Our far-flung nuclearweapons factories haven'tbuilt a bomb since 1992.

One lone Republicanwants to shut them down.
By Zachary Roth

I n 1942,die United Statesgovernment began creating a
secret city. On 59,000acresin die hills of eastern Tennessee, built a complex -one of dtree nationwide it dedicatedto dte production of marerials for an atomic weapon. From dte start, the very existenceof dte new city, named Oak Ridge after a nearby mountain ridge, was shrouded in mystery. Though at its peak of production during World War II, Oak Ridge used one-sevendi of all die electricity produced in die United States and had a population of 75,000- making it die fifdt largest city in Tennessee- it didn't appear on mapsuntil 1949. Residents were required to wear idenrification badges whenever they went out of die house, and the Oak Ridge high school football team played only road games.But diere wasgood reasonfor die clandestinemeasures: late 1943, By Oak Ridge's -12plant wasusingelectrom agnetism to creY ate the highly enriched ur.mium that would be used in dte "Little Boy" atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, helping to bring die ~ to an end. For Oak Ridge, those were die glory days,and the city works hard to keep their memory a1iw..A museum in town educatesa few stray tourists on Oak Ridge'sstarring role in the deYelopmentof the bomb. Visitors to dte complex are given a CD-ROM "Discover World War Two's Secret City" -whose cover shows Oak Ridgers excitedly displaying newspapers that hail the end of the war. Last June, to commemorate the 6Od1anniversary of the event, Oak Ridge held a "Secret City Fesriwl, "which feamred,among other attrActions,d1eopening to the public ofY -12'5Beta-3 building, which had been used during die war to separate isotopes, and whiclt still contains cratesbearing the date of the plant's first year in operation. "Looks just like it did in 1943," saysBill Wtlbum, die public relations representative for BWXT, a private contractor that runs Y -12,aswe look down on Beta-3from a nearby ridge. Oak Ridge's starring role in history continued into the Cold War, when die arms race with die Soviet Union required rapid weapons production. hldeed, driving around dte wst facility with die £lacks feltvaguely like being in one of diose military mom from die 1950s. "Irs like stepping back into history," notes SteveWyatt, Y -12'5 Zad\aryRodtisaneditor 7he~ of 16 Marm 2006 Month!)!

public affairs manager. Unfortunately, history is about the only thing going .for Y-u these days.The United Stateshasn't built a new nuclear weapon since the early '90s, and that's left the weapons plant's 6,000 employees with little to do. Today, they are literally moving material from one spot to another, spending around $300 million to transfer Y-U's store of radioactive metal from six separateon-site locations to one more modern and secure facility, Cllnently under construction. Y -u lists its main role as ensuring that the components used in our existing stockpile of weapons remain safe and reliable -an important task, to be sure, but not one capable of providing a long-tenD mission for Y-l2 Even the plant's physical appearnnce~ its better days are behind it. An unmistakable air of ennui and decay hangsabout the place.A few solitary workers shuf£Ie from one building to another. Many of the original ~ - their biocky,red-brdstyieand bwceilings characteristicofl940s ~t ard1itecmre- remain in use, despite the appearnnceof decay."It's a lot of old facilities, no question," saysWyatt. Y-U's fuSty aura is indicative of a broader problem. Our nuclear weapons complex was designed for the needs of a different age, and has struggled to reinvent itself for the 21stcentury. Almost 20 years after we built our last new nuclear weapon, the National Nuclear Security Ad ministration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous agency within the Departtnent of Energy with a budget of $9 billion per year,continues to operate eight separate facilities, employing over 36,000 people, and offering an unnecessarily large number of targets to terrorists. Indeed, in 2005,the federal government spent one and a half times asmuch on our weaponscomplex, adjusted for inflation, as our average annual spending during the Cold War, for a greatly reduced set of activities. In short, our nuclear weapons complex is unsafe, costly, inefficient, and largely without purpose. Last summer, a congressionally-mandated report produced by a blue-ribbon taskfolre of expertsfound that reducing the number of sites we operate would save money, improve security, and make the complex better ableto produce rlJenextgeDerd tion of nuclear weaponsd1e

Unired Statrs may someday need.It WAS kind of report me you Inight think ~ officials would have seized on. After all, at me rime, me Bush White House and GOP co~ooalleaders were in tense negotiations over how to reduce me president'smassivebudget deficit. Desperate cong1'l'S5ionalleaders were targeting student k>ans, Medicaid -anydting they could think of to saveprecious dollars and restore their party's reputation as me standardbearer of small government. The news,then, that by shuttering diJapidaredand Jargelyredundant pernment facilitrs, d1eycoukl save billX>ns, wbi]e making Americans safer against a terroriSt attack, ought to have been hernlded. Indeed, at a similar moment of fiscal panic during the 19905, Congress and me Clinton White House agreed to help the DefenseDepartment adapt to me post -Cold War world by crearing an independent commission to recommend ~ ck>Sing obsolete military bases.But ~ rime, of Congress and the adtninistration reacted to the DOE weaponscomplex report with studied indifference, and in some cases, outright hostility.

It's not surprising that many of the &cilities aredegrading. Like their counterparts in the former Soviet Union, America's nuclear weapons siteswere largely designed aIKl built half a century ago for a Mr that ~ long ended.Fkted officials don't have the incentive to spmd the wst sums it would take to properly maintain these facilities. Yet neither do they have the political cournge to pull the fiscal plug entirely on individual sites,and put tens of thousands of employees out of work:. The fact that the complex consistsof eight separAte sites in sevenstates,all of them represented by lawmakers dedicatedto protect d1ose jobs, makesthe job of shutting them down even tougher. There are two major design labs, the Los Alamos National Labo1'31Ory Los Alamos, N. M.; in and the Lawrence Livennore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif. There are also six other sites-located, in addition to Oak Ridge, in Albuquerque, N. M.; southern Nevada;Amarillo, Texas;KansasCity, Moo;and near Aiken, s. c. -whim handle wrious parts of the design, produc-

tion, testing, maintenance, and safeguarding of our
weapons stockpile and its components. In the early years,there were good reasonsto disperse the complex around the country and to create separate facilities for different functions. Doing so helped defend ag;Iinst espionageand fostered a spirit of healthy competition. The approam worked brilliandy during the race for an atomic weapon to defeat Hider and Hirohito, aswell as for much of the Cold War that followed when the us. arms buildup successfully deterred the Russians and helpedkeepthe peace "Labs Behaving Badly" p.l<J). ~ But once the Soviet Union fell, the far-flung complex

Sitting ducks
"1 can't emphasize enough the degree to whiclt these facilities arearchaic, saysDavid Overskei, who headed the " task fotre that loolred at restructuring the complex. At yu, according to a manager at another facility, workers at one point had to wear hard hats indoors becauseof the risk of piecesof the ceiling becoming dislodged. His own site, too, he adds, is "falling apart... . There's buildings that wouldn't passany buikling code known to man."

f ~ ~
Oak Ridge,Tennessee. which helped produce the atom bomb. circa 1950

TheWashiooton Monthly 17

bt its primary ~ d'etre-tbough a number of vital tasks remain. Maintaining the stOCkpile requires small~ prodocb)n of ~ ~ pans, asd1eexisting parts agearKl<mr. ArvJ ~ ~ may well require us to buikI a whole new~ bon of weapons-with modem capabilities-in the not-too-distant future. We aOOneed to

d1e potential deadt m thee\'ent a ~ toll of


even higher. The Y-12 piant,meanwbi Je,sitSm a wlley between two high ridges.Security experts agreethat ~ k»Ca00n makes ~ oompa ~ to an attack dtat usessnipers OIl dJe higher ground to . out security guards,al1owing others protectoor existing StOCkp~ ahnostlO,DOO ~ of at ground ~ tn gain a(x:eS5tn nuclear material con~ asweDasd1ehighly ~ "specialnuclearmaterial" t2ined m die facility. used in their creation - from &lling into the wrong Then there's the &1tr;x site m Amarillo, 1exas. It's hands.ArvJ our weapons labs house the advancednuclear k»Cated directly beside~ k>Ca1 airport. greadyi1x:reasing scieJlceresearcl1 d1at is crucial to ensuring dlat the Unitd1edwM:es of a plane-whether through terrorism or an ed Statesretaim its competitive edgein dY; fr:kt, and to d1e accident-crashing intn facilities that contain nuclear long-teml success the weapons program. of materials. (This is perl1apsnot as unlikely as it sounds. A But with no ongoing p~ of ~ ~ , and, woman who li\Ied near &1rex for Inany}'eaIS tnkJ me that after Sep~ 11, 2001, with nucbr terrorism a newiyguards once admitted they'd~ areportof a plane urgent threat, there is now little reason to have numerous crashing inside the &cility but couldn\ locate it, and asked sepanre sites scattered acrossd1ecounn-y. For one iliing, for her help.) d1e dispersal of sites significantly compro~ nuclear As d1ereport by ~'s taskforcedryly put it, security. There is no realistic ~ of terrorists St1';aling "Currently, me [Livermore], [Los Alamos], Y -12,and &1a prefabricatEdnucbr weapon from any do~ site,but tr;x sitesaresufficien tly ~ tn ~tial and commercial another alarming ~ty hassecurity experts worrm. structures sum dJatany pan]ally ~ rem:.'ist att2ck Six of d1e eight NNSA-run sites (the excepti<msare the OIl these sites may canse coIIatenl damage tn die mr KansasCity site,which is little more than a warehousethat rounding civilian population and associated public and primakes electronic components, and Sawnnah River in vate assets." Soud1 Carolina) contain ~ugh special nuclear materi~ leavinggeognp hK:aland 1aOO-~ ~ ~ ~ al-mostdangerou sly,weapons-gradeurmium -to a1bw Ieve1of security at our nuclear facilities is inadequate. In for the creation of an Improvised Nuclear Devitt (IND), 2003,a one-ton truck: crastm d1rough d1esecurity fence a crude nudear explosi\Jethat ~ potentially be det0- atLiwernlOre, ~ ~ ~ huMtM Yd1'dsingJe d1e nated ~ a ~'eapoosfacility wid1in minutes. By simply &cility ~ ~ stopped by security gna1ds. report A dropping a lOO-pound mass of highly enriched umlium released soon after 9/l1 by d1e Project on~ merit onto another similar ~ from a height of about six feet, ~t, a watd1do9;group in CODaIltation wid! federal go\IeI'nmmt security ~ a.duded: "The I::)epantem:>ristscouJd create a nucbr reaction that wookI produce a blast of about 5-10 kilotons-the blast from the mmtci is.. tn rotectdleAmer~ atoo1k:bomb WdS kilottX1s.sum an aplosM:m X:an 15 0 a tenorist ~ on ~ Its ~~ Guards ~ at are ~ kill aD}'ODe wid1in 2 ki1ometeIS whrl1 at some ~

facilities ~ ~ ~ of ~ of peop~-according to Fmlk Van Rippel, a physicist and nucbr expert at ~ a ~ terroriSt atta~ The report also PriIK.:etonUnivezsity. noted that ~ ~ ID(H'e d1an 50 Pe11:ent ~ time of . attacks mock-taroriscs . Cunendy, a scenario in wbX:h trnorists ~ success. ~e%p~~~has fully storm a fAcility, gain aa:essto the nuclear materials, and have enough time to set off an IND app~ highly m -p ~ report, prounlikely, but not im~Je. And because the conse- d1:K:ed NNSA by a team ~ by retiIed admir3l Richani for quenceswould be so cat2Strophjcally high, it's a ~ Mies and ~ m M2f ofJast}'ear confirmed dtat ~ that security experts take seriously. Matthew Bunn, who almost four ~ after 9/ll, "The NNSA mterprise Jacks direds d1eProjecton MAruigingd1e Atom at Harvaro's a comp~ strategic security pJan." Kennedy SdlOOI ofGO\lem ment, caDsit "a very ~ There is ~ agreemrnt that ~lidating all speconcern." cial nuclear material mtn one well-guarded site wonkI The problem is made scarier still by the fact d1atmany make us significantly safer.~ Spencer Abraham, d1en of oor CUImlt f3ci1ita aresimplyin poorgeogra pbX:~~ seaet3Jy of ~ ~ d:Ierisk:~t m hav~ for storingnuclearmaterials a post-9/Il ~.At in ing special nuclear material spread IQt)SS die country, Li\leImore, for ~ d1e eXDd>an fringe of theBayAla declaring ma May 2004 speech that, becauseof security has spread so far east siIK:e d1e 19505 that d1ere are now corK:ems, "we need tn...reduce ~ number of sites with special ~ materiaI dieabsohIte tn minimum, consisOOmcsdino;ctly~dlestreetfromdlelab's~line, and only 800 yaMs from the facility's Superblock, whid1 tent with carrying out our missions." ~ its store of plutonium. That prevents some guards Doing so wonkl also savemoney. For good reason,any from carrying die kiOO of powerful automatic ~ site that cont2ins weapons-qumtities of nuclear materials wiekIed by d1eir counterparts at odw;r sites,and alsomakes -which couldbe aslittle as5 pounds-must recei\Ie

~~~~~i~~~ ~~~ -i aa:~

=c ~=~~:E~:;rotect

~ a:-

18 Mard12<&

high-level protection. That means storing nuclear materials at six sites could cost, in effect, six times asmuch asstoring d1em all at one. And since 9/11 -when it became clear that terrorists might be willing to kill themselves in the course of an attack-facilities have had to devise a plan to handle each and eVeIYnew scenariodlat seaJrity experts imagine ten-orists might attempt. As a result, NN~ security costs haveskyrocketed from $885million in the year before 9/ll, to over $14 billion in 2005.

Labs Behaving Badly


In thek>Dg andstoried histOry ofbmeaucratic infighting, confew
