Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor Vol. 27 No. 11
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Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor
Article 3 of 8
March 17, 2023

Uranium Processing Facility in ‘28 or ‘29; Los Alamos pits stymied by staff shortfall, NNSA budget doc says

By Dan Parsons

The National Nuclear Security Administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2024 includes a funding boost for plutonium pit production in New Mexico, with the goal of building 80 per year as close to 2030 as possible. 

Also in the request, the NNSA provided a new cost and schedule estimate for completing the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn. 

After acknowledging in May that the project slipped off the rails, NNSA said in the detailed budget request published Monday that UPF will cost between $8.5 billion and $8.95 billion to complete. The new complex for producing the secondary stages of thermonuclear weapons should be done some time between December 2028 March 2029, according to the request.

NNSA requested $760 million for UPF for fiscal year 2024, which begins Oct. 1. The agency had wanted to complete the new factory by December at a cost of no more than $6.5 billion.

Los Alamos plutonium modernization, meanwhile, would get $1.76 billion, if the budget request becomes law, up by more than $210 million, or more than 13.5%, from the 2023 appropriation of about $1.55 billion. Within that, the Los Alamos Plutonium Pit Production Project would receive $670 million under the spending plan released Monday for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. That is an $82-million increase from $588 million in the current fiscal year. 

Beyond 2024, NNSA projects increases in the pit budget to $680 million in fiscal 2025, $710 million in 2026 and more beyond that as the agency pursues its goal of making a combined 80 pits annually at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C.

Initial planning for plutonium pit production at LANL was insufficiently staffed, a novel explanation for why the goal of building 30 pits per year at the facility has slipped from 2026 to 2030. 

“During the development of the performance baseline for the 30B subproject, it was discovered that the initial planning for the subproject was not sufficient,” the budget document said. “The design agent did not ramp up its staffing at the beginning of the design execution according to the plan, and once the detailed design was completed and the sequence for the installation of the equipment in the facility was determined, the estimates for the subproject cost and schedule had grown.”

Total LANL pit factory costs are now estimated at $4.7 billion, nearly $1 billion more than estimated a year ago, according to the latest NNSA budget request.

Meanwhile, the NNSA estimated in its budget request that the agency’s other planned pit factory, at the Savannah River Site, will cost about $12 billion. That’s an increase of about $1 billion compared with the costs NNSA penciled into data sheets included with the budget request.

“Some of these additional design costs are due to the scope added since CD-1 [critical decision 1], including items to alleviate single points of failure and include unassigned (white) space for future capabilities.” the budget request reads.

The NNSA’s total request for pit spending at the Savannah River Site in 2024 was roughly $920 million, which would be down some $127 million from the 2023 appropriation of about $1.23 billion. 

Reduced construction spending on the Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility itself — which NNSA is building from the partially completed Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility — accounts for most of the drop, according to the budget request.


Editors note, March 14, 2023, 12:48 p.m. Eastern time: the story was changed to clarify the differences between the budget for the Los Alamos Plutonium Production Project and the NNSAs overall Plutonium Modernization budget, which includes proposed spending on pit production infrastructure at both Los Alamos and the Savannah River Site.

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