Report: SRS tritium programs need newer facilities, more funding

Tritium operations at the Savannah River Site will require newer facilities and additional funding in order to maintain the nation’s nuclear arsenal, according to a report to Congress released this month.

The National Nuclear Security Administration said in its 2014 stockpile management plan that the 2014 budget request for weapons activities reflects a 7.6 percent increase over the fiscal year 2013 budget. It is the fourth consecutive increase in the weapons activities budget, resulting in a 28 percent increase since the 2010 budget.

“NNSA’s Tritium Readiness subprogram operates a tritium production system to maintain the required inventory by producing new tritium,” the NNSA said in the report. “Because the current inventory is larger than required, only a small amount is produced today. However, to meet future tritium inventory requirements, the rate of production must be increased.”

About 450 of the 5,640 people employed by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions are dedicated to NNSA’s tritium programs.

Tritium, a radioactive material with a half-life of 12.3 years, is an integral component of nuclear weapons and must be periodically replenished. After tritium-producing burnable absorber rods are irradiated at the Tennessee Valley Authority, they are consolidated into shipping containers and transported to the Tritium Extraction Facility at SRS, where the tritium is removed.

Gases containing tritium are then piped into the tritium loading and unloading facility, where the tritium is purified and loaded into tritium reservoirs to support the nuclear weapons stockpile. The absorber rods are then disposed of as low-level radioactive waste.

The report stated that some of the tritium facilities at SRS are old and inefficient.

“The 53-year-old, mission-critical H-Area Old Manufacturing Facility has exceeded its expected useful life and is increasingly inefficient to maintain and operate,” the report stated. “About one-third of the facility is no longer used, and it consumes the most energy of any SRS facility.”

Additionally, “multiple” support systems associated with the facility have “deteriorated beyond reasonable repair,” and others require upgrades to maintain compliance with federal regulations, according to the report.

Under Tritium Responsive Infrastructure Modifications, which is a portfolio of projects that would consolidate tritium operations, the projects would replace “sustainment of the facility” and consolidate and move all H-Area Old Manufacturing Facility operations into newer facilities.

The complete report can be viewed at http://www.nnsa.energy.gov/ourmission/managingthestockpile/ssmp.

Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012.

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