The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) confirmed in October 2007 that it had achieved a 146 percent increase in dismantled nuclear weapons over the previous year's rate, and almost tripling its goal of a 49 percent annual increase. Under a presidential directive issued in 2004, the NNSA is tasked with reducing the nation's stockpile of operative nuclear weapons to one-quarter of its size at the end of the Cold War by 2012.
How to Take a Nuke Apart: Taking a nuclear weapon apart takes far longer than putting one together.
- Before they even start taking a nuclear weapon apart, the NNSA must identify and mitigate any environmental hazards associated with the particular weapon's radioactive components that may not have been known when it was built over 40 years ago. Once these safety concerns are satisfied, NNSA proceeds as follows:
- The retired weapon is brought to NNSA’s Pantex Plant, where the high explosives and nuclear material are separated, and the plutonium core is removed from the weapon. The plutonium is placed in highly secure storage at Pantex. Eventually, the excess material will be turned into fuel at the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site, now under construction.
- Part of the weapon then moves to the Y-12 National Security Complex where the uranium components are removed. Then, other non-nuclear components are sent to the Savannah River Site (e.g., gas storage devices) and the Kansas City Plant (e.g., electrical components) for final processing.
- To ensure that the special nuclear material is safe and secure during transport from site to site throughout the entire dismantleling process, NNSA relies on its Office of Secure Transportation, which assists in the timeliness of the process by ensuring that the shipments are always on-schedule.
For more information on how the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile is being taken apart, see: NNSA's Warhead Dismantlement Process (.pdf).