Morning Briefing - May 02, 2019
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May 02, 2019

New Study Finds NNSA Pit Strategy Unlikely to Meet Production Deadline, Lawmaker Says

By ExchangeMonitor

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon and the National Nuclear Security Administration should reconsider their decision to make nuclear-weapon cores in two states beginning in 2030 after yet another study concluded the plan cannot meet a White House production deadline, a key lawmaker said here in a Wednesday hearing.

“The Institute for Defense Analyses found that none of the options analyzed by the NNSA [National Nuclear Security Administration] can be expected to provide 80 pits per year by 2030 and none of the options were demonstrably better than the others,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) told Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.

The Donald Trump administration last year directed the NNSA to annually produce at least 80 fissile plutonium “pits” by 2030. The NNSA later decided to split production between an upgraded facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and a new pit plant to be built on a partially constructed plutonium disposal facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

To comply with a congressional mandate in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, the NNSA paid the Virginia-based Institute for Defense Analyses to vet a few agency-provided options for future pit production. One, which the NNSA and the Pentagon prefer, is the split-state approach involving manufacturing 30 pits a year at Los Alamos starting in 2026 and 50 pits a year at Savannah River by 2030. The other three all involve using only Los Alamos.

The agency this month declined to release the Institute for Defense Analysesstudy publicly because it contains unclasssified controlled nuclear information. However, the NNSA said in a press release that the report found all four production options “potentially achievable.”

Heinrich, ranking member of the strategic forces subcommittee and a staunch ally of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, provided a crucial caveat Wednesday, when he said “potentially achievable” did not mean potentially achievable by 2030

“I would like to ask that in light of this report, that you report back to the committee on re-evaluation of your certification” in May 2018 that the two-state pit plan was the NNSA’s best option to hit the Trump administration’s proscribed throughput for pits,” Heinrich told Lord.