cut down on transportation risks and costs, as the units could be located next to the Highly Enriched Uranium Manufacturing Facility (HEUMF).
In addition, more downblending prep work could be conducted at Building 9212, the facility at Y-12 where HEU is converted into the form that can be shipped for downblending. In a meeting with POGO, NNSA officials said a key reason the downblending rate has slowed so much is that Building 9212 is not a modern facility. As a result, the rate at which HEU is converted into the form necessary for downblending must be reduced so as not to “wear out” the building, NNSA told POGO at a meeting. But on closer examination, NNSA’s explanation doesn’t hold up.
As of 2004, $400 million had been invested in Building 9212 as part of a series of expensive upgrades to ensure 9212 is safe and operational until UPF is operational. POGO was unable to discover how much DOE spent between 2004 and the present on upgrading 9212, but Building 9212 performed the functions to support a downblending rate of 14 MT as recently as 2008. In addition, at least 50 percent of the processing time at Building 9212 is spent on extracting HEU from scrap material containing less than 1 percent HEU. This scrap should instead be declared waste and sent to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), which would allow 9212 to focus on converting HEU into the form that can be downblended.
Given the excess capacity at B&W-Lynchburg, NFS, and possibly Y-12, as well as the capacity 9212 has for increased prep work, NNSA should be able to significantly increase its downblending rate to at least 20 MT per year.
Any New or Modernized Uranium Facility Should Advance Downblending
DOE’s lack of attention to downblending is also evident in its long-term plan to “modernize” the nuclear weapons complex, called Complex Transformation. The plan calls for consolidating most of the HEU and the activities involving HEU into one location, at Y-12, yet fails to set any downblending goals. When POGO asked why downblending wasn’t included, a high-level NNSA source told us that downblending had nothing to do with Complex Transformation, demonstrating NNSA’s failure to recognize just how much its inventory of HEU costs the complex, both in dollars and security risk.
NNSA’s vision for Y-12 is that it become the “Center of Excellence for Uranium and Canned Subassemblies.” The agency has already built the HEUMF, which is designed to be a more secure HEU storage facility, and is planning to build the $3.5 billion UPF as a replacement for production facilities and to house other missions at Y-12. Yet, it does not appear that this new modern facility will modernize NNSA’s approach to downblending.
NNSA does not plan to increase the HEU downblending rate from 2 to 3 MT per year when UPF is scheduled to be brought online in 2022. This, despite the fact that one of NNSA’s reasons for the 2-3 MT per year rate was to avoid overtaxing Building 9212. In other words, NNSA does not plan to utilize the new expanded capacity of UPF to bring downblending back up to the previous rates of 10-20 MT per year, much less ramp up the rate to more than 20 MT per year. NNSA does, however, project very high targets of production of 80-200 secondaries per year at UPF. This high level of secondary production means the U.S. could manufacture secondaries to replenish the entire arsenal in as little as eight years; this seems excessive given that sources tell POGO there are already thousands of secondaries in storage, and given that a recent study for NNSA by the highly respected JASON group found that the life of the nation’s nuclear warheads, including the HEU secondaries, can be extended safely and certifiably for decades.
As a result, POGO is not convinced that UPF is necessary as it is currently planned. As the ground has not yet been broken on the project, nor a contractor selected, it is not too late to cancel or refocus the project. Y-12 already has the capacity to ensure the reliability of the stockpile as well as to manufacture new secondaries in case unforeseen problems arise with secondaries in deployed warheads. Y-12 itself admits that without UPF, it can support a “baseline throughput of approximately 125 secondaries and cases per year.” According to POGO sources, during the B61 (aircraft-launched warhead) Life Extension Program, Y-12’s Building 9212 was able to successfully remanufacture the HEU component of the secondary. This follows a pattern of successfully ccomplishing its mission: Y-1’s Building 9212 also had themanufacturing capacity to handle the LEP of the W87 (Minuteman III) and the current LEP of the W76 (submarine-launched warhead). Therefore, renovating Building 9212 may be a better alternative for modernizing the complex than waiting for UPF to be completed. NNSA has already invested at least $400 million in renovating Building 9212; and even though other “major investments” would be necessary “for continued operations in the existing facilities,” those investments are unlikely to even begin to approach the cost of building a new facility.
Additionally, history has shown that we can count on DOE’s estimates for the cost and timeline of constructing UPF to be wildly optimistic. For example, when DOE built the HEUMF, costs ballooned from $97 million to $549 million—a 465 percent increase. In another example, the National Ignition Facility (NIF) was sold to Congress in the early 1990s with a reported cost estimate of $1 billion and an original completion date of 2002. The most recent cost estimate to build and equip the NIF is $3.5 billion with a completion date after 2012—250 percent over budget and at least 10 years behind schedule. Current estimates for the UPF put the cost of construction at around $3.5 billion, plus the facility’s lifetime operations and security costs, and the completion timeline at ten to twelve years. If history holds true, and there is no reason to believe it won’t, both the cost and construction timeline of the UPF will increase dramatically.
If Congress decides that the UPF is necessary, it should be concerned that the facility appears to do little to address the several hundred metric tons of HEU that could be designated surplus (which we will discuss in a later section of this report). Without a strategy for using UPF to accelerate the downblending rate, Y-12 will fall far short of being a “Center of Excellence for Uranium and Canned Subassemblies.”
Market Impact of Increased Downblending is Overstated
One possible reason for the lack of priority on downblending may be the concern that the U.S. could negatively affect the international market price for LEU by flooding the market. This is a reasonable concern, but one that has clear solutions. Worldwide, there are 435 active commercial nuclear reactors. In 2006, about 60 percent of their fuel, or 66,500 MT of uranium, came from mining production. Even though enrichment of the natural form of uranium into usable LEU involves a “lengthy, complex and expensive process,” there are some interests which may not want to see more LEU come from downblended HEU. For example, the World Nuclear Association, which represents the “people and organisations of the global nuclear profession,” including uranium mining, conversion, and enrichment companies, states that “Highly-enriched uranium from weapons stockpiles is displacing some 10,600 tonnes of U3O8 [natural uranium] production from mines each year, and meets about 13% of world reactor requirements.”
One option to alleviate fears of flooding the market is to store LEU at a very low cost—much lower than the cost of storing HEU—until market conditions change. Some in the nuclear industry even recognize this store of LEU as “a friend” as it enables “us to skate over supply disruptions with no one running out of fuel.” The government could also reduce market anxiety by publishing a plan for when LEU would be released, in what form, and in what quantity, as suppliers say the market can adjust if it can see the LEU coming. In an effort to address such concerns, Congress has already directed the Secretary of Commerce to review projected demand for LEU and set import limitations on uranium so as not to cause a disruptive effect on the market. And in yet another step to avoid negatively affecting the market, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), in a March 2008 report about depleted uranium supplies in the U.S., recommended that DOE complete as soon as possible a comprehensive uranium management assessment so that DOE can “quickly react to rapidly changing market conditions to achieve the greatest possible value from its uranium inventories.”
