II. The National Security Role

A. Introduction and Background

1. The Changing Environment

The Department of Energy's national security mission is based on the Manhattan Project, the development of nuclear weapons during and following World War II. The legacy includes independent design capabilities, redundant design teams, competition, and intense efforts to achieve the highest standards of safety, surety and reliability. The three weapons laboratories - Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia National Laboratories - have evolved over a period of more than fifty years. It is clear that they played a key part in the successful outcome of the nuclear standoff with the former Soviet Union. For this, the entire nation owes a debt of gratitude to the women and men of these laboratories, past and present, who gave their talent to this successful endeavor.

The end of the Cold War has brought substantial change. Weapons modernization, arms control agreements, the fear of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the significant decline in defense spending require a restructuring of the laboratories' support for the national security mission. Today, these laboratories represent an extraordinary national resource of people, facilities, and experience. Every attempt should be made to use this resource as missions change.

2. National Security Requirements

The requirements for the DOE and the weapons laboratories are based on Presidential direction as approved in the Nuclear Stockpile Document and other Presidential Decision Directives. Congress provides direction in laws and committee reports. The Department of Defense (DOD) determines specific weapons requirements and the Department of Energy determines how to fulfill those requirements. The weapons laboratories then are assigned specific responsibilities and funding to carry out DOE direction.[1]

The President stated in the National Security Strategy (July 1994) that a safe, secure and reliable U.S. nuclear deterrent remains a cornerstone of U.S. national security policy. The President announced a moratorium on underground nuclear testing with a goal of establishing a comprehensive test ban. He instructed the DoD and DOE to explore means other than nuclear testing to maintain confidence in the safety, reliability and performance of the weapons stockpile. He also directed strong efforts to support the Non-Proliferation Treaty and counter weapons of mass destruction. This direction is the basis for DOE and DoD planning for the future and the Task Force's consideration of alternate futures for the weapons laboratories.

The maintenance of a safe, secure, and reliable stockpile, contributions to critical proliferation and treaty issues, and participation in other national priorities related to this mission are essential parts of the nuclear weapons laboratories' future and require adequate facilities, motivated and capable people, and the requisite budget. This future will require new types of management, different technical personnel, and a mode of operation that is closer to industry's than the laboratories have practiced in the past.

3. Specific Weapons Requirements

The Department of Defense conducted a Nuclear Posture Review[2], approved by the President, to determine future nuclear forces and weapons requirements. Implementation of the START I and START II protocols will result in a total nuclear weapons reduction of 79% by the year 2003. As a unilateral action (Presidential Nuclear Initiatives I and II), the U.S. will reduce by 90% non-strategic nuclear weapons. These steps will result in a required stockpile of around 5000 weapons.

The Nuclear Posture Review identified the need for flexibility either to accelerate the drawdown if both sides implement START II more quickly, or the ability to return inactive weapons to service if the Russians suspend or delay START II implementation. The weapons laboratories need the capability to respond to either circumstance.

Over the past two years, the Department of Energy has established the Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship Program, replacing a test-based stockpile stewardship, to maintain confidence in nuclear weapons without nuclear testing. The focus of the new program includes improving experimental capabilities, enhancing computational capabilities, advanced stockpile surveillance, advanced manufacturing and materials capability, maintaining system engineering and infrastructure and preserving a nuclear design and experimentation capabilities.

B. Main Findings and Recommendations

Specific recommendations regarding the future of the weapons laboratories fall into broad categories of mission, key personnel, configuration, peer review, basic science, research facilities, and weapon production (including research, production, tritium, and management). The Task Force believes that these recommendations are consistent with Presidential Directives,[3 ] the Nuclear Policy Review, and the Science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program.

1. Mission

The national security mission of the weapons laboratories has been rearticulated to emphasize maintaining credibility in the U.S. nuclear stockpile in the absence of explosive testing of nuclear weapons. The primary mission of the weapons laboratories must be a safe, secure, and reliable stockpile. Science-based stockpile stewardship (in comparison to a test-based stockpile program) is the approach chosen by the Department of Energy to achieve this mission. It requires the following rank-order priorities for the core functions of stockpile stewardship as follows:

  1. Attracting and retaining skilled scientists, engineers, and managers over the years ahead with the expertise required for the complex and demanding stewardship role;

  2. Enhancing surveillance of weapons in the stockpile[4], during dismantlement, and of the nuclear materials that accumulate as a result of that dismantlement;

  3. Continuing hydrodynamic testing as required to cope with problems;

  4. Assessing problems, reanalyzing previous data through numerical simulations, and developing appropriate data bases; and

  5. Sustaining the scientific process of inquiry through experimentation.

In today's world, proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction remains a major threat to U.S. national security. Because of this threat the DOE laboratories' work in non-proliferation, counter-proliferation, verification, and intelligence support has become a major mission as well as an extension of their stewardship of the nuclear stockpile. These activities are supported by the expertise maintained within the entire nuclear weapons infrastructure. It is important that their funding be included within the core infrastructure support. The Task Force notes that organizational compartmentalization within the Department complicates and makes difficult the appropriate inter-relationship and funding balance between stockpile support and non-proliferation, and recommends that the Department's organization reflect their importance and interdependence.

2. Attracting and Retaining Scientists, Engineers, and Managers

The weapons laboratories' management has an important responsibility to identify the critical skills required for their national security mission and to manage the hiring and retention of key personnel accordingly. The Task Force recommends that management continue to sustain a stimulating intellectual environment that will attract and retain the very best research and engineering staff. This will require:

3. Configuration of the Nuclear Weapons Laboratories

The current structure of the three nuclear weapons laboratories should be examined in light of the recently revised, official U.S. Nuclear Posture. The Department of Energy should size its nuclear weapons laboratories support efforts over time to match DoD requirements. The restructuring must be accomplished in ways that preserve capabilities both for reduction to lower levels of support and for an expansion of support should the resumption of a threat to national security demand it. In addition, the restructuring must support the requirement to maintain confidence in the nuclear stockpile in a comprehensive test ban or under an extended moratorium. The restructuring will affect primarily weapons design capabilities, where the largest functional redundancy exists, and specifically Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL); LLNL supports only four of eleven weapons designs currently in the U.S. stockpile.

The Task Force believes LLNL should retain enough nuclear weapons design competence and technology base to continue its activities in non-proliferation, counter-proliferation, intelligence support, and verification, to provide independent review for several years while alternative approaches to peer review are developed (see "Peer Review"), and to participate in weapons relevant experiments on the National Ignition Facility (NIF). LLNL would transfer, as cost-efficiency allows, over the next five years its activities in nuclear materials development and production to the other design laboratory. LLNL would transfer direct stockpile support to the other weapons laboratories as the requirements of science-based stockpile stewardship, support of the DoD nuclear posture, and the status of test bans allow. Under these conditions, the Task Force believes that the transfer can be made in five years. The Task Force notes that if the NIF is built at LLNL, this will reinforce the weapons design capability at that laboratory.

4. Peer Review

The Task Force believes that the development of independent assessment of the safety and reliability issues within an aging stockpile will be an ongoing requirement of stockpile stewardship. It also believes, however, that there are many ways in which this peer review function can be served, and that peer review, in and of itself, does not justify the existence of two nuclear design laboratories.

5. Contributions to Basic Science

As new facilities are developed at the weapons laboratories for performing science-based stockpile stewardship, the Task Force recommends that these facilities be managed in as open and collaborative a fashion as national security constraints will permit.

6. Major Research Facilities

The Task Force recommends the following:[5]