Final Dismantlement Work Completed on Two Major Nuclear Weapons Systems

Press Release
Mar 20, 2007
NNSA's Y-12 National Security Completes Work on W56 and Two Types of B61s

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Continuing its efforts to reduce the size of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced that uranium components from two major nuclear weapons systems formerly deployed on U.S. Air Force missiles and aircraft have been dismantled at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, TN. 

Y-12 workers successfully dismantled the last remaining piece of the W56, a nuclear warhead associated with the Minuteman II Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, and also completed the dismantling of two modifications of the B61, a strategic nuclear bomb.

"The President is committed to having the smallest nuclear weapons stockpile necessary for national security needs.  The final dismantlement of these two types of Cold War-era weapons components clearly demonstrates our dedication to reducing the size of the nuclear stockpile," said Thomas P. D'Agostino, NNSA's acting administrator.

In 2004, President Bush directed that the size of the nuclear weapons stockpile be reduced nearly 50 percent by 2012, which would result in the smallest stockpile since the Eisenhower administration.  NNSA's work to dismantle nuclear weapons is planned to increase by nearly 50 percent from fiscal year 2006 to fiscal year 2007.

Because of the President's direction to reduce the stockpile, Y-12 was faced with the difficult task of dramatically increasing its component dismantlement rate in order to meet NNSA's overall dismantlement of retired weapons.  By redesigning and streamlining its dismantlement process and redefining procedures and requirements, Y-12 has significantly increased its pace and rate of dismantlement activities.

"These two achievements mark the first time in recent history that Y-12 has dismantled multiple nuclear weapons components in the same fiscal year – this is a tremendous achievement and one that Y-12 should be proud of," said D'Agostino.  "It is important that we take apart and safely dispose of the weapons that we don't need any more.  Dismantlements help us to reduce security and storage costs."

Safely dismantling nuclear weapons is a key part of NNSA's national security mission.  The work is first performed at NNSA's Pantex Plant to separate the high explosives from the special nuclear material.  Y-12's role is to finish the process by dismantling the uranium components and processing the resulting material.

The dismantlement process includes four steps: retiring a weapon from active or inactive service; returning and storing it; taking it apart by physically separating the high explosives from the special nuclear material; and processing the resulting material and components, which includes demilitarization, reuse, declassification, recycling, and ultimate disposal. 

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 U.S. and abroad.

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