U.S. Sen. Tim Scott ‘skeptical’ of NNSA plans to bring pit production to SRS

November 30, 2018

The junior senator from South Carolina is leery of the National Nuclear Security Administration ’s ability to successfully instate plutonium pit production at the Savannah River Site.

During a Thursday nomination hearing for the NNSA’s potential second-in-command, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican, said he was “skeptical” of the agency’s pit production plans and follow-through.

His skepticism, he explained, stems from the NNSA’s “inconsistent track record with major projects.” That track record includes the now-terminated Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, which he deemed during the hearing a “loss.”

The NNSA – a semiautonomous U.S. Department of Energy agency that oversees the nation’s nuclear outfit – terminated the MOX project at SRS on Oct. 10. MOX, designed to transform weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel, was more than a decade in the making and noticeably over-budget.

Full MOX cancellation came five months after the NNSA and the U.S. Department of Defense jointly recommended recapitalizing MOX for an enduring plutonium pit production mission.

Plutonium pits are nuclear weapon cores. The NNSA and the DOD aim to produce 80 pits per year – by 2030 – between the site and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

While William Bookless, the NNSA No. 2 nominee being questioned Thursday, told Scott he was not privy to the exact SRS pit realization plans, he did say the tandem approach is the only way to satisfy the 2030 pit production goal.

“I believe that the resiliency provided by having a second pit production site will be a very important part of our ability to be both agile and responsive for the future of the stockpile,” Bookless said, answering an earlier line of questioning from U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat.

Pits have most recently been produced at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the plutonium science and production center of excellence. Before that, pits were made at the Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado. Bookless mentioned both locales by name during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Reed stressed the importance of pit production in general, describing it as a “critical national issue.” U.S. Sen. David Perdue during the hearing corralled pit production buildout into a group of “hugely important infrastructure projects.”

Perdue – who said he greatly cares about the health of SRS – is a Republican who represents next-door Georgia.

The two-site pit production expansion is markedly vulnerable to timetable, construction and resource risks, according to documents obtained by the Aiken Standard in May.

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