Energy Secretary John Herrington Wednesday recommended that two new nuclear reactors producing the raw materials for nuclear weapons be built in South Carolina and Idaho.
Herrington told a news conference that a "state-of-the-art" heavy-water reactor will be built at DOE's Savannah River complex near Aiken, S.C., capable of producing all the tritium needed to meet demand.A second, smaller reactor that could be expanded if tests are successful would be built at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory at Idaho Falls.
The two reactors will cost an estimated $6.8 billion and will take approximately 10 years to complete.
"With this approach, we have increased assurance that we can have the reactor capacity we need on schedule and that no single external event or generic technical issue can cause a total shutdown of our tritium production capacity," Herrington said.
Earlier Wednesday, Sen. James McClure, R-Idaho, had said he was confident that the planned gas-cooled test reactor at Idaho Falls eventually would be expanded into a full-scale production reactor. But Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., and some other senators said the money to finance such an expansion might not be available.
"The Savannah River reactor will be the No. 1 priority," said Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., who had helped South Carolina lawmakers lobby for the project.
Nunn, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Idaho reactor would be a "back-up system" and that Congress will have to "look very closely" before deciding whether to expand that reactor.
Thurmond said Savannah River was the "most logical" choice for a new production reactor because of "its existing infrastructure, its wealth of trained and dedicated personnel, and the unwavering support it enjoys on the federal, state and local levels."
Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C., said Savannah was "simply the best site" because it has "the needed support facilities, the proven technology and experienced, first-rate personnel."
That reactor will cost an estimated $2 billion to $4 billion to build.
An Energy Department advisory board concluded last month that construction of a new, heavy-water reactor at Savannah River provided the "best chance" of ensuring an adequate and uninterrupted supply of tritium, a key ingredient in nuclear weapons.