DOE Has No Financial Incentive to Speed Up Downblending
Another possible reason for DOE’s low priority on downblending is that there is no mechanism for any of the revenue generated by the sale of LEU from downblended U.S. HEU to return to DOE. Instead, the revenue is returned to the Treasury. Currently, downblending has to compete for funding with a number of other projects at DOE, and has thus fallen to the bottom of the list of funding priorities. Without an incentive to downblend, NNSA will continue to store HEU and will continue to move at a snail’s pace toward downblending. Congress could fund downblending, and offset those funds with revenue generated by DOE’s sale of LEU from downblended U.S. HEU.
Another step the U.S. could take to genuinely modernize our nuclear weapons complex is to declare as surplus the HEU that is no longer needed for defense needs and to downblend it. This is an area where the President must take the lead: only the President has the authority to designate an amount of HEU surplus to defense needs, thus making it available for downblending.
As with downblending, however, there has not been enough progress—or even interest—in declaring additional HEU surplus. This lack of priority is evident in the language of the Administration’s FY 2011 budget request: “The funding profile for the U.S. Uranium Disposition program is declining in the future because the large quantities of surplus HEU have already been disposed of or are in the pipeline.” This statement suggests that the Administration doesn’t believe there is additional HEU that can be declared surplus. This belief is false, as there are hundreds of metric tons of HEU that could be declared surplus.
Misconceptions Surround Naval Reactor HEU Requirements
A reason decision-makers may think there isn’t HEU that could be declared surplus is that there is a common misconception that HEU not otherwise needed for the U.S. nuclear arsenal is all needed for naval reactor fuel to power submarines and aircraft carriers. The Navy currently has reserved 100-160 MT of HEU—as the Navy uses an average of 2-3.5 MT of weapons-grade HEU annually, this is enough fuel supply for the next 28-80 years.
That said, the Navy will one day probably require more fuel. Yet, reliance on HEU is not in line with the U.S. goal to secure loose fissile material around the globe. The International Panel of Fissile Materials (IPFM) warns that “it will be difficult to assure that some HEU withdrawn from safeguards for use in naval fuel has not been diverted to weapons.” There also exists proliferation risks associated with the continued reliance on HEU as naval fuel, as asserted in the 2008 IPFM Report:
The use of HEU fuel by naval nuclear propulsion programs may make future nuclear disarmament agreements more difficult. As reductions in the nuclear-weapon arsenals proceed, the relative size of naval stockpiles of HEU could increase, and concerns could develop about their potential conversion to nuclear weapons.
This concern would be exacerbated if the Navy goes forward with plans to use HEU-powered reactors to propel surface ships.
One possible solution would be to design new naval propulsion systems to run on LEU fuel. Although popular wisdom contends that HEU reactors are more efficient than LEU because of the longer periods between refueling, these efficiency claims are challenged by the fact that HEU refueling is an expensive and elaborate multi-year process. In both U.S. and Russian submarines, refueling “involves cutting through the submarine hull and removing the core,” which can take years. For example, it took more than two years to refuel the USS Alaska. As a result, other nations have switched to an LEU reactor, which reduces the refueling time to mere months. The time between LEU refueling is estimated to be 7.5-14 years. Both France and China use LEU, enriched at less than 10 percent, to fuel their submarines, and both India and Brazil are currently designing LEU-run naval propulsion reactors. It is also possible that naval nuclear ships can be powered with Thorium.
Either option will require an independent scientific analysis. (The Navy conducted a study in 1995 at the request of Congress and recommended against the use of LEU because it would be “uneconomic and impractical.” But there have been substantial technological advances on LEU reactors since 1995, as well as increased security concerns about HEU.) The study could be conducted by the GAO, which could also seek input from the National Academy of Sciences or JASON.
Hundreds of Metric Tons of HEU Being Stored at Y-12
The first place to look for HEU that can be declared surplus to U.S. security needs is Y-12. According to multiple sources, there is approximately 200-300 MT of HEU stored at Y-12 in various forms, including canned subassemblies and secondaries; POGO believes most of this could be declared surplus. An independent study by the GAO should be conducted to determine how much HEU Y-12 actually needs to keep on hand.
New Arms Control Agreements Provide Opportunity to Secure HEU
The U.S. currently has HEU in inventory set aside for military needs, but that amount has not yet been right-sized to fit the decreased arsenal. Although not yet ratified by the U.S. Senate, the new arms control deal with Russia (the New START Treaty) reduced the number of deployed operational warheads to 1,550 for each side. The U.S. could designate as surplus the HEU contained in its non-deployed warheads (also referred to as hedge or war reserve warheads), the HEU contained in retired warheads awaiting dismantlement, and most of the HEU being stored at Y-12. By POGO’s estimates, these amounts of HEU add up to more than 320 MT of U.S. HEU that can be declared surplus to military needs.
|U.S. HEU Stockpile |
|Allocated HEU||Status of HEU|
|Amount of U.S. HEU
in stockpile as of 1996
|- 39 MT||Approximate amount contained in 1,550 New START arsenal|
|- 160 MT||Amount NNSA reserves for naval reactor fuel|
|-127 MT||Amount of HEU already downblended|
|- 90 MT||Amount NNSA plans to downblend by 2050|
|Amount of additional
U.S. HEU that could be declared surplus
|324 MT||Approximate amount of HEU contained in war reserve warheads, in retired warheads awaiting dismantlement, and being stored at Y-12|
A third step the U.S. could take toward genuine modernization of our nuclear weapons complex is to accelerate the dismantlement rate of retired nuclear weapons. Yet, this is another area where the U.S.’s stated goals and its actions aren’t in accordance. In recent years, there has been a dramatic drop in the number of warheads the U.S. has dismantled, thus slowing the amount of HEU becoming available for downblending. While the recent rates of dismantlement are classified, expert observers have estimated the average rate of warhead dismantlement dropped from 1,300 per year from 1990 to 1998, to the current rate of 350 weapons per year, which would not dismantle the backlog of 4,500 retired warheads until 2022.
Until the retired weapons are dismantled, they can still be used by the U.S. (or, theoretically, terrorists and rogue states), sending a mixed message to the nations of the world. Furthermore, the growing backlog of thousands of nuclear warheads in the dismantlement queue raises concerns about security because a number of the more secure military storage bunkers are filling fast. For example, the Air Force’s most secure facility, Kirtland Underground Munitions Storage Complex (KUMSC), is virtually filled, according to POGO sources. And now there may be thousands of additional nuclear warheads traveling down the pipeline as a result of the New START Treaty, and it is not clear that there are adequate secure facilities to store these additional surplus warheads.
