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A new report from the Government Accountability Office this week said it’s unlikely that the National Nuclear Security Administration will meet its goals to dismantle all nuclear weapons retired prior to Fiscal Year 2009 by FY 2022, but it suggests slowing down the dismantlement work might help address a problematic gap in dismantlement work that is looming at the Pantex Plant. The GAO said the NNSA has not scheduled for dismantlement any weapons that will be removed from the stockpile because of the New START Treaty, and while the implementation of the treaty must be completed by 2018, those warheads are not planned to be retired until the late 2020s or early 2030s, the GAO said. If dismantlement work on warheads retired before FY 2009 is completed by FY 2022 as planned, a “gap could result in the loss of certified dismantlement personnel because dismantlement technicians at Pantex lose their certifications if they have not worked on a weapon type in the past year.”

The GAO said the FY 2022 goal was in jeopardy “because of uncertainties surrounding when large numbers of retired weapons that are currently in managed retirement might be released for dismantlement.” It said the agency may be incorrectly counting some dismantled weapons retired after FY 2009 as weapons retired before FY 2009 because it does not track the date the weapons were retired, and it said some weapons retired before 2009 will be reintroduced to the stockpile “to save on rebuilding other weapons” and would be counted as “equivalent” dismantlements. It also questioned Pantex’s ability to quickly ramp up dismantlements if needed, saying it would be costly to do so, and it’s unclear if the plant has the capacity necessary. The GAO said if the FY 2022 dismantlement goal is relaxed, “NNSA could give itself flexibility to account for the uncertainties associated with weapons in managed retirement and could allow the dismantlement workload to be leveled and extended through the mid-2020s to sustain the dismantlement workforce.”

GAO Identifies Issues with Workload at Y-12, Pantex

The GAO also said the NNSA’s decisions to retain many canned subassemblies, a nuclear component containing highly enriched uranium, is leaving fewer of the CSAs to dismantle, creating workload issues at the Y-12 National Security Complex. The NNSA has also retained millions of non-nuclear components at the Pantex Plant as a “contingency inventory,” but the GAO said the inventory could outstrip future weapons needs. “The agency’s ability to effectively manage this inventory is complicated by decisions to retain many components for potential reuse in weapons and by limitations in Pantex’s previous component inventory management system,” the GAO said.

NNSA: No Plans to Relax Dismantlement Goals

In a response to the report, new NNSA Administrator Frank Klotz said the agency remains committed to dismantling all weapons retired before FY 2009 by FY 2022. “NNSA is also committed to the development of a comprehensive, long-term strategy to address not only those weapons retired before FY2009, but also weapons retired in FY 2009 and thereafter,” Klotz said. “Such a strategy would allow NNSA to manage dismantlement and production activities at Pantex and Y-12 to balance the workload at these facilities. By considering a comprehensive, long-term strategy for the dismantlement of weapon systems entering the queue after FY 2009, NNSA is able to implement a balanced approach that will allow NNSA to manage critical skills and technologies to maintain its dismantlement operations.” —Todd Jacobson

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