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U.S. Faces Challenges Maintaining Aging Nuclear Arsenal via Time

Investigation reveals flaws in tending to the nation’s most deadly weapons

The last thing you hear when leaving the dealership behind the wheel of your new car is the salesperson. She’s reminding you to bring it back to the dealership for repairs to ensure the proper spare parts are used to keep it running like new.

You’d think the folks in charge of keeping the nation’s nuclear arsenal healthy would take the same approach. But they don’t.

That’s because the “configuration management” (CM) requirements — an “exact list, by version, of the drawings, specifications, engineering, authorizations, manufacturing records and any other essential documents used in the development and qualification of a nuclear-weapon system or component” — haven’t been met, according to a new report from the Department of Energy (DOE) inspector general’s office.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) counts on those records to ensure its nuclear-warhead blueprints, and resulting upgrades, are correct. The failure to keep them that way has led to faulty parts being installed into the nation’s nuclear weapons. Compounding the problem is the fact that the nation’s nuclear-weapons blueprints are, well, falling apart. NNSA is the part of the DOE that oversees the nation’s nuclear stockpile.


A big part of the problem is that the U.S. hasn’t built a new nuclear weapon since 1990. That’s pushing the nation to upgrade many existing ones, something that wasn’t generally considered when the weapons were built. It’s vital to have data on how those weapons were assembled, so their thousands of parts can be safely removed and upgraded. That’s also difficult to do when the blueprints are disintegrating.

“Irreplaceable nuclear-weapons CM information is degrading,” the inspector general said. “Specifically, film media and microfiche are being lost due to degradation, and radiographs are beginning to stick together, causing extensive damage and making the data unrecoverable.”

Many of the details are classified, but the issue is of sufficient concern that the inspector general’s office said it has received “multiple allegations” of improper record keeping when it comes to U.S. nuclear arms.

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