McLEAN, Va. — The relationship between the U.S. energy and defense departments is the best it's been in years, according to a man tasked with ensuring, securing and modernizing the nation's nuclear weapons.
Peter Fanta, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear matters, on Thursday suggested the Energy-Defense bond was near symbiotic, as both agencies work together to rejuvenate and improve the nuclear stockpile – and do so quickly.
"I would say that it's, I will reiterate what Charlie Verdon said, that this is the best we have seen, probably, he says ever," Fanta said, mentioning one of the National Nuclear Security Administration's defense leaders. "He's got a lot more history in this complex than I do, but it's certainly the best that we've seen in any time that we can go back into the recent books."
Spoke one-on-one for a few minutes with Charles Verdon, NNSA’s (@NNSANews) deputy adminstrator for defense programs.— Colin Demarest (@demarest_colin) December 12, 2019
Asked about 80PPY, and why 80, Verdon said:
-It’s the “prudent approach”
-A response to estimated future need
-Confronts aging issues@aikenstandard #nuclear
"Why?" Fanta continued, responding to questions asked by the Aiken Standard. "Because we both have the same idea. We're out of time. We have to start, we have to get moving. And we have to make trades between our two organizations to get to the strong deterrent that we both strive for."
Fanta's comments, made at the Nuclear Modernization Seminar, come at a time when the federal government is angling to jumpstart the production of nuclear weapon cores or triggers known as plutonium pits.
At least 80 pits per year are needed by 2030, according to various officials and the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, a leading Pentagon nuclear policy document.
Last year, the Defense Department and the NNSA, part of the Energy Department, jointly recommended producing pits in both South Carolina and New Mexico. A majority would be produced in Aiken's backyard — at the Savannah River Site, at a reworked Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility. The remainder, at least 30 per year, would be made at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The multibillion-dollar MOX project was axed in October 2018.
In mid-August, the Nuclear Weapons Council visited the Savannah River Site and was briefed on the plutonium pit endeavor. Fanta's office supports the council, which was established to, among other things, interface energy and defense projects.
Talks between the two departments are frequent and helpful, Fanta said Thursday.
Earlier this year at the Nuclear Deterrence Summit, Fanta emphasized that the DOE and the DOD are on the same page: "You're not going to see a disconnect between what we're saying and what they're saying." At the time, he joked that if you're looking for divisiveness, that discussion is elsewhere.