Oct 10, 2008

Nuclear Weapons complex changes advance


WASHINGTON (AP) - The Energy Department moved ahead Thursday on further restricting the nation's most dangerous nuclear material, part of a plan to scale back and modernize management of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.

The department gave preliminary approval to an environmental impact study on the consolidation program, which includes limiting plutonium and highly enriched uranium to just five sites, compared with seven today. The government also would close 600 buildings and structures at the facilities and reduce the number of workers involved in weapons programs by 20 to 30 percent.

None of the seven primary weapons complex facilities, including three nuclear weapons research labs, will be closed. But activities will be combined, in many cases.

"The world is changing and we are changing along with it," said Thomas D'Agostino, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, the agency within the Energy Department that oversees the weapons program.

"The number of U.S. nuclear weapons is shrinking, budgets are flat or declining and we need a smaller, more secure, more efficient infrastructure that reflects these realities, and yet retains our essential capabilities," D'Agostino said.

In a conference call from the government's Y-12 National Security Complex near Oak Ridge, Tenn., D'Agostino said the program will not require new money beyond the agency's five-year spending plan, and would save dollars in the future.

The next administration will have to carry out the effort. D'Agostino said he is "very comfortable" it will stand up to scrutiny.

A final go-ahead cannot be made for at least 30 days.

The agency already has taken nuclear material from the Sandia National Laboratory near Albuquerque, N.M., and will complete the transfers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory near San Francisco by 2012.

Plutonium stockpiles at Lawrence Livermore have concerned citizen groups because suburban neighborhoods have moved right up to the facility's boundary lines in recent years, causing more complicated security requirements.

The plan would:

_Focus uranium manufacturing, dismantlement and research at a new center within the Y-12 Oak Ridge complex.

_Concentrate manufacture of plutonium triggers and other plutonium research at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The plan calls for making a maximum of 20 triggers a year.

_Continue to use the Pantex weapons facility near Amarillo, Texas, as the center for plutonium warhead assembly and disassembly as well as some warhead surveillance work now done at Lawrence Livermore. An underground storage facility would be built for plutonium triggers, reducing the size of the facility and cutting security costs.

_Concentrate tritium research and manufacture at the Savannah River complex near Aiken, S.C. Tritium is a gas use to boost the efficiency of a nuclear warhead. Excess plutonium also is being shipped to Savannah River for storage.

The other sites affected by the plan are the Nevada Test Site; Sandia, with locations in New Mexico and California; and the Kansas City Plant in Missouri.


Anonymous said...

That about wraps it up for LLNL. I work there. The only thing keeping the gates open is the NIF. The word is the GAO is actively investigating the NIF right now. Nobody will say what they are after but there was a high level meeting weeks ago by ULM for 40 NIF scientists and engineers where the pending investigation was discussed. All those in attendance were tole not to disclose the details of the meeting. What is known is the project is 6 months behind schedule and there are still significant technical issues that have yet to be resolved. Folks from all disciplines are being pulled off their projects and sent to NIF (me included).

Anonymous said...

Maybe they figured out it's not going to work?

Anonymous said...

All of that money for NIF, and still no meaningful results....How much more tax payer money will they flush on this monster?

Anonymous said...

I think I know how to get NIF to start up a fusion process. Let's have it focus the lasers and burn up wads of $100,000,000 dollar bills.

Has DOE ever had a turkey as big and as expensive as NIF? I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

National Ignition Facility (NIF) was apparently designed to ignite the fuse leading to the collapse of LLNL. Bye, bye, Livermore.

Anonymous said...

Nothing mentioned about MFFF and PDCF at SRS. If NNSA is going to consolidate Pu work, does this mean the PDCF mission shifts to LANL? Construction has already started on MFFF.

Anonymous said...

Save the taxpayers at least $2B by NOT building PDCF and let one or more sites with some plutonium capacity execute the mission. Or better yet, cancel the entire effort altogether (including the billions yet to be spent on MOX. Unfortunately, the political powers of Georgia and South Carolina see the DOE as a huge jobs project will not allow this to happen. Nothing but a huge earmark for them!

Anonymous said...

10/18 3:08 pm: "Unfortunately, the political powers of Georgia and South Carolina see the DOE as a huge jobs project will not allow this to happen. Nothing but a huge earmark for them!"

Don't they realize this will all go away under Obama? GA and SC will have to look for public works projects that don't involve national security. That will be a non-starter under the Obama "Carter Revival" presidency. Think alternative energy and roads and bridges. Forget defending the nation.