The U.S. government announced May 10 its recommended alternative for expanding the nation’s production of plutonium pits – the core of a nuclear weapon. They decided to maintain full-scale pit production at Los Alamos National Laboratory to produce 30 pits per year, with a surge capability for more, and to create additional capability at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to produce an additional 50 pits by 2030. This is the result of the government’s long-term analysis to determine how best to meet the recently released Nuclear Posture Review’s requirement to produce no fewer than 80 pits per year by 2030 in support of the nation’s strategic nuclear deterrent.
This represents a big vote of confidence in Los Alamos National Laboratory by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the government agency that runs our national laboratories and other sites across the nation’s nuclear weapons enterprise. To fulfill its mission, the laboratory will need to continue its close partnership with NNSA, its sister laboratories including Sandia and Lawrence Livermore, and the entire nuclear security enterprise – and we are committed to doing just that.
The government’s decision not only secures Los Alamos’ long-term national security future, but our growing employment base and key weapons funding needs, which will translate in the immediate future to more infrastructure, more equipment and more staff. The NNSA has already planned nearly $3 billion in scope at the laboratory to support the pit mission. In addition, NNSA is going to allow the lab to develop a pit manufacturing surge capability that can be used to make in excess of 30 plutonium pits per year. It also reaffirmed Los Alamos’ status as the nation’s R&D Plutonium Center of Excellence and the critical role our plutonium science capability plays in our stockpile stewardship mission.
As one of the largest employers in New Mexico, Los Alamos will need continued support from all industry and education sectors in the state to accomplish this expanded mission. We are committed to redoubling our efforts to develop employment pipelines – not just with the state’s two- and four-year higher education institutions, but also with the building trades. The laboratory needs a workforce with a wide range of skill sets, and we want to hire as many people from New Mexico as possible. Different skill sets require different pipelines for training and recruitment – we want to make sure we help develop those career paths. Furthermore, we are actively engaging our federal, state, local and tribal partners to better communicate our needs and better understand their needs to develop mutually beneficial partnerships.
As a lifelong New Mexican, I believe Los Alamos needs to create more opportunities for our communities because it is those communities that make us strong. Our expanded mission will also require increased purchasing of goods and services from a broader spectrum of vendors. My goal is to procure as much as possible from New Mexico-based vendors, which will require small-business development as well.
I want to create as many opportunities as possible for the people and businesses of New Mexico to help us meet this challenge. Our future at Los Alamos is strong, and I believe it is due in no small measure to the support we receive from our community. We are ready to move forward together.
As Los Alamos National Laboratory marks its 75th anniversary, the government is asking us to make another significant contribution to national security. By working closely with our federal, state and local partners, we are ready to answer that call.