In response to questions by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., NNSA Administrator Frank G. Klotz said the Uranium Processing Facility team is implementing every one of the recommendations of the Red Team (headed by ORNL Director Thom Mason) that reviewed the big project, and he vowed, “We are going to deliver that facility at $6.5 billion by 2025.”
Klotz appeared and other top officials at the National Nuclear Security Administration appeared Wednesday before the Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee, which is chaired by Alexander.
The hearing focused on the proposed FY 2017 budget for the NNSA, a semi-autonomous part of the U.S. Department of Energy. The recommended budget is $12.4 billion.
Tennessee’s senior senator asked Klotz when the NNSA expected to achieve 90 percent completion of the UPF design. Klotz said it would be toward the end of 2017. However, when Alexander asked if that’s when construction would begin, Klotz said, “We might not actually begin construction at that time.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, raised her concerns about planned cuts in the non-proliferation programs while the requested funds for life-extension projects and other work on nuclear weapons keep going up and up.
Feinstein praised the NNSA for its work in recovering vulnerable nuclear materials around the globe, but she cited continuing reports of interdictions of weapons-making materials. She also said the worsening economy in Russia and the rise of the Islamic State pose additional threats.
“Now is not the time to let down our guard . . . on nuclear security,” she said.
Feinstein said she had met recently with Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, and raised her objections to a new nuclear cruise missile.
“I came away unconvinced for the need for this weapon,” the senator said, addressing her questions to Klotz.
She said it appeared that the “so-called improvements” to the design were to make it more useable to help the U.S. fight and win a limited nuclear war.
“I find that a shocking concept,” Feinstein said.
Klotz noted that defining the military requirements is the job of the Department of Defense and the Strategic Command, but — with Feinstein telling him not to duck the question — Klotz also acknowledged his former position as commander of the Global Strike Command and offered his thoughts on the cruise re-do.
He said the existing cruise missile was first deployed in 1982 and is “getting a little long in the tooth.” He added that times have changed and so, too, have the sophistication and abilities of air defenses.
Klotz said his view is that deterrence is best served by improving the capability of weapons.
Feinstein countered that it just ratchets up war and ratchets up death. Even if you lower the kilotonnage, it’s still a huge weapon, she said.
Later on, at the end of the hearing, Feinstein noted that her time for questions had expired, unless — she said — Klotz wished to further debate the development of a nuclear cruise missile.
Klotz said he would be happy to come by her office to discuss the issues further.
Someone, it wasn’t clear if it Alexander or someone else, chimed in that they would like to watch that. Another voice on the videocast noted that it would be better than the Republican debate. Or, as another suggested, it would at least be more informative.
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