(Tribune News Service) – The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a letter dated Tuesday said his biggest infrastructure concern was “any delays” which resulted in missed deadlines for plutonium sinks, nuclear weapons nuclei to be produced, as proposed, in South Carolina and New Mexico.
“As our stockpile of nuclear weapons ages, it is critical that we continue to modernize our aging DOE infrastructure,” General John Hyten wrote to U.S. Representative Michael Turner, Republican of Ohio and member of the House Armed Services Committee. .
Achieving production rates of 30 pits per year in 2026 and 80 pits per year in 2030, Hyten suggested, “is critical to remedying aging inventory components, supporting modernization, and improving safety and resilience for an uncertain future. “.
The most glaring situation, however, is that the National Nuclear Security Administration no longer believes that the wider demand for plutonium triggers can be met on time.
The potential Savannah River plutonium processing facility at the Savannah River site, where at least 50 of the warhead components are expected to be fabricated, could go through until fiscal 2035, and all pit work cannot be made in Los Alamos. New Mexico’s National Laboratory, according to Dr. Charles Verdon, the acting boss of the National Nuclear Security Administration.
President Joe Biden’s candidate for head of the arms and non-proliferation agency Jill Hruby, former director of Sandia National Laboratories, said in late May that 30 wells a year in Los Alamos were “on track” for 2026. Verdon, in testimony to Congress Thursday, corroborated this timeline.
Older National Nuclear Security Administration environmental reviews indicated that the two sites could increase production and personnel to meet the demand of 80 pits per year. But exactly when – how long – is unclear.
“Even with a potential increase in production at Los Alamos, there is still some uncertainty about this capability, especially with their history of outages,” US Representative Joe Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina, told Aiken Standard this morning. this month. “I plan to continue in frequent dialogue with NNSA officials and military leaders to find the best strategy to mitigate this risk.”
Hyten, formerly head of the US Strategic Command, described the resurrection of plutonium well production as the “highest” infrastructure priority of the National Nuclear Security Administration.
“Our national requirement, supported by numerous studies and analyzes, requires no less than 80 war reserve pits per year by 2030”, testified the general in February 2019. “I support the NNSA plan to achieve this.
He reiterated his support in the missive to Turner: The tandem approach, reusing the footprint of the failed mixed oxide fuel fabrication facility and strengthening Los Alamos, he writes, “gives us the best chance to respond. to the requirement “.
Verdon said on Thursday that the two-site production strategy remained the most profitable and fastest, despite higher-than-expected prices and a schedule delay.
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An undated photograph shows Technical Zone 3 of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico. (Los Alamos National Laboratory)