The National Nuclear Security Administration hosted the Nuclear Weapons Council in South Carolina and New Mexico earlier this month, providing members of the defense panel a chance to tour facilities and receive updates on plutonium pit production, the local tritium mission, and global security.
The meetings were held Aug. 14 and 15 at the Savannah River Site and Los Alamos National Laboratory, respectively, according to a Wednesday announcement from the NNSA, a semiautonomous U.S. Department of Energy agency.
Nuclear Weapons Council Chairperson Ellen Lord and U.S. Strategic Command leader Gen. John Hyten visited both the Savannah River Site and Los Alamos. NNSA chief Lisa Gordon-Hagerty went to Los Alamos only.
"It was great to have the Nuclear Weapons Council at Savannah River and Los Alamos," Hyten said in a statement, later thanking Lord and Gordon-Hagerty "for making this happen."
Lord is also the under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, a senior U.S. Department of Defense position. The Nuclear Weapons Council was established to, among other reasons, interface related energy and defense work.
The two-pronged meeting is markedly significant — SRS and Los Alamos are the two sites the NNSA and the Defense Department last year recommended be home to the nation's jump-started plutonium pit operations. SRS is also the only installation to produce tritium, a radioactive hydrogen isotope used in weapons.
"Great work being done in the tritium enterprise," Hyten noted.
At least 80 plutonium pits, nuclear weapon cores, are needed by 2030, according to the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, a leading Pentagon nuclear policy document.
To satisfy that military demand, 50 pits would be produced at the Savannah River Site, at a repurposed Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, according to the joint recommendation. The remaining 30 would be produced at a buttressed Los Alamos.
The NNSA, in charge of the nation's nuclear stockpile and related nonproliferation, axed the contested MOX project late last year. Years of work and billions of dollars had already been invested at that point.
In a June interview with the Aiken Standard, Gordon-Hagerty described recapitalizing the MOX facility as "a massive infrastructure program," but one that is better than building "from the ground up."
Lord in May described successful pit production — a serious, multibillion-dollar venture — as a "lynchpin."
"After 25 years of primarily drawing down and sustaining the nuclear forces we built during the Cold War, repeated decisions to defer recapitalization of our nuclear forces have caught up to us," Lord wrote in testimony submitted to a U.S. Senate Armed Services subcommittee.
Hyten visited the MOX and tritium facilities last year. Gordon-Hagerty was at the Savannah River Site earlier this summer, and at Aiken Technical College announced a $5-million boost to a workforce and education initiative.