In an arrangement similar to the status quo, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) will fund its nuclear weapons work in South Carolina through a potentially decade-long management and operations contract for the Savannah River National Laboratory, according to a draft solicitation released Thursday.

The planned contract will be owned by the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM). The NNSA will pass funding through the nuclear cleanup office for ongoing tritium operations and the planned plutonium missions at the Aiken, S.C., site.

That is essentially what the semiautonomous DoE nuclear weapons agency does now, through the Savannah River Site management and operations contract held by the Fluor [FLR]-led Savannah River Nuclear Solutions. The current contract includes lab management, which will now be split out into its own deal.

However, it could be some time before EM awards the final lab-management contract, which would have a five-year base and five years’ worth of options — this week’s draft request did not say how EM would split up the option periods. Meanwhile, there is plenty of cushion left with the incumbent’s contract, which expires Sept. 30 but could be extended for two years after that, under the two one-year options held by the Office of Environmental Management.

Meanwhile, EM asked potential bidders on the new lab-management contract to provide feedback on the draft request for proposals by May 8. After that, the agency might or might not tweak the draft solicitation before issuing the final procurement notice. 

According to the draft, EM wants to give interested bidders 40 days to reply to the final request for proposals. After that, the agency would go dark on the bidders, evaluate the proposals, and award the new lab-management pact.

The planned lab management contract would, according to the draft request for proposals, include:

  • Supporting the planned Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility, which would be built on the remains of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility and begin producing 50 plutonium pits annually by 2030. These pits initially will be cores for W87-1 warheads intended to the Air Force’s future Ground Based Strategic Deterrent intercontinental ballistic missiles.
  • Continuing tritium harvesting at the H-Area Old Manufacturing Facility, which within the life of the planned lab-management contract would be replaced by the planned Tritium Finishing Facility.
  • Continuing NNSA nonproliferation work, including the disposal of foreign and domestic excess fissile material. That appears to include the planned Surplus Plutonium Disposition program, which is replacing the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication as NNSA’s means of getting rid of 34 metric tons of plutonium declared excess to national security needs after the end of the Cold War.