“Pits” are the fissile cores of the atomic bombs that comprise the first explosive stage in today’s thermonuclear weapons.
Pits age, slowly. U.S. pits have a very long shelf life.
Should a pit’s inner plutonium shell degrade, that warhead must either be retired (as in “rust in peace”), or a new pit built. More superficial degradation can be fixed by partial rebuilding, for which an expensive, high-hazard facility is not needed. Existing facilities suffice for that.
How long do pits last? In 2008, a joint Department of Energy/Department of Defense report stated that “… depending on warhead type, the best estimate of minimum pit life is 85-100 years” (emphasis added). By 2012, initial results from accelerated aging experiments were in. It turns out that the plutonium used in pits is stable for at least 150 years. Los Alamos National Laboratory said: “Pit production to replace pits in the deployed stockpile due to plutonium aging is not required, nor is it planned to occur.”
The oldest pits in the stockpile were made in 1978. Most were made in the 1980s. Thus, the earliest replacement pits would be needed is in the 2063-75 time frame, 45-57 years from now.
So unless there is a call for some entirely new kind of warhead with a new kind of pit (not even Trump wants that), or for a bigger stockpile than the 7,000 or so intact warheads and bombs the U.S. has today (plus thousands of “national security” pits kept in reserve), any pits made now are strictly for our grandchildren’s children, and their children, and so on. To keep them safe, you know.
To make enough pits to replace a large stockpile like today’s – the Obama-Trump plan – Congress has to turn the money spigots on full blast right now. This attracts a lot of interest, not least from the New Mexico congressional delegation.
Given their long life and the great number and variety of pits and warheads available, a requirement for new pits makes sense only with a goal of “winning” the new Cold War with Russia. “Deterrence” could be achieved with a small fraction of today’s arsenal and no new pits. Merely deterring Russia is not the goal. Crushing Russia is.
Would the U.S. need or want new pits in 2063? In our mind’s eye, let’s go to that year.
Because the U.S. and its allies continued to pursue domination and war instead of peace and sustainability, the powerful U.S. bloc of nations never led the world in combating climate change. Russia did nothing much, either. The fake emission “reductions” that started with Obama accomplished nothing.
Long before 2063, the results of these priorities became devastating; by that date, perhaps fatal to humankind and nature. “National security” – the phrase that built a thousand pits – was a joke by 2030. There was no security – for anyone, anywhere.
So, tell me again, dear senators Udall and Heinrich, why do you want a new pit factory in Los Alamos?
Is money the motivation? Between now and 2068, the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) estimates pit production will cost $23 billion to $28 billion. How much will be recycled into campaigns, I wonder? Enough, I am sure.
Or is it fear? We and thousands of others will stand with you, will support you, if you come over to the side of life. Leave the Atomic Doomsday Cult. Your seats are safe.
In any case, please understand this: If pits are going to be made in earnest, NNSA has no intention of keeping LANL as a serious pit production site. How could they? Nobody can change LANL’s isolated location, its narrow mesas, the earthquake faults beneath its main technical area, or the deep layer of loose volcanic ash under its building sites.
NNSA is sure as heck not going to run two industrial pit sites. Once another site begins full production – with little difference in equipment between 50 pits and 80 pits per year – pit production at LANL will not be needed.
DoD, DOE, NNSA and the White House have concluded LANL is not a workable site for industrial pit production. Your predecessors – Bingaman, Domenici and, heck, even you, Senator Udall, when you were a congressman – knew this.
I know you want another study, one that recommends bigger pit production facilities at LANL. A big “module,” right? Or maybe two or three smaller “modules”? Such a euphemism!
Investing nostalgically in the atomic doomsday cult at this crucial moment in history, rather than in the preservation of our environment and the life of our children, would be a catastrophic mistake.
Mello is co-founder of the Albuquerque-based Los Alamos Study Group.