Rep. Joe Wilson eyes $525 million for Savannah River Site nuke projects

Colin Demarest, Aiken Standard, S.C.
·2 min read

May 3—U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson wants hundreds of millions of dollars appropriated for a pair of nuclear weapons ventures at the Savannah River Site, a storied Department of Energy reservation in his congressional district.

In remarks to a House subcommittee Monday, the South Carolina Republican sought $495 million for the Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility, where dozens of warhead components known as pits could be produced every year, as well as $30 million for the Tritium Finishing Facility, which will supplant a Cold War-era complex that handles a hydrogen isotope key to the nation's nuclear arsenal.

"The Savannah River Site was constructed during the 1950s to support our national defense programs for victory in the Cold War," Wilson said. "The site maintains that responsibility 70 years later through its national laboratory, NNSA missions, and environmental cleanup."

The two projects are samplings of a broader nuclear modernization effort in the U.S., which Wilson, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, has for years advocated. Wilson was one of 24 Republican lawmakers who in late March urged President Joe Biden to "prioritize long-overdue investments required for the Department of Defense and the National Nuclear Security Administration."

Wilson's requests for funding stem "from conversations with DOE stakeholders and previous budgets' yearly projections," spokesperson McLaurine Pinover said Monday. "When our office receives the President's budget, hopefully later this month, we plan to reevaluate the costs of these programs pending the Congressional Justifications for the funding."

Biden's fiscal year 2022 budget blueprint — a skeletal document published in early April — included $46.1 billion for the Energy Department. More information and more detail are expected soon.

Establishing plutonium pit production at the Savannah River Site, constructing and bringing online the Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility, that is, could cost $4.6 billion, preliminary data shows. The Tritium Finishing Facility could cost far less; the National Nuclear Security Administration last year approved an early cost range of $305 million to $640 million.

Wilson represents South Carolina's 2nd Congressional District, which covers all of Aiken, Barnwell and Lexington counties.