Nuclear Warhead Maintenance Programs Mismanaged, U.S. Auditors Say

U.S. efforts to refurbish aging nuclear warheads have been riddled by poor management at the Defense and Energy departments, U.S. auditors said in a report released yesterday (see GSN, March 2).

The report addresses programs to extend the lifetimes of the B-61 and W-76 nuclear warheads. Such initiatives have grown in prominence because the United States has adhered to a nuclear test moratorium in 1992 and cannot therefore create and test new designs. The Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration has overseen the lifetime extension activities, but not without major problems, says the report from the Government Accountability Office.

"NNSA and DOD have not effectively managed cost, schedule, and technical risks for either the B-61 or W-76 life extension program," the report says.

The B-61 refurbishment program was completed on schedule in November 2008, but only because requirements were eased and the number of warheads requiring work was reduced, the report says (see GSN, Jan. 12).

The agency "refurbished less than one-third of the weapons in the original baseline for almost twice the unit cost. The cost of manufacturing each B-61 bomb almost doubled. Furthermore, the refurbished B-61 bombs still do not meet all of the refurbishment objectives," the report says.

Warhead refurbishment typically involves replacing non-nuclear parts that have aged and might not work as reliably as they did when they were first installed decades ago.

W-76 refurbishment efforts have also suffered from mismanagement, the report says, citing major cost overruns, unrealistic work schedules and a failure to produce some key components (see GSN, Feb. 24; U.S. Government Accountability Office release, March 3).

March 4, 2009
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U.S. efforts to refurbish aging nuclear warheads have been riddled by poor management at the Defense and Energy departments, U.S. auditors said in a report released yesterday (see GSN, March 2).