Stimulus spending plans under way

The U.S. Department of Energy hopes to begin spending its $6 billion share of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act as soon as possible, and some of those dollars will come to Savannah River Site.

"Everybody wants to talk to us because we have all this money coming," said Merle Sykes, the deputy assistant secretary for program planning and budget in DOE's Office of Environmental Management.

Ms. Sykes, who spoke Tuesday to about 800 people at a Nuclear Suppliers Outreach Event in Augusta, said the stimulus funding will generate thousands of new jobs and accelerate schedules for major cleanup programs.

"We'll be concentrating on things we know how to do -- like soil and groundwater projects -- and we'll be looking to see how many jobs we can create as quickly as possible," she said.

Projects at 17 sites in 12 states have been identified as eligible for Reinvestment Act funds, she said. "We're going through a process internally right now to make sure all these projects are ready to go."

No formal announcement has been made, but an Energy Department breakdown distributed in February to the nonprofit Energy Communities Alliance indicated that SRS would receive up to $1.9 billion -- enough to create perhaps 3,000 jobs.

Although Savannah River Site is a key player in environmental cleanup, it is by no means the only area needing remediation, Ms. Sykes said.

More than 2 million acres -- an area the size of Rhode Island and Delaware -- are involved in cleanup programs. Those sites include more than 4,500 buildings, 1.5 billion pounds of nuclear materials and enough radioactive waste to fill the Louisiana Superdome.

The stimulus money will enable some projects to be completed ahead of time and will possibly shorten the life cycle of current cleanup projects that are scheduled to last until 2055-2062.

"We won't be going out of business anytime soon," Ms. Sykes said.

The program's main priorities will include tank wastes and reprocessing and safeguarding spent fuel, she said.

The economic stimulus funds, she added, will be focused on short-term investments with long-term goals.

By fast-tracking cleanup projects with stimulus money, federal properties are freed up earlier for redevelopment and new uses.

"It is our hope that the jobs we create today will be sustained in the reuse," she said. "It's a very, very key time for us."

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