Aiken leaders met with NNSA’s chief, discussed pit production at SRS

March 15, 2018

Three major players in Aiken-area leadership met with the National Nuclear Security Administration ’s newly sworn-in leader last Friday.

Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon, Aiken County Council Chairman Gary Bunker and state Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, met with Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration Lisa Gordon-Hagerty before her tour of the Savannah River Site.

U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Ga., accompanied Gordon-Hagerty on her actual tour. She visited the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility and K-Area specifically, according to NNSA information.

Before the tour, though, Osbon, Bunker, Young and Gordon-Hagerty discussed several things – including the relocation of pit production to SRS.

“We did talk about pit production and tried to find out where that decision was,” Osbon said Wednesday.

Plutonium pits are grapefruit-sized nuclear weapon triggers. No new weapons-usable pits have been produced since 2011, and the NNSA is under orders to produce 80 pits per year by 2030.

Pits have, most recently, been produced at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Previous to that, pits were made at the Rocky Flats Plant near Denver.

A 2017 NNSA analysis named SRS a top-two contender for the modernized – and politically deemed necessary – pit production mission, either by way of a new facility or a repurposed MOX building.

Both Osbon and Bunker said their meeting with Gordon-Hagerty was introductory and, essentially, informal. It was productive, though, Osbon said.

Bunker said pit production at SRS was addressed because “that’s the big thing.”

The cities of Aiken, North Augusta and New Ellenton have all passed pro-pit production resolutions, as have the Aiken County Council and the Aiken County Legislative Delegation. The Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce formally supports the potential mission. The South Carolina Governor’s Nuclear Advisory Council is backing it and so is the Savannah River Site Community Reuse Organization.

Bringing pit production to SRS – bringing a major national security production mission to an otherwise active cleanup site – would install approximately 800 longterm jobs at the Site, according to several expert estimates.

The recently passed resolutions of support, Osbon and Bunker concur the area’s workforce is prepared for such a mission: Osbon said the workforce here has six decades of experience, and Bunker said they made sure to “point out” the “level of support we’ve had.” Young reinforced these points in a Wednesday letter to Gordon-Hagerty.

“Generations of citizens in our two-state region helped to win the Cold War,” Young wrote.

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., and Allen praised the South Carolina-Georgia workforce when U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry toured SRS at the beginning of February.

“We’ve had just a very unified front in regards to wanting pit production,” Bunker said.

Osbon believes Gordon-Hagerty is “clearly aware” of what SRS and its workers have accomplished.

“I think we have a real opportunity with the pit production,” Osbon said, adding that the NNSA chief did not betray any information regarding which location – SRS or Los Alamos National Laboratory, according to NNSA documents – will be selected.

“At a meeting like that, we certainly don’t get commitments,” Bunker said.

On Wednesday, Gordon-Hagerty told a U.S. Senate Armed Services subcommittee that a followup analysis of pit production locations is in its final stages. Gordon-Hagerty told U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., she would soon be meeting with the U.S. Department of Defense for that very reason.

The NNSA chief said SRS, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Rocky Flats Plant personnel are involved with the followup study.