May 26—A yearslong effort to upgrade tritium facilities at the Savannah River Site recently wrapped, doubling some capacities there and enabling personnel to work on a nuclear gravity bomb refurbishment program.
The improvements at the site, completed in February, will help U.S. defense agencies address "critical aging issues" in the B61 bomb, which first entered service in 1968, according to a National Nuclear Security Administration announcement.
"Teams in the tritium facilities collaborated with the Savannah River National Laboratory to complete the loading line upgrade, conduct a series of tests to ensure proper operation, and resume production," said Don Zecha, a project manager and weapons program engineer with Savannah River Nuclear Solutions. "Its successful completion continues to make us the backbone of deterrence in support of peace."
Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen used in U.S. nuclear weapons. The Savannah River Site — currently managed by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions — is the only place in the nation where tritium containers, known as reservoirs, are produced and packaged.
"This process utilizes loading lines that are configured to fill specific reservoirs for each weapon system in the United States' stockpile," Zecha explained. "After filling, reservoirs are used to produce Gas Transfer Systems that are shipped to the Department of Defense where they are installed in weapons."
A life-extension program — or LEP, for short — is a lengthy process in which a weapon is evaluated and rehabilitated with the hopes of improving its long-term viability.
"Old components are being replaced to ensure the weapon works as intended," the National Nuclear Security Administration said in its announcement. The weapons-and-nonproliferation agency, part of the Department of Energy, described the Savannah River Site augmentations as "essential" to supporting the modernization of the B61.