Administration Considers Placing U.S. Nuclear Complex Under Pentagon Control

(Feb. 5) -Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, home to supercomputers that study the dynamics of nuclear explosions (above), could be placed under U.S. Defense Department oversight (LLNL photo).
(Feb. 5) -Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, home to supercomputers that study the dynamics of nuclear explosions (above), could be placed under U.S. Defense Department oversight (LLNL photo).

The Obama administration plans to study transferring management of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex from the Energy Department to the Defense Department, the Albuquerque Journal reported yesterday (see GSN, Dec. 17, 2008).

Specifically, the study would examine moving Energy's semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration to the Pentagon, a switch that would end more than 60 years of civilian oversight of the network of U.S. nuclear laboratories, according to a memo from the Management and Budget Office obtained by the Journal. The study is scheduled to be completed by the end of September, though the shift would not occur before 2011.

New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman (D), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, criticized the potential move. The laboratories, two of which are in New Mexico, are not restricted to defense research and would be impaired by the shift, he argued.

"This is a very shortsighted approach, and I will fight it tooth and nail if they intend to proceed with it," he said in a statement.

A former laboratory director, however, said placing the facilities under Pentagon control could have benefits. Laboratory management has faced "short-term upheavals" in recent years with changing presidential administrations, said C. Paul Robinson, former head of Sandia National Laboratories.

"The presence of a uniformed military could provide a continuity that has been lacking," he said in congressional testimony last year.

Oversight of the nuclear complex has shifted among civilian agencies since the birth of the U.S. bomb program, most recently with establishment in 2000 of the National Nuclear Security Administration. That latest move was a failure, Robinson said.

"It hasn't worked," he told the Journal Tuesday (John Fleck, Albuquerque Journal, Feb. 4).

February 5, 2009
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The Obama administration plans to study transferring management of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex from the Energy Department to the Defense Department, the Albuquerque Journal reported yesterday (see GSN, Dec. 17, 2008).