House Appropriations Committee Wants NNSA To Submit Plans, Schedules For Pit Production

nnsa-pf4-aerial-1440The Plutonium Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Photo Courtesy LANL

BY MAIRE O’NEILL
maire@losalamosreporter.com

The House Appropriations Committee on Sunday released a report accompanying the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill for FY2020 which notes the lack of an overall approved plan for pit production at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Savannah River Site in North Carolina.

The committee report notes that NNSA has taken a number of steps, including the shift to managing infrastructure investments in New Mexico and South Carolina, has developed some high level milestones and has improved the transparency and quality of the data provided to the committee.

“However the committee remains concerned that NNSA has not prioritized the development of a resource-loaded integrated master schedule that includes all pit production-related,  project-related and program activities as recommended by the GAO and does not appear to have plans to complete such a schedule until after it would have had to achieve certain pit production milestones,” the report states.

It states that under the bill the NNSA is directed to submit within 30 days after enactment a plan to complete that schedule to be reviewed and briefed to the committee by the Comptroller General no more than 90 days later.

The committee report also expresses concern about the lack of a contingency plan should the NNSA not complete current pit production milestones.

“Given the NNSA’s continuing challenges in constructing large complex nuclear facilities on time and on budget, coupled with the extremely constrained timeframe and planned use of expedited processes and procedures, the risk of not meeting pit production milestones is high,” the report states, adding that similar concerns were included in a 2019 independent assessment which concluded that “no available option can be expected to provide 80 pits per year by 2030”.

The committee directed NNSA to develop a contingency plan in coordination with the Department of Defense “to meet the needs of the nuclear deterrent that do not solely rely on the current needs for pit production” – to be submitted to the committee not later than 120 days after the act is passed and updated and submitted each year thereafter with the budget request.

“The plan shall include options to ramp up pit production that extend the current need dates for pit production; how the hedged and fielded stockpile could be configured to serve as an interim solution and an estimate of how many years of current pit production need dates could be extended by advancing current pit reuse concepts,” the report states,

The bill, which is slated for markup by the full committee today, invests $49.6 billion for FY2021 in energy and water development programs, a 3 percent increase over FY2020. For the Department of Energy for FY2020, it provides a total of $41 billion, an increase of $2.3 billion above the FY2020 level and $5.1 billion above the President’s budget request. The bill provides for $27.5 million for interim storage of nuclear waste and oversight of the Nuclear Waste Fund.

The NNSA would receive $18 billion, an increase of $1.3 billion above FY2020. $13.7 billion is assigned for weapons activities, an increase of $1.2 billion, and $2.24 billion is set aside for defense nuclear proliferation, an increase of $75 million.

For environmental management, the bill provides $7.46 billion, an increase of $1.4 billion above the President’s request, to be spent for 16 DOE sites across the country, and includes $315 million which is up $39 million for non-defense environmental cleanup.  $6.3 billion, an increase of $66 million, is set aside for defense environmental cleanup.

The bill provides $3.1 billion to accelerate nuclear cleanup work at the 16 sites. For the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the bill sets aside $123 million with $31 million for the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

The Los Alamos Reporter last week requested information from the NNSA Los Alamos Field Office as to what plan is being followed by NNSA with regard to pit production at Los Alamos and was told by a spokesperson that LANL’s proposal to meet NNSA’s mission for expanded pit production as well as a Pit Production Report submitted to Congress are Unclassified Controlled Nuclear Information.

“Right now, we’re awaiting issuance of the Final Supplement Analysis to the LANL Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement to determine our path forward with regard to pit production. We expect the Final SA to come out in the Fall,” the spokesman wrote.