Environment News Service

AmeriScan: July 31, 2000


AIKEN, South Carolina, July 31, 2000 (ENS) - Energy Secretary Bill Richardson turned the first shovel of earth last week to begin construction of a new Tritium Extraction Facility at the department's Savannah River Site in Aiken. Richardson was in town for the groundbreaking of the $400 million facility and to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the site. "Today we break ground for a facility that will strengthen our nation's ability to replenish its tritium supply and continue to provide jobs for people in the Savannah River area," Richardson said. "It is fitting that we strengthen the Savannah River Site's historical role as we celebrate their 50th anniversary." Tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, is an essential component of every weapon in the current and projected U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and has not been produced in the U.S. since 1988. The tritium facility will be constructed within existing tritium facilities area near the center of the 310 square mile site. Operations are scheduled to begin in 2006.

"The construction and operation of the Tritium Extraction Facility is vital to our national security," said General John Gordon, Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, who also participated in the groundbreaking. "So long as we have a nuclear weapons stockpile, we must have a reliable tritium production source. This work in tritium, as well as the substantial work done at the Savannah River Site involving plutonium storage and disposition, are key components of our nation's defense and international nuclear nonproliferation programs." Richardson and Gordon announced that WesDyne International, LLC (WesDyne) has been awarded the $6.5 million contract to make tritium producing burnable absorber rods. The rods will be irradiated in reactors owned and operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

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