Savannah River Site is exploring options to expand its K Area storage facility to accommodate 500 additional containers of plutonium from other nuclear weapons sites.
The plans stem from a 2007 decision by the U.S. Energy Department to consolidate surplus plutonium from three sites -- Hanford in Washington state, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
The original plan called for shipping 2,300 containers from Hanford, 96 from Los Alamos and 115 from Lawrence Livermore, said Allen Gunter, senior technical adviser for Savannah River Site's Nuclear Materials Stabilization Project.
The analysis also forecast an additional 500 containers that would be generated by -- and eventually shipped from -- the Los Alamos and Livermore laboratories "as space was available" at SRS, Mr. Gunter said.
"We are well into the program to bring that existing material here," he said, noting that the K Area storage area has adequate space for all designated plutonium shipments except the 500 extra containers.
"What is happening now is that we are working with the Office of Environmental Management and National Nuclear Security Administration to put additional storage capacity in the K area to allow us to go ahead and receive that additional material," Mr. Gunter said. "That would allow us to complete the entire objective."
The plutonium -- some in metal form and some in an oxide powder form -- is left over from decades of nuclear weapons production. By transferring the material to one location at SRS, the Energy Department expects to increase security while avoiding significant costs at all three sites.
Mr. Gunter said the work would most likely involve remodeling.
"We would be going into existing K area buildings and converting a portion of that facility into a storage vault," Mr. Gunter said. "It's kind of like taking a large closet and making it into a bathroom."
Cost estimates could be available later this year.
"We hope to have the studies completed this fiscal year, which would be about September," he said.
"Depending on the decision, we would move forward with a project, and the goal would be to complete it within two to three years. It depends on the urgency and the needs of the programs."
Plutonium stored at SRS is expected to be processed into mixed oxide fuel suitable for use in commercial reactors or disposed of through the Defense Waste Processing Facility, also located at SRS.
The ultimate objective, said Energy Department spokesman Jim Giusti, is to provide a clear disposition path that would someday take the material out of South Carolina.
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