Covering government is boring, until it isn’t. Trouble is, you need to know something about the boring parts to see when it isn’t. I’ve seen two of those – potentially big stories – today.
Trump’s Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-Proliferation Spills The Beans
Chris Ford has been in government a long time in positions relating to arms control and nonproliferation. I don’t agree with his policy positions, but I was relieved when Trump appointed someone who actually knew about the field to this position. He is a quiet and professional man.
He published a tell-all open letter on Medium today. My jaw is still dropped.
There’s a lot to the letter, and I don’t have time to go into it in detail, but basically a couple of Trumpian bozos in one of his bureaus were ginning up a conspiracy theory about China and the coronavirus. And they did everything they could to keep it from him! This is the backstory to every “lab leak” story out there, oh useful idiots like Nate Silver, Jonathan Chait, Matt Yglesias, and others.
Los Alamos Can’t Make 80 Pits A Year
Dan Leone covers the nuclear weapons bureaucracy for EM Publications. He tweets Congressional hearings, which is a great service to people like me who usually don’t listen to the whole thing. The House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Strategic Forces held a hearing today on the FY22 budget request. Charles Verdon, the nominated Administrator for the NNSA, the part of the Department of Energy that is responsible for nuclear weapons, testified. The nuclear arsenal is getting old, and there has been a plan to remake the plutonium cores (pits) for some nuclear weapons. That would be done at the Los Alamos Plutonium Facility, PF-4, and at a repurposed plant at Savannah River, Georgia.
Verdon said that the Savanna River plant won’t be ready for several years and will cost a lot more than has been projected. He also said that PF-4 won’t ever be able to produce 80 pits a year. Here’s Leone’s summary of a long thread:
This is the first time that the NNSA administrator has admitted that the big talk about pit production is just that – talk. It’s significant that the Biden administration is saying this; it may pave the way for a different sort of talks between the US and Russia. And maybe China, if they ever become willing to talk.
I find both of these stories amazing. I’ll be interested to see which news media pick them up. You read them here first.
Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner