NNSA chief of staff, other government officials tour SRS

August 17, 2018

A cast of government heavy-hitters toured the Savannah River Site on Wednesday and Thursday, according to official itineraries obtained by the Aiken Standard.

William “Ike” White, the National Nuclear Security Administration chief of staff and associate principal deputy administrator, was among the group of numerous officials, which also included strategic materials and project management executives, visiting the Site.

Nicole Nelson-Jean, the manager of the NNSA’s Savannah River Field Office, also participated in the tours, according to the schedules.

The group arrived at SRS on Wednesday, according to the schedules, and toured H-Area, a nuclear materials processing complex; K-Area, an interim plutonium storage facility; and L-Area, a used fuel storehouse.

On Thursday, the same group was slated to spend about four hours at the Savannah River Tritium Enterprise. Tritium, a hydrogen isotope, is used to enhance nuclear weapons.

The NNSA is a semiautonomous U.S. Department of Energy agency in charge of the nation’s nuclear complex.

The NNSA-heavy visit – one of several high-profile SRS stop-ins this year – comes at an interesting time.

At the end of June, NNSA chief Lisa Gordon-Hagerty sent a memo, which the Aiken Standard obtained, notifying the Savannah River Field Office of her intent to create a working group that would study the agency’s future at the Site.

The working group was directed to study three options including a landlord takeover and the relocation of SRS’s tritium mission – off-site entirely.

The DOE Office of Environmental Management is the current SRS landlord.

The Thursday schedule included a 1 p.m. time slot for an “SRS Futures Working Group Meeting.”

On Thursday night, a senior NNSA spokesperson said a working group “met at SRS this week as part of its ongoing, strategic review of our work at the site.”

“This group is considering all of NNSA’s options at SRS, including taking landlord responsibility of the site,” the spokesperson said. “That option assumes NNSA will maintain its ongoing work while bringing another enduring national security mission to South Carolina.”

The working group and prospective study, Gordon-Hagerty wrote, is in direct response to a preliminary injunction that prevented the retooling of the ever-controversial Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at SRS.

The Wednesday-Thursday visit also follows President Donald Trump’s signing of the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act.

This year’s NDAA, a set of laws that defines the nation’s defense-related spending, authorized $220 million for continued MOX construction and instructed the DOE to re-evaluate its plutonium pit production schema.

Plutonium pits are nuclear weapon cores. The NNSA and the U.S. Department of Defense jointly recommended repurposing MOX for pit production earlier this year.

“NNSA is committed to recapitalizing the nation’s defense plutonium capabilities, and our ability to meet the Department of Defense’s requirements depends on repurposing MOX for plutonium pit production,” the spokesperson said. “The Savannah River Site is integral to our two-site approach.”

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