MOX, High Flyer, Aerial (copy)

An aerial view of the mothballed Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, which is located at the Savannah River Site.

The U.S. Department of Energy's semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration will on Monday publish an official notice of intent to study the environmental impact of plutonium pit production at the Savannah River Site, another step forward for the proposed weapons-oriented mission.

The NNSA will prepare an assessment – formally known as an Environmental Impact Statement – for production of at least 50 plutonium pits per year at a reworked Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, an incomplete venture that was terminated late last year.

Plutonium pits are nuclear weapon cores.

The NNSA will also take a supplemental look at the nuclear-complex-wide environmental impact of producing 80 plutonium pits per year.

There will be a public-comment period, and a public meeting will be held in Aiken later this month.

An NNSA official confirmed the matters to the Aiken Standard on Thursday.

At least 80 pits per year are needed by 2030, according to the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, a leading nuclear policy document.

The NNSA, which already operates at the site, and the U.S. Department of Defense in May 2018 recommended producing 50 pits per year at a refurbished MOX facility. The remaining 30 pits per year would be produced at a beefed up Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, per the same recommendation.

The two-pronged approach – South Carolina and New Mexico – has come under congressional fire during recent budget hearings.

The Defense Department's desire for production assurances and fallbacks directly influenced last year's recommendation, which was certified by the Nuclear Weapons Council.

"DOD stood up and said, 'We've looked at your alternatives, and we believe there is value in having two sites,'" Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters Peter Fanta said during a brief interview with the Aiken Standard in February.

Colin Demarest is the government and Savannah River Site reporter with the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin