March 17, 2021

Allegation on Weapons Quality Assurance at the Kansas City National Security Campus

Established by Congress in 2000, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is a semi-autonomous agency within the Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science.  One of NNSA’s core missions is to ensure that the U.S. maintains a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear stockpile through the application of science, technology, engineering, and manufacturing.

One of the eight sites that comprise NNSA is the Kansas City National Security Campus (KCNSC) located near Kansas City, Missouri.  KCNSC is responsible for manufacturing and procuring non-nuclear components for nuclear weapons, including electronic, mechanical, quality assurance and engineered material components.

In September 2019, the Office of Inspector General received two serious allegations of non-compliance with nuclear weapon product designs that, if true, could have had a detrimental effect on the safety and reliability of the nuclear stockpile.  Specifically the allegations stated that KCNSC accepted: (1) parts 2A3555 and 2A3557 flex cables despite those flex cables failing continuity testing; and (2) part 3A3917 rigid-flex cables that did not conform to their design’s specifications and that KCNSC did not consult the design agency, Sandia National Laboratories, regarding the actual methods used to produce these rigid-flex cables.

We partially substantiated the allegations.  Specifically, we substantiated that the KCNSC incorrectly accepted a limited number of parts 2A3555 and 2A3557 flex cables that were erroneously reported to have passed continuity testing but had, in fact, failed the continuity testing.  We attributed this to the continuity testing subcontractor’s failure to update their testing requirements.  Based on our work, KCNSC either scrapped the flex cables or determined that they were acceptable for use through the Specification Exception Release Process. 

We substantiated that the KCNSC had part 3A3917 rigid-flex cables manufactured in a manner that did not conform to the design’s specification.  We attributed this to the poor communication between the design and production agency regarding the change to a copper foil construction.  However, we were unable to substantiate that the KCNSC had not consulted with the design agency regarding the actual method used to produce Part 3A3917.  According to both the Department and contractor officials, the manufactured 3A3917 rigid-flex cables were reviewed and determined to be acceptable for use.  In addition, NNSA completed a root-cause analysis designed to prevent issues in other product lines.

Because of the quick action taken by NNSA in response to our management notification memos and inspection findings, there is no expected impact as a result of these allegations.  Therefore, we have no additional recommendations.