Gullah/Geechee Join Major Action Against DOE’s Plutonium Pit Plans

The U.S. Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration have failed to undertake a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement of their proposal to produce at least 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030, including 30 or more at the Los Alamos National Lab and 50 or more at the Savannah River Site. This cross-country plan would create massive quantities of dangerous and radioactive material, put hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on the line, risk a new nuclear arms race and violate the nation’s foundational environmental law. Learn more here.

Since 2019, advocacy groups have called on the U.S. government to fully examine the environmental, health and safety impacts of its plan to more than quadruple the production of plutonium pits, which are the triggers of nuclear bombs, in New Mexico and here in South Carolina. The government, however, has refused to consider the far-reaching impacts of this significant expansion of our nuclear weapon stockpile.

On Tuesday at noon, the  South Carolina Environmental Law Project launched a legal challenge on behalf of these groups to demand that the government take a “hard look” at this plan, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

– Tom Clements, director of Savannah River Site Watch  

– Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico  

– Marylia Kelley, executive director of Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment  

– Leslie Lenhardt, attorney at South Carolina Environmental Law Project

– Queen Quet, the chieftess and head of state for the Gullah/Geechee Nation and the founder of the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition

– Dr. Frank von Hippel, senior research physicist and Professor of Public and International Affairs Emeritus at Princeton University

all participated in the virtual press conference which you can tune into here:

Speakers at the news conference reviewed the legal and environmental challenges facing expanded pit production, including impacts at various DOE sites and lack of proper Environmental Justice consideration. Additionally, the need for new pits for new nuclear warheads was questioned. The groups are seeking injunctive relief until NEPA compliance has been met.


The first plutonium pits would be for the new W87-1 warhead for the controversial new ICBM called the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), which has been proposed by the Department of Defense to replace the silo-based Minuteman III nuclear-tipped missile. While DOE’s mandate is to produce 80 pits per year by 2030, the proposed SRS Plutonium Bomb Plant (PBP), with a goal to produce 50 or more pits per year by 2030, has already slipped significantly behind schedule. Charles Verdon, acting NNSA administrator, recently revealed to Congress that the SRS pit facility could be as late as 2035, which will have serious negative impacts on the viability of the project.

In the May 28, 2021 NNSA budget request to Congress, the agency revealed that the estimated cost of the SRS Plutonium Bomb Plant had soared from $4.6 billion to $11.1 billion. (See NNSA Fiscal Year 2022 budget request to Congress, page 157.) The FY22 budget request for the PBP is $475 million, an amount far under the $1+ billion it will need in the mid-2020s if conversion of the partially finished and terminated plutonium fuel (MOX) building into a pit factory were to get under way.

The PBP project appears to be following in the steps of the SRS plutonium fuel (MOX) debacle, which fell far behind schedule and faced massive cost escalations, resulting in $8 billion wasted before the project was officially scrapped in 2018. For parochial political reasons, to fill the funding hole caused by termination of the MOX project, DOE presented the rushed proposal to expand pit production to SRS. The site has no experience with pit production, which will present a daunting technical challenge to the project and result in more cost increases and schedule delays.

The Los Alamos National Lab has struggled in handling plutonium and failed to produce the 20 pits per year assigned to the site after the closure of the contaminated Rocky Flats pit-production site in Colorado, raided by the FBI in 1989 and formally closed in 1992. Cost overruns and schedule delays are also expected at LANL and reaching a production level of 30 pits per year by 2026 is doubtful.

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