The Department of Defense has announced that much of the infrastructure surrounding defense plutonium in the United States is about to be restructured. They are aiming to increase production of plutonium pits — the production of pits at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico is going to be increased and efficiency maximized; a facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina is going to be repurposed to plutonium pit production.

The statement was made by Ellen M. Lord and Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty. Lord is the Chair of the Nuclear Weapons Council (NWC) and the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics; Gordon-Hagerty is the Department of Energy Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The DOD said that an “evolving and uncertain geopolitical landscape calls for the United States to recapitalize its defense plutonium capabilities.” The restructuring has logistical merits — to reach their quota of manufacturing 80 pits a year by 2030, the United States must utilize more facilities and resources to reach that goal. However, what they were specifically referring to regarding an “evolving and uncertain geopolitical landscape” is still unclear.

What is a plutonium pit?

Don’t get it confused — it has nothing to do with a hole in the ground where they dump plutonium or anything like that. A plutonium pit was named after fruit pits and is used to describe the plutonium core of an implosion nuclear weapon. It is in the shape of a sphere and is pictured above.

Who are these organizations?

The Nuclear Weapons Council (NWC) “serves as the focal point of Department of Defense (DOD) and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) interagency activities to maintain the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile,” according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is the organization that manages anything and everything having to do with the military application of nuclear materials, as it relates to national security. The NWC manages and approves any proposed budgets from the NNSA and provides to them guidance regarding improving U.S. conventional nuclear weapons.