Energy Secretary Perry invited to visit Savannah River Site

Since settling in to his new position as Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry has yet to visit the Savannah River Site, but a group of Congressional representatives wants to change that.

 

The U.S. Department of Energy defense nuclear facility located near Aiken and is one of the biggest employers in the Augusta area. Ten Representatives from Georgia and South Carolina wrote and signed a letter to the Energy Secretary urging him to visit the site.

“We write to reaffirm our strong support for critical missions at the Savannah River Site. Since 1952, the work scope has included essential national security programs that improve the safety of the United States and its allies,” the letter said.

It also noted the site has provided over 10,000 jobs and was an economic boost for the surrounding communities, including millions in tax dollars.

The site’s missions are primarily under the Energy Department’s environmental management division, focusing on cleanup of legacy waste from plutonium and other radioactive material production during the Cold War.

But there are active national security missions on site as well, including several under DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Those include tritium production to maintain the American nuclear weapons arsenal. Tritium has a relatively short half-life and decays rapidly, meaning the supply must be kept up.

The other major NNSA project on site is the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, which is over budget, years beyond deadline and slowly progressing in construction. MOX opponents have continually called the project a “boondoggle,” and it has been in the spotlight of international politics.

In 2016, a record of decision was made under the Obama Administration to move away from MOX production. The NNSA testified before the Senate and attempted to shut the facility down. MOX funding has been relegated to $340 million a year, a baseline amount.

That decision contributed to the downgrade of American relations with Russia, and was a factor in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to freeze a 16-year-old nuclear nonproliferation agreement between the two nations.

“Over a decade ago, the federal government decided to construct MOX to convert weapons grade plutonium into reactor fuel for commercial power plants. Almost two years ago, National Nuclear Security Administrator Frank Klotz testified that the project was more than halfway complete and estimates from the contractor indicate 70 percent completion,” the letter said.

The NNSA would later say completion was around 30 percent. The letter said Perry’s support can ensure the U.S. government’s obligations both internationally and domestically.

Savannah River Site has recently drawn a number of visitors, including some Congressional staffers who had never seen the facilities before. Klotz visited the site March 30, and the Energy Department confirmed that visit.

The Congressional letter said, “Aside from the clean-up mission, SRS is home to both research and development of advanced technologies, and the receipt, processing and safe storage of U.S. origin nuclear materials.”

The letter also recognized the Savannah River National Laboratory and its scientists who helped Japan in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

The letter was signed by Joe Wilson, R-S.C., and Rick Allen, R-Ga., who represent the districts located adjacent to the site on either side of the Savannah River.

Reach Thomas Gardiner at (706)823-3339 or thomas.gardiner@augustachronicle.com.

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