The Biden administration’s nominee to lead nuclear weapons programs at National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) headquarters was one of four nominees approved unanimously on Tuesday by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Marvin Adams got the nod from the committee just under four months after the White House announced Biden’s intent to install the Texas A&M University professor of nuclear engineering as the next deputy administrator for defense programs at the Department of Energy’s NNSA.
If confirmed by the full Senate, Adams will enter the federal service for the first time and replace Charles Verdon, the last holdover from the Trump administration, who has served since 2018. The Senate had not scheduled a vote on Adams’ nomination as of Tuesday afternoon.
Adams had a mostly cordial confirmation hearing on March 22, though Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) did question him aggressively about reviewing the NNSA’s plan to build a pair of new plutonium pit factories at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C.
The planned Savannah River facility is years behind schedule, in the NNSA’s estimation, though the agency believes it can still start making multiple war-usable pits — the fissile triggers of the primary stages of modern thermonuclear weapons — at Los Alamos by 2026.
Warren, an anti-corruption firebrand on constant vigil for perceived waste in defense spending, said in Adams’ confirmation hearing that “sticking to the current plan [on pits] just defies common sense” and that the NNSA has in her view a “record of waste and mismanagement.” She asked Adams to commit to reviewing the agency’s pit program, with an eye toward getting it on a more “sustainable and achievable path.”
Adams told Warren that, if confirmed, that he would review the program — but he also said he supported the NNSA’s plan to build pits in New Mexico and South Carolina and that he believed “firmly” that the two planned factories would one day be capable of casting at least 80 pits annually, as the military requires.
Federal law mandates that the NNSA make at least 80 pits a year by 2030, but the NNSA last year said the Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility will not be built until 2035 or so. The agency — as federal law also requires — formally notified congressional Armed Services Committees late last year that it would blow the deadline, a Republican spokesperson for the Senate Armed Services Committee told sister publication Exchange Monitor Monday.
However, the NNSA had not as of Monday transmitted to Congress a legally required plan for getting the pit program back on track, the Armed Services minority spokesperson said.
“We expect the NWC [Nuclear Weapons Council] to comply with the requirement to provide Congress with a plan for reaching the plutonium milestones enshrined in statute, and allow Congress to determine whether it will provide the necessary resources – as is the intent of the law.”