Photos of plutonium pit production process. Courtesy LANL
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The Government Accountability (GAO) on Thursday issued a report to Congressional committees entitled ‘NNSA Does Not Have a Comprehensive Schedule or Cost Estimate for Pit Production Capability”. The report says the GAO found that NNSA plans to establish the ability to produce 80 plutonium pits, the central core of a nuclear weapon per year at two sites; Los Alamos National Laboratory plans to produce 30 pits per year, rely on a broad range of activities, five large capital asset projects and other projects. The Savannah River Site plans to produce 50 pits rely on one capital asset project and some program activities. Several other Department of Energy sites play a supporting role. Reestablishing pit production likely presents NNSA’s largest investment in weapons production infrastructure to date, the GAO report states.
The GAO is recommendation to NNSA that they develop a lifecycle cost estimate that aligns with GAO cost estimating best practices.
“NNSA has agreed with the recommendation,” the report says, adding that NNSA should also implement GAO’s existing recommendation to develop an integrated master schedule.
The GAO says NNSA has not developed either a comprehensive schedule or a cost estimate that meets GAO best practices.
“NNSA’s schedule includes some activities managed by its Plutonium Modernization program, but this schedule does not include all activities or milestones to achieve an 80-pit-per-year production capability and does not assign resources to activities. As a result, NNSA’s pit production schedule does not meet minimum qualifications to be considered an integrated master schedule, according to GAO’s Schedule Guide. Because an integrated master schedule is used for coordination, among other things, missing or incomplete activities can hinder coordination, increasing the likelihood of disruption and delay,” the report states.
It also states that NNSA has not developed a cost estimate that provides a complete and structured accounting of all resources required to develop and sustain a complete scope of work.
“According to officials, such a life cycle cost estimate has not been completed because of concerns about releasing preliminary or uncertain information. However, a life cycle cost estimate can enhance decision-making, especially in early planning stages, as well as support budget decisions, key decision points, milestone reviews, and investment decisions. Further, NNSA has cost information, even if uncertain, it uses to develop budget estimates and inform projects’ critical decisions. Using NNSA’s fiscal year 2023 budget justification, GAO identified at least $18 billion to $24 billion in potential costs for the 80-pit-per-year capability. Developing a comprehensive schedule and life cycle cost estimate could improve NNSA’s decision-making, the efficiency and effectiveness of their efforts, and the quality of information provided to Congress,” the report states.
The GAO noted the first production unit pit (fiscal year 2024) and production of 10 pits per year (fiscal year 2025), without either a life cycle cost estimate or an IMS if these tools are not developed before fiscal year 2026.
“During this time, NNSA will have spent billions of dollars without having an overall idea of total program costs, or when program objectives, to include the capability to produce 80 pits per year, will be reached,” the report reads.
GAO’s full report NNSA Does Not Have a Comprehensive Schedule or Cost Estimate for Pit Production Capability is available at: