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American military and South Carolina politicians want more “plutonium pits”for nuclear warheads

The U.S. military wants more plutonium triggers for nuclear warheads  WP,  March 22  Email the author

The U.S. military is concerned that the government isn’t moving quickly enough to ramp up American production of the plutonium cores that trigger nuclear warheads, as the Trump administration proceeds with a $1 trillion overhaul of the nation’s nuclear force.

Questioning about production of the warhead cores is likely to figure into a testimony that Energy Secretary Rick Perry is slated to give Thursday to the Senate Armed Services Committee, a rare appearance by the top energy official at the Senate body that oversees the military.

Plutonium cores are often called plutonium pits because they rest inside nuclear bombs like pits inside stone fruits.

At issue is the Pentagon’s demand that the National Nuclear Security Administration — overseen by the Department of Energy — be able to produce 80 plutonium pits a year by 2030 to sustain the military’s nuclear weapons. Roughly the size of a grapefruit, plutonium pits that trigger warheads sometimes need to be replaced as they degrade or end up destroyed during evaluation……….

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States has discontinued many of the nuclear weapons capabilities the nation built up during the Cold War. The United States began to rely largely on dismantling existing nuclear weapons for plutonium pits and stockpile management, as defense spending priorities diverted to the global war against terrorism.

Now the United States is facing a reckoning as Russia and China also race to advance their nuclear arsenals and much of the infrastructure the military relies on to support its nuclear capabilities ages out. The U.S. no longer operates the full range of facilities capable of producing new nuclear weapons.

………. Now the NNSA must decide how to expand production of plutonium pits to meet the Pentagon’s requirements by 2030. Under one option being considered, less ambitious “module” buildings would be constructed at the existing Los Alamos site.

An alternative would include repurposing one of the most problematic projects the Department of Energy has ever undertaken, the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina, to make pits.

Originally designed to turn weapons grade plutonium into commercial reactor fuel, the MOX facility is billions of dollars over budget and still only  partially built.

Both the Obama and Trump administrations have tried to kill the project, but Congress has declined to discontinue construction owing primarily to political support from powerful members of the South Carolina delegation. Some have suggested transforming it to produce plutonium pits.

The NNSA is due to deliver its recommendation to Congress by May 11.

March 22, 2018 - Posted by | USA, weapons and war

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