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CRS – U.S. Nuclear Weapon “Pit” Production

U.S. Nuclear Weapon “Pit” Production Options for Congress, Jonathan E. Medalia, Specialist in Nuclear Weapons Policy. February 21, 2014.

“Of all the problems facing the nuclear weapons program and nuclear weapons complex over the past several decades, few, if any, have been as vexing as pit production. A “pit” is a hollow plutonium shell that is imploded, creating an explosion that triggers the rest of the weapon. The Rocky Flats Plant (CO) manufactured pits on a large scale during the Cold War until production halted in 1989. It took until FY2007for the United States to produce even a small quantity, 11 pits per year (ppy), for the stockpile. Yet the Department of Defense (DOD) calls for a capacity to produce 30 ppy by 2021 as an interim goal and 50 to 80 ppy by around 2030. At issue is how to reach the higher capacity. This report is intended primarily for Members and staff with a direct interest in pit issues, including Members who will be making decisions on pit projects that could total several billion dollars. Since the issues are complicated, this report contains technical and regulatory details that are needed to understand the advantages, drawbacks, and uncertainties of various options. It may also be of value for Members and staff with an interest in nuclear weapons, stockpile stewardship, and nuclear policy more broadly. This report begins with a description of plutonium, pits, and pit factory problems. It next considers several pit production options. It notes studies that could provide information to assist Congress in choosing among options, and concludes with several observations. There are several Appendixes, including a list of abbreviations.”

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