Representative John Garamendi (D-CA) offers an amendment to cut funding for expansion of plutonium pit production at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL)
May 24, 2016
Support Garamendi Amendment #109: Halt Billions of Dollars in Unnecessary Capacity to Build New Nuclear Weapons
From: The Honorable John Garamendi
Our job is about making hard choices. Fortunately, this one is easy. I ask for your support of my amendment which will halt an expensive, dangerous, and unnecessary program to build new nuclear weapons.
My amendment would halt a plan to increase the capacity of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to manufacture new plutonium “pits” at the PF-4 facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Plutonium pits are spherical pieces of plutonium which form the core of all American nuclear weapons. NNSA is currently planning to increase its capacity to manufacture these pits, and therefore build new nuclear weapons, from 11 per year to 50-80 per year over the next decade. This plan will cost taxpayers billions of dollars and is not necessary.
Why do we need even more capacity for new nuclear weapons?
We don’t. Nuclear weapons proponents claim that we need this capacity in case of geostrategic surprise. The United States already has more than 1,500 deployed nuclear weapons (according to New START counting rules) and nearly 5,000 nuclear weapons in the active stockpile. Nuclear weapons proponents also claim that we need this capacity in case we discover a problem with our warheads. However, our nearly 5,000 warheads are spread across many different warhead types and variants, from tactical systems less than a tenth the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima to a megaton-class bomb capable of inflicting more than a million casualties in a densely-populated area. A technical failure in one system will still leave us with plenty of options while the existing production capacity manufactures replacement pits or utilizes the existing stockpile of several thousand plutonium pits currently in storage.
Why are we increasing capacity?
NNSA currently plans increase capacity because of an arbitrary requirement and timeline of 80 pits per year by 2027. My office has had repeated discussions with the Department of Defense and NNSA to find the source of the 80 pits per year requirement. Based on those conversations, we believe that source of that number is based on the maximum theoretical capacity of the PF-4 facility and not any specifically calculated military necessity. The arbitrary mandate also pushed up a planned production timeline by four years, putting pressure on an already strained nuclear weapons infrastructure charged with ensuring that our current nuclear weapons are safe and reliable.
Will this amendment restrict safety and construction upgrades at PF-4?
Absolutely not. The PF-4 facility is currently the only facility in the United States with an ability manufacture plutonium pits. It is also a very old building which sits near a major fault line. In recent years, PF-4’s MAR rating (the amount of fissile material the building is allowed to contain at any one time) was downgraded because of concerns about the building’s structural integrity during an earthquake. My amendment would not restrict construction to make the PF-4 facility safer and more survivable. It would also not restrict current plans to replace and upgrade ventilation systems and glove boxes which keep workers safe and protected from radiation. It would only restrict funds to increase pit production capacity.
The United States does not need this excess capacity to produce new plutonium pits and new nuclear weapons. I ask for your support on my amendment to rein in unnecessary spending to achieve an arbitrary capacity which the United States does not need.
Member of Congress
May 26, 2016
House Kills Anti-Modernization, MOX-Closure Amendments to DOE Budget Bill
The House on Wednesday killed proposals from a California congressman that would have curtailed plutonium pit-production at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL) PF-4 facility, and allowed the Energy Department to close the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina.
Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) introduced both proposals late Tuesday as amendments to the 2017 Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act — a bill the White House threatened Monday to veto, even before any amendments were offered. President Obama objects, among other things, to the House’s proposal to provide $170 million to continue licensing the Yucca Mountain waste repository his administration effectively cancelled in 2010.
The House was set to vote on other amendments after deadline for Weapons Complex Morning Briefing. Lawmakers plan to vote on the bill itself Thursday. The roughly $34.7-billion proposal would provide slightly less money for DOE in 2017 than a companion spending bill the Senate approved May 12.
Garamendi’s LANL pit-production amendment, No. 32 to the bill, was defeated by voice vote late Wednesday. The MOX amendment was defeated by voice vote Tuesday after Garamendi’s fellow Democrat and House Appropriations energy and water subcommittee ranking member Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) opposed it.
Plutonium pits are the cores of nuclear weapons, containing the fissile material that makes a nuclear reaction possible. Los Alamos’ PF-4, which has not been in full operation since 2013, is currently the only U.S. production facility capable of producing pits. A 2014 law requires DOE to produce between 50 and 80 pits a year beginning in 2030.
The MOX facility, which Congress supports, would get $340 million a year in the House’s 2017 DOE budget bill, and some $270 million in the Senate’s bill. Under construction at DOE’s Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C., the MOX plant is designed to turn weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for commercial reactors, per a nuclear arms-reduction pact with Russia that was finalized in 2010. The Obama administration proposed cancelling MOX in February.