National Nuclear Security Administration

Study on plutonium pit mission delivered to Congress

April 17, 2019

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RECOGNIZES THE INHERENT CHALLENGES IN MEETING REQUIREMENTS FOR PLUTONIUM PIT PRODUCTION AND NOTES THAT THE CURRENT APPROACH IS ACHIEVABLE GIVEN SUFFICIENT TIME, RESOURCES, AND MANAGEMENT FOCUS

WASHINGTON – A study of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) recommended alternative to revitalize the United States’ plutonium pit production capabilities was delivered April 16 to Congress by the Department of Defense (DoD).

The Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act required the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the NNSA Administrator, to contract a federally funded research and development center  (FFRDC) to conduct an assessment of NNSA’s two-pronged approach to achieve DoD’s requirement for producing no fewer than 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030.

The Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) conducted the study at a cost of $840,000 and 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. IDA also examined costs and found the current approach to be comparable in costs to the other three one-site options it considered.

“The Department of Defense and NNSA share a deep commitment to revitalizing this mission. The United States’ defense plutonium capabilities were shuttered in the early 1990s, and given today’s uncertain geopolitical landscape, there is no longer any margin to delay recapitalization,” said Ellen M. Lord, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment and Chair of the Nuclear Weapons Council. “In 2018, we certified NNSA’s recommended alternative as the most viable option to meet military requirements. Furthermore, this path forward will ensure a more responsive and resilient nuclear weapons infrastructure that can adapt to shifting requirements and counter future threats.”   

NNSA provided all requested input to IDA for the study, which addressed the topics identified in the legislation:

  • An analysis of both the engineering assessment and analysis of alternatives carried out by NNSA
  • An assessment of the risks and benefits of each of the four major options considered by the engineering assessment
  • A description of the NNSA risk reduction strategies
  • An assessment of the strategy of manufacturing no fewer than 80 pits per year through the use of multiple shifts and additional equipment    

“Our recommended alternative was based on an analysis of alternatives, engineering assessment, and workforce analysis that recognized the inherent challenges of such a vital undertaking. Indeed, no option is without risk,” said Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, the Department of Energy’s Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and NNSA Administrator. “We’re fully committed to meeting military requirements and our two-pronged approach at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Savannah River Site represents the best way to manage the cost, schedule, and risk of producing no fewer than 80 pits per year.”

The requirement to produce no fewer than 80 pits per year by 2030 is driven by several factors, including enhancing warhead safety, mitigating risks against plutonium aging, and responding to an uncertain future due to renewed global competition.

The Fiscal Year 2019 Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Committee Report also required NNSA to contract an FFRDC to conduct an assessment of the recommended alternative, which will be delivered to Congress later this month.