tests have been more vitriolic than the one between our two major nuclear weapons design Jabs,Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore. The antagonjsm bas its roots in the relationship between the two fathers of dte atomic plOgrdID,Edwml ~ aM RobertOpp enheimer.

In the late194Os, Teller began ad\1OCating immediate ~pment dte
of a hydrogen bomb, in response to the news d1at Russia had built an

atomX: ~



remained cautious, ~ more and


became convinced d1at Los Alamos, whose director, Norris Bradbury, was an Op~_~_mer ally, wasinSlJfficiently dedicated to dJe H-bomb

Machine politics
But aside&om the issuesof cost and secucity, the labs suffer &om a more existencial problem -a lack of purpose. Researd1,storage,maintenance, and security are important tasks, but NNSA has yet to give the labs a long-term, defming mission since we tested our last new weapons in 1992That's]eft many weapons scientiStS, particularly at Los Alamos and ~ore, in a stateof anxiety over die furore of their jobs. They've reacted by turning theInselves into experts on the federnl government's grant-making process, and applying for funding for new projects and technologies -some only tangentially related to weaponsdesign.For its part, dIe Depart ment of Energy -as well as odler agencies that fund some projects, like d1eDepartments of Defense and Homeland Security - is inclined to grant d1eserequests,recogni7.ing the ~ to keep die scientistS dteir jobs and at to keep federal dollars flowing to dIe labs, should their weapons-design skills be needed in the fu mre. Many of these new projects have come about over the last decade.When die Clinton administration agreed to stop testing nuclear weaponsin 1993, entered into a bargain with it dIe labs,which feared rl1at the end of nuclear production and testing could make them redundant. Without support from the labs, the administration knew that the test ban would never get through Congress.So the lab directors agreed to publicly support dIe ban, in return for receiving a slew of rew tedmology that they said was needed to assurethe ongoing safety of the stockpile in the absence of testing.Livermore, for instance,receivOO the National Ignition Facility (NIF), a facility rl1at fires laser beams at radioactive hydrogen fud pellets, in orner to StUdythe effects of a nuclear fusion explosion. Los Alamos, for its part, got the Dual Access Radiographic

project. With the helpof Ernest~

a NobelPrize-winning

physicist aI¥l Califomja scientific entrep~, 1eller persuaded Congressto createa second design lab in Livemt~ Cali£, wbid1 woukl go I full-speed ahead on the H-bomb project. From dJe st3rt, scientiStSat i {A)SAlamos felt undermined by and resentful offilJer and hjs ~ &rilI , ity, whid1 they saw asradjcal and potmtiallydangerou s. Livermore scientiSts,for their part, saw their counterparts at Los Alamos as stodgy

andrisk ~ When the H-bomb waseventually produced, Livermorewas ~ most of the credit. This infuriated scientists at Los Alamos, who
had in fact run the thermonuclear tests that had helped pave the way for dJe bomb. The ultimate truth, say historians, is that the rancor was probably worth it: Thanks to competition be~ the two labs, America more quickly produced dJe H-bomb, and therefore had a more effective deterrent against the Soviet Union sooner. The ~tK: competition is not alwaysproductiv\;~. At the end of the Co~ War, ~re scientists ~ the {A)SAIamos design for the W88 warlJead.They concluded, wrongly asit nImed out, d1at dte design W"dS unsafe, and advised agaimt buikIing it, a judgment that was ~ at Los Alamos asa slap in the face. But having sepaI2tedesign labs,and a relationship of competition - eren ant2gonism - between them, does make it easierfor outsiders to gain access to infonnatioo mn dw:jr~ ings. "HI Wdntto hear what's wrong with dJe NIF at Livermore, my best option is to go to people at Los Alamos," saysHugh GuSterson,an Mrr anthropoklgist who stndies dte cuIb1reof the weapons labs.~ if I want to hear what's wrong with dte DAHRT at Los Alamos, fn go to people at Livermore." H elected officials ever get around to consolidating our weapons complex, they'll have to decide whether to also consolidate the design labs. (The production facilities largely work on separate aspects of the process, so dJere'sno real competition taking place.) The Overskei report neither recommended nor discoUrAged consolidating the two labs into one. But some members of the task force privately support such a step - which would almost certainly mean shuttering ~rmore, the smaller of the two. Doing so wou~ not only provide the cost and security improvements associated with consolidation of special nuclear material. It would also, in all likelihood, make it easier to ~uce the number of weapons scientists employed by me complex - aM therefore me amount of federal money for "make-work" designed solely to keep those scientists busy. The question will be whether these adwntages will outWeigh the henefits of competition. - Ucb." Roth




The Washington Monthly 19

Hydrodynamic Test (DARHT), whim uses giant x-ray machines to create ~ of mock nuclear weapons. But asit's turned out. the technology required for virmal testing costs more, not less,d1an actUal testing. The Jabsalmost certam1y undersold the cost of many of me new machines. The NIF, for instance, was estimated at $677 million in 1993. 1997; In DOE requested from Congress$L2 billion for construction, promising there would be no further increases. Four years later, me General Accounting Office (GAO) estimated the NIFs construction price tag to be $41 billion. And aninde pendent analysis in the sameyear put the total cost of constructing and operating the NIF for 30 years-as NNSA. intends -at $32.4 billion. "DOE lied to me," said an outl'"clged Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on me floor of the Senatein September 2000. "They sold me a bill of goods and I am not happy about it" Ste\'enSdIwartz.,a nuclear expert who formerly edited me Bulletin of me Atomic Scientistsand has been a Brookings InstitUtion scholar, argues,only semifacetiously,mat ifwe real1ywant to savemoney, we should resume full-scale testing and production of weapons. These costs mjght be acceptableif we mew what we were getting for our money. But becausefAcilities like the NIF are designed more to increase our overall understanding of nuclear-weapons science d1an to perform specific tests,it's difficult for non -scientists to assess their utility. That makesit hard for outside overseerslike Congressto oppose requestsfor new technology. When Pill. physicists say they need anomer machine to assured1e safety of our weapons stockpile, most lawmakers are inclined to trust mem.lndeed, it's now all but imp~Dle for Congress to get an independent viewpoint on questions mat require tedmical and scientific expertise: Until 1995, members could hare consulted me federal Office of Technology Assessment.But in mat year, then-House Speaker Newt Gingricllied an effort mat abolished the agency. Still, at leastmachines like the NIF and me DAHRT can be said to advance me long-term mjssion of our nuclear program. Some lab scientistshave ~ grants to fund projects wim no clear relation to weapons production, whatsoever.Grant Heffelfin~, a weapons scientist at Sandia,sayshe'sworking on sequencing proteins for microbes. Odter scientists have studied me human genome,and global warming. It's not mat the work isn't word1While-few scientific issuesare more wgent d1anglobal warming, after all. But it doesn't make sense for this work to be done by our nuclear facilities, radter d1an by me many advanced scientific agencies-like me National Oceanographic and Annospheric Association, and me Scripps Instituterun or funded by me federal government. "I would never have picked Los AJamos or Sandia or Livennore to get involved wim the genome," says~ "It was makework from the DOE...not based on inherent ability or expertise."Peter Stockton, a nuclear expert who was a top aide to energy secret3ry Bill Richardson during me '90's
20 Mard12006

and now works for the Project on Government Oversight,agrees the work is designed that mainly for "keeping theseguysb~ Our weapons complex,then, is getting further and further from its core mission. Adds Overskei:"The questionbecomes, what point do you at loseyour focus?"

