Defense readiness challenges are a major focus this year of the Committee’s oversight, as well as a major emphasis of the House-passed FY17 NDAA. The safety, security, and reliability of our nuclear weapons are no exception. Not only must Congress help ensure that the people who work in the nuclear enterprise are ready, lawmakers also have a responsibility to ensure that the tools and infrastructure involved are ready as well.
Last night, CNN's Barbara Starr highlighted crumbling U.S. nuclear weapons sites that were the focus of a Strategic Forces Subcommittee Hearing yesterday. Watch the full piece below.
By Nicole Gaouette and Barbara Starr, CNN - 9.7.16
Washington (CNN) US nuclear security facilities are dangerously decrepit and putting national security goals at risk, according to nuclear officials who are asking Congress to back the administration's push to modernize the system.
Nuclear officials described critical utility, safety and support systems that are failing at an increasing and unpredictable rate, as well as their efforts to patch the system together until the necessary funding can be found to reinvigorate the system.
"Safe, reliable and modern infrastructure at the National Nuclear Security Administration's national laboratories and production plants is absolutely essential to the accomplishment of our vital national security missions," NNSA Administrator Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz told the House Subcommittee on Strategic Forces Wednesday...
There is "no obstacle that poses a bigger risk to the long-term success" of the nuclear mission than this aging infrastructure, said Klotz, who stressed that nuclear deterrence is essential not only to US national security, but to the security of US allies as well.
The physical state of the US nuclear complex is in such bad shape because many key facilities were built during World War II and intended to operate for as little as one decade, according to Morgan Smith, president and CEO of Consolidated Nuclear Security.
Today, more than half of NNSA's approximately 6,000 real property assets are over 40 years old, and nearly 30% date back to the Manhattan Project era, Klotz said.
"Many facilities and their supporting infrastructure have exceeded or far exceeded their expected life," Smith told the committee, according to prepared remarks, "and major systems within the facilities are beginning to fail."...
In December, Moniz wrote to the Office of Management and Budget to say that their proposed nuclear budget for fiscal years 2018 to 2021 "doesn't reflect the funding that we estimate is necessary." He asked for an additional $5.2 billion for that time period, saying that the OMB proposal "ignores or underfunds" nuclear needs.
"Events elsewhere in the world reaffirm the seriousness of the threat environment in which we live," Moniz wrote, "and underscore the need for a credible nuclear security program portfolio."...
Smith shared descriptions of some Y-12 buildings in his written testimony that mentioned leaking roofs, "large patches of rust and corrosion on interior walls," and other examples of "neglect and deterioration."...
"The primary concern with knowingly deferring maintenance is that a major, unforeseen failure could occur," Smith said.
Gen. Robin Rand, commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command, said he was "acutely aware" of the risks posed by the crumbling infrastructure and thought about it when considering missions.
"There will come a point when I can't do it with existing capabilities," Rand said. "We need to modernize."
Adm. Cecil Haney, the commander of United States Strategic Command, pointed out that Russia has been modernizing their nuclear capabilities and alluded to comments by Russian officials indicating they believe the use of some nuclear weapons is acceptable.
The modernization, along with the "provocative nature of statements that have been made by Russian leaders and the display of their capabilities such as long-range strategic air flights in other areas in the world ... when you add them all together, it is not in a good place," Haney said.