AP NEWS

National lab expected to grow because of pit production preparations, director says

February 28, 2019

A chunk of near-future employment growth at the Savannah River National Laboratory could be attributed to the proposed Savannah River Site plutonium pit production mission, Vahid Majidi, the lab director, said Monday.

About 10 to 15 percent of expected growth in the number of lab employees is tied to pit production design and preparations, according to Majidi.

“I would say a portion of it is certainly pit-driven,” the lab director said, speaking to the Aiken Rotary Club. “Remember, the mission is not officially at the site yet, but we’re getting ready to work on a lot of the programs that are coming in specifically for that mission.”

A Savannah River Nuclear Solutions spokesperson affirmed Majidi’s comments later that day.

The new jobs typically represent the “high-skilled scientific and engineering” fields, the SRNS spokesperson added.

SRNS, the SRS management and operations contractor, oversees the national lab.

SRNS is the same team the National Nuclear Security Administration has selected to lead the early SRS pit production steps: conceptual design work and the transition of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, for example.

The NNSA, a semiautonomous U.S. Department of Energy agency, expects to spend $95 million on the conceptual design work, an NNSA senior spokesperson has told the Aiken Standard. A separate $40 million was provided to SRNS for MOX termination and transition, the senior spokesperson said.

The $95 million is sourced from the NNSA’s fiscal year 2019 plutonium sustainment program.

In May 2018, the NNSA and the U.S. Department of Defense together recommended producing plutonium pits – nuclear weapon cores – at both SRS and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. By 2030, 50 pits per year would be produced at SRS, and 30 pits per year would be produced at Los Alamos, according to the joint recommendation.

Producing pits at SRS requires a rework of MOX, per the same information. The NNSA terminated the MOX project on Oct. 10, 2018.

Majidi once served as the Los Alamos chemistry division leader.