National Nuclear Security Administration chief tours Savannah River Site on Friday

March 10, 2018 GMT

The woman heading up the upkeep, security and advancement of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex toured the Savannah River Site on Friday.

Lisa Gordon-Hagerty – who was sworn in Feb. 22 as the U.S. Department of Energy’s under secretary for nuclear security and the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration – visited several SRS facilities and introduced herself to employees and local officials.

“I promised Sen. Lindsey Graham during my confirmation hearing that I would visit the Savannah River Site to become fully acquainted with this community,” she said in a prepared statement, “and I’m happy to be here today to fulfill that promise.”

Gordon-Hagerty was accompanied by U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Ga. The NNSA administrator said SRS’s workforce is “world-class.”

Gordon-Hagerty specifically toured the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility – the currently 70-percent complete, billions-over-budget plutonium processing plant – and K-Area, an interim plutonium storage complex.

K-Area is the target of a potential $60 million injection related to plutonium disposition, according to DOE fiscal year 2019 budget request documents. The money, if appropriated, would fund the pursuit of downblending, a MOX alternative that involves mixing plutonium with inert material and burying it elsewhere.

The DOE fiscal year 2019 budget request moves to terminate MOX.

Gordon-Hagerty has said she is a supporter of downblending – also known as dilute-and-dispose. In February, during a U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Gordon-Hagerty said she is anti-MOX. This became a major point of contention.

A visit-related press release states Gordon-Hagerty was involved in a “discussion on the dilute and dispose option” on Friday.

Gordon-Hagerty is one of three high-profile SRS visitors in the past two months: U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry spent two days at SRS at the beginning of February, and DOE Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar toured last week.

Gordon-Hagerty’s visit on Friday comes at an opportune time. The NNSA is currently debating where to conduct its industrial-scale plutonium pit production mission: Los Alamos National Laboratory, where it’s been for some time; or SRS, where it could repurpose the MOX building or require a new structure, according to the NNSA.

Pits are grapefruit-sized nuclear weapon triggers.

During her confirmation hearings, Gordon-Hagerty said jolting pit production back to life – no weapons-usable pits have been produced since 2011 – is her “No. 1 priority.”

“We do need to have a robust program to ensure that we can make pits, more reserve pits,” Gordon-Hagerty said.