They came, they toiled -- and now most of them are gone.
As the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act enters its final weeks, Savannah River Site's stimulus-funded cleanup projects are winding down.
"They're wrapping up this month, and next month," said Jim Giusti, a Department of Energy spokesman at the site.
The $1.6 billion windfall created or saved about 3,000 jobs and accelerated dozens of projects that might have languished for years before money became available to complete them.
Defunct reactors were decommissioned and sealed; radioactive waste was repacked and shipped away; and obsolete, Cold War-era buildings were razed -- all part of a long-range plan to consolidate the site's operations into a much smaller area.
On a broader scale, though, the stimulus program was about jobs. The money it provided enabled the site's main contractor, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, to retain about 800 workers who otherwise would have lost their jobs two years ago. It also created about 2,200 project-specific positions that were mostly temporary.
The activity peaked in April 2010, when more than 2,200 stimulus-funded workers reported to the site daily. Since then, the number has declined as projects were completed.
As of Friday, just 1,212 stimulus-funded workers remained: about 800 assigned to Savannah River Nuclear Solutions and 412 working for Savannah River Remediation, the company tasked with disposing of millions of gallons of Cold War-era radioactive waste.
By the time the fiscal year ends Oct. 1, along with the flow of funding, almost every project will have been completed, Giusti said.
The lone exception involves a contract to pack and ship 5,000 cubic meters of legacy transuranic waste to the government's underground repository near Carlsbad, N.M. That program, which accounts for about 200 jobs, was slowed by the deployment of a new shipping container design and has been extended through 2012, Giusti said.
Much of the work not completed wasn't scheduled to even begin until at least 2015.
The reduction of the site's vast footprint not only saves money on security and maintenance but also frees up previously unusable areas for potential new missions.
Giusti said many of the jobs were temporary in nature but still benefited the local economy and the workers supported -- even briefly -- by stimulus money.
"Even though a lot of the people have gone, we believe we gave them a foot up in being more competitive in looking for new jobs," he said. "They've gotten training, clearance and in a lot of cases, nuclear experience."
The end of the stimulus program comes at a time when federal budgets are leaner and the site's contractors are cutting jobs.
Last December, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions was given Energy Department clearance to reduce its workforce by as many as 1,400 positions by this fall. So far, 513 people have accepted voluntary separation offers, and 342 were laid off in March.
Company officials had expected to lay off the remaining 545 workers later this month, but SRNS spokeswoman Barbara Smoak said reorganization efforts are under way to reduce that number.
"We think the number of positions impacted will not reach the 545 positions we anticipated," she said. "We're hoping 200 to 300 would be more realistic."
Two other contractors, Savannah River Remediation and Wackenhut Services, each announced plans to reduce their workforce by 100 positions.