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Focused ‘like a laser beam’: NNSA defense leader discusses pit production commitment

February 14, 2019 GMT

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Charles Verdon, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s deputy administrator for defense programs, on Wednesday said the semiautonomous agency is “focused like a laser beam” to satisfy plutonium pit production requirements.

That intense gaze, Verdon said, is needed because of the various moving parts a successful plutonium pit buildout demands: people, infrastructure, machines and environmental responsibilities, among other things.

Lassoing all of that requires a detailed plan and proper execution, the deputy administrator continued.


“You’ve got to do it,” he said, answering a question posed by the Aiken Standard.

At least 80 plutonium pits – nuclear weapon cores – are needed every year by 2030, per the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review.

The NNSA and the U.S. Department of Defense last year recommended a two-pronged approach to meet that requirement: produce 50 pits per year at the Savannah River Site and another 30 per year in New Mexico at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the nation’s plutonium science and production center of excellence.

In terms of SRS, the pit mission would require a rework of the since-terminated Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, according to the joint recommendation.

On Tuesday, NNSA Chief of Staff William “Ike” White said a “sense of urgency” is felt across the nation’s nuclear security enterprise. White also referenced MOX as “former.”

“We have a vision, we have a strategy, we’re moving out on this as we speak,” Verdon said, stressing action over inaction.

“My final comments – this is a busy and exciting time at NNSA,” he later added. “I think it’s really an exciting time.”

Verdon was the first speaker Wednesday at the annual Nuclear Deterrence Summit. His speech from a larger perspective focused on modernization while still delivering on defense needs.

The theme of the three-day symposium this year is – fittingly – accomplishing the mission.