US nuclear weapons dismantling speeds up

03 October 2007

The USA significantly increased the rate at which its nuclear weapons were dismantled during fiscal 2007. The 146% increase in the dismantlement rate reported by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) almost tripled its goal of a 49% increase for the year.

The NNSA's announcement is the latest in a series concerning the destruction of US nuclear weapons and their former fuel's future use for electricity generation. "Our success ensures that these weapons cannot be used again, and sends a clear message to the world that this administration remains committed to reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the US nuclear stockpile," said NNSA administrator Thomas D'Agostino.

He noted that NNSA's focus on weapons dismantlement supports President George Bush's goal of having the lowest number of nuclear weapons consistent with security needs. President Bush directed in 2004 that the weapons stockpile be reduced by nearly 50% by 2012, bringing it to a quarter of its size at the end of the Cold War.

The dismantling process involves almost all of the sites in the US nuclear weapons complex, NNSA says. Firstly, the design laboratories and production facilities, applying the unique knowledge that they gained during the weapon's original design process, work together to identify and mitigate any hazards that might arise as the retired weapon is dismantled.

The second step takes place at NNSA's Pantex Plant in Texas, where high explosives are removed from special nuclear material, and the plutonium core is removed from the weapon. The plutonium is placed in secure storage at Pantex but will eventually be turned into mixed oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel for use in nuclear power reactors at the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility currently under construction at the Savannah River site in South Carolina. In September, US energy secretary Sam Bodman announced a commitment to turn 9 tonnes of plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons into nuclear fuel.

Finally, uranium components are removed at the Y-12 National Security Complex, at Oak Ridge in Tennessee, and the other, non-nuclear components are sent either to Savannah River or the Kansas City Plant for final processing. NNSA's Office of Secure Transportation has the task of ensuring that special nuclear material is safe and secure during transport between sites and throughout the dismantlement process, and that shipments are always on schedule.

NNSA is an agency within the US Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the application of nuclear science. Last year, it permanently dismantled the last remaining W56-type nuclear weapon in the US and is now dismantling weapons of types W62 and B61 modifications 3 and 4. This work is expected to continue for several years.

Further information

NationalNuclear Security Administration (NNSA)

Savannah River Site

Y-12National Security Complex

Kansas City Plant

WNA's Military Warheads as aSource of Nuclear Fuel information paper

WNN: MoreUS warheads to be used for power generation
WNN: NNSAMOX facility construction starts