Sandia LabNews

Labs director signs annual stockpile assessment letter

Yearlong evaluation process verifies weapons’ reliability

Image of James Peery

ANNUAL ASSESSMENT — Labs Director James Peery signed the annual stockpile assessment letter in September. The letter is the culmination of a yearlong process that evaluates the safety, reliability and performance of weapons in the U.S. stockpile. (Photo by Craig Fritz)

In September, Labs Director James Peery signed and sent the annual stockpile assessment letter to U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and the Nuclear Weapons Council. The letter will ultimately reach President Biden’s desk before he sends it to Congress.

The Labs director is required by law to complete a yearly assessment of the safety, reliability and performance of the non-nuclear components that Sandia is responsible for in each weapon system in the nation’s stockpile.

“One of Sandia’s most important roles is assessing the stockpile. Employees from across the Labs work year-round to provide critical scientific and engineering data and information that form the basis for the annual assessment letter,” James said. “Finalizing and signing the annual letter represents the culmination of a lot of work and dedication.”

Information in the letter is subject to internal and external peer review. Directors from Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories and the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command are also required to submit annual stockpile assessment letters for their areas of responsibility.

Science-based stockpile stewardship

As the Cold War ended, the U.S. implemented a moratorium on underground nuclear testing in 1992. With the absence of underground testing, the NNSA established a science-based stockpile stewardship program to increase scientific understanding of nuclear weapon performance and the aging behavior of weapon materials and components. Science-based stockpile stewardship includes non-nuclear testing and computational simulation.

As part of the stockpile stewardship program, a formal annual certification process for the safety, reliability and performance of the weapons was created.

“The annual stockpile assessment process was established to evaluate the technical basis that supports our assertions that the stockpile remains safe and reliable in the absence of underground nuclear testing. Sandia’s annual stockpile assessment letter represents one of our largest responsibilities in stockpile stewardship,” said Chris O’Gorman, director of the Weapons Stockpile Management Center.

The bulk of the Labs’ non-nuclear testing takes place at the Weapons Evaluation Test Laboratory, co-located with the Pantex production facility in Amarillo, Texas, and at Sandia’s Tonopah Test Range in Nevada. Additional testing critical to the assessment occurs at Sandia’s New Mexico and California sites, as well as throughout the NNSA’s nuclear security enterprise.

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