The DOE Announces Plans For Pit Production

The Department of Energy has been contemplating the future production of nuclear weapon pits – the fissile part of the weapon, usually plutonium. Rocky Flats, between Golden and Boulder, Colorado, used to do it, but it turned into an environmental disaster. All buildings have been removed from the site.

Los Alamos and Savannah River are the only two DOE sites that can work with plutonium. Both put themselves into the running for the task. Both have had some problems with safely handling the stuff, for example. The decision was announced today. Both were, in effect, selected.

This is the kind of bad decision that the DOE has long made. It avoids the political problems that would come with selecting one site or the other. The congressional delegations of both states will be pleased. To be fair, there are people with expertise at these sites and facilities that can be used or upgraded.

And they will need to be upgraded. Whether the funds will be appropriated and whether they will turn out to be adequate when the plans are fully worked out is another question, one that has been answered very poorly by both the DOE and Congress in the past.

The evidence seems to be that pits last a longish time, perhaps up to a century. We have several thousand nuclear weapons, more than we are ever likely to need.

Carson Mark, a Los Alamos weapons physicist, once proposed that we simply let all the tritium, a radioactive component of thermonuclear weapons, decay and not replace it as a partial step toward disarmament. The way the US is going, it looks like something similar is happening with the capability to build nuclear weapons. Russia is keeping its capacity going and is not in a friendly mood to talk about just letting it all go. But I would love to see the US just say F***it, we’re done, and see how that plays.

 

Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner.






17 replies
  1. 1
    NotMax says:

    Plans for pendulum production put off until next week.

    ;)

  2. 2
    TenguPhule says:

    Both have had some problems with safely handling the stuff, for example. The decision was announced today. Both were, in effect, selected.

    What could possibly go wrong go wrong.

  3. 3
    TenguPhule says:

    @NotMax:

    Plans for pendulum production put off until next week.

    Maidens sold separately.

  4. 4
    NotMax says:

    @TenguPhule

    Twice as much than if one were selected.

    Actually somewhat surprising the Rick Perry didn’t push hard for setting this up in Texas.

  5. 5
    Mary G says:

    Is our media learning? The NYT is very proud of itself for doing a Fahrenthold and figuring out that Pruitt ate dinner in Italy with a cardinal who hates climate change and is also a pedophile:

    FOLLOW ALONG WITH US HERE, as we walk through a FASCINATING collection of documents The NYT has pulled together about a certain dinner in Rome that EPA's Scott Pruitt had last June with Cardinal Pell, who is now facing sexual abuse charges. (PLEASE CREDIT NYT )@LFFriedman pic.twitter.com/IZ4EIu3xfu— Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT) May 10, 2018

  6. 6
    Mary G says:

    @Mary G: Then lied about it four different ways:

    Bury the lead:: SCOTT PRUITT dined at a 5-star restaurant with a Cardinal who is a climate change skeptic, even though @EPA staff knew the Cardinal was under investigation for child sex abuse. The Cardinal's name is not included in schedules released at least so far under FOIA.— Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT) May 10, 2018

  7. 7

    […] Cross-posted to Balloon Juice. […]

  8. 8
    Viva BrisVegas says:

    @Mary G:

    Pruitt ate dinner in Italy with a cardinal who hates climate change and is also a pedophile

    To be fair he is not a convicted pedophile, yet. The trial is ongoing.

    Although it has been established that he was in charge while numerous cases of pedophila committed by priests were covered up and ignored.

    He was then promoted to Rome and became in effect the Vatican’s banker and number three in the hierarchy. So that as far as the Pruitt meeting is concerned, you can be sure that money was involved.

  9. 9
    dmsilev says:

    Carson Mark, a Los Alamos weapons physicist, once proposed that we simply let all the tritium, a radioactive component of thermonuclear weapons, decay and not replace it as a partial step toward disarmament.

    As a low-temperature physicist, let me argue for at least some tritium production. The decay product of tritium is helium-3, and not only is that a useful neutron detector (for, e.g. radiation sensors in port security and the like), but it’s also essential for sub-Kelvin cryostats. Which are used for all sorts of oddball things, such as quantum computing research.

  10. 10
    Roger Moore says:

    @NotMax:

    Actually somewhat surprising the Rick Perry didn’t push hard for setting this up in Texas.

    Maybe he thinks New Mexico is plenty close enough for potential environmental disasters. More likely, he’s following the old-school political hack routine and letting the civil service people do the important decision making and just showing up to be figurehead/cheerleader.

  11. 11
    Steve in the ATL says:

    A few years back I worked on the class action employment discrimination litigation against the Savannah River plant. If I were a republican, that would qualify me to run our nation’s nuclear policy. Be damn glad I’m not a republican.

  12. 12
    tybee says:

    @TenguPhule:

    What could possibly go wrong go wrong.

    Savannah River Site (SRS) has a long history of accidental spills into the Savannah River and those eventually make it out to sea near the island upon which my humble abode resides, not to mention the ancient retention ponds that leak into the aquifer…

    i can’t wait for their next fuck up.

  13. 13
    Citizen_X says:

    What the hell do we need 80 plutonium pits a year for? Are there new countries continually rising out of the sea that we’re going to have to bomb?

    I can accept that we may need to maintain, test and upgrade weapon components to keep a credible deterrent. But new pits? No.

  14. 14
    TenguPhule says:

    A few years back I worked on the class action employment discrimination litigation against the Savannah River plant.

    On which side?

  15. 15
    Roger Moore says:

    @Citizen_X:

    What the hell do we need 80 plutonium pits a year for? Are there new countries continually rising out of the sea that we’re going to have to bomb?

    The root reason is that we want to maintain the industrial capacity to build new nukes if there’s a new nuclear arms race. The new pits will be used to replace stuff from our existing stockpile rather than expand it, but the military always wants to keep its options open. A huge factor in all our military spending is preserving industrial capacity. It’s basically a vast welfare program for the MIC.

  16. 16
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @TenguPhule: defending the plant!

    ETA: the employee has already lost the case when it’s filed, regardless of the outcome

  17. 17
    TenguPhule says:

    @Steve in the ATL:

    Kyle: You Bastard!

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