Nicole Nelson-Jean, NNSA, Pits

Nicole Nelson-Jean spoke to the Savannah River Site – Women in Nuclear group Thursday night in Aiken. Nelson-Jean is the manager of the National Nuclear Security Administration's Savannah River Field Office.

The National Nuclear Security Administration’s Savannah River Site manager hopes the plutonium pit production mission at the site will start in the “very near future."

Nicole Nelson-Jean discussed the pit production mission briefly Thursday at a Savannah River Site – Women in Nuclear dinner. The event, in Aiken, was attended by dozens of workers with nuclear backgrounds.

Nelson-Jean described the prospective pit mission as a "wonderful, new activity" for the site. If successfully executed, pit production would be a long-term economic boon for the counties and states surrounding SRS.

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

On May 10, the NNSA and the U.S. Department of Defense together recommended repurposing Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility infrastructure for pit production. Pits are nuclear weapon cores, often referred to as triggers.

The NNSA and the DOD believe 80 pits per year – as required by federal order – can be produced in tandem effort between SRS and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

"This administration just recently came out with a new Nuclear Posture Review. Part of that Nuclear Posture Review said that we want to be resilient, we want to be responsive," Nelson-Jean said. "So part of that responsibility is ensuring that our stockpile is resilient and responsive."

Nelson-Jean – who once worked at Los Alamos and has more than 25 years of nuclear experience – said the May 10 recommendation was like a gift.

"I am excited I am here," she later added.

SRS's potential pit mission, though, is tied up in more ways than one.

The preservation of MOX – the project's jobs, funding and disposition competition – is currently being argued in both district and appeals court, and the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act has called into question the DOE's ability to install pit production at the Site.

A full review of the NNSA and the DOD's pit production analyses, which Nelson-Jean described as "extensive," is now required by law.

On top of all this, the state's congressional delegation includes a band of hardcore MOX supporters.

The NDAA is a set of laws that defines the nation's defense-related spending.

Nelson-Jean did not specifically mention MOX during her speech.

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