Dismantlement and Disposition

Maintaining the safety, security and effectiveness of the nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing - especially at lower numbers – requires increased investments across the nuclear security enterprise.

Weapons dismantlement [1] and disposition are major parts of NNSA's stockpile work and significant elements of NNSA's effort to transform the nuclear weapons complex and stockpile.  By taking apart weapons and ensuring that they can never be used again, NNSA is playing an active role in helping the United States reduce the overall size of its nuclear weapons stockpile and ensuring that the United States meets its international nonproliferation commitments.

NNSA's dismantlement program is supporting the President's goal of reducing the stockpile.  Currently, the overall stockpile, both operationally deployed and those held in reserve, is the smallest it has been since the Eisenhower administration.

As the number of weapons in the stockpile goes down, NNSA continues the process of taking them apart.  Dismantlement and disposition work includes all activities needed to disassemble the surplus quantity of retired weapons or retired weapon components.  This includes interim staging of pits and secondaries, component characterization, surveillance testing for safety (done to ensure inherent safety features are intact prior to weapon dismantlement), reuse of material (e.g., tritium, parts) and complete disposition of retired weapons and weapon components.

Dismantling a nuclear weapon is a lengthy process that involves almost all of the facilities in NNSA's nuclear weapons complex.  First, the design laboratories work with the production facilities to identify and mitigate any hazards that may arise prior to a particular weapon type being dismantled.  They then use the unique knowledge they gained during the original design of the weapon to develop a plan to safely dismantle the weapon.  Once the weapon is retired and designated for dismantlement, it is brought to the Pantex Plant [3] where the high explosives are removed from the special nuclear material, and non-nuclear components are either processed on site or are sent to other facilities within the Enterprise.  The Y-12 National Security Complex [4] then dismantles the uranium components.  Other non-nuclear components are sent to the Savannah River Site [5] (e.g., pressure storage devices) and the Kansas City Plant [6] (e.g., electrical components) for final processing.  The Office of Secure Transportation [7] plays a key role throughout the entire process by moving the special nuclear material and classified parts between sites, ensuring that the work is completed securely and on-schedule.

Over the recent years, in anticipation of increased dismantlement requirements, NNSA made significant investments in its dismantlement infrastructure.  Investments included streamlining processes and procedures, purchasing additional tools, fixtures and hardware, and ensuring the availability of shipping and storage containers.  This work has helped NNSA to expand its capability and capacity to take apart and dispose of retired weapons.