The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Pushing For A New Production Capability / US-Atomwaffen-Komplex erweitert Produktionskapazitäten
by Greg Mello (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)
Der nachfolgend dokumentierte Artikel aus dem "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists" ist alarmierend. Ausgehend von der rechtlich bindenden Verpflichtung zur atomaren Abrüstung, wie es der Nichtverbreitungsvertrag (NPT) in Art. 6 fordert) beschreibt der Autor die Pläne der US-Administration, ihre nuklearen Forschungs- und Produktionskapazitäten zu erweitern. Insbesondere am Standort Los Alamos wird in die Entwicklung neuer Atomwaffen investiert. Das Programm beläuft sich bislang auf 2,2 Mrd. US-Dollar, dürfte im Endeffekt nach Ansicht von Greg Mello aber wesentlich mehr kosten. Es geht um die Errichtung des "Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement" (CMRR). Das Projekt ist im US-Kongress nach wie vor umstritten. Der Autor plädiert für die Aufgabe des Vorhabens. Damit sei die Fähigkeit der USA zur Prduktion und Weiterentwicklung vonm Atomwaffen in keiner Weise beeinträchtigt, heißt es am Schluss des Artikels. Ein Verzicht auf CMRR wäre aber ein Signal, den Art. 6 NPT nicht ganz aus den Augen zu verlieren. Mello: "Halting the CMRR would not even remotely threaten any existing U.S. nuclear capability--not now and not for many decades to come. But such a step could reflect an aspiration toward disarmament, depending on other policies adopted." Mello verweist in diesem Zusammenhang auch auf den konstruktiven Beitrag der vier ehemaligen US-Politiker George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger und Sam Nunn, die in einem denkwürdigen Aufruf für nukleare Abrüstung eingetreten waren. Diesen Aufruf haben wir an anderer Stelle dokumentiert: "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons."
On January 15, the Wall Street Journal published an op-
ed by former secretaries of state George Shultz and
Henry Kissinger, former Defense Secretary William Perry,
and former Georgia Republican Sen. Sam Nunn, which 37
other national security experts also endorsed. Entitled
"Toward A Nuclear-Free World," it was the second such
essay in the Journal by these authors in as many years.
(See also "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons."
essays concerned the benefits--some immediate, others
long-term--of specific nuclear policies the authors
believe would be best advanced under the nuclear
These authors do not mention that the United States and
four other nuclear states (Russia, Britain, France, and
China) are already legally bound to "pursue negotiations
in good faith on effective measures relating to
cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and
to nuclear disarmament . . ." by Article VI of the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The opinion of
the World Court and subsequent U.S. diplomatic
agreements has confirmed the binding character of these
twin commitments to end the arms race and achieve
nuclear disarmament. Most observers agree that the
collective unwillingness of the five NPT nuclear weapons
states to persuasively implement these Article VI
obligations has harmed the NPT and the law-based
nonproliferation regime it underpins.
If the disarmament aspiration expressed in these two
essays means anything, it means refraining from long-
term investments in the specialized, "responsive"
infrastructure needed to make novel warheads. Nuclear
weapons infrastructure investments that require large,
long-term commitments of capital and skilled technical
labor--scarce resources in any country--are good
indicators of national nuclear intent. In other words,
infrastructure investments make, and are, nuclear
The U.S. government says as much. In 2006, Linton
Brooks, the then administrator of the National Nuclear
Security Administration (NNSA), emphasized the
importance of long-term manufacturing investments as a
foundation of more aggressive nuclear policies a "couple
of decades" hence. "We can change our declaratory
[nuclear] policy in a day," he said during a speech
[PDF] to the East Tennessee Economic Council. "We can
make operational and targeting changes in weeks or
months. In a year or so we can improve integration of
nuclear and non-nuclear offense. By contrast, the
infrastructure and the stockpile it can support cannot
change as quickly. Full infrastructure changes may take
a couple of decades."
Brooks is right. The factory complex at Los Alamos
National Laboratory (LANL) needed to produce the fissile
plutonium cores, or "pits," for RRW or another new
warhead isn't expected to be completed until at least
2017. But as long as design and construction of these
production facilities proceeds, Congress could "halt"
RRW for a few more years, as it did in late 2007,
without significantly affecting its final delivery
schedule, assuming it were eventually approved.
