Will U.S. Inaction on its own Nuclear Security Issues Compromise Summit Success?

by Peter Stockton and Ingrid Drake | April 7th, 2010 | |Subscribe

At the Global Nuclear Security Summit, President Obama will likely highlight the significant investments in his FY 2011 budget to secure nuclear material around the world. But that may not be enough to inspire the 40 other nations attending the Summit to get out of their comfort zones and address their own nuclear security gaps.

Frankly, if we want other nations to follow, we have to lead by example. Highly enriched uranium (HEU) is a prime target for nuclear terrorists: with about 100 pounds it is possible to make an improvised nuclear device that could create a blast on par with the one that devastated Hiroshima. Yet, the U.S. has the world’s second largest stock of HEU and plutonium. Although U.S. security of this material has improved since 9/11, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is still uncovering far too many weaknesses within the nuclear weapons complex. In addition, the FY 2011 budget has decreased funding for dismantlement and for the most effective method of securing HEU (called downblending), and has increased funding for the construction of a facility that will create a long-term purpose for storing large stocks of HEU. This does not provide the other Summit nations much incentive to secure or reduce their own stockpiles.

The U.S. should alter its course regarding HEU. The steps to accomplish this are fairly straightforward, and should be supported by Members of Congress interested in national security and fiscal responsibility on both sides of the aisle.

For instance, the U.S. should increase funding for downblending, as well as how much it plans to downblend from around 130 metric tons to at least 400 metric tons. The resultant low enriched uranium (LEU) is not usable in weapons—so therefore not a target for terrorists—and is much easier and less expensive to guard.

The U.S. should scrap its plan to pour billions of dollars into constructing the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at Y-12 National Security Complex. A stated reason for the facility is that it’s needed to produce the HEU components of nuclear weapons, but this reasoning is shoddy. There are thousands of perfectly good components in storage, and Y-12 already has the capacity to build additional components even after the stockpiled HEU is downblended.

Another step is to increase funding for dismantling the growing backlog of retired nuclear warheads. Until the retired weapons are dismantled, they could still be used by the U.S. (or terrorists). In addition, a number of our most secure military storage bunkers are nearly full. Unless dismantlement is accelerated, it’s unclear where the additional retired warheads resulting from the new START treaty and the Nuclear Posture Review will go.

A final step would be to reverse the Department of Energy’s decision to reduce the number of independent oversight inspections for 2010, including force-on-force tests which measure the defense of our nuclear weapons labs and plants. Scheduling such tests would not only help ensure the security of our own labs, but would demonstrate to the other Summit nations the importance of oversight.

Taking these steps would provide the example necessary to encourage other nations to take similar steps, bringing the President’s ambitious goal of securing the world’s vulnerable nuclear material in four years closer to reality.

Peter Stockton is a Senior Investigator and Ingrid Drake is an Investigator at the Project On Government Oversight. POGO is part of the Fissile Materials Working Group, a bipartisan group of the leading experts working on this issue. The Group is convening a non-governmental summit on April 12, 2010, to bring together leading international NGOs, nuclear industry representatives, the media, and other relevant parties around the nuclear security agenda.

This post is the second of a three-part series on the Nuclear Security Summit. The first post in the series, Nuclear Security Summit Offers Unprecedented Opportunitywas written by Vlad Sambaiew and published on April 6. The third post, Bipartisan Support for Non-Proliferation Programs, was written by John Isaacs and published on April 8.

6 Comments »

  1. Across the Aisle: The PSA Blog » Bipartisan Support for Non-Proliferation Programs wrote,

    [...] Unprecedented Opportunity, written by Vlad Sambaiew, was published on April 6. The second post, Will U.S. Inaction on its own Nuclear Security Issues Compromise Summit Success?, by Peter Stockton and Ingrid Drake, was published on April [...]

    Pingback on April 8, 2010 @ 7:18 am

  2. Across the Aisle: The PSA Blog » Nuclear Security Summit Offers Unprecedented Opportunity wrote,

    [...] post is the first of a three-part series on the Nuclear Security Summit. The second post, Will U.S. Inaction on its own Nuclear Security Issues Compromise Summit Success?, by Peter Stockton and Ingrid Drake, was published on April 7. The third post, Bipartisan Support [...]

    Pingback on April 8, 2010 @ 7:20 am

  3. USA’s poor security of its own enriched uranium and dead nuke weapons « nuclear-news wrote,

    [...] Across the Aisle: The PSA Blog » Will U.S. Inaction on its own Nuclear Security Issues Compromise S… [...]

    Pingback on April 8, 2010 @ 11:18 pm

  4. Hal Helsley wrote,

    Making HEU a thing of the past …

    You will not put fissile materials to bed until you have a replacement energy source for the world to get the power it needs for its existence.

    Here is a solution for that energy source, without highly radio-active waste and carbon emissions.

    America needs a program to develop a new LARGE base load source of energy. One that has a high return for the energy in – energy out ratio. Back in the 70’s the US started on the development of such a program at our National Labs, but it was said to be to big … well today, we need that BIG energy source to meet the US and world energy needs.

    Yes, there is a solution to the US and world energy needs, the US and world economic concerns, the world climate and environmental crisis, as well as the concern for non-proliferation of fissile materials. It can be done in 8 to 10 years with a little political will … like the Apollo program, to get us “to the moon and back safely within the decade”. Carbon emissions for power generation, as well as fission energy generation, can be put to bed, their era is over.

    It is the application of CURRENTLY KNOWN technology, no magic materials needed like for laser fusion or magnetic confinement fusion, processes we have studied for decades and are still decades away from practical applications. StarPower was developed in the 50’s and proved as a controllable process in the 70’s. A viable application was vetted by the scientific community in the 90’s and is currently under study for application in Germany and Russia.

    Fusion Power Corporation has done the static design of a production unit, with “no show stoppers”. FPC is in the process of the engineering design for a 35 GWe facility with no carbon emission and no highly radio-active waste disposal problems to be on line by 2020!

    This is the “Silver Bullet” the Administration and the anti-nuclear organizations are looking for to solve the carbon emission and non-proliferation of fissile materials worldwide! This will lead America to a clean, secure and independent energy future.

    Visit http://www.fusionpowercorporation.com for more information and how you can help to secure America’s future for the betterment of mankind.

    Comment on April 9, 2010 @ 1:45 pm

  5. Brad DeBow wrote,

    Your comment that “…if we want other nations to follow, we have to lead by example,” is grossly in error, as is your later comment “Taking these steps would provide the example necessary to encourage other nations to take similar steps.”

    This kind of thinking is comparable to a city police department saying we should stop carrying guns and then the criminals will stop carrying guns and the honest citizens will realize that carrying guns is unnecessary and stop doing it.

    On the national level this fallacy should have been demonstrated by the silly congressional mandate against reprocessing nuclear fuel which has stifled our ability to handle spent nuclear fuel in a sensible manner; had no effect whatsoever on our enemies; and caused our allies to realize they can go forward and corner the market in reprocessing.

    You need to make your case for these steps without proposing that other nations will follow our example, because history has demonstrated that they will not.

    Comment on April 12, 2010 @ 12:18 pm

  6. USA’s own huge stocks of enriched uranium are poorly secured « uranium news wrote,

    [...] Across the Aisle: The PSA Blog » Will U.S. Inaction on its own Nuclear Security Issues Compromise S… [...]

    Pingback on April 19, 2010 @ 12:57 am

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