Hobson's choice
One of the few people in WashingtOn who wants to fix the problems of our nuclear weapons compa is David Hobson, a little-known Republican congressman from Ohio who d1airs the House Energy and Water subcommitree that oversees NNSA and the complex. Hobson, a slight, bespectacled, and resolutely unglamorous man, has the aw-shucks demeanor of the Midwestern small business-owner he once was.He says"Warshingtolf for Washington and makes little jokes about the French, and about the officiousness of the bureaucrats who brief him. "I WdSted whole day at Stratcomm, "he said - referring a to the Pentagon's Strategic Command office-during a speech at the Center for American Progress (CAP), a liberal Washington think tank, laSt December. "Too many flip-charts. I ahnost left." But Hobson has used his regular-guy persona-and his reputation as a fiscal conservative-to push for a safer, more modern, more efficient, less expensive complex..He has publicly accused the labs of running "jobspreservation programs" for scientists. In the process, he has mrned himself into public enemy number one at the labs. In his speech at CAP, Hobson recounted how, when he visited one facility recently, he caught sight of a list headed "Cha11enges:" One item was the single word "Hobson." After assumingthedJai rmanship of the subcommittee in 2003,Hobson and his Staffbecame concerned that Y12'splan to build a new, above-ground stornge facility for its special nuclear materialswasinadequatefor the heightened-threat emIironment of the post 9/ll world. Instead of spending hundreds of millions to move the plant's SNM from six separateon-site locations to one, they thought, why not take a wide-angle look. at our entire weapons complex, and consider consolidating all the SNM currently spread across the complex into one new, bdowground ~tion? To that end, Hobson browbeat Abraham, then d1esecretary of energy, into agreeing to produce a report that wouJd ~1!1Jne complex-wide consolidation. The 0veISkei report-also known asthe Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (or SEAB) report-was produced by a task.foIt:e ofdisti nguished nuclear, scientific, engineering, and management experts, reporting directly to the secretary of energy. When it came out laStJuly, 16 months after Abraham's appearance before the subcommittee, d1ereport called the current weapons complex ~ robUSt,nor agile, nor responsive,with little evidence of a master plan." It recommended consolidat-

ing all special nuclear material into one location, asa way to improve security and cut costs. That essenria1ly meant CO[ISOlidating comd1e pla's entire production capability -currently spread across six sites- into one.'n lOugb the report didn't explicitly say so, die clear implication of its recommendations was dtat some of the production sites -most likely Y U at Oak Ridge, Kat1sasCity, and ultimareiy Pdnrex,should be shutrered entirely. The report estimated dtat consolidation would likely savearound $25 billion between now and 2030.Each year dtat consolidation is postponed would reduce savings by $2 billion. Consolidation would also improve the responsiveness, speed, and quality of the entire production process, the panel found. That's partly because being dispersed around the country makes it difficult to effectively integrate the various facets of the production process. It's also because the existing production sites,built in die '40s and '50s,are too old to quickly and efficiently produce weapons for the 21st century- A new production facility with state-of-the-art technology would reduce delaysand re-wott; cut environmental pollution, provide a safer work environment; and leave the complex less dependent on the highly-trained, aging workforce it currently employs. Says Don

America's bomb-making process, brought to you by Rube Goldberg
H me United St3tes government were to resume building nuclear weapons today, me process would be a cross-country odyssey. The individual bomb parts would have to navel thousands of miles across me nation. with each journey being an invit3tion for a radioactive accident or a terrorist attack. The process wouJd probably begin in a boardroom at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Some of the 1ab's more than IOpOO physicists wouJd first create a basic plan for dte new bomb. They would decide on me weapon's size, me materials to be used in its COOSt1'1lction, the exact process for how to catalyze its and nuclear reaction. Then, scientists at Los Alamos and our second major design lab, in Livennore, Calif., would together make an exact blueprint of the bomb design. Computer scientists at both labs would run the design specifications through supercomputer modding software to help polish them for maximum efficacy. Then, me stage would shift to me Sandia National Laboratories outSide of Albuquerque, NM. Having received an electronic copy of the bomb's blueprint from Los Alamos, Sandia engineers would design everything else for die weapon, from its aluminum casing to its parachute to me high exp1osi\led1a1ge needed to set off me nuclear reaction. Next stop, via a high-security military aircraft, would be the Y12site in 1ennessee.where engineers would begin building die uranium shell, or tamper, for the bomb. TheI1 it's off, by heavily armed nil or truck convoy, to me Savannah River site in South Carolina. There, technicians trained in handling nuclear materials would add me tritium or deuterium composites that turn a plain old fission bomb into a massive thermonuclear fusion bomb. The sbeIl and its ndioacrivc materialswouH then ~ their route westwaIrl by nil or truck, headed for me Pantexweapons plant outSide

