MOX, High Flyer, Aerial (copy)

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

A newly published National Nuclear Security Administration environmental analysis provides a fresh, in-depth look at the proposed Savannah River Site plutonium pit production mission and what it would take to get it done.

Spread across the draft study's dozens of pages are details about construction, building footprints, waste disposal, potential interactions with Plant Vogtle in Georgia, and workforce requirements.

Producing plutonium pits at SRS, at least 50 per year by 2030, means renovating the terminated and never-completed Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, according to a recommendation jointly made around this time last year by the NNSA and the U.S. Department of Defense.

At least 80 pits – nuclear weapon cores – per year are needed by 2030, according to the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. The remaining 30 would be produced in New Mexico, according to the 2018 recommendation.

MOX was designed to turn a cache of defense plutonium into nuclear fuel, not pump out pits. As such, changes to its interior, as well as surrounding support facilities, would be necessary.

Updates to MOX "could" include removal of nuclear-fuel equipment and installation of pit-production equipment and the setting up of an analytical chemistry lab, per NNSA's draft study. Any new facilities would be built on land already disturbed during the construction of MOX, the draft study continues.

Repurposing the controversial plant for pits would not demand the "same level" of construction requirements as was seen during peak construction, according to the draft review. The MOX project was more than a decade in the making when it was axed late last year.

William "Ike" White, the former NNSA chief of staff, has described the MOX-to-pits switch as a "major" nuclear venture.

NNSA chief Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, during a one-on-one interview with the Aiken Standard last week, said the opportunity to build off an existing facility, MOX, puts "us decades ahead of schedule" as compared to new construction, "where we'd actually have to start building from the ground up."

The 80-pits-per-year mark is already a "high bar," she said.

"It's a high bar, I have to say that. It is absolutely a high bar," the U.S. Department of Energy under secretary for nuclear security said. "But I believe that our entire infrastructure, the investments that we're making, and the commitment of our enterprise – we can do it."

MOX has three floors and more than 400,000 square feet of available space suitable for pit production, which "would be more than sufficient," according to the NNSA draft analysis.

The site has infrastructure needed to support a pit production mission, according to the document. Any low-level radioactive or transuranic waste created during pit production would be managed by existing SRS facilities, it notes. Transuranic waste typically includes contaminated tools, protective clothing and debris. 

The draft study was pushed out by the NNSA Wednesday night. It's dated June 2019.

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