Pit Production Recapitalization Alternative – Savannah River Site

To achieve DoD’s 80 pits per year requirement by 2030, NNSA’s recommended alternative repurposes the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina


NNSA announces decision on pit production

– First published 10 May 2018 –

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) will share production of plutonium pits with the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina, the Nuclear Weapons Council (NWC) and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced Thursday.

LANL will maintain production of 30 plutonium pits per year, while the Savannah River Site in South Carolina will produce 50 pits per year, according to a decision made public Thursday by the NWC and the NNSA.

“To achieve DoD’s 80 pits per year requirement by 2030, NNSA’s recommended alternative repurposes the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at SRS in South Carolina to produce plutonium pits while also maximizing pit production activities at LANL in New Mexico,” according to Thursday’s release.

“This two-prong approach – with at least 50 pits per year produced at SRS and at least 30 pits per year at LANL – is the best way to manage the cost, schedule, and risk of such a vital undertaking,” said Ellen M. Lord, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment and the chair of the NWC, and Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, the Dept. of Energy Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and the administrator of the NNSA. . .

The NNSA was given a mandate by Congress to manufacture 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030 as part of a nuclear weapons modernization plan. . .

Nuclear Watch New Mexico criticized the decision as purely political.

“First, in Nuclear Watch’s view, this decision is in large part a political decision, designed to keep the congressional delegations of both New Mexico and South Carolina happy,” said Nuclear Watch Executive Director Jay Coghlan. … “South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham was keeping the boondoggle Mixed Oxide (MOX) program on life support, and this pit production decision may help to mollify him.

Coghlan said he believes the split plan will ultimately fail.

“NNSA has already tried four times to expand plutonium pit production,” Coghlan said. “But … we remain confident it too will fall apart, because of its enormous financial and environmental costs and the fact that expanded plutonium pit production is simply not needed for the existing nuclear weapons stockpile. We think the American public will reject new-design nuclear weapons, which is what this expanded pit production decision is really all about.”

Greg Mello, Los Alamos Study Group

Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, took a more pragmatic view.

“NNSA’s decision appears to be a rational one within the limits of existing law,” Mello said. “LANL can’t handle the industrial mission and there was always going to be an overlap between small pit production at LANL and the establishment of any new production site.”

“Pit production isn’t needed for decades, even for a large arsenal, but Congress has demanded it, so the bulk of the work will leave LANL. The R and D (research and development) work will stay behind. This transition is many years down the road. Pit production will always be difficult, expensive and dangerous wherever it’s done.”

[ Editor’s note: While the need for pit production can be socially debated, the transfer of pit manufacturing expertise from one generation of technicians to the next involves a lengthy and sophisticated apprenticeship, supported by funding and facilities not found in academia. ]

A fact sheet about the decision can be found here.

Read more: NNSA Announces decision


New Mexico Congressional Delegation Statement on NNSA’s Announcement on Pit Production

U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) released the following statement Thursday in response to the NNSA’s recommended alternative for recapitalization of plutonium pit production announced Thursday:

“While we are pleased that Los Alamos National Laboratory will remain the Research & Development Plutonium Center of Excellence and will be allowed to expand their plutonium pit production capability with a new multi-billion investment, halting the long-planned modular expansion of LANL’s facilities for plutonium pit production will set back our military’s life extension programs and stretch the Lab’s existing facilities and workforce to its limits.

“In the same week the Trump Administration green-lighted Iran’s nuclear weapons program – they are suggesting setting back modernizing our own – an effort that is essential for safety, security and reliability. . .”

Read more: LA Daily Post


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  1. If nuclear weapons can be miniaturized, and the waste can be mitigated, can the power plants be miniaturized and designed to be publicly owned with zero waste ?

    I hear nothing on cold fusion, and nothing on clean nuclear, when both seem quite possible. The trillions we are spending on education seems to have reached a plateau in effective inventiveness. When we look at the gradient, our energy engineering stopped in the 50’s. Somebody is not being forthcoming, or something is broken.

    • Joe, If *ONE engineering school with alleged repute, has 15,000 students paying 52,000 tuition per year =
      780,000,000 per year and pays 6% on loans for education, how many schools does it take in how many years to reach a Trillion dollars ?

      Follow up question: What is the rate of return to the World economy from the investment in Engineering education ?
      What is the estimated annual percentage of waste in the economic cycle of engineering education ?
      What amount of new engineering technology is specifically targeted for War or Security ?

  2. We spend so much on defense it has become offensive. 30 pits or 80 pits, what’s the difference? They aren’t necessary. We should spend much less in that area and, much more for education and health care. Do we have enemies or, do we create them? If we reduce the defense budget we can afford free health care and, proper education. Both are prudent investments with high ROIs (return on investment).
    Instead we learn nothing from Fukushima, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl or, Hanford. Instead news reports are censored and, we contunue to subsidize nuclear energy. It has proved to be a failure, not cost effective at all. All advancement in the field of electricity has been deliberately stymied. Why?? The answer is intentionally hidden from us but, it’s not difficult to find.

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