Nuclear Warhead Pit Production: Background and Issues for Congress
CRS Report for Congress
Nuclear Warhead “Pit” Production:
Background and Issues for Congress
Updated March 29, 2004
Specialist in National Defense
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Nuclear Warhead “Pit” Production:
Background and Issues for Congress
A “pit” is the fissile core of a nuclear warhead. In modern warheads, it creates
a nuclear explosion that triggers a substantially larger thermonuclear explosion. All
pits currently in the U.S. nuclear stockpile were made at the Rocky Flats Plant near
Denver, CO, which opened in 1952. The Department of Energy (DOE) halted pit
manufacturing operations there in 1989; the United States has been unable to make
stockpile-quality pits — and therefore complete nuclear warheads — since then.
Inability to make pits may have adverse consequences. For example: (1) The
United States cannot replace pits for the W88 warhead (for the Trident II missile) that
are destroyed during evaluation; currently, only one W88 evaluation pit remains, so
use of more W88 pits would reduce deployable warheads. (2) Pits deteriorate over
time, though the rate at which that happens is under study. If pits of a given type
deteriorate so much as to be no longer reliable, or if an unanticipated defect arises,
then hundreds to thousands of deployed warheads might have to be withdrawn.
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which manages the
U.S. nuclear weapons program, has a five-part plan to restore pit production
capability: (1) Establish a small facility (PF-4) at Los Alamos National Laboratory
(NM) to fabricate pits, initially for the W88. Los Alamos manufactured the first pit
to stockpile standards in April 2003. (2) Develop procedures to certify W88 pits —
to provide high confidence without nuclear testing that the pits will work as intended.
NNSA expects that, in 2007, Los Alamos will be able to certify W88 pits that it
makes. Only certified pits can enter the stockpile. (3) Conduct experiments (not
nuclear tests) in support of W88 pit certification at the Nevada Test Site. (4) Conduct
pit manufacturing and certification for other pits. (5) Plan a Modern Pit Facility
(MPF) with a higher capacity than PF-4, to reach full operational capability in
FY2021. NNSA estimates total cost at $1.46 billion for items (1) and (2), smaller
amounts for items (3) and (4), and $2 billion to $4 billion for item (5).
Congress has long shown interest in the program. It generally supports low-rate
production at Los Alamos. It raised concern over budgeting and the pace of pit
certification, but now praises NNSA for “turning around” the W88 pit program. On
MPF, the FY2004 defense authorization act supported the Administration’s schedule.
The appropriations act reduced funding; conferees stated that until Congress reviews
nuclear stockpile plans, “it is premature to pursue further decisions” on MPF. MPF’s
schedule to reach full operational capability slipped a year between 2003 and 2004.
Congress faces several issues as it considers the pit program. Is NNSA’s plan
for certification reasonable? Does the United States need new pits (beyond limited
quantities for the W88)? If so, what capacity is needed? Can PF-4 be expanded to
build enough pits to avoid the need for MPF? Could MPF’s schedule be accelerated?
Should its schedule be delayed?
This report is intended for those interested in the U.S. nuclear weapons program.
It will track the pit budget request and program, and will be updated as needed.
The National Nuclear Security Administration’s Program for Pit Production...3
Short-Term Goal: W88 Pits.....................................3
Intermediate-Term Goal: Other Pits...............................8
Long-Term Goal: Modern Pit Facility.............................9
Requests and Responses, FY1997-FY2003.........................15
The FY2004 Request..........................................17
The FY2005 Request..........................................19
Issues for Congress...............................................20
Is NNSA’s Plan for Certification Reasonable?..................20
Does the United States Need New Pits (Beyond Limited
Quantities for W88)?..................................20
If So, What Capacity Is Needed?.............................21
Can NNSA Expand PF-4 to Build Enough Pits Without MPF?.....21
Could NNSA Accelerate MPF’s Schedule?....................22
Should Congress and the Administration Delay MPF’s Schedule?...22
List of Tables
Table 1. Pit Manufacturing and Certification Campaign Budget,
Table 2. MPF Schedule Slippage, June 2003 to February 2004.............12
Table 3. Congressional Action on FY2005 Pit Program Request............19
Table 4. Key Dates in NNSA’s Proposal for the Pit Manufacturing
and Certification Campaign.....................................23
Nuclear Warhead “Pit” Production:
Background and Issues for Congress
U.S. policy since the mid-1950s has been to maintain a stockpile of at least
several thousand nuclear weapons (active and inactive) for the indefinite future. The
Bush Administration reaffirmed this policy in its Nuclear Posture Review, briefed to
Congress in early 2002.1 This report deals with an element the Administration views
as necessary for continued maintenance of the stockpile, resuming production of
“pits,” a key component of nuclear warheads.2
U.S. nuclear warheads include a primary and a secondary stage. The primary
stage has a layer of chemical explosive surrounding a shell of fissile metal — all
warheads in the stockpile use plutonium — and other components. Detonating the
explosive compresses the fissile metal so much that it can sustain a fission chain
reaction. The resulting nuclear explosion triggers a secondary stage, which through
fission and fusion produces most of the warhead’s explosive yield. In the primary,
the components inside the explosive make up what is called the pit. Of these
components, the plutonium shell is by far the hardest to make. When completed, the
pit is sealed to protect it from air and moisture.
From 1952 to 1989, Rocky Flats Plant, under the supervision of the Department
of Energy (DOE) and its predecessor agencies, used industrial-scale processes to
manufacture many thousands of pits for deployed weapons. All weapons now in the
U.S. stockpile use pits made there. (Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratories fabricated hundreds of one-of-a-kind pits for nuclear tests.) Following
a 1989 raid by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and others to investigate
suspected environmental, safety, and health violations,3 DOE suspended Rocky Flats’
pit manufacturing operations in 1989, and permanently closed these operations in
1992. Thus, since 1989, the United States has had no capability to build pits of the
quality and quantity that DOE deems necessary for use in the stockpile. DOE stated
in February 2004, “Today, the United States is the only nuclear weapons power
1 For a discussion of this policy, see CRS Report RL31623, U.S. Nuclear Weapons: Changes
in Policy and Force Structure, by Amy Woolf.
2 For a more general discussion of nuclear weapons production, see CRS Report 98-519 F,
Nuclear Weapons Production Capability Issues, by Jonathan Medalia. (Archived report
available from the author.)
3 See Matthew Wald, “Grand Jury Seeks Inquiry on Weapons Plant Case,” New York Times,
November 19, 1992: 16.
without sufficient capability to manufacture stockpile-certified plutonium pits
required to sustain its nuclear arsenal.”4
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous
agency within DOE that Congress established in 1999, manages the nuclear weapons
complex — the labs, plants, and test site for nuclear warhead R&D, production,
maintenance, etc. It is thus responsible for restoring pit production.
NNSA holds that the inability to build pits could impair the nuclear stockpile,
for reasons such as the following.
!Each year, NNSA monitors some warheads for defects. Most of
these warheads can be put back into the stockpile, but a few undergo
more extensive tests that preclude their reuse. These latter tests
include destruction of pits. Therefore, when DOE built pits for
stockpile weapons, it built some spares to replace pits expected to be
destroyed over a warhead’s design life. Now, warheads are expected
to remain in the stockpile far beyond their design lives. Unless new
pits are made by the time spares are used up, tests that consume pits
would force the removal of deployed warheads from the stockpile.
!Based on current data, NNSA anticipates that pits will last for
decades, but will eventually deteriorate. If that proves to be the case,
NNSA would ultimately have to replace all pits that remain in the
stockpile beyond that time.
!Without replacement pits, if a type of pit develops certain kinds of
defects, NNSA might have to withdraw from service all warheads
using that pit.
!If NNSA designs new nuclear warheads in the future, it would
probably need new pits for them. NNSA now stores thousands of
pits from retired warheads. In theory, new warhead designs might
incorporate stored pits. However, any aging problems would affect
stored pits as well as deployed pits, so that NNSA cannot count on
using existing pits in future warheads.
!The Nuclear Posture Review presents the Administration’s general
policy guidance for nuclear weapons and related defense elements,
including infrastructure. While it is classified, NNSA said that the
review “stated that the ability to produce pits is important to ensure
the future viability of the nation’s nuclear deterrent.”5
4 U.S. Department of Energy. Secretary of Energy. National Nuclear Security
Administration Report to Congressional Defense Committees on “An Enhanced Schedule
for the Modern Pit Facility,” requested by the United States Senate in Senate Report 108-
5 Ibid., p. 1.
The National Nuclear Security Administration’s
Program for Pit Production
The Pit Manufacturing and Certification Campaign is NNSA’s effort to restore
pit production. Campaigns are “focused scientific and engineering efforts” whose
goal is “to develop and maintain special capabilities and tools needed for continued
certification of the stockpile, now and into the future, in the absence of underground
nuclear testing.”6 This campaign seeks to manufacture and certify one type of pit in
the short term, restore the capability to build other pit types in the intermediate term,
and build a higher-capacity manufacturing facility for the long term. This section
discusses the elements of this campaign; “Congressional Actions,” below, discusses
congressional handling of this campaign. Table 1 presents estimated funding. The
FY2005 request document is the first to include detailed out-year budget projections
(in this case through FY2009) generated through the Future-Years Nuclear Security
Program, providing a window into future plans.
The basis for the Pit Manufacturing and Certification Campaign was a record
of decision on stockpile stewardship, published December 26, 1996, in which DOE
“decided to ... reestablish pit fabrication capability, with a small capacity, at the Los
Alamos National Laboratory.”7 DOE estimated requirements at 20 pits per year to
replace pits destroyed in surveillance testing, but also claimed that with the capability
to produce all types of pits in the stockpile, it could produce “about 50 pits per year
in single shift operations.” It judged the latter rate would be sufficient for the next
10 years or more, rejected larger capacity because of small current demand and the
long period before added capacity might be needed, and raised the prospect of greater
capacity in the future.8
Short-Term Goal: W88 Pits
Rocky Flats Plant ceased production abruptly when it was only part-way through
the planned production run of pits for the W88, a nuclear warhead used on the
Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile. Only one W88 pit remains for
destructive evaluation.9 Accordingly, the most urgent short-term need of the current
pit program is to produce and certify W88 pits. To accomplish these tasks, the W88
pit effort has two main elements within the Pit Manufacturing and Certification
Campaign — W88 Pit Manufacturing and W88 Pit Certification. A third element,
Pit Campaign Support Activities at NTS, mainly involves subcritical experiments at
the Nevada Test Site to provide data that NNSA requires for W88 pit certification.
6 U.S. Department of Energy. Office of Chief Financial Officer. FY 2002 Congressional
Budget Request. Vol. 1: National Nuclear Security Administration. DOE/CR-0072, April
7 U.S. Department of Energy. “Record of Decision: Programmatic Environmental Impact
Statement for Stockpile Stewardship and Management,” Federal Register, December 26,
8 Ibid.: 68023-24.
9 Information provided by NNSA staff, March 3, 2004.
Table 1. Pit Manufacturing and Certification Campaign Budget,
(Budget Authority, $ millions)
W88W88 PitPit Mfg.ModernSupport
2004 actual a125.0108.610.010.842.4296.8
2008 plan b015.837.4101.40154.6
2009 plan b0053.0105.20158.2
T otal 838.0 603.8 193.9 400.2 246.1 2282.0
Abbreviation: NTS, Nevada Test Site.
Source: FY2001 Support Activities at NTS figure was provided by NNSA March 3, 2004.
Other FY2001 data: U.S. Department of Energy. Office of Management, Budget and
Evaluation/CFO, FY 2003 Congressional Budget Request. vol. 1, National Nuclear Security
Administration. DOE/ME-0001, February 2002, p. 170. FY2002 data: U.S. Department of
Energy. Office of Management, Budget and Evaluation/CFO, FY 2004 Congressional
Budget Request. vol. 1, National Nuclear Security Administration. DOE/ME-0016,
February 2003, p. 225. FY2003-FY2009 data: U.S. Department of Energy. Office of
Management, Budget and Evaluation/CFO. FY 2005 Congressional Budget Request, vol.
Note: The Pit Manufacturing and Certification Campaign began in FY2001. Before then,
pit funds were scattered in other programs, so earlier cost data are not available. The current
Future-Years Nuclear Security Program projects funds out to FY2009; data beyond then are
a. For FY2004, the pit campaign was reduced from $298.5 million to $296.8 million as a
result of the omnibus rescission of 0.59 percent. The reduction was all applied to W88 pit
manufacturing; the amount appropriated for that component was $126.7 million. Source for
the latter figure: U.S. Congress. Committee of Conference. Making Appropriations for
Energy and Water Development for the Fiscal Year Ending September 30, 2004, and forthst
Other Purposes. 108 Congress, 1 Session, H.Rept. 108-357, USGPO, p. 158.
b. FY2008 and FY2009 funding for W88 Pit Manufacturing is currently included in
Directed Stockpile Work. NNSA estimates that the cost for this activity will be $110
million a year for each of these two years. These amounts do not appear in Table 1, which
presents funding for Campaigns.
As Table 1 shows, NNSA projects that W88 Pit Manufacturing will remain in
the Pit Manufacturing and Certification Campaign through FY2007. In the FY2005
budget submission, W88 Pit Manufacturing continues in FY2008 and beyond in a
different part of NNSA’s Weapons Activities budget, Directed Stockpile Work
(DSW), which is direct work on warheads currently in the stockpile. This was
originally planned to mark the transition from manufacturing that supported
certification to interim production of W88 pits. Pit Campaign Support Activities at
NTS is not budgeted in FY2007 because subcritical experiments to support the W88
are planned to be completed in FY2006. Similarly, W88 Pit Certification budgets are
planned to end after FY2008 as a result of expected certification in FY2007.
By way of background, the term “certifiable,” and the four-year gap between
delivery of a certifiable pit and a “certified” or “war reserve” pit, have caused much
confusion. Certifiable pits meet quality control and process standards; certified pits
meet product performance standards. A certifiable pit is manufactured using
processes meeting standards set by the laboratory that designed the weapon and
approved by NNSA. A war reserve pit is one that NNSA has determined to meet
engineering and physics standards to be accepted for use in deployed nuclear
weapons. NNSA has launched a major effort to establish that certifiable pits meet
these product standards. It holds that it needs this effort because Los Alamos
manufactures pits using different methods and equipment than did Rocky Flats.
Rocky Flats pits were proven to work in underground nuclear tests at the Nevada Test
Site. The U.S. nuclear test moratorium, which started in 1992 and continues to the
present, bars similar tests on pits manufactured at Los Alamos. NNSA plans to
provide the basis for certifying pits without nuclear tests by demonstrating through
computer models, subcritical experiments,10 small-scale laboratory experiments,
experiments using multimillion-dollar nuclear physics facilities, and archived data
from past nuclear tests that Los Alamos pits are equivalent to Rocky Flats pits in
many key characteristics, and by resolving uncertainties conservatively, such as by
insisting on tighter specifications and greater manufacturing precision. In these ways,
NNSA seeks to provide confidence that Los Alamos pits will work as designed.
To meet the need for W88 pits, NNSA decided to create at Los Alamos a
facility that could produce pits at a low rate. The facility is housed in PF-4
(plutonium facility 4), which opened in 1978 for plutonium R&D. It occupies about
30% of the space in PF-4 available for plutonium operations; another 25% is reserved
for plutonium metal preparation. Los Alamos manufactured the first certifiable W88
pit in April 2003. NNSA expects Los Alamos to produce six or more certifiable
W88 pits in FY2005, “to achieve, by FY2007, a sustained manufacturing rate of 10-
10 CRS offers the following definition based on documents and on discussions with DOE
and laboratory staff: “Subcritical experiments at Nevada Test Site involve chemical high
explosives and fissile materials in configurations and quantities such that no self-sustaining
nuclear fission chain reaction can result. In these experiments, the chemical high explosives
are used to generate high pressures that are applied to the fissile materials. The only fissile
material used in the 19 subcritical experiments held from 1997 through 2002 is
plutonium-239.” NNSA states that these experiments support certification of W88 pits.
Department of Energy FY2004 Budget Request, vol. 1, p. 77.
20 pits/year,” and to complete certification work in FY2007.11 NNSA also expects
Los Alamos to certify in FY2007 the first W88 pit made there.12
In March 2004, NNSA indicated that certification was on track, and that
production of certifiable pits was proceeding extremely well, with five such pits
produced as of early March 2004.13 The near-term goal is to produce those pits
needed to support certification experiments. Each early pit has a specific physics and
engineering certification test purpose and will exercise the processes required to
confirm that production is reliable and efficient. Accordingly, there is no reason now
to produce pits faster than the schedule calls for. Once certification activities are
complete, NNSA may choose to increase the production rate.
In theory, nuclear testing could accelerate pit certification. A successful test
would demonstrate promptly that a pit worked and that the processes used to make
it were acceptable. In practice, however, NNSA would probably conduct a series of
tests because a single test would not likely provide sufficient confidence and the first
test might indicate the need for changes that would require subsequent tests to
validate. Further, it would take 2 or 3 years from a presidential decision to test until
the conduct of a first test. While the Administration plans to reduce that time,
perhaps to 18 months, it would take some time to make that change. Compared to
the current program if it proceeds as anticipated, then, testing might accelerate
certification by a year or so.
PF-4’s capacity and schedule, and the schedule for pit certification, have
changed over time, and statements have been contradictory.
!In the December 1996 record of decision cited above, DOE appeared
to need a capacity of 20 pits per year, would wind up with a capacity
of 50 a year, and found the latter sufficient for some time. “DOE
foresees only the replacement of pits destroyed in routine
surveillance testing unless a near-term, life-limiting phenomenon is
discovered in stockpile pits. ... The technological capability to
manufacture all of the pit designs in the enduring stockpile provides
an inherent capacity to manufacture about 50 pits per year in single
shift operations. ... About 20 pits per year are expected to be
11 U.S. Department of Energy. Office of Management, Budget and Evaluation/CFO. FY
DOE/ME-0032, February 2004, p. 153.
12 U.S. Department of Energy. National Nuclear Security Administration. “Pit
Manufacturing and Certification Campaign: Report to Congress, Fiscal Year 2002.”
Delivered to Congress March 28, 2003, p. 1. This report was submitted in response to a
requirement set forth in U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Appropriations. Energy andthnd
Water Development Appropriation Bill, 2003, S.Rept. 107-220, 107 Congress, 2 Session,
USGPO, 2002, p. 98; and U.S. Congress. Committee of Conference. Conference Report
on H.J.Res. 2, Consolidated Appropriations Resolution, 2003, as printed in U.S. Congress.
Congressional Record, February 12, 2003: H 1025.
13 This paragraph is based on discussions with NNSA Pit Project Office staff, December 4
and 9, 2003, and March 3, 2004.
required to replace pits destroyed in routine surveillance testing. A
capacity of about 50 pits per year is, therefore, judged to be
sufficient for the next 10 or more years.”14
!The FY1999 DOE budget request, released February 1998, stated,
“In accordance with the Record of Decision on the Programmatic
Environmental Impact Statement, the current objective is to establish
a long term capacity for manufacturing up to 50 pits/year with a
single shift of personnel.”15 Further, DOE planned to “[p]roduce a
single WR [war reserve] pit per year at LANL beginning in FY 1998
and provide up to 10 pits annually into the stockpile [i.e., certified
as war reserve] beginning in FY 2001 to meet near-term
requirements” and to “[m]eet schedules to rebuild, qualify and
certify Trident II [W88] pits by FY2001 and develop intermediate pit
production capability of 20 pits per year at the Los Alamos National
Laboratory by 2007.”16
!In the September 1999 record of decision on the site-wide
environmental impact statement for Los Alamos National
Laboratory, DOE decided to establish at Los Alamos a capacity to
produce nominally 20 pits per year to be achieved in 2007. “While
this [decision] does not change the 50-pit-per-year mission
assignment made in the Stockpile Stewardship and Management
Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement Record of Decision,
it does suspend full implementation of that decision until an
undetermined time in the future.”17
!In 2000, NNSA stated, “FY 2001 efforts will support W88 pit
certification by FY 2005.”18
!In 2001, the Administration proposed having a certified pit available
14 U.S. Department of Energy. “Record of Decision: Programmatic Environmental Impact
Statement for Stockpile Stewardship and Management,” Federal Register, December 26,
15 U.S. Department of Energy. Office of the Chief Financial Officer. FY 1999
Congressional Budget Request. Vol. 1, Atomic Energy Defense Activities. DOE/CR-0051,
February 1998, p. 126.
16 Ibid., p. 125-126.
17 U.S. Department of Energy. “Record of Decision: Site-Wide Environmental Impact
Statement for Continued Operation of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the State of
New Mexico,” Federal Register, September 20, 1999: 50803.
18 U.S. Department of Energy. Office of the Chief Financial Officer. FY 2001
Congressional Budget Request. Vol. 1, National Nuclear Security Administration,
DOE/CR-0068-1, p. 83.
19 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Appropriations. Energy and Water Development
!An October 2002 NNSA document stated that “establishment of an
interim pit production capacity of up to 20 pits per year at Los
Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is expected to be completed in
!In March 2003, NNSA stated, “NNSA will ... [e]stablish a small (10
pits/year) W88 pit production capability at LANL with a goal of FY
!And in February 2004, NNSA stated its intent “to enable the
plutonium facility at LANL TA-55 to achieve, by FY2007, a
sustained manufacturing rate of 10-20 pits/year.”22
These changes have occurred for several reasons. NNSA has, over time,
developed a better sense of how many pits would be needed. Los Alamos has found
that certifying pits is more complicated and time-consuming than it had anticipated
at first. The schedule has slipped. Further, the documents, or people’s reading of
them, have led some to confuse available and required capacity.
Intermediate-Term Goal: Other Pits
The Pit Manufacturing and Certification Campaign has an intermediate-term
element, Pit Manufacturing Capability (PMC), for “[p]it manufacturing and
certification activities not specifically supporting the W88.” This includes work on
pits for the W87 warhead, currently carried by Minuteman III intercontinental
ballistic missiles, and the B61 mod 7, a gravity bomb. NNSA notes that these two
pits, together with the W88 pit, “span technical variations of pits within the
stockpile.”23 That is, the ability to manufacture and certify these three pits would
help NNSA manufacture and certify all types of existing pits that may need such
work in the future. While PF-4 could build some W87 and B61 developmental pits
by 2012 under current plans, PMC would not manufacture war reserve pits for these
warheads because many spare pits of these types are available to be cut apart for
examination in ways that preclude their reassembly and reuse. Rather, PMC will
develop manufacturing technologies that NNSA plans to use in fabricating pits for
these and other warheads in PF-4 or the Modern Pit Facility. Table 1 shows Pit
Manufacturing Capability increasing substantially; as pilot work on W88 pit
manufacturing and certification is transferred out of the Pit Manufacturing and
Appropriation Bill, 2002. 107th Congress, 1st Session. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off.,
20 U.S. Department of Energy. National Nuclear Security Administration. “Site
Alternatives: Modern Pit Facility.” October 2002, 3 p. Via [http://www.mpfeis.com].
21 NNSA, “Pit Manufacturing and Certification Campaign, Report to Congress, Fiscal Year
22 Department of Energy, FY 2005 Congressional Budget Request, vol. 1, p. 153.
23 Department of Energy FY 2004 Congressional Budget Request, vol. 1, p. 227.
Certification Campaign, this campaign shifts to develop manufacturing capability for
other types of pits.
Long-Term Goal: Modern Pit Facility
Plutonium, a radioactive metal, decays radioactively and generates heat. As a
result, plutonium pits undergo metallurgical and other changes that may affect
weapon performance.24 As of May 2003, “the NNSA weapons laboratories have
determined that pits will perform adequately for 45-60 years.”25 This remains
NNSA’s estimate as of March 2004. This estimate could increase or decrease based
on experimental data, further analysis, or data obtained by examining pits from
deployed weapons. Accordingly, NNSA is working to refine its estimate. Two of
its labs are performing “pit aging experiments and modeling to determine whether
pit lifetimes equal or exceed 60 years ...”26 Los Alamos is conducting experiments
that accelerate sixteenfold a key process that ages plutonium.27 Livermore will also
conduct studies related to assessing pit life.28 The results will help define whether
a potential new pit manufacturing facility should be accelerated or delayed, and what
capacity would be appropriate. In addition to funds for the Pit Manufacturing and
Certification Campaign, NNSA requested $25.9 million for FY2004 for a component
of another campaign, Enhanced Surveillance, to support pit aging research.29 The
FY2005 NNSA budget document did not break out funds for pit aging research.
Several factors — a larger stockpile, shorter pit life, a desire to build pits for
new-design warheads, or a desire to hedge against the prospect that a type of pit
develops a problem that necessitates replacing all units quickly — would increase the
production capacity needed or require having that capacity sooner, or both. A smaller
stockpile, etc., would have the opposite effect. International events could work in
either direction. The implications of plutonium aging for the need and schedule for
new pits are therefore debated. Some outside government argue that there is no clear
end to pit life, or that pits could last many more decades. Further, some claim that
with thousands of spare pits available from retired warheads, many would be
available as “a ‘hedge’ against aging in the remaining arsenal.”30 Responding to
24 These changes are detailed in U.S. Department of Energy. National Nuclear Security
Administration. Draft Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on
Stockpile Stewardship and Management for a Modern Pit Facility. DOE/EIS-236-S2, May
2003 (hereinafter MPF EIS), Summary, p. S-11, S-12. This document is available via
[ h t t p : / / www.mp f e i s .c om] .
25 MPF EIS, Summary, p. S-12.
26 Department of Energy FY 2002 Congressional Budget Request, vol. 1, p. 97.
27 “Accelerated Aging of Plutonium (AAP),” Weapons Insider: A Publication of the [Los
Alamos] Nuclear Weapons Program, July-August 2002: 1-2.
28 Department of Energy FY2004 Budget Request, vol. 1, p. 114.
29 Department of Energy FY2004 Budget Request, vol. 1, p. 152.
30 Greg Mello, “No Need for a Large-Scale Pit Facility: Existing Los Alamos Facilities Are
Adequate,” Los Alamos Study Group, remarks and press advisory, October 24, 2002,
concerns that plutonium will deteriorate in ways that impair weapon performance,
one report finds that plutonium undergoes “benign aging” and “exhibits good
crystalline order even after decades of aging.”31 It may also be argued that any
decision on future pit production can be put off until there is reasonable evidence on
the “shelf life” of pits.
NNSA, on the other hand, believes that pits will ultimately fail to function. If
one type of pit used in deployed warheads goes bad, then, depending on the specifics
of the problem, there might be no confidence in any of the hundreds to thousands of
warheads using that pit, or in spare pits of that type, which would age at the same rate
as pits in deployed warheads. NNSA’s view is that maintaining the stockpile
indefinitely therefore requires, in the longer term, a higher pit fabrication capacity
than PF-4 can offer in order to replace pits removed due to aging or destructive
testing. Similarly, the Panel to Assess the Reliability, Safety, and Security of the
United States Nuclear Stockpile (the Foster Panel) observed, “While it is desirable
to attempt to forecast the life spans of plutonium and other weapon components, we
must be able to replace such parts if our predictions are incorrect or our needs for
deterrence change,” and recommended that NNSA “[e]stablish, with urgency, a pit
production capability adequate for national needs.”32 Responding to the argument
that plutonium aging will not impair weapon performance for a long time, NNSA
asserts that, based on research at the weapons labs, “increased delta-phase stability
[of plutonium] with aging cannot be assumed.”33
Because of — or, depending on one’s point of view, despite — uncertainty
about pit life, NNSA has decided to proceed with planning for a new facility, the
Modern Pit Facility (MPF), which is another element of the Pit Manufacturing and
Certification Campaign. NNSA is currently assessing a capacity from 125 to 450 pits
per year in single-shift operation.34 (Choice of capacity would depend on
requirements for production, reserve capacity, and expansion potential, all to be
determined.) NNSA estimates that MPF operations will start in FY2019 and that the
plant will achieve full production capability in FY2021.35 (Table 4 includes MPF
milestones.) The Senate Armed Services Committee in 2002 estimated the cost of
MPF at $2 billion to $4 billion.36 NNSA personnel stated in March 2004 that this
estimate remains the same.
available at [http://www.lasg.org/hmpgfrm_b.html].
31 Raymond Jeanloz, “Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship,” Physics Today Online,
December 2000; [http://www.physicstoday.org/pt/vol-53/iss-12/p44.html].
32 U.S. Panel to Assess the Reliability, Safety, and Security of the United States Nuclear
Stockpile, FY2001 report, submitted March 15, 2002, p. ES-8, 21.
33 MPF EIS, p. S-13.
34 Ibid., p. S-27.
35 Department of Energy, FY2004 Budget Request, vol. 1, p. 150.
36 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Armed Services. National Defense Authorization
Act for Fiscal Year 2003, 107th Congress, 2nd Session. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off.,
The supplemental programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS) on
stockpile stewardship and management for MPF evaluates five candidate sites: Los
Alamos National Laboratory, NTS, Pantex Plant (TX), Savannah River Site (SC),
and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (NM).37 Public meetings were held at these sites
and in Washington, DC, in June and July 2003 to obtain public comments on the
draft EIS.38 The final EIS was scheduled for publication by April 2004, but NNSA
stated in January 2004 that it delayed this document because of the congressional
concerns just noted.39 NNSA did not indicate a new release date or whether this
decision would delay MPF.
MPF has not proceeded on an accelerated basis because of competing priorities,
uncertainties in the size of the stockpile and pit lifetimes, and the value for MPF of
gaining experience from Los Alamos’s pit efforts. The Nuclear Posture Review and
approval of mission need provided impetus for NNSA to give higher priority to MPF.
This higher priority was to begin in FY2004, as reflected in the increased request
from $2.1 million in FY2003 to $22.8 million in FY2004. As discussed under “The
FY2004 Request,” below, however, the FY2004 Energy and Water Development
Appropriations Act, P.L. 108-137, reduced funds for MPF from the requested $22.8
million to $10.8 million on grounds that it would be premature to pursue further
decisions on MPF pending congressional review of the nuclear stockpile plan.
NNSA stated that, in general, reductions could cut either the scope of activity, or the
schedule. In this case, scope involves activities conceptual design and steps to
comply with the National Environmental Protection Act. Since these activities are
required for MPF, NNSA anticipates that the reduction will result in a slippage of the
schedule. It estimates the slippage at one year. Future technical developments,
funding decisions, or other actions might offset this delay if decisionmakers later
determine that a one-year slip is inadvisable for the long term.40 As Table 1 shows,
NNSA projects a substantial increase in MPF’s budget through FY2009.
MPF’s schedule has slipped between June 2003 and February 2004, as Table 2
shows. NNSA states that this delay was caused by congressional reductions to the
FY2004 budget request.
37 U.S. Department of Energy. National Nuclear Security Administration. “Notice of Intent
to Prepare a Supplemental Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on Stockpile
Stewardship and Management for a Modern Pit Facility,” Federal Register, September 23,
38 See the MPF website, [http://www.mpfeis.com], for transcripts of these meetings.
39 U.S. Department of Energy. National Nuclear Security Administration. “NNSA Delays
Modern Pit Facility Environmental Impact Statement and Selection of a Preferred Location,”
press release NA-04-01, January 28, 2004.
