WASHINGTON, D.C. - During a Senate Armed Service Committee hearing to review the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) atomic energy defense programs for Fiscal Year 2019, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) secured a commitment from Energy Secretary Rick Perry to support maintaining Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL) role as the nation’s Center of Excellence for Plutonium Research. Work is currently underway to upgrade facilities at LANL in preparation to produce 30 pits per year by 2026, and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) will soon recommend a strategy to increase the capacity to 80 per year by 2030.
During the hearing, Secretary Perry confirmed that Los Alamos will remain the nation’s Center of Excellence for Plutonium Research. He said, “LANL is going to be the center for plutonium excellence for as long into the future for as long as there is a future.”
Secretary Perry assured Senator Heinrich that DOE would consider the modular approach at Los Alamos, which is supported by the Nuclear Weapons Council and Congress, to fully meet the nation’s requirements to maintain the nuclear stockpile. Secretary Perry also committed to review the NNSA’s strategy on pit production and address the shortcomings of NNSA’s analysis. In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this week, General John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, expressed concern with any further delay in finalizing the plan for pit production and reinforced the need for capacity to produce 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030, with the first element of that production (30 pits/year) taking place at LANL. Secretary Perry reiterated the need to complete the analysis and committed to ensure the best available cost estimates were used and that the recommended option will actually meet U.S. Strategic Command’s requirements.
Senator Heinrich also discussed the importance of maintaining funding to help restore full operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and continuing future investment in upgrading the Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications (MESA) facility at Sandia National Laboratories to meet future national security requirements after 2025. In response to Senator Heinrich, Secretary Perry agreed that NNSA should maintain the unique capability at MESA for both R&D and production of strategic rad-hard micro-electronics to meet the needs of NNSA as well as other strategic partners.
Senator Heinrich helped secure funding for these key priorities at New Mexico’s national labs in the omnibus appropriations bill that the Senate is expected to vote on soon.
Los Alamos National Laboratory Plutonium Mission & LANL Cleanup
The bill provides nearly $400 million for upgrade plutonium facilities at LANL, $210 million (an increase of $25 million from FY17) for plutonium research activities and an additional $177 million for construction to provide the Lab with a safer, more modern facilities needed to provide 30 pits per year by 2026. The bill also provides $220 million for soil and water remediation and removal of radioactive waste at LANL, which is almost $30 million above the president’s request.
MESA Facility at Sandia
The omnibus spending bill also includes $24.1 million for recapitalization of the MESA facility and funding to support planning for extending the R&D and production capabilities at Sandia beyond 2025 to 2040 to meet future mission requirements.
Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
The bill authorizes $382 million, $60 million above the request and $85 million over last year, to operate the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and to begin construction of additional ventilation for the mine.