1998 Congressional Hearings
Special Weapons
Nuclear, Chemical, Biological and Missile


STATEMENT OF

DR. VICTOR H. REIS

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR
DEFENSE PROGRAMS

DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY

BEFORE THE


SUBCOMMITTEE ON MILITARY PROCUREMENT

COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL SECURITY
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

March 19, 1998


Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to testify before you on Defense Programs' FY 1999 budget request of $4.5 billion of which $4.3 billion is directly devoted to the Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP). Before I get into the details of the program, I'd like to review with you a sense of the size and complexity of our task and budget needs.

Stockpile Stewardship is the means by which the Nation will maintain the safety and reliability of its nuclear weapon strategic deterrent under a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The President established specific safeguards that define the conditions under which the United States will enter into a CTBT. Four of them relate to Stockpile Stewardship. These conditions are:

(A) the conduct of a Science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program to insure a high level of confidence in the safety and reliability of nuclear weapons in the active stockpile, including the conduct of a broad range of effective and continuing experimental programs;

(B) the maintenance of modern nuclear laboratory facilities and programs in theoretical and exploratory nuclear technology which will attract, retain, and ensure the continued application of our human scientific resources to those programs on which continued progress in nuclear technology depends;

(C) the maintenance of a basic capability to resume nuclear test activities prohibited by the CTBT should the United States cease to be bound to adhere to this treaty; and

(D) the understanding that if the President is informed by the Secretaries of Defense and Energy as advised by the Nuclear Weapons Council, the Directors of the nuclear weapons laboratories, and the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command that a high level of confidence in the safety and reliability of a nuclear weapon type which the two secretaries consider critical to our nuclear deterrent could no longer be certified, the President, in consultation with the Congress, would be prepared to withdraw from the CTBT under the supreme national interest clause in order to conduct whatever testing might be required.

Maintaining the nuclear weapon stockpile without testing, while simultaneously remaining prepared to return to testing and retaining the capability to return to production, and at the same time dismantling excess weapons and downsizing and modernizing the production complex, are difficult challenges, to say the least, but one which we are meeting now and are preparing to meet in the future.

The stockpile stewardship concept is simple. Each year representative samples of each type of weapon are returned from the active forces to the plants and labs, disassembled, examined, tested, and analyzed for defects, much as you would go for an annual physical or take your car into your local automobile mechanic. If any defects are found, their effect on performance, safety, and reliability is assessed, and if that effect is deemed significant, the defective part is remanufactured and replaced. Like the battery or spark plugs in your car, some parts--neutron generators and gas reservoirs will require replacement, and these are replaced at regular intervals.

While a modern nuclear weapon has about as many parts as a modern automobile, it is much more complicated. Many of the parts of a nuclear weapon are made from very special materials - plutonium, enriched uranium, tritium - which radioactively decay, changing both their own properties and the properties of other materials within the weapon.

Nuclear weapons are designed and manufactured to extraordinarily rigid standards, both to enable huge amounts of explosive energy to be packaged in relatively small containers, and to maintain phenomenal safety standards. A nuclear weapon, less than the size of a small desk, will have enough explosive power to completely destroy a modern city, and yet it must be able to survive the worst kind of accident you can think of with less than a one-in-a-million chance of exploding. This level of performance and safety must be maintained throughout the weapon's lifetime, even as it ages and changes.

While we can expect that aging will cause the defect rate to rise - just like it does in both humans and cars - we can't go out and buy a new warhead model - there is no new warhead production, and some of the old factories are out of business. Moreover, the weapons designers who have had experience with nuclear explosive testing are also aging. In about ten years most of them will have retired. This means that about the same time all of the weapons reach the end of their original design life, we will no longer have anyone on the job with direct test experience. It is this time urgency that makes the Stockpile Stewardship program distinctive.

Despite these challenges, people from the weapons laboratories, the production plants, and the federal establishment involved in Stockpile Stewardship have testified, and will so testify, that we can do the Stockpile Stewardship job. We are confident that with continued support we can maintain the safety and reliability of the nuclear weapons in the stockpile indefinitely without underground testing and keep the risks to manageable levels.

In large measure this confidence is based upon the fact that stewardship has been working, is working now, and we have detailed plans on how it will work in the future. The last time a new nuclear weapon was produced was 1989. The last underground nuclear test was in September of 1992; yet we have successfully gone through two annual certifications, the latest of which was just submitted to the Congress by the President on February 12th.

What I'd like to do is describe to you some of the highlights of what we accomplished last year, and what we plan to accomplish in FY 1999.

