Four-Year Nuclear Security Plan Needs More Detail, GAO Says

The Obama administration should address in more specific terms how it plans to achieve its goal of securing all loose nuclear material in the world within four years, congressional investigators said in a report released yesterday (see GSN, April 14).

The National Security Council has signed off on a comprehensive approach for the material security plan "that describes the scope and objectives of the interagency effort and identifies the main efforts by U.S. agencies and programs to support the initiative," according to a summary of the Government Accountability Office report.

"However, this interagency strategy lacks specific details concerning how the initiative will be implemented, including the identity of vulnerable foreign nuclear material sites and facilities to be addressed, agencies and programs responsible for addressing each site, planned activities at each location, potential challenges and strategies for overcoming those obstacles, anticipated time lines, and cost estimates," according to the document. "As a result, key details associated with the initiative are unclear, including its overall estimated cost, time frame, and scope of planned work."

Congressional auditors found that two Energy Department nonproliferation programs -- the Materials Consolidation and Conversion program and the Global Threat Reduction Initiative -- have worked to lock down Russia's nuclear warheads and supplies less effectively than the department's Material Protection, Control and Accounting program (see GSN, Dec 13).

Moscow's uncertain dedication to joint U.S.-Russian nuclear threat reduction work has placed in question the future of the three programs, all of which are overseen by the Energy Department's semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration, the report asserts.

The MPC&A; effort faced an uphill drive to augment measures for protecting a number of Russian atomic sites against internal and external security risks and turning responsibility for the new safeguards over to Moscow, the document states. The difficulties were likely to prevent compliance with a U.S. legal mandate that Russia fully take over the MPC&A; program by the start of 2013, the report says. The auditors urged the Energy Department and National Nuclear Security Administration to develop a more precise breakdown of the initiative's uncompleted objectives and anticipated expenses in Russia.

In China and India, political concerns have restricted NNSA nuclear security activities to the exchange of security best practices, training and demonstration efforts, the report notes.

The Energy Department agency was moving forward in negotiations with South Africa, Ukraine and other nations to expedite the removal of potential nuclear bomb ingredients within their borders, the auditors found (U.S. Government Accountability Office release, Dec. 15).

December 16, 2010
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The Obama administration should address in more specific terms how it plans to achieve its goal of securing all loose nuclear material in the world within four years, congressional investigators said in a report released yesterday (see GSN, April 14).