NNSA defends its current sluggish dismantlement rate, claiming that the rate is hard to compare from year to year because of the complexities of different warheads. While this complexity may have something to do with the slow rate, it’s not the whole story. For instance, President Obama’s FY 2011 budget request for nuclear weapons-related investments increased by 14 percent and the request for dismantling retired weapons decreased by 39 percent.
If the President is serious about his stated goal to “ensure that terrorists never acquire a nuclear weapon” and to do so by acting “with a sense of purpose without delay,” he should increase the budget request for dismantlement. Even if he doesn’t, however, Congress now has a budget request and it could act quickly to remove the backlog in the dismantlement process by increasing the funds appropriated specifically for that purpose. NNSA would then be able to employ a second shift at the Pantex Plant in Texas. POGO believes this second shift would create the capacity to increase the dismantlement rate to 800-1,000 weapons per year, and if that capacity were put to use, the backlog of 4,500 warheads could be dismantled by 2015. That would make 112.5 MT of HEU available for downblending. The DOE could also assign dismantlement activities to the Device Assembly Facility at the Nevada National Security Site (formerly known as the Nevada Test Site), which has the same bays, cells, and gravel gerties that Pantex uses to dismantle weapons, according to POGO sources.
The U.S. has a fairly large footprint of HEU that is not needed for military purposes: more than 320 MT is contained in war reserve warheads, in retired warheads awaiting dismantlement, and being stored at Y-12.
Shrinking this footprint is a win-win situation. As stated in Securing the Bomb 2010, “incidents around the world make clear that urgent action is needed to improve security for nuclear stockpiles around the world and to keep nuclear weapons and the materials needed to make them out of terrorist hands.” Not only would shrinking our HEU footprint accomplish this by removing a prime terrorist target from our stocks, but it would also reduce security costs and generate significant revenue from the sale of LEU without in any way impeding our ability to maintain our nuclear deterrent. An additional benefit to declaring more HEU surplus, accelerating dismantlement, and accelerating downblending is that they provide a key diplomatic tool for advancing the U.S.’s global non-proliferation and nuclear security interests. For example, the U.S. has had a major effort underway for years to help Russia return HEU from the former Soviet states so that it could be downblended into LEU in Russia. As outlined under the HEU Purchase Agreement, Russia is well on its way to downblending 500 MT of HEU and has sold most of the resultant LEU to the U.S. The Purchase Agreement is coming to a close in 2013, and because Russia will still have hundreds of metric tons of HEU, many experts have pushed for a new agreement. However, without a commitment from the U.S. to reduce its inventory of HEU, the sentiment in Russia will persist that “Russia is one-sidedly reducing its nuclear weapons capability.” To facilitate a new agreement, the U.S. may need to commit to additional downblending in order to encourage Russia to do the same.
Yet, the U.S. has not made any substantial moves to shrink its dangerous and valuable stock of HEU. At best, this is due to a lack of focused leadership and prioritization of the issue. At worst, NNSA has hoarded its stock of HEU in a deliberate attempt to justify bloated budgets and to perpetuate its Cold-War paradigm. Whatever its cause, the slow pace of downblending HEU in the U.S. poses a security risk to the population, deprives taxpayers of a much-needed source of revenue, and sends the wrong message to the global community about the U.S. commitment to combating nuclear terrorism. It is particularly troubling that, as the U.S. has focused more attention on securing fissile materials globally, it has decreased its own rate of downblending and dismantlement. Developing and implementing a new downblending strategy should be an immediate priority. There are several hundred metric tons of U.S. HEU that can be better secured by being put on the path towards its safe and secure conversion to LEU.
A successful strategy will require stringent oversight of weapons dismantlement, analysis of how to maximize existing resources within the nuclear weapons complex to facilitate the downblending process, rethinking naval HEU needs, and transparency of the HEU and LEU stocks in order to prevent negatively impacting the uranium market. POGO has developed a number of recommendations to help accomplish this.
- The President should designate an additional amount of HEU, as much as 300 MT, surplus to defense needs and schedule that HEU for dismantling and downblending.
- The President should direct the DOE to accelerate the downblending rate of the approximately 90 MT of HEU that has already been designated surplus and scheduled for downblending so that the process is completed by 2015 rather than 2050. To accomplish this, the NNSA should increase the dismantlement rate at the Pantex Plant in Texas—up to 800-1,000 weapons per year—and open up the Device Assembly Facility at the Nevada National Security Site (formerly known as the Nevada Test Site) for additional dismantlement activities to allow the backlog of 4,500 warheads to be dismantled by 2015.
- Congress should appropriate additional funds to DOE for downblending and dismantlement.
- If Congress decides that the new Uranium Processing Facility is necessary, it should fence the appropriation for UPF to ensure that downblending, as well as activities to support downblending, is a core mission of the facility.
- NNSA should transfer the scrap material containing less than 1 percent HEU from Y-12’s Building 9212 to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico to free up space for preparing HEU for downblending.
- Congress should task the GAO with conducting a study on the Navy’s HEU needs, the use of LEU fuel for any new naval submarines and nuclear surface ships, and on whether existing HEU reactor ships could be retrofitted with LEU reactors during the scheduled refueling process.
- Congress should task the GAO with studying the DoD’s, DOE’s, and NRC’s different standards for securing HEU in order to determine whether one or more standards is necessary, and what the security standard(s) should be.
- The DOE should make public an inventory of its HEU stocks.
|DBT||Defense Basis Threat|
|DoD||Department of Defense|
|DOE||Department of Energy|
Defense Threat Reduction Agency
|FMCI||Fissile Material Control Initiative|
|GAO||Government Accountability Office|
|GSP||Graded Security Protection|
|HEU||Highly enriched uranium|
|HEUMF||Highly Enriched Uranium Manufacturing Facility|
|IAEA||International Atomic Energy Agency|
|IND||Improvised nuclear device|
|IPFM||International Panel of Fissile Materials|
|KUMSC||Kirtland Underground Munitions Storage Complex|
|LEP||Life Extension Programs|
|LEU||Low enriched uranium|
|NEI||National Energy Institute|
|NFS||Nuclear Fuel Services|
|NIC||National Ignition Campaign|
|NIF||National Ignition Facility|
|NNSA||National Nuclear Security Administration|
|NRC||Nuclear Regulatory Commission|
|SRS||Savannah River Site|
|START||Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty|
|UPF||Uranium Processing Facility|
|WIPP||Waste Isolation Pilot Plant|
|WMD||Weapon of mass destruction|
B61 - An aircraft-launched nuclear warhead first produced in 1966.
