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Russ Wellen

Russ Wellen

Posted: June 22, 2010 02:12 PM

Seed of Destruction: Nuclear 'Pits'

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THE DEPROLIFERATOR -- If a nuclear weapon is an evil fruit of the times we live in, its "pit" is like a dollop of brimstone ladled out by Satan with love from hell.

Didn't know a nuclear weapon has a pit? First, it behooves us to note that the word "pit" has a number of definitions. In fact, even when applied to fruit -- "a seed covered by a stony layer" -- it's of two faces like Janus. To humans, it's waste material to be discarded, but from a tree's point of view (on whatever level, such as cellular), it's a means of ensuring the future of its species.

The nuclear-weapons industry adopted the word "pit" for the weapon's core, which is power-packed with the varieties of uranium or plutonium isotopes capable of a warp-speed chain reaction. Yes, it's a seed for the a chain reaction. But instead of ensuring anything or anyone's continued existence, the pit instead serves as a cache for -- drum roll, please -- a seed of destruction.

Why have I brought up the subject of nuclear pits? A project for their production is pivotal to the Obama administration's plans for nuclear modernization. In a Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists piece titled Bunker mentality: Is NNSA digging itself into a hole at Los Alamos?, Greg Mello writes that "as part of the New START ratification package, the administration projects $16 billion in new warhead spending over this decade." A beneficiary of the funding, if passed by Congress, would be Los Alamos nuclear laboratory, where -- boring name alert -- the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility for producing said pits would be built for a whopping $3.4 billion.

Mello writes that, at "270,000-square-foot" the new facility "would add only 22,500-square-feet of additional plutonium processing and lab space to [Los Alamos's] existing 59,600-square-feet of comparable space." It "works out to $151,000 per square foot, or $1,049 per square inch." Holy (watch your tax dollars go up in) smoke!

"But why make pits at all?" Mello asks.

Aside from the many potent reasons to steadily diminish a reliance on nuclear weapons . . . there is already a surfeit of backup pits [which] will last for many decades to come. [Nor is there a] shortage of space to make pits, either at [Los Alamos] or nationwide. ... Were [the new facility] in place, [it] would increase production capacity to an even more absurd level. ... Every aspect of the . . . project, from the mission itself to the practicality of the building design, should be questioned far more deeply than Congress has done to date.
The Obama administration is making generous concessions to the nuclear industry presumably, as alluded to above, to win votes from Republicans on the new START treaty and other disarmament measures, however tepid. In fact, one can't help but wonder if the administration and conservatives have committed themselves to cooperation (respectable speak for "conspiracy'') in finding ways to keep the "nuclear-industrial complex" humming along, if at a diminished velocity from its heyday in the fifties to eighties.

 

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