ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The Department of Energy contractor in charge of the Savannah River Site plans to finalize by June the design for a new pit plant capable of making 50 nuclear warhead cores a year at the Aiken, S.C. site, the company’s president said here Wednesday.

The conceptual design report for the Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility (SRPPF), the pit plant to be built by re-purposing the cancelled Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, should be finished by June 30, according to a slide briefed here by Stuart MacVean, president and CEO of the Fluor [FLR]-led Savannah River Nuclear Solutions partnership.

The company also includes 

Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII].

The design report is a major milestone in what the DoE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and its industry partners acknowledge is a challenging and unprecedented effort to convert a facility intended for fabrication of commercial reactor fuel into one capable of casting the fissile cores of future intercontinental ballistic missile warheads.

The NNSA wants SRPPF and an upgraded PF-4 Plutonium Facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory to produce 80 pits annually by 2030. Los Alamos would start up pit production in 2024 with 10 pits a year, ramping up to 30 annually by 2026. SRPPF would be on the hook for 50 pits a year, starting in 2030.

The NNSA has said it wants SRPPF to reach the CD-1 milestone no later than Sept. 30. At that point, the agency will have approved the final plan to repurpose the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, and approved an acquisition strategy for the plant. For now, the money to design SRPPF is flowing into Savannah River Nuclear Solutions’ prime contract, which last year was extended through Sept. 30, 2020. 

DOE’s office of Environmental Management owns the contract, and NNSA passes money through it. Environmental Management is late getting out the request for proposals for the next Savannah River Site management contract, but does hold a pair of one-year options on the incumbent’s deal.

Congress appropriated more than $400 million for SRPPF in 2020. The NNSA had not released its detailed budget request for 2021 at deadline Wednesday for Defense Daily, but the agency seeks a roughly $19.8 billion top line and more than $15.5 billion for the Weapons Activities account that includes pits. The requested Weapons Activities budget would be a roughly $3 billion increase, compared with the 2020 appropriation, and the NNSA has said pit production is its top priority.

The agency estimates the split-state pit complex will cost about $30 billion to operate over a 50-year life. Each facility is supposed to be capable of “surging” production beyond their targeted 30- and 50-pit-a-year floors, but the NNSA has not said whether either facility could meet the 80-pit mandate alone.

W87-1 is the warhead for the future Ground Based Strategic Deterrent: the silo-based replacement for the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile. The Air Force wants to start deploying the next-generation missiles in 2030 or so, eventually replacing all 400 deployed Minuteman IIIs.

The service plans to procure a total of 666 Ground Based Strategic Deterrent missiles, including units to flight test and spares. The program would cost about $100 billion over its 50-year life, of which about $25 billion would go to the engineering and manufacturing development contract to build and deploy the missiles — a pact Northrop Grumman [NOC] looks like a lock to win, after Boeing [BA] declined to bid last year.