The South Carolina governor and the U.S. Department of Energy under secretary for nuclear security met Wednesday and discussed matters specifically related to the Savannah River Site, according to a National Nuclear Security Administration official.
A photo of the two, Henry McMaster and Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, was posted to Twitter Wednesday morning. Gordon-Hagerty, who is the NNSA's first-in-command, in a tweet thanked the governor for his "ongoing support" of national security work done at the site, a 310-square-mile forested sprawl south of Aiken.
During their meeting, the NNSA official said, McMaster and Gordon-Hagerty spoke about plutonium pit production, the agency's efforts to remove plutonium from SRS and the Palmetto State, more broadly, and a recently unveiled multimillion-dollar workforce investment.
The context of the conversation was that continued support from McMaster – no stranger to nuclear affairs – is needed, per the official.
The governor's office on Thursday confirmed the meeting and the details of the discussion. McMaster supports pit production at the site, his spokesperson, Brian Symmes, said. The governor told Gordon-Hagerty "South Carolina will continue to do its part," Symmes said.
But, he continued, "because of the way the state has been treated in the past, the governor remains skeptical and will continue working with the legislative delegation to ensure that South Carolina does not become the world's dumping ground for nuclear waste."
Roughly 12 metric tons of surplus plutonium is currently stored at SRS, a NNSA official told the Aiken Standard in mid-May. Millions of gallons of radioactive waste are stored in underground tanks there, too.
The DOE must remove a total 1 metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium from South Carolina by 2020. In a recent court filing, the department stated it "remains confident" it will meet that deadline, which was set by a federal judge.
In May 2018, the NNSA and U.S. Department of Defense jointly recommended producing plutonium pits — nuclear weapon cores — at both SRS and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
No fewer than 80 pits per year are needed by 2030, according to the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, a leading nuclear policy document. Fifty pits per year would be produced at SRS, and 30 per year would be produced at Los Alamos, according to the joint recommendation.
Pit production at the site, per the recommendation, would cannibalize the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, an over-budget and never-completed nuclear fuel plant that the NNSA formally terminated late last year. The axing vexed numerous South Carolina officials, the governor included.
Gordon-Hagerty on Monday announced an added $5 million investment in the Workforce Opportunities in Regional Careers program, which is administered by an Aiken-area nonprofit.
The NNSA and the DOE Office of Environmental Management – the SRS landlord – have funded the WORC program a combined $1 million per year.
WORC funds support students, among other things, training in a range of SRS-applicable fields.