A bill that would end the Trump administration’s direct supervision of the federal agency responsible for maintaining America’s existing nuclear stockpile is currently making its way through Congress.
The bill, recently approved by the Senate, will remove the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) from the supervision of the Department of Energy and allow it to act on its own.
According to its mission statement, the NNSA “maintains and enhances the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear explosive testing; works to reduce the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.”
The NNSA is responsible for maintaining the famed Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, where components for nuclear weapons are researched and designed, as well as the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, where existing nuclear weapons are maintained and refurbished.
In addition, the NNSA’s Y-12 National Security Complex, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is the country’s only source of enriched uranium nuclear weapon components and provides enriched uranium for the Navy.
The maintenance and refurbishment of the nation’s existing nuclear stockpile are critical given no new nuclear weapon systems are currently in development, nor are they able to be tested given the country’s moratorium on live nuclear testing.
Most the nuclear weapons currently in the nation’s stockpile, currently at its lowest level since 1960, were originally developed in the 1950s and 1960s and not intended to last forever.
In light of the ban on live nuclear testing, the NNSA conducts a science-based assessment of the nation’s nuclear stockpile through its Stockpile Stewardship Program.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry and the Trump administration strongly oppose the proposal, arguing the move will harm national security.
The move by Congress to end the Trump administration’s direct supervision over the agency responsible for maintaining our nation’s nuclear stockpile is not unprecedented given congressional Democrats, including Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, previously introduced a bill that would require President Trump seek congressional authorization before launching a nuclear strike.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at the behest of chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee, concurrently held an unprecedented hearing on the topic of nuclear authorization.
At the time, Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, caused a stir when he indicated he would obey a hypothetical order from President Trump for a nuclear strike on China, arguing every member of the military has sworn an oath to obey the Constitution and the commander-in-chief.
“Every member of the US military has sworn an oath to defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic and to obey the officers and the president of the United States as commander and chief appointed over us,” he declared.
“This is core to the American democracy and any time you have a military that is moving away from a focus and an allegiance to civilian control, then we really have a significant problem.”