TribLIVE

| USWorld


 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Nation's bloated nuclear spending under scrutiny

Daily Photo Galleries

By The Associated Press
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

Most-Read Nation

  1. Mortgage deal isn’t likely to cost $17B
  2. Scathing report says college trustees fail in mission
  3. Beheading doesn’t deter U.S., who launches new airstrikes
  4. Last 4 hostages freed in suburban Chicago
  5. Contraception, abstinence push U.S. teen birthrates to historic lows
  6. Cleanup follows heavy storms in Phoenix area
  7. Navy boots 34 in cheating scandal
  8. Florida looks good: Farmer’s Almanac predicts ‘super-cold’ winter, above-average snow for Northeast
  9. Latest Ferguson protests are smaller, more subdued
  10. Poll: Common Core educational standards loses support
  11. CDC scientist took shortcuts with bird flu
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.