Jobs there if workers there

Some of us may not like the idea of stimulus money, but adding energy to a wellspring of science enhancing the U.S. Department of Energy cleanup of toxic nuclear byproducts is a real shot in the arm to our green energy future.

 

The job creation and economic opportunities for our community grow with the stimulus investment in projects at Savannah River Site, our world-class science lab. We must not squander or underestimate this economic force comparable to Research Triangle Park or Silicon Valley.

The Cold War left us with a pile of radioactive waste in underground tanks at the site. Production of nuclear materials for defense, research and medicine started there in 1951. The Savannah River National Laboratory lab, the current cleanup work and other facilities assure a future as an epicenter of research and development regarding nuclear and other forms of power.

The entire site and its work related to national security and energy are a national treasure.

Purging, cleaning and assuring safe disposal of waste stored in underground tanks from a bygone era is a national responsibility. The urgent attention to this is of great environmental and health concern locally, due to leaks that were found years ago in 12 of the 49 tanks. Closure of tanks has been ongoing and has a long timeline extending well into the future.

Ines Triay, the U.S. Department of Energy's assistant secretary for environmental management, visited to detail the care being taken, the progress to be made and to thank the unions and local workforce for being an easy sell for the added investment.

Hiring 3,000 new workers will make a difference. These nuclear jobs add to a current workforce of 11,000 at SRS. Seventy percent of the 6,000 working on cleanup came from the local workforce, and all would like to see that maintained or increased.

Nuclear engineers and construction workers are needed. The site has a full training program for technical jobs. Town meetings are ongoing to recruit and explain what is involved.

Dr. Triay went on to underline the world-class lab's role in today's world, and the place SRS holds as a microcosm of everything nuclear.

This comes as a study commissioned by the SRS Community Reuse Organization indicates 10,000 of tomorrow's nuclear jobs may be in store for our region. This seems real, backed with progress seen at the Mixed Oxide Project facility. It is a $4.8 billion site to convert weapons-grade plutonium into reactor fuel, as part of mission to aid nuclear disarmament well into the 2030s. Plant Vogtle is moving forward with new reactors.

The opportunity for us is in question, however. If local officials and educational institutions do not act to enhance the creation of tomorrow's workforce, we will be a smaller part of these developments.

This is where area schools should focus in the coming years. We recognize the positives of A. R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering magnet school, but more is needed. Much more.

For our community, there has to be a commitment to transparency and safe operations in the cleanup. We commend the DOE's efforts here. The stimulus job creation is well served and timed well.

News about the possibilities for regional nuclear jobs should inspire action on an educational pipeline for jobs. The time is right to "tweak" prep school through post-grad programs on both sides of the river to feed this industry for Georgia and South Carolina's mutual benefit.

We encourage our delegation and national leaders to continue to build up SRS. Our opportunity and responsibility is to assure our children can become the workforce of tomorrow.

Let's strengthen our local economy with high-paying, technical jobs and keep moving forward urgently and carefully on the cleanup that will benefit us now and for many years to come.

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