Pending Congressional approval, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory may soon begin production of a new generation of nuclear warheads.

On Friday, the Bush administration announced that it chose the University of California-managed LLNL and Lockheed Martin-managed Sandia National Laboratories’ design for what they describe as a safer, more reliable warhead. LLNL’s design trumped one submitted by the also UC-managed Los Alamos National Laboratory.

According to an LLNL press release, all three labs will work on the new warheads, which may be ready as soon as 2012. The lab has not produced or tested nuclear weapons since the early ’90s; it has focused instead on stockpile stewardship – reliability testing and maintenance of the already existing warheads.

Nuclear nonproliferation groups and some members of Congress, such as California Senator Dianne Feinstein, are concerned that the move to replenish the nuclear stockpile may send the wrong message to countries like North Korea, with whom the U.S. is negotiating disarmament, and Iran, who may want to begin weapons production.

In addition, because the government does not want to test the new weapons, opponents argue that the new stockpile may not really be reliable.