Good morning, everyone. It is a pleasure to be back for the 15th annual Nuclear Deterrence Summit representing the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration. I would like to thank the Summit organizers for the invitation and sincerely appreciate your interest in our mission.

Today, I would like to touch on a few areas and then take some questions from the audience. First, I will go over the international environment and how it’s impacting our work and mission priorities. Second, I’ll go into some of NNSA’s near-term priorities along with some of the challenges we are facing as an organization in executing our mission and delivering for the American people. And finally, I’ll speak to some recent updates, accomplishments, and coming attractions.

International Environment

When I addressed this Summit last year it was February 7th. Just three weeks later Russia launched an unprovoked, full-scale invasion of Ukraine. This reprehensible action has significantly impacted our activities. In the broadest view, Russia’s invasion has raised questions about the elimination of nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees as well as the safety and security of nuclear power plants, especially those acquired from Russia. This has damaged the global nonproliferation regime as states seek to either retain or acquire their own nuclear arsenals and it has stressed the International Atomic Energy Agency’s peaceful nuclear uses mandate.

To offset the conclusion that acquiring nuclear weapons is necessary for national security, we will enhance our efforts to assure our allies that our security guarantees our ironclad, and our nuclear arsenal is safe and effective. Additionally, we will expand our nuclear security assistance and look to partner on everything from science and technology to emergency response capabilities.

In nuclear zones, Russia has operated with a reckless disregard for nuclear safety during its invasion. Its actions at Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia, whether restricting the movement of workers or active shelling in nuclear zones, are violating safety standards. To be blunt, nuclear power plants are designed to handle incidents of all kinds, but war is not one of them. This weaponization of energy is deeply concerning. From the start of Russia’s invasion, NNSA personnel have supported interagency and foreign partners to monitor radiation levels and provided technical expertise, data collection, analysis, and training.

We are also facing other developments from peer and regional competitors. China continues to advance an aggressive nuclear modernization program, with a December report suggesting their arsenal contains about 400 weapons today and might contain 1500 nuclear weapons by 2035. North Korea is actively testing missiles to improve and diversify its delivery capabilities and has stated its desire to be the world’s strongest nuclear weapons state. Finally, Iran continues to enrich uranium to higher levels and at a faster pace.

In the interest of global stability, the United States has also made new national commitments that involve NNSA capabilities. Most prominently, we continue to work with our interagency partners on the AUKUS trilateral partnership with the United Kingdom and Australia to provide Australia with a nuclear-powered, conventionally-armed submarine capability. The initial 18-month consultation period for the partnership is set to conclude this spring and we look forward to taking the next steps in helping a key ally improve both its security and the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific region while maintaining the highest nonproliferation standards.

We have also seen a surge in interest in the adoption of nuclear technology as a means of providing reliable zero-carbon electricity to combat climate change and to promote other development goals. NNSA remains committed to facilitating the peaceful adoption of nuclear energy technology while acknowledging that a large civilian nuclear community will require additional resources to secure critical sites and sources, expand anti-smuggling and counterproliferation capacities with partner nations, and promote the highest safeguards and security standards as outlined by the IAEA.

In some of my recent speeches, I’ve pointed out that the American people are hearing more about nuclear issues than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis or the collapse of the Soviet Union. In both the military and civilian world, nuclear is in the middle of a renaissance. Meeting this moment, and I believe we have the determination to meet it, will require us to be proactive and adaptable to rapidly changing circumstances. Thank you for being part of this renaissance.

Priorities and Challenges

With all that in mind, NNSA has important work to do. Our mission needs are pressing and there are new important activities in our mission set. We will require focus and creativity and that’s why late last year we released NNSA’s Integrated Strategic Priorities for FY 2023 aligned with the Strategic Vision released in 2022.

Let me share some of our priorities. First and foremost, we remain fully committed to providing a safe, secure, reliable, and effective nuclear deterrent and to increasing schedule margin. In the more uncertain geopolitical environment, our nuclear deterrent remains the cornerstone of our national defense and provides critical assurance to our allies in Europe and the Indo-Pacific. To deliver weapons we modernize our infrastructure. The rapidly changing nature of the challenges we face requires an enterprise capable of responding to those challenges in a timely manner. The nuclear security enterprise of the future we envision as resilient and flexible. And we can’t forget the capabilities and infrastructure we need to advance our scientific capabilities that allow us to verify the safety and security of the stockpile and introduce new technology into our weapons without resuming explosive testing.