40 Discussions with NNSA Pit Project Office staff, December 4 and 9, 2003.
Table 2. MPF Schedule Slippage, June 2003 to February 2004
MilestoneJune 2003February 2004
Publish MPF EIS, issue Record of Decision onApril 2004unspecified
MPF site selection
Approve Critical Decision 1 (CD-1), systemFebruaryFY2006
requirements and alternatives2006
Complete site-specific EISApril 2006FY2007
Approve CD-2, cost and schedule baselinebefore end ofFY2009
Approve CD-3, start of constructionat end ofFY2012
Approve CD-4, start of operationsat end ofFY2018
Start of initial operationsFY2018FY2019
Start of full-scale productionFY2020FY2021
Source: June 2003 data are from U.S. Department of Energy. National Nuclear Security
Administration. “Modern Pit Facility Fact Sheet,” p. 2, June 2003, available at
[http://www.mpfeis.com], click on “Fact Sheets” and then on “Modern Pit Facility Fact
Sheet.” February 2004 data are from Department of Energy, FY 2005 Congressional Budget
Request, vol. 1, February 2004, p. 147-154, except that the entry for “publish MPF EIS ...”
is from U.S. Department of Energy. National Nuclear Security Administration. “NNSA
Delays Modern Pit Facility Environmental Impact Statement and Selection of a Preferred
Location.” Press release, January 28, 2004, p. 1.
DOE’s report on MPF acceleration. In its report on the FY2004 defense
authorization bill, the Senate Armed Services Committee directed DOE to submit a
report on options for accelerating MPF’s schedule, and how DOE planned to
maintain expertise and provide a flexible facility. The committee further directed
that “DOE must have a requirement established to ensure that the MPF is
appropriately sized.41 DOE submitted the report, dated February 1, 2004.42 In brief,
it states that MPF’s schedule can be accelerated and that the Los Alamos facility will
have inadequate capacity for all but the smallest stockpiles. Key points are
summarized below; page numbers in parentheses refer to the DOE report.
!MPF’s schedule can be accelerated by 3 to 4 years by such measures
as minimizing transitions between design steps, accelerating the
41 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Armed Services. National Defense Authorization
Act for Fiscal Year 2004, report to accompany S. 1050, S.Rept. 108-46, 108th Congress, 1st
Session, USGPO 2003, p. 457-458.
42 Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration Report to Congressional
Defense Committees on “An Enhanced Schedule for the Modern Pit Facility.”
design schedule, starting some construction actions before
completing the final design, and using a longer work week. (16)
!Some costs to accelerate the schedule are a modest fraction of the
total project cost. Planning activities before construction starts are
expected to account for more than half the total project time at about
a fifth of the estimated cost. (5)
!Accelerating MPF can reduce its required capacity. Rocky Flats
produced most currently-stockpiled pits between 1978 and 1989. If
pits have a 60-year life, they would “expire” between 2038 and
2049. The time available to remanufacture them largely sets the
number that must be produced each year. Accelerating MPF would
spread that production run over more years, lowering required
capacity. After the initial run, production could be done at a steady,
lower rate. NNSA did not provide numbers linking schedule to
capacity, as they are classified. (11-12)
!Using PF-4/TA-5543 as the sole pit facility has many drawbacks.
NNSA states that it “requires the agility to simultaneously
manufacture different types of pits,” and that TA-55 cannot provide
such agility for a stockpile sized in the 1000's of warheads because
of inadequate floor space. NNSA says it “could make do with TA-
55 if the long-term stockpile is at a level in the 100's of weapons
with a reduced number of pit types and if modifications to TA-55 to
manufacture 50 pits per year could be made without constructing an
additional building.” It recommended against this upgrade for such
reasons as “high risk” that it could not do the upgrade within TA-55;
the upgrade might be completed around 2015, at which point the
facility would be about 40 years old, and it would be “problematic”
to operate it another 50 years; and the layout, designed for R&D, is
“not optimal for production operations.” (13-14)
!NNSA plans to take various steps to preserve expertise in pit
production. These include maintaining an interim production
capability at Los Alamos, drawing on U.S. experts in plutonium,
manufacturing, and nuclear facility operations for planning MPF,
and starting to hire and train staff for MPF at least 5 years before
operations start. (18)
!NNSA staff stated that there are too many uncertainties to establish
an annual requirement for numbers and types of pits to be produced
when MPF is operational.44 Instead, NNSA arrived at a range of
capacities by examining the range of variance of such factors as size
and composition of the stockpile in the future, pit lifetime, and when
43 PF-4 is located within Technical Area 55 (TA-55) at Los Alamos. The two terms are
often used interchangeably.
44 Information provided by NNSA staff, March 17, 2004.
full-scale production might start. NNSA will continue to revalidate
MPF capacity. (21) In particular, 125 pits per year is a reasonable
estimate for the minimum capacity: “A minimum set of pit
manufacturing equipment would result in a manufacturing facility
with a capacity of approximately 125 pits/year.” (19)
Challenges to DOE’s report on MPF acceleration. The case for
accelerating, or even building, MPF might be challenged in the following ways:
!If PF-4 began production at a rate of 50 pits per year in 2015, and the
stockpile many years from now had 2,000 pits (both deployed and
non-deployed), PF-4 could produce 1,750 of these pits by 2050. (A
future stockpile in this range is possible. The Strategic Offensive
Reductions Treaty calls for 1,700-2,200 deployed strategic warheads
by 2012 and there are additional stockpiled pits that are not
deployed; on the other hand, the number of deployed nuclear forces
has been declining for 20 years or more.)
!If MPF’s capacity is 125 pits per year, and the stockpile many years
from now included 2,000 pits, then NNSA could rebuild these pits
in 16 years. If the rebuild had to be finished by 2050, then in theory
MPF could begin operations in 2034. It might be well to advance
this date by a few years to provide a margin in case unanticipated
problems required an earlier rebuild of some warheads. Even in that
case, it could be argued that there is no need to complete MPF by
!Accordingly, while MPF might be accelerated by a few years at a
fraction of the projected cost, it might arguably be a better use of
funds to wait on MPF until pit life and future stockpile size became
clearer. If it appears some years from now that the future stockpile
will drop sharply, then PF-4 might suffice, yielding a net savings.
!Large-scale production at MPF is scheduled to begin three decades
after Rocky Flats shut. MPF would involve different people than
Rocky Flats, at a different location, in a new facility, with different
equipment and processes. Despite ongoing efforts for certification,
it could be argued that uncertainties would be likely to arise about
the performance of MPF pits. These uncertainties could generate
pressure to conduct nuclear tests. Keeping the production line open
at TA-55 might reduce these uncertainties.
!Despite explicit direction by the Senate Armed Services Committee
that the report base MPF capacity on specific requirements, NNSA
based capacity on parametric analysis. It may be that there was no
other reasonable approach, and a capacity of 125 pits per year may
turn out to be needed. If it is found that a substantially smaller
capacity is needed once MPF is well along, however, the United
States would be committed to MPF even though it would in this case
have been less costly to use PF-4.
Congress has expressed interest in the pit program for many years. Both Houses
have repeatedly raised concerns over such management issues as budgeting and
planning, and over the slow pace of pit certification. Both Houses have supported
low-rate pit production at Los Alamos.
Requests and Responses, FY1997-FY2003
FY1997 National Defense Authorization Act conferees required the Secretary
of Energy to submit “a report on plans for achieving a capability to produce and
remanufacture plutonium pits.”45 FY1999 conferees directed the Secretaries of
Energy and Defense “to prepare a long range plan identifying pit production
requirements.”46 FY2001 authorization conferees directed DOE to start conceptual
design “for a pit production facility with a capacity adequate to meet future national
security needs immediately.”47 Appropriations conferees called the pit production
program “behind schedule and over cost,” and faulted DOE’s “lack of attention to
this critical program.”48
For FY2002, the House Appropriations Committee recommended the requested
amount, $128.5 million, for the Pit Manufacturing and Certification Campaign, but
asserted that DOE cannot show “that it has a viable plan to manufacture and certify
pits on the schedule dictated by national security needs,” criticized the project as
“years behind schedule and hundreds of millions of dollars over the original cost
estimate,” and stated that it would judge NNSA’s success on how well the pit project
succeeds.49 The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended increasing funding
by $109.2 million to “fully fund” all relevant activities, viewing the then-current
schedule, which would not certify a pit for use in the stockpile until FY2009, as
45 U.S. Congress. Committee of Conference. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal
Year 1997. Conference report to accompany H.R. 3230. 104th Congress, 2nd Session.
Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1996, H.Rept. 104-724, p. 909.
46 U.S. Congress. Committee of Conference. Strom Thurmond National Defense
Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1999. Conference report to accompany H.R. 3616. 105thnd
Congress, 2 Session. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1998, H.Rept. 105-736, p. 803.
47 U.S. Congress. Committee of Conference. Enactment of Provisions of H.R. 5408, the
Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001. Conferencethnd
report to accompany H.R. 4205. 106 Congress, 2 Session. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print.
Off., 2000, H.Rept. 106-945, p. 949-950.
48 U.S. Congress. Committee of Conference. Making Appropriations for Energy and Water
Development for the Fiscal Year Ending September 30, 2001, and for Other Purposes.thnd
Conference report to accompany H.R. 4733. 106 Congress, 2 Session. Washington, U.S.
Govt. Print. Off., 2000, H.Rept. 106-907, p. 103.
49 U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Appropriations. Energy and Water Development
Appropriations Bill, 2002. 107th Congress, 1st Session. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off.,
“unacceptable.”50 On September 28, 2001, after the two Appropriations Committee
reports had been completed, NNSA notified the committees that projected cost for
this campaign had increased to $219.0 million, and the conference bill provided this
The Senate Armed Services Committee recommended providing $237.7 million
to “fully fund all increases associated with efforts to manufacture and certify a new
pit.” Further, “the committee believes it is premature to rush to design a new pit
manufacturing facility when there are significant uncertainties about the size of the
nuclear weapons stockpile in the future and until such time as the ability to
manufacture a certifiable pit is restored.” Recognizing concerns raised by the Foster
Panel, however, the committee “urge[d] the administration to begin a time-phased
program to design and build a pit production facility,” i.e., MPF.52 The House Armed
Services Committee bill included the requested amount, noted that W88 pit
certification had slipped from FY2007 to FY2009 “with no commitment to meeting
the latter date,” expressed its concern that “the budget request woefully under funds
this important activity and urges the NNSA to place higher priority on pit
certification in future budget submissions.”53 The conference bill provided $219.0
The FY2003 request was $194.5 million. NNSA stated its plans to “certify a
W88 pit built at [Los Alamos National Laboratory] without underground nuclear
testing by FY 2009, with a goal of achieving an earlier date of FY 2007.”54 Further,
NNSA planned to defer detailed design of a Modern Pit Facility until FY2004, “with
FY 2003 funding used to continue manufacturing concepts.”55
The House Armed Services Committee recommended providing the requested
amount. It expressed its belief that Los Alamos’s planned capacity was inadequate
for the long run, and that “prudence dictates a need to proceed immediately, with
50 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Appropriations. Energy and Water Development
Appropriation Bill, 2002. 107th Congress, 1st Session. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off.,
51 U.S. Congress. Committee of Conference. Making Appropriations for Energy and Water
Development for the Fiscal Year Ending September 30, 2002, and for Other Purposes, 107thst
Congress, 1 Session, Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 2001, H.Rept. 107-258, p. 128.
52 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Armed Services. National Defense Authorization
Act for Fiscal Year 2002, 107th Congress, 1st Session. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off.,
53 U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Armed Services. National Defense Authorization
Act for Fiscal Year 2002, 107th Congress, 1st Session. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off.,
54 U.S. Department of Energy. Office of Chief Financial Officer. Department of Energy
FY 2003 Congressional Budget Request. Vol. 1, National Nuclear Security Administration.
DOE/ME-0001, February 2002, p. 169.
55 Ibid., p. 173.
preliminary steps to re-establish a large scale pit production facility.”56 The Senate
Armed Services Committee recommended adding $5 million to the pit campaign to
allow the EIS for MPF to proceed, urged NNSA and DOD “to establish a valid
annual pit requirement,” and cautioned NNSA not to begin construction on MPF
until DOD and DOE have approved a valid requirement for it.57 The conference bill
provided $199.5 million for the campaign, an increase of $5.0 million over the
In its report on FY2003 energy and water appropriations, the Senate
Appropriations Committee recommended $246.0 million for pit manufacturing and
certification, an increase of $51.5 million over the request. The committee, however,
“remain[ed] greatly concerned about the NNSA’s refusal to request funds consistent
with its own project plan submitted less than 1 year ago.” Because this was not done,
which would have resulted in a lower request for this important project, “the
Committee has been forced to reduce other items in the budget.” The Senate
Appropriations Committee directed NNSA to revise the plan and report to Congress
before the end of the current fiscal year and then annually.58 The House
Appropriations Committee provided $194.5 million, the requested amount, for pit
manufacturing and certification. The final appropriation for pit manufacturing and
certification was $222.0 million. (With a 0.65% rescission, a general reduction, and
reprogramming, the adjusted appropriation was $220.6 million.) According to the
joint explanatory statement of the Committee of Conference, “The increase will
ensure that the NNSA maintains its commitment to produce a certifiable W88 pit by
2003 and a certified W88 pit by 2007.” The conference statement directed NNSA
“to provide a revised pit production and certification plan to the relevant
Congressional committees by March 31, 2003, and annually thereafter.”59
The FY2004 Request
For FY2004, the Administration requested a substantial increase to items in this
campaign: $126.8 million for manufacturing the pit for the W88 warhead, $108.6
million for W88 pit certification, $19.7 million for pit activities not specifically
supporting the W88, and $22.8 million for planning for the Modern Pit Facility. In
addition, it requested $42.4 million for “subcritical experiments [at Nevada Test Site]
56 U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Armed Services. Bob Stump National Defense
Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003, 107th Congress, 2nd Session. Washington, U.S.
Govt. Print. Off., 2002, H.Rept. 107-436, p. 410-411.
57 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Armed Services. National Defense Authorization
Act for Fiscal Year 2003, 107th Congress, 2nd Session. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off.,
58 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Appropriations. Energy and Water Development
Appropriation Bill, 2003, 107th Congress, 2nd Session. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off.,
59 U.S. Congress. Committee of Conference. Conference Report on H.J.Res. 2,
Consolidated Appropriations Resolution, 2003, as printed in U.S. Congress. Congressional
Record, February 12, 2003: H1024-H1025.
which support the certification of the W88 pit.”60 For FY2004, this latter funding
element was transferred into the Pit Manufacturing and Certification Campaign from
Directed Stockpile Work, another component of the stockpile stewardship program;
its FY2003 request was $41.5 million. Thus the total request for FY2004 was $320.2
million, an increase of 35.7% over the FY2003 request of $236.0 million (with both
figures including subcritical experiments supporting W88 pit certification).
In H.R. 1588 and S. 1050, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year
2004, each Armed Services Committee recommended authorizing the full amount
requested for the Pit Manufacturing and Certification Campaign. The Senate Armed
Services Committee urged DOE to evaluate options for accelerating MPF and for
maintaining pit production expertise until MPF opens, and to indicate how the
production program can be made able to respond rapidly to needs for multiple types
of pits or for pits that can meet “changing military requirements.” Accordingly, the
committee directed the Secretary of Energy to report on steps DOE is taking to
accelerate MPF and protect production expertise, and to provide “a schedule to
establish a requirement by pit type by year ... to ensure that the MPF is appropriately
sized.” It directed that the report be submitted to the congressional defense
committees with the FY2005 budget request.61 (The report is summarized above
under “Long-Term Goal: Modern Pit Facility.”) The conference bill included the
full request for the Pit Manufacturing and Certification Campaign; the report
(H.Rept. 108-354) did not comment on the matter, which was not at issue between
House and Senate. On November 7, the House agreed to the conference report on
H.R. 1588, 362-40; the Senate agreed to the report, 95-3, on November 12. The
President signed the measure into law (P.L. 108-136) on November 24.
