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SC energy secretary invited to SRS to see projects facing budget cuts

Friday, Sept. 20, 2013 6:10 PM
Last updated Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013 11:04 AM
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South Carolina lawmakers want Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to visit South Carolina to get a firsthand look at Savannah River Site programs threatened by budget cuts.

“This visit will give you an opportunity to gain a better appreciation of not only the work being done at SRS but also the site’s significance to the surrounding communities,” stated the letter, dated Thursday and signed by both of the state’s U.S. senators and six members of Congress.

The U.S. Department of Energy site houses the National Nuclear Security Administration’s mixed oxide, or MOX, project, which will convert bomb-grade plutonium into commercial reactor fuel.

The facility is 60 percent complete but faces major fiscal year 2014 funding cuts that emerged after the project cost was revised from $4.9 billion to $7.7 billion, with news that it was also lagging further behind schedule.

Shaw AREVA MOX Services, the contractor building the project, is already downsizing its workforce to accommodate the reduced funding.

In addition to affecting jobs and the economy, the lawmakers wrote, such cuts also undermine the nation’s commitment with Russia to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium from surplus nuclear warheads.

Also facing cuts are site’s environmental management cleanup projects involving high-level radioactive waste left behind from Cold War weapons production.

Liquid waste contractor Savannah River Remediation, which manages such cleanup projects, laid off 465 workers last week.

Reduced funding for cleanup projects could also cause DOE to violate commitments made to the state of South Carolina, whose environmental regulators warned recently that failure to meet cleanup agreements could trigger fines totaling $154 million.

“With this unfortunate news in mind, we would like to take this opportunity to extend an official invitation to visit SRS in person to see firsthand the critical programs under way at SRS that rely on support from the Department of Energy,” the letter stated.

Signing the letter were Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott and Reps. Joe Wilson, Trey Gowdy, James Clyburn, Tom Rice, Mick Mulvaney and Jeff Duncan.

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