The just released National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) reports evaluating contractor performance reveal serious scheduling delays on Livermore Lab’s nuclear warhead programs that will likely lead to cost overruns, detail the plutonium pit production support work at Livermore Lab in greater detail, and show ongoing management problems with materials of concern.

Tri-Valley CAREs, Nuclear Watch New Mexico and Savanah River Site Watch (two of our colleague groups) all used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to request the 2023 contractor Performance Evaluation Reports (PERs) be released for all of the NNSA sites.  Thanks to our repeated requesting (for the last 3-4 years in a row), the NNSA now posts them on their public website.

The PERs, which evaluate the private contractors managing the sites on their performance of deliverables and overall safety, have been illuminating as to the progress the sites are making on their stated mission goals. For the contractors, millions of dollars in “at-risk” performance dollars are at stake.

Tri-Valley CAREs has carefully reviewed the Performance Evaluation Report for Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC (the private manager for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) and for National Technology Engineering Solutions of Sandia, LLC, (the private manager for Sandia National Laboratory in NM and CA). Both reports illuminate ongoing problems and delays in meeting contract milestones for important nuclear weapons programs.

Progress and problems with the W80-4

Livermore Laboratory is the lead laboratory for the development of the W80-4 warhead that will sit atop the new Long-Range Stand-Off (LRSO) missile being developed for the Air Force and will be employed by the B-52 H aircraft. According to the PERs, “LLNS completed several integrated engineering tests including the first Full System Engineering Test and supported one Powered Cruise Missile Flight Long Range Stand Off flight test.”  The document also notes that, “The W80-4 materials compatibility team completed canned secondary assembly core stack accelerated aging studies.” In other words, the Lab has been assisting the Air Force in its engineering and flight tests, while also testing the uranium secondary. While this work likely brings this new warhead closer to completion, other information in the PERs points to serious delays developing.

The document states that, the “W80-4 Pellet can Assembly development experienced delays in shipping in part due to late identification of inspection requirements and challenges in resourcing and qualifying inspection equipment and personnel. “ Then it adds that, “LLNS’ W80-4 component development is behind, jeopardizing overall program schedule.”  Scheduling delays historically mean cost increases.

It should also be noted that a modification of the W80-4 is also planned for use on the controversial Submarine Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM), a program that President Biden has opposed by not asking for funding (however, members of Congress have added funding anyway).

More money needed for the W80-4 due to scheduling delays could show up in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2025 budget request to Congress due out in March and for the total program budget. Tri-Valley CAREs will be calling on you, our members, to take action to cut and scale back the W80-4 program, and further oppose the LRSO and SLCM nuclear weapon projects.

W87-1 Runs Behind on Deliverables While the Lab Builds on its Supporting Role in New Plutonium Pit Production

Livermore Lab is also the lead lab in the development of the new W87-1 warhead for the Sentinel inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM). The Air Force recently notified Congress that the LGM-35A Sentinel ICBM program is now expected to cost 37 percent more than previous projections, totaling almost $132 billion; an increase that triggers congressional review of the missile portion of the project.

While the PER for LLNS states that the manager “continued significant efforts to enable the production and qualification of certain pits, including Quality Evaluation Releases, facility startup activities, sample testing,” and “a third hydrodynamic test,” it also warns that, “LLNS is behind schedule on System Tests and Qualification execution and has not yet been able to produce a Schedule of Uncertainty and Risk Analysis to the Federal Program Officer.” It further states that,  “LLNS only met a portion of the deliverables for the W87-1, with some baseline schedule deliverables missed.”

Likewise, Sandia is said to have, “missed key intermediate deliverables for the W87-1 program and experienced technical challenges in component development, resulting in a missed FY2023 Program Milestone and increased schedule risk.”

Together, these “schedule” problems spell delay and likely major cost overruns for the W87-1. Again, Tri-Valley CAREs will be issuing calls to action in the coming months to oppose the W87-1 warhead development and the Sentinel ICBM programs.

Also of import, the W87-1 is the primary driver for enhanced plutonium pit production being developed at two NNSA sites, Los Alamos National Laboratory in NM and Savannah River Site in SC. The first 800 new pits created in the production facilities are designated for the W87-1. Tri-Valley CAREs is party to a lawsuit brought pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) with our colleague organizations, Nuclear Watch New Mexico and Savannah River Site Watch, seeking additional environmental review of the two-site plutonium pit production plan. Tri-Valley CAREs joined the suit because so far the NEPA review lacked detailed study of the role that Livermore Lab would have in supporting the pit production plan.

The PERs provides the most detailed information to date about the work that Livermore Lab is doing on plutonium pits. It states that, “LLNS forged commendable relationship with production agencies… in the areas of pit production.” It continues with, “LLNS continued support of production capability and qualification efforts for certain pits. 24 of 42 Quality Evaluation Releases have been released to support (pit) production activities at LANL. Further, it states, “LLNS began test article fabrication (of pits) after receiving a second set of certification samples and developed an equipment lifecycle plan for qualification and production of certain pits….LLNS provided significant support working with production agencies on the W87-1 Pit…”

The PERs verifies that Livermore Lab’s role in pit production is significant and that it has already begun in earnest. It is unacceptable that no public, in-depth review into the hazards involved with the Livermore Lab’s new plutonium pit production support work has been produced can circulated for public comment.

Livermore Lab Continues to Poorly Manage Materials of Concern

Over the last decade, Livermore Lab has been repeatedly accused by regulatory agencies of poorly managing, i.e. keeping track of,  radioactive materials and high explosives. Again, the PERs confirms that LLNS is “experiencing substantial issues and challenges in its Materials Control and Accountability program. “ It continues that in the area of Materials Control and Accountability, “findings remained open and LLNS did not complete all required activities in support of the April 2023 physical inventory, delaying the inventory, negatively impacting operations, and leading to concerns over LLNS’ Materials Control and Accountability culture.”

Tri-Valley CAREs will be following up on all of the issues identified in the PERs above (and others not mentioned here) with additional FOIA requests for more detailed information. Additionally, we will use the document’s findings in meetings with members of Congress and regulatory agencies. Stay tuned!

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