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Five new plutonium buildings for Los Alamos National Laboratory, with the costly funding details rather obscure

Nuclear agency plans five new plutonium buildings at Los Alamos lab, Santa Fe New Mexican , By Scott Wyland, May 18, 2022  

As a further sign Los Alamos National Laboratory is inching toward its 2026 target for making 30 warhead triggers a year, nuclear security managers plan to construct five buildings in the lab’s plutonium complex over the next five years, in part to support that effort.

A new building would be funded annually, beginning in fiscal year 2023, with the aim of supporting production of the bomb cores, known as pits, and other plutonium operations, according to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s budget request for the coming year.

The total cost of the five buildings will be more than $240 million………………….

One critic of the lab’s pit production plans said each of the buildings was priced just under the $50 million threshold that would trigger a more rigorous congressional review.

That might allow the lab to change the office buildings into something else later for a different purpose, such as producing more pits, said Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group.

“No one ever talked about these costs before,” Mello said. “We don’t think this is the end of the surprises. There are more surprises to come.”

The federal budget for plutonium operations has climbed steeply in recent years, both at the lab and at Savannah River Site in South Carolina, where officials hope to make an additional 50 pits yearly by the mid-2030s.

Under the U.S. Department of Energy’s draft budget, the lab’s plutonium modernization funding would climb to $1.56 billion in 2023 from the current year’s $1 billion, more than a 50 percent increase.

At the same time, the nuclear security agency, an Energy Department branch, has proposed funneling $700 million this coming year toward converting Savannah River Site into a pit factory. That’s a sizable jump from the $475 million spent for that purpose in the last budget cycle………………….

Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said federal officials want the lab’s pit plant to be able to produce up to 80 pits for short periods.

He contends the lab is likely to use this “surge capacity” given the longer time it will take for Savannah River to begin production……………..


May 21, 2022 - Posted by | - plutonium, USA, weapons and war

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