a member of Overskas

task: force and

a vice president ofTechsource, a science and engineering consulting flnn: "You put all these benefits together, and if this were yom company, and it were yom dollars being invested -which frankly it is, my friendyou'd say:'no-bmner.m

ofAmari&,1:eIas. plantwoukl. That


IeCei\Jed adV3Ix:ed the

BRAC to the future
Hobson said immediately mat he agreed with the Overskei report "100 pen:ent." But he W3San army of one. The press virtually ignored it. Congress, NNSA, DOE, and the White House spent the next six months doing virnJally nothing to put its recommendations into practice. And one powerful lawmaker tried to have the report taken out back and shot. SeD.Pete Domenici (R-NM~ chairs the Senateenergy committee, whidt ~ the nuclear complex. It's a convenient job for the senior senatorfrom New Mexico becausethat statehasmore federal go..'ernmentemployees, per capita, than any other in the union; and most of those employeeswork at New Mexico'stwo weaponslabs,Los Alamos and Sandia.

eIecttonics parts from the Kansas City factory that makes all me circuitry for nuclear weapons. At P.mteX,tecl1nicianswould take plutonium and other weapons parts and ~ the live bomh But the journey wouldn't end there. The finished bomb would then be shipped from Texas to me Nevada Nuclear Testing Site, where it would be buried deep in me earth, covered with a plug of thousands of tons of cement, and ignited -in contravention of the Nuclear Test Ban 'Ii-eaty. Assuming me explosion went as expected, engineers at the Nevada site would give me go-ahead for full-scale prodUction of the bombs at Pantex.As each weapon was finished and certified in Texas, it would then head by rail, plane, ship or truck to its (perhaps temporary) resting place - military basesaround the world. Producing a weapon using eight different sites wouJd require us to regularly ship radioactive materials across the country, within a few miles of large population centers. That greatly increases the risk, and the potential consequences, of an accident or a successful terrorist attack. Though there's reason to believe that nuclear materials are inadequately protected within our nuclear facilities, they're likely to be even more exposed when mveling on open public roads. -SamJaffi

The washington Monthly 21

A wily veteran of the appropriations process,Domenici has, during the 11years of his committee chairmanship, sttuCnIred that appropriations processso asto maximize fimding for the complex -and particularly for his state's &ci1ities. He fought hard, for instance, to bring to Sandia the Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications (}."1ESA) prognm, which manufactures oomputerdrip scaJe devices."There5 a number of programs that are doing quite well in the state of New Mexico," says ~ "Non-nuclear projects. But they still went into his facilities." Domenici opposed the Overskei report from the start. "While there is aiWdYS room for improvement, I beIieve our labs are doing good worlc, and I do not think we should rush into any quick fixes," he said in a statement after the report wasrebsed. He men inserted languagein his committee report barring the use of funds to implement any of the report's recommendations. Though that languagewasultimately struck: in conference,it conveyed the firmness of Domenici's opposition to reform and set the tone for dte conferencenegotiations.When all wassaid and done, Congress' budget for dle fiscal year 2006 contained just $5 million to study consolidation. Domenici is not acting entirely alone in Congressmany members of dle New Mexico delegation havemade cootinued funding for the labsa life-or-deam ~ When the House Armed Services committee also suggested studying consolidation in 2002, it was forred to drop the ideaamid 1mbendingopposition from one of its members, Rep.Heather WIlson (R -NM). To some observers, there's more than a little irony in the sight of conservative politicians going to me mat to protect ~t jobs. Saysone high-nmking nuclear facility manager."They're all red stares who don't like government. But you try touching one of their complexes, saying 'this thing is really irrelevdnt and we should close it down,' and these guys sound like bleeding heart liberaJs: 'Don't you dare touch one of our jobs.

essenriallyallows eaclt individual site to nm itseJ£Former Los Alamos director PeteNanos has spoken of a "cowboy culture," in whiclt weapons scientists fed free to thumb rl1eir noses at WashingtonS efforts to exert control. In 2004, some Los Alamos scientists beg3n sporting a bumper sticker on their cars bearing the words "Striving for a Work-Free SafeZone." The message was a sarastic rebuke to lab directors, whose new safety-conscious approaclt-dle result of pressure from DOE officiaJs in Washington -was, the scientists Edt, short-changing scientific researd1.Stockton saysthat in his experience as a top DOE official, when you tell empk}}'eesat dle facilities,"we want you to do thjs, they prettymudl p you dle fInger, saying 'we be here before you, we be here after you, and flIck you while you're here.m But even if DO E were able to rein in the labs,it's by no meanscertain that it would want to. In the 1990s, Wngress WAS able to create the Base Realignment and Oosure Commjssion to shut down military basesbecause the Defense Department supported the move. Officials understood that fewer basesaround dle oountry meant more resoUIt:eS and funding for their preferred projects. But DOE has mud1 Jess influence in Congress dtan does the Pentagon, so there's no guarantee that money no longer given to the weapons complex would go to other departmental projects. Just as important, DOE simply <X>esn't much asidefrom manageour ~ do complex. It doesn't actually produce energy-it merely subsidizes private producers. In fact, NNSA represents almost 40 pen:ent of the Energy Deparnnent's annual bUdget, and

provides mucltof its sense departmental of ~on.


Such resistancecan be overcome by a president committed to reform -especially jf that president is of d1e sameparty asd1osein control of Congress.But President Bush'sle\le1 interest in grappJing wid1 the problems of of our weapons complex is reflected by dle fact that he has not chosen to appoint to the National Security Council any staff members wim a true base of knowledge and interest in the issue."I've met widl NSC on sereral occasioDS," saysStockton, the former DOE official, "and they don't even know what me hell a weapons complex is." Some presidents have managed DOE by vesting authority in strong energy secretaries, Clinton did with as me dynamic and high-profile Bill Richardson. Bush hasn't chosento do that, either.(Quick: canyou name d1ecurrent Secretary of Energy? ") The Department of Energy is also hampered by d1e k>ngstandingculture of independence at me labs,which *Answer: s..nueI 8cUnan w. 22Mard12006

diminished complex meansa c1irnini~11ed DOE. Political pressurefor refonn, then, is almost surely not going to come from DOE -at least with d1e way the department is CUTrendy struCb1red.The only way to create that preSsureis to r.1dicallychange the sn-ucture.One kIea would be to remove NNSA from DOEs (theoretical) control and instead place it under the more powerful Defense Department, whiclt has shown its wi l1ingnessto fight hard for the closing of unnecessary facilities it controls. There's virtually no will, however,in the Pentagonor in Congress, to push for suclt a move. Another idea -one that might appeal to Democrats looking for a campaign issue-would be to give the Energy Department a new ~on. Ramp up its authority to fund alternative energy experiments, but require that the funds come from more dlicient management of the weapons labs.The only way to extract the necessary billions, of course, would be to close extraneous nuclear facilities. The need to find alternatives to Middle Eastern oil is arguably the greatest national security challenge of the cunent era, jUStasdeterring Soviet communism WAS half a cenmry ago.How fitting it woukl be if me great weapons facilities that so vitally served the nation in the past could

be restructured servethe future aswell. to - Additional ~g by Jaffe Sam


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