The Pentagon and the National Nuclear Security Administration should reconsider their decision to make nuclear weapon cores in two states beginning in 2030 after yet another study concluded the plan cannot meet a White House production deadline, a key lawmaker said in a Wednesday hearing.

“The Institute for Defense Analyses found that none of the options analyzed by the NNSA [National Nuclear Security Administration] can be expected to provide 80 pits per year by 2030 and none of the options were demonstrably better than the others,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) told Ellen Lord, under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.

The Trump administration asked the NNSA to annually produce at least 80 fissile warhead cores by plutonium pits by 2030. The NNSA later decided to meet the goal by splitting production between an upgraded facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and a new pit plant to be built on a partially constructed plutonium disposal plant at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C.

To comply with a congressional mandate in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, NNSA paid the Virginia-based Institute for Defense Analyses to vet a few agency-provided options for future pit production. One, which NNSA and the Pentagon prefer, is the split-state approach involving 30 pits a year at Los Alamos starting in 2026 and 50 pits a year at Savannah River by 2030. 

NNSA in April announced that the Institute for Defense Analyses had finished its study. The agency declined to release the study publicly because it contains unclasssified controlled nuclear information. However, the agency said in a press release that the report found all of NNSA’s production options “potentially achievable.”

Heinrich, the ranking member strategic forces subcommittee and a staunch ally of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, filled in crucial blanks Wednesday when he made public the fact that the study found none of the four options analyzed could potentially produce 80 pits a year by 2030.

Previous NNSA-chartered studies, including an Analysis of Alternatives and an Engineering Analysis by Parsons Government Services, both found that neither three varieties of a Los Alamos-only pit production plant nor a two-state strategy would produce 80 pits a year by 2030. 

Heinrich told Lord that “I would like to ask that in light of this report, that you report back to the committee on re-evaluation of your certification” in May 2018 that the two-state pit plan was the NNSA’s best option to hit the Trump administration’s proscribed throughput for pits.

NNSA is seeking $410 million in fiscal year 2020 to begin preliminary design studies for the planned Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility. Charles Verdon, NNSA’s deputy administrator for defense programs, told Defense Daily in April that agency subject matter experts have a plan to get the Savannah River pit plant online by 2030, but that the strategy hinges on Congress funding NNSA’s 2020 request for the plant.

The Engineering Analysis found that a two-state strategy would cost about $30 billion to build, operate and eventually decommission, compared with some $15 billion to keep production in Los Alamos.

The first pits NNSA plans to produce in its new pit complex, whatever form it eventually takes, will be W-87-style pits, suitable for use in future intercontinental ballistic missile warheads.