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Opening 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 03, 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 surrounding the United States’ nuclear posture, 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 more than 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 worked tirelessly to establish a consensus on U.S. nuclear policy. This high level support, as laid out in the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and as seen in the President’s effort to secure Senate approval of the New START treaty, were critical developments for NNSA.  The commitment of the White House has reinvigorated my entire organization. Furthermore, President Obama’s commitment to reverse the decline in investment that took place before he entered office is essential for accomplishing the nuclear security agenda.

This commitment was reflected in the President’s FY 2012 budget request for NNSA.  The 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 base that supports the full range of our nuclear security activities. Investments in these capabilities over the next decade is essential – I cannot overemphasize this point – and will require sustained multi-year support from future Administrations and Congresses.

The stability we have gained from the NPR and New START has allowed us to plan and use our resources much more effectively 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 transformation and nuclear modernization activities.

I would like to express my concern, however, that this sense of stability could be eroded given the uncertainties stemming from the reductions Congress is contemplating in the FY 2012 budget process. 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 an integrated program efficiently, 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 fiscal challenges and the limitations imposed by the Congress in the Budget Control Act.  This consensus is also under attack by some who are spreading incorrect cost estimates.  By using numbers that are three to four times higher than what it would actually cost to modernize and maintain our entire nuclear stockpile over the next ten years, this approach appears to use our current fiscal environment to tear up the path the President and Congress have laid out for us.  The 1251 report makes clear that the total for DoD and NNSA will cost approximately $200 billion over the next ten years, not the $600+ billion some are claiming.  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. 

As you know, the United States will continue to have nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future, and many of NNSA’s projects are vital to national security.  The longer these projects are delayed, the more expensive they become.  Projects like the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex will allow us to replace decaying Cold War infrastructure with modern facilities that are that are safer, more secure, and more cost-efficient than where we currently operate.  

At the other end of the life cycle, the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina represents a critical nonproliferation effort that will result in the elimination of enough total material for approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons. It is also the only permanent plutonium disposition method agreed to by the Russians, and has been supported by every President and Congress since the idea was introduced in 1994. 

Our Stockpile Stewardship Program, which allows us to assess and certify the nuclear stockpile without returning to underground nuclear testing, has grown increasingly important. 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. 

Investing in a modern, 21st Century Nuclear Security Enterprise is 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.

As part of our nonproliferation work, we are supporting the IAEA and assisting many Member States around the world in implementing their Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations,  we are leveraging the expertise of our physicists and engineers to advance radiation detection technology and equipment,  and we are leading international efforts to implement more stringent standards for the physical protection of nuclear material and nuclear facilities worldwide.

Our engineers are also 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 are working toward a modern, 21st Century Nuclear Security Enterprise that is safer, more secure, more efficient, and organized to succeed. With clear direction and support that we have received 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.