Decades of poor oversight, slipshod bookkeeping and lax security potentially put the nation's stockpile of nuclear weapons at risk, according to a recent audit.
The range of problems in the operations of the National Nuclear Security Administration "may ultimately increase costs and could negatively impact the reliability and safety of U.S. nuclear weapons," the audit by Gregory Friedman, Inspector General of the Energy Department, cited.
The premier weapons laboratories overseen by NNSA took "a management approach that was more reactive than pro-active" in the handling and maintenance of nuclear weapons and their components, the audit said.
"Problems occurred in the control of nuclear weapons [Configuration Management] because, over the decades of nuclear weapons development, neither NNSA nor its sites treated the maintenance of original nuclear weapons CM information as a priority," the audit said.
The audit released last week, and first reported by Defense One, noted unauthorized access to systems, the use of the wrong parts and components, and a failure to maintain records at the nation's most prestigious weapons labs.
The report found that the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico used parts for the W-76 bomb "that did not conform to design specifications" and failed to ensure "that needed corrective actions to such parts were taken and were effective."
In a sampling of 19 of 30 authorizations for the use of parts on the W-76, the authorizations "did not have the required technical justification to provide the assurance that the component was suitable for use in a nuclear weapon," the audit said.
Repeated instances were found of "ineffective management of classified nuclear weapons drawings, a situation that could lead to unauthorized changes to the drawings," the audit stated.
At the Pantex nuclear weapons assembly plant in Texas, plant officials "could not locate as-built product definitions for 14 of 36 (39 percent) nuclear weapons that we selected from the current stockpile for testing," the audit said.
At the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, which tests components of nuclear weapons, officials "responsible for neutron generator components could not locate 16 of the 36 (44 percent) of the neutron generator drawings," the audit said. "We were not able to do so either as part of our audit."
"In one case, this situation resulted in component production to be delayed by a year and additional costs of between $20 and $25 million to correct problems associated with the use of non-conforming parts," the audit said.
The report also noted a potential violation of Energy Department rules on unauthorized access at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
NNSA rules prohibit "granting need-to-know access to nuclear weapons drawings to entire organizations or functional groups," the report said.
"However, we noted that LANL had given system access to approximately 30 nuclear weapons designers regardless of whether they were assigned to a nuclear weapon project," the audit said.
The NNSA concurred with the findings and recommendations of the audit and "stated that NNSA remains vigilant" in its oversight of the stockpile, the report said.
Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com.