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CRS Report Raises Questions About LANL Plutonium Strategy

Todd Jacobson
NS&D Monitor
8/22/2014

With the Administration moving forward on a new plutonium strategy that involves building modular facilities to house plutonium work at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a new report from Congressional Research Service nuclear weapons policy specialist Jonathan Medalia raises a host of questions about how much space is available at the lab for plutonium work. While raising questions and presenting different scenarios, the report avoids making any conclusions other than saying more information about the various options is needed to figure out how to reach the capacity to produce 80 pits per year by 2030, as the Administration is planning. The biggest issue, according to the report, is the amount of space available in the lab’s Plutonium Facility and the amount of material-at-risk (MAR) in the facility.

Currently the space and MAR at the facility can be configured to support up to 30 pits per year. “Determining how much MAR and space would be needed to manufacture 80 ppy would require an industrial process analysis,” Medalia said. “A study would seek to determine what equipment would be needed to manufacture 80 ppy; lay out production lines in PF-4 to accommodate that equipment while retaining space needed for other tasks; determine what tasks, if any, could be moved from PF-4 if necessary to accommodate the lines; and calculate what MAR would result from this production line configuration.”

The report suggests that it might be possible to reconfigure the space in PF-4 and reduce the MAR at the facility such that modular facilities are not needed. The report suggests PF-4’s space could be redesigned to be more efficient or space for lower-priority work could be repurposed. The study also suggests PF-4’s basement could be better utilized, some equipment could be moved to other facilities (like moving a gas gun into LANL’s Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building), and increasing the amount of shifts working on pit production. “While major construction could make more space available, increasing efficient use of existing space could increase the space margin,” the report says.

 


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