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Pit production in SC, New Mexico among NNSA leader's pressing priorities

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Jill Hruby

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — National Nuclear Security Administration boss Jill Hruby in the near term plans to prioritize plutonium pit production projects in both South Carolina and New Mexico, according to a readout of a summit she recently held with members of the agency’s workforce.

Pit production, the crafting of nuclear weapon cores or triggers, is one of five “time-sensitive initiatives” Hruby has her eyes on, the meeting summary, published by the Department of Energy, shows. Others include cybersecurity, a return-to-work plan and the Biden administration’s review of U.S. nuclear capabilities and prospects, formally known as a Nuclear Posture Review.

“Each of our partners depend on NNSA to listen and understand, be transparent and efficient in our interfaces, and deliver on our commitments,” Hruby said at the July 28 virtual meeting, which was attended by some 1,200 workers.

Federal law mandates the production of 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030 – a deadline that appears impossible to meet, federal budget documents and congressional testimony show.

The NNSA plans to produce 30 of the warhead components per year in New Mexico, at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and 50 per year south of Aiken at the Savannah River Site; the tandem approach offers “the most effective way for us to implement and to achieve” the 80-pits-per-year requirement, according to Dr. Charles Verdon, who led the NNSA as the Biden administration took the reins. Hruby has previously endorsed the two-site method.

But the prospective SRS pit hub, the Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility, is expected to come online as late as 2035. And it could cost $11 billion to realize. That’s both later than expected and more expensive than previously teased.

“The most satisfying part of my job has always been to empower people and teams and watch them deliver,” Hruby said at last month’s meeting. “I look forward to working with each of you as we advance NNSA’s ability to innovate and deliver our mission on behalf of the American people.”

Hruby was sworn in as the Energy Department’s under secretary for nuclear security and administrator of the NNSA late last month.

Colin Demarest covers the Savannah River Site, the Energy Department, its NNSA, and government and politics, in general. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin.

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