In a confirmation hearing Tuesday morning, the Biden administration’s nominee to lead the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) weapons programs from headquarters in Washington pledged his support for the agency’s program of record and agreed to review the agency’s plan to produce new plutonium pits if confirmed.
The nominee, Marvin Adams, a professor of nuclear engineering at Texas A&M University, testified alongside three other witnesses before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Adams appeared before the committee about 10 weeks after the Biden administration sent his nomination to the Senate. The White House announced its intent to nominate Adams in mid-December.
During the hearing, Adams pledged his support for the NNSA programs of record, including the agency’s slow-moving plan to build a pair of plutonium pit production factories to refresh the arsenal for most of the rest of this century.
During a confrontational exchange with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a military spending critic on the lookout for perceived waste in the defense budget, Adams did say he would review the NNSA’s two-state pit plan to get the program on what Warren called a more “sustainable and achievable path.”
But Adams also rallied behind the NNSA’s plan.
“I do firmly believe that if we stay on our current path, we will make 80 pits per year with more than 30 per year at Los Alamos and more than 50 per year at Savannah River,” Adams told Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) not long after the exchange with Warren. “I just cannot tell you exactly when the Savannah River production will come online.”
The NNSA is expanding Los Alamos’ PF-4 plutonium facility to make at least 30 pits a year by 2026. The agency is converting the former Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina into an even larger pit factory known as the Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility. The southeastern facility is supposed to be able to make around 80 pits a year by 2035 or so, according to NNSA’s most recent projection.
The agency has a legal requirement to hit 80 pits a year by 2030 but acknowledged in 2021 that it would not hit that goal because the Savannah River site would not be ready to cast war-usable pits by then.
If Adams is confirmed, he would enter the federal service for the first time. Though involved for years as an adviser for the prime contractors at the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories, Adams had yet to serve the weapons program directly, as of Tuesday.