The United States should not spend one more dime on new nuclear weapons. But the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the semi-autonomous, mostly secret, nuclear weapons arm of DOE, has blown billions of dollars on cost overruns alone.
That’s right. The Government Accountability Office, the federal government watchdog, reported on ten major DOE and NNSA projects in the latest update to its “High-Risk Series.” Combined, the projects investigated are 38 years behind initial schedules and $16 billion over their original budgets.
The Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) in Tennessee is planned to make “secondaries” for nuclear bombs, which greatly increase their destructive power. In eight years, the price tag for the UPF has grown from about $1 billion to $6 billion (at least). Why? After almost half a billion dollars was spent designing the building, someone discovered that a lot of the planned production equipment wouldn’t even fit – the roof was too low. Nearly half of UPF’s contingency funds were gone before ground was even broken.
During the Cold War, the US deployed B-61 nuclear bombs and other tactical nuclear weapons in Europe to deter the Soviet Union. When the USSR dissolved, President George HW Bush removed thousands of tactical nukes from Europe and his son removed hundreds more. But the US isn’t removing anymore. Instead, the US is refurbishing 400 unneeded B-61 nuclear bombs. To add insult to injury, each B-61 will cost more than its weight in solid gold. Each B-61 bomb weighs 700 pounds. Seven hundred pounds of gold would set taxpayers back only about $16.5 million. One 700-pound B-61, on the other hand, will cost a whopping $28 million. That’s some bling. Nuclear bomb bling.
But don’t put on your party shoes, because it’s not your bling. Instead, your money goes mostly to private contractors – Babcock & Wilcox, Bechtel, Areva, etc. All told, the US Department of Energy has fewer than 16,000 employees and its contractors have more than 92,000. (The Idaho National Laboratory is not under DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration. The Site is under the DOE’s Environmental Management and Nuclear Energy programs. There are 254 federal employees at the Idaho National Laboratory; Battelle Energy Alliance and the cleanup contractors – CWI and Idaho Treatment Group – have 5,400.)
The NNSA’s penchant for wasting money is just one of the reasons Congress named a high-level advisory panel to evaluate how the agency operates. The panel chair is a retired CEO of Lockheed-Martin, a major government contractor. Other members include current and former federal officials and legislators. About a month after the panel was formed, the DOE Inspector General released the results of an investigation of the relationship between contractors at four NNSA weapons sites and Heather Wilson, a former member of Congress from New Mexico…and member of the new advisory panel. The Inspector General found that the four sites had paid Ms. Wilson about $450,000 with no particular work requirements. The records of what happened with those taxpayer dollars were so sketchy the suspicion that they were used for prohibited lobbying was inescapable. The contractors have since repaid the federal government. The panel’s recommendations are expected any time.
In 1999 Congress moved nuclear weaponeers into a separate fiefdom because the DOE was simply unable to control the weapons work, and the complex was rife with poor planning, cost overruns, and security breaches. It still is. There are far, far better uses for your money than throwing it away on nuclear bombs. Nearly one million military veterans receive help buying food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. This September, the House passed legislation that could cut off support to 170,000 of them.