Gov. Henry McMaster endorses relocating pit production to SRS

March 8, 2018 GMT

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster officially supports plutonium pit production taking place at the Savannah River Site.

“I’m for it,” McMaster said Wednesday during a stop in North Augusta.

Plutonium pits are the triggers to nuclear weapons. They’re about grapefruit-sized and haven’t been produced since 2011. New pits are needed to modernize – and survive – the nation’s nuclear weapon stockpile.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, a semiautonomous U.S. Department of Energy agency, is charged with maintaining the nation’s nuclear weapons complex. The NNSA is under orders to produce 80 pits per year by 2030, and a 2017 NNSA analysis says SRS is one of two best places to do it.

Pits have historically been made at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Before that, they were made at the Rocky Flats Plant outside Denver.

The NNSA analysis outlines two SRS pit production options: build a brand new facility from the ground up, or repurpose the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, a roughly three-fourths complete weapons-grade plutonium processing plant.

McMaster is an outspoken fan of MOX – “I don’t want to repurpose MOX; I want to open MOX,” he said Wednesday – and wants a new facility built at SRS should the site be awarded the pit mission.

A new pit production facility at SRS would cost between $1.8 billion and $6.7 billion in fiscal year 2018, according to the NNSA analysis.

“It’s very important that we complete what we have begun with that MOX facility,” McMaster said. The MOX project began a decade ago.

McMaster said downblending – the NNSA-preferred alternative to MOX – is “not logical.”

McMaster’s stance on pit production tosses him into the middle of a local pro-pit herd.

The South Carolina Governor’s Nuclear Advisory Council formally sponsored relocating pit production to SRS at the end of January. SCGNAC is a nine-member organization, comprising state politicians and nuclear academics, that advises the governor on all things nuclear.

The cities of Aiken, North Augusta and New Ellenton – the municipality right outside SRS – have passed pit production resolutions of support. The Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce supports the prospective mission, as does The Aiken County Legislative Delegation.

It has been estimated 800 longterm, skilled jobs will be created by relocating pit production to SRS.

McMaster visited North Augusta on Wednesday for a cyber-related grand opening at the city’s municipal building.