Nuclear Weapons:

Safety, Technical, and Manpower Issues Slow DOE's Disassembly Efforts

RCED-94-9: Published: Oct 20, 1993. Publicly Released: Nov 26, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) disassembly of large numbers of retired nuclear weapons, focusing on: (1) DOE success in meeting the disassembly schedule and the causes for shortfalls; (2) issues that could affect DOE ability to meet the disassembly schedule in the future; and (3) incomplete safety analysis reports at disassembly facilities.

GAO found that: (1) the United States has made reductions in its nuclear weapons stockpile; (2) during fiscal year 1992, DOE disassembled 63 percent of the retired nuclear weapons at its Pantex facility; (3) DOE disassemblies fell behind schedule in 1992; (4) DOE has attempted to increase the number of disassemblies, but more technicians are needed to meet the disassembly schedule; (5) DOE needs to address several issues that could affect its capability to disassemble nuclear weapons, including a shortage of disassembly technicians, inadequate facilities, and the environmental impact of storing large amounts of plutonium at the Pantex site; and (6) the completion of safety analysis reports is a continuing problem at the Pantex facility.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 1994, DOE initiated a program that will include reevaluating its weapon disassembly schedule. As part of that program, DOE considered the views of GAO and the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. Since issuance of the report, the disassembly schedule has been revised for fiscal year 1995.

    Recommendation: Because manpower, technical, safety, and environmental issues could affect Pantex's ability to meet disassembly goals, the Secretary of Energy should reevaluate Pantex's disassembly schedule . This reevaluation should ensure that the schedule for the number of weapons disassembled is at a level that allows for the resolution of safety problems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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