There is not enough money in the world for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to spend its way to making 80 plutonium pits a year by 2030, the general who commands U.S. nuclear forces told Congress Tuesday morning.
“[W]e now know that we will not get 80 pits per year by 2030 as is statutorily required and even unlimited money at this point will not buy that back,” Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee in response to a question from Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the chair.
Richard said there was “active work” going on at the joint Pentagon-NNSA Nuclear Weapons Council “to understand exactly how much of a delay we are going to have [and] how much of it can be addressed by funding.”
The Nuclear Weapons Council is required to annually certify that NNSA’s budget request for the upcoming fiscal year is sufficient to meet military needs. If the council cannot certify that, it is allowed to tell Congress, by May 1, what parts of the Department of Energy’s budget should get cut to make the NNSA request sufficient.
NNSA acknowledged in 2021 that it would not be able to make 50 pits annually at the planned Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility in Aiken, S.C. Instead, production there would probably start by 2035 or so, NNSA said.
Together with the planned Los Alamos Plutonium Production Project, an expansion of the PF-4 Plutonium Facility that is supposed to crank out 30 pits annually by 2026, NNSA had hoped to reach 80 pits annually by 2030, as required by federal law.
NNSA faces legal deadlines to make multiple war-usable pits before 2026, though exactly how many it can make before the big deadline of 30 a year is up in the air, a senior NNSA official said in February.
“[W]e’re not mitigating this problem,” Richard said during Tuesday’s hearing. “We have shot all the mitigation to get us to this point.”