Our hats are off to Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) for sending a letter today to President Obama asking that he increase the dismantlement rate of retired nuclear weapons. This is an issue we raised in our recent op-ed published in The Hill. The 39 percent decrease in dismantlement of retired weapons in Obama's FY 2011 budget will exacerbate the growing backlog of thousands of nuclear warheads in the dismantlement queue and raises concerns about security. A number of our most secure military storage bunkers are filling up fast. For example, the Air Force's most secure facility, the Kirtland Underground Munitions Storage Complex, is virtually full. As more warheads are likely to be retired as a result of the new START treaty and the Nuclear Posture Review, it's not clear that there are adequate secure storage facilities for these excess warheads. Until the retired weapons are dismantled, they could still be used by the U.S. (or terrorists), sending a mixed message to the nations of the world.
We were encouraged to read in the letter that NNSA informed the Members that with increased funding, the Pantex Plant could increase the dismantlement rate by 50 percent without building any new facilities.
Announcing an increase in the dismantlement rate would be a great way for President Obama to generate some momentum for the Global Nuclear Security Summit that he is convening next week for 40 other nations. (POGO is part of the Fissile Materials Working Group, a bipartisan group of the leading experts working on this issue, which is convening a non-governmental summit the day before, on April 12, 2010, to bring together leading international NGOs, nuclear industry representatives, the media, and other relevant parties to discuss the nuclear security agenda.)
Our op-ed in The Hill also outlined some ideas for where Congress can find extra funding for dismantlement: by scrapping unnecessary big-ticket construction projects such as the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, which creates a long-term purpose for large stocks of highly enriched uranium (HEU). The justification for the facility is that it's needed to produce the HEU components of nuclear weapons, but this excuse is shoddy. There are thousands of perfectly good components in storage, and there is already space at Y-12 to build additional components after the stockpiled HEU is downblended.
-- Ingrid Drake