Nuclear Weapons:

Key Nuclear Weapons Component Issues Are Unresolved

RCED-99-1: Published: Nov 9, 1998. Publicly Released: Dec 10, 1998.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Gary L. Jones
(202) 512-6877
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Department of Energy's (DOE) efforts to manufacture war reserve nuclear weapon triggers, or pits, at its Los Alamos National Laboratory, focusing on: (1) DOE's plans and schedules for reestablishing the manufacturing of pits at Los Alamos; (2) the costs associated with these efforts; and (3) unresolved issues regarding the manufacturing of pits between the Department of Defense (DOD) and DOE.

GAO noted that: (1) DOE's plans for reestablishing the production of pits at Los Alamos National Laboratory have changed and are still evolving; (2) DOE expects to have only a limited capacity online by fiscal year (FY) 2007; (3) specifically, DOE plans to reestablish its capability to produce war reserve pits for one weapons system by FY 2001 and plans to have an interim capacity of 20 pits per year online by FY 2007; (4) this planned capacity differs from the goal that DOE established in FY 1996 to produce up to 50 pits per year by fiscal 2005; (5) DOE has not decided what the final production capacity at Los Alamos will be; (6) DOE has done little to develop a contingency plan for the large-scale manufacturing of pits (150-500 pits per year); (7) large-scale manufacturing would be necessary if a systemwide problem were identified with pits in the stockpile; (8) the current estimated costs for establishing and operating DOE's pit-manufacturing mission total over $1.1 billion from FY 1996 through fiscal 2007; (9) this estimate does not include over $490 million in costs for other activities that are not directly attributable to the mission but are needed to support a wide variety of defense-related activities; (10) GAO also noted that some key cost and managerial controls related to DOE's pit-manufacturing mission are either in the formative stages of development or do not cover the mission in its entirety; (11) DOD and DOE have discussed, but not resolved, important issues regarding: (a) changes in the manufacturing processes that will be used to produce pits at Los Alamos; and (b) the pit-manufacturing capacity planned by DOE; (12) officials from various DOD organizations have expressed concerns about the equivalence of Los Alamo's pits to the pits previously manufactured at Rocky Flats because some manufacturing processes will be new at Los Alamos and are different from those previously used by Rocky Flats; (13) also, officials from various DOD organizations are not satisfied that DOE's current or future capacity plans will be sufficient to meet the stockpile's needs; (14) various DOD organizations have performed preliminary analyses of the capacity needed to support the stockpile; (15) on the basis of these analyses, some of these officials believe that the stockpile's needs exceed the 20-pits-per-year capacity that DOE may establish in the future; (16) however, DOD officials said that they will be unable to give detailed pit-manufacturing requirements until the lifetime of pits is more clearly specified by DOE; and (17) DOE is currently studying this issue.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE and DOD are working together to determine the required pit manufacturing capacity. In spring 1999, both DOD and DOE provided Congress with a report on the overall strategy for determining a larger manufacturing capacity. The specific findings of this report are classified.

    Recommendation: In order for DOE to have the necessary information for making pit-production capacity decisions, the Secretary of Defense should provide DOE with DOD's views on the pit-manufacturing capacity needed to maintain the stockpile. This should be done so that DOE can use this information as part of its reevaluation of the stockpile's long-term capacity needs. While GAO understands that DOD cannot yet provide detailed requirements, DOE can be provided with the findings of the preliminary analyses of various DOD organizations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE and DOD are working together to determine the required pit manufacturing capacity. In spring 1999, both DOD and DOE provided Congress with a report on the overall strategy for determining a larger manufacturing capacity. However, a specific capacity level was not established. The specific findings of this report are classified.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that the pit-manufacturing mission at Los Alamos supports the nuclear stockpile in a cost-effective and timely manner, the Secretary of Energy should reevaluate existing plans for the pit-manufacturing mission in light of the issues raised by DOD officials regarding the capacity planned by DOE.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: An integrated plan has been developed. The plan will include a schedule that will track planning and schedule milestones for the pit manufacturing mission. Furthermore, DOE has rebaselined the entire project and incorporated the new baseline into the integrated plan. This effort has been completed as of August 2003.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that the pit-manufacturing mission at Los Alamos supports the nuclear stockpile in a cost-effective and timely manner, the Secretary of Energy should expedite the development of the integrated cost and schedule control system at Los Alamos. This needs to be done as soon as possible to help ensure that the mission is achieved within cost and on time.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE concurs with the recommendation. Once a new integrated plan is available for the pit manufacturing mission and new baseline costs are being developed, DOE will, as part of this exercise, conduct an independent cost estimate.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that the pit-manufacturing mission at Los Alamos supports the nuclear stockpile in a cost-effective and timely manner, the Secretary of Energy should conduct independent cost estimates for the entire pit-manufacturing mission. This can be done either for the mission as a whole or for those individual mission elements that have not had independent estimates.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 22, 2016

Sep 21, 2016

Sep 19, 2016

Sep 12, 2016

Sep 8, 2016

Sep 7, 2016

Sep 6, 2016

Aug 25, 2016

Looking for more? Browse all our products here