Warhead design and engineering development are short-
term activities compared with designing, constructing,
equipping, and standing up operations in the facilities
needed to actually build RRWs. The new buildings needed
are orders of magnitude more complicated than the
warheads and there is considerable managerial risk
involved in acquiring them. For example, the nuclear
explosive portion in a warhead or bomb contains at most
a few hundred components, nearly all of which are inert
until use. By contrast, a typical automobile has more
than 10,000 parts. A plutonium production complex
contains millions of parts, and such a complex is
anything but inert. To successfully operate it would
require training and coordinating at least 1,000 people
and would also require some success in meeting safety,
security, and environment standards. Construction of the
most recent large-scale U.S. pit production facility,
Building 371 at Rocky Flats in Colorado began in 1973
and was completed in 1981 at a cost of $225 million
($524 million in today's dollars). It operated for only
one month before the Energy Department realized that the
technology on which it was based would not work. The
repair cost $400 million and took eight years. Energy
called it a "fiasco."
NNSA describes the proposed new factories at LANL as
merely providing "capacity," as if "capacity" could be
created and then mothballed. One cannot build, equip,
and stand up highly specialized factories that cost
billions of dollars and hire and train hundreds of
highly specialized technicians over many years without
actually making the objects these costly and complex
arrangements were meant to produce.
The proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Facility at Los Alamos.
The United States has now begun to heavily invest in the
specialized manufacturing infrastructure needed for new
nuclear weapons, pivotally at LANL. The flagship of this
complex is the CMRR project to be built at LANL's
Technical Area (TA)-55. NNSA describes the current cost
for CMRR as at least $2.2 billion. But if completed, it
would probably cost more.
The CMRR consists of two buildings--the Nuclear Facility
(NF), comprising roughly nine-tenths of the project in
dollar terms, and the Radiological Laboratory, Utility,
and Office Building (RLUOB). Together, the two buildings
would comprise some 400,000 square feet of new interior
space, and the NF's 6-metric ton vault would
approximately triple LANL's plutonium storage capacity. If completed, the CMRR would be the largest
construction project in the history of LANL in
The two CMRR buildings would be linked by tunnels and
connect to LANL's existing 30-year-old plutonium
facility (PF-4), which has been modified for production
using operational funds over the last decade or more.
NNSA has now begun a more extensive renovation of PF-4
in an open-ended, long-term construction line item
called the "TA-55 Reinvestment Project."
At present, pit production utilizes approximately one-
quarter of PF-4's 59,600 square feet of nuclear floor
space; the CMRR NF would add at least 22,500 additional
square feet of this type, some with greater ceiling
height, providing greater operational flexibility.
Ceiling height has been a limiting factor regarding
manufacturing equipment and production processes in
RLUOB construction is approximately 40 percent complete,
while after four years, the Nuclear Facility is still in
preliminary design and it's unclear when, or if, it will
be completed or when construction might begin if
approved. Physically, the 90,000-cubic-yard pit dug at
the NF site, ostensibly to investigate seismic
conditions, is now the staging yard for RLUOB
construction. Therefore, the earliest possible
construction start date for the NF is spring 2009--the
earliest RLUOB could be completed.
Such a schedule seems optimistic, as a number of
significant NF design issues remain unresolved,
including seismic design, overall safety design, and
building size. (See the summary of the "Draft Complex
Transformation Supplemental Programmatic Environmental
Impact Statement" [PDF].) As of March 2007, conceptual
vault design, including provisions for fail-safe cooling
of plutonium stores, hadn't been finalized.
It's difficult to predict the ultimate capacity of a
LANL pit production complex anchored by a renovated PF-4
and the two CMRR buildings--especially if additional
production space or an additional two production
buildings were subsequently added, as NNSA suggests
Whether built with just the RLUOB, the RLUOB and the NF
as planned, the RLUOB plus a "supersized" NF, or with
the whole project doubled in size by subsequent
construction, the CMRR is unnecessary to maintain the
present nuclear arsenal or any subset of it for several
decades. The CMRR is needed, however, to manufacture
significant quantities of pits for novel nuclear
How many pits could LANL make--with and without CMRR?
LANL has possessed the capability to make pits since
1945. But until last year--when it produced 11 new pits,
some or all of which were assembled into W88 Trident
warheads at the Pantex nuclear weapons plant near
Amarillo, Texas--LANL hasn't made pits for the stockpile
since 1949, with one or two possible exceptions.
LANL's current pit manufacturing capacity is uncertain
and open to interpretation. On the one hand, NNSA could
choose to displace or terminate certain programs
currently housed in PF-4; on the other hand, some of
those programs are likely needed for new-design nuclear
explosive package certification, without which pit
production has no reason to proceed.
