Nuclear Weapons Dismantlements Up 20 Percent

Press Release
Oct 1, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile dismantlements have increased by 20 percent over last fiscal year's level, according to the administrator of the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).  This feat was achieved through an increase in the productivity of the workforce and improved efficiencies in the process.

"NNSA continues to dismantle nuclear weapons in a safe and efficient manner, ensuring that they can no longer be used again," said NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino.  "These efforts reflect President Bush's goal of achieving the lowest number of nuclear weapons consistent with national security needs.

In 2004, President Bush directed that the size of the nuclear weapons stockpile be reduced nearly 50 percent by 2012.  Because this goal was met five years early, he ordered a further reduction of almost 15% by 2012.  The nuclear stockpile will then be at its lowest level since the Eisenhower era and at about one-quarter of its level at the end of the Cold War.  As the stockpile number goes down, NNSA is in charge of dismantling these retired weapons.

Dismantling nuclear weapons is a complex process that involves almost all of the sites within the nuclear weapons enterprise. First, NNSA's design labs work with the production facilities to identify and mitigate any hazards that may arise before a particular weapon type is to be dismantled. The labs are able to apply the unique knowledge they gained during the original design process for each weapon in the stockpile.

When a weapon is retired, it is brought to NNSA's Pantex Plant, where the high explosives are removed from special nuclear material, and the plutonium core is removed from the weapon. The plutonium is placed in highly secure storage at Pantex. Eventually, the excess material will be turned into fuel at the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site.

Part of the weapon then moves to the Y-12 National Security Complex where the uranium components are removed and stored. Then, other non-nuclear components are sent to the Savannah River Site (e.g., gas storage devices) and the Kansas City Plant (e.g., electrical components) for final processing.

To ensure that the special nuclear material is safe and secure during transport from site to site throughout the entire dismantlement process, NNSA relies on its Office of Secure Transportation, which assists in the timeliness of the process by ensuring that the shipments are always on-schedule.

Over the past few years, consistent with President Bush's goal of the smallest stockpile possible consistent with national security needs, NNSA made weapon dismantlements a priority.  More efficient processes and techniques have allowed rates to substantially increase.  As more retirements are announced, NNSA is able to absorb more weapons into the dismantlement queue, ensuring that the original timeline for dismantling U.S nuclear weapons is kept.

NNSA was dismantling B61 modifications 3, 4 and 7, W62s and W80s.

This dismantlement increase comes as NNSA continues to work with over 100 countries to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a separately organized agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the United States and abroad.

Media contact(s):
NNSA Public Affairs (202) 586-7371