Nuclear Weapons:

Preliminary Results of Review of Campaigns to Provide Scientific Support for the Stockpile Stewardship Program

GAO-05-636R: Published: Apr 29, 2005. Publicly Released: Apr 29, 2005.

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In 1992, the United States began a unilateral moratorium on testing nuclear weapons. Subsequently, in 1993, the President and the Congress directed the Department of Energy (DOE) to establish a program to ensure the preservation of the United States' core intellectual and technical competencies in nuclear weapons without testing. In response, DOE developed the Stockpile Stewardship Program to (1) increase understanding of the basic phenomena associated with nuclear weapons, (2) provide a better predictive understanding of the safety and reliability of nuclear weapons, and (3) ensure a strong scientific and technical basis for future U. S. nuclear weapons policy objectives. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a separately organized agency within DOE, is responsible for carrying out the Stockpile Stewardship Program. This responsibility encompasses many different tasks, including activities associated with the research, design, development, simulation, modeling, and nonnuclear testing of nuclear weapons, as well as the planning, assessment, and certification of the weapons' safety and reliability. Three nuclear weapons design laboratories support NNSA's mission: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico, and Sandia National Laboratories in California and New Mexico. In 1999, DOE developed a new structure for the Stockpile Stewardship Program that included a series of what DOE called "campaigns," which DOE defined as technically challenging, multiyear, multifunctional efforts to develop and maintain the critical capabilities needed to continue assessing the safety and reliability of the nuclear stockpile into the foreseeable future without underground testing. DOE originally created 18 campaigns that were designed to focus its efforts in science and computing, applied science and engineering, and production readiness. Other program activities associated with the Stockpile Stewardship Program include "directed stockpile work," which includes the activities that directly support maintaining the current weapons in the stockpile, and "readiness in technical base and facilities," which includes the physical infrastructure and operational readiness required to conduct campaigns and directed stockpile work activities. The Stockpile Stewardship Program is now over 10 years old, and NNSA's campaign structure is in its sixth year. In this context, Congress asked us to determine (1) how NNSA has organized the campaigns to provide the scientific capabilities required to support the nuclear stockpile, (2) the extent to which the scientific campaigns have met their overall goals and supporting milestones, and (3) the effectiveness of NNSA's current planning process for the campaigns.

NNSA has six individual campaigns that are intended to provide the scientific capability required to support the nuclear stockpile. The Primary and Secondary campaigns are designed to analyze and understand the different scientific phenomena that occur in the primary and secondary stages of a nuclear weapon during detonation.2 As such, the Primary and Secondary campaigns set the requirements for the experimental data and computer models needed to assess and certify the performance of nuclear weapons. Four other campaigns--Dynamic Materials Properties, Advanced Radiography, Advanced Simulation and Computing, and Inertial Confinement Fusion and High Yield--provide the experimental and computational support needed to meet the goals set by the Primary and Secondary campaigns. For example, the Advanced Simulation and Computing campaign provides the leading-edge computers and models needed to simulate the performance of nuclear weapons without underground testing. From fiscal year 2001 to fiscal year 2004, NNSA spent about $5.8 billion on these six campaigns. The Primary and Secondary campaigns have not achieved the overall goals originally established for them in 1999; however, the Primary and Secondary campaigns have made progress in completing important supporting milestones. Initially, the Primary campaign set goals for certifying the primary stage of a nuclear weapon to within a stated primary yield level during the 2005 to 2010 time frame. The goals for the Secondary campaign were closely linked to the goals established for the Primary campaign. However, achieving these goals has been technically challenging and has depended on the timely completion of major facilities such as the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at LLNL and the Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test Facility (DARHT) at LANL--both of which have experienced major delays due to problems with technical issues and project management and are still not complete. In 2003, NNSA modified the original goals for the Primary and Secondary campaigns and extended them into the 2010 to 2014 time frame. Between 1999 and 2003, NNSA did not have a uniform planning process for approving and tracking campaign milestones, and the planning process that did exist was not applied in a consistent manner at LANL and LLNL. However, in 2003, NNSA implemented a new planning process for the campaigns, including the establishment of a uniform set of requirements for campaign program and implementation plans. In addition, NNSA implemented a system for tracking the progress of major milestones through the use of a milestone reporting database and a quarterly performance review meeting for managers involved in the Stockpile Stewardship Program. However, NNSA officials have acknowledged that current campaign plans still do not provide clear linkages between goals and supporting milestones, and they do not adequately coordinate and set priorities for the scientific research currently conducted across the weapons complex. In response, NNSA officials are revising campaign plans and overall milestones for the Primary campaign for fiscal year 2006. Finally, NNSA, LANL, and LLNL officials have endorsed the use of a new methodology for assessing and certifying nuclear warheads. This methodology, known as the Quantification of Margins and Uncertainties, draws together data from simulations, experiments, and expert judgments to quantify confidence factors for the key potential failure areas in a nuclear weapon. However, NNSA and laboratory officials, as well as outside experts, acknowledge that this methodology is still incomplete and evolving. According to NNSA plans, full implementation of this methodology is not expected until the 2010 to 2014 time frame.

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