Expert Available: Robert Alvarez offers line-by-line analysis of nuclear provisions in defense bill

Washington DC — As the U.S. House of Representatives debates the defense bill today, IPS senior scholar Robert Alvarez comments on the bill and its nuclear provisions. Alvarez points out that the bill proposes dangerous increases in nuclear weapons preparedness. He is available for comment. Please contact Lacy MacAuley at (202) 445-4692 for interview requests.

Robert Alvarez, Senior Scholar for Nuclear Policy at IPS, offers the following review of the defense bill:

Today the U.S. House of Representatives will take up the proposed National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013. (H.R. 4310). Below is a section by section analysis of the nuclear weapons provisions I drew up over the past few weeks. Also, here is the White House Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) regarding this legislation.

Democratic members will be offering amendments to strike and/or modify several provisions. House Republicans have cobbled together the most bellicose nuclear arms policy since the height of the Cold War. In doing so, they restore the “production over safety” policy that left behind an enormous human and environmental legacy.

Specifically, this bill:

(1) Blocks funding for implementation of the New START Treaty, and reductions in thousands of non-deployed weapons, known as the “war reserve” to be used in retaliation against civilian populations, unless new nuclear weapons facilities and delivery systems are funded over the next 10 years totaling about $185 billion;

(2) Dictates specific terms and conditions for future nuclear arms reductions driven by Cold War nuclear arms race policies;

(3) Requires the Administration to submit a report on re-deploying tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.

(4) Codifies a process to funnel additional money for the DOE nuclear weapons labs, above and beyond what they already receive from the Department’s of Defense, Homeland Security, and intelligence agencies;

(5) Bestows unprecedented inherent governmental oversight of budgets and Executive Branch nuclear weapons policies to the DOE nuclear weapons contractors;

(6) Eliminates the Energy department’s oversight and enforcement of health, safety security and financial management and transfers it these functions to the National Nuclear Security Agency, within DOE;

(7) Drastically cuts funding by more than $50 million that permits NNSA and DOE to carry-out safety, health, security and financial management oversight and enforcement responsibilities;

(8) Establishes a long-discredited policy by law which places budget and schedules above nuclear safety requirements; and

(9) Seriously weakens the authority of the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board (DNFSB), established after several serious safety lapses, to ensure that the nuclear weapons program meets DOE safety standards and practices.

(10) opens up the coffers of the Defense Department to pay for the multi-billion-dollar construction of new nuclear weapons production facilities;

(11) Codifies a process to funnel additional money for the DOE nuclear weapons labs, above and beyond what they already receive from the Department’s of Defense, Homeland Security, and intelligence agencies;

(12) Bestows unprecedented inherent governmental oversight of budgets and Executive Branch nuclear weapons policies to the DOE nuclear weapons contractors;

(13) Eliminates the Energy department’s oversight and enforcement of health, safety security and financial management and transfers these functions to the National Nuclear Security Agency, within DOE;

(14) Drastically cuts funding for NNSA to carry-out safety, health, security and financial management oversight and enforcement responsibilities;

(15) Establishes a long-discredited policy by law which places budget and schedules above nuclear safety requirements; and

(16) Seriously weakens the authority of the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board (DNFSB), established after several serious safety lapses, to ensure that the nuclear weapons program meets DOE safety standards and practices.

ANALYSIS OF SECTIONS RELATING TO NUCLEAR WEAPONS IN H.R. 4310

Section 1053 effectively withholds funds for the implementation the New START Treaty if the President, in a report to Congress, does not submit budgets that ensure the U.S. is committed to “providing the resources, at a minimum at the levels set forth in the President’s 10-year plan provided to Congress in November 2010.” This plan called for a steep increase in funding for nuclear weapons R&D, modernization, and deployment of new delivery systems estimated at $185 billion. This provision also withholds funds to allow the President to reduce the number of warheads without justifying it for Congressional approval.

Section 1058 (e) requires the President to certify that the CMMR and UPF are constructed by 2012 and will be operational no later than 2024. This provision also effectively limits reductions in the “war reserve” containing thousands of non-deployed warheads until the construction and operation of these facilities occur.

Section 1062 establishes an “Interagency Council on the Strategic Capability of the National Laboratories.” This codifies the process put in place by the Obama Administration to funnel even more funds above and beyond what DOE labs currently receive from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.

