Los Alamos’s New Project: Updating America’s Aging Nuclear Weapon

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During World War II, “Los Alamos was the perfect spot for the U.S. government’s top-secret Manhattan Project,” remembers the Associated Press.

The community is facing growing pains again, 80 years later, as Los Alamos National Laboratory takes part in the nation’s most ambitious nuclear weapons effort since World War II.”
The mission calls for modernizing the arsenal with droves of new workers producing plutonium cores — key components for nuclear weapons. Some 3,300 workers have been hired in the last two years, with the workforce now topping more than 17,270. Close to half of them commute to work from elsewhere in northern New Mexico and from as far away as Albuquerque, helping to nearly double Los Alamos’ population during the work week… While the priority at Los Alamos is maintaining the nuclear stockpile, the lab also conducts a range of national security work and research in diverse fields of space exploration, supercomputing, renewable energy and efforts to limit global threats from disease and cyberattacks…

The headline grabber, though, is the production of plutonium cores. Lab managers and employees defend the massive undertaking as necessary in the face of global political instability. With most people in Los Alamos connected to the lab, opposition is rare. But watchdog groups and non-proliferation advocates question the need for new weapons and the growing price tag… Aside from pressing questions about the morality of nuclear weapons, watchdogs argue the federal government’s modernization effort already has outpaced spending predictions and is years behind schedule. Independent government analysts issued a report earlier this month that outlined the growing budget and schedule delays.
“A hairline scratch on a warhead’s polished black cone could send the bomb off course…” notes an earlier article.

“The U.S. will spend more than $750 billion over the next 10 years replacing almost every component of its nuclear defenses, including new stealth bombers, submarines and ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles in the country’s most ambitious nuclear weapons effort since the Manhattan Project.”

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