Efficiency push could shift control of tritium program away from SRS

A reorganization of the nation's nuclear weapons program could shift the management role of Savannah River Site's tritium facilities - which directs about 400 employees - to a contractor responsible for other sites in Texas and Tennessee.


The plan is part of the National Nuclear Security Administration's ongoing effort to make the program more efficient and cost effective, said Brig. Gen. Garrett Harencak, the agency's principal assistant deputy administrator.

The expiration this year of management contracts at the Y12 National Security Complex near Knoxville, Tenn., and the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas, led to the decision to combine those facilities into a single management contract, he said during a conference call Friday with reporters.

That contract will include the option of incorporating the tritium operation at SRS.

The integration of the contracts will increase efficiency and reduce operating costs by $895 million over 10 years, said Patty Wagner, who led the strategy team that developed the plan.

The decision to include the SRS tritium program was made optional to offer the new contractor for Y12 and Pantex transition time.

"We believe it is more effective for the contractor to take Y12 and Pantex and work to make that transition work properly, and then add the other program later," Wagner said. She said the SRS tritium facilities would not be relocated.

It is too early to determine how the consolidation would affect the number of employees.

"We will ask the bidders to tell us how they would achieve those efficiencies," Wagner said.

The tritium program at SRS employs more than 400 workers and also draws support services from 300 to 600 personnel in other areas.

The program includes periodic recharging of the tritium reservoirs in nuclear warheads. Tritium, a gas that increases explosive power, has a half-life of about 12.5 years and requires periodic recharging.

Tasks performed at Pantex include retrofitting and repair of nuclear weapons, testing and development of high explosives, interim storage of plutonium pits and dismantling surplus warheads.

The Y12 site was part of the World War II Manhattan Project, and its current missions include reworking nuclear weapon systems and components, surveillance of nuclear weapons and related materials and prevention of the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Currently, Y12 is managed by Babcock and Wilcox Technical Services Y-12, comprised of B&W Technical Services and Bechtel National. Pantex is managed by Babcock and Wilcox Technical Services Pantex LLC which is comprised of B&W Technical Services, Bechtel National and Honeywell International.

The tritium program at SRS has been defined as a "severable work activity" now under the jurisdiction of Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, comprised of Fluor Federal Services, Northrup Grumman and Honeywell International.

The nuclear security agency also announced Friday that it is contemplating noncompetitively extending the contract for the management and operation of the Kansas City Plant in Kansas City, Mo., for up to five years. The plant is managed by Honeywell Federal Manufacturing and Technologies, and its contract expires Dec. 31.