Robert Golan-Vilella and Daniel Horner
The Obama administration’s nuclear security agenda is short on details concerning its “overall estimated cost, time frame, and scope of planned work,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report released Dec. 15. In the report, consisting of a public summary of the classified September version, the GAO also assessed the nuclear security work performed by the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and found that its progress was uneven across programs and countries.
The GAO reported that the National Security Council (NSC) has approved a document that serves as a government-wide strategy for achieving President Barack Obama’s goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years. (See ACT, May 2009.) That document lays out the main actions that the
According to the GAO, the “NSC does not consider the 4-year time frame for securing nuclear materials worldwide a hard and fast deadline.” NSC officials said they saw it instead as a “forcing function” to drive
The GAO recommended that the NSC lead and coordinate “the development of a comprehensive plan for implementing” Obama’s four-year initiative. That plan should identify “the specific foreign countries, sites, and facilities where materials have been determined to be poorly secured”; the agencies responsible for addressing each location; potential challenges and the steps needed to overcome them; and the time frames and costs associated with the goal. According to the report, NSC officials provided no written comments on this recommendation but said they believed development of such a plan could take years.
Mixed Progress in NNSA Programs
The report focused in detail on the contributions of the NNSA to the nuclear security initiative. The NNSA “was the only agency to have developed a formal written plan with specific details regarding how it intends to contribute to the 4-year nuclear material security goal,” the GAO said.
The NNSA received the highest marks for its Material Protection, Control, and Accounting (MPC&A) activities in
Other NNSA programs in
Likewise, the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), which includes an effort to convert or shut down Russian HEU reactors, has made little progress toward that end, the GAO said. According to the report, the GTRI plans to convert or shut down 71 HEU-fueled research reactors and related facilities in
Under an agreement signed Dec. 7,
“NNSA officials told us that any agreement to conduct these studies would not constitute an official Russian decision to convert or undertake activities toward conversion,” the GAO said. In a Dec. 30 e-mail to Arms Control Today, NNSA spokesman Damien LaVera said, “While [the Dec. 7 agreement] does not commit
The GAO report cites several notable successes in GTRI efforts to remove weapons-usable material from nearly two dozen countries. Following
The report notes the NNSA’s completion of a contract with
Another U.S.-South African effort cited by the GAO concerns the production of the medical isotope molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) from low-enriched uranium (LEU) by the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa). Until now, large-scale producers of the isotope, which is used to detect diseases and study organ structure, have used HEU. However, in a Dec. 6 press release, the NNSA announced the arrival in the
The GAO report also examined nuclear security cooperation with