Federal plan would boost SRS jobs

The U.S. Energy Department has proposed a $6 billion plan to create 10,000 jobs over the next four years by fast-tracking cleanup projects at nuclear weapons facilities, including Savannah River Site, according to a report this week in Weapons Complex Monitor, an industry trade publication.


The story, citing an internal department document, said the funding could evolve as part of the economic stimulus package being prepared by the incoming Obama administration.

In general, the accelerated cleanup programs would add jobs at SRS and other sites such as Oak Ridge, Idaho National Laboratory and Hanford, where long-range plans have been drawn up to reduce the "footprint" of nuclear production activities by as much as 90 percent through closure, cleanup and consolidation.

The report did not break down potential funding or jobs by site.

At SRS, which covers 310 square miles, such a reduction would continue to move critical operations closer to the center of the site and -- in theory -- save money by requiring less maintenance, security, upkeep and environmental monitoring.

Jim Giusti, an Energy Department spokesman at SRS, said efforts have been under way for years to shrink the footprint at the site.

"We have been reducing operations and getting out of older buildings and trying to get more operations to the center of the site," he said.

Non-nuclear cleanup projects, he said, frequently include the demolition of older buildings containing asbestos and the exhumation of soil contaminated by oil and more routine materials.

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, selected last year as the site's primary contractor, has some environmental-management responsibilities but has received no details on any new direction for cleanup, spokesman Jim Gaver said.

"We're not aware of any specific direction, but our customer, of course, is DOE, and they are the ones who set our priorities," he said.

Mr. Giusti referred questions on the Weapons Complex Monitor report to the Energy Department's external affairs office in Washington, which did not return a call Tuesday.

Environmental groups who have long called for more attentive and accelerated cleanup programs at nuclear weapons sites say the plan has merit but is likely in a very preliminary stage.

"We haven't seen a stimulus bill or a funding package, nor has the new administration and Congress had an opportunity to get down to business," said Geoff Fettus, a senior project attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council's nuclear program. "So at this point, this is rank speculation."

If the funding comes to fruition, it could provide wonderful benefits as long as it is administered capably and not wasted, he said.

"Cleanup will be going on down in lovely South Carolina for a lot longer than the next four years," he said. "If there is stimulus money the administration and Congress will be providing, we hope it will be effectively used and provide the most bang for the buck in reducing risk and environmental threat."

Employment at SRS, currently estimated at about 11,000, including security personnel, has fluctuated wildly over its long history. There were 25,180 jobs at the site in fiscal 1992, and the figure has fallen each year since.

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.