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Make more plutonium pits per year? Who wants them?

Three PeaceWorks representatives lobbied Congress during DC Days May 20-22, sponsored by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA). The three—Ann Suellentrop, Spencer Graves, and Cassie Weck—helped research the nuclear budget and visit congressional members and staff. They learned that the new nuclear weapons parts plant, the National Security Campus (NSC) in Kansas City, MO, may double its budget from 2020 through 2022 for “modernizing” the B61-12 gravity bomb and the W88 warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles. More NSC staff and facilities are proposed. Further, the NSC may increase its “component fabrication” for “Plutonium Sustainment Operations.”

From left, Ann Myers (left, of Oakridge, TN), Cassie Weck, Spencer Graves, Hannah Schwartz (legislative correspondent of Sen. Roy Blunt, R-MO), Ann Suellentrop, and Leighton Grant (Blunt’s defense fellow)

What’s that mean? Well, the Trump administration plans production of more plutonium pits—the grapefruit-sized radioactive cores of modern thermonuclear weapons. When compressed by explosives for detonation, the pits (“primaries”) form a critical mass and “begin to fission,” says Jay Coghlan of NukeWatch New Mexico. That induces nuclear fusion in components known as “secondaries,” creating tremendous destructive yields, says Coghlan. He adds that up to 20,000 “excess” pits and up to 5,000 “strategic reserve” pits are at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, TX.

Congress is studying H.R. 2500, the National Defense Authorization Act for 2020, with the administration’s request to produce 80 plutonium pits per year instead of the current 20. Given the Pantex stockpile, Suellentrop insists, “Creating 80 pits per year is an idiotic idea!” She and about 60 others at this year’s ANA DC Days lobbied at about 90 congressional offices to share that perspective and tackle other issues.

Some in Congress may have listened. On June 3, the US House of Representatives strategic forces subcommittee proposed repealing the requirement for the 80 pits per year from the budget and instead called for 30 pits per year.

Next steps: markups of the 2020 budget by the House Armed Services Committee and the Senate. The time is ripe for making a plutonium-pit-&-budget call to your representative and senators. Here’s a sample “ask”: Congress must not fund the National Security Campus expansion for production of components for unjustified new and refurbished nuclear weapons.

—By Jane Stoever of PeaceWorks

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