At a minimum, successful certification of new-design
nuclear explosives requires the use of extensive design,
testing, and simulation capabilities. These might not be
sufficient; nuclear testing might also be required. So
any decision to resume pit production has long
coattails, tasking most of PF-4 and much of the nuclear
weapons complex as a whole.
In February 1996, Energy said LANL's pit production
capacity, prior to any investment, was "10 to 20 pits
per year." Later that year, Energy stated that LANL
pit production of "up to 50 [pits] per year" is
"inherent with the facilities and equipment required to
manufacture one component [pit] for any stockpile
system." In 2005, the Secretary of Energy's Advisory
Board (SEAB) Nuclear Weapons Complex Infrastructure Task
Force [PDF] said LANL's existing pit production capacity
could (and should) be increased by a ratio of "1:20."
This twentyfold increase wasn't a rhetorical flourish;
rather, it was predicated on producing an RRW or RRW-
like pit designed for mass production involving simpler
design, broader tolerances, robotic production
technologies in some steps, and fewer toxic materials,
which would allow greater ease, flexibility, and speed
This year, NNSA stated, "A reasonable judgment of the
inherent capacity of a production line for nuclear
components exceeds 50 per year. A modern factory-style
layout could result in a minimum [emphasis added]
inherent capacity in the range of 125 components per
Existing LANL pit production capacity is somewhat
predicated on the nine-wing Chemistry and Metallurgy
Research (CMR) building in TA-3. Despite extensive
recent upgrades, much of the CMR may be nearing the end
of its usefulness for this purpose. According to NNSA
Administrator Tom D'Agostino, pit production could
continue at LANL without either the CMRR or CMR, or
possibly with part of the CMR, as NNSA wrote in response
to congressional questions in 2007.
How many pits per year LANL could produce if CMRR were
built is even less clear, as the uncertainties--
including uncertainties in CMRR's size and the number of
facilities ultimately available at TA-55--are
compounded. In addition, as a senior Energy official
explained to me in 2002, the achievable production rate
in a given number of square feet of plutonium space is a
sensitive function of the technology used. It is also a
function of the complexity and tolerances required in
the type of pits produced. Any capacity cited today
isn't necessarily what might be available 10 years from
now if technology development were to continue--and RRW
Production capacity is also a function of flexibility,
e.g. whether two or more kinds of pits are to be
produced simultaneously or in rapid succession.
The lowest capacity is governed by what might be called
the "fiasco factor." Accidents and malicious acts,
previously unknown or undisclosed infrastructure or
management inadequacies, enforcement actions, and
preventive stand-downs have all occurred at LANL and are
real possibilities. A production capacity of zero could
easily result from any of them, possibly for a long
The highest capacity achievable could be significantly
greater than the advertised maximum of 200 pits per
CMRR's congressional funding.
CMRR appeared in 2003 as a "project engineering and
development" line item, becoming a standalone
construction project the following year. Since then the
Senate, thanks to New Mexico Republican Sen. Pete
Domenici, has reliably backed CMRR funding. The House of
Representatives, however, has zeroed out the CMRR in
three of the past five years and proposed cuts of more
than one-half in the other years. The Senate has largely
won these battles.
In its most recent markup (for the fiscal year 2008
appropriation), the House Appropriations Committee
zeroed out the project and wrote: "Proceeding with the
CMRR project as currently designed will strongly
prejudice any nuclear complex transformation plan. The
CMRR facility has no coherent mission to justify it
unless the decision is made to begin an aggressive new
nuclear warhead design and pit production mission at Los
Alamos National Laboratory." The House as a whole agreed
with this assessment by a wide margin, rebuffing an
amendment introduced by New Mexico Democratic Rep. Tom
Udall to restore funding for the CMRR, pit production
operations, and nuclear weapons overall.
But Senate appropriators had fully funded the project.
When the omnibus appropriations bill finally passed in
mid-December, the CMRR was funded at $75 million for
fiscal year 2008, about 86 percent of NNSA's request.
Neither the bill nor the report contain specific
guidance as to which parts of the CMRR project are to
receive the abridged funding; project management is
privileging RLUOB construction.
What dire consequences would occur if the CMRR Nuclear
Facility wasn't built? None. Halting the CMRR would not
even remotely threaten any existing U.S. nuclear
capability--not now and not for many decades to come.
But such a step could reflect an aspiration toward
disarmament, depending on other policies adopted. In
that case, it would express the spirit of the Shultz,
Perry, Kissinger and Nunn editorials.