We examine about 100 weapons in detail through our surveillance program each year. The Enhanced Surveillance Program provides the predictive models and age focused diagnostics required to anticipate weapons refurbishment. Conducted at DOE's four production plants and three weapons laboratories, this program has identified an aging mechanism in high explosives, concluding the material is extremely stable. We have embarked on a novel strategy to rapidly age plutonium, which is expected to determine the lifetime of components made from this material. We have also identified how corrosion can limit the lifetimes of canned subassemblies. While not complete, these investigations indicate that the weapons are aging gracefully. We have developed new diagnostic tools including high resolution x-ray tomography, neutron imaging, and compact precision ultrasonics capable of non-destructively examining weapons components. We have also created precision instruments to gather more data from flight tests. All of these tools are being incorporated into the annual certification process.

We know we will have to remanufacture and replace aging parts. Savannah River, Pantex, Kansas City, and Oak Ridge provide critical components to this part of the mission. In FY 1997 we completed the B-61 mod 11 upgrade. In addition, the plants manufactured 3,300 limited life components (LLCs) to support the needs of the stockpile. In FY 1998 the plants plan to produce 3,900 LLCs and over 4,000 LLCs in FY 1999. The Kansas City Plant has now been qualified for the production of tritium gas reservoirs for the W76 and W80 warheads, and will produce 576 in FY 1999. Sandia National Labs has a new production facility for neutron generators and will produce some 400 in FY 1999. Sandia is also developing new, extended life neutron generators, using many of the new tools and techniques of stockpile stewardship.

In addition to limited life components, DOE expects to take significant steps in establishing key manufacturing processes needed to support the stockpile. For example, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) will demonstrate a pit production capability in FY 1998, a capability the DOE has not had since the closure of the Rocky Flats Plant in 1989. By 2007 LANL will have the capability to manufacture approximately 20 pits per year. DOE also plans to resume Y-12 uranium processing operations, which were shut down in 1994 due to violations of administrative safety controls. Y-12 has already restarted operations in four out of five major mission areas. DOE is now preparing to conduct an operational readiness review for Enriched Uranium Operations (EUO). Casting, Rolling and Forming, and Machining operations are scheduled to resume next month.

To create the new parts we need a new and improved production complex, one that is appropriately sized for the task at hand. The Stockpile Management Restructuring Initiative (SMRI) is right sizing the production complex for the 21st century. The SMRI program will downsize the following operations: (1) the weapons assembly/disassembly and high explosives missions at Pantex; (2) nonnuclear components production at Kansas City; (3) weapons secondary and case fabrication at Oak Ridge Y-12; and (4) tritium operations at Savannah River. The process is already paying dividends today. As mentioned above, the Kansas City plant is now manufacturing tritium reservoirs, in a new state of the art production facility with improved processes. By the end of FY 1998 we expect the Kansas City Plant to be producing seven different reservoir types.

The new production complex must also take advantage of modern manufacturing techniques. Our Advanced Manufacturing Design and Production Technologies Initiative (ADAPT) is intended to provide the manufacturing complex with advanced capabilities for: designing, developing, and certifying components and systems; and producing, assembling, and delivering the components and systems products. ADAPT is radically changing how DOE supports the nuclear weapons stockpile by infusing new product and process technologies, and adopting state-of-the-art business and engineering practices. As an example, a secure communications and data network was established among the production plants and laboratories which is facilitating the rapid interchange of design and manufacturing information related to the W87 life extension program and will serve in the future as the backbone of a modern simulation product realization environment. The network is reducing the time needed to produce classified parts, in some instances up to 90 percent. The network will be expanded to all DP sites around the country in FY 1998.

While we do not need additional supplies of enriched uranium and plutonium, there is one material which we know we must produce: tritium - a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that is required for every modern nuclear weapon.

Tritium decays fairly rapidly; approximately 5% is transformed to helium every year. Tritium was last produced in the U.S. in 1988. With the end of the Cold War and the reduction in the size of the stockpile, we have had large amounts of excess tritium. This excess has been used to make up for the decayed tritium in the current stockpile, but eventually this will run out. Current policy requires DOE to plan for a new tritium production source by 2005 to support a START I nuclear stockpile, the associated five-year reserve, and to maintain the ability to "hedge" to a START I level even when the START II Treaty enters into force. DOE is in the final year of analyzing a dual track strategy- using an existing commercial light water reactor or using a newly developed accelerator. A primary source for tritium production will be selected in 1998.

