An important U.S. program to recover foreign nuclear material and store it at Savannah River Site could be cut back under a series of budget changes anticipated in fiscal year 2011, according to a federal oversight committee.
The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, in a Nov. 5 report that followed a budget discussion with site officials, warned of financial impacts to both L-Area -- where domestic and foreign spent fuel is stored -- and H-Area, the only hardened nuclear chemical separations plant still in operation in the U.S.
"If a funding realignment is not approved, L-Area activities could be severely curtailed," the board's report said. "This could dramatically impact shipments of fuel from L-to-H Areas and discontinue receipts of foreign and domestic research reactor fuel."
L-Area is where much of the spent fuel from foreign reactors is stored in the U.S. to prevent its exploitation by terrorists in unsecured areas overseas.
H Canyon, built in the 1950s for nuclear weapons material production, is used today to transform weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium to low enriched uranium suitable for use in commercial power reactors, not weapons.
Jim Giusti, a U.S. Department of Energy spokesman, said the programs -- and other SRS functions -- do not yet have an approved fiscal 2011 budget from Congress and are operating under a continuing resolution, which temporarily funds the government agencies at existing or reduced levels until a formal budget can be approved.
"We do expect the continuing resolution to be resolved in February," he said. "We are assuming that Congress will approve funding flexibility needed to support continuing operations which include receipts of foreign and domestic research reactor fuel."
SRS is one of two U.S. locations where spent foreign fuel can be stored. Based on environmental impact studies, fuel rods clad in aluminum come to SRS and those sheathed in stainless steel go to the Energy Department's storage facility in Idaho.
Even after the fiscal 2011 budget is negotiated, SRS is likely to feel further effects in fiscal 2012, when funding could decrease by 5 percent under an edict from the Obama administration.
The site is also downsizing its work force through the elimination of about 1,400 positions under a plan announced last month by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the site's primary contractor.
Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or email@example.com.