Changes to Savannah River Site tritium facility announced

The National Nuclear Security Administration on Wednesday announced a money-saving plan to modernize and consolidate tritium facilities at Savannah River Site.


Although it is too early to forecast the impact on the 450 jobs directly assigned to the program, the plan is designed to lead to a combined cost savings and cost avoidance of hundreds of millions of dollars over the next two decades.

"Part of this process is to take a look at activities we suspect we can do without in the future," said Doug Dearolph, the administration's Savannah River Site manager.

The tritium program is one of the last nuclear weapons functions still based at SRS and includes periodic recharging of the tritium reservoirs in nuclear warheads. Tritium, a gas that increases explosive power, has a half-life of about 121/2 years and requires recharging.

Workers also extract tritium from fuel rods produced at Tennessee Valley Authority reactors and from both surplus and active warhead reservoirs.

Under the long-range Tritium Responsive Infrastructure Modifications plan, several older, Cold War-era buildings will be abandoned as the operations are consolidated in newer, more efficient facilities, Dearolph said, and the program will shrink from eight nuclear facilities to five.

Much of the modernization is internal, without any large capital construction projects. It includes a new administrative building, costing about $5 million, away from the process areas.

The plan, officials said, is unrelated to a new management structure that will combine management of the SRS tritium facilities with management of the Y12 National Security Complex near Knoxville, Tenn., and Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas.

Tasks performed at Pantex include retrofitting and repairing of nuclear weapons, interim storage of plutonium pits and dismantling of surplus warheads.

The Y12 site was part of the World War II Manhattan Project. Its 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.

The SRS tritium facilities occupy approximately 29 acres in the northwest portion of H Area.