What a remarkable year of achievement and progress for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration! From flight qualification tests of the B61-12 in the Nevada desert, to removals of highly enriched uranium in Ghana and the Republic of Kazakhstan, to the commissioning of a new class of nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, NNSA lent its world-class expertise in the military application of nuclear science to help keep the United States safe and secure. This Year in Review outlines NNSA’s key accomplishments in 2017 across its core missions of maintaining the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal, reducing the threat of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism, and powering the nuclear Navy. It also highlights progress on modernization of NNSA’s aging infrastructure and continued investment in NNSA’s greatest asset, its people. After all, the success of NNSA is a direct reflection of a remarkably talented workforce dedicated to national security.
The U.S. Nuclear Deterrent
The U.S. nuclear deterrent has been the cornerstone of the United States’ strategy to keep the American people safe and secure for more than 70 years, as well as a significant contributor to global stability. In 2017, NNSA continued to maintain the safety, security, and effectiveness of nuclear weapons through the Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP), enabling the Secretary of Energy and Secretary of Defense to certify the reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile to the President once again.
Throughout the year, NNSA also actively participated in the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), directed by the President and led by the Department of Defense, to ensure that America’s nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st century threats and to reassure our allies and partners. The results of the NPR will be made public in early 2018.
Life Extension Programs and Alterations
NNSA extends the life of existing U.S. nuclear warheads by refurbishing or reusing nuclear and non-nuclear components where possible and replacing components with systems that employ modern technologies as needed. Over the course of the year, NNSA made tremendous strides in each of its Life Extension Programs (LEP) and Alterations (Alts).
NNSA surpassed the 80 percent mark in the total production run of the W76-1 LEP, one of the two warheads associated with the Navy’s submarine launched ballistic missile. This LEP will add an additional 30 years of service life to the W76.
The B61-12 LEP, a nuclear gravity bomb for the U.S. Air Force, is currently in production engineering and continues to meet its qualification test schedule, with multiple flight tests completed during the past year. This LEP remains on track for a first production unit in 2020. Once completed, the LEP will add at least 20 years to the life of the system and consolidate four models of the B61 into a single variant.
The W88 Alt 370 program successfully accelerated activities for the change out of the aging high explosive in the W88, the other submarine launched ballistic missile warhead. The program is currently in the production engineering phase and remains on schedule for a first production unit in 2019.
NNSA made significant progress on the W80-4 LEP and entered the design definition and cost study phase in September. The W80-4 is the nuclear warhead planned for incorporation into the Air Force’s new Long Range Standoff weapon system, the replacement for its aging Air Launched Cruise Missile.
The Science, Technology, and Engineering of Stockpile Stewardship
NNSA uses experimental facilities and high performance computing capabilities across the Nuclear Security Enterprise to obtain and analyze critical data for the stockpile stewardship mission. Significant achievements in 2017 include the following:
The National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory completed its 2,000th experiment in August. NIF broke its own record for neutron yield twice this summer, achieving a yield of 51 kilojoules and doubling the previous record from 2014. High Energy Density and Inertial Confinement Fusion experiments support stockpile stewardship, as well as other national security applications and discovery science.
The Z Pulsed Power Facility(Z Machine) at Sandia National Laboratoriesexecuted over 140 experiments. The Z Machine is the world’s most powerful and efficient laboratory radiation source. As it creates weapon-relevant conditions found nowhere else on Earth, experiments on the Z Machine further our knowledge of weapon physics.
The Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE) fielded 122 experiments with 547 users. The Proton Radiography facility and the Lujan Center facility both executed shots in support of the B61-12 LEP and future stockpile options. The Weapons Neutron Research Facility measured nuclear data to better understand criticality, as well as radiochemical data from underground tests.
The Trinity high performance computing system at Los Alamos National Laboratory began full operations. Trinity is one of the most advanced computers in the world and performs over thirty times better than the lab’s former supercomputer, Cielo. With a speed of 41 PetaFLOPS, Trinity provides computing resources that support highly accurate multi-dimensional modeling necessary for understanding and predicting performance as nuclear weapons age.
Reducing Nuclear Threats
The United States and the international community continue to face the possibility of a rogue nation or terrorist group acquiring nuclear or radiological weapons. NNSA partners with a wide range of domestic and international organizations to secure, safeguard, or dispose of potentially dangerous nuclear and radiological material. Its counterterrorism programs are ready to respond to stolen or misplaced radioactive materials, a nuclear stockpile weapon out of the control of a nation-state, or an improvised nuclear device.
