SRS Sign, Pit Meeting, Preview

The Savannah River Site is a 310-square-mile nuclear complex located south of Aiken.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Energy, will study the environmental impacts of the proposed Savannah River Site plutonium pit production mission, and the public is welcome to officially comment on the matter Thursday.

That night, the NNSA is holding a public meeting, during which attendees can speak their mind regarding the pit production environmental study, its scope and its considerations. Comments made or submitted will be recorded.

The meeting – at the North Augusta Community Center, 495 Brookside Ave. – begins at 5 p.m. and ends at 9 p.m. The NNSA will give a brief presentation at 6 p.m., according to a June 10 public notice, and posters explaining the review process will be set up.

At least 80 plutonium pits, nuclear weapon cores, are needed per year by 2030, according to the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, a leading nuclear policy document. The pits will be used in a wider weapons-refreshing program, officials have said. But critics have called the need, among other things, into question.

In May 2018, the NNSA and the U.S. Department of Defense together recommended producing 50 pits per year at SRS by 2030; the remaining 30 per year would be produced at a bolstered Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

NNSA officials have acknowledged the tight timeline for an undertaking of this magnitude. Some members of Congress remain wary.

Pit production at SRS, according to the joint recommendation, requires recapitalizing the terminated – and never completed – Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility.

The NNSA formally axed the over-budget MOX project on Oct. 10, 2018. MOX was meant to turn 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, a tranche defined in an agreement between the U.S. and Russia, into fuel for commercial reactors.

The NNSA – in charge of the nation's nuclear outfit and related nonproliferation – is reviewing pit production at MOX because it has "not previously been analyzed," according to a June 7 statement from the semi-autonomous agency.

Written comments on the scope of the environmental study, requests to be placed on a distribution list and questions about the overall process should be sent to: Ms. Jennifer Nelson, NEPA document manager, National Nuclear Security Administration Savannah River Field Office, P.O. Box A, Aiken, SC 29802. Comments or questions can also be emailed to NEPA-SRS@srs.gov.

The NNSA also plans to study the environmental implications of the larger 80-pits-per-year mission.

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