We foresee no technical difficulties associated with the production of tritium in a light water reactor. A key test was begun in October of 1997, at the TVA's Watts Bar 1 Nuclear Plant. The test involves the irradiation of 32 specially designed twelve-foot "target" rods in the plant's reactor core. These targets are designed to replace a standard component of reactor fuel assemblies. During the plant's normal 18-month operating cycle, the rods will produce and retain small amounts of tritium. The Watts Bar test completes, on a small scale, the demonstration of the entire commercial reactor tritium production cycle, from fabrication of components through completion of regulatory approvals.

On June 3, 1997, the Department issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the purchase of one or more commercial light water reactors or irradiation services. Proposals from TVA were received on September 15, 1997. The DOE expects to make a preliminary selection from the proposals later this spring.

The accelerator alternative made impressive gains in 1997. LANL has completed the construction of the first test items for the accelerator and others are being manufactured. The first of the accelerator components, an injector, is being tested and is exceeding performance specifications. Thousands of samples of materials, welds, and structures have been irradiated to confirm choices and projections of performance for materials for the Atarget-blanket, the part of the plant in which the tritium would actually be made. First results of these tests are currently being analyzed.

The FY 1999 request includes $157 million to pursue the option to be selected in 1998. If the purchase of irradiation services from commercial light water reactors is selected, the budget request will be sufficient to meet current requirements. If the Department selects accelerator production of tritium as the primary option, the Department will need to delay the current target date for initiating new tritium production or request additional funding.

This leaves the assessment and certification process. How can we have confidence that the stockpile remains safe and reliable and meets its military requirements without underground testing?

First of all, we start from a solid position. The current stockpile has been well tested, is in very good shape and is well understood. We have an extensive data base on each of these weapons, and we have a cadre of experienced designers, engineers, scientists, and technicians that can, with confidence, certify the safety and reliability of the current stockpile.

Now, since we cannot do a complete test of a nuclear explosion, we conceptually divide the explosion sequence into each of its parts and test and analyze each of these separately, much as you would test the ignition system, the cooling system, and the brakes on your car. We then put all the data together into a computer calculation - a simulation - to see if the resulting performance is within its specification. Each part of the simulation must predict the results of each of the separate tests, and where they exist, be consistent with data from previous underground nuclear tests.

Some processes are relatively straight-forward to simulate. The first part of the nuclear explosion sequence is to send the right electrical signal to the right place at the right time. We can test this exactly by flight testing actual weapons with inert mockups of the nuclear components. In FY 1997 we had 43 flight tests, in FY 1998 we will have 46 flight tests and in FY 1999 we plan to have some 39 flight tests.

We can do a good job of testing the first part of the nuclear explosion, the implosion of the plutonium pit, and we can measure a number of important features by taking x-ray pictures during critical parts of the experiment. We can then compare these pictures with calculations and with previous data from the more than 1000 underground nuclear tests and 14,000 surveillance tests. During FY 1997 we conducted some 38 hydrotests at the PHERMEX and FXR facilities at LANL and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). We will do 60 hydrotests in FY 1998 and plan to do some 50 hydrotests in FY 1999. But current radiographic systems are not able to measure many of the effects of potential defects in an aged pit, so we are building a new X-ray machine - the Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrotest Facility (DARHT)- which will look at the shape and size of an imploding pit model from two different directions with greatly improved resolution.

After some initial delays, we are making satisfactory progress in completing the DARHT facility. The first radiographic machine will be installed in March 1998 and the first arm is expected to be completed by September. Experiments are tentatively scheduled to begin in the summer of 1999. Construction of the second arm is scheduled for completion by FY 2002. We are also doing research in advanced hydrotest techniques facility that, if successful, could provide for detailed, high resolution, three dimensional Amotion pictures of the implosion process. Such technology could be used in an advanced hydrotest facility should existing tools prove insufficient to meet the mission of Stockpile Stewardship.

Beyond obtaining X-ray pictures of imploding pit models, we are conducting experiments to obtain an in depth understanding of conditions that occur during an explosion. For example, we are performing subcritical experiments at the Nevada Test Site. Last year we successfully conducted two such experiments. These experiments are helping us to: fill in gaps in empirical data on the high pressure behavior of plutonium; realistically benchmark data on the dynamic, nonnuclear behavior of components in today's stockpile; analyze the effects of remanufacturing techniques; understand the effects of aging materials; and address other technical issues. Three subcritical experiments are planned for this fiscal year and a fourth is planned in October. The FY 1999 budget supports three to four additional subcritical experiments. Information from these tests are key to being able to certify the new pit production facility at LANL. I would add that these experiments contribute significantly to the maintenance of the critical infrastructure and skilled personnel at the Nevada Test Site. This is necessary if we are ever required to resume underground testing, consistent with Safeguard C of the CTBT.

