Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan’s April 9 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee regarding plutonium infrastructure and pit production, summarized by the Los Alamos Monitor on April 18, contained errors, lacked context and should be clarified.
McMillan’s remarks create the impression that a) it is necessary to build expensive new pit production facilities at LANL sooner rather than later (or never), and b) LANL should create all, not just some, of the analytical chemistry (AC) necessary for large pit production campaigns. In McMillan’s view, NNSA should ignore existing plutonium labs elsewhere in the nuclear weapons complex, which might provide cost-effective expansion space if needed, in favor of building additional new space at LANL.
McMillan exaggerates the risk of shipping very small analytical chemistry (AC) samples of plutonium to other sites, and assumes shipment would be done through commercial vendors. Such shipments are routine today and believed safe. Risks could be mitigated further if desired, and in any case small shipments need not be done (and have not always been done) commercially.