SRS Sign, Ike White, Plutoniumg

The Savannah River Site, a 310 square-mile complex, is located south of Aiken.

One metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium slated for removal from the Savannah River Site – and the state of South Carolina as a whole – is integral to the national security enterprise, according to National Nuclear Security Administration Chief of Staff William "Ike" White.

"This material will ultimately be used for vital national security missions and is not waste," reads a Nov. 20 letter written by White. The letter was sent to government officials in Nevada.

White, at another point in the letter, described the weapons-grade plutonium as "mission-essential."

The SRS-located plutonium is expected to go to Texas "and/or" Nevada and then New Mexico, according to a 50-page environmental analysis issued by the NNSA in July.

More specifically, the plutonium is scheduled to go to the Pantex Plant and the Nevada National Security Site for staging, according to the NNSA assessment. It would then be sent to Los Alamos National Laboratory for defense – nuclear stockpile – integration.

White reiterated that plan in his Nov. 20 letter, offering few fresh details.

"We will keep you updated on our progress as the pit production mission moves forward," White wrote.

The plutonium removal plans are the product of a lawsuit filed by South Carolina and a resultant injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs in December 2017.

Earlier this year, in response to questions posed by the Aiken Standard, a NNSA spokesperson said the agency was "actively working" to get the plutonium out of the state.

Nevada, though, is now suing the DOE to prevent the plutonium from being brought there.

Both Nevada's complaint and a related request for a preliminary injunction were filed Nov. 30. The legal action is being led by the state's attorney general, Adam Laxalt.

White's letter was included in documents collated for the new lawsuit. Letters from Nevada leaders – at least one of which prompted White's response – are included in the court filings, as well.

The NNSA is a semiautonomous U.S. Department of Energy agency in charge of the nation's nuclear complex and related nonproliferation.

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