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Statement by NNSA Administrator D’Agostino on the Current Status and Future Direction for U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy and Posture Before The Subcommittee on Strategic Forces House Armed Services Committee

November 02, 2011

Chairman Turner, Ranking Member Sanchez, and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify about the nuclear mission, and the work the National Nuclear Security Administration is doing to ensure the effectiveness of our nation’s nuclear deterrent and to advance global nuclear security.

This is a unique opportunity to discuss the current policy context, Department of Defense requirements for our nuclear stockpile, and NNSA’s modernization plans for the stockpile and our supporting infrastructure, all of which have been developed in support of the President’s comprehensive nuclear security agenda.

I also want to thank the Committee for your continued support of the Department of Energy and NNSA.  We have 35,000 men and women across the Nuclear Security Enterprise working to keep our country safe, protect our allies, and enhance global security; your leadership and support have made their jobs easier.

The President has made strengthening nuclear security and the nonproliferation regime one of his top priorities. Over the last few years we have established a consensus on U.S. nuclear policy, the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) was published and New START ratified. These were critical developments for NNSA, as they have reinvigorated my entire organization. Furthermore, President Obama has committed to investing more than $88 billion over the next decade in the capabilities and programs that are essential for accomplishing the nuclear security agenda.

This commitment was reflected in the President’s FY 2012 budget request for NNSA.  The FY
2012 request reflects an integrated, ten year plan, and identifies the funding necessary to ensure the safety, security, and effectiveness of our nuclear stockpile, modernize the infrastructure we need to execute our mission, and revitalize the science, technology, and engineering (ST&E) base that supports the full range of our nuclear security activities. These investments over the next decade are essential – I cannot overemphasize this point – and will require sustained multi- year support from future Administrations and Congresses.

The NPR and New START have been important to our Enterprise for the direction they have given us.  The NPR has provided a government-wide consensus on the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and provided an opportunity to make long-term decisions about comprehensive nuclear modernization in a way grounded in national policy. Furthermore, New START has strengthened our national security not just by decreasing the number of deployed nuclear weapons in the world, but also by reestablishing the transparency and verification measures that build trust and are such an integral part of a positive U.S.-Russian relationship.

The stability we have gained from the NPR and New START allows us to plan and use our resources much more effectively.  It means we can be responsible stewards of the taxpayer’s money over the next decade by making smart, strategic decisions based on clear mission guidance. We have a comprehensive Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan that is updated annually, and provides a 20-year view of the stockpile, as well as the science, infrastructure and human capital necessary to execute complex transformation and nuclear modernization activities. This plan is produced in coordination with the 1251 report, a joint report with the Department of Defense that provides a 10 year view for modernization plans, to include delivery systems.

I would like to express my concern, however, that this sense of stability is being slowly eroded as a result of budget uncertainties for FY 2012 and the outyears. These uncertainties directly impact our workforce, our ability to efficiently plan and execute our programs, and, ultimately, our ability to be successful. In order to plan and execute a complex and integrated program efficiently, the NNSA had developed and received support for the 10 -year plan outlined in the
1251 Report; however, this consensus for nuclear modernization is facing great uncertainty in the
face of today’s extreme fiscal challenges. It is critical to accept the linkage between modernizing our current stockpile in order to achieve the policy objective of decreasing the number of weapons we have in our stockpile, while still ensuring our deterrent is safe, secure and effective.

Our Stockpile Stewardship Program, which allows us to assess and certify the nuclear stockpile without returning to underground nuclear testing, has grown increasingly important. The science, technology, and engineering base at our national laboratories is the backbone of the nuclear security mission. Our world-class scientific capabilities, for example in modeling, simulation and supercomputing, continue to be developed to realize the SSP and today we have a greater understanding of how a nuclear weapon behaves than we did during the days of testing.

The ability of our Nuclear Security Enterprise to assess the stockpile is the primary mission of the Stockpile Stewardship Program. Surveillance is a critical component of this mission. We are working every day to improve our ability to identify, understand, and address the effects of aging of our stockpile. We are moving forward with key life extension programs, and are working to design and build the modern facilities we need to maintain the nation’s expertise in uranium component processing and plutonium research. And most importantly, we are working to recruit and retain the next generation of scientists and engineers.

The types of people we need to execute our mission are highly sought-after. Without a long-term vision that is consistently supported by the Administration and Congress, they can, and will, simply look elsewhere. We have some of the best and brightest engineer s and scientists in the world but to retain this workforce we must give them the tools and facilities they need to be innovative and effective, as well as an atmosphere where they can work with a sense of national purpose and clarity.

I would like to emphasize that this workforce supports the breadth of the NNSA mission space. Investing in a modern Nuclear Security Enterprise i s not just about the stockpile. As the President said in Prague in April 2009, the threat of a terrorist acquiring and using a nuclear weapon is the most immediate and extreme threat we face. The investments we make today help support the full range of our nuclear security mission, which includes countering nuclear terrorism. Moreover, these investments are necessary for maintaining the high quality workforce that is critical for us to be successful.

NNSA engineers are working to complete the design work on the nuclear reactor plant for the Ohio-class Replacement submarine. This effort is a continuation of the long standing unique role NNSA serves in partnership with the U.S. Navy.

We have some of the best minds in the country working on issues like nuclear forensics, treaty verification activities, scientist engagements, and research and development initiatives that ultimately help keep nuclear material and expertise out of the hands of terrorists.  We also carry this engagement to our international partners, who are an indispensible part of our nonproliferation effort.

As part of our nonproliferation work, we are developing advanced safeguards, technologies, and concepts to support the IAEA and are assisting many Member States around the world in implementing their Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations. As part of our strategic arms control verification work, we are leveraging the expertise of our physicists and engineers to advance radiation detection technology and equipment. And should new monitoring capabilities be required, specialists from throughout our Enterprise will play an essential role in the development and evaluation process.

We are leading international efforts to implement more stringent standards for the physical protection of nuclear material and nuclear facilities worldwide. And as part of our ongoing efforts to permanently eliminate materials that could be used by terrorists to make a nuclear weapon we recently downblended over 72 pounds of highly enriched uranium in Kazakhstan. This effort was an important milestone, bringing us closer to achieving President Obama’s goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material around the world.  In addition, we recently reached a major achievement by equipping all Russian border crossing points with over 380 radiation detection monitors to help deter and detect illicit trafficking of nuclear and other radioactive materials across international borders.  This was the culmination of 15 years of cooperative efforts with Russia.

We are working toward a modern, 21st Century Nuclear Security Enterprise that is safer, more secure, more efficient, and organized to succeed. Our goal is for a truly integrated Enterprise where all of our programs and partners work together to fulfill our continuing mission s. With clear direction from the President, and with Congress’s support, I believe the Enterprise can move steadily on the path toward future mission success.
I look forward to answering any questions you may have and appreciate the invitation to be here today.