DOD executive: Pit production is a ‘lynchpin’ for nuclear stockpile confidence

May 5, 2019

The chairwoman of the Nuclear Weapons Council believes plutonium pit production is vital to sustained confidence in the U.S. nuclear stockpile.

While rebuilding capabilities for uranium, lithium and tritium is important, successful plutonium pit production is a “lynchpin,” Ellen Lord wrote in testimony submitted to a U.S. Senate Armed Services subcommittee May 1.

The U.S. has for awhile not had a robust pit production capability.

“After 25 years of primarily drawing down and sustaining the nuclear forces we built during the Cold War, repeated decisions to defer recapitalization of our nuclear forces have caught up to us,” Lord wrote.

Plutonium pits are nuclear weapon cores.

“History has made clear that the U.S. nuclear deterrent is the foundation of U.S. national security and fundamental to international stability,” Lord continued in her conclusion, adding, “Delay is no longer an option.”

Lord – who is also the U.S. Department of Defense under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment – and National Nuclear Security Administration chief Lisa Gordon-Hagerty last year issued a joint statement in which a recommendation was made to establish pit production at both the Savannah River Site and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

80 pits per year are needed by 2030, according to the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. Fifty per year would be produced at SRS, at a flipped Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, and the remaining 30 per year would be made at Los Alamos, per the recommendation.

“An evolving and uncertain geopolitical landscape calls for the United States to recapitalize its defense plutonium capabilities,” the joint statement reads.

The NNSA terminated the over-budget MOX project on Oct. 10, 2018.

President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2020 budget request included $12.4 billion for NNSA weapons activities.

The Nuclear Weapons Council was established to, among other things, interface related U.S. Department of Energy, NNSA and DOD projects.