DOE's nuclear Y2K tests shaky

The nation's stockpile of nuclear weapons will not be affected by the Year 2000 bug because the warheads do not rely on any date-dependent systems or processes to operate properly, according to a recently released General Accounting Office report.

However, the report, titled "Nuclear Weapons: Year 2000 Status of the Nation's Nuclear Weapons Stockpile," did uncover evidence that DOE officials failed to document the testing procedures used to verify the status of the warheads. When they did document the testing procedures, the officials failed to have the results and procedures verified by supervisors and other DOE personnel—an accepted scientific process known as "peer evaluation."

For example, the design engineer responsible for the systems in the W88 warhead "did not review the software code for the microprocessor in the W88 to determine Y2K compliance, but rather he relied on his memory of what the code contained," the report stated. On another occasion, an engineer spent two weeks testing and verifying the warhead for Year 2000 problems but did not produce any documentation outlining his discussions or the documents, diagrams and software he examined.

"When peer review did occur, it was largely of the nature of one engineer talking to another and asking, 'Am I missing anything?' and was not documented," the report stated.

In addition, offices within Sandia National Laboratories, such as the Surety Assessment Center, which provides independent verification of nuclear weapons safety, "did not perform any independent evaluation of the design engineer's Y2K assessments," according to the report.

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