Engineers from the National Nuclear Security Administration are looking for a new place to make nuclear weapons. The U.S. is currently in the market for more plutonium cores, which trigger nuclear warheads, but first they need to settle on a manufacturing site.
The work could be a boon for whatever area is selected. It would create hundreds of jobs and billions in federal funding that would go towards the new factory or updating an existing site.
Right now, the two options are to keep it at the Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico, where they haven't made a plutonium core since 2011, or move production to another site in South Carolina. The Savannah River Site is currently closed, but it was formerly used to make components for nuclear weapons.
According to the AP, the National Nuclear Security Administration is expected to soon release a report that names the best site for the job. The process has included a bit of controversy. According to some reports, it will cost $7.5 billion to keep making cores at Los Alamos and it wouldn't be fully operational until 2038. The Energy Department wants 80 plutonium cores a year starting in 2030.
However, officials at the lab argue that Los Alamos was almost fully operational in 2013 when safety issues suspended work. They also note that this review is just one more in a string of more than a dozen independent reviews.
According to the Center for Public Integrity, both sites have serious and persistent safety issues, which need to be remedied before manufacturing nuclear weapon triggers commence.
The site in SC doesn't have a much better track record. It was supposed to be the location for a fuel facility that was supposed to turn 34 tons of weapons-grade defense plutonium into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. But that project has been plagued by delays and cost overruns that have been the subject of several lawsuits between the state and federal government.
If no decision is made, plutonium operations will remain at Los Alamos. Now that is bureaucracy in action. No work, a lot of paper, and endless infighting.