In November, NNSA delivered its report to Congress on its mission to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism, titled Prevent, Counter, and Respond: A Strategic Plan to Reduce Global Nuclear Threats (FY 2018 – FY 2022). This companion document to the SSMP informs NNSA’s planning and programs related to preventing, countering, and responding to the threats of nuclear proliferation and terrorism around the globe. It highlights the implications of the emergence of new terrorist threats, as well as the Administration’s FY 2018 proposal to pursue the “dilute and dispose” approach for disposing of excess weapons grade plutonium.
NNSA spearheaded an international effort to convert a research reactor in Ghana from highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel. These reactor conversions reduce the risk that weapons-usable material could be stolen or diverted for malevolent use. Following the conversion, NNSA partnered with China to remove all HEU from Ghana, making it the 32nd country plus Taiwan to become HEU-free. To date, NNSA has removed or confirmed the disposition of more than 6,450 kilograms of HEU and plutonium worldwide to reduce the global proliferation threat.
NNSA collaboration with a South African firm led to a groundbreaking conversion to LEU-based molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) production, a major milestone in global efforts to end the use of HEU in Mo-99 production. Mo-99 is the most widely used medical radioisotope for nuclear imaging, and is used in approximately 40,000 patient procedures daily in the United States.
With the city of New York and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, NNSA helped launch a citywide initiative to reduce the use of radioactive source-based devices in medical and research applications. This effort lowers the risk of a terrorist acquiring this material for a radiological dispersal device (“dirty bomb”).
The Joint Technical Operations Team Program (JTOT) marked its 20th anniversary. JTOT is an agile, task-organized unit, ready to react at a moment’s notice to respond to nuclear and radiological weapons of mass destruction threats or incidents.
NNSA and Argentina began collaborative work to develop Argentina’s national-level nuclear forensics network, comprising scientists, law enforcement officials, national security experts, and emergency planners.
NNSA and Greek officials gathered at the country’s busiest border crossing with Turkey to hand over full operation of new radiation detection equipment to local customs officers. This collaboration with Greece serves as a model for NNSA’s radiation detection mission in other countries.
To advance proliferation detection capabilities, NNSA conducted a seismic imaging campaign and a high explosives experimental series. These efforts improved the U.S. government’s ability to detect activities potentially related to nuclear weapons testing by other countries.
The Republic of Kazakhstan opened its Nuclear Security Training Center in cooperation with NNSA. The facility trains nuclear facility personnel in security disciplines, including physical protection systems, nuclear material accounting and control systems, response forces, and secure transportation.
NNSA and Japan held the ninth meeting of the Emergency Management Working Group under the U.S.-Japan Bilateral Commission on Civil Nuclear Cooperation at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. A bilateral workshop focused on radiation measurement, characterization, and protective actions for emergency preparedness and response.
NNSA’s Nuclear/Radiological Advisory Team (NRAT) conducted advanced training at sea aboard the motor vessel Maersk Detroit. The NRAT is a deployable team of experts that provides critical scientific and technical advice to domestic and international partners in response to a nuclear or radiological threat.
NNSA led U.S. participation in “LETTERPRESS,” an international nuclear verification exercise with Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. As part of the Quad Nuclear Verification Partnership, this exchange of technical knowledge will strengthen verification capabilities for future policy and treaty initiatives.
NNSA and the FBI co-sponsored weapons of mass destruction counterterrorism tabletop exercises in Michigan and North Dakota for local law enforcement and emergency responders. The exercises are designed to develop a comprehensive understanding of the roles and responsibilities involved in preventing and responding to a domestic terrorist-related radiological or nuclear incident.
NNSA participated in exercise Prominent Hunt 17-2 with the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI in New Mexico. Prominent Hunt is an interagency training exercise to test the nuclear forensics capability of the National Technical Nuclear Forensics Ground Collection Task Force.
Throughout the year, NNSA’s operational and technical expertise was called upon to support the U.S. Secret Service and the FBI during special events to ensure safety and security from nuclear and radiological threats, including the Presidential Inauguration and Super Bowl LI.