Section 1059 effectively restricts the reduction the number of nuclear warheads on Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles unless the President can certify to Congress that the Russian Federation and China are doing the same.

Section 1060 proscribes the terms and conditions that the U.S. must adhere to in negotiations to reduce tactical nuclear warheads in Europe and prohibits funding for “reduction, consolidation, or withdrawal of nuclear forces based in Europe, until the President certifies that NATO nations concur and that these steps are “specifically authorized by an Act of Congress.”

Section 2894 requires:

  • ”that the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building Replacement (CMRR) project, in Los Alamos, New Mexico, the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) project, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and any nuclear facility of the NNSA initiated on or after October 1, 2013 that is estimated to cost more than $1.0 billion (and is intended to be primarily utilized to support NNSAs nuclear weapons activities), be treated as military construction projects.
  • Furthermore, this section would authorize, as military construction, the CMRR project in the amount of $3.5 billion and the UPF project in the amount of $4.2 billion.
  • “This section would specify that the Secretary of Energy shall retain authority to regulate design and construction activities for these projects, that the Secretary of Defense must coordinate with the Administrator for Nuclear Security regarding requirements for these facilities, and that the Administrator must make available to the Secretary of Defense the expertise of the NNSA to support design and construction activities.” (P. 315, Committee Report for H.R. 4310)

Section 3114 establishes a NATIONAL NUCLEAR SECURITY ADMINISTRATION COUNCIL, made up of the DOE weapons labs directors and production contractors to provide recommendations for improving “the governance, management, effectiveness, and efficiency” of the NNSA and “scientific and technical issues relating to policy matters, operational concerns, strategic planning and development of priorities related to the mission and operations” of the NNSA and the “Administration of the nuclear security enterprise.” The NNSA and the DOE Secretary must act upon their recommendations within 60 days. This is an unprecedented effort to bestow inherent government oversight authority on DOE nuclear weapons contractors.

Section 3115 eliminates DOE oversight of financial, safety, health and security oversight and enforcement and places it in the hands of NNSA. The NNSA can waive current requirements for protection of the public and workers. In Section 3115 (d) the Committee also lowers the bar by legislating a radiation protection framework that was discarded some 40 years ago. Known as “as low as practicable (ALAP),” this practice would allow the NNSA and its contractors to use cost and schedule to override nuclear safety requirements, if they interfere with design, construction and operations of nuclear weapons facilities. By contrast the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires the practice of “as low as reasonably achievable,” which is based on a “safety first” criteria and also requires a greater level of inspection and enforcement of standards. The ALAP/Cold War practice in the hands of contractors is discredited by decades of Congressional, Executive Branch and independent reviews. DOE contractors are the only private businesses working for the U.S. government that are granted blanket indemnification for criminal violations of safety. This is a major reason why the U.S. taxpayer is on the hook for an enormous long-term liability at weapons sites. The HASC wants to restore this discredited system that puts workers and the public in harm’s way while increasing tax-payer liabilities.

Section 3117 effectively strips the DOE Secretary of its authority to oversee and enforce financial controls over DOE nuclear weapons contractors. In the name of “streamlining,” the HASC delegates approval for work for others and cooperative research and development agreements to the DOE contractors.

Section 3202 does the following:

  • It weakens the role of the Chair of the DNFSB by virtually making the other members co-equals, and creates potential problem of “gridlock.”
  • It proscribes a greatly weakened public safety standard that the Board must adhere to. As mentioned above: The “low as practicable’ practice allows the NNSA and its contractors to use cost and schedule to override design, construction and operational radiation safety. By contrast the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires the practice of “as low as reasonably achievable,” which establishes a “safety first” criteria and also requires a greater level of inspection and enforcement of standards. The ALAP/Cold War practice in the hands of contractors is discredited by decades of Congressional, Executive Branch, and independent reviews.
  • It requires the Board to submit draft recommendations to the Secretary. Previously, recommendations made were final. This puts the Board in the position of sending its pre-decisional recommendations to the DOE, and subject safety findings to negotiations. A basic principal of nuclear safety, established by the Nuclear Navy, is that safety findings are not negotiable.
  • The provision stretches the time that the DOE/NNSA can respond to the Board Recommendations, another item that further weakens the Board.