Canned Subassemblies - A canned subassembly is also known as a secondary, which is responsible for the second stage of modern nuclear weapons.
Defense Threat Reduction Agency - The mission of the Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency is to safeguard America and its allies from weapons of mass destruction by reducing the present threat and preparing for the future threat.
Design Basis Threat - The Design Basis Threat describes the level of threats a protective force is required to defend against: the number of outside attackers and inside conspirators, as well as the kinds of weapons and size of truck bombs that would be available to terrorists. It is based on the Postulated Threat, which is the intelligence community’s best estimate of the threat faced by nuclear facilities.
Dismantlement - The National Nuclear Security Administration’s four-step nuclear warhead dismantlement process: retirement, return and storage, disassembly, and disposition.
Downblending - Downblending is the reduction of uranium enrichment levels from 80-90 percent to less than 20 percent, a low enriched uranium, which is of no interest to terrorists and is suitable for use as fuel in nuclear power plants and naval nuclear reactors.
Force-on-Force - Performance tests of the protective guard force that utilize mock terrorists to identify weaknesses in security of a site.
Graded Security Protection - The Department of Energy has replaced its Design Basis Threat Policy with the Graded Security Protection Policy, which is classified but is used as a standard by which the nuclear weapons facilities are to base their security requirements and by which DOE is to measure the effectiveness of the facilities’ security.
Highly Enriched Uranium - Highly enriched uranium is predominantly uranium-235 that has been enriched to a level of 80-90 percent, so that it is composed of atoms that can release enormous amounts of energy from a self-sustaining chain-reaction when split by neutrons.
Improvised Nuclear Device - An improvised nuclear device can be created using a critical mass (approximately 100 pounds) of HEU and far less of plutonium to trigger a detonation of a magnitude close to that which devastated Hiroshima.
JASON - A highly respected advisory panel of scientists run through the MITRE Corporation.
Kirtland Underground Munitions Storage Complex - An Air Force storage facility located on the Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that is storing thousands of nuclear warheads.
Life Extension Program - According to the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Life Extension Program is “a systematic approach that consists of a coordinated effort by the design laboratories and production facilities to: 1) determine which components will need refurbishing to extend each weapon’s life; 2) design and produce the necessary refurbished components; 3) install the components in the weapons; and 4) certify that the changes do not adversely affect the safety and reliability of the weapon.”
Los Alamos National Laboratory - The Los Alamos National Laboratory is a nuclear weapons facility located in Los Alamos, New Mexico, that is considered the birthplace of the thermonuclear bomb, and is managed by the Bechtel Corporation, the University of California, the Babcock & Wilcox Company, and the Washington Group International.
Low Enriched Uranium - A safer form of uranium which has less than a 20 percent concentration of uranium-235. Low enriched uranium is not weapons capable, but can be used as fuel for nuclear power plants and nuclear reactors.
Metric Tons - A unit of weight in the metric system equivalent to 1,000 kilograms, or 2,204.6 pounds.
Mighty Guardian - A special unit in the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command designed to mirror as closely as possible the size, armament, and tactical operations expected to be used by terrorist organizations. They conduct security tests of the Department of Defense’s nuclear weapons facilities.
Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility - A facility under construction at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site intended to help the U.S. and Russia meet an agreement to dispose of 68 metric tons of surplus plutonium by turning it into a fuel for nuclear reactors.
National Ignition Facility - A facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory which has the goal of achieving nuclear fusion and energy gain in the laboratory for the first time. As of 2009, the National Ignition Facility was more than 600 percent over budget and at least 8 years behind schedule.
National Nuclear Security Administration - The agency within the Department of Energy responsible for oversight of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.
Nevada National Security Site - Formerly known as Nevada Test Site, the Nevada National Security Site was established in 1951 to test nuclear weapons. The site was renamed the Nevada National Security Site in August 2010.
New START Treaty - The new arms control deal with Russia to reduce the number of deployed operational warheads to 1,550 for each side. As of September 2010 the treaty, had not been ratified by the Senate.
Pantex Plant - The U.S. government’s facility for assembling and disassembling nuclear weapons, located 17 miles from Amarillo, Texas.
Savannah River Site - A facility in the nuclear weapons complex near Aiken, South Carolina. The site was built during the 1950s to produce plutonium for deployment in nuclear weapons. The site is owned by the Department of Energy and is currently operated by a contractor, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions LLC. The site has some downblending capacity.
Secondaries - Also referred to as a canned subassembly, a secondary is comprised mostly of highly enriched uranium, secondaries are one of two key components of a nuclear warhead (the other being plutonium pits). The National Nuclear Security Administration defines secondaries as “the component of a nuclear weapon that contains elements needed to initiate the fusion reaction in a thermonuclear explosion.”
Thorium - A chemical element that can be used as a source of nuclear power. According to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, “there is probably more energy available for use from thorium in the minerals of the earth's crust than from both uranium and fossil fuels.”
U-235 - Uranium-235, a uranium isotope used in constructing nuclear warheads.
Uranium Processing Facility - A construction project at the Y-12 National Security Complex. The National Nuclear Security Administration sees UPF as a modern facility for uranium research and development, production, and other uranium missions at Y-12. The facility is scheduled to be brought online in 2022.
