WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today announced that its Pantex Plant has developed a new process and special tooling that will accelerate dismantlement of the B53 weapons system.
After being introduced into the stockpile in 1962, the B53 served a key role in the United States’ nuclear deterrent until its retirement in 1997. The bomb, built at the now-closed Burlington, Iowa, assembly plant, is one of the longest lived and highest yield nuclear weapons ever fielded. Its sheer size and weight — about the size of a mini-van and approximately 10,000 pounds — provided many challenges for the project team responsible for developing a dismantlement program that meets the requirements of NNSA’s Seamless Safety for the 21st Century (SS-21) process.
“The tooling and processes developed for the B53 dismantlement program is part of NNSA’s commitment to employing the best science and technology in the world to solve complex national security challenges,” said Brig. Gen. Garrett Harencak, NNSA Principal Assistant Deputy Administrator for Military Application. “Whether we’re securing vulnerable nuclear material around the world, ensuring the safety and reliability of our stockpile or safely dismantling weapons that are no longer needed, our dedicated engineers and researchers work every day to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our mission.”
NNSA’s SS-21 process fully integrates the weapon system with the facility, tooling, operating procedures and personnel involved in the dismantlement program to form a safe, efficient and effective operating environment. The benchmark for developing weapons assembly and disassembly processes at the plant, the SS-21 process has been incorporated into all current Pantex weapon programs. Once fully operational, the new B53 tooling and processes will allow Pantex to safely and responsibly dismantle this legacy weapon.
The project team responsible for developing this SS-21 process included representatives from B&W Pantex, NNSA, Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“We collaborated closely with the design agencies,” said Steve Young, Engineering Division manager at B&W Pantex. “A set of tooling was fabricated and delivered to Sandia joined by a team from Pantex. We worked side-by-side to ensure the process performed as designed.”
With the design and fabrication of tooling and procedures complete, the project team is expected to receive authorization to begin disassembling the B53 after NNSA completes an extensive safety review that includes approval of a Documented Safety Analysis and completion of a Nuclear Explosive Safety Study.
Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous 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.
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