The OPSIS II technical challenge brought together the counter nuclear terrorism render safe communities from the United States, United Kingdom, and France. The challenge enabled an exchange of technical information, improving the nuclear crisis response and nuclear forensics capabilities of the global render safe community.
NNSA’s Naval Reactors is responsible for all naval nuclear propulsion endeavors, from technology development to reactor operation and eventual reactor plant disposal. The program consistently fulfills the Navy's requirements for new and affordable nuclear propulsion plants that meet current and future national defense requirements, delivered on schedule and within budget. More than 45 percent of the Navy's major combatants are nuclear-powered, including all submarines and aircraft carriers.
The Navy has begun early construction and prototyping on a new class of nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines. After being officially designated by the Secretary of the Navy in 2016, the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program passed its Milestone B decision review in January, authorizing it to enter into the engineering and manufacturing development phase and permitting the transition from preliminary design to detailed design. The new submarines are being designed for 42 years of service life and the first patrol of the lead ship, SSBN 826, is scheduled for fiscal year 2031. Because its new design includes an improved, life-of-the-ship nuclear core, only 12 Columbia-class submarines will be required to replace 14 existing Ohio-class nuclear-armed vessels.
In February, the Navy decommissioned a legend – USS Enterprise (CVN 65) – marking the end of a service life of over 50 years for the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The USS Enterprise was put to sea in 1961 with eight reactors capable of propelling her in excess of 30 knots. The defueling of USS Enterprise’s eight reactors was completed at Newport News Shipbuilding in December 2016. Following actions to comply with National Environmental Policy Act requirements, the defueled ex-USS Enterprise will become the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to be “recycled.”
The Navy commissioned a new aircraft carrier class for the first time in nearly 40 years – USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). The design for the Ford-class aircraft carrier reactor plant (A1B) provides a 25 percent increase in operational availability and in reactor energy. Furthermore, this class requires 50 percent fewer Navy personnel to maintain and operate the reactors, and reduces total maintenance and ownership cost of each carrier by $4 billion. This milestone represents the culmination of almost 20 years of dedicated and sustained effort by Naval Reactors, its laboratories, nuclear industrial base suppliers, the Navy design team, and nuclear shipbuilders.
In August, the Naval Reactors Facility at Idaho National Laboratory broke ground on a new Naval Spent Fuel Handling Facility. This facility will improve long-term capacity, increase efficiency and effectiveness, and reduce costs for managing naval spent nuclear fuel. The estimated cost of the project is approximately $1.65 billion. Site preparation is underway, facility construction is expected to begin in 2019, and operations are expected to commence in 2024.
NNSA is long overdue for infrastructure upgrades to create a modern nuclear security enterprise, reducing risk to the mission and improving worker, public, and environmental safety. More than half of NNSA’s facilities are over 40 years old, nearly 30 percent date back to the Manhattan Project era, and 13 percent are currently excess and no longer needed. Guided by an updated infrastructure roadmap, in 2017 NNSA leveraged new management tools to prioritize investments across the enterprise. NNSA continued to meet the long-term challenge of modernizing our infrastructure and providing high-quality facilities for a high-quality workforce with progress on the following projects.
The Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at the Y-12 National Security Complex achieved 90 percent design, which is required to baseline the cost and schedule of nuclear projects, and completed the Construction Support Building (CSB). The completion of the $27.5 million CSB on time and $5 million under budget marks a major milestone for the project, which will replace an early-Cold War plant with a modern, more efficient, and safer facility for conducting highly-enriched uranium operations at Y-12.
NNSA approved Critical Decision-4 (CD-4) at the High Explosive Pressing Facility (HEPF) at the Pantex Plant, signaling construction completion and starting the transition from project stage to full operations. NNSA broke ground on the new 45,000 square-foot state-of-the-art facility in 2011. Completion of HEPF will allow for improved safety, security, quality, and increased production efficiency of high explosives at Pantex.
Construction of the Pantex Administrative Support Complex (ASC) continued on track. This facility is being built by a private developer using third-party financing. When complete, roughly 1,000 employees will be able to move out of 1950s-era buildings into a modern, energy-efficient workspace. The ASC will also eliminate roughly $20 million in deferred maintenance at Pantex.
Two critical subprojects for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) project at Los Alamos National Laboratory are on track to achieve the CD-4 milestone on budget and schedule. CMRR will make it possible for mission-critical technical capabilities, such as analytical chemistry, materials characterization, and metallurgy research and development, to be relocated to modern laboratory facilities that meet or exceed current safety and environmental protection standards.
