Meet the woman in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal

Military Tech

MYSTERY WIRE — The covid virus and economic calamities tend to dominate global news coverage this year, but the potential spread of nuclear weapons is another existential threat looming in the background.

Rogue states and terror groups are actively seeking to obtain nuclear materials to make their own bombs.

No spot in the world has seen more nuclear explosions than the Nevada National Security Site where hundreds of atomic devices have detonated, both above and below ground.

Nuclear testing ended in 1992, but the expertise developed during that program is still a vital part of clandestine efforts to stop terrorist groups and rogue nations from building their own bombs.

Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty spent 30 years working in anti-terrorism programs and now heads the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the agency which maintains America’s nuclear stockpile but also coordinates cloak and dagger operations to prevent bad guys from getting their hands on their own nuclear weapons.

Government scientists have conducted subcritical experiments in deep underground tunnels at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) as a way to check the safety and security of our atomic arsenal, but questions have been raised about whether these tests are sufficient in the long run. 

“We are the only nuclear nation that is neither designing nor fielding new nuclear weapons,” Gordon-Hagerty said. “We’re modernizing our stockpile that’s existing, some of which have been in the stockpile longer, much longer than their life. Our nuclear weapons were, were basically manufactured, if you will, designed for a nominal 20 year half 20 year life, we are now designing those so that we live and extend them to keep in the stockpile to, in some cases to 70 years.”  

While Gordon-Hagerty is not advocating for a resumption of nuclear testing, her agency is required to be able to get a new testing program up and running within 24 – 36 months if ordered to do so by the President.

The NNSA budget for 2021 is slated for a hefty multi billion dollar boost which sparked speculation that nuclear testing would begin again. Gordon-Hagerty says it is not, but if it did it would have to be conducted at the NNSS.

The administrator says most of the extra money in her budget will be used to modernize the nuclear infrastructure.

The facilities where nuclear weapons are built, modernized, and tested are now decades old and in need of modernization. Some of the new money should be coming to the Nevada test site.

The NNSA administrator was in Las Vegas at the Atomic Testing Museum where a new exhibit about the first atomic bomb is now open to the public.

Much of the generation of scientists and technicians who worked on that project are no longer with us. This is the reason the administrator says that over the next 20 years the nnsa will need to hire a new generation of employees to not only to maintain America’s stockpile, but to prevent rogue states or terrorist groups from obtaining their own nuclear weapons.

The expertise developed in Nevada has proven crucial to the global network created to keep nuclear materials out of the wrong hands. Gordon-Hagerty said, “To date we have removed material around the world that could make up to about 300 nuclear weapons.” 

The future of the Nevada facility is bright, she says.  already, the site is hosting classified programs related to anti-terrorism and cyber security as well as training for tens of thousands of first responders.

“The NNSA is currently planning to modernize the infrastructure for America’s nuclear stockpile and stands ready to resume atomic testing if it ever becomes necessary. The agency is also looking to hire a new generation of employees to replace the original atomic warriors.”

Related: NNSA Administrator dedicates Argus Project in Nevada – project enhances existing security capabilities at Nevada National Security Site

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