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Administrator D'Agostino's Remarks at the National Defense University Forum Congressional Breakfast Seminar

May 04, 2010

Good morning. Thank you Peter (Huessy) for that kind introduction. When I reviewed the slate of speakers that have preceded me in previous weeks – Senator Kyl, Congressman Mike Turner, Bob DeGrasse, Dr. Jim Miller, and Ambassador Linton Brooks among others -- I was impressed with the range of views you are receiving from the Congress and from the Department of Defense. I am honored to be here today to discuss with you national security issues as they relate to the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

I’d also like to take a minute to thank Peter and NDU for hosting this breakfast series. Each year, you bring together some of the most important voices in national defense policy for informed discussion of timely issues that effect our nation’s security.

Our topic today is a great example of this. As we gather here this morning, we are in the middle one of the most important periods in the development of our nation’s nuclear security.

In just the last month, we have seen the release of a Nuclear Posture Review that adopts a 21st century approach to nuclear security, the signing of the new START Treaty, and the completion of an historic Nuclear Security Summit – which gathered the leaders of close to 50 countries to take concrete steps toward securing all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. And tomorrow, I head to New York for the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference, which may have a significant impact on the future of the international nuclear nonproliferation treaty regime.

And all of this follows the release in February of the President’s FY2011 Budget Request, which makes critical investments in the physical, technological, scientific and human capital required to manage our nuclear deterrent and implement the full range of nuclear security missions. For NNSA, the President has requested more than $11 billion for the upcoming fiscal year to support our nuclear security work and the infrastructure it will require, an increase of 13% from this year. This reflects the Administration’s commitment to ensuring national as well as nuclear security, and to implementing the President’s nuclear security agenda within the Department of Energy.

I’ve been working on nuclear security issues for a long time, and I have never seen a more busy or consequential moment. At the NNSA, we just celebrated our tenth anniversary last week, and I can certainly say that we have not seen a time like this in our first decade. And the work being done right now will have a significant impact on our mission for decades to come.

Take, for example, the Nuclear Posture Review released last month. The NPR reaffirms the President’s commitment to providing the Department of Energy and the NNSA the resources required to support the President’s nuclear security agenda.

But more importantly, it makes a significant step toward ending the drift that dominated our nuclear security policy since the end of the Cold War.

When John Harvey spoke to this group last year, he said that one of the challenges facing NNSA was the lack of a national consensus on the role of nuclear weapons and the resources required to maintain our deterrent. This Nuclear Posture Review corrects that problem, and takes an important step toward ending Cold War thinking and adopting a 21st century approach to nuclear weapons and nuclear security issues. It lays out a clear path forward by outlining five key objectives. It makes clear that we will:

  1. Prevent nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism;
  2. Reduce the role of nuclear weapons;
  3. Maintain strategic deterrence and stability at reduced nuclear force levels;
  4. Strengthen regional deterrence and reassurance of U.S. allies and partners; and,
  5. Sustain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal.

We in the NNSA are playing a critical role in implementing this agenda. In particular, we are actively engaged in direct support of the first objective, “preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.”

President Obama has made clear that the biggest threat to our nation’s security is the danger of a terrorist acquiring a nuclear weapon. The most important thing we can do to keep terrorists from developing and using an improvised nuclear device or a radiological “dirty bomb” is to prevent them from acquiring nuclear material. That is why the President used his first foreign policy speech, during his first trip abroad as President to make an unprecedented commitment to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. This was the focus of last month’s Nuclear Security Summit, which succeeded in attaining a broad international consensus on the need to tackle this challenge and securing concrete contributions from our international partners.

This job is not new to the NNSA. We have led the effort for several years, and are now accelerating and broadening the scope of our efforts to improve the security of nuclear materials in the United States and globally.

As we speak, we are working in more than 100 countries around the world to improve security at nuclear sites, secure nuclear materials, and prevent nuclear smuggling by installing radiation detection equipment at ports, airports and border crossings around the world.

We are disposing of excess U.S. and international fissile materials. The signing of the revised US-Russian Plutonium Disposition Agreement is a major step forward in this regard, as is the recent announcement that Russia will permanently close its last weapons-grade plutonium producing reactor at Zheleznogorsk. At NNSA, we have been working for several years to close these reactors and replace them with fossil fuel burning plants.

