Reading Room

For immediate release: Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Independent Review of Department of Energy Study Undermines "Need" for New Nuclear Weapons

Groups call on Energy Department to abandon discredited "Complex 2030" Plan

for more information, contact:
Susan Gordon: (206) 547-3175
Marylia Kelley, Tri-Valley CAREs, Livermore (925)443-7148
or any of the local contacts listed at end of advisory.

November 29, 2006 -- Today marks an important turning point in the future of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. Scientists acting as government consultants have announced conclusions of their independent review of Department of Energy (DOE) studies of plutonium pit lifetimes. Pits are the cores or "triggers" of nuclear weapons. This group, known as the JASON panel, has included Nobel laureates and original Manhattan Project scientists. Their announcement that pit lifetimes of most warheads are at least 100 years, more than double that of DOE's original estimate of 45 years has far-reaching implications.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the semi-autonomous nuclear weapons agency within DOE, has been seeking to restart pit production for years. The argument for increased production has largely rested on the NNSA estimated 45 year pit lifetime, making new ones necessary to maintain the current nuclear stockpile.

The extended effective life of plutonium pits calls into question the need for several NNSA plans to increase pit and weapons production. Currently, NNSA plans to expand "interim" pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where a limited production line already exists. NNSA has even grander plans to build the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead in a newly constructed, nationwide nuclear complex, called Complex 2030. This "Bombplex" would be capable of producing newly designed warheads and at least 125 pits per year. As Susan Gordon, Director of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability stated, "Pit production, new warheads, and a new 'Bombplex' are completely unnecessary. The U.S. has a huge surplus of plutonium pits and now DOE's own independent expert scientists confirm that they last 100 years."

The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA) has been involved in the process of the pit lifetime studies since early 2003. At that time, one of its member groups, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, urged Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) to introduce legislation that required independent review by a qualified federal contractor of the NNSA's ongoing pit lifetime studies. Ultimately, the JASONs were contracted to conduct that review.

Nuclear Watch's Jay Coghlan commented, "Today's conclusions show, on a practical basis, that we don't need expensive, provocative new nuclear weapons designs and industrial-scale bomb production. These proposals make the U.S. appear hypocritical when preaching to other nations that they can't have weapons of mass destruction. This is an important document and we have Senator Bingaman to thank for providing leadership to make it happen."

The U.S. is believed to have approximately 10,600 intact nuclear warheads and another 12,000 plutonium pits in reserve at the Pantex site in Texas. The revelations in the new report shift the focus from weapons production to radioactive waste cleanup and warhead dismantlement. Mavis Belisle, Director of the Peace Farm, located just outside the Pantex Plant said, "The money spent on increased pit production could be better used elsewhere. Dismantling warheads from our huge arsenal would set a great example for the rest of the world."

Marylia Kelley, Executive Director at Tri-Valley CAREs in Livermore, CA said, "We call on DOE to abandon its Complex 2030 plan. They need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan that focuses on the cleanup of radioactive contamination that is the legacy of 60 years of nuclear weapons development. This study offers the government a chance to go back and get it right."

The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability is a national network of 35 groups, most of whom live downwind and downstream from the U.S. nuclear weapons complex sites. These groups have been working collaboratively for nearly two decades to clean up the environmental legacy of nuclear weapons production and stop new nuclear weapons programs.


Local Contacts --

  • Marylia Kelley, Executive Director, Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment
    Livermore, CA -- (925) 443-7148

  • Jay Coghlan, Executive Director, Nuclear Watch of New Mexico
    Santa Fe, NM -- (505) 989-7342, cell: (505) 920-7118

  • Mavis Belisle, Director, Peace Farm
    Panhandle, TX -- (806) 341-4801

  • Ralph Hutchison, Director, Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance
    Oak Ridge, TN -- (865) 483-8202

NNSA press release link:

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