Pit production may bring jobs, investment to region

The National Nuclear Security Administration is under orders to bring America’s nuclear weapons program up to date. This will include the production of 80 plutonium pits per year, the grapefruit-sized triggers for nuclear weapons. An NNSA-conducted analysis says the goal is reachable by either rebuilding the Los Alamos lab or relocating pit production to the Savannah River Site (SRS).

 

Through the combined efforts of Aiken County Council, the Aiken Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Partnership, and the Savannah River Site Community Reuse Organization, pit production at SRS has gained the support of South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster and the Aiken County legislative delegation as well as local governments in the Aiken-Augusta area.

 

Community support is one of the many factors being looked at during the process of determining the mission’s location. The Aiken Chamber of Commerce board of directors met Feb. 15 and pledged their support of locating pit production at SRS.

The following is a summary of the anticipated economic impact and the pit production mission.

 

Economic Impact 

  • Value of investment at SRS could range from $1.4 billion to $6.7 billion per the Analysis of Alternatives.
  • Estimated number of high paying jobs supporting operations ranges from 800 to 1,200.
  • This mission will transfer a fading knowledge base and skill set to a new generation.

America depends on SRS for nuclear weapons

  •  The Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) and the Tritium Facilities at the Savannah River Site (SRS) play a critical role in America’s nuclear deterrence. 
  • SRS currently provides for the safe packaging, transportation, and storage of nuclear materials previously loaned to foreign countries for research. 
  • SRNL supports additional programs through advanced research and development of materials, diagnostics and cyber security.

 

“Pits” provide energy for thermonuclear weapons

  •  Pits are precisely shaped structures made from plutonium and uranium.  
  • Manufacturing pits requires a high level of expertise in nuclear materials chemistry and the shaping and handling of special nuclear materials.  
  • Once manufactured, the pits are shipped to a facility where they’re assembled into a functional device.

 

Dedicated facility needed

  •  The manufacturing facility at Rocky Flats (near Denver, CO) previously produced pits.  
  • When Rocky Flats closed in the 1990s, the equipment was moved to a research facility (called PF4) at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.  
  • PF4 hasn’t demonstrated the capability to consistently and reliably produce pits.  
  • Los Alamos hasn’t successfully produced a pit since 2011.

 

80 pits per year are required

 

  • America requires the capability to produce 80 pits per year by 2030.  
  • The PF4 facility can, at best, produce 30 pits per year and will be nearly 60 years old in 2030.  
  • Therefore, a new facility is needed to achieve 80 pits per year.

 

Analysis of Alternatives 

 

  • The Analysis of Alternative recently prepared by the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) evaluated 41 options for siting and constructing a dedicated pit manufacturing facility.
  • The leading options were (a) a new facility at Los Alamos, (b) a new facility at SRS, or (c) repurposing the MOX facility at SRS.  
  • If the current MOX project is terminated by Congress, repurposing MOX presents a potential cost and schedule savings over new construction at either site.
  • But ideally, South Carolina would benefit the most from completing both the MOX and Pit Production facilities.

 

SRS is the best location for this mission

 

  • SRS has the capability, skills, security, production experience, and decades-long safety and environmental protection records necessary to perform pit production.
  • SRNL has core competency in actinide chemistry and a long history of directly supporting plutonium operations at SRS.
  • Pit Production may offer a potential disposition path for a portion of the plutonium currently stored at SRS.
  • Continued long-term SRS programs are a vital part of our regional economic base, and Pit Production represents an enduring mission.
  • The communities around SRS are proud of their contributions and want to continue playing a major role in meeting America’s national security needs.

 

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