Nov 15, 2007

LANL Top Choice for 'Pits'

ABQ Journal
Thursday, November 15, 2007

LANL Top Choice for 'Pits'

By John Fleck Copyright © 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer

Los Alamos National Laboratory is the leading candidate to be the nation's permanent nuclear weapons plutonium manufacturing center— but on a modest scale.

That's what the officials from the National Nuclear Security Administration have been saying in briefings at Los Alamos and on Capitol Hill, the Journal has learned.

The officials have begun laying out a plan that would designate Los Alamos' main plutonium lab as the preferred manufacturing center for future U.S. plutonium "pits"— the explosive centers of modern nuclear weapons.

The choice of Los Alamos reflects a decision to scale back the nation's nuclear weapons manufacturing ambitions.

The plutonium plan is one piece of a broad effort by the NNSA to streamline the U.S. complex for designing, manufacturing and maintaining nuclear weapons.

A draft of that plan is due to be released within the next month, according to agency spokesman John Broehm.

Officials at Los Alamos and the nuclear agency declined to comment, adding that any discussions before the plan's public release are "pre-decisional."

Los Alamos can do the job partly because the demand for future pit production is small, according to Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who has been briefed on the nuclear agency's proposal.

According to Bingaman, the agency has concluded that the new "reliable replacement warhead," a proposal to build a new generation of nuclear warheads, is not likely to go forward. With no need for the new pits, the future demand for the plutonium bomb parts should be small, Bingaman said.

"Production of RRW appears to be off the table," Bingaman said in a statement, "which means there is no reason we'll need a full-scale pit production facility. Los Alamos was tapped years ago to develop a limited number of pits on an annual basis, and I see no reason for that to change in the future."

During the Cold War, the Rocky Flats Plant outside Denver made hundreds of pits a year. Rocky Flats closed in 1989 amid concerns over safety and environmental problems associated with the dangerously radioactive plutonium.

Since then, the nuclear weapons establishment has been looking for a Rocky Flats replacement.

In the late 1990s, a lab at Los Alamos was assigned the job of making 10 pits per year as a temporary measure until a permanent new factory could be built. The first Los Alamos-made pit suitable for installation in a U.S. nuclear weapon was completed earlier this year.

In October 2006, the nuclear agency launched "Complex 2030," an ambitious long-range plan to build an entirely new nuclear weapons manufacturing complex, including a plutonium plant capable of making 125 pits per year.

Five sites were named at the time as possible hosts for the Rocky Flats replacement— Los Alamos, the Nevada nuclear weapons test site, the Pantex bomb assembly plant outside Amarillo, Texas, the Y-12 uranium plant in Tennessee and the Savannah River plutonium processing plant in South Carolina.

That proposal has foundered, running into significant congressional opposition. Its replacement, renamed "Complex Transformation," is due to be unveiled within the next month.

Instead of a new pit factory, the revised plan will call for doing the plutonium manufacturing within Los Alamos National Lab's existing Technical Area 55, a large concrete-walled fortress built in the 1970s, according to sources familiar with the plan.

A 2006 study of the lab's capability concluded it could manufacture a maximum of 50 to 80 pits per year, far fewer than Rocky Flats at its peak and fewer than in the federal proposal released a year ago.

Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who represents Los Alamos, expressed concern that even the modest pit production rate contemplated in the plan is too much.

He reiterated his call for diversification away from nuclear weapons work at the northern New Mexico research center.

17 comments:

Eric said...

Anyone have an estimate of the projected yearly income to Northern New Mexico of this small pit facility?

Thanks

Anonymous said...

Would someone remind Udal that he represents all of Northern New Mexico.

Anonymous said...

1200 employees X 50k =60,000,000.THis is conservative. I wonder how Udal would like to replace that kind of money in NM

Anonymous said...

10:54AM - I assume you have already sent a response to him?

Anonymous said...

Yes, LANL will be the new pit production site, but the amount of money that Congress will allow to support it will be just enough to keep it on life support.

Expect to see TA-55 push out only around a dozen pits per year, just enough for NNSA to crow about their great successes.

There will be no big influx of new jobs for the Pit Factory. It will help keep the front gates open, and not much else.

Anonymous said...

