Rob writes a weekly outdoors column and covers energy, environmental and nuclear issues (and lots of other topics) for the metro section. He has been an avid angler and hunter ever since he realized he had neither the aptitude nor the desire to take up golf. He has been a full-time journalist for 28 years, including 11 years as bureau chief in Columbia County. Before joining The Chronicle, he worked at newspapers in Columbia, S.C., and West Palm Beach, Fla. He has edited or authored three reference books on antique fishing tackle; and his freelance work has appeared in Field & Stream, Gray’s Sporting Journal and Georgia Outdoor News. He lives in Evans.
Posted December 3, 2009 12:15 pm - Updated December 3, 2009 04:51 pm

Recovery Act offers glimpse into SRS executive pay

Think your job has its share of headaches?

Presiding over Savannah River Site’s environmental and tritium programs was worth a $570,008 annual salary for one top executive—and he left after just two years.

The figure was revealed in a government Web site that tracks American Recovery & Reinvestment Act spending and requires major recipients to divulge salaries of their top five officers.

The federal database shows that Savannah River Nuclear Solutions—the primary management contractor for Savannah River Site—has been awarded $1,407,839,884 in stimulus dollars, in addition to its scheduled funding for regular operations at the site, for which the Fluor-led group received a five-year, $4 billion contract that took effect in 2008.

Chuck Munns, the company’s president and CEO until his retirement three months ago, was the highest paid executive, earning $570,008. He is a Navy veteran who served 34 years before retiring in 2007 as a vice admiral and commander of the U.S. Submarine Force.

Under his guidance, Nuclear Solutions was in charge of 6,000 of the site’s 10,000 regular employees (a figure compiled prior to the 3,000 stimulus-funded jobs came along) and the operation of tritium facilities, the Savannah River National Lab and environmental cleanup.

He was replaced by the current president, Garry Flowers. Does Mr. Flowers have the same salary? A company spokesman said that would be "speculation."

Other top earners at the Aiken-based company—as reported by the Recovery Act administrators—were chief operating officer Marvin Eshelman, $375,208; Savannah River National Laboratory Director Samit Bhattacharyya, $375,208; executive vice president Walter Sependa, $351,271; and general counsel Linda Guinn, $286,100.

What must they do for such pay? A lot.

Here is the government’s description of the company’s mission, verbatim:

“Complete deactivation and in situ decommissioning of the P-Reactor and the R-Reactor, the remediation of 6 miles of underground lines and 220 acres of contaminated soil. Project B - Complete closure of the former site heavy water production facilities at D Area, deactivation of the D Area powerhouse and support facilities, remediation of 210 acres and 117,000 cubic yards of tritium contaminated soils and concrete, complete closure of the fuel manufacturing facilities at M-Area, remediate 45 acres of contaminated soil and removal of all contamination sources to a 1,500 acre ground water plume. Project C - at various other site areas deactivate/decommission facilities, remediate soil and ground water and remediate impacted site systems. Remove plutonium-238, characterize A-area waste units, remediate Gunsite-12 and the CMP pits, decommission the heavy water components test reactor, consolidated incineration facility, cooling towers, power houses and excess facilities in various areas. Project D - Handle waste disposition and impacted site systems, disposition 4,500 cubic meters of legacy waste, consolidate all RCRA waste storage and close excess facilities, disposition 16,000 drums of depleted uranium oxide, and dispose of all waste generated as a result of the previously described processes. Inter-Entity Work Orders (IEWO) - support for development of chemical information for vapor space corrosion testing, and demonstration of batch transfer consistency from scaled double shell tank.”

Trying to manage all those tasks at an accelerated pace, in addition to fulfilling the obligations of the company’s pre-Recovery Act contract, is bound to bring its own set of challenges.

Just this week, the Energy Department’s top manager at SRS—Jeff Allison—wrote to Flowers expressing disappointment in the pace of Recovery Act-funded work at the transuranic nuclear waste program, which involves shipments of plutonium-contaminated material from South Carolina to DOE’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

Mr. Allison complained that it appeared the company may not meet its goal of disposing of 4,200 cubic meters of such waste by the assigned completion date of Sept. 30, 2012.

Mr. Flowers responded that the company is working to correct any problems: “This phase of the program is complex, and has taken more planning time than we expected to assure we can meet the program objectives safely,” Mr. Flowers said in an e-mail. “We have a lot of difficult work yet to do but we will meet our schedule commitments.”

Allison also told the company he expects the work to be completed on time, and it better not cost any additional money.

“The action taken herein is considered to be within the scope of the existing contract and does not authorize the contractor to incur any additional costs,” he wrote.

Here is a link to the complete breakdown on Savannah River Site and its stimulus spending: