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Los Alamos National Laboratory will share production of plutonium pits with the Savannah River Site in South Carolina

NNSA announces decision on pit production, L A Monitor, May 11, 2018,  Los Alamos National Laboratory will share production of plutonium pits with the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, the Nuclear Weapons Council and National Nuclear Security Administration announced Thursday.

LANL will maintain production of 30 plutonium pits per year, while the Savannah River Site will produce 50 pits per year.

“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 to produce plutonium pits while also maximizing pit production activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico,” according to Thursday’s release.

……. Plutonium pits are the size of a softball and are used as trigger mechanisms for nuclear weapons…..

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. The NNSA has been studying which site would best be able to accommodate the manufacture of plutonium pits. ……
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. “New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich are adamantly against relocating plutonium pit production to South Carolina. On the other hand, 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, only to be defeated by citizen opposition and its own cost overruns and incompetence,” Coghlan said. “But we realize that this fifth attempt is the most serious.

“However, 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, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, took a more pragmatic view. ……

“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.”

A fact sheet about the decision can be found here.


May 12, 2018 - Posted by | - plutonium, USA, weapons and war

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