The Obama administration and Congress have ordered up new plutonium pits as part of a plan to modernize the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile.
Currently, the only place where they may be manufactured is Los Alamos National Laboratory. The overall modernization plan is estimated to cost $350 billion in the next decade. But, LANL can’t resume pit production until safety issues there are addressed.
Congress in the 2015 defense spending bill mandated a schedule to build up to 80 pits per year by around 2030. The rationale laid out in the spending bill is that the nation’s stockpile is aging and should be updated for national security. Modernizing the nuclear arsenal is part of the Obama administration’s deal with Congress over ratification of New START arms control agreement Obama signed in 2011.
Nuclear triggers haven’t been manufactured since 2011, when the last of 29 plutonium cores were completed at LANL for Navy submarine missiles. The most pits ever made at Los Alamos in a year is 11, so making 50 to 80 a year will require ramping up activities at the lab.
The United States has more than 10,000 pits in current weapons and storage, but if a nation is going to have a nuclear arsenal – and in today’s world, the U.S. should – it is important to keep it up to date and reliable, because you can be sure our enemies are committed to maintaining a ready nuclear force.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.