The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is considering a radical restructuring of its nuclear weapons mission at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, including moving some work to another location.
Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, administrator of the semiautonomous Department of Energy agency, said she must at least consider winding down certain operations at the Aiken, S.C., campus due to a June 7 federal court ruling that stopped the NNSA from turning the site’s Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility — an unfinished plutonium disposal plant — into a factory for fissile nuclear-warhead cores called plutonium pits.
That is according to an internal memo obtained Tuesday by Weapons Complex Morning Briefing. In it, Gordon-Hagerty said the court’s decision imperiled the NNSA’s ability to produce at least 80 plutonium pits a year by 2030, as the Donald Trump administration requested in February in its 2018 Nuclear Posture Review.
“In light of this injunction, NNSA must reevaluate the viability to execute enduring missions at the Savannah River Site,” Gordon-Hagerty wrote in a memo, dated June 29, to the manager of the NNSA Savannah River Field Office.
Gordon-Hagerty directed a “working group,” comprising officials at Savannah River and NNSA headquarters in Washington, to study at least three options for retooling the NNSA’s weapons mission at Savannah River.
One option is giving the Savannah River Site’s mission to process tritium — an essential feedstock for thermonuclear weapons that is critical to ongoing and future arsenal-modernization programs — to the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., or some other NNSA site. The agency’s contract with Y-12 prime Consolidated Nuclear Security allows it to transfer the tritium mission to Tennessee. The Fluor-led Savannah River Nuclear Solutions oversees the work now at Savannah River, under a separate DOE contract.
The other two options for study are: the NNSA taking over management of the entire Savannah River Site from DOE’s Office of Environmental Management office, which has a substantial Cold War nuclear-cleanup mission in Aiken; and creating a separate contract for all NNSA work at the site, including weapons and nonproliferation operations.
Gordon-Hagerty wants the working group to give her an interim briefing on these options by Sept. 27, and a final briefing by Dec. 14, according to the memo.