NNSA Marks Major Milestone For Tritium Production

Press Release
Dec 4, 2006
Tritium Extraction Facility Up and Running at Savannah River Site

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced today that it has started operations at a facility that restores its ability, for the first time in 18 years, to manufacture a key component of the nation's nuclear defense.

The Tritium Extraction Facility (TEF) at the Savannah River Site (SRS) has begun operations and tritium can now be extracted from target rods, ensuring a sustainable supply of tritium for the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile.

"This is a great achievement for NNSA, the Savannah River Site and for the safety, security and reliability of our nuclear stockpile," said Thomas D'Agostino, NNSA deputy administrator for defense programs. "With the start of operations in this facility, all the elements of a tritium production enterprise are now in place."

Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen gas that is an integral component in the nuclear weapons stockpile. It must be replenished in weapons periodically because it has a half-life of only 12.3 years. Many weapons in the stockpile were built during the Cold War-era and NNSA is actively engaged in maintaining, refurbishing and extending the life of the aging weapons, including replacing the tritium gas.

Operators and other workers have been in training for approximately two years to gain proficiency in facility operation and to get hands-on experience using the procedures and equipment. A comprehensive operational readiness review was recently completed to confirm that the facility could be operated safely.

The $506 million TEF follows a $142 million upgrade of an existing SRS facility, called the Tritium Modernization and Consolidation Project. This upgrade allowed for the shut down and deactivation of SRS' original tritium facilities, which operated for almost a half century.

"With the launch of this facility, coupled with the tritium modernization project at SRS, we now have the capability to produce tritium and continue to meet our future stockpile needs. NNSA will be able to satisfy the nation's tritium needs indefinitely," said D'Agostino.

An integral part of department's nuclear weapons industrial complex, the SRS processes and stores nuclear materials in support of the nation's defense and nuclear nonproliferation efforts. The site also develops and deploys technologies to improve the environment and treat nuclear and hazardous wastes left from the Cold War. The SRS complex covers 310 square miles encompassing parts of Aiken, Barnwell and Allendale counties in South Carolina, bordering the Savannah River.  The SRS is owned by the Department of Energy and is operated by a team of contractors led by Washington Savannah River Company.

Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.

Media contact(s):
NNSA Public Affairs (202) 586-7371