What are plutonium pits and the NNSA?
A plutonium pit is a component of a nuclear weapon that contains a small amount of plutonium-239, which is a highly fissile material that can undergo a chain reaction of nuclear fission, resulting in a powerful explosion.
The pit serves as the primary source of energy for the weapon, and its design and construction are critical to the weapon’s performance and yield.
The design of a plutonium pit involves complex physics and engineering principles to ensure that the pit achieves the necessary compression and critical mass to initiate a nuclear chain reaction.
The pit is typically a small, spherical or ellipsoidal shell made of high-density materials such as plutonium or uranium, surrounded by a series of layers of explosive material and other components that are carefully engineered to compress the pit uniformly from all sides.
They are also subject to strict safety and security regulations to prevent theft or unauthorized use.
The production and maintenance of plutonium pits are closely monitored and controlled by the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the country’s nuclear weapons program.
What is happening in Los Alamos with plutonium pits?
Since the shutdown of the Rocky Flats Plant in 1989, the United States has not been able to fully modernize its nuclear weaponry to a great extent.
The NNSA has a plan to start up a higher count of production and innovation in its nuclear firepower, with the Los Alamos Plant being a major player, for 30 pits per year.
The goal is to reach a production capacity of 80 war reserve plutonium pits on a yearly basis. For this project, the NNSA also has taken the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina back into use, to produce 50 of these pits per year.
How does this affect the price of plutonium?
The production of plutonium pits may have an impact on the price of plutonium, but it is not the only factor that affects it. Plutonium pits are a key component of nuclear weapons, and their production requires the use of significant amounts of plutonium.
If the demand for nuclear weapons increases, the demand for plutonium pits and plutonium may also increase, leading to a rise in prices. Similarly, if the supply of plutonium is limited or if there are geopolitical tensions that could affect the supply chain, prices may also rise.
The current situation and tensions globally will allow the demand for nuclear to be heightened and could cause a spike in pricing. However, the production of plutonium pits itself may not have a direct impact on the price of plutonium if there is already a surplus of plutonium available in the market.
In such case, the production of new pits could even increase the supply of plutonium, leading to a potential decrease in prices.