Finally, the ability to study the behavior of matter and the transfer of energy and radiation under weapons conditions is essential to an improved understanding of the basic physics of nuclear weapons and more accurate predictions of their performance without underground nuclear testing. We expect to be able to generate conditions of temperature and pressure of nuclear explosions with lasers at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the LLNL. Experiments at the NIF will provide data essential to test the validity of computer based predictions and demonstrate how aged or changed materials in weapons could behave under these unique conditions. The NIF project, now under construction, is expected to be completed by the third quarter of FY 2003. The first experiments on the NIF are scheduled to be conducted in FY 2001 using the first eight laser beams.

While NIF is under construction, the Department is continuing to carry out an aggressive inertial confinement fusion research program to support the stockpile. With the Omega laser at the University of Rochester and Nova laser at LLNL we plan to carry out almost 2000 shots at these two facilities in FY 1998. In FY 1999, we plan to shutdown the Nova and transfer the resources to the NIF project.

In 1997 the Z-pulse power facility (formerly PBFA) at Sandia, demonstrated an extraordinary increase in performance which provides a greatly enhanced source of X-rays. In FY 1998, the Z machine will perform about 200 shots in support of the stewardship program. The Z-pulse will provide valuable information to support stewardship, which we do not expect to obtain from a current pulsed power facility. A pulsed power facility at LANL - Pegasus - maintains an experimental schedule of about 20 shots per year.

These, and other experimental facilities that are on line or under construction are expected to give us a set of tools sufficient to investigate and understand anticipated problems in the stockpile. We are investigating the feasibility of using a larger facility based on the Z-pinch concept should existing facilities prove insufficient to meet the mission of stockpile stewardship.

As mentioned previously experimental information is tied to the assessment process through computation, more precisely, numerical simulation. But we know that the level of computation needed to effectively simulate effects of aging or a remanufactured part is much, much greater than that currently available, so we have begun a computation development program - the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) - in parallel with the experimental program. ASCI is providing the software, computer platforms, weapons codes, and user environments to allow the national laboratories to run simulations for making critical decisions about the safety and reliability of the nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing. Even at this early stage of the program there has been an extraordinary increase in the speed of the ASCI computers, but more importantly the actual number of calculations on weapons issues has increased. For example, in 1992, the last year of underground testing the estimated number of weapons related calculations was 14 gigaops- years, or about 14 CRAY-YMP supercomputers running for a full year. In FY 1997 due to ASCI that number was 500 gigaops-years, it will rise to 2400 in FY 1998, and in FY 1999 we plan on executing 7000 gigaops-years of weapons related code. (Gigaop'1 billion calculations per second. Gigaop year '3 top of the line PC's operating 365 days a year 24 hours a day.)

Our goal is to a have a system capable of operating at the 100 TeraOps level by 2004 and we are on schedule to meet that goal. In 1996 we began operation of the Intel 1.6 TeraOps machine at SNL. By FY 1999 we will have two major supercomputers which will achieve 3.2 TeraOps, one at LANL and the other at the LLNL. We have begun work with IBM to build a ten TeraOps machine which is scheduled to be completed by the year 2000. The next two steps, the 30 TeraOps and the 100 TeraOps machines, will build on the experience of these latest machines and will be designed and developed after competitive bid contracts are awarded.

This unprecedented computational power is also being made available to the university community through ASCI's Academic Strategic Alliances Program (ASAP). The Department of Energy announced on July 31, 1997, initial awards to five major U.S. universities--Stanford University, California Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, the University of Utah and the University of Illinois. These universities are each focusing on a national-scale application for which the coupling and integration of computer-based simulations from multiple disciplines offer unprecedented opportunities for major advances and discoveries in basic and applied science areas important to ASCI, the broader DOE Science Based Stockpile Stewardship program, and to the chosen application areas. These applications will be unclassified and highly relevant to nationally significant scientific, economic and/or social national priorities.

Thus computer simulations, experiments, and previous nuclear test data provide the complete tool box for the assessment process. Building this assessment Atool box in time to train the new cadre of scientists and engineers is critical to the Stockpile Stewardship program.

One such application of the stewardship tool box is the dual revalidation program. It has been designed to both mentor and to challenge the skills of the next generation of scientists and engineers as well as provide baseline data for the current stockpile weapons program. The revalidations conducted by teams from the two design laboratories will be performed on each system in the stockpile. We are now half way through the revalidation of the W76, and a number of specific milestones have been completed. Three of six hydro tests were conducted and six of fifteen Arming, Fuzing and Firing systems were tested to the original production specifications. The major system tests for the W76 are scheduled in FY l998 and FY l999. Advanced planning for the next dual revalidation weapon will begin in FY l999.

