The compromise National Defense Authorization Act will not “restrict” the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) ability to begin building a two-state plutonium-pit production complex in 2020, a key lawmaker said this weekend.
“The bill that came out of the house for the NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] attempted to restrict the modernization and the pit production,” Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), the chair of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said during a panel discussion Saturday at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in California. “The bill that’s going to come out that we’re all going to vote on will not have that restriction. But that debate occurs.”
The House’s original draft of the 2020 NDAA, approved by the chamber in July, would have $470 million for the National Nuclear Security NNSA Plutonium Sustainment account: about 35% less than what the White House requested. The Senate’s draft of the NDAA, approved in June, authorizes the requested funding for plutonium pits.
The bicameral House-Senate negotiating committee had not released the text of the 2020 NDAA, or the bill’s detailed report, at deadline Monday for Defense Daily.
Likewise, the office of Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, did not immediately reply to a request for comment, so it was not clear at deadline whether the compromise NDAA would authorize every piece of the NNSA’s pit plan.
Most notably, the semi-autonomous Department of Energy nuclear weapons agency sought authorization to convert an abandoned, partially built plutonium recycling plant into a factory to annually produce 30 pits — fissile warhead cores — by 2030. The agency refers to the proposed plant as the Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility.
NNSA wants to build up its pit complex to produce cores for W87-1-style warheads, which are slated to tip planned Ground Based Strategic Deterrent missiles beginning in 2020. The Ground Based Strategic Deterrent missiles are the planned replacement for the 400-missile Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile fleet — the land-based leg of the U.S. nuclear forces known as the triad, which also includes ballistic missile submarines, and bombers capable of carrying gravity bombs and cruise missiles.
The NNSA plans to produce 80 W87-1-style pits a year by 2030, including 50 annually at Savannah River in Aiken, S.C., and 30 annually at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Los Alamos will start producing 10 pits a year in 2024, ramping to 30 a year by 2030.