Observations on Navy Nuclear Weapon Safeguards and Nuclear Weapon Accident Emergency Planning

NSIAD-85-123: Published: Jul 29, 1985. Publicly Released: Aug 2, 1985.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Navy's plans to use Staten Island, New York as the home port for a surface action group, which would be capable of handling nuclear-armed cruise missiles.

GAO found that the Navy: (1) estimated that it would cost $291 million to acquire and construct a home port site on Staten Island; (2) worked with local officials to initiate emergency preparedness plans for the site, but the plans are being developed and cannot yet be evaluated; and (3) filed both classified and unclassified environmental impact statements pertaining to its actions associated with site development. In addition, GAO found that: (1) the Tomahawk cruise missile system that could be handled by the group is one of the safest weapon systems available; (2) if the Navy implements certain safety features and procedural safeguards of the system, the risk of an accident will be reduced to a minimum; and (3) while the Navy has reported three nuclear weapon accidents in the 30 years it has handled nuclear weapons, none of the accidents resulted in damage to a weapon, the release of radioactive material, or danger to civilian populations or property. GAO also found that: (1) in the event of a nuclear weapons accident, the Navy's objective is to render the weapons safe from detonation, recover all classified materials, and assist in restoring the affected area to normal use; (2) the Navy shares accident responsibilities with other federal, state, and local agencies; and (3) national joint nuclear weapons accident response exercises were conducted on three occasions and were generally perceived to be beneficial.

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