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Highlights

The Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is responsible for manufacturing pits, a key component in a nuclear warhead. The department lost its ability to manufacture pits in 1989 with the closing of the Rocky Flats Plant. In 1996, the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) was directed to reestablish a pit manufacturing capability, starting with a limited number of pits for the W88 warhead. In recent years, NNSA has considered ways to increase its pit manufacturing capacity, including building a new, large-scale pit manufacturing facility. It has also proposed producing pits for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW). GAO was asked to determine the (1) extent to which NNSA achieved its major goals for reestablishing its pit manufacturing capability, (2) factors that currently constrain its ability to increase its pit manufacturing capacity, and (3) status of its plans for future pit manufacturing. For this review, GAO met with NNSA and LANL officials, reviewed agency documents, and visited the nuclear facility used to manufacture pits.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
National Nuclear Security Administration To ensure that NNSA establishes a sufficient cost and schedule baseline that it can use to manage pit manufacturing operations in an efficient and cost-effective manner, the Administrator of NNSA should develop clear, well-defined production goals for the type and number of war reserve pits to be produced each year at LANL and include them in any plan for the future pit manufacturing mission.
Closed - Implemented
NNSA currently has completed required production of war reserve W-88 pits. According to NNSA's April 2012 Pit Production Report to Congress, NNSA should continue to sustain plutonium efforts at Los Alamos in preparation for building new plutonium pits for the W87 in the FY 2019-FY2020 timeframe, producing pits that will be used in scaled experiments at the Nevada National Security Site and several pit-like objects per year to expand the manufacturing knowledge base of pit types in the active stockpile. This level of reporting is sufficient to close this recommendation but only in a very narrow fashion. Other recent developments, including the deferral of a major plutonium facility, a still-in-development interim plutonium plan, lack of clear DoD requirements for pit production capability, and NNSA's lack of a programmatic Future Years Nuclear Security Plan call into question broader pit and plutonium issues. GAO will continue to closely monitor this issue.
National Nuclear Security Administration To ensure that NNSA establishes a sufficient cost and schedule baseline that it can use to manage pit manufacturing operations in an efficient and cost-effective manner, the Administrator of NNSA should establish an integrated cost baseline for future pit manufacturing at LANL that accounts for the entire pit-manufacturing mission, including supporting costs associated with operation and maintenance, waste processing, security, and construction of supporting facilities.
Closed - Not Implemented
NNSA nonconcurred with this recommendation and closed it as such in 2008. NNSA reported that the Project Execution Plan for pit manufacturing is in place and is based on meeting the approved requirement goals. The plan captures the integration of scope, schedule and cost and is further integrated with associated elements within the overall weapons program elements (Directed Stockpile Work, Campaigns, Readiness in Technical Base and Facilities, Future Years Nuclear Security Program) that are focused on achieving NNSA goals.

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