After a warhead is retired, NNSA is responsible for storing it until it is ready for dismantlement, dismantling it and disposing of its components. For the last three years, NNSA has dismantled weapons at a rate faster than its own goals, reaching a 112 percent dismantlement rate in 2012. All weapons retired by 2009 will be permanently eliminated by 2022.
Dismantling a nuclear weapon is a lengthy process that involves all of the facilities in NNSA’s nuclear weapons enterprise. First, the design laboratories (Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California) and the engineering lab (Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Livermore, California) work with the production facilities to identify the best dismantlement process for each weapon system and mitigate any hazards that may arise before a particular weapon type is dismantled. The unique knowledge gained during the original design of the weapon is critical to ensuring that it is safely dismantled and disposed of.
Once the weapon is retired and designated for dismantlement, it is first brought to the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas. Pantex is responsible for assembling and disassembling nuclear warheads. During dismantlement, the high explosives are removed from special nuclear material – highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium – and disposed of on site. Non-nuclear components are either processed on site or sent to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina (gas reservoirs) and the Kansas City Plant in Missouri (electrical and mechanical components) for final processing and ultimate disposal.
The weapon’s secondary system is shipped to the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., for dismantlement. HEU removed from those systems is stored at NNSA’s new, state-of-the-art secure storage facility at Y-12 until it is used as fuel for the U.S. Navy’s submarine and aircraft carrier nuclear reactors, processed for use in lifetime extension programs (LEP) for other weapons systems or declared surplus and ultimately disposed of. Plutonium pits will be also be disassembled and eliminated. See NNSA’s dismantlement flow.
FY 2012 achievements
In FY 2012, NNSA achieved 112 percent of its required weapons dismantlements at Pantex. NNSA successfully dismantled a number of B61 and B83-0/1 bombs and W76-0, W80-0, W84 and W78 warheads. Y-12 met 100 percent of its Canned Subassembly (CSA) dismantlement requirement.
Near-term initiatives concerning dismantlement of retired warheads and bombs
Longer-term and ongoing actions to be taken include