If the United States isn't prepared to take even this
kind of baby step toward fulfilling its NPT obligations,
it's difficult to see how Washington could ever play a
constructive role in the international cooperation
necessary to prevent nuclear proliferation.
The United States reiterated its commitment to nuclear
abolition in the consensus statement of the 2000 Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference,
agreeing to a set of 13 detailed, "practical steps for
the systematic and progressive efforts to implement
Article VI." Prior to this, the World Court unanimously
ruled in 1996 that "there exists an obligation to pursue
in good faith and bring to a conclusion [Emphasis
added.] negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in
all its aspects under strict and effective international
- The author speaks from personal observations at
several NPT preparatory and review conferences but also
see the formal conclusions of Lewis Dunn et al, Science
Applications International Corporation, "Foreign
Perspectives on U.S. Nuclear Policy and Posture" [PDF],
December 4, 2006, prepared for the Defense Threat
Reduction Agency (DTRA). Another recent testimony to
this view is a speech delivered by IAEA Secretary-
General Mohamed ElBaradei on February 11, 2008.
- Keith Schneider, "U.S. Spent Billions on Atom Projects
That Have Failed," New York Times, December 11, 1988, p.
- Energy Department Congressional Budget Request for
FY2009, Vol. 1 [PDF], National Nuclear Security
Administration (NNSA), p. 298. The cost of more than
$2.2 billion for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research
Replacement Facility (CMRR) is derived from NNSA's
estimate of "above" $2 billion for the CMRR Nuclear
Facility (NF), its estimate of $164 million for the
Radiological, Utility, and Office Building (RLUOB), and
an allowance in the low tens of millions for specialized
RLUOB equipment and furnishings--carried now in a
separate CMRR project account, "Phase B"--bringing the
total to "above" $2.2 billion. Construction costs for
even ordinary construction are inflating rapidly and can
be expected to continue to increase for the next decade.
The CMRR NF is a complex project that involves large
quantities of concrete and steel. For these reasons, the
CMRR can be expected to increase in cost significantly
over the nine years NNSA allots for further design and
construction. These CMRR costs don't include the
required new $240 million Technical Area (TA)-55
security perimeter, which must in part be built twice to
accommodate construction, the new Pit Radiography
Facility ($47 million), the TA-55 Reinvestment Project
(at least $200 million), the Radioactive Liquid Waste
Treatment Facility Upgrade ($80 million), or the TA-54
nuclear waste disposal expansion project (at least $60
million). Nor do they include demolition and disposal of
the existing Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR)
facility ($400 million). All of these projects (save for
CMR demolition and disposal) are functionally required
for CMRR operation.
- Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), CMRR briefing
slides, p. 8, no date.
- Personal communication with Steve Fong, NNSA CMRR
project staff, January 18, 2007.
- Oral response to author's questions, CMRR public
meeting, Fuller Lodge, Los Alamos, New Mexico, March
- See NNSA, "Draft Complex Transformation Supplemental
Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement," pp. S34,
35. Similar plans have been internally available at LANL
since at least 2001, e.g., LANL 2001 Comprehensive Site
Plan, "TA-55 Preconceptual Plan," Los Alamos Study Group
- Neither the CMRR nor Technical Area (TA)-55 as a whole
is needed to produce nuclear explosives made with
- According to a personal communication with Ken Silver
at East Tennessee State University, there are
indications LANL's TA-21 site may have briefly resumed
quantity pit production in the immediate aftermath of
the disastrous 1969 fire at Rocky Flats.
- Energy Department, Draft Stockpile Stewardship and
Management Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement
(SSM PEIS), Los Alamos Study Group.
- Energy Department, Final SSM PEIS, Volume 1, pp. 3-4,
Table 18.104.22.168-1, note "A," September 1996. Note: "A" is
note "1" there.
- Anonymous congressional source.
- NNSA, "Complex Transformation Supplemental
Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (CTSPEIS),"
pp. 2-22, December 2007.
- House Energy and Water Development Appropriations
Subcommittee, March 29, 2007, supplemental questions for
the record, p. 584 in printed version of "Energy and
Water Development Appropriations for 2008." The use of
CMR as solely a radiological laboratory rather than a
nuclear facility, to my knowledge, hasn't been
investigated. Neither to my knowledge has there been any
comprehensive study of current and planned mission
requirements for LANL's nuclear facilities or
- Personal communication with Steve Fong.
This article has been adapted from a larger piece
entitled "Build Warhead Factories Now, Worry About
Weapons Policy Later: Will Congress Take Back the
Reins?" [PDF], available at the Los Alamos Study Group
* Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 21 March 2008;
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