A facility planned for the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico could produce more nuclear-warhead cores while generating less transuranic waste than the plutonium pit factory planned at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, according to environmental documents published this year by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).
The agency aims to manufacture 80 weapon-usable pits per year by 2030, nominally casting 30 of those annually at Los Alamos and 50 at Savannah River. The New Mexico facility would start production at 10 per year in 2024 and ramp up to 30 annually by 2026.
After 2026, according to a draft supplement analysis published Tuesday, Los Alamos would continue bolstering the Plutonium Facility (PF-4) so it could “surge” pit production up to 80 pits a year — at least for a “short term.” In that surge capacity, PF-4 would annually generate a combined total of roughly 400 cubic yards (about 305 cubic meters) of transuranic and mixed-transuranic waste, according to the supplement analysis.
The planned Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility (SRPPF), on the other hand, would generate three times as much waste, even while making only 50 pits a year, according to a separate pit-related environmental review published in January.
The SRPPF would annually generate about 1,365 cubic yards (or almost 1,045 cubic meters) of transuranic waste by producing 50 pits. That is more than three times the volume of transuranic waste PF-4 would generate in a surge.
Transuranic waste refers to waste containing chemical elements heavier than uranium, often plutonium. Mixed transuranic waste is transuranic waste mingled with solid hazardous waste.
It was not immediately clear why Los Alamos appeared able to best Savannah River’s pit output by 60% while at the same time generating a much lower volume of transuranic waste.
An NNSA spokesperson declined on Wednesday to comment on the estimates in the two environmental documents, but did say that the supplement analysis for Los Alamos “is a draft subject to revision, not a final document. Questions raised about the draft document will be considered before the final document is prepared and answers to those questions will be provided at that time.”