The House Appropriations Committee saw the pit campaign as proceeding too
quickly. In H.R. 2754, Energy and Water Development Appropriations for 2004, it
recommended reducing the request for this campaign by $47.0 million, still an
increase of $12.2 million over the FY2003 budget. The committee praised NNSA
and Los Alamos National Laboratory for “turning around” this campaign, but urged
NNSA to reduce costs. It stated that the current plan would “aggressively pursue a
multi-billion dollar Modern Pit Facility before the first production pit has even been
successfully certified for use in the stockpile.” In reducing MPF to $10.8 million
from the requested $22.8 million, it recommended that NNSA should look hard at
better ways to use the Los Alamos pit production facility for near-term requirements
and “take a less aggressive planning approach” to MPF. It felt that it was premature
to spend $19.7 million to develop technologies for manufacturing pits other than for
the W88 when MPF was at least 15 years from operating, and so recommended
reducing this part of the request to $4.7 million.62 On July 18, 2003, the House
passed H.R. 2754 without amending the Weapons Activities section, which includes
60 Department of Energy FY2004 Budget Request, vol. 1, p. 77.
61 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Armed Services. National Defense Authorization
Act for Fiscal Year 2004, report to accompany S. 1050, S.Rept. 108-46, 108th Congress, 1st
Session, USGPO 2003, p. 457-458.
62 U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Appropriations. Energy and Water Development
Appropriations Bill, 2004. H.Rept. 108-212. 108th Congress, 1st Session, USGPO, 2003,
funds for the Pit Manufacturing and Certification Campaign. The Senate
Appropriations Committee recommended the amount requested for this campaign.63
In floor action on September 16, the Senate tabled, 53-41, Amendment 1655 by
Senator Feinstein that would, among other things, have barred use of funds for MPF
site selection. No other amendments on pits were offered. Later that day, the Senate
passed H.R. 2754 (amended to incorporate the Senate bill, S. 1424), 92-0.
The energy and water development appropriations conference report, H.Rept.
108-357, provided $298.5 million for the Pit Manufacturing and Certification
Campaign. The two reductions to this campaign, totaling $21.7 million, were $9.7
million to pit activities not specifically supporting the W88, and $12.0 million to
MPF. Regarding MPF, the conference report directed the Secretaries of Energy and
Defense to report to Congress with their plan to achieve the nuclear force reductions
in the President’s revised Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Memorandum, which made
sharp cuts, for example, in deployed strategic nuclear weapons. The conference
report stated: “The conferees agree with the House Report that until the Congress
reviews the revised future Stockpile plan it is premature to pursue further decisions
regarding the Modern Pit Facility.” On November 18, the two Houses agreed to the
conference report, the Senate by unanimous consent and the House by a vote of 387-
The FY2005 Request
As noted earlier, the FY2005 request continues W88 Pit Manufacturing and
W88 Pit Certification at about the same level as FY2004, boosts funding somewhat
for Support Activities at NTS, and substantially increases funding for Pit
Manufacturing Capability and MPF. Table 3 shows the request and tracks
congressional action on it.
Table 3. Congressional Action on FY2005 Pit Program Request
(Budget Authority, $ millions)
Request HASC S ASC C onf. HAC SAC C onf.
W88 Pit Mfg.132.0
W88 Pit Cert101.5
Pit Mfg Capby21.0
vities at NTS
63 U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Appropriations. Energy and Water Development
Appropriation Bill, 2004. S.Rept. 108-105. 108th Congress, 1st Session, USGPO, 2003, p.
Abbreviations: Mfg., manufacturing; Cert., certification; Capby, capability; MPF, Modern
Pit Facility; NTS, Nevada Test Site; HASC, House Armed Services Committee; SASC,
Senate Armed Services Committee; Conf., conference; HAC, House Appropriations
Committee; SAC, Senate Appropriations Committee.
The FY2005 budget document is the first to include a detailed breakout for out
years, making it possible to see NNSA’s plans for pit program elements. These
elements are funded under Campaigns, as shown in Table 1. NNSA plans to wind
down W88 Pit Manufacturing funding within Campaigns. (Pit manufacturing then
is funded under Directed Stockpile Work beginning in FY2008, as per note b to
Table 1.) W88 Pit Certification and Support Activities at NTS are reduced as W88
certification work is completed. The pit program will increasingly focus on
developing technology to manufacture other pit types, which accounts for the ramp
in Pit Manufacturing Capability funding, and on MPF, which increases substantially
as work begins on an EIS on the selected site for MPF in FY2005 and conceptual
design activities are expanded to prepare for the start of preliminary design in
FY2007. (The schedule for MPF may change.)
Issues for Congress
This section highlights issues connected with the pit program, raises arguments
and counterarguments for each issue, and presents under “prospects” the state of play
for each issue or what currently appears to be the most likely outcome. Issues dealt
with include pit certification; the need for new pits (beyond limited quantities for
W88 warheads); if new pits are needed, what is the required capacity; how might that
capacity be obtained, and how quickly could or should that be done.
Is NNSA’s Plan for Certification Reasonable? Yes: To certify pits
without nuclear testing, NNSA believes it must use much more sophisticated
techniques than were used to certify Rocky Flats pits in order to rule out each
plausible source of failure. No: In one view, only nuclear testing can assure that pits
will work as intended on grounds that pits are sensitive to minor variations in process
and materials, many potential unknowns exist, and computer models may not capture
what we do not know. Others see the certification plan as excessive, claiming pits
will work despite minor production variations. For decades, Los Alamos and
Livermore technicians made many one-of-a-kind pits for testing. These pits did not
meet war reserve standards but, as evidenced by the nuclear test record, a great many
of them worked.64 Prospects: Absent nuclear testing, the United States seems sure
to use NNSA’s plan to certify pits.
Does the United States Need New Pits (Beyond Limited Quantities
for W88)? Yes: In one view, greater pit manufacturing capability is needed to
hedge against uncertainty in pit life in order to ensure that the U.S. nuclear deterrent
64 For an official unclassified record of U.S. nuclear tests, see U.S. Department of Energy.
United States Nuclear Tests, July 1945 Through September 1992. DOE/NV-200 (Rev. 14),
December 1994, viii + 97 p.
remains effective. Further, the international situation may require the United States
to manufacture new-design warheads, including pits; pits in storage may prove
unsuitable for these warheads because of design or aging. No: Some believe pits
will deteriorate so slowly that a decision on MPF can be deferred for decades. Some
see new types of warheads as undesirable because these warheads would imply that
the United States was preparing to test, build, deploy, and threaten the use of nuclear
weapons, so these critics reject the new-weapons argument as a rationale for new
pits. Those who favor abolishing nuclear weapons would not produce these weapons
or their components. Prospects: No one can be certain that NNSA will not need to
manufacture pits at some future date, and at any rate NNSA will have a limited
capacity to produce pits at PF-4. Accordingly, the need for some new pits is less at
issue than are capacity, schedule, and the need for MPF.
If So, What Capacity Is Needed? Low: It is not clear that pits will fail for
many decades, if ever, in the critics’ view. PF-4 could replace the few pits without
spares that are destroyed during surveillance. If new-design warheads are needed,
small numbers might suffice, or NNSA might use spare pits for those warheads, or
it might convert existing warheads for new missions without changing the nuclear
explosive package. Multiple-shift operations at PF-4 would increase output
somewhat if needed. Further, critics argue, proceeding with MPF would reduce
funds for other stockpile stewardship programs. Higher: One study stated, “A
paramount concern is the need to begin work now on an adequate plutonium pit
production manufacturing capability, in order to hedge against the uncertainties in
useful pit life and in the time required to establish a new production facility.”65 MPF,
in this view, would guard against the failure of one or more types of pits and would
enable ongoing replacement of pits to forestall problems from aging. It would permit
fabrication of large numbers of new-design warheads. While a smaller stockpile
might permit lower pit production capacity, there can be no assurance on future
stockpile size. Prospects: The FY2004 energy and water development
appropriations conference report required DOE and DOD to submit a report to
Congress with the FY2005 budget request providing details on a stockpile plan
supporting the Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Memorandum and stated it would be
“premature” to pursue further decisions on MPF pending congressional review of the
report. In a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee on March 18,
2004, NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks could not provide an estimate of the
delivery date of the report. The report should help clarify stockpile size, giving some
indication of required capacity. On the other hand, while the report will focus on the
stockpile through 2012, the stockpile and required capacity could change
substantially by 2021, when MPF is scheduled to begin full production operations.
