Nuclear Weapon "Pit" Production: Options to Help Meet a Congressional Requirement [May 14, 2015]   [open pdf - 619KB]

"A pit is the plutonium core of a thermonuclear weapon. Imploding it with conventional explosives provides the energy to detonate the rest of the weapon. The Rocky Flats Plant made up to 2,000 pits per year (ppy) through 1989; since then, the United States has made 29 pits for the stockpile. Yet the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act requires the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which manages the nuclear weapons program, to produce at a rate of 80 ppy for 90 days in 2027. How can that requirement be met? Pits are to be made at Los Alamos National Laboratory's main plutonium facility, PF-4. To manufacture pits, a facility must have enough laboratory floor space and a high enough limit for Material At Risk (MAR), the amount of radioactive material a worst-case accident could release. Producing 80 ppy requires enough 'margin,' the space or MAR available to produce pits minus space or MAR required for that production rate. While space and MAR available have been calculated, amounts required to produce 80 ppy have never been calculated rigorously, leaving space and MAR needs undefined. Further, the report cannot address whether certain options could meet the 2027 date because time to implement them cannot be determined."

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, R44033
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