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Budget report: Plutonium pit production could cost $9B over next 10 years

Nuke Costs, Congressional Budget Office

The Capitol Dome of the Capitol Building at sunrise in Washington. 

Fully satisfying the U.S. energy and defense departments' fiscal year 2019 nuclear-related requests would cost $494 billion over the next decade, according to a new Congressional Budget Office review.

Within that 12-figure sum is an estimated $9 billion for plutonium pit production buildout at the Savannah River Site and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, according to the report, which was issued Thursday.

The $494 billion represents a 23 percent increase compared to a 10-year estimate made in 2017. Jumpstarted pit production – reaching a goal of 80 pits per year by 2030, per the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review – is a "large contributor" to the predicted spending spike, the report reads.

In May 2018, the energy and defense departments jointly recommended producing plutonium pits at SRS, 50 per year, and Los Alamos, 30 per year.

Plutonium pits are nuclear weapon cores.

Installing an enduring pit production mission at SRS – a move U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., is skeptical of – involves reworking the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, an incomplete plant designed to turn weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel. The budget office report acknowledges that.

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the management and operations contractor at the site, was recently tasked with and funded for preliminary SRS-tied pit production work.

SRNS has since "mobilized" teams to transition MOX and begin conceptual development of the "Savannah River Pit Production Plant," an SRNS spokesperson told the Aiken Standard earlier this month.

"The preliminary plans SRNS is developing show how we will make use of SRS's expertise, existing facilities and infrastructure to start up and carry out this important work, which builds on the site's historical service to the nation's nuclear security," the spokesperson said.

The contractor – whose parent companies are Fluor, Newport News Nuclear and Honeywell International – submitted its MOX transition plan to the National Nuclear Security Administration on Dec. 21, 2018, according to a NNSA spokesperson.

The NNSA is a semiautonomous Department of Energy agency in charge of the nation's nuclear outfit.

Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, the NNSA's leader, has often stumped for modernizing nuclear programs nationwide; billions of dollars are expected to be spent on those undertakings between now and 2028, according to the report.

"The nation's current nuclear forces are reaching the end of their service life," the first page of the report reads.

The CBO was created by Congress in the 1970s to supply nonpartisan information related to the budget process. Congress sets the CBO's agenda.

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