by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News, Special Contributor to TheBlackVault.com
Classified design drawings used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons have not been properly and reliably maintained by nuclear weapons labs managed by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the Department of Energy Inspector General said in a report last week.
“NNSA sites could not always locate as-built product definitions or associated drawings for nuclear weapons and components in official records repositories.” At the Pantex Plant, “officials were concerned and surprised at the difficulty in finding as-built product definitions for the nuclear weapons,” the DoE IG report said.
At Los Alamos, the information system “allowed changes to classified nuclear weapons drawings without using an approved change notice. This practice could permit unauthorized changes to weapons drawings.” Questioned about undocumented changes to a particular weapon drawing, “officials were unable to explain why changes were made, but told us that they ‘assumed’ the changes were needed.”
“Over the decades of nuclear weapons development, neither NNSA nor its sites treated the maintenance of original nuclear weapons… information as a priority,” wrote DoE Inspector General Gregory Friedman.
“Not having complete and accurate [weapon production] information can have significant effects on surveillance and safety, and can lead to time-consuming and expensive recovery efforts.” See National Nuclear Security Administration Nuclear Weapons Systems Configuration Management, Audit Report DOE/IG-0902, March 26, 2014.
“NNSA is on a trajectory towards crisis,” said Norman Augustine, the venerable engineer and aerospace executive who serves as co-chair of the Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise.
“The ‘NNSA experiment’ involving creation of a semi-autonomous organization [within the Department of Energy] has failed,” he said.
NNSA “has lost credibility and the trust of the national leadership and customers in DOD that it can deliver needed weapons and critical nuclear facilities on schedule and on budget,” Mr. Augustine said. He spoke at a March 26 briefing for the House Armed Services Committee.
The problems are not entirely attributable to NNSA itself, he said, but are due in part to an eroding consensus concerning the role of nuclear weapons in national security policy.
“At the root of the challenges are complacency and the loss of focus on the nuclear mission by the Nation and its leadership following the end of the Cold War,” Mr. Augustine said.
He cited “the absence of a widely accepted understanding of, and appreciation for, the role of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology in the 21st century, with the resultant well-documented and atrophied conditions of plans for our strategic deterrent’s future– in DOD as well as in DOE.”