A major new report from the Congressional Research Service examines the infrastructure for producing the plutonium “pits” that are used in US nuclear weapons, and the feasibility of sharply increasing the rate of pit production.
The CRS report does not deal with whether or why that is a sensible goal, but instead probes deeply into how it could possibly be achieved.
“The Department of Defense states that it needs the Department of Energy, which maintains U.S. nuclear weapons, to produce 50-80 ppy [pits per year] by 2030. While some argue that few if any new pits are needed, at least for decades, this report focuses on options to reach 80 ppy.”
In recent years, U.S. pit production has not exceeded 11 pits per year.
“The current infrastructure cannot produce pits at the capacity DOD requires, and many efforts stretching back to the late 1980s to produce pits have been canceled or have otherwise foundered.”
Based on a close examination of the nation’s nuclear weapons infrastructure, the CRS report presents a dozen options that might satisfy the proposed requirements with minimal new construction, by assigning various functions to existing buildings and facilities. It also notes the structural, political and bureaucratic obstacles to achieving any such outcome.
“Of all the problems facing the nuclear weapons program and nuclear weapons complex over the past several decades, few, if any, have been as vexing as pit production,” the CRS report states.
A copy of the report was obtained by Secrecy News. See U.S. Nuclear Weapon “Pit” Production Options for Congress, February 21, 2014.