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Pictured is K-Area at the Savannah River Site, about 30 minutes south of Aiken.

Work to dispose of plutonium at the Savannah River Site's K-Area recently began again, a restart on the heels of an outage that allowed for "extensive upgrades," according to a contractor and the U.S. Department of Energy. 

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions employees started downblending plutonium in K-Area – a retrofitted reactor complex where metric tons of plutonium are kept – in 2017. The operation was suspended in 2019 to make improvements which, alongside added shifts and staff, will expedite the removal of the dangerous metal from South Carolina, the Energy Department said.

"They accomplished an extensive amount of work in a short amount of time to ensure we could expedite the Department of Energy's missions and remove plutonium from the state," Savannah River Nuclear Solutions President and CEO Stuart MacVean said in a statement. "All of this work has been and will continue to be performed safely, by employees with the know-how and dedication to make it happen."

Some of the work was done during the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has stunted operations at the Savannah River Site, about 30 minutes south of Aiken. The downblending outage consisted of three phases; phase two comprised the largest workload.

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions is the top contractor at the Savannah River Site and oversees both nuclear cleanup and nuclear weapons endeavors. The May issue of the contractor's publication, SRNS Today, celebrated completing certain K-Area upgrades.

Downblending, sometimes referred to as dilute-and-dispose, involves mixing plutonium with an adulterant and, ultimately, shipping it to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeastern New Mexico for disposal.

Colin Demarest covers the SRS, DOE, its NNSA and government, in general. Support his crucial reporting and local journalism, in general, by subscribing. Follow Colin on Twitter: @demarest_colin.