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Presented at a Nuclear Deterrent Summit - “Charting a Sustainable Course for the National Nuclear Security Enterprise”

December 05, 2008

Presented at a Nuclear Deterrent Summit - “Charting a Sustainable Course for the National Nuclear Security Enterprise”Presented by Thomas D'Agostino, Administrator, NNSA

Good morning and thank you for inviting me to here today.  I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the dialogue on nuclear deterrence and discuss NNSA’s role in ensuring safety, security, and reliability of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.

Over the past few days, you’ve heard from leaders across the government and academia on nuclear deterrence.  We all recognize that the nuclear posture of the United States is evolving from its Cold War context to become a key element of a comprehensive strategy for reducing nuclear threats worldwide.  The problem at hand was stated most succinctly by Rep. Ellen Tauscher:

“Our strategic posture should place the stewardship of our nuclear arsenal, nonproliferation programs, missile defenses, and the international arms control regime into one comprehensive strategy that protects the American people.”

The linkage of U.S. nuclear capabilities to this more “comprehensive strategy” exists today in one very important form—the core capabilities and expertise of our people developed over six decades in support of nuclear weapons programs that have enabled critical global nuclear threat reduction efforts, supported nonproliferation, arms control and disarmament, nuclear counterterrorism and, indeed, have contributed to a broad array of national security goals beyond nuclear deterrence.  These people have enabled programs that allow us to detect, secure and dispose of nuclear and radiological material from around the world and have allowed us to secure the most vulnerable nuclear material through the tremendously successful Bratislava Nuclear Security Initiative with Russia.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently underscored the importance of maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent in a speech to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  He reminded us that, “We simply cannot predict the future…While we have a long-term goal of abolishing nuclear weapons once and for all, given the world in which we live, we have to be realistic about that proposition.”

Today’s security environment is more complex and also more unpredictable than the days of the Cold War.  Despite the best efforts of the United States and the international community, regional tensions have not gone away and the clandestine development of nuclear weapons programs are a factor in the security calculations of several countries.  We cannot rule out a world in which catastrophic nuclear threats – particularly regional threats – regain a certain prominence.

Therefore, as Secretary Gates stated, the United States will continue to deploy a strategic deterrent for the foreseeable future to hedge against such risks and take the necessary steps to sustain and, as appropriate, modernize relevant systems and capabilities to ensure safe, secure, reliable and effective forces.  And as you heard General Chilton say here yesterday, as the person with the strategic operational responsibility he – along with many of us -- has concerns on our long-term ability to do this.

How do we do this, given that fact that:

  • U.S. has not fielded a nuclear weapon in nearly three decades.
  • U.S. has not tested a weapon in 16 years.
  • An important portion of our nuclear infrastructure is old and atrophied.

We have kept up in the short run by:

  • Moving to a science-based stockpile stewardship program that has extended the lifetime of the current weapons in the stockpile.
  • And by extending the time that a weapon can safely and reliably remain in the stockpile without having to be replaced or removed, we have been able to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent without conducting underground nuclear tests.
  • However, we have learned much through this program and believe that ultimately, even while we shrink the overall stockpile, we must heed the technical concerns expressed by our laboratory directors regarding the risks in maintaining the aging Cold War stockpile over the long term without nuclear testing.  We must study whether there are other ways to maintain our stockpile as a means to mitigate these longer-term risks.

We know for sure that as long as we maintain a deterrent, whether it is through the current approach to warhead refurbishment, or via replacement concepts, the United States must continue to have a national security enterprise that supports that deterrent.  But it should be one that is consistent with the times, appropriately sized that supports the science and technology needed for the growing areas of nonproliferation, nuclear counterterrorism, nuclear forensics, intelligence analysis and emergency response, and is mindful of the health and safety needs of our employees and the environment.

Today, there is no shortage of discussion on the topic of nuclear weapons, deterrence, and their role in the 21st century.  The names of Secretaries Kissinger, Schultz and Perry, Senator Sam Nunn and others have all been invoked to increase the dialogue on a vision of a world without nuclear weapons.  This certainly is an admirable goal.

However, there absolutely needs to be another dialogue at the same time, which I believe that these honorable people would support as well.  While nuclear weapons do exist, it is of the utmost importance to ensure that they are safe, secure and reliable.  This was reiterated by Chairwoman Tauscher here yesterday.  Well, it is my job to do just that.

What does this mean for the immediate future of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile?

The number of weapons is going down.  President Bush has cut the overall stockpile in half since he came into office – 5 years ahead of schedule -- with another 15% scheduled by 2012.  In addition, as General Chilton mentioned earlier in the week, the Moscow Treaty levels of 1700-2200 operationally deployed weapons will be met 2 years early in 2010.  Again, it’s my job to dismantle these weapons, and it has been a priority of mine to do this as quickly and safely as possible.  NNSA increased its rate of dismantled weapons by 20% over last year’s level, which is on top of a 146% increase from the year before that.  Over three times our goal!

We plan to consolidate where we keep high-security special nuclear material.  We have already removed quantities of material requiring high-level, and expensive, security from Sandia National Laboratories.  And we have begun the process of removing this material from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.  As most of you know, this has been one of my priorities and we now have a plan in place – if we are fully funded -- to remove this material two years ahead of schedule by 2012.

And, as I have said before and others have discussed here this week, we need to get rid of a large number of Cold War-era nuclear weapons facilities and move into smaller, safer, more secure and more efficient facilities.  We have prepared a plan that has been years in the making to do that.  In the meantime, we have already knocked down about 3 million square feet of old buildings we no longer need and are ready to move forward on new facilities that will allow us to further reduce our footprint.  And that is in fact our vision, to shift from a cold war nuclear weapons complex to a 21st century national security enterprise.

Another point about our shift to a national security enterprise has to deal with the men and women throughout NNSA who are dedicated to the important national security work they do.   We have a vast amount of expertise that is not available anywhere else that can be brought to bear on other national security issues of today and the future, including sensor and detection technology, high-performance computing, microsystems, chemical and biological detection technology, and explosives science.  I have been working to formalize long term agreements with other federal agencies so that our labs and the test site can be used to their fullest potential in tackling important national security issues for years to come.

Finally, we must consider deterrence as much more than just numbers of warheads.  That is cold-war thinking and that should be over.  Deterrence clearly includes maintaining a strategic offensive capability as expressed in our warheads and delivery systems.  However, it must also include defensive capabilities that include nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear counter-terrorism, nuclear forensics, nuclear incident response and rendering safe improvised nuclear devices and radioactive dirty devices.

All of these areas require the right people- people who are the best in their field; people who do real work and have real expertise; people who are recognized experts in all things nuclear, from the science and design, to the engineering and maintenance.  These people exist to day in the National Nuclear Security Administration and our laboratories because of decade’s worth of investment, and I dare say these people will be needed in the future.  When there is a real national emergency- a real crisis- an improvised nuclear device out on the mall.  I want our varsity team of experts out on the field and ready to go.  This is no time to put together a “pick-up’ team to deal with the problem.  It will be too late if we wait for that point.

In my view, NNSA is fully ready to continue to move into the 21st century, and I am proud of all that we have accomplished to get to this point.  More work needs to be done, but I am happy how far we have come.

Thank you.  I’d be happy to take your questions.