WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) announced a record number of tritium extraction operations in partnership with Savannah River Nuclear Solutions at the Savannah River Site (SRS) Tritium Extraction Facility (TEF) during Fiscal Year (FY) 2021. TEF completed seven extractions, including two that were planned for FY 2022. This more than doubles the previous record of three extractions in a single fiscal year.
Tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, is a critical component of modern nuclear weapons and must be replenished in order to maintain the Nation’s nuclear deterrent. Production begins with the irradiation of tritium-producing burnable absorber rods in reactors operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The irradiated bars are then transported to SRS, where the tritium is extracted, purified, and loaded into reservoirs, which are then shipped to the Department of Defense. FY 2021 marks the beginning of a planned multiyear increase in tritium extraction operations at the TEF.
“Without tritium, there wouldn’t be a nuclear stockpile, but it has a relatively short half-life, so it has to be replenished on an ongoing basis,” explained Jason Armstrong, National Nuclear Security Administration Savannah River Field Office Manager. “SRS is the only place in the country that provides the tritium used in the Nation’s stockpile.”
NNSA’s plan to ensure a safe, secure, and effective U.S. nuclear deterrent requires it to continually modernize and enhance its capabilities to supply the Nation’s tritium. This plan includes increases in both the production of tritium and its extraction from TPBARs. This year SRS demonstrated the capability of extracting tritium at levels significantly higher than has ever been achieved previously.
Summer Jones, NNSA’s Assistant Deputy Administrator for Production Modernization, said, “The Savannah River Site’s achievement of a record number of tritium extractions in a single fiscal year demonstrates a capability and capacity to process tritium well ahead of need dates. NNSA continues to emphasize the reliability, resiliency, and flexibility of the tritium supply chain, and meeting this milestone ahead of schedule certainly gives us confidence in our ability to meet national security requirements.”
“NNSA continually demonstrates its ability to deliver on missions critical to sustaining U.S. national security,” said NNSA’s Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs, Dr. Charles P. Verdon. “This achievement at the Savannah River Site demonstrates the capacity of the Nuclear Security Enterprise to continue meeting demanding requirements through detailed planning and most of all, execution by our dedicated workforce.”
Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, a Fluor Corporation-led company with Newport News Nuclear and Honeywell, is responsible for the management and operations of the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site, located near Aiken, South Carolina.