Senators Call for Keeping U.S. Nuclear-Weapon Research Under Civilian Control

(Mar. 19) -The National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is used in part to study the reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons (LLNL photo).
(Mar. 19) -The National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is used in part to study the reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons (LLNL photo).

Key U.S. senators have asked the Obama administration to cancel its planned review of whether to transfer control of nuclear-weapon laboratories to Defense Department (see GSN, Feb. 6).

The Office of Management and Budget ordered the study earlier this year, reflecting continued frustration with security and management lapses at the nation's nuclear centers at Los Alamos, N.M., Sandia, N.M., and Livermore, Calif. (see GSN, Feb. 27). U.S. nuclear-weapon research is conducted by the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration and has been under civilian control since the beginning of the atomic era.

In a letter to OMB Director Peter Orszag released yesterday, the top Democrats and Republicans from the Senate's Energy Department funding committees said the NNSA-Energy Department relationship "is in many ways dysfunctional," but nevertheless asked Orszag to hold off on the review.

"We would like to express our firm opposition to the transfer of the NNSA to the Department of Defense," says the letter by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), top committee Republican Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), that committee's senior Republican Robert Bennett (Utah), and Armed Services Strategic Subcommittee Chairman Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

The letter argues that civilian control over nuclear research offers the best results.

"Nonmilitary control over the development of nuclear weapons technology has ensured independence of technical judgment over issues associated with our nuclear arsenal, has attracted the best scientific and technical talent to these important programs, and has served to underline the crucial differences between nuclear weapons and conventional military munitions," the letter says.

Furthermore, "civilian control is the cornerstone that has enhanced the ability of U.S. funded and staffed programs to negotiate access to and trust of other nuclear nations," the letter says, citing U.S. efforts to secure nuclear sites in the former Soviet Union (Greg Webb, Global Security Newswire, March 19).

March 19, 2009
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Key U.S. senators have asked the Obama administration to cancel its planned review of whether to transfer control of nuclear-weapon laboratories to Defense Department (see GSN, Feb. 6).