Appendix A: Department of Energy, FY 2011 Congressional Budget Request, National Nuclear Security Administration, Office of the Administrator, Weapons Activities, Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation (DOE/CF-0047), Volume 1, February 2010, p. 395
Appendix B: Department of Energy, FY 2006 Congressional Budget Request, National Nuclear Security Administration, Office of the Administrator, Weapons Activities, Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, Naval Reactors (DOE/ME-0046), Volume 1, February 2005, p. 517
 The White House, “Remarks by President Barack Obama,” April 5, 2009. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) (hereinafter “Remarks by President Obama”)
 POGO raised awareness about the possibility that the U.S. nuclear weapons complex could be vulnerable to terrorists who are able to detonate an improvised nuclear device (IND) with the publication of its investigative report, U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Security At Risk, October 1, 2001. This significant danger has since been recognized by international experts: Mohamed ElBaradei and Jonas Gahr Store, “How the world can combat Nuclear Terrorism,” IAEA BULLETIN, 48/1, September 2006, p. 15. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) (hereinafter “How the world can combat Nuclear Terrorism”) and Charles D. Ferguson and William C. Potter, et al., The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism, Monterey Institute-Center for Nonproliferation Studies Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2004. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) (hereinafter The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism)
 Valerie Plame Wilson, “A world without nuclear weapons: Ex-CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson says we need to make it real,” New York Daily News, July 22, 2010. (Downloaded September 10, 2010)
 Due to the sensitivity of information about INDs, POGO’s discussion of the issue is limited to public sources and is described in general terms. An IND explosion produces the same physical effects, catastrophic loss of life, and infrastructure destruction as a nuclear weapon explosion. It is qualitatively different from a “dirty bomb.” POGO used the conversion that 1 kilogram equals roughly 2.2 pounds. Matthew Bunn and John P. Holdren, “A Tutorial on Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear-Explosive Materials: Nuclear Weapons Design and Materials,” Securing the Bomb 2006, President and Fellows of Harvard College, September 6, 2006. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 The explosion from the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima was created using the “gun type” method. The blast from the Hiroshima bomb was 13 kilotons; over 200,000 people died either in the blast or as a result in the five years following it. James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Nuclear Terrorism Tutorial: The Destructive Power of Nuclear Weapons: Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 2005, Chapter 2, p. 8. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 POGO arrived at this estimate, an admittedly wide range, based on the limited information that is publicly available about the U.S. HEU inventory: the U.S. had 740 MT in stock in 1996; 127 MT has since been downblended; and an additional, but much smaller amount has been used by research reactors. Department of Energy, Highly Enriched Uranium: Striking A Balance, January 2001, p. 2. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) (hereinafter Highly Enriched Uranium: Striking A Balance) and Department of Energy, FY 2011 Congressional Budget Request, National Nuclear Security Administration, Office of the Administrator, Weapons Activities, Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation (DOE/CF-0047), Volume 1, February 2010, p. 395. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) (hereinafter (DOE/CF-0047)) Also, since 1996, the Navy has consumed approximately 49 MT of HEU through its annual use 2 to 3.5 MT of weapons-grade HEU to power its nuclear fleet (14 years * 3.5 = 49 MT). The 3.5 MT per year figure comes from POGO inside sources. The 2 MT per year figure comes from Steven Aftergood and Frank N. von Hippel, “Report: The U.S. Highly Enriched Uranium Declaration: Transparency Deferred but not Denied,” NonProliferation Review, Vol. 14, No. 1, March 2007, p. 156. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) (hereinafter Report: The U.S. Highly Enriched Uranium Declaration: Transparency Deferred but not Denied) and Highly Enriched Uranium: Striking A Balance, p. 2.
 POGO arrived at this figure using the conversion that 1000 kg of HEU = 1 MT of HEU, and that an average modern nuclear warhead contains 25 kg of HEU in the secondary (600 MT x 1000 kg / 25 kg = 24,000 warheads). International Panel of Fissile Materials, Global Fissile Material Report 2008: Scope and Verification of a Fissile Material (Cutoff) Treaty, pp. 7 and 110. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) (hereinafter Global Fissile Material Report 2008)
 The White House, “Statement by President Obama on the 40th Anniversary of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty,” March 5, 2010. (Downloaded May 6, 2010)
 The White House, Office of the Vice President, “Remarks of Vice President Biden at National Defense University - As Prepared for Delivery: The Path to Nuclear Security: Implementing the President’s Prague Agenda,” February 18, 2010. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 The Life Extension Program is “a systematic approach that consists of a coordinated effort by the design laboratories and production facilities to: 1) determine which components will need refurbishing to extend each weapon’s life; 2) design and produce the necessary refurbished components; 3) install the components in the weapons; and 4) certify that the changes do not adversely affect the safety and reliability of the weapon,” see: Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration, Y-12 Site Office, Draft Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement for the Y-12 National Security Complex (DOE/EIS-0387), October 2009, p. S-14. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) (hereinafter (DOE/EIS-0387))
 Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration, “Fact Sheet: NNSA: Working To Prevent Nuclear Terrorism,” September 9, 2009. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration, Final Complex Transformation Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement Summary (DOE/EIS-0236-S4), October 2008, p.72. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) (hereinafter (DOE/EIS-0236-S4))
 “The Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at Y-12 is projected to cost between $1.4 and $3.5 billion.” Department of Energy,Y-12, “Y-12 UPF Suppliers Outreach Event: About UPF,” (Downloaded September 1, 2010) While NNSA has not made public its production rate of secondaries, in its plan to transform “the nuclear weapons complex (Complex) into a smaller, more efficient enterprise that can respond to changing national security challenges,” NNSA explained the manufacturing capacity necessary for facilities such as UPF: “For the nuclear production alternatives, this SPEIS assesses manufacturing capacity operated in a single shift, five days per week, to produce, depending upon the alternative, 10-125 weapons per year. The bounding case of producing up to 200 weapons per year assumes operations in multiple shifts and extended work weeks.” (DOE/EIS-0236-S4), p. S-16.
 There are the two main parts to a nuclear warhead: the plutonium pits and secondaries, which are comprised mainly of HEU. Also referred to as canned subassemblies (CSA's) NNSA defines secondaries as “the component of a nuclear weapon that contains elements needed to initiate the fusion reaction in a thermonuclear explosion.” Department of Energy, “Record of Decision for the Complex Transformation Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement—Operations Involving Plutonium, Uranium, and the Assembly and Disassembly of Nuclear Weapons,” Federal Register, Vol. 73, No. 245, Friday, December 19, 2008, p. 77644. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) (hereinafter “Record of Decision for the Complex Transformation Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement”)
 According to NNSA, more than “40 percent of the Navy’s major combatants are nuclear-powered, including aircraft carriers, attack submarines, guided missile submarines, and strategic submarines.” “Statement of Gen. Robert L. Smolen, USAF (Ret.) Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs & William H. Tobey, Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, National Nuclear Security Administration, U.S. Department of Energy Before the Committee on House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces,” March 12, 2008, p. 9. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) (hereinafter “Statement of Gen. Robert L. Smolen, USAF (Ret.) Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs & William H. Tobey, Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, National Nuclear Security Administration”)
 International Panel of Fissile Materials, Global Fissile Material Report 2009: A Path to Nuclear Disarmament, pp. 12-13. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 George Perkovich, et al., Universal Compliance: A Strategy for Nuclear Security, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 2007, p. 108. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) and Report: The U.S. Highly Enriched Uranium Declaration: Transparency Deferred but not Denied, pp. 156-157.
 In its report to Congress, NNSA combines the number of metric tons of HEU that has actually been downblended with the amount of HEU that has been shipped for downblending, 127 MT in 2009: Department of Energy, Office of Fissile Materials Disposition, “U.S. HEU Disposition Program,” Presentation by Robert M. George at the International Nuclear Materials Management Annual Meeting, July 2009, slide 9. (hereinafter Presentation by Robert M. George at the International Nuclear Materials Management Annual Meeting) and (DOE/CF-0047), p. 395.
