nuclear-news

The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry Fukushima Chernobyl Mayak Three Mile Island Atomic Testing Radiation Isotope

Plutonium Pit Bomb Plans Excoriated by General Accounting Office

Lost in all the nuclear equations, appropriations and performance scandals is the consideration that the U.S. is treaty bound by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, 1968, to reduce and eventually eliminate its nuclear arsenal, as are the other nuclear armed signatories of the NPT.

The great majority of the world’s nations oppose nuclear weapons and expect nuclear armed countries to eliminate their nuclear weapons per Article VI of the NPT. Reviving plutonium pit production and redesigning new nuclear warheads that use these pits cannot fulfill the U.S. obligation to reduce and eliminate its nuclear arsenal


CounterPunch, BY MARK MUHICH, 20 Jan 23,

The independent General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a scathing report last week about the plan underway to refurbish plutonium pit triggers for nuclear weapons decades into the future. The GAO gave the National Nuclear Safety Administration a failing grade for its master plan to build “pit” factories in Los Alamos N.M. and Savannah River Site S.C., warning that costs, safety and quality controls could not be confidently verified by NNSA’s  current management strategies.

NNSA is a semiautonomous branch of the Department of Energy tasked with maintaining the potency of the U.S. nuclear deterrent. NNSA is also described by the GAO as an agency “at high risk of fraud, financial waste, abuse, and mismanagement”.

What does it mean when GAO issues a scathing report about the National Nuclear Safety Administration?

It means NNSA has already spent $3 billion at Los Alamos National Laboratory  with little or nothing to show for the cost. It means that preliminary plans for plutonium pit bomb production at two sites designated to manufacture “pits”, Savannah River Site in South Carolina and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, have already committed up to $24 billion, before a single pit would be manufactured. It means NNSA has disregarded standard accounting procedures and best management practices required of such giant federal projects.

It means that NNSA has failed to estimate a final cost of the manufacture of eighty plutonium bomb pits per year by the year 2030 mandated by Congress in 2016.

Congress can share the blame as it has ignored the best advice from the Institute for Defense Analysis: “No available productive options considered by NNSA could be expected to provide capacity to produce 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030”. Fabricating 80 plutonium pit triggers per year by the year 2030 “is impossible, regardless of how much money Congress spends on the pit project”.

The former commander of U.S. Strategic Command, Commander Charles Richard, testified in 2022 that “No amount of funding will allow NNSA to achieve 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030”.

Congress has also neglected and ignored its own pit aging studies that demonstrate the dependability of existing plutonium pits in the U.S. nuclear arsenal far into the future.  The JASON advisory group calculated that plutonium pits currently installed in U.S. nuclear war heads could reliably last another 60 years. The Livermore National Laboratory demonstrated that the pits in use today have a functional life of 150 years.

Plutonium, Pu94, is a metallic element. It is entirely man-made, not occurring in nature. Plutonium can be purified, molded, melted, cast, welded and annealed like other metals. It is pyrogenic, igniting in oxygen, as has occurred in several serious fires at LANL. Plutonium is one of the most carcinogenic substances on Earth.  Plutonium is radio-active, fissile, meaning it can sustain a nuclear fission reaction causing a nuclear explosion. The U.S. currently has 50 metric tons of surplus plutonium in storage.

Plutonium pits are the trigger mechanisms for nuclear weapons.  Developed during World War II at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico by the leading minds in physics, chemistry, and engineering, “pits” are the fundamental component in any nuclear weapon. A plutonium pit is a hollow sphere the size of a grapefruit with the explosive potential of 200 thousand tons of TNT (200K)……………………………………………………………………

If Congress hopes to decrease spending by cutting programs this year and avoid a default on the nation’s debt, pausing the plutonium pit bomb projects at Los Alamos and Savannah River Site should be a prime candidate for cost cutting. Pausing the pit production fund would save tens of billions of dollars. These projects received failing scores, 7 out or 20 points in the recent GAO report, and deserve no more funding at this time.

Instead Congress should reinstitute the pit aging research at LANL and Livermore and halt any new plutonium pit production until a certifiable need exists. As the Department of Defense calculated, a nuclear arsenal of 1,000 war heads would provide a sufficient nuclear deterrent, then reducing the number of warheads in the U.S. arsenal by nearly half could save hundreds of billion dollars more.

Much of the momentum to build new plutonium pits seems to involve a drive to design nuclear war heads. The Air Force’s new fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles based in the Midwest U.S., the Sentinel, costing $250 billion over the next 30 years, could carry a new W 87-1 warhead with multiple target capabilities (MIRV).  The W 87-1 would require a new and untested plutonium pit trigger.

Lost in all the nuclear equations, appropriations and performance scandals is the consideration that the U.S. is treaty bound by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, 1968, to reduce and eventually eliminate its nuclear arsenal, as are the other nuclear armed signatories of the NPT. The great majority of the world’s nations oppose nuclear weapons and expect nuclear armed countries to eliminate their nuclear weapons per Article VI of the NPT. Reviving plutonium pit production and redesigning new nuclear warheads that use these pits cannot fulfill the U.S. obligation to reduce and eliminate its nuclear arsenal.

Should President Biden and the 118th Congress decide to adhere to its nuclear treaty obligation to reduce nuclear weapons, save hundreds of billions of dollars and avoid the renewal of a nuclear arms race it has embarked upon, then defunding the NNSA’s plutonium pit bomb projects at Los Alamos and Savannah River Site is the perfect first step.

Previous Congresses and presidents have defunded or cancelled  numerous nuclear weapons projects in the past. The plutonium pit bomb project should be the next.  https://www.counterpunch.org/2023/01/20/plutonium-pit-bomb-plans-excoriated-by-general-accounting-office/

January 22, 2023 - Posted by | Uncategorized

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: