The core of deterrence

Soon, newly manufactured plutonium pits will be used in stockpiled weapons.

By The NSS staff | April 2, 2024

Nss   Core of Deterrence   Feature With Title
Gloveboxes are essential for safely manufacturing pits. Los Alamos National Laboratory

After successfully manufacturing dozens of development (practice) plutonium pits in 2023, Los Alamos National Laboratory is on track to make its first war-reserve (stockpile-quality) pits in 2024.

A plutonium pit is the core of a nuclear weapon; when uniformly compressed by explosives inside a warhead or bomb, a pit generates incredible amounts of energy—kilotons or even megatons of explosive power.

Los Alamos’ pit production mission, commissioned by the National Nuclear Security Administration in 2019, represents an essential component of deterrence. “A nuclear deterrent is only good if it’s credible and reliable, and that’s why we’re making new pits,” says Matt Johnson, division leader for Pit Technologies at Los Alamos.

These newly manufactured pits, created using recycled plutonium from decades-old pits, will be shipped to the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas, where they will be placed in Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory–designed W87-1 warheads. Eventually, newly manufactured pits will be placed in other weapons systems as well.

“We're the only place in the nation where plutonium pits are currently made,” says Mark Davis, chief operating officer for Weapons Production at Los Alamos. “Our work here by technical experts and all the skilled staff who support them is the foundational reason that individuals like Vladimir Putin of Russia or Kim Jong Un of North Korea know our stockpile is credible and reliable, and that deters them from using their own.”

Johnson agrees, saying, “Our mission is more important than it’s ever been.” ★