LAS VEGAS -- Advocates for bringing a plutonium pit manufacturing plant to the Nevada Test Site call it the most secure of five locations being considered by the federal government to produce the triggers for nuclear weapons.
The factory, which the U.S. Department of Energy hopes to open by 2020, would employ about 1,000 people.
The Nevada Test Site northwest of Las Vegas; Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico; the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas; the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M.; and South Carolina's Savannah River Site are being considered for a $4.1 billion plant for nuclear weapons cores, called plutonium pits.
Troy Wade, chairman of the Nevada Alliance for Defense, Energy and Business, said the trade group is pushing for the factory, which he hopes would benefit the state's economy, university system and other experiments at the Nevada Test Site.
"It's high on our priority list because it's the kind of high-tech project that fits the future of the test site," Wade told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Wade said the factory could bring new technology and cutting-edge safety and environmental controls to the test site, which he called the most remote of all locations bidding for the so-called Modern Pit Facility.
U.S. pit production operations shut down in 1989 at DOE's Rocky Flats facility near Denver, and no pits have been made since. Los Alamos is developing an interim facility that could make as many as 50 pits a year by 2007.
Government officials have said that the nation's aging nuclear weapons stockpile could be jeopardized should their cores not be replaced in coming years.
To find out, some government officials have advocated resuming full-scale nuclear testing, which was halted indefinitely in 1992.
Defense Department representative Dale Klein, who visited the Nevada Test Site in August, said tests could be needed within 10 years to determine the effects of corrosion found on existing weapons.