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Gen. James Cartwright, the former commander of U.S. Strategic Command and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reiterated this week that Los Alamos National Laboratory could add a second production shift to increase pit production to meet Pentagon requirements without building a new multi-billion-dollar plutonium facility. After Cartwright first made the suggestion at a Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee hearing last week, Los Alamos weapons chief Bret Knapp said the lab had found that approach to be “inadequate” in a previous analysis due to lack of support for analytical chemistry work, which would be provided by CMRR-NF. “When we looked at this before really the issue was you didn’t have the floor space, or the floor space would be constrained and you might have to use an adjacent building for a while,” Cartwright told NW&M Monitor in a follow- up interview. “I absolutely agree with them. It’s not ideal. It’s not what you want to do for the longer term. But if today somebody walked in and said all of this capability in this one particular weapon is now found to be defective, we would find ways to make it work at a rate far greater than 20 to 30.”

Cartwright, who helped lead a Global Zero study that recently suggested the United States could move to a stockpile of 900 total nuclear weapons, made waves when he suggested at the Senate hearing last week that Los Alamos could up pit production without CMRR-NF by going to two shifts. Lab officials had contradicted that position, suggesting that CMRR-NF was necessary to increase pit production and that the lab could only produce 20 to 30 pits without the facility, and Bret Knapp, the head of Los Alamos’ weapons program, said in a statement that adding more shifts at PF-4 would not enable the lab to substantially increase production. “In the past, we have examined the possibility of running additional shifts to increase production, but we found that that approach was inadequate because of the lack of required analytical chemistry support,” Knapp said. “Increased production requires increased analytical capabilities which we do not have, but would be provided by the CMRR-NF. We are not aware of any new or additional analysis which would change this conclusion, and we look forward to continuing to provide answers to the technical questions informing the nation’s plutonium strategy.”

Cartwright: Wait on New LANL Pu Facility

Cartwright said that using multiple shifts was not the ideal, but he suggested it might be necessary. “In a day to day routine, I don’t disagree with them,” he said. “In an urgent situation, a crisis type situation, we’ll do a lot of things that would not abrogate safety but would certainly put increased stress on the line to be able to do more things than we’re doing, more production than we’re doing.” Cartwright also suggested that a possible move to take the size of the nation’s stockpile to lower numbers by the Obama Administration could alter the pit production requirements, which is why he said he favored delaying a decision on a path forward for CMRR-NF. “I think we have to be fair to NNSA and to the lab and say this is exactly what we need,” Cartwright said. “Tell us how much [pit] reuse we can get based on where we are going and then let them price it, but don’t try to build a facility before you know what the number is actually going to be. You can do planning, but we’re kind of carting and horsing this thing right now.”

Asked about the possibility of using multiple shifts to increase production levels at a breakfast speech this week at the Capitol Hill Club, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters Steve Henry hinted that it could be possible under certain circumstances. “I have to be careful on how I go into details. You can look at second shifts when you’re in a posture that will allow second shifts to be done. OK, let me just leave it at that,” he said, adding: “It has to be at the understanding of what is the point in time and what is the configuration at that point in time where it may not be applicable today, may be applicable for future if you do reconfiguration of some stuff.” —Todd Jacobson

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