Siegfried Hecker, Former Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory on plutonium
Plutonium is a radioactive metal that is 1.75 times more dense than lead.
The controversial proposal to expand plutonium “pit” production for new and refurbished nuclear weapons at the Savannah River Site has the public interest groups dedicated to keeping the United States nuclear juggernaut in check up in arms.
Plutonium is an element at odds with itself—with little provocation, it can change its density by as much as 25 percent;
While the Feds claim the plutonium pits they are requesting are necessary to keep the current arsenal of nukes in operating order, as required by law, three public interest groups claim that future pit production aims not to preserve the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear weapons stockpiles, instead primarily promoting speculative new-design nuclear weapons.
it can be as brittle as glass or as malleable as aluminum;
“We believe our groups’ efforts over the past eight months to force NNSA to prepare legally mandated environmental documents for proposed pit production at SRS have yielded a significant victory that affirms the critical importance of public participation in this process. Rushing into a large, complex and costly pit-production project in the shuttered MOX plant, a poorly constructed facility not intended for pit production, echoes NNSA’s typical recipe for failure,” stated SRS Watch director Tom Clements.
it expands when it solidifies; and its freshly-machined silvery surface will tarnish in minutes, producing nearly every color in the rainbow.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is asking for pit production at SRS based on their claim the pits, or triggers, for nuclear missiles need to be replaced, as they become unreliable after fifty years. Yet in 2006, independent experts (JASON) found that pits last at least a century, more than double NNSA’s previous claim.
To make matters even more complex, plutonium ages from the outside in and from the inside out.
Plutonium pits are the radioactive cores of modern thermonuclear weapons. In May 2018, NNSA and the Defense Department announced that production would be expanded to a minimum of 30 pits per year at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and at least 50 pits per year at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina.
It reacts vigorously with its environment— particularly with oxygen, hydrogen, and water—
NNSA has tried times to formally raise the current 20 pits per year production cap but failed each time due to citizen opposition (pit production results in a number of harmful radioactive and chemical waste streams that create more radioactive materials to contend with) and a lack of clear need.
thereby, degrading its properties from the surface to the interior over time.
NNSA’s current attempt is driven by a requirement in the 2015 Defense Authorization Act to demonstrate the capability to produce 80 pits per year by 2030. However, the House Armed Services Committee is currently considering repealing that requirement.
In addition, plutonium’s continuous radioactive decay causes self-irradiation damage that can fundamentally change its properties over time.
The three groups are sponsoring a public forum in Aiken, SC on June 14- near the Savannah River Site – on NNSA’s pit production plans and NEPA requirements. The forum will be held in the Aiken Municipal Building auditorium from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more information click here.