North Augusta City Council got on board with other local governments Tuesday night by voting to encourage the Department of Energy to move an important function of nuclear weapons production – and 800 jobs — to Savannah River Site.
By unanimous vote, council passed a resolution supporting taking plutonium pit production from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and moving it to SRS. The pits are softball-sized “triggers” that start the nuclear reaction.
The city of Aiken and Aiken County have already passed similar resolutions as part of an effort spurred by the Economic Development Partnership, a non-profit, public-private development corporation that serves Aiken, Edgefield, McCormick, and Saluda counties.
Its CEO, Will Williams, phoned in to council’s pre-meeting study session to answer members’ questions before they voted in regular session.
City administrator Todd Glover noted that SRS’ MOX facility was put “under question” by the Obama and Trump administrations, both of which have tried to cut or eliminate its funding. The National Nuclear Security Administration has produced a report that said pit production could be moved to the unfinished MOX site, he said.
“We want both,” Williams said. “We’re pushing forward on both of them.”
Pit production would bring 800 high-paying jobs and its mission would last as long as the US keeps producing nuclear weapons, Williams said. MOX’s mission to turn nuclear waste into fuel for commercial reactors was supposed to last about 15 years.
But the new jobs would bring more radioactive material into Aiken County, something that troubled Councilman Ken McDowell, who raised the issue of South Carolina being treated as “a holding facility” for nuclear waste.
The pits, however, would be shipped elsewhere once fashioned at SRS, Williams pointed out.
“The pits have a path – they’re going into our national defense arsenal,” he said.
The resolution also specifies that “any waste generated by the operation, or from other missions at SRS, will be safely removed and disposed of at an appropriate facility outside of South Carolina.”
“I applaud that,” McDowell said. During the regular meeting, he joined in the 7-0 vote.
Mayor Bob Pettit said Los Alamos was “actively pursuing this mission,” and likely wouldn’t let it go without a fight.
“But I support the opportunity to get additional jobs here,” he said.