STRATCOM leader: NNSA plutonium pit production mission of ‘highest’ importance

March 1, 2019

One of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s most crucial undertakings is the buildout of plutonium pit production capabilities, according to Gen. John Hyten, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command.

In written testimony submitted to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Hyten described pit production expansion as the “highest NNSA infrastructure priority.”

At least 80 plutonium pits – nuclear weapon cores – per year are needed by 2030, according to the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. Hyten, in his written testimony, described in part the demand as “our national requirement, supported by numerous studies and analyses.”

In May 2018, the NNSA and the U.S. Department of Defense together recommended producing 50 pits per year at a reworked Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, which is located at the Savannah River Site. The remaining 30 per year would be produced at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, according to the same recommendation.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Hyten said he was “laser focused” on achieving 30 pits “by 2026 and 80 by 2030.”

“And I’m going down to Los Alamos, and sending my people down to Los Alamos, to make sure that that focus is always there,” the commander continued.

Charles Verdon, the NNSA’s deputy administrator for defense programs, in mid-February used a similar phrase: “focused like a laser beam.”

“My final comments – this is a busy and exciting time at NNSA,” Verdon said at the time, speaking in Washington, D.C. “I think it’s really an exciting time.”

In July 2018, Hyten visited SRS, touring the MOX project and the tritium facilities, according to a schedule obtained by the Aiken Standard. MOX had not been terminated at that point.

In a visit-related prepared statement, Hyten said the NNSA and Strategic Command are “close partners.”

“Together, we’re focused on recapitalizing the United States’ defense plutonium capabilities, and Savannah River is key to a proposed path forward to make the nuclear security enterprise more responsive and resilient for military requirements,” Hyten said.