SRS Sign, Pit and MOX funding

An entrance to the Savannah River Site, which is located south of Aiken. Savannah River Nuclear Solutions is the SRS management and operations contractor.

About $95 million is expected to be used for conceptual plutonium pit production design at the Savannah River Site, a task led by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, a National Nuclear Security Administration senior spokesperson told the Aiken Standard on Thursday.

The money comes from the NNSA's plutonium sustainment program in the fiscal year 2019 budget.

Once the NNSA selected and funded SRNS for the preliminary work, the management and operations contractor "mobilized" teams to tackle the development of the potential "Savannah River Pit Production Plant" as well as the transition of the waning Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, an SRNS spokesperson said mid-January.

The conceptual design work – done with the help of "plutonium experts" from Los Alamos National Laboratory and "other sites," the NNSA senior spokesperson noted Thursday – will inform future decisions and funding, the SRNS spokesperson has said.

"The preliminary plans SRNS is developing show how we will make use of SRS's expertise, existing facilities and infrastructure to start up and carry out this important work, which builds on the site's historical service to the nation's nuclear security," the SRNS spokesperson said at the time.

The NNSA provided the SRS lead contractor a separate $40 million to support MOX termination and transition "activities," the NNSA senior spokesperson said.

SRNS submitted its MOX transition plan on Dec. 21, 2018, according to a same-day NNSA statement.

No less than 80 plutonium pits per year are needed by 2030, according to the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. Plutonium pits are nuclear weapon cores, often referred to as triggers.

To meet that modernizing requirement and looming deadline, the NNSA and U.S. Department of Defense in May 2018 together recommended producing 50 pits a year at SRS and another 30 pits a year at Los Alamos, the nation's plutonium science and production center of excellence.

Pit production at SRS would require a major rework of the incomplete MOX facility, according to the joint recommendation. On Oct. 10, 2018, the NNSA delivered MOX termination notices to project contractors and guarantors. The termination was effective immediately.

The next significant pit production buildout milestone will come when the deputy secretary of energy, currently Dan Brouillette, selects a preferred approach.

"The timeline depends on the appropriation of funds, and we will work closely with Congress on this national security imperative," the spokesperson continued. "NNSA remains committed to achieving the Department of Defense's requirement for at least 80 pits per year by 2030."

Missing the 2030 mark would result in higher costs and a greater demand for pits, according to the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review.

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

SRNS is a Fluor-led company with partners Newport News Nuclear and Honeywell International.

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