Cook: Govt shutdown cost NNSA’s defense programs $330M

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Dr. Don Cook, deputy admininstrator for defense programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration, spoke this morning at the ETEBA Business Opportunities Conference in Knoxville. (Department of Energy photo/Lynn Freeny)

Don Cook, the National Nuclear Security Administrator’s deputy administrator for defense programs, said the government shutdown this fall cost the agency $330 million. And that was just for defense programs around the complex, Cook said this morning at the ETEBA’s annual Business Opportunities Conference at the Knoxville Convention Center.

Cook was a keynote speaker at this morning’s session, after which he went to Y-12 to spend time on the plant’s 70th anniversary event and to personally thank the Oak Ridge workers for their efforts during difficult times. He said he personally made the call to order Y-12 and Pantex to begin an orderly shutdown in early October when appropriations were cut off. Moving toward a shutdown was a “distasteful” thing to do, he said, citing the whole process of preparing for furloughs “when government can’t get its act together.”

He said he ordered the shutdown early on so that Y-12 and Pantex could put the nuclear assets into safe and secure position. Because under no condition would he allow the nuclear materials and nuclear weapons components to be exposed when the plants ran out of money, he said.

Starting up the plants after a shutdown is sometimes even harder than shutting them down, Cook said.

The federal official told the audience that he wanted them to remember three things from his talk this morning: the NNSA has an enduring mission; Y-12 plays a key role in it; and the nuclear deterrent remains the ultimate insurance policy for the United States.

Many people remember President Obama’s April 5, 2009 speech in Prague for his statements about working to rid the world of nuclear weapons, Cook said. But he noted that the President also emphasized the needed “to maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal” until that day arrives.

On multiple occasions during his talk, Cook referred to nuclear weapons as “terrible weapons,” but he added, “They are to deter war, not to fight a war.”

He gave a fairly detailed review of the weapons activities on the horizon, and he emphasized that Y-12 is a part of every major program.

Cook said not nearly enough attention in the news media and otherwise is paid to the great reductions in the world’s nuclear arsenals, with the  U.S. arsenal now at the lowest level since the Eisenhower Administration. From a peak of 31,255 warheads, the U.S. arsenal — as of Sept. 30, 2009 — had dwindled to 5,119 warheads.

Interestingly, Cook’s comments regarding the Uranium Processing Facility made the UPF look more than ever like a Phase One project.

Among the technical challenges facing Y-12, one of those was to modernize the uranium part of manufacturing at Y-12, citing the 9212 portion of the project “at least” and the work done at 9215 and Beta-2E (Phases Two and Three of the project) as “if possible” within the available funding.

Other key technical challenges at Y-12 include:

— Support the W76-1 life-extension project until completion

— Support B61-12 LEP until it’s completed

— Complete disassembly by 2022 of all nuclear weapons retired prior to 2009.

— Reduce the footprint of Y-12 manufacturing by about 75 percent over the next 10 years.

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.