National Nuclear Security Administration

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Group.png National Nuclear Security Administration  
(RegulatorSourcewatch WebsiteRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
NNSA Logo.png
HeadquartersJames V. Forrestal Building, Washington, D.C.
LeaderNational Nuclear Security Administration/Director
SubpageNational Nuclear Security Administration/Director
Responsible for refurbishing US nuclear warheads

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), established by Congress in 2000, is a "semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear energy. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce 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." [1]

Its first administrator was General John A. Gordon[1]. The current Acting Administrator (2021) is Charles P. Verdon.[2]

Workload Projection 2002

In a February 19, 2002, announcement [3] in The Washington Post, it was stated that the "National Nuclear Security Administration workload, at least for the next 10 years, is overwhelmingly devoted to refurbishing nuclear warheads for the land-based Minuteman III ICBM, the sub-launched Trident SLBM, the air-launched cruise missile and versions of the B-61 nuclear bomb. The one new warhead planned for dismantlement is the W-62, the original warhead on the first 500 Minuteman III missiles, but disassembly of those warheads is not expected to begin until late in this decade, Gordon said.

"To support this workload, the Nuclear Posture Review calls for almost doubling the capacity of the Nuclear Security Administration's Pantex plant outside Amarillo, Tex., to handle 600 warheads a year, up from today's 350, according to a report issued last week by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"According to the council's report, the posture review also calls for a new land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) to be operational in 2020, a new sub-launched ballistic missile and new strategic submarine by 2030 and a new heavy bomber by 2040.

"Gordon said the review calls for accelerating work on development of a new plant to produce plutonium pits, the part of a thermonuclear weapon whose atomic explosion acts as a trigger mechanism.

"In addition, Gordon said, there would be an expansion and modernization of the Y-12 plant at Oak Ridge, Tenn., which handles highly enriched uranium as well as the other radioactive materials for thermonuclear weapons. An additional $15 million has been allocated to prepare the Nevada Test Site to resume testing within a year's time, although Gordon said the George Walker Bush administration still supports the moratorium on underground testing."

Mission and operations

NNSA has four missions with regard to national security:[4]

Defense programs

One of NNSA's primary missions is to maintain the safety, security and effectiveness of the United States' nuclear weapons stockpile without explosive testing.[5] After the Cold War, the U.S. stopped production of new nuclear warheads and voluntarily ended underground nuclear testing. NNSA maintains the existing nuclear deterrent through the use of science experiments, engineering audits and high-tech simulations at its three national laboratories: Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories. NNSA assets used to maintain and ensure the effectiveness of the American nuclear weapons stockpile include the National Ignition Facility, the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test Facility, and the Z Machine. NNSA also uses multiple supercomputers to run simulations and validate experimental data.

The organization provides safe and secure transportation of nuclear weapons and components and special nuclear materials, and conducts other missions supporting national security. It has responsibility to develop, operate, and manage a system for the safe and secure transportation of all government-owned special nuclear materials in "strategic" or "significant" quantities. Shipments are transported in specially designed equipment and are escorted by armed federal agents.[6]


NNSA's Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation in conjunction with international partners, federal agencies, U.S. national laboratories, and the private sector works around the clock to discover, protect, and or dispose of radiological and nuclear materials.[7] The NNSA's Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation also tracks the spread of WMD technology and all related expertise. The core competencies for nonproliferation are as follows:

  • Extract, dispose, and reduce the materials used in the proliferation of nuclear arms
  • Protect technology, materials, and the facilities used to store such materials and technology
  • Track the spread of nuclear materials, expertise, and the technological knowledge associated with the creation of nuclear weapons
  • Conduct research and development for solutions to mitigate the spread of nuclear materials, and the application of protective measures
  • Develop policy solutions and develop programs to reduce nuclear and radiological dangers.


NNSA has successfully led the recovery efforts of nuclear materials from dozens of countries. The Department of Energy/NNSA has removed more than 6,000 kg of highly enriched uranium and plutonium worldwide.

For example, in 2017, it removed all the highly enriched uranium from Ghana and repatriated it to China. The Ghanaian reactor now uses low-enriched uranium.[8]

Counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation

The following areas are the focal point of the NNSA's Office of Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation:[9][10]

  • Radiological search – searching for radiological materials as well as identifying them.
  • Rendering safe – comprehensive evaluation of radioactive materials and or nuclear device if such a device is found, to ensure safety.
  • Consequence management – analysis of the spread of radioactive materials if such an incident were to occur.

The NNSA deploys response teams around 100 times each year, primarily to check for radioactive materials. The missions are driven by safety concerns with regard to reports, support to other agencies, and large public events such as presidential inaugurations and the Super Bowl.

NNSA provides expertise, practical tools and technically informed policy recommendations to advance U.S. nuclear counterterrorism and counterproliferation objectives. It is responsible for understanding nuclear threat devices and foreign nuclear weapons that cause proliferation concerns. To accomplish these goals, NNSA initiates international dialogues on nuclear security and counterterrorism; conducts scientific research to characterize, detect and defeat nuclear threat devices; develops and conducts WMD counterterrorism tabletop exercises; and promotes nuclear information security policy and practices.

Naval Reactors

NNSA's Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program – known as Naval Reactors – is responsible for providing efficient nuclear propulsion plants for the United States Navy. It provides the design, development and operational support required to power the U.S. Navy's aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines. The Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program is responsible for the efficient and safe operation of all nuclear powered vessels the U.S. Navy deploys and maintains for combat readiness. The NNSA's Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program consists of both civilian and military personnel who maintains, designs, builds, and manages the various nuclear powered ships in the U.S. Navy's naval fleet.

The following are the elements of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program:[11]

  • Research and development to support currently operational laboratories
  • Skilled contractors who design and build propulsion plant equipment
  • Shipyards that service, repair and build nuclear powered ships
  • Facilities to support the U.S. Navy
  • Training facilities for Naval Reactors and Nuclear Power schools
  • Various field offices and the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program Headquarters

Leadership (2005)

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