NNSA Reviewing Nonproliferation Work

November 2014

By Daniel Horner

The Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is reviewing its approach to its nonproliferation programs and expects to issue the results of that review early next year, the head of the semiautonomous agency said Oct. 29.

Speaking at a briefing for reporters, retired Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz said that, for more than a year, the NNSA has been “going through an assessment of how we view the world situation, how we view technology development, and where we can best have an impact in achieving the overall goals of nonproliferation and implementing safeguards across the globe.”

A major part of the impetus for that review, he indicated, was the end of the four-year period that President Barack Obama established for securing “vulnerable nuclear material around the world.” Obama announced the four-year effort in his speech in Prague in April 2009.

As Klotz noted, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has established a task force under the auspices of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board to take a broad look at the way the department addresses nuclear nonproliferation issues. Klotz said the department is planning to publish a document reflecting the review when the administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2016 is released.

The task force, which is expected to issue its report around the end of the year, produced an interim report in August. According to the report, “The U.S. government does not yet have a compelling vision for the future of its nonproliferation efforts or how [the Energy Department’s] programs fit in that larger picture, though [the department] has launched an effort to develop one.” An important task for the department, the report says, is to “[l]ay out a vision and set priorities.”

The report notes that the Energy Department’s nonproliferation budget has declined by hundreds of millions of dollars in the past several years. Although that is partly the result of “projects being completed or efforts being put on hold while [the department] reviews its approach to them,” in some cases “it appears that important nonproliferation work is being slowed or canceled because of lack of funds,” the report says.

Other observers of the nonproliferation work have reached similar conclusions. In August, 26 senators sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget seeking increased funding for nuclear nonproliferation programs for fiscal year 2016. (See ACT, September 2014.)

One particular focus of the interim report is U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation, which, for a number of reasons, “will not be easy, is likely to encounter delays, and will require creative approaches and sustained attention,” the report says. But the United States should pursue this cooperation in spite of the obstacles because it “remains critical to U.S. national security interests,” the report says.