GREG MELLO, gmello at lasg.org, @TrishABQ
Mello is executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group. The group’s recent backgrounders include “President Requests Unprecedented Spending on Nuclear Weapons Maintenance, Design, Production” and “U.S. Claims of Nuclear Weapons Retirement, Dismantlement ‘May be Misleading’ — GAO.” [PDF]
Mello said today: “As in previous years, the House Armed Services Committee version of the annual Defense Authorization Act tries to force the administration to design and build new nuclear weapons, components, and high-dollar factories sooner rather than later, and without further ado.
“The Committee wants to start design of a new cruise missile warhead three years sooner than the administration believes is desirable.
“To take another example, the bill mandates ramping up production of plutonium warhead cores (‘pits’) to 30 pits per year by 2023 independent of any actual need. The new idea is production for production’s sake. Without this there would be no need for production, or new factories, since pits will last several decades more. The U.S. also has at least 15,000 surplus pits, thousands of which are reusable.
“Fortunately the bill also requires a detailed study of ways to produce more pits (and dispose of surplus plutonium) that don’t require new factories. The National Nuclear Security Administration operates several plutonium facilities at great cost and extra capacity of various kinds. Even the supremely-hawkish House Armed Services Committee wants to know if it is really prudent to build new plutonium facilities.
“Overall, the policy shifts in this bill go towards maintaining jobs in the warhead complex, and especially at the big three nuclear labs, still sized for a Cold War. This bill aims to keep the labs fat and happy.
“Warheads last a long time. To the warhead caucus, that’s a big problem. The Committee therefore proposes billions of dollars in make-work. It’s up to responsible Republicans and Democrats — both — to rein in this waste, which does nothing for anybody’s conception of national security.
“Meanwhile, the Administration could and should immediately cut the deployed nuclear arsenal back to the somewhat lower levels already approved by the military and Pentagon.”