Associated Press (AP) writer Josef Hebert did an excellent job on a complicated subject with his January 20 story, “Quality of Nuclear Devices Questioned.” It’s also a good thing the story was picked up by well over 100 newspapers because these plutonium pits cost $130 million to be manufactured and the DOE plans to produce between 10-50 pits annually over the next four years.
POGO is still deeply concerned about the viability and safety of these pricey little plutonium globes being made at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
When questioned by Hebert about the impact of the 72 waivers for the pits manufacturing specifications, LANL claims everything is fine because the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) accepted all of the 72 proposed changes. Yet, sources have told POGO that NNSA has no capability to independently evaluate the impact of each of the 72 waivers on the eventual reliability of the pits. For its assessment, NNSA is totally dependent on the design lab - LANL.
The AP story did not include POGO’s recommendation for fixing the problem, as outlined in a January 18, 2008 letter from POGO’s Executive Director Danielle Brian to Samuel W. Bodman, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy:
The solution to this dilemma, however, is not the current reckless path: throwing billions of dollars at high-risk programs to provide on-the-job training for the contractor workforce of an agency with a long history of failed program management. The solution is to minimize the possible risk to the stockpile, to the taxpayers, and to international arms control efforts by focusing on Life Extension Programs and continuing to accelerate the dismantlement of excess warheads.
-- Peter Stockton and Ingrid Drake