11:24-Yup!

Anonymous said...

Aren't these comments about RRW significant at many levels since Bingaman attributes them to the NNSA?

According to Bingaman, the agency has concluded that the new "reliable replacement warhead," a proposal to build a new generation of nuclear warheads, is not likely to go forward. With no need for the new pits, the future demand for the plutonium bomb parts should be small, Bingaman said.

"Production of RRW appears to be off the table," Bingaman said in a statement, "which means there is no reason we'll need a full-scale pit production facility. Los Alamos was tapped years ago to develop a limited number of pits on an annual basis, and I see no reason for that to change in the future."

Anonymous said...

What about building new pits to replace any old ones that have gone bad?

Anonymous said...

It's my understanding that pits are occasionally taking out and tested. It's possible that this testing could be destructive and result in the need for a few replacement pits.

However, the real reason for producing a few pits each year is so that NNSA and Congress can feel all warm and secure that the weapons complex hasn't lost that old magic touch. They are needed for psychological reasons, as in "We're America and we're still #1! "

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Verrrrry interesting. Every decision NNSA has made in the last year has been about saving RRW-1 (read LLNL) at all costs. This includes cancelling RRW-2. It also includes unproven LLNL processes for TA-55 that are being shoved up their _ ss. Now they are telling Senator Bingaman that RRW is not going to happen. I think the interpretation here is that LLNL is no longer needed. After all, without RRW they have nothing to do except watch NIF fizzle(sending in their annual letter of certification on their 1 token weapon does not count for much). This could be the solution to all kinds of budget problems. It would also allow the integrity of the weapons complex to grow by terminating Bruce Goodwin and his band of lying thugs.

I think this should be heralded as great news for the weapons complex. The one unresolved problem is how we get rid of the LLNL occupying army now managing LANL.

I'm sorry I just woke up from a dream that NNSA was actually competent and LANs actually cared about LANL. With LANs and LLNs and NNSA all in bed with each other, and with an intense hatred of Los Alamos, we are doomed folks.

Anonymous said...

sounds like LANL is the pits.........

Anonymous said...

Without pits, there would be no Los Alamos! Without pits (and the $$$) there would be no science left at Los Alamos! Where do you think that most of the LDRD monies come from?

Did anybody read the words of that outstanding scientist Terry Wallace and GNEP? He was practically begging for a reason to get GNEP funding to support MaRea. What Terry fails to understand is that the Office of Science and the Office of Nuclear Energy will send their monies to Idaho and Oak Ridge. GNEP is not the growth engine that many think.

Udall has a valid reason to have a conversation about promoting energy and science. Unfortunately, he appears unwilling to invest the necessary time to develop a plan that will require time and money to make the investment a reality.

Anonymous said...

"What about building new pits to replace any old ones that have gone bad?

11/15/07 7:46 PM"

Well, first of all, you obviously haven't been listening to Greg Mello and Jay Coughlin who have proven that pits never go bad.

Secondly, that's why LANL is already buiding a "few" pits.

To answer Eric's question, last year it cost about $130M for LANL to build 7 pits that are fit to go into the stockpile. In fact the cost has hovered around that level for a decade regardless of how many pits have been built, so let's just say $130M/year.

Pinky and The Brain said...

Correction: Pit Production story

Associated Press - November 16, 2007 11:25 AM ET

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) - In a November 15th story about the plutonium cores of nuclear weapons, The Associated Press, relying on a copyright story from the Albuquerque Journal, reported erroneously that Senator Jeff Bingaman said that a federal agency had concluded that a reliable replacement warhead proposal is unlikely to move ahead. Bingaman's office and the National Nuclear Security Administration said Friday it has not reached that conclusion.

Anonymous said...

Why not produce more Pu pits at LANL? It's proven how effective it is at polluting, and how incredibly stupid and arrogant the Lab community can be when it comes to protecting its immediate economic interest. To hell with future generations. It makes for thee perfect Pu community.

Anonymous said...

Eric, just go back to sleep please. The grown ups are talking.

Anonymous said...

You have the costs all wrong! The budget required to make last years fee was on the order of $300M when you take into account everything! TA55, CMR, TA50, and the other facilities that we need to move forward.