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SRS vies for weapons center

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AIKEN - Savannah River Site is among five spots across the country being considered for a plutonium center that would help research and construct a new era of nuclear weapons.

Federal security officials announced plans Thursday to consolidate work at the country's nuclear weapons sites in hopes of making the complex more secure and efficient.

Part of the consolidation would include the creation of a Consolidated Plutonium Center, the National Nuclear Security Administration announced.

The planned center would conduct research, development and production to modernize the country's nuclear arsenal.

Designs do not include a modern pit facility, a factory that was proposed in 2004 to produce more than 400 plutonium pits for weapons annually, said Tom D'Agostino, deputy administrator for defense programs.

But the center would produce about 125 pits a year, he said.

In all, the NNSA, which handles weapons work for the Department of Energy, is reviewing work it does at eight sites.

SRS is in the running for the consolidated center because it already stores quantities of the radioactive material and the nuclear agency doesn't want to store it at a "green" site that has no experience, he said.

"SRS is the site in the DOE complex that has those quantities of materials and is being considered," Mr. D'Agostino said during a conference call with reporters.

The consolidation plan is part of the NNSA's "Complex 2030" project, designed to modernize the country's Cold War-era infrastructure to make it more responsive to threats.

"The current complex cannot stay on the path we're on right now," Mr. D'Agostino said. "I believe the complex is too big."

Part of the consolidation includes formulation of an environmental impact statement, a process that will include public meetings about SRS next month in North Augusta. Input from the meetings will help shape the nuclear agency's decision.

The NNSA has not decided how many jobs the project would create or how much money would be invested, spokeswoman Julianne Smith said.

"At this point, all we're doing is location," she said.

Other sites being considered for the job: Los Alamos, N.M.; Nevada Test Site; Pantex, near Amarillo, Texas; Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

There are other factors in SRS' favor, observers say.

The NNSA already produces tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, at SRS, and it will manage the mixed-oxide, or MOX, factory that is supposed to be built there to convert plutonium into fuel for commercial nuclear power plants.

The site also produced plutonium from the 1950s through 1989 and continued to recycle the material through last year, said Ernie Chaput, a former DOE manager at SRS.

"This is an ideal mission for Savannah River," he said.

SRS already stores plutonium that is supposed to be converted in the MOX factory. It's also being considered as a storage site for quantities of plutonium that won't be used in the nations' nuclear arsenal. That mission is part of the DOE's environmental management division.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.

PUBLIC MEETINGS


The National Nuclear Security Administration will hold public meetings Nov. 9 at the North Augusta Community Center to discuss the future of Savannah River Site, including the possibility of consolidating weapons plutonium there.


Meetings will run from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. and 6 until 10 p.m.

Source: Department of Energy


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