 Government Accountability Office, Better Oversight Needed to Ensure That Security Improvements at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Are Fully Implemented and Sustained (GAO-09-321), March 2009. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) (GAO-09-321) (hereinafter (GAO-09-321); Government Accountability Office, Los Alamos National Laboratory Faces Challenges In Sustaining Physical and Cyber Security Improvements (GAO-08-1180T), September 25, 2008. (Downloaded September 1, 2010); Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration, “Contract DE-AC52-07NA27344, Fee and Award Term Recommendations,” December 11, 2008. For example, in 2008, mock-terrorists showed that they could assemble an IND and steal plutonium and HEU from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is located in a residential community. Project On Government Oversight, “Livermore Terrorist Exercise Ends in Debacle: TIME Magazine Reports Massive Security Failures,” May 13, 2008. However, a more recent performance test was much improved. (GAO-09-321)
 Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration, “About Us: Nuclear Security,” (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 Department of Energy, Y-12 National Security Complex, “Nuclear Nonproliferation.” (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 “The Design Basis Threat (DBT) describes the level of threat the protective force is required to defend against – the number of outside attackers and inside conspirators, and the kinds of weapons and size of truck bombs that would be available to terrorists.” Project On Government Oversight, U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Homeland Security Opportunities, May 19, 2005.
 Project On Government Oversight, “In the Midst of Nuclear Weapons Site Security Test Failures, DOE Adopts New Test and Security Requirements,” August 8, 2008 and Department of Energy, Departmental Directives Program, “DOE O 470.3B, Graded Security Protection (GSP) Policy,” August 12, 2008. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 POGO determined that the DoD has the second largest stock of U.S. HEU by estimating that DoD facilities have most of the 9,613 nuclear weapons believed to be in the U.S. inventory, minus a few hundred warheads that are undergoing assembly or disassembly at the Pantex Plant. Hans M. Kristensen, “United States Discloses Size of Nuclear Weapons Stockpile,” FAS Strategic Security Blog, May 3, 2010. (Downloaded May 6, 2010) (hereinafter “United States Discloses Size of Nuclear Weapons Stockpile”)
 Defense Technical Information Center, “Exhibit R-2, RDT&E Budget Item Justification,” February 2006, pp. 1 and 10. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) (hereinafter “Exhibit R-2, RDT&E Budget Item Justification”)
 The mission of the Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) “is to safeguard America and its allies from weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by reducing the present threat and preparing for the future threat.” “Exhibit R-2, RDT&E Budget Item Justification,” pp. 1 and 10.
 Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “Backgrounder on Research and Test Reactors,” November 2009. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “Domestic Safeguards: What We Regulate,” (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 This vote was classified, but POGO learned about the outcome from sources and it was confirmed by people directly involved with these discussions. POGO was not able to determine the Commissioners’ reasoning for rejecting the staff-led recommendations, which would have updated the number of adversaries and lethal weapons available to terrorists, including 50 caliber sniper rifles, Bangalore torpedoes, and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) that the guard force would have to defend against. “The NRC created a slightly higher DBT for its nuclear weapons sites than the weak standard it uses for commercial nuclear power plants.” Project On Government Oversight, U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Homeland Security Opportunities, May 19, 2005.
 POGO requested a copy of the contract from both NRC and NEI in phone conversations on September 3, 2010. NRC officials said they did not have a copy of the contract. NEI declined the request because they claim it was proprietary.
 For more in-depth analysis of DOE’s and NRC’s security, see Project On Government Oversight, U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Livermore Homes and Plutonium Make Bad Neighbors, March 17, 2008 and Project On Government Oversight, Nuclear Power Plant Security: Voices From Inside the Fences, September 12, 2002.
 Through downblending HEU, “the weapon capability of HEU can be eliminated in a manner that is reversible only through isotope enrichment, and therefore, highly resistant to proliferation.” J. David Snider, “Candidate Processes for Diluting the 235U Isotope in Weapons-Capable Highly Enriched Uranium,” Prepared for Presentation at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers 1996 Spring National Meeting, February 1996, p. 2. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) Both enriching and downblending uranium involves altering the concentration of U-235, the type of uranium that fissions (the nucleus splits, releasing energy) easily. Natural uranium is just .711 percent U-235, the LEU that is employed as fuel usually falls between 3 and 5 percent, and the HEU used in nuclear weapons may surpass a 90 percent concentration. For every metric ton of HEU downblended, between 11 and 19 MT of LEU is produced. Nuclear Energy Institute, “How it Works: Nuclear Power Plant Fuel,” (Downloaded September 1, 2010); Sizes, “Separative Work Unit,” (Downloaded September 1, 2010) The ratio of LEU fuel produced from HEU is based on the enrichment level of HEU. POGO determined this range from a sampling of U.S. downblending milestones: the U.S. produced 250 MT of LEU from 20.8 MT of HEU; 220 MT of LEU from 12.1 MT of HEU; and 800 MT of LEU from 46.6 MT of HEU. Presentation by Bob George at the International Nuclear Materials Management Annual Meeting, slides 4, 7, 10.
 The Babcock & Wilcox Company, “Business Units: Babcock & Wilcox Nuclear Operations Group, Inc.” (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 The Babcock & Wilcox Company, “Press Releases: B&W subsidiary acquires Nuclear Fuel Services,” January 5, 2009. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “Locations of Major U.S. Fuel Cycle Facilities.” (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 Oak Ridge National Laboratory, “Definition of Weapons-Usable Uranium-233,” March 1998, p. ix. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 “Remarks by President Barack Obama.” To support the negotiations of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (a goal of the Obama Administration), the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament supports a Fissile Material Control Initiative (FMCI) “under which nuclear-armed states would voluntarily make regular declarations of their fissile material stocks; apply the highest standards of physical protection and accountancy to those stocks; regularly declare amounts of fissile material they regard as excess to their weapons needs; place such excess material under IAEA safeguards as soon as practicable; and convert excess material as soon as possible to forms that cannot be used for nuclear weapons.” Gareth Evans and Yoriko Kawaguchi, “Eliminating Nuclear Threats, International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament,” 2009, p. 111. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) The Commission is an initiative of the Australian and Japanese governments, and is comprised of former government officials and national security experts from around the world. The White House, “Statement by the President on Beginning of Negotiations on Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty,” May 29, 2009. (Downloaded August 20, 2010)
 Matthew Bunn, Securing the Bomb 2008, Project on Managing the Atom, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, Commissioned by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, November 2008. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 Laura S. H. Holgate, “Accelerating the Blend-Down of Russian Highly Enriched Uranium,” Institute of Nuclear Materials Management Annual Meeting, June 10, 2005, p. 1. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) and United States Enrichment Corporation, “Megatons to Megawatts.” (Downloaded September 1, 2010) (hereinafter “Megatons to Megawatts) USEC Inc. is a private company created by the U.S. government to restructure the government’s uranium enrichment operation.
 Russia recently signed a $1 billion deal to provide U.S. utility companies with LEU from 2014 and 2020. “Russia, Ameren sign nuclear fuel deal,” St. Louis Business Journal, May 26, 2009. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) Also reflecting the LEU demand, politicians in some states are promoting uranium mining and enrichment facilities as good public investments for job creation. John Crane, “2009 Governor’s race: Democrats talk uranium, energy at Danville debate,” Danville Register & Bee, April 29, 2009. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 Environmental Protection Agency, “Nuclear Energy.” (Downloaded September 1, 2010).
 Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, “Uranium resources sufficient to meet projected nuclear energy requirements long into the future,” June 3, 2008. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 Matthew Bunn, Expanded and Accelerated HEU Downblending: Designing Options to Serve the Interests of all Parties, Conference Paper, Institute for Nuclear Materials Management, July 17, 2008, p. 4. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) (hereinafter Expanded and Accelerated HEU Downblending)
 109th Congress, “Department of Energy National Security Act for Fiscal Year 2007,” S. 2769, p. 16. (Downloaded September 1, 2010); (DOE/CF-0047), p. 401; and Government Accountability Office, Nuclear Nonproliferation: DOE Needs to Address Uncertainties with and Strengthen Independent Safety Oversight of Its Plutonium Disposition Program (GAO-10-378), March 2010. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 According to testimony from William Tobey, Deputy Administrator for NNSA, “in fiscal year 2009, we will convert an additional eight HEU reactors to LEU, remove an additional 700 kilograms of HEU, and secure an additional 125 radiological sites across the globe.” William Tobey, Deputy Administrator, Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, National Nuclear Security Administration, House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, April 3, 2008, p. 4. (Downloaded May 6, 2010)
 Department of Energy, Excess Uranium Inventory Management Plan, December 16, 2008, Appendix C, p. C-1. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 National Nuclear Security Administration, “Fact Sheet: Reducing the Nuclear Weapons Stockpile.” (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 In 2005, 160 MT had been set aside for naval reactors. Samuel Bodman, “Remarks by Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,” Federal News Service, 2005, p. 6. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) (hereinafter “Remarks by Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace”) Some of that 160 MT has been used, and 31 MT was rejected by the Navy. This leaves somewhere between 100 and 160 MT on reserve for naval reactors. Presentation by Robert M. George at the International Nuclear Materials Management Annual Meeting, slide 3.
 POGO calculated this figure by subtracting the cumulative amount of surplus HEU NNSA has downblended to date (127 MT) from the cumulative amount it plans to have downblended by FY 2050 (217 MT): 217 MT – 127 MT = 90 MT. There is a discrepancy of 3 MT between what the NNSA says it wants to downblend by 2050 (217), and how much HEU has, according to public sources, been declared surplus and slated for downblending (174 MT in 1994 plus 40 MT in 2005 = 214). POGO cannot account for the discrepancy using the information that has been made public.
With its operations limited by a recent shutdown, NFS has long been under scrutiny for safety lapses, including some very dangerous incidents, and such issues have to be resolved before increasing its capacity. For a review of its recent “Inspection Reports and Performance Reviews,” see Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “Nuclear Fuel Services—Active Facility.” (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 Department of Energy, Y-12 National Security Complex, Recycled Uranium Mass Balance Project: Y-12 National Security Complex Site Report, December 2000, pp. 2-3. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 Department of Energy, Office of Inspector General, Office of Audit Services, Audit Report: Reestablishment of Enriched Uranium Operations at the Y-12 National Security Complex (Report IG-0640), February 24, 2004. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 Robert Alvarez, Reducing the Risks of Highly Enriched Uranium at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Y-12 National Security Complex, October 9, 2006, p. 6. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 National Nuclear Security Administration, “Y-12 National Security Complex: Uranium and Canned SubAssemblies,” February 2008. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) (hereinafter “Y-12 National Security Complex: Uranium and Canned SubAssemblies”)
 “Statement of Gen. Robert L. Smolen, USAF (Ret.) Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs & William H. Tobey, Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, National Nuclear Security Administration,
U.S. Department of Energy Before the Committee on House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces,” p. 4.
 (DOE/EIS-0387), p. S-36; Summary (DOE/EIS-0236-S4), S-16; and National Nuclear Security Administration, FY 2011 Biennial Plan and Budget Assessment on the Modernization and Refurbishment of the Nuclear Security Complex, May 2010, p. 5. (Downloaded August 20, 2010)
 The MITRE Corporation, JASON Program Office, Lifetime Extension Program (LEP) Executive Summary (JSR-09-334), September 9, 2009. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) To replace the secondaries of 1,550 warheads at a rate of 200 secondaries per year would take nearly eight years (1,550/200 = 7.75).
 Investments include such things as “roof replacements; structural upgrades; heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) replacements; and fire protection system replacement/upgrades.” (DOE/EIS-0387).
 Frank Munger, “DNFSB’s Bader: ‘Don’t let it drag, don’t let it fester, don’t let it wait until you’re in construction,’” Knoxnews.com: Frank Munger’s Atomic City Underground, March 25, 2010. (September 1, 2010)
 Department of Energy, Y-12 National Security Complex, “Y-12: Halfway loaded in less than half the time: Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility reaches 50% mark,” March 1, 2010. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 Government Accountability Office, National Ignition Facility: Management and Oversight Failures Caused Major Cost Overruns and Schedule Delays (GAO/RCED-00-271), August 2000. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 The $3.5 billion in costs were spent to design and construct the NIF facility and to install NIF’s 192 lasers and their associated components. However, to actually complete the goal of the project, NNSA created the National Ignition Campaign (NIC), the costs of which have also spiraled from $1.6 billion to over $2 billion. Furthermore, a recent GAO report found that “weak oversight by NNSA has allowed the lead NIC participant, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, to defer critical performance requirements, construction activities, and key equipment acquisitions needed for ignition experiments at NIF, which could delay ignition or other NIC goals beyond 2012.” Government Accountability Office, Actions Needed to Address Scientific and Technical Challenges and Management Weaknesses at the National Ignition Facility (GAO-10-488), April 2010, Executive Summary, pp. 1, 15. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) The GAO also found that “Although NIF construction was officially completed in 2009, construction and installation of the safety infrastructure is currently under way as part of NIC. The work is expected to cost around $50 million,” p. 18.
