A National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) tritium extraction facility in South Carolina recently surpassed its own mining records by conducting three extractions in fiscal year 2017.
Tritium is a radioactive component that is critical to the U.S. nuclear stockpile. Previously, the Savannah River Tritium Enterprise (SRTE) had been restricted to a single extraction a year. This is the first time it stepped outside that boundary in its facilities since their original creation in the 1950s. The process was aided by the opening of a new facility in 2007, which extracts tritium gas from rods irradiated at a Tennessee Valley Authority nuclear power plant. The SRTE also recycles tritium from reservoirs.
“Achieving this significant milestone – especially doing it safely, securely, and in a disciplined manner – has required a tremendous team effort on the part of the entire SRTE team,” Ret. Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz Department of Energy Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and NNSA Administrator, said. “Our ability to provide tritium is an important element to maintaining the safety, security, and effectiveness of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile.”
Tritium gas decays over time, and as such, must be regularly replenished. Before their closure in the 1990s, Savannah River’s own nuclear reactors irradiated the rods it uses.