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.
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.
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."