 Department of Energy, Y-12 Suppliers Outreach Event, “Uranium Processing Facility.” (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration, FY 2011 Biennial Plan and Budget Assessment on the Modernization and Refurbishment of the Nuclear Security Complex, May 2010, p. 9. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 “Unexpectedly releasing large quantities of LEU from HEU could crash prices and disrupt much-needed investments in uranium mining and enrichment capacity.” Expanded and Accelerated HEU Downblending: Designing Options to Serve the Interests of all Parties, p. 2.
 The remaining 40 percent of the fuel came from other sources, including the recycling of nuclear weapons: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Nuclear Energy Agency, “Uranium resources sufficient to meet projected nuclear energy requirements long into the future,” June 3, 2008. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 Nuclear Energy Institute, “Preventing the Proliferation of Nuclear Materials,” (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 World Nuclear Association, “World Nuclear Association Membership,” September 2, 2010. (Downloaded September 2, 2010)
 World Nuclear Association, “Military Warheads as a Source of Nuclear Fuel,” (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 James C. Cornell, “Secondary Supplies: Future Friend or Foe?,” World Nuclear Association Annual Symposium, 2005. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 One Hundred and Tenth Congress, Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2009 (H. R. 2638), September 24, 2008, p. 77. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 Government Accountability Office, Nuclear Material: DOE Has Several Potential Options for Dealing with Depleted Uranium Tails, Each of Which Could Benefit the Government (GAO-08-606R), March 31, 2008, p. 10. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 According to then-Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, “160 metric tons, will be provided for use in propulsion systems for our nation’s nuclear Navy.” “Remarks by Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,” p. 6. According to a POGO source, the Navy now has 100 MT of HEU reserved.
 The 3.5 MT per year figure comes from POGO inside sources. The 2 MT per year figure comes from Steven Aftergood and Frank N. von Hippel, Report: The U.S. Highly Enriched Uranium Declaration: Transparency Deferred but not Denied, p. 156.
 Ronald O’Rourke, Navy Nuclear-Powered Surface Ships: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress (RL33946), Congressional Research Service, May 29, 2009, p. 18. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 United States Navy, “USS Alaska Returns to the Fleet, Changes Homeport,” April 2, 2009. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 Chunyun Ma and Frank von Hippel, “Viewpoint: Ending the Production of Highly Enriched Uranium for Naval Reactors,” The Nonproliferation Review, Spring 2001. p. 93. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) (hereinafter “Viewpoint: Ending the Production of Highly Enriched Uranium for Naval Reactors”)
 Global Fissile Material Report 2008, p. 36. France’s LEU-fueled Rubis can be refueled in five months, possibly three months. “Viewpoint: Ending the Production of Highly Enriched Uranium for Naval Reactors,” p. 100, FN 46.
 “Viewpoint: Ending the Production of Highly Enriched Uranium for Naval Reactors,” p. 93; Director of Naval Nuclear Propulsion, Report on Use of Low Enriched Uranium in Naval Nuclear Propulsion, June 1995, pp. 9-10. (hereinafter Report on Use of Low Enriched Uranium in Naval Nuclear Propulsion)
 Thorium metal “is a source of nuclear power. There is probably more energy available for use from thorium in the minerals of the earth's crust than from both uranium and fossil fuels.” Los Alamos National Laboratory, “Thorium.” (Downloaded September 1, 2010) H.R.2647 (Sec. 246) would “require the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) to carry out a study on the use of thorium-liquid fueled nuclear reactors for naval power needs. The report would analyze and compare thorium liquid fueled reactors and uranium fueled reactors for safety, power requirements, and lifecycle costs. The Secretary and CJCS would be required to submit a report to the congressional defense committees on their findings by February 1, 2011.” While this language was proposed, it did not make it into the final bill. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, Report of the Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives, on H.R. 2647. (Downloaded August 31, 2010)
 The White House, “Key Facts about the New START Treaty,” March 26, 2010. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 The Obama Administration’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review is vague on the number of these warheads that will be reduced: Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review Report, April 2010. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 POGO arrived at this figure using the conversion that 1000 kg of HEU = 1 MT of HEU, that an average modern nuclear warhead contains 25 kg of HEU in the secondary and the equation 1,550 warheads x 25 kg = 38,750/1000 kg. Global Fissile Material Report 2008, pp. 7 and 110.
 International Panel on Fissile Materials, Global Fissile Report 2007: Second report of the International Panel on Fissile Materials: Developing the technical basis for policy initiatives to secure and irreversibly reduce stocks of nuclear weapons and fissile materials, p. 63. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 “The Budget requests $7.009 billion (B) for the [Nuclear] Weapons Activities of the NNSA. That is an increase of $624 million (M), or 9.8 percent, above the 2010 appropriation. The Budget requests an additional $273 M in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NNP) Account for programs that were funded within Weapons Activities in 2010. NNSA is requesting $80 M in construction funds and $113 M in operating expenses for a Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility within NNP and another $80 M for preparation and transport of initial quantities of plutonium for disposition, including operation of the Advanced Recovery and Integrated Extraction System (ARIES) facility at Los Alamos. After correcting for those organizational shifts, the increase in weapons activities compared to comparable activities in 2010 is about $900 M or 14 percent.” Dr. Robert Civiak, “Enhancing Nuclear Weapons Research and Production to Support Disarmament?,” February 22, 2010. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) and (DOE/CF-0047), p. 59.
 Matthew Bunn, Securing the Bomb 2010: Securing All Nuclear Materials in Four Years, Project on Managing the Atom Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, Commissioned by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, April 2010, p. v. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) For a discussion of global HEU stocks, see International Panel of Fissile Materials, Global Fissile Material Report 2009: A Path to Nuclear Disarmament, pp. 12-15. (Downloaded September 1, 2010)
 Laura S. H. Holgate and Robert E. Schultz, “In support of the Megatons to Megawatts program,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, October 23, 2008. (Downloaded September 1, 2010) and “The HEU Purchase Agreement,” The Henry L. Stimson Center, May 30, 2007.
 Statement made by Andrei Cherkasenko, chairman of Atompromresursy, a Moscow-based investment consultancy, “HEU-LEU Beyond 2013: The Russian Perspective,” Uranium Intelligence Weekly, September 15, 2008.
 One of the recommendations in Expanded and Accelerated HEU Downblending: Designing Options to Serve the Interests of All Parties (p. 8) is, “The United States should be prepared to agree to expand and accelerate its own down-blending of excess HEU. The United States and Russia should agree to reduce their nuclear weapon stockpiles to low levels, and to reduce their HEU stockpiles to the minimum required to support those low levels of nuclear weapons plus a modest additional stock for naval fuel.”