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DOE reaffirms plans to use SRS plutonium for pit production in New Mexico

January 11, 2019

The U.S. Department of Energy has again confirmed its plans to use plutonium currently stored at the Savannah River Site for nuclear weapons purposes.

In a document filed Jan. 4 in Nevada district court, the DOE explained 1 metric ton of plutonium — in pit form at SRS — will eventually be sent to Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico where it will be remanufactured into “new pits.”

Doing so will further the National Nuclear Security Administration ’s longterm stockpile work, according to the same court document.

Plutonium pits are nuclear weapon cores, often referred to as triggers.

NNSA Chief of Staff William “Ike” White in a Nov. 20 letter, which was made public via other court filings, described the weapons-grade plutonium stored at SRS as “mission-essential” and integral to nation’s defense enterprise.

“This material will ultimately be used for vital national security missions and is not waste,” White wrote, later adding: “We will keep you updated on our progress as the pit production mission moves forward.”

White’s letter was sent to Nevada government officials. Before the plutonium is relocated to Los Alamos, the nation’s plutonium science and production center of excellence, it will be staged at either the Nevada National Security Site or the Pantex Plant in Texas, according to the NNSA.

The shipments between Nevada and New Mexico would take place over “a period of years,” according to the Jan. 4 filing.

The DOE is removing 1 metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium from SRS — South Carolina, more broadly — to comply with a Dec. 20, 2017, court order. The plutonium must be out of the state no later than 2020, according to the order, which was issued by U.S. District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs.

The prospective weapons use of the SRS plutonium was first fully documented in an NNSA environmental assessment issued last year.

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