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Continued safety concerns about production of “plutonium pits” for nuclear bombs

Safety concerns plague key sites proposed for nuclear bomb production, USA Today , Patrick Malone, Center for Public Integrity . ET May 3, 2018

Decision due soon on where plutonium parts for the next generation of nuclear weapons are to be made 

The Department of Energy is scheduled to decide within days where plutonium parts for the next generation of nuclear weapons are to be made, but recent internal government reports indicate serious and persistent safety issues plague both of the two candidate sites.

Some experts are worried about the safety records of either choice: Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where plutonium parts have historically been assembled, and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, where other nuclear materials for America’s bombs have been made since in the 1950s.

An announcement by the Trump administration about the location is expected by May 11 in preparation for the ramped-up production of nuclear warheads called for by the Defense Department’s recent review of America’s nuclear weapons policy.

Recent internal government reports obtained by the Center for Public Integrity have warned that workers at these plants have been handling nuclear materials sloppily or have failed to monitor safety issues aggressively.

……….The continued mistakes at Los Alamos follow a three-year period of stasis in the U.S. plutonium production program forced by the lab’s inability to meet safety standards for plutonium operations. Los Alamos’ plutonium facility shelved all the nation’s high-hazard plutonium work, including the production of nuclear weapons cores or “pits,” in the summer of 2013, and has recently resumed most but not all of the wor

The prolonged shutdown at Los Alamos — the birthplace of the nuclear bomb — provoked National Nuclear Security Administration’s principal assistant deputy administrator for defense, Philip Calbos, to remark during a panel discussion at National Defense University in February that nuclear rivals are noticing America’s missteps.

………..Plutonium pits are the shiny metallic, softball-size orbs that hold the most potent destructive force man has ever harnessed in a weapon. During the Cold War, the Rocky Flats production site in Colorado made as many as 2,000 a year. Decades of poor disposal of nuclear wastes and other dangerous environmental practices culminated in a dramatic FBI raid in 1989 that led to the site’s closure in 1992.

Nuclear criticality safety, the craft of avoiding a self-starting, potentially lethal, nuclear chain reaction merely from positioning too much plutonium too closely together, is an ever-present concern during such production……..https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/05/02/safety-concerns-nuclear-bomb-manufacture-sites/572697002/

 

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May 4, 2018 - Posted by | - plutonium, safety, USA

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