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Maintaining the Stockpile

Maintaining the safety, security and effectiveness of the nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing – especially at lower numbers – requires increased investments across the nuclear security enterprise. 

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) ensures the Nation sustains a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent through the application of science, technology, engineering, and manufacturing.  To deal with the changing face of nuclear deterrence and more-widely dispersed nuclear knowledge, NNSA, also ensures the United States maintains excellence in nuclear science and technology that is second to none.  Within the Nuclear Security Enterprise, the central mission which includes maintaining the active stockpile, Life Extension Programs (LEPs) and Weapons Dismantlement, is referred to as the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program.

Most nuclear weapons in the U.S. stockpile were produced anywhere from 30 to 40 years ago, and no new nuclear weapons have been produced since the end of the Cold War.  At the time of their original production, the nuclear weapons were not designed or intended to last indefinitely.  The life-cycle process details the steps through which nuclear weapons development progresses from concept to production to retirement. Stockpile Stewardship and Management includes the role to safely dismantle and dispose of components from warheads that have been retired.  Some limited number of components from the dismantled warheads are preserved for potential reuse in LEPs, but most are disposed of in compliance with current directives.

To provide a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear weapons stockpile, NNSA partners with the Department of Defense (DoD) to provide an effective nuclear deterrent for the Nation.  This partnership is facilitated through the coordination and cooperation of the Nuclear Weapons Council, which is jointly organized by NNSA and DoD.  Decisions that affect the stockpile are determined through the Nuclear Weapons Council, which provides an interagency forum to reach consensus and establish priorities. 

NNSA continuously assesses and evaluates each nuclear weapon to certify its reliability and to detect and/or anticipate any potential problems that may come about as a result of aging.  This will allow NNSA to meet today’s military and national security requirements. Each different weapon type in the U.S. nuclear stockpile requires routine maintenance, periodic repair, replacement of limited life components, surveillance (a thorough examination of a weapon) in order to assure continued safety, security, and effectiveness and other support activities as necessary.

Stockpile Stewardship and Management mission requirements flow down from a well defined set of national policy, strategy, military, nuclear deterrence, and technology requirements.  Of note are the April 2010 Nuclear Posture Review and annual reporting requirements and budgetary documents that the President and Congress develop to support the Nation’s deterrent capabilities

Over the next 20 years, the U.S. nuclear stockpile will be sustained and modernized through vigorous surveillance, assessment, life extension, and dismantlement efforts. The stockpile will continue to be assessed to ensure it remains safe, secure, and effective.