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JUNE 12, 2002

QUESTIONS SUBMITTED BY MR. WELDON Mr. WELDON. Science-based stewardship puts your Administration in the problematic position of certifying the safety, reliability, and performance of critical strategic assets, also the world's most destructive weapon, without ever testing them. What is your assessment of the state of the program? How confident are you, that in the long term this approach can succeed?

General GORDON. The Stockpile Stewardship continues to ensure the continued safety, security, reliability and effectiveness of this Nation's nuclear deterrent. Overall, I am pleased with the significant progress made by the Stewardship program since its inception. The program has identified and solved issues in the stockpile that in the past would have required full scale nuclear testing. The ASCI supercomputers, experiments on DARHT, NOVA, and the Z facilities have done much to improve our understanding of the dynamic nature of the aging nuclear weapons stockpile. We are successfully extending the life of the W87 warhead at Pantex, LANL is making significant progress in pit manufacturing and certification,

the NIF project remains on track at LLNL, subcritical experiments at the Nevada Test Site are yielding important data on aging plutonium and the Kansas City plant is manufacturing all the non-nuclear components needed by the weapons stockpile.

While it is impossible to predict with any certainty, the challenges faced by the weapons complex are likely to increase as the nuclear weapons stockpile continues to age. To succeed over the long term we must be able to recruit, train, and develop highly skilled employees throughout our organizations in a highly competitive employment environment. We must implement plans to renew the physical infrastructure to ensure adequate capability and capacity, as well as compliance with environment, safety, health and security standards. We must deploy the advanced tools and technologies needed by the weapons complex. Consistent with the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) we are working with DoD to determine the optimum test readiness posture for the Nation. This is an extraordinarily difficult scientific and engineering challenge for the weapons complex, but one that I feel we can meet with the continued support of the Administration and Congress.

Mr. WELDON. The committee has heard conflicting reports regarding the security of the defense nuclear complex. The House has authorized over $650 million for NNSA security related activities in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003. What is your overall assessment of safeguards and security? How much security is enough, and don't we reach a point of diminishing returns?

General GORDON. We have increased security at our facilities since September 11, and we believe we are providing the appropriate level of security at this time. Independent reviews conducted by the Office of Independent Oversight and Performance Assurance (OA) continue to confirm this.

The level of protection is based on defined threat criteria and published protection requirements. The Department works to those protection standards to define the appropriate level of security. Threat information is coordinated at the inter-agency level to provide protection guidance based on potential targets. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is responsible for the protection of what are currently among the most attractive targets.

Mr. WELDON. Your command has the responsibility of executing strategic nuclear missions if so ordered by the President. In a sense, you are the customer” of the defense nuclear complex. How confident are you of the safety, reliability, and performance of the “products” provided by NNSA? What is your assessment of the future efficacy of science-based stewardship? [The information referred to is classified.]

Mr. WELDON. Since the end of the Cold War, there has been some loss of “sense of mission” within the defense nuclear complex, and many of our facilities and capabilities have fallen into a state of disrepair. Some might also say that the priority given to, and the prestige associated with, the operational strategic deterrent has slipped. How would you assess the morale and quality of personnel under your command? Do you feel that the Administration gives sufficient priority to your mission?

Admiral BYRD. United States Strategic Command has a rich and proud legacy built on the tremendous foundation of both Strategic Air Command and the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff. For ten years, the Command has served the primary authority within the Department of Defense for nuclear planning and command and control. During this same time, in response to the changing international security environment, the regional combatant commands reduced their nuclear planning staffs, which served to consolidate even further the unique expertise at our headquarters and provide and even stronger unity of effort, sense of purpose and the high morale. The release of the Nuclear Posture Review and the recent decision to unite United States Strategic and Space Commands into a single unified command illustrate both the Administration's vision for the future of this command as both exciting and challenging, as well as its priority on maintaining a credible deterrent posture for years to come.

Mr. WELDON. The laboratories are executing ambitious experimental and computational programs to provide confidence in the stockpile in the absence of testing. În your view, where are the greatest technical risks to science-based stewardship?

Dr. ROBINSON. As I indicated in my statement, nearly everything that Sandia is responsible for in a nuclear weapon can be tested, and is tested, using non-nuclear processes. We subject our components and subsystems to extensive non-nuclear testing at every stage of development and service life.

În general, the moratorium on underground testing does not create additional technical risks for Sandia with today's nuclear designs, although it does affect our ability to test non-nuclear components for hostile environments. However, it should be noted that underground nuclear tests conducted in the past to evaluate the effects of radiation on the functionality of components were always a compromise to the anticipated levels of stress that components might be subjected to in wartime.

Sandia has a responsibility to improve the reliability, safety, and security of current and future warhead designs in the face of the evolving threats against these systems. In the future, any new nuclear warhead designs or modifications of current designs that may alter the interfaces between a warhead's non-nuclear subsystems and its nuclear explosive package, or integrate some of their functions, would be subject to technical uncertainties that science-based stockpile stewardship would not be able to address easily in the absence of nuclear testing.

We also see a potential for increased risk if the stockpile stewardship program stays on a course that does not appropriately balance the scientific capabilities for stockpile stewardship with the engineering and production competencies that are required. After a decade of preferential investment in scientific facilities and programs, it has now become urgent to strengthen the engineering design and production capabilities of the complex. The Foster Report made this point emphatically.* If these capabilities continue to be under-invested, our ability to design, produce, and maintain stockpile hardware to the highest standards of reliability and safety will be at risk.

Other factors can increase technical risks in the stewardship program as well. It is important that the stockpile stewardship program be managed competently by a leadership that is committed to the mission; that it provide tangible, fulfilling work to attract and retain a quality, motivated workforce; and that the science and technology base for stewardship be fully supported. National policy on the deterrent role of the stockpile and the nuclear weapons complex itself must be clearly articulated.

Dr. BROWNE. Science-based stockpile stewardship is designed to ensure our ability to certify the performance and safety of the stockpile. The greatest technical risks arise from the aging of the stockpile and an insufficiently complete scientific understanding of certain critical details of weapons physics. These affect our ability to reliably predict the impacts of aging materials and components and of remanufactured materials on end-to-end weapon performance. Some specific issues being actively investigated include: plutonium and uranium aging, long-term corrosion, material shrinkage/expansion of organic materials such as high explosive degradation as well as the effects caused by unavoidable changes introduced by new manufacturing processes.

Another technical risk to science-based stewardship is the so-called “unknown unknowns”—the technical surprises for which our experience, experiments, and models do not give us warning. (Historical examples include “birth defects” from initial design specifications.) While science-based stewardship remains highly successful to date, we must be sufficiently thorough scientifically to make the technical risks of today and tomorrow negligible--with or without any future requirement for nuclear tests. This is one of the key goals of science-based stewardship.

* John S. Foster, Jr., Chairman, Expectations for the U.S. Nuclear Stockpile Stewardship Program, FY 2001 Report to Congress of the Panel to Assess the Reliability, Safety, and Security of the United States Nuclear Stockpile, March 15, 2002, p. 4.

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