One of Savannah River Site’s biggest advocates is financially dependent on the Department of Energy, but also is one of its biggest critics.
The Savannah River Site Community Reuse Organization was the winner of the department’s 2016 Energy Sustainability Award announced last week.
“We are basically free to speak our mind on whatever we think. We may be more pro-site than others, but no one tells us what to think,” said Rick McLeod, the group’s executive director.
The Graniteville organization is one of 15 agencies created to help communities cope with massive layoffs at energy sites in the 1990s when the U.S. stopped making nuclear weapons. With a staff of less than four people, the group makes money selling surplus equipment the Energy Department gives it, along with interest on money it lent from a department grant and the administration fees of department workforce grants it manages.
Its real mission is to help diversify the region’s economy.
In 2014, it gave five counties $250,000 apiece from funds it had accumulated for economic development, and most invested it in buildings to lure industrial prospects. Last year, its activities generated $500,000.
It also supports programs to prepare workers for jobs at Savnnah River Site.
Advocacy is always part of what it does. It holds public forums and community exchanges and conducts meetings at the local, state and federal level on SRS community issues.
“SRSCRO is an extremely worthwhile organization which actively advocates for our CSRA community,” said Mike Johnson, the executive director of the Aiken-based Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, another advocacy organization. “They have access to senior legislative members and senior DOE staff to carry the messages from the CSRA, seeking the best they can for our community.”
But he says Community Reuse is no shill for the Department of Energy.
“I have personally seen SRSCRO take opposing positions to that of DOE, so I would not agree that they are just a DOE advocacy group,” he said.
The Community Reuse board of directors votes on recommendations from its committees and staff on what positions to take. The directors come from chambers of commerce, local governments, colleges and business people, although none can be employed at SRS.
It has been critical of the Energy Department on tax issues, for example. But it has also advocated for expanding the SRS mission so that jobs there will grow, such as its proposal to make the site a hub for development of energy production.
Some of those positions conflict with opponents of nuclear energy. One is SRS Watch.
“While the SRSCRO provides a valuable service in reuse of surplus material from SRS, it has promoted commercial spent-fuel storage and reprocessing, both of which would add unacceptably to the nuclear waste burden at the site,” said Tom Clements, director of SRS Watch. “Especially as the organization receives DOE funding, it should cease any activities that promote interim commercial spent-fuel storage and reprocessing at SRS.”
McLeod accepts a little disagreement.
“We’re not anti-nuclear,” he said.