This simultaneous modernization of our existing capabilities while revitalizing our science and manufacturing base has challenges. After the Cold War, the nuclear security enterprise shifted focus; we went from producing thousands of plutonium pits and their associated components annually for an arsenal with tens of thousands of weapons, to providing maintenance and stewardship for a smaller, tailored arsenal. It made sense to do this during a time of strong international cooperation on disarmament, relative geopolitical stability, and a weapons stockpile that was within its design lifetime. The current international climate and the growing age of our weapons stockpile make this approach unsustainable. Additionally, many of our production capabilities have atrophied, become obsolete, or outright disappeared over the last 30 years.

Reconstituting those lost capabilities while providing the flexibility and resilience I mentioned earlier requires the successful completion of multiple large-scale construction projects and many smaller-scale infrastructure projects that can both handle our immediate mission requirements and provide stability over the long term. In the next 10 years or so, NNSA intends to complete two new construction projects for pit manufacturing. In addition to that, we will be completing the Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 and continue work on other projects for secondary production such as lithium processing. We have also started work to expand the Kansas City National Security Complex for non-nuclear production. We are also investing in new and updated scientific capabilities including exascale computing, pit aging and qualification facilities, high density physics, radiation effects, and office buildings. Beyond these projects, we must modernize and secure our supply chain for high explosives, expand capacity at Pantex, and lay the groundwork for having an unobligated enriched Uranium supply for tritium production and naval reactor fuel.

Given the workload, we need to move to new delivery models for our projects.  In the past, we built our infrastructure out to its maximum extent, and when the Cold War ended, we were left with large and aged buildings, environmental contamination, and the challenge of restarting production from scratch for critical items like plutonium pits. Going forward, we need to be creative in facility design and cultivate capabilities that can rapidly scale up or down depending on the international environment and mission need while being minimally disruptive to contracts, workforce, facilities, and the environment.

Of course, this rebuilding is not without its challenges. The environment for large-scale construction has been difficult for the last several years. Labor shortages, declining productivity, supply chain issues, and inflation are driving the cost of construction up. Most notably, we are seeing an acute shortage of specialized craft and trade workers who are certified to work on our critical nuclear projects. While this has resulted in schedule slippage and cost increases for our on-going infrastructure projects, we are working closely with our Department of Defense colleagues to make sure the U.S. stockpile always remains effective.

It is important to also discuss our nonproliferation, counterterrorism, counterproliferation, and emergency response programs. These programs continue to serve as a critical, complementary part of our deterrence policy and national security and their importance has been highlighted since the invasion of Ukraine. The relationships built with allies over decades coupled with readiness of response and sophisticated capabilities enable NNSA to put in place additional radiation and other sensors, and to work with Ukraine and surrounding countries to raise awareness of all nuclear issues. The intra- and inter-agency efforts on Ukraine have been impressive, everything from a supply of back up parts to emergency training to medical provisioning. I am immensely proud of what our team is doing as part of the behind the scenes efforts in Ukraine.

An area in nonproliferation that is garnering increased attention from us is the growth of interest in nuclear power because of the climate change fight and to meet the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. We will focus on working with companies developing advanced reactors to help put safeguards and security at a level equal to safety in their designs. We will also work with newcomer countries on their ability to track, transport, and manage nuclear and radioactive materials safely and securely. Our focus in this area will be on engaging partners, allies, third-party countries, and international organizations in capacity building exercises, equipment transfers, and promoting international safeguards.

Along with these priorities we are evaluating a strategy for disposition of 34 Metric tons of surplus Plutonium that is achievable and aligned with other NNSA objectives. And we are establishing a revitalized arms control program to make sure any treaty we can agree to with other countries has a credible technical verification approach.

None of these priorities can be successful without a strong workforce. Our labs, plants, and sites and federal staff have experienced a higher attrition rate than normal in 2022, around 10 percent. We worked aggressively to fight the attrition trend including a mid-year salary adjustment across the non-federal NNSA Complex, more flexible benefits, and a competitive salary increase for calendar year 2023. We are beginning to see improved retention. However, we still need to worry about our demographics. For example, about 16 percent of NNSA’s federal employees are eligible to retire now, a number that is expected to grow to around 36 percent by mid-decade. The departure of experienced, senior staff, some of whom have held multiple positions across the Enterprise, means a loss of institutional memory, technical skills, and leadership ability. Last year we hired over 11,000 people in the Complex with a net growth of about 4000.

I also want to touch briefly on our Management and Operating Contracts and how we are aiming to evolve those consistent with our mission demands. About 95 percent of NNSA’s dedicated workforce work under the M&O contract model. That model has served us well over the last several decades. But with our mission growth, the workload of our labs, plants, and sites is expanding. Going forward we will seek to bolster long-term relationships, improve flexibility, and accelerate mission performance through our contracts. I asked two of our experienced federal leaders, Jay Tilden and Steve Ho, to conduct a study on enhancing our ability to delivery mission. The intent was not to have another outside evaluation of our enterprise, but to have an inside look at how to improve ourselves. The resultant report, released in September 2022, now commonly referred to as EMDI, Enhancing Mission Delivery Initiative, recommended 21 actions that would help us improve the health of our federal and M&O relationships and productivity. We are taking implementation of these recommendations seriously and are involving the whole of our enterprise in the implementation. Some of the recommendations have been initially implemented and we will continue to find ways for further improvement. Others, we are planning to implement. And finally, a few will require further investigation and stakeholder engagement. There is nothing more fundamental to our ability to innovate, collaborate, and deliver than getting the M&O model right, and I intend to stay focused on this effort.

