You may have heard that Tri-Valley CAREs was recently in Washington, DC with the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA) for its annual advocacy week – “DC Days 2023”. On Friday, April 28, Tri-Valley CAREs and colleague organizations put the “capstone” on DC Days 2023 with a special briefing for congressional staff on the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) program to expand plutonium pit production.

The briefing was coordinated to coincide with the publication of an article titled,  Dealing with a debacle: A better plan for US plutonium pit production, Written by physicists Curtis T. Asplund and Frank von Hippel, the piece was highlighted in the esteemed Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The authors offered an alternative to the NNSA program to increase plutonium pit production to 80 or more bomb cores annually, using two production sites and multiple support locations, all of which face spiraling costs, technical risks, schedule delays and substantial controversy regarding the “purpose and need” for more plutonium pits.

The two planned production sites are the Los Alamos Lab in NM and the Savannah River Site in SC. Other sites with a major role are the Livermore Lab in CA, the Nevada Nuclear Security Site (test site), the Pantex Plant in TX, the Kansas City Plant in MO, and the WIPP dump in NM. The Department of Energy Office of Secure Transportation will also have a major role as plutonium cores, wastes and other plutonium materials will join family cars on our highways and crisscross the country according to this plan.

This staff briefing (and the associated Bulletin article), summarized the current status of pit production and its flaws, while advancing feasible alternatives.

Our principal briefer was Dr. Frank von Hippel, Senior Research Physicist and Professor of Public and International Affairs emeritus at Princeton University. Dr. von Hippel is also co-founder and co-Director of Princeton’s Program on Science and Global Security.

Ms. Elle Ekman joined Dr. von Hippel on the panel. Ms. Ekman served as Military Legislative Assistant for Rep. John Garamendi and has recently joined the State Department.

Our own Scott Yundt offered a short presentation focusing on the multiple sites that will be impacted by the current pit production plan, including Livermore Lab. He also spoke about the lawsuit that Tri-Valley CAREs and other affected groups have brought against NNSA and DOE demanding that a full programmatic Environmental Impact Statement be prepared to analyze the potential health and environmental impacts at all of the sites that are part of this scheme.

Two other ANA watchdogs from communities near the Savannah River Site (Tom Clements of Savannah River Site Watch) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico), provided remarks highlighting potential impacts at the production sites.

Dylan Spaulding, a Senior Scientist for the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientist and Stephen Young, the Senior Washington Representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists, also added remarks on some of the technical and policy aspects of the program.

The briefing was well attended by congressional staff who were interested in the issue and asked many good questions of our panelists. Tri-Valley CAREs will continue to work with all of the briefing’s panelists and its congressional attendees to put forward alternatives to the government’s dangerous plans to expand plutonium pit manufacturing for new warheads.

The congressional briefing was sponsored jointly by Tri-Valley CAREs, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Savannah River Site Watch, and Nuclear Watch New Mexico. Special appreciation is due to the Office of Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA-8) for clearing the way for Ms. Ekman to participate and to the Office of Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) for reserving the Senate hearing room for us to use for the briefing.

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