The House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee has taken a step toward sanity in the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. The Subcommittee is now saying that there is no more money for building plutonium pits, which are at the core of the W88 warhead that is carried aboard U.S. nuclear submarines. The Department of Energy (DOE) had planned to produce between 10 and 50 pits annually over the next four years at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
Before it was made public, the Albuquerque Journal obtained a copy of the Subcommittee's report, which states that the weapon "serves obsolete Cold War concepts rather than current or future needs." In addition, DOE kept making the pits even when their viability and safety were questionable.
Early this year, POGO learned that LANL asked for 72 waivers for the pits manufacturing specifications. LANL claims everything is fine because the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) accepted all of the 72 proposed changes. Yet, sources told POGO that NNSA has no capability to independently evaluate the impact of each of the 72 waivers on the eventual reliability of the pits. For its assessment, NNSA is totally dependent on the design lab (LANL).
Today during the markup, Subcommittee Chairman Peter Visclosky (D-IN) called DOE's project management "abysmal." Given that 90 percent of DOE's work is doled out to contractors, more than at any other federal agency, POGO looks forward to more rigorous oversight of the weapon's complex.
As the Los Alamos Study Group points out:
The House Appropriations Committee, in actions subsequently endorsed by the House as a whole by tacit acceptance or wide margins, has either zeroed or deeply cut pit-production-related construction at LANL every year for the last 5 years.…Over this same 5-year period, these funds have been restored in whole or in part as a result of negotiations with the Senate, led by Pete Domenici on the Senate side.
However, the story is not over yet, as the Senate has not voted on the appropriations bill. It is our understanding there will not be a FY 2009 bill, but a continuing resolution. When the bill is marked up early next year, LANL's "St. Pete" Domenici (R-NM) won't be around, as he's retiring.
-- Peter Stockton and Ingrid Drake