The U.S. Department of Energy and a nonprofit development board are in the final stages of a deal to lease 2,500 acres within Savannah River Site that could be marketed as an "energy park" or a possible site for a commercial nuclear power plant.
"We have come up with a site ... but until the lease is signed, we cannot divulge its location," said Rick Toole, the chairman of the Savannah River Site Community Reuse Organization.
The organization was formed 15 years ago to find ways to bring new jobs to SRS as its nuclear weapons mission and employment numbers diminished.
Efforts to establish a lease program for "energy park" land within the 310-square-mile site have been under way for years, but the absence of a formal procedure for such leases has prevented major prospects from fully exploring development options.
"DOE has been extremely helpful in trying to maneuver through all the obstacles, and, as of this week, we think we may have leases signed and in-hand sometime in the spring or early summer," Mr. Toole said.
A focus of private development at the site includes alternative and nonrenewable energy opportunities, but the Community Reuse Organization's 2008 annual report also mentions nuclear power generation and medical applications.
"One of the advantages is that it is a well-protected federal site, and having something that secure and protected, you don't have to worry about 'not in my backyard' types of neighbors," Mr. Toole said.
The site's legacy as a nuclear weapons materials plant also offers an abundance of data that could save money on site suitability studies.
According to a December 2007 position paper published by the Community Reuse Organization, SRS has been eyed by major utility companies as a possible venue for new nuclear power plants. Those companies included SCANA in South Carolina and Southern Co. of Georgia, but the inquiries weren't pursued in earnest, in part because of the absence of a formal land lease agreement.
Once the land lease has been completed, Mr. Toole believes SRS will become much more attractive as a potential site for energy projects.
He said the Community Reuse Organization hopes to work with other economic development boards, not in competition with them.
"A nuclear power plant, for example, is something that would not normally or regularly fit into the domain of other authorities," he said. "There is also a big federal push for alternative energy, with incentives to look at renewable energy opportunities. We already have some prospects with interest."
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According to the Savannah River Site Community Reuse Organization, there are four recent examples of missed opportunities for commercial nuclear projects at SRS because of the absence of formal land lease agreements. Each offered investments of more than $1.5 billion and at least 500 jobs:
MAY 2005: NuStart Consortia expressed interest in SRS for a nuclear power reactor as part of the DOE 2010 program. The department authorized negotiating a lease, but the utility's partners expressed reservations about potential lease provisions that included dual regulation by DOE and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
SEPTEMBER 2005: SCANA explored SRS as a possible site for a commercial nuclear power plant and evaluated SRS in terms of emergency planning, exclusion zones, operation of infrastructure and land lease terms and conditions.
SEPTEMBER 2005: Southern Co. considered SRS as a possible nuclear power plant site, with questions that included indemnification and land lease terms and conditions.
AUGUST 2007: AREVA looked at SRS during site selection for construction and operation of a uranium enrichment plant.