Finally, and very importantly, we will continue to strengthen constructive partnerships with Congress, our partners in the U.S. government from the Departments of Energy, Defense, State, and Homeland Security, and international organizations like the IAEA. Consistent, bipartisan, and interagency cooperation is vital to the success of our mission.

Accomplishments and Updates

Before I wrap up, I’d like to touch on a few updates and accomplishments from around the enterprise.

As I previously noted, we are actively modernizing our existing nuclear arsenal. To accomplish this task, we are executing five modernization and life extension programs for different systems. Last year we reached the First Production Unit for both the W88 ALT 370 sea-launched warhead and B61-12 gravity bomb, and both programs are now in full-scale production and on track to meet Department of Defense schedules. We are continuing to advance our efforts on the W80-4 cruise missile for the Air Force and remain on track to meet operating schedules. The W87-1 Mod for the Sentinel ICBM has successfully moved to the Development Engineering Phase, and the W93 remains in early design. It is also worth noting that the W93 continues our strong partnership with the United Kingdom. Our efforts in this area constitute a separate but parallel effort to the UK’s replacement warhead project for its submarine-based missiles which provide a critical additional contribution to NATO’s deterrence and defense needs.

Outside of modernization, we have also made significant strides in our stockpile stewardship program. Last year, we recognized the 30th anniversary of Divider, the last explosive nuclear weapons test conducted by the United States. In the decades since, we have relied on a science-based program to ensure the safety and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile, including subcritical experiments and advanced computer simulation and modeling based on decades of study and data collected from past nuclear tests.

It is hard to overstate the success of this program. Not only have we been able to refrain from explosive testing for three decades, but in many ways, we know more about nuclear weapons now that we did when we were actively testing. And the best part, we expect those capabilities to continue improving. First, our computer modeling capabilities will be getting a big upgrade in the near future. El Capitan, the first exascale computer designed for national security, is expected to arrive at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory this year. At over 2 exaflops it will, for a time, be the world’s largest supercomputer. In addition, there was the exciting news about ignition. In my remarks last year, I pointed to the major accomplishment from Lawrence Livermore’s National Ignition Facility when an experiment yielded more than 1.3 megajoules of energy and resulting in a burning plasma state for the first time in any fusion research facility, inching closer and closer to the threshold of ignition. Well, this year I can come back and say, we did it. In early December, scientists at NIF capitalized on more than 60 years of global research, development, engineering, and experimentation by using the world’s largest and most energetic laser system to achieve a net energy gain. This major scientific breakthrough has opened up a new chapter in Stockpile Stewardship, enabling us to study new regimes. Unlocking ignition at NIF will allow us to probe the extreme conditions found at the center of nuclear explosions and address significant long-standing stewardship questions. It also shows the brilliance and grit of our scientists, engineers, and personnel from around the enterprise.

NNSA also had significant accomplishments in the nonproliferation area. We finalized 10 years of collaboration between the United States and Kazakhstan by converting the third nuclear research reactor from highly enriched uranium to low-enriched uranium. We reached similar results with our partners in Japan, completing the final transfer of 45 kilograms of highly enriched uranium from Kyoto University to the United States for permanent disposition. Since 1996, we have disposed of enough material to produce about 325 nuclear weapons. That disposition work would be impossible without our labs, plants, and sites and has made a critical contribution to global nonproliferation and global security.

And we advance our governance. In addition to EMDI discussed earlier, we are moving forward with contract competition. Late last month, NNSA released an RFI to seek ideas, comments, and insights from industry on topics such as contract length, proposal scoring, key personnel parameters, and more. This is the first RFI released by the NNSA’s relatively new Partnership and Acquisition Services organization and the first RFI since EMDI was released. We want your input on this RFI and the associated draft RFP. It is important that we have contract competitions that will bring new ideas to the table and increase our sites’ productivity and stability.


I know that was a lot to cover in a short amount of time. The main takeaway is that our challenges are significant but not insurmountable. We have the skills and determination to succeed and are committed to working with our partners in Congress, the U.S. government, and internationally to coordinate the resources, expertise, and willpower to meet this moment and promote America’s security and global security. Thank you and I look forward to your questions.