Morning Briefing - April 18, 2019
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April 18, 2019

Congressionally Mandated Study Finds NNSA Pit Plan ‘Potentially Achievable’

By ExchangeMonitor

The National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) plan to produce the fissile nuclear-weapon cores known as plutonium pits in two states is “potentially achievable,” according to a new study the agency publicized, but did not release, on Wednesday.

Congress last year ordered the secretary of defense, in consultation with NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, to commission a report on the two-state pit plan from a federally funded research and development center not funded by the NNSA or its parent agency, the Department of Energy.

Congress received copies of the the report from the Alexandria, Va.-based Institute for Defense Analyses on Tuesday, the NNSA said in a press release Wednesday. The $840,000 study “found that all of the options considered by NNSA had cost and schedule risks. The study concluded that NNSA’s two-site plan is potentially achievable, noting that sufficient time, resources, and management focus will be necessary,” the release says. “IDA also examined costs and found the current approach to be comparable in costs to the other three one-site options it considered.”

The agency declined to provide a copy of the report.

“The study is marked Unclassified Controlled Nuclear Information (UCNI) and a Freedom of Information Act request must be submitted to the Department of Defense to obtain it,” an agency spokesperson wrote in an email to Weapons Complex Morning Briefing.

In its 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, the Donald Trump administration told the NNSA to make 80 pits a year by 2030. The semiautonomous DOE branch decided to split production between the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, which is expanding an aging plutonium facility to make 30 pits a year by 2026, and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, where the NNSA plans to convert a partially built plutonium disposal plant into a factory that can make 50 pits a year by 2030.

Among other things, the Institute for Defense Analyses report was, per Congress, to assess an engineering analysis completed by Parsons Government Services in 2018. That report found that the Savannah River pit plant likely would not be able to transition to war-ready pit production until 2035.

Last week, Charlie Verdon, NNSA deputy administrator for defense programs, said the agency has “been working on scenarios” to get the planned Savannah River facility ready to make 50 pits a year by 2030.