LANGLEY — Despite plans to shutter the mixed-oxide fuel plant at Savannah River Site, President Obama’s fiscal year 2017 budget should signal to area residents that the nuclear facility’s importance hasn’t gone unnoticed, site manager Jack Craig said.
In a forum held by the Savannah River Site Community Reuse Organization at Aiken Technical College on Thursday, he pointed to the budget breakdown for the Department of Energy’s environmental management sites, particularly the line item that showed Obama’s proposal requested more than $111 million in additional funding for SRS in 2017.
“I think it’s telling that headquarters has recognized the actual positive progress being made at the site,” Craig said. “The fact that we have operating nuclear facilities that are actually treating waste is something unique in the EM program, whereas other sites are facing challenges with just having their facilities constructed.”
In all, Obama’s proposal calls for $2.1 billion in funding for SRS, $1.44 billion of which would go toward environmental management efforts including the stabilization of nuclear material and site cleanup measures. According to the SRS Community Reuse Organization, an additional $618 million is earmarked for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s nonproliferation programs at the site, which boasts a workforce of more than 11,400.
Though Obama’s budget has been in the public eye for close to a month, Thursday’s meeting was held to give residents a snapshot of how the requests would affect the site moving forward.
“The SRS budget is important to every citizen of this region,” said David Jameson, the Aiken Chamber of Commerce’s president. “We count heavily on SRS to sustain and spur economic growth through this region.”
Officials used the opportunity to celebrate milestones achieved last year and to discuss efforts underway at SRS.
There was talk of progress on the nuclear material and spent nuclear fuel front. Last year the site processed Canadian liquid highly enriched uranium, which is expected to continue in fiscal year 2016. The site also disposed of more than 5,000 cubic meters of low-level solid waste and produced 93 canisters of vitrified high-level waste through the Defense Waste Processing Facility.
Another structure designed to handle liquid waste – the Salt Waste Processing Facility – is expected to be complete by next month, project director Pam Marks said.
Though MOX was mentioned, Craig said officials were unable to comment in detail on it because of pending litigation, alluding to a lawsuit filed by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson last month.
In the lawsuit, Wilson asked that the Energy Department immediately remove one metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium from SRS and pay $1 million for each day the terms of its agreement with the state is not met. The material was supposed to be removed by Jan. 1 if MOX wasn’t operational.