SRS manager: NNSA’s review of role at SRS ‘routine’

July 24, 2018

The National Nuclear Security Administration’s review of its purpose and missions at the Savannah River Site is “routine” and almost procedural, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site manager, Michael Budney.

On Monday, Budney provided the Savannah River Site Citizens Advisory Board a DOE-centric update, during which he addressed a June 29 NNSA internal memo, which the Aiken Standard earlier obtained.

“You’ve probably seen the news reports about the memo that NNSA put out about studying about three alternatives for their future operations at the Site,” Budney said. “This is just a routine kind of process we always go through – especially when there’s different, new leadership – about looking at doing an evaluation of how things operate and what’s the best way to do it, what’s the most efficient means.”

“We routinely do this at all the places where DOE has a shared site between EM and NNSA,” he added.

The DOE Office of Environmental Management is the current SRS landlord. SRS is an ongoing nuclear cleanup and remediation site.

The NNSA is a semiautonomous DOE agency in charge of the nation’s nuclear complex.

The June 29 memo, sent by NNSA chief Lisa Gordon-Hagerty to the Savannah River Field Office, announced the creation of a working group to study three large-scale SRS shakeups: the NNSA becoming the SRS landlord, the NNSA issuing separate contracts for all mission-related activities at SRS, and relocating the Site’s tritium mission.

“It’s a question of what ought we, if there is anything we ought to transfer, when should we transfer it, what should the sequence be if we’re going to do that,” Budney said.

Gordon-Hagerty, in her memo, directly attributed the study and working group to a federal judge’s June 7 injunction, which – for now, at least – sustained the controversial Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility project.

That same injunction imperils the NNSA’s plutonium pit production efforts, as the NNSA and the U.S. Department of Defense on May 10 jointly recommended turning MOX into a pit production hub. Plutonium pits are nuclear weapon cores, often referred to as triggers.

“In light of this injunction, NNSA must re-evaluate the viability to execute enduring missions at the Savannah River Site,” Gordon-Hagerty wrote.

A DOE Environmental Management response – sent by DOE Environmental Management leader Anne Marie White on July 3 – called for an “integrated” effort.

“I believe this is an opportunity to better focus both of our offices’ missions,” White wrote. “I look forward to working together.”

An interim briefing on the NNSA’s path forward is due within 90 days, according to the memo, and a final briefing is due Dec. 14.

Budney said there are no “predetermined answers.”

State Sen. Tom Young and state Rep. Bill Taylor, both Aiken Republicans, have voiced their support of a NNSA landlord takeover. Young, however, has said he will fight to keep the tritium mission at SRS.

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