National Nuclear Security Administration

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National Nuclear Security Administration
NNSA Logo.png
Agency overview
Formed 2000[1]
Headquarters James V. Forrestal Building, Washington, D.C.
Employees About 2,300 federal (2015), 23,000 contract (2009)
Annual budget $13.9 billion (FY18)
Agency executive
Parent agency Department of Energy

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is the U.S. agency responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear explosive testing; works to reduce the 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. Established by the United States Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the United States Department of Energy. It is led by Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, who was confirmed by the United States Senate on February 16, 2018.[2]


The National Nuclear Security Administration was created by Congressional action in 1999,[3] in the wake of the Wen Ho Lee spy scandal and other allegations that lax administration by the Department of Energy had resulted in the loss of U.S. nuclear secrets to China.[4] Originally proposed to be an independent agency, NNSA gained the reluctant support of the Clinton administration only after it was instead chartered as a sub-agency within the Department of Energy, to be headed by an administrator reporting to the Secretary of Energy.[5] The first NNSA administrator appointed was Air Force General (and CIA Deputy Director) John A. Gordon.[6]

Mission and operations[edit]

NNSA has four missions with regard to national security:

Defense programs[edit]

One of NNSA's primary missions is to maintain the safety, security and effectiveness of the United States' nuclear weapons stockpile without explosive testing. 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.


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. [7]

The core competencies for nonproliferation are as follows:[7]

  • 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.

Naval Reactors[edit]

NNSA's Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program 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:[8]

  • 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

Emergency response[edit]

NNSA's Office of Emergency Operations has the obligation of responding to emergencies throughout NNSA enterprise."About Emergency Response". Retrieved 4 December 2017. </ref> Its high level of alertness allows the U.S. to respond to incidents using dedicated assets in a rapid manner.

Counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation[edit]

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

  • 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 should such an incident were to occur

The NNSA deploys response teams around 100 times each year primarily to search for radioactive materials. The missions are driven by safety concerns with regard to 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.

Defense Nuclear Security[edit]

NNSA's Defense Nuclear Security program is accountable for securing nuclear weapons and components required to develop nuclear weapons as well materials that may come in all shapes and sizes. [9] Another responsibility of the NNSA's Defense Nuclear Security is to safeguard personnel, nuclear weapons, threat assessments, this is of high importance after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.[9] The NNSA maintains eight state of the art facilities to safeguard nuclear weapons, they employ the most modern security counter measures as well as maintaining a well-trained protective force to further ensure security of nuclear weapons and materials stored in the facilities.[9]


  • Under Secretary for Nuclear Security
    • Deputy Under Secretary for Nuclear Security
  • Administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration
    • Deputy Administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration
      • Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs
        • Deputy Assistant Administrator for Defense Programs
      • Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation
        • Deputy Assistant Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation
      • Deputy Administrator for Naval Reactors
        • Deputy Assistant Administrator for Naval Reactors
      • Associate Administrator for Emergency Operations
        • Assistant Administrator for Emergency Operations
      • Associate Administrator for Safety, Infrastructure and Operations
        • Assistant Administrator for Safety, Infrastructure and Operations
      • Associate Administrator for Defense Nuclear Security
        • Assistant Administrator for Defense Nuclear Security
      • Associate Administrator for Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation
        • Assistant Administrator for Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation
      • Associate Administrator for External Affairs
        • Assistant Administrator for External Affairs
      • General Counsel
        • Deputy General Counsel
      • Associate Administrator for Acquisition and Project Management
        • Assistant Administrator for Acquisition and Project Management
      • Associate Administrator for Management and Budget
        • Assistant Administrator for Management and Budget
      • Associate Administrator for Information Management and Chief Information Officer
        • Assistant Administrator for Information Management and Chief Information Officer
          • Deputy Associate Administrator for Information Management
            • Deputy Assistant Administrator for Information Management
          • Chief Information Officer
            • Deputy Chief Information Officer

2012 data security concerns[edit]

Government auditors placed blame on the Department of Energy and the NNSA for failing to report to the proper law enforcement entities regarding a 2012 cyber security breach that targeted government computers including those used at the various facilities that the NNSA maintains.[10]

Safe recovery of nuclear materials[edit]

In 2008, the NNSA, in cooperation with Russia and other agencies, helped transport 341 pounds of enriched uranium in 13 radiation proof casks weighing 17,000 lb (7,700 kg) apiece from Budapest to Siberia.

This operation was conducted by American and Russian officials to ensure the safe disposal of the radioactive uranium that is highly enriched and weapons-grade. The Hungarian reactor is now being converted to use low-enriched uranium that cannot be used in a weapon and will not be a potential terrorist target.[11]

In 2012, the NNSA in conjunction with Russia recovered radioactive materials that could be used to create a dirty bomb. Together they successfully removed 14 radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) along the northern Russian coastline. The devices contain high concentration of radioactive particles which was used to power navigational beacons along the Russian coastline. With the combined efforts of the NNSA and the Russian government all of the RTGs along the Northern Sea Route have been recovered.[12]

NNSA-operated facilities[edit]


  1. ^ NNSA Act (Title XXXII of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000, Public Law 106-65)"NNSA Act" (PDF). Retrieved February 26, 2018. 
  2. ^ "Lisa Gordon-Hagerty Confirmed as Energy Department Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and Administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration". National Nuclear Security Administration. February 16, 2018. Retrieved February 26, 2018. 
  3. ^ "National Nuclear Security Administration: Additional Actions Needed to Improve Management of the Nation's Nuclear Programs". Report to the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives, U.S. Government Accountability Office. January 2007. Retrieved April 19, 2010. 
  4. ^ Eric Schmitt, "Spying Furor Brings Vote In Senate For New Unit", The New York Times, July 22, 1999
  5. ^ Eric Schmitt, "In Shift, Secretary Supports Bill That Overhauls Energy Department," The New York Times, September 28, 1999
  6. ^ "C.I.A. Official Chosen for Weapons Agency", The New York Times, March 3, 2000
  7. ^ a b c "Nonproliferation". Retrieved 5 December 2017. 
  8. ^ "About Naval Reactors". Retrieved 5 December 2017. 
  9. ^ a b c "Defense Nuclear Security". Retrieved 5 December 2017. 
  10. ^ "National Nuclear Security Administration". Retrieved 5 December 2017. 
  11. ^ "Highly Enriched Uranium Removed from Hungary". NNSA Press Release. October 23, 2008. Archived from the original on March 26, 2010. Retrieved April 19, 2010. 
  12. ^ "NNSA Partners With Russia to Recover Material That Could Be Used in Dirty Bombs". Retrieved 5 December 2017. 

Further reading[edit]

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