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FYI Number 37: March 30, 2001

Domenici Addresses Problems in Nuclear Weapons Complex

At a hearing earlier this month, and during a speech this week, Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) continued his mission to publicize and correct major problems at the nation's nuclear weapons facilities. Calling infrastructure deterioration "totally unacceptable," Domenici intends to press the Administration and his colleagues to add additional money to what he predicts will be an insufficient FY 2002 budget request.

Domenici convened his Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee on March 13 to receive testimony from John A. Gordon, Under Secretary of Energy for Nuclear Security and James R. Schlesinger. Citing the average age of 40+ years of weapons facilities, and an immediate maintenance backlog of $800 million, Domenici said "the crisis is too late to put off . . . we don't need any more studies." His comments were echoed by Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN), who said that "a treasure is in danger of being squandered," adding fiscal conservatives must be ready to use discretionary money to correct the problems.

Gordon testified that "many facilities do not meet modern health, environmental, or energy conservation standards. They are costly to maintain, and difficult to keep in regulatory compliance." One of the reasons for this, he said, was that "in the recent past, the priority has been properly given to ensuring the success of the Stockpile Stewardship Program. Attention to the infrastructure was put on hold while the science based stewardship program was formulated, funded, took hold, and is now working. It is now time to refocus on the physical complex which houses the Stockpile Stewardship Program." Schlesinger's remarks summarized the findings of the Panel to Assess the Reliability, Safety, and Security of the U.S. Nuclear Stockpile. "The Panel is troubled to report that portions of the weapons complex infrastructure are defective and that the production capabilities that remain are fragile," he warned. Written testimony was provided by the directors of the weapons laboratories that further outlined the problem.

In addition to infrastructure problems, committee members and the witnesses discussed the related problem of employee morale. Gordon said prospective employees "wonder why they would want to work in a place like that" referring to infrastructure and security problems. Domenici described these same problems this week in a speech to the Nuclear Security Decisionmakers' Forum, saying "For many of our scientists and technicians, the last few years have been demoralizing. Working conditions have deteriorated. Security problems have led some to question the scientist's patriotism. Many have felt over-polygraphed and underappreciated."

It is estimated that an additional $300 to $500 million will be required every year for the next 17 years for the refurbishment of the complex so that it can perform its basic mission. Domenici is in a good position since he is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee funding DOE. At the hearing, Domenici told Gordon, "I'm going to do everything that I can. . . . This is not the place to save money."

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095

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