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Savannah River Site, Los Alamos plutonium pit production plan could cost over $30 billion

Matthew Christian, Aiken Standard, S.C. Sat, January 14, 2023

Jan. 13—It could cost over $30 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration to reestablish plutonium pit production, according to recently released report.

Allison Bawden, director of natural resources and environment at the Government Accountability Office, wrote Thursday the Government Accounting Office has identified between $18-$24 billion in potential costs to begin production of 80 plutonium pits per year by 2036 at the Savannah River Site and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Plutonium pits are the core of a nuclear weapon into which a neutron is injected to begin an uncontrolled reaction.

The United States has been without a permanent capability for plutonium pit production since 1989 after a combination of environmental mismanagement — the EPA and the FBI raided the facility in 1989 after receiving reports of numerous environmental violations from employees — and the end of the Cold War stopped pit production at the Rocky Flats facility in Colorado.

From 2007-2012, around 10 pits per year were made at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Trying to restart plutonium pit production and modernizing the Los Alamos National Laboratory for production has cost $8.6 billion since 2005 according to the report.

NNSA plans to produce 50 pits per year at the Savannah River Site beginning in 2036 and 30 pit per year at the Los Alamos National Laboratory beginning in 2027.

At the Savannah River Site, the plans call for the failed Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility to be converted into the Savannah River Plutonium Production Facility.

Bawden says the NNSA estimates through 2035 a cost of between $6.9-$11.1 billion to make the conversion, which is in three steps: getting the main building ready, providing utilities and other infrastructure to the area and constructing an administration building, security facilities and a training area.

Other costs include $6.94 billion for plutonium modernization program at the Savannah River Site and the Los Alamos National Laboratory .

At the Savannah River Site, Bawden says costs include preparing employees to produce pits and learning from the Los Alamos National Laboratory how to produce pits more efficiently. She says at Los Alamos the costs include designing a pit production line, getting equipment, hiring and training staff and making sure the production line is working and checking the quality of the produced pits.

She adds other costs at the Los Alamos National Laboratory include between $4.17-$5.61 billion for capital projects, $240-244 million for support buildings and $45-46 million for maintenance and recapitalization.

Bawden spends a few pages in the 84-page report discussing activities at other Department of Energy-owned sites that are not included in the NNSA cost estimates.

Those activities include design of a warhead at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the lab making sure the produced pits meet the specifications of the warhead, experimental facilities at the Nevada National Security Site, production of non-nuclear pit components at the Kansas City National Security Campus, disassembling pits at the Pantex Plant in Texas and storing produced waste at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

Including these costs and developing more thorough estimates of the costs at the Savannah River Site and Los Alamos is one of two recommendations the GAO makes in the report.

The other is for the NNSA to develop a more complete schedule of activities and when they’re supposed to happen.

Bawden notes NNSA decision-makers said both recommendations will be implemented later in the process when firm construction plans for the Savannah River Plutonium Production Facility are set in 2024 or 2025. She adds the NNSA decision-makers said they are hesitant to make more thorough cost estimates because of a concern of making an estimate, then paying a higher cost and having the public concerned about rising costs for the project.


January 15, 2023 - Posted by | - plutonium, business and costs, USA, weapons and war

1 Comment »

  1. Reblogged this on Calculus of Decay and commented:
    Seems like they really struck gold there with that idea

    Comment by Eric | January 16, 2023 | Reply

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