At NNSA and the Department of Energy, we are working to promote civil nuclear power in a way that is consistent with nonproliferation objectives, including by strengthening the international safeguards system and developing new safeguards technologies, expertise, policies, concepts, and partnerships.

And we are developing highly sensitive and wide-area nuclear materials detection technology.

All of these efforts are supported by the unparalleled technical capabilities located within our Nuclear Security Enterprise, in particular the three nuclear weapons laboratories. That is one of the reasons the President’s FY2011 budget request for NNSA is so important to implementing the full range of our nuclear security mission.

The fact that we have worked for the last 65 years to maintain the safety, security and effectiveness of the nuclear stockpile is the reason we have the skills, capabilities and most importantly the people to carry out these missions, and to apply those skills to other emerging national security issues.

Which brings me to the other principle way the NNSA is directly engaged in implementing the objectives outlined in the NPR, specifically the commitment to “sustaining a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal.”

Even as the President was outlining his goal of seeking the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons, he made clear that as long as nuclear weapons exist we will do what it takes to maintain the safety, security, and effectiveness of our own stockpile. This NPR makes clear that we will continue to do that in the future, in a way that is consistent with a few key principles.

First, the NNSA will not conduct underground nuclear testing. The need to maintain the weapons stockpile without nuclear testing has been a national policy for nearly 20 years and our science-based programs and capabilities will continue to provide the assurance needed.

Second, the NNSA – working with the Department of Defense and through the Nuclear Weapons Council – will study all of the options for ensuring the safety, security, and effectiveness of nuclear warheads on a case-by-case basis. In any decision to proceed to engineering development for warhead Life Extensions, we will give preference to options for refurbishment or reuse of the nuclear components.

The NPR makes clear that, in those cases when the replacement of nuclear components is the preferred option, it would be undertaken only if critical Stockpile Management Program goals could not otherwise be met, and then only if specifically authorized by the President and approved by Congress.

Third, the NPR makes clear that we will not develop new nuclear warheads with new military capabilities. Any nuclear components used for life extension programs will be based on previously tested designs.

Applying these principles in the near-term, the NNSA will extend the lifetime of nuclear warheads required for the force structure identified under the new START agreement. As recommended in the NPR, the NNSA will fully fund the ongoing Life Extension Program for the W76 submarine-based warhead, and complete a full scope Life Extension study for the B61 bomb. We will also work with the Nuclear Weapons Council on a study of Life Extension options for the W78 ICBM warhead.

The NPR also sustains the Strategic Triad. This drives the recent Department of Defense decision to recapitalize the sea-based strategic deterrent. The OHIO-class ballistic submarines, the most survivable leg of the nation’s strategic deterrent, are reaching the end of their operational life. In support of the NPR, our Naval Reactors program will continue reactor plant design and development efforts begun in 2010 for procurement of long-lead reactor plant components, in support of Navy procurement of the first OHIO-class submarine replacement.

Achieving this mission will require certain investments in our physical, human and scientific infrastructure. One of the first conclusions reached during the Nuclear Posture Review was the need to recapitalize an aging, out of date, and expensive to maintain physical infrastructure and to renew our human capital -- the critical cadre of scientific, technical, and engineering experts who carry out our stockpile management work and support our nuclear nonproliferation and counterterrorism missions.

As the Vice President said a few months ago, “some of the facilities we use to handle uranium and plutonium date back to the days when the world’s great powers were led by Truman, Churchill, and Stalin. The signs of age and decay are becoming more apparent every day.” The President’s FY2011 budget request makes critical investments in replacing outdated and expensive Manhattan Project-era and Cold War facilities with efficient, cost effective, and properly sized facilities to support our future nuclear security responsibilities.

Consistent with the NPR, NNSA will fund two key facility projects in the coming decade that will provide critical capabilities that are essential to our complete nuclear security mission. The Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project at Los Alamos National Laboratory will replace the existing 58-year old Chemistry and Metallurgy Research facility by 2021, and the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee will come on line for production operations by 2021.

