Why Do DOE And LANL Refuse To Do A Pit Production Study?

Why Do DOE And LANL Refuse To Do A Pit Production Study?

A recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report Manufacturing Nuclear Weapon “Pits”: A Decisionmaking Approach for Congress, August 15, 2014 attempts to present the amount of space needed at Los Alamos National Laboratory for the Lab to produce 80 plutonium pits per year. CRS has to do this estimating task because the Lab has never done this calculation.

It is unclear to us why the Lab has yet to do this calculation. The Lab claims to be the “Plutonium Center of Excellence for the Nation”  yet the CRS report explains that no one knows whether existing buildings, without modifications, could manufacture 80 plutonium pits per year (ppy); or if modest upgrades would suffice; or if major construction would be needed to augment the current capacity of about 10 ppy.

A plutonium pit is a nuclear weapon component that is a hollow plutonium shell that is imploded with conventional explosives to create a nuclear explosion that triggers the rest of the weapon. Some argue that the capacity to manufacture new pits may be needed to extend the service life of unneeded weapons, to replace broken pits (which never happens), and to hedge against possible unnamed geopolitical surprises where only more nukes will solve the problem. How many pits that the country actually needs to produce annually is beyond the scope of the CRS report. We believe it is zero.

Along with the unknown space requirements, the Lab also does not know how much Material At Risk (MAR a.k.a. plutonium) would be needed in the building to produce 80 ppy. “…these data have never been calculated rigorously.”

CRS created some charts for this report to show what they believe to be current usage of the Lab’s Plutonium Facility (PF-4). But what this looks like for 80 ppy is still a guess.

We at NukeWatch have been demanding that LANL produce this information — most recently in our 2011 comments on the Draft CMRR-NF Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement

We think two things a probably happening. There is still not a need for 80 pits per year (or any). And if the Lab were to finally do a pit production study, Congress would find out that LANL has enough space now.

The money should be used to clean up the Lab’s legacy Cold War waste.

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