Nation's bloated nuclear spending under scrutiny
By The Associated Press
Published: Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, 8:27 p.m.
LOS ALAMOS, N.M. — At Los Alamos National Laboratory, a seven-year, $213 million upgrade to the security system that protects the lab's most sensitive nuclear bomb-making facilities doesn't work.
Those same facilities, which sit atop a fault line, remain susceptible to collapse and dangerous radiation releases, despite millions more spent on improvement plans.
In Tennessee, the price tag for a new uranium processing facility has grown nearly sevenfold in eight years to upward of $6 billion because of problems that include a redesign to raise the roof.
And the estimated cost of an ongoing effort to refurbish 400 of the country's B61 bombs has grown from $1.5 billion to $10 billion.
Virtually every major project under the National Nuclear Security Administration's oversight is behind schedule and over budget — the result, watchdogs and government auditors say, of years of lax accountability and nearly automatic annual budget increases for the agency responsible for maintaining the nation's nuclear stockpile.
The NNSA has racked up $16 billion in cost overruns on 10 major projects that are a combined 38 years behind schedule, the Government Accountability Office reports. Other projects have been canceled or suspended, despite hundreds of millions of dollars already spent, because they grew too bloated.
Advocates say spending increases are necessary to keep the nation's nuclear arsenal operating and safe, and to continue cutting-edge research at the nation's nuclear labs. But critics say the nuclear program — run largely by private contractors and overseen by the NNSA, an arm of the Energy Department — has turned into a massive jobs program with duplicative functions.
“The post-Cold War nuclear warhead complex has become a gigantic self-licking ice cream cone for contractors,” said Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group, a watchdog organization.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security financial and contracting oversight subcommittee, said a key problem is the Energy Department's reliance on private contractors to carry out its mission.
The DOE has fewer than 16,000 employees and more than 92,000 contractors.
“Unfortunately for the taxpayer ... cost overruns, scheduled delays and technical failures are the rule, not the exception,” said McCaskill, D-Mo. “We need to find a better way to do this because we can't just afford the status quo anymore.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Scientists: Test West Coast for Fukushima radiation
- 273 cited in Ohio in year for texting, driving
- Americans riding public transit in record numbers
- Consensus on how to notify data breach victims lacks
- Officer among 3 men killed in Ohio club shooting
- 2 dozen injured as California school stage falls
- Toomey instrumental in derailing Justice nominee
- Expats renounce citizenship over U.S. tax hassles
- El Nino could bring relief to U.S.
- Wikileaks founder teases about more secrets to be released
- Obama budget to do little on national debt