Atomic anniversary brings US nuclear official to New Mexico

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FILE - In this Aug. 6, 2019, file photo, National Nuclear Security Administration administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty talks about her agency's work to reduce global nuclear threats during a business conference in Albuquerque, N.M. Lisa Gordon-Hagerty will visit New Mexico Thursday, July 16, 2020 as part of a nationwide tour of the federal government's nuclear security operations. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The 2030 deadline set by the U.S. government to resume and ramp up production of the plutonium cores used in the nation’s nuclear arsenal is nothing short of challenging, but the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration said Wednesday she’s confident her agency can do it.

Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty spoke with The Associated Press during a stop in New Mexico. The visit coincides with the 75th anniversary of the Trinity Test, which marked the world’s first atomic explosion.

Gordon-Hagerty said much has been learned since 1945 but the fortitude of the agency’s workforce remains as pressure mounts to finish multibillion-dollar construction projects in New Mexico and South Carolina necessary for the plutonium production mission along with extensive training for technicians and other workers.

“That 2030 deadline is a big deal. In 2030, we need to be manufacturing 80 pits per year,” she said. “If we don’t make that, that only means the requirement for more pits will grow and it will cost more money."

It's been nearly a decade since the last plutonium cores were made at Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico for Navy submarine missiles. The most ever made in one year at the lab was 11.

Gordon-Hagerty said the federal government already has waited too long, noting that many of the plutonium pits that are part of the stockpile date back to the 1970s and 1980s and her agency is responsible to ensuring their safety and reliability.

“Time is not on our side. But that said, we’re not going to hurry anything, we’re going to do it right,” she said.

The work will be split between Los Alamos and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.