Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), whose district includes the Savannah River Site, on Monday asked the House Appropriations Committee to provide a total of $695 million in fiscal year 2022 for plutonium pit production at the Aiken, S.C. site: some $255 million more than the 2021 pit budget.
The increase would entirely go toward construction of the Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility (SRPPF) itself: a new pit factory the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) plans to construct from the remains of the cancelled Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility.
Wilson’s request, delivered at a member day event ahead of budget hearings scheduled for later in the week, includes $495 million for SRPPF construction, up from 2021’s appropriation of more than $240 million. The other $200 million on Wilson’s wishlist for pits in South Carolina would be for Savannah River Plutonium Operations: essentially, the cost of staff and project support.
Since 2018, the NNSA has estimated that SRPPF construction alone would cost about $4.6 billion. The agency is due to revise that figure soon now that the proposed pit factory has completed its Critical Decision-1 review. The SRPPF team had turned in its Critical Decision-1 review to headquarters as of roughly one month ago, an NNSA spokesperson said, but at deadline, the agency had yet to share the cost estimates generated by that review.
On the other hand, the NNSA said last week that a competing, or companion, pit factory at the Los Alamos National Laboratory will cost somewhere between $2.7 billion and $3.9 billion to build. That excludes the cost of supporting infrastructure at the lab. The pit factories are supposed to combine for 80 pits annually starting in 2030 and cost more than $30 billion to operate for about 50 years.
Pits, or triggers, are the fissile cores of a nuclear weapon’s primary stage. The planned W87-1 warhead, intended for the next-generation Ground Based Strategic Deterrent silo-based intercontinental ballistic missile, would be the first warhead to receive new pits. The Air Force plans to buy more than 650 of the new missiles to replace Minuteman III missiles starting around 2030 or so.
The Department of Energy had not released a detailed 2022 budget justification at deadline for Defense Daily’s sister publication Weapons Complex Morning Briefing, although Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm is scheduled to testify about the agency’s budget request Thursday before the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development subcommittee.
The White House in April released a budget summary that called for an overall DOE budget of $46 billion in 2022, or 10 percent more than the 2021. The summary did not specify how much the Biden administration would seek for NNSA nuclear weapons programs, or for nuclear-weapons cleanup handled by DOE’s Office of Environmental Management.