Do More Nuclear Pits Produce Greater National Security?

by Vins

The US government continues to spend millions of dollars on nuclear weapons to “modernize” or “reconstruct” its already capable and finished nuclear weapons. Details on this problem come from the NNSA (National Nuclear Security Administration). The intent is to have the “capability” to produce 50-80 plutonium pits by 2030.  A delicate distinction is drawn by Don Cook, the newly appointed Acting Administrator for NNSA, between the  older approach of building “capacity” and the  newer model of “capability.” Cook explained this distinction:  “A capacity-based manufacturing plant might have several assembly lines, all doing the same thing in parallel, whereas a capability-based manufacturing plant would have a single assembly line.”

NNSA wants to produce many more nuclear pits that we probably would ever need. The construction of more nuclear pits creates environmental problems environmentally and only compounds the US’s already excessive stockpile of nuclear weapons.

Like others who represent the nuclear establishment, Cook claims NNSA is merely meeting its obligation or commitment to fulfill “requirements” of some unnamed agency or body or regulation that generates the order, apparently alluding to a 2008 directive made under the Bush administration and no longer operative. When questioned as to the source of this requirement, officials do not reply.

These terms and phrases – modernization of the aging stockpile, preventing risks to the stockpile, ensuring a safe, reliable, and secure deterrent – are a routine part of the nuclear liturgy, endowing the discussion with allusions to august, indisputable principles that no one really understands, but which have the additional feature of precluding argument. What precisely is the risk to the stockpile if we don’t modernize it immediately? What can be more meaningless than a “safe” nuclear weapon?

Source: Stephanie Miller, “Nuclear Shenanigans Block Disarmament Progress,” La Jicarita, June 11, 2013,

Student Researcher: Chelsea Deetken (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Tracy Kinahan (University of San Francisco)