Though the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) plans to dramatically ramp up plutonium pit production around the time a key arms control treaty expires in 2026, there are no plans to test fire any weapons, agency Administrator Jill Hruby said Monday in New Mexico.
Hruby sat through two hours of questioning – and occasional haranguing – at a public town hall in Los Alamos, N.M. , on Tuesday evening. Most questions and comments centered on ongoing nuclear waste disposal and transportation in and around Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
Interspersed with those concerns were calls to end nuclear weapons production in general, and to curb NNSA plans to produce 80 plutonium pits per year, specifically.
Hruby said NNSA is committed to rebuilding the U.S. nuclear enterprise, as required by the Defense Department, but in a “responsible manner” unlike the rapid and environmentally cavalier manner of the World War II race to the bomb and subsequent Cold War era.
“We are committed to … rebuild the nuclear enterprise in a very responsible manner, and to not make the mistakes that we made during the Manhattan Project in the first round,” Hruby said. “We get asked all the time to go faster because of the world conditions, and we will go as fast as we can, but we are committed to safety and environmental stewardship.”
Even as the NNSA begins ramping up plutonium pit production – plans are to build 30 per year at LANL and at least 50 per year at a facility being built at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina – there are no plans to perform supercritical explosive testing on any nuclear weapons, Hruby said.
“I know I’m not going to alleviate all the concerns … but we have no plans to test weapons,” she said. “We have no plans to do underground testing, nuclear explosive testing.
Work is ongoing at the Nevada National Security Site – where most U.S. nuclear-weapon test-detonations happened during the Cold War – to perform subcritical explosive testing on components of nuclear weapons. But NNSA is not preparing for further underground testing of nuclear weapons, Hruby said.
“I think it can be confusing but the work is aimed at subcritical nuclear testing, so we can make sure our stockpile is safe and secure and effective,” Hruby said. “I just want to, like, scream from the mountaintops, that we do not want to test.”
This story first appeared in Defense Daily affiliate publication Weapons Complex Morning Briefing.