Thus capacity will be at issue for some time to come, and with it the fate of MPF.
Can NNSA Expand PF-4 to Build Enough Pits Without MPF? Yes:
Critics of the current plan note that some areas of PF-4 are not used for pit
manufacturing. Instead, they are used for fabricating plutonium-238 components for
space probes, monitoring weapons components, and storing obsolete equipment from
past plutonium R&D. Floor constraints make the layout of pit production equipment
65 U.S. Panel to Assess the Reliability, Safety, and Security of the United States Nuclear
Stockpile. FY 1999 Report. November 8, 1999, letter of submittal.
less than ideal. Using all of PF-4 for pit production, arranging equipment more
efficiently, and using multiple shifts might raise PF-4’s capacity beyond 50 pits a
year. By one estimate, if national security depended on boosting the rate and if Los
Alamos had prepositioned the necessary production equipment, PF-4’s capacity
might reach 100 or more a year.66 Further, some plutonium work could be
consolidated, moved out of PF-4, or moved to Livermore’s Superblock facility.67 No:
MPF’s proponents note that PF-4 is the nation’s main plutonium R&D facility. They
hold that using it for production would interfere with R&D. NNSA holds that the
maximum feasible capacity of PF-4 is 80 pits per year, that achieving this capacity
would require major changes to plutonium work and considerable expense, and that
adding 50 years to the life of PF-4, which would be 40 years old by the time that it
could begin production at the new rate, may not be feasible.68 Since MPF must
proceed now if it is to provide a hedge against possible future needs, the question of
expanding PF-4 is moot. Prospects: MPF’s prospects appear unsettled. Without
knowing pit life, future stockpile size, and required capacity, it cannot be determined
conclusively if PF-4 would suffice, and such determination might not be possible for
some years. On the other hand, PF-4 would not suffice if the dominant consideration
is a desire to begin to hedge against a possible future need for a larger capacity than
PF-4 could reasonably offer. Congressional approval of MPF is also uncertain.
While the FY2004 National Defense Authorization Act provided the funding
requested for the entire pit program, including MPF, the Energy and Water
Development Appropriations Act cut MPF funding from $22.8 million to $10.8
million and the conferees, as noted, stated it was premature to pursue further
decisions on MPF pending a report on the stockpile plan.
Could NNSA Accelerate MPF’s Schedule? Yes: The NNSA report on
MPF acceleration cited above presents various steps that it states could accelerate
MPF by 3 to 4 years. Yes, but: Projects often take longer than anticipated, so net
acceleration might be less than anticipated. If MPF acceleration were to delay other
NNSA projects by drawing funds or managerial attention from them, it is not clear
that the tradeoff would be worthwhile. Prospects: The NNSA report arguably moves
the debate away from the feasibility of accelerating MPF toward the desirability of
so doing. Ironically, if congressional actions delay MPF, and Congress were to
subsequently decide to return to the original scheduled operating date, an accelerated
schedule might be the only way to meet the original schedule.
Should Congress and the Administration Delay MPF’s Schedule?
Yes: Those who would delay MPF find little if any evidence that pits will deteriorate
in ways that will require rebuilding of all pits of a given type, hundreds to thousands
of units. Furthermore, international developments might lead to a smaller arsenal
that PF-4 could support. It would be unwise, in their view, to spend billions on a
facility that might well prove unneeded and that would support any future decision
66 Mello, “No Need for a Large-Scale Pit Facility: Existing Los Alamos Facilities Are
67 Regarding consolidation or moving work out of PF-4, see MPF EIS, p. S-25. Regarding
Superblock, see John Immele, “Perspectives,” Weapons Insider: A Publication of the [Los
Alamos] Nuclear Weapons Program, January-June 2002, p. 3.
68 MPF EIS, p. S-24, S-25.
to proceed with development of new types of nuclear weapons. No: MPF’s
supporters believe uncertainties about plutonium aging and the international situation
mean that the United States would be taking a big risk to delay proceeding with MPF.
If events turn out unfavorably, an inability to make pits on a large scale could prove
disastrous to U.S. security. Hedge: Instead of proceeding with or delaying MPF
based on incomplete information, NNSA could proceed on the current track until
2012. By that time, that agency expects to complete the large volume of
preconstruction work — EIS, site selection, planning, permitting, design, process
development, etc. If at that time plutonium aging did not appear to be a problem, or
if the stockpile were projected to shrink, or if fewer types of nuclear weapons were
deployed, or the likelihood of using nuclear weapons had become more remote than
at present, then the United States would, for a fraction of the cost of MPF, have
purchased a hedge in case MPF needed to be built on the current schedule. Should
such events turn out unfavorably, MPF could proceed to construction and operation
with little or no loss of time. Prospects: In the short term, further delay of several
months in submitting the DOD-DOE report on stockpile plans could lead Congress
to delay MPF in the FY2005 budget cycle. In the longer term, for reasons noted
earlier, prospects for acceleration or delay are both quite uncertain.
Table 4. Key Dates in NNSA’s Proposal for the Pit
Manufacturing and Certification Campaign
1989Rocky Flats Plant produces its last pit
1992DOE decides to close Rocky Flats Plant as a nuclear weapons
SeptemberDOE issues final programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS)
1996for stockpile stewardship and management
December 1996DOE issues record of decision on stockpile stewardship and
management that includes reestablishing pit production capability at
Los Alamos and the prospect of a larger-capacity facility
May 2002MPF: Secretary of Energy approves Critical Decision 0 (CD-0),
approval of mission need
SeptemberNNSA informs Congress it intends to start conceptual design of MPF
59580) it intends to prepare a supplemental programmatic EIS on
stockpile stewardship and management for MPF
October 2002MPF: NNSA holds public scoping meetings on supplemental EIS
Early FY2003MPF: NNSA begins conceptual design
April 22, 2003Los Alamos completes manufacture of the first certifiable W88 pit
May 2003MPF: NNSA released draft EIS
June 26-JulyMPF: Public meetings were held at potential MPF sites and in
16, 2003Washington, DC, to obtain comments on the draft EIS
FY2004Los Alamos will manufacture 6 W88 qualification pits. At Nevada
Test Site, NNSA will conduct 3 subcritical experiments.
Date to beMPF: Release final EIS
was to be 2004MPF: Issue record of decision; if Secretary of Energy decides to
proceed with MPF, select site
FY2005If Secretary decides to proceed with MPF, begin site-specific EIS
FY2006Complete currently planned subcritical experiments in support of
W88 Pit Certification.
FY2007MPF: Complete site-specific EIS. Obtain approval of CD-1, system
requirements and alternatives and start of preliminary design.
Los Alamos will certify the first W88 pit without nuclear testing.
PF-4: achieve capacity to produce 10 to 20 W88 pits per year
FY2008W88 Pit Manufacturing transitions from Campaigns to Directed
FY2009MPF: Obtain approval of CD-2, start of final design.
PF-4: establish the capability to manufacture B61-7 and B87 pits
FY2012PF-4: manufacture development pits for B61-7 and W87
end FY2012MPF: complete final design; CD-3 (authorize start of construction)
FY2018MPF: CD-4 (approve start of operations)
FY2019MPF: start building pits to check out operations
FY2021MPF: start delivering war reserve pits; full-scale production
Note: Many entries for FY2004 and beyond are from Department of Energy, FY 2005
Congressional Budget Request, vol. 1, esp. p. 147-154. Some MPF entries before FY2004
are from U.S. Department of Energy. National Nuclear Security Administration. “Modern
Pit Facility (MPF) Fact Sheet,” October 2002, 2 p. See also “Project Schedule: Modern Pit
Facility Project,” MPF EIS, p. S-14. Both documents are available via [http://
www.mpfeis.com]. NNSA pit project staff updated some information, March 3, 2004.