By Colin Demarest
A proposed production complex at the Savannah River Site could by itself satisfy the looming military demand for plutonium pits — nuclear weapon cores — if circumstances so required, according to a new National Nuclear Security Administration review.
Repurposing the failed, multibillion-dollar Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility and surrounding support buildings would enable the production of a minimum “50 pits per year, with a surge capacity up to 80 pits per year,” the draft environmental impact statement, published this month, reads.
Federal law requires the production of 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030 — a tight schedule and aggressive deadline, officials have acknowledged, given that the U.S. has for years lacked a stout ability to make the nuclear weapon cores.
[…]The last place pits were produced in great volume, the Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado, was raided by the FBI decades ago and was subsequently shuttered. Between 1952 and 1989, the installation near Denver pumped out thousands of pits.
In May 2018, the National Nuclear Security Administration — a weapons- and nonproliferation-focused arm of the U.S. Department of Energy — and the U.S. Department of Defense together recommended jumpstarting plutonium pit production in two states: South Carolina and New Mexico.
Fifty pits per year, they jointly counseled, would be made at the Savannah River Site, at a MOX turned Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility. The remaining pits, 30, would be made at an improved Los Alamos National Laboratory, a plutonium center of excellence near Albuquerque and Santa Fe.