Working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, NNSA completed the 90 percent design phase for the Albuquerque Complex Project, an important milestone on the path to a modern and efficient facility for over 1,000 DOE and NNSA employees in New Mexico.
NNSA approved the start of operations at the Transuranic Waste Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in September, completing the project $2 million under budget and four months ahead of schedule. The facility will safely store transuranic solid waste from LANL in accordance with nuclear facility requirements.
A modern training facility for the Office of Secure Transportation (OST) is under construction at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M. On schedule and on budget, the facility will prepare OST agents to achieve their vital national security mission.
A groundbreaking was held at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) for the Mercury Modernization program. Mercury serves as the “base camp” for NNSS, housing facilities such as the operations command center, a fuel station, office buildings, and others. The modernization effort will consolidate facilities into a smaller footprint, reducing energy costs and providing a modern, sustainable infrastructure.
Working with the State of Missouri, NNSA transferred excess federal property at the Bannister Federal Complex in Kansas City to private developers. The transfer will save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and will lead to further community development.
NNSA executed more than 2,200 contract actions valued at $12.7 billion in 2017, and successfully awarded over 268 new acquisitions valued at over $33 billion. The most significant of these were the Management and Operating contracts for the Nevada National Security Site in May 2017 and Sandia National Laboratories in December 2016. These newly awarded contracts will provide workforce stability for the next decade and will increase small business utilization at the sites.
NNSA is responsible for implementing a comprehensive Emergency Management Program for the Department of Energy. This mission combines the efforts of multiple program offices across the Nuclear Security Enterprise in a unified structure to ensure world-class response capabilities for all-hazards events and continuity operations.
In 2017, NNSA chartered the Enterprise Exercise Working Group to coordinate all of the department’s exercise activities and published the first ever five-year exercise calendar.
NNSA planned, coordinated, and managed DOE’s participation in the 2017 Presidential Inauguration, as well as interagency exercises Gotham Shield, Vital Archer, Eagle Horizon, and Nuclear Weapon Accident/Incident (NUWAIX).
NNSA’s missions are carried out in a secure environment with dedicated safeguards and security personnel, layers of physical security technology, and sophisticated cybersecurity systems.
The Argus Installation Project at Nevada National Security Site’s Device Assembly Facility is nearing successful completion of its Perimeter Protection Subproject. The Argus core system installation is complete and performing well, and the project is currently projecting to finish $2.6 million under budget.
NNSA kicked off an enterprise-wide security culture campaign with the theme, “Protecting What Is Ours.” The campaign will increase awareness of the individual employee’ps role in protecting the sensitive and classified information. Security professionals are visiting sites across the complex to emphasize individual commitment to a secure environment.
NNSA published an updated strategic implementation plan for information management in 2017 to support the agency with effective and responsive information technology and cybersecurity solutions. This plan has a three-year horizon and will be revisited annually to ensure rapid response to the evolving imperatives of national security.
Throughout the year, NNSA conducted intensive testing and evaluation to assess alternatives for a new system to address the increasing threat posed by Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles (UAVs).
NNSA nominees received honors at the inaugural DOE Security Awards Program for three individual awards including Federal Security Professional of the Year, Contractor Security Professional of the Year, and Security Program Manager of the Year.
NNSA’s greatest asset will always be its workforce. The challenging missions of NNSA require highly skilled and dedicated employees. The agency continues to recruit, train, and retain a diverse and inclusive workforce.
The annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey revealed continuing positive trends in key indices.
The Employee Engagement Index, which measures the engagement potential of an agency’s work environment, has increased 11.2% since 2013.
The Global Satisfaction Index, which measures employee satisfaction related to their job, pay, the organization, and whether they would recommend their organization as a good place to work, has increased 12.3% since 2013.
NNSA will continue to help ensure U.S. and global nuclear security by maintaining America’s nuclear deterrent, reducing the threat of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism, and providing for naval nuclear propulsion. To fulfill these important and enduring responsibilities, NNSA must continue to modernize its infrastructure, advance its scientific and technical capabilities, and sustain and develop its world-class workforce. The future is dynamic and challenging, but NNSA’s people are fully committed to protecting America’s national security.