US Nuclear Infrastructure Over Budget, Delayed
According to the United States Government Accountability Office, as of March 2023, major projects anticipated to improve aging nuclear infrastructure that pose safety and operation risks are over budget and delayed.
These projects reportedly have exceeded cost estimates by over $2 billion, while also surpassing their collective schedules by almost 10 years.
However, the National Nuclear Security Administration is planning to invest over $30 billion in major projects to modernize the research and production infrastructure for the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.The GAO assessment is the first of the biennial reports of the NNSA's major projects.
As of March 2023, the NNSA reportedly estimated that its portfolio of 18 major projects in the execution phase will overrun their collective cost and schedule baselines. At the moment, the NNSA is reportedly reviewing cost and schedule estimates for four of these projects that had already experienced these issues and could result in additional overruns or delays.
According to a release from the GAO, of the projects that are under construction, the multi-billion-dollar Uranium Processing Facility family of projects in Tennessee is responsible for most of the cost increases and delays.
National Nuclear Security Administration: Assessments of Major Projects https://t.co/tehfTNT2mq— U.S. GAO (@USGAO) August 17, 2023
Additionally, six projects in the design phase will implement changes to increase their cost and schedule beyond NNSA’s preliminary estimates. These reportedly include a project to modify existing plutonium processing facilities at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
Previously, the GAO has reportedly made recommendations that would help NNSA better manage its projects and the programs that will operate the completed projects to achieve agency goals.
The release states that GAO has recommended that the NNSA complete a lifecycle cost estimate for establishing the agency’s capability for producing plutonium pits—the central core of a nuclear weapon—as this effort involves dozens of programs, projects and other activities, including two multi-billion-dollar projects and multiple other projects that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
The NNSA has reportedly not acted on some of these recommendations, though the GAO states that expressed concerns about the management of nuclear projects and programs since 1990, and NNSA acquisition and program management, remains on its recent High-Risk List.
The cost and schedule baselines are reportedly quantitative indicators of performance measured by specific cost and completion date estimates.
Reason for the Study
The NNSA is reportedly planning to invest tens of billions of dollars in major construction projects to modernize the research and production infrastructure on which the nuclear weapons stockpile depends. Major projects reportedly include those with an estimated cost of $100 million or more. House and Senate reports are stated to include provisions for GAO to periodically review these projects.
The report, according to GAO, includes:
Additionally, the report includes individual assessments of the major projects.
GAO stated that it has collected and analyzed project cost, schedule, design and technology data and documents; reviewed monthly project status reports; reviewed DOE's project management order; and interviewed NNSA officials.
GAO also reportedly reviewed projects in the definition phase—which takes a project through preliminary and final designs—and those in the subsequent execution phase, which are in construction.