For the first time, we have a bipartisan consensus that now is the time to make these investments to provide the foundation for future U.S. security and that of our allies. A key example of that consensus was reflected in a January Wall Street Journal article by Senator Nunn, and Secretaries George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, and William Perry.

Responsible stockpile management requires not only the supporting infrastructure, but also a highly capable workforce with the specialized skills needed to sustain the nuclear deterrent and to support the President’s overall nuclear security agenda.

To that end, the NNSA will strengthen the science, technology, and engineering base that underpins all of our programs, including the supporting computational and experimental capabilities, needed for conducting weapon system LEPs, increasing weapons surety, certifying weapons without nuclear testing, and providing annual stockpile assessments through weapons surveillance.

The NPR noted the importance of recruiting and retaining the “human capital” needed in NNSA for the nuclear security mission, and proposed building on current efforts. In order to succeed in our mission, we need to be able to recruit and retain the next generation of nuclear security professionals – because our highly specialized work force is our greatest asset.

One of the most important ways to address this challenge is to give the workforce a challenging mission, and reassure them that the nation values the work they do. With this NPR, and this Budget Request, the President has now clearly outlined the importance of nuclear issues for our national security, and the importance of keeping the U.S. nuclear deterrent safe, secure, and effective for the future. The Administration’s commitment to a clear and long-term plan for managing the stockpile and its comprehensive nuclear security agenda ensures the scientists and engineers of tomorrow will have the opportunity to engage in challenging research and development activities.

For us at NNSA, after securing the budgetary resources we need to implement the President’s nuclear security agenda, our focus will be to continue the management reform activities that maximize our ability to get the job done in a way that ensures we are being effective and efficient stewards of the taxpayer’s money.

Later this year, the Department of Energy will release a new Strategic Plan that documents our nuclear security efforts as well as other energy and innovation efforts throughout the Department. Secretary Chu recently stated that “the Department of Energy must discover and deliver the solutions to advance our national priorities.” The NNSA and the Nuclear Security Enterprise are poised to provide those solutions.

Over the next few years, the NNSA will focus on four key objectives and several key initiatives that will lay out the path for the NNSA to move beyond just nuclear weapons stockpile support and into other important national security efforts. We will:

• Execute a Stockpile Management program to ensure the safety, security, and effectiveness of the nuclear deterrent;

• Broaden non-proliferation scope and improve security of nuclear materials in the U.S. and globally to achieve the President’s nuclear security agenda;

• Enhance and apply DOE’s science and technology capabilities and nuclear expertise for urgent nonproliferation, Naval nuclear propulsion, nuclear counterterrorism, and other critical national security missions.

NNSA is already leveraging the investments made in the Nuclear Security Enterprise and applying them to national security, energy, and innovation issues. From modeling the impact of climate change and the spread of HIV, to helping the Armed Forces develop better body armor for our war fighters, to helping private industry bring new products to the market faster, the work done across the Nuclear Security Enterprise is already making vital contributions.

Our investment in the stockpile stewardship program has developed an unprecedented capability to integrate high-performance computing with laboratory experiments and integral test data to better understand the nuclear stockpile without underground nuclear testing. Those predictive capabilities have resulted in a computing capacity within NNSA that last year earned the NNSA’s national laboratories three of the top 10 spots on the latest TOP500 supercomputer list.

We have already gone further then most people thought possible, but now we’re pushing the envelope of innovation even further. In the coming years, we intend to enhance those assets by breaking new barriers. For example, we will work towards Exascale Computing – providing a 1,000 fold increase in processing capabilities over current systems. That will allow scientists to conduct simulations for our stockpile stewardship mission, but also emerging missions, such as climate change, inertial fusion energy, and materials science. In the end, applying the nuclear security enterprise’s science, technology, and engineering expertise will advance the industrial competitiveness of the U.S. economy.

In other words, while maintaining our nuclear stockpile forms the core of our work in the NNSA, our investment in nuclear security is providing the tools to tackle a broad array of national challenges – both in the security arena and in other realms, both domestically and internationally. The work done across the NNSA’s Nuclear Security Enterprise is making vital contributions along with those of our international partners.

And, we intend to continue and to expand that work.

Thank you for your attention. I would be pleased to address any questions you may have.