Critics blast plutonium pit production pitch at Aiken forum

A coalition of nuclear watchers and environmental groups on Friday night hosted a public forum in Aiken, during which speakers unloaded on the proposed plutonium pit production expansion at both the Savannah River Site and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.


Savannah River Site Watch Director Tom Clements speaks earlier this month at the plutonium pit production forum, flanked by a large photo of the canceled Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility/Staff photo by Colin Demarest

The get-together, held at the Aiken Municipal Building, was largely led by Savannah River Site Watch Director Tom Clements. He was backed by Marylia Kelley, the executive director of Tri-Valley CAREs, and Jay Coghlan, who leads Nuclear Watch New Mexico.

Together, the three called into question the actual need for more pits, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s ability to successfully produce them, and discussed at length the environmental and health repercussions that could come with such a significant weapons-oriented mission.

The public “can be effective against bad Department of Energy ideas, like the pit production one,” Clements said early in his remarks.

At least 80 pits per year are needed by 2030, according to the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, a leading nuclear policy document. Plutonium pits are nuclear weapon cores.

“They keep coming up with this number, 80, and I don’t know where they get this from,” Clements said. “They haven’t justified it.”

Around this time last year, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the U.S. Department of Defense jointly recommended producing 50 pits per year at SRS – at a redeveloped Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility – and the remaining 30 per year at a bolstered Los Alamos.

The NNSA terminated the controversial MOX project on Oct. 10, 2018. The SRS Watch director on Friday described the overbudget venture as “parochial” and akin to a pork barrel. He again demanded investigations into what he called waste, abuse, negligence and mismanagement.

Coghlan told the audience – about 60 people – he found it “really funny” that the DOE would repurpose a “bungled” project for another project that is not only unnecessary but is potentially detrimental on the world stage.

“This is kind of funny, to a twisted way,” Coghlan continued.

The federal government is hosting its own pit production public meeting June 27 in North Augusta.

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