Morning Briefing - January 11, 2018
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January 11, 2018

South Carolina Local Governments Want NNSA’s Pit Mission

By Dan Leone

Local governments near the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina this week said they would be glad if the site took over manufacturing plutonium pits for the National Nuclear Security Administration.

On Tuesday, the nine-member Aiken County Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution “Supporting and Encouraging the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration’s [NNSA] Consideration of the Savannah River Site to Locate the Plutonium Pit Production Mission.”

The day before, the seven-member Aiken City Council unanimously approved a similar resolution “Supporting and Encouraging the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration to Locate the Plutonium Pit Production Mission at the Savannah River Site.”

Late last year, it leaked out that DOE’s semiautonomous NNSA was considering manufacturing pits, the fissile cores of nuclear weapons, somewhere other than the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. According to the leaked document, the NNSA could save time and money by converting the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) being built at Savannah River into a pit-production facility. The agency plans to produce 50 to 80 new pits a year by 2030 to replace aging cores in U.S. nuclear warheads.

Lawmakers from New Mexico slammed the leaked document, which they said is founded on faulty assumptions and bad math about the cost of converting MFFF, which was designed to turn plutonium into commercial reactor fuel, for pit duty.

On Monday, the mayor of the city of Aiken, Rick Osbon, framed the city’s resolution as a grass-roots effort to get South Carolina’s congressional delegation on board with moving plutonium pit production to Savannah River. So far, U.S. lawmakers from South Carolina, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R), have declined to comment on the possibility of such a shift.

Manufacturing pits at Savannah River “would provide roughly 800 long-term jobs at the site and would initially be a multi-billion investment to the site and this mission,” Osbon said in Monday’s webcast meeting. “We’ve been asked and want to participate in showing support to our congressional delegation, who will then be moving to include this in the [fiscal 2019] budget.”