During FY 1997, 498 weapons were safely dismantled. The W-69 dismantlement program was successfully started on July 21, 1997, but was suspended in September after completing 42 weapons due to a safety concern over the detonator removal process. The remaining shortfall from the original performance goal of 556 is from enduring weapon programs that were scheduled for disassembly in support of stockpile management activities. We expect to dismantle approximately 1000 nuclear weapons in FY 1998 and 500 weapons in FY 1999.

Defense Programs funds the DOE's nuclear emergency response program which consists primarily of engineers, scientists, and other technical personnel from the three weapons laboratories, production facilities, and other DOE management and operating contractors who support the nuclear weapons complex. This program ensures a viable technical response is in place for any type of radiological or nuclear accident or incident including radiological releases, U.S. nuclear weapons accidents, or a malevolent event involving an improvised nuclear device or radiological dispersal device. A robust exercise schedule is planned to provide challenging scenarios for all radiological emergency response assets in order to verify the departmental readiness to meet our mandated responsibilities. These scenarios include overseas nuclear weapons accidents, field training exercises, multi-agency resolution of nuclear terrorism crises, response to transportation accidents and commercial nuclear reactor accidents.

Defense Programs has restructured its technology partnership program to focus on cost-shared collaborative R&D partnerships with industry which directly support Stockpile Stewardship program objectives in applied computing, advanced manufacturing, and information technology. Examples of partnerships developed in FY 1997 and FY 1998 include work with: a leading manufacturer of machining stations to eliminate operator exposure to highly toxic beryllium; software vendors to maximize the efficiency of the weapons manufacturing cycle including casting, machining, inspection, and final assembly; and an industrial leader in laser ultrasonics to improve wall thickness measurements for critical weapon components. We will continue similar efforts in FY 1999 in support of Stockpile Stewardship.

Mr. Chairman, these are but a selection of the activities that are going on and are planned for the stockpile stewardship program. While the program is hardly without risk, I believe we have a high probability of success. Why do I feel as I do?

First, let me reiterate that we start from a solid base. The current stockpile is well tested and well understood. The designers and engineers who built them are available and are active. Indeed they are the ones who are creating the stockpile stewardship program. They are the ones who are working on the stockpile now, and are helping to train their successors.

Second, we have laid out a plan for the stockpile stewardship program --- weapon by weapon, part by part, that projects the tasks required to maintain the stockpile over the next ten years, and beyond. We have concurrence on this program from the Department of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs, and the Administration has committed to fund this program and all its parts.

Third, the President requires us to annually certify, to him directly, the safety, reliability and performance of each weapon type.

Fourth, we have a back up. Under Safeguard C, the President requires us to maintain the Nevada Test Site in a state of readiness, and the subcritical and other experiments conducted there help keep the people sharp and ready. The successful experiments bear evidence that the Nevada Test Site remains a Acan do operation.

Fifth, under Safeguard B the President requires us to maintain the vitality of the nuclear weapons laboratories - Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Laboratories.

Mr. Chairman, those labs are among the best in the world - in my opinion they are the best in the world - and they are better now than they were four years ago because of the enthusiasm and vigor with which they are attacking the stockpile stewardship effort. History tells us that great labs need great missions, and stewardship, like the Manhattan and Apollo projects, is just such a mission. Our DOE labs will get even better because they are attracting the kinds of people who are drawn to solve tough problems of national importance.

Sixth, and this is most important, we are doing stewardship now, and doing it successfully. It has been five years since the last underground nuclear test. We have completed our second annual certification and are working on the third. We have modified the B61 bomb and seen it enter the stockpile to replace the aged B53 bomb. We have begun construction of new experimental tools--NIF, DARHT, Atlas-- and our computation program has developed the world's fastest supercomputer - by a factor of three. And we have solved some problems that in the past would have likely required nuclear testing by using stewardship tools. We have done literally hundreds of experiments on existing facilities--Omega, Nova, and Z-pulse power that increase our understanding of nuclear weapons. We have safely dismantled over nine thousand nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War, have produced numerous parts, on time, while continuing to downsize the complex. This is a system that works, and not just at the labs but also at the plants: Oak Ridge Y-12, Pantex, Kansas City, Savannah River, and the Nevada Test Site.

Mr. Chairman, when President Clinton visited the Los Alamos National Laboratory, he stated A I don't think we can get the treaty ratified unless we can convince the Senate that the Stewardship Program works. I believe the Stockpile Stewardship program, if supported appropriately, can meet its goal of a safe and reliable stockpile, indefinitely, without nuclear testing. Your committee has shown the leadership in the Congress in providing that support and I enthusiastically look forward to working with you. I know of no national security issue that is more important.