Among Our Big Nuclear Problems: a Single Wrench
Billions may be required to fix the decaying weapons stockpile
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 14, 2014 1:00 AM CST
Updated Nov 14, 2014 7:55 AM CST
In this June 24, 2014, file photo, Capt. Robby Modad closes the gate at an ICBM launch control facility in the countryside outside Minot, ND, at the Minot Air Force Base.   (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

(Newser) – Just 10 days before the deadline to wrap up nuclear negotiations with Iran, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is expected to announce today that there are "systemic problems across the nuclear enterprise," at least according to two Pentagon studies. Senior defense officials tell the New York Times that academic cheating scandals and the dismissal of high-level officers for misbehavior ultimately unearthed other problems, notably the level of disrepair among the Air Force's and Navy's aging nuclear weapons facilities. Two wild allegations: that inspectors have overlooked 60-year-old silos' aging blast doors, which no longer close tightly, and that the crews that tend to our 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles share the single wrench that's capable of attaching the nuclear warheads.

Apparently it had been years since someone checked "to see if new tools were being made," one official said, adding that crews "started FedExing the one tool" to three bases across the country. One official put the price tag to fix the security and maintenance problems in the "billions" but said it would not be as high as $20 billion. The amount required is on top of the tens of billions the Obama administration has already devoted to extending the lives of aging warheads and upgrading nuclear laboratories. Obama has previously pledged to make the country's nuclear arsenal as safe and reliable as possible. Still, the timing is less than ideal: Hagel will be pushing to improve America's nuclear arsenal just as the administration tells Iran to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure altogether.