Savannah River Site is a national treasure, and we must use it wisely

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It generally is recognized in the CSRA and the nuclear community at large that Savannah River Site represents a unique asset – a true national treasure. For about 65 years the site has supported national interests and has provided essential services to the United States, ranging from special nuclear materials production in the early years to spent fuel receipts from foreign nuclear reactors; and environmental cleanup in more recent years while providing an ongoing tritium production and recycling role.

A South Carolina historical marker near Savannah River Site's now-defunct P Reactor is shown in this 2009 photo. Activated in the early 1950s, the reactor was closed in the 1980s and permanently closed and sealed in 2011. SRS' long record of service makes it a national treasure.  FILE/STAFF
FILE/STAFF
A South Carolina historical marker near Savannah River Site's now-defunct P Reactor is shown in this 2009 photo. Activated in the early 1950s, the reactor was closed in the 1980s and permanently closed and sealed in 2011. SRS' long record of service makes it a national treasure.

THE SITE HAS BEEN a good employer, offering high-paying, high-technology jobs, with employment levels typically ranging from 10,000 to 14,000 people in a very safe environment. The site population is important because economic studies show that each site job provides an additional 1.5 jobs in the community. A site work force of 12,000 workers generates an additional 18,000 jobs in the CSRA. Further, the site mission has been carried out in a large, green, forested area of about 300 square miles, allowing unparalleled pristine, environmental settings with attendant environmental research.

Now things are beginning to change. After 20 years of cleanup, the site cleanup program, under the aegis of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management, is about 50 percent complete. Cleanup at the site is an approximately 40-year program, and work could be completed well into the late 2030s. This completion will result in the loss of several thousand site jobs. To maintain the character of the site, it is important to immediately seek appropriate additional missions for SRS consistent with the site’s historical
capabilities.

ONE VIABLE additional SRS mission would be to assist other locations with their cleanups. The site has unique processing capabilities at its H-Canyon, and excellent supporting technical expertise, particularly the Savannah River National Laboratory. In each such case, the site would support national security by making nuclear materials more secure and invulnerable to improper use.

As new mission opportunities are considered, it is important that this community embrace the direction in which the site is moving. It’s a national treasure that should serve us all. Here are a few criteria that I feel are appropriate for any new SRS missions:

• Any nuclear material receipt should be done with the implicit approval of the state of South Carolina, and an acknowledgement of the national security interest being served.

• Any proposed new missions should offer significant benefit to the site in terms of additional jobs and economic impact.

• In all circumstances, SRS should be maintained in a pristine environmental condition for wildlife, environmental research and public involvement.

• Such missions can be carried out safely and have minimal environmental impact.

• Any missions would have minimal impact on agreed-to schedules for the processing of existing high-level nuclear waste and general site cleanup.

ANY MISSIONS that meet the above-stated guidelines would be in the best interests of this general area. The site could continue to do what it has done in the past 60 years: providing attractive jobs while making the country at large safer and more secure.

The Department of Energy now is considering an additional mission for SRS, and is preparing an environmental assessment related to the acceptance and disposition of used nuclear fuel containing U.S.-originated, highly enriched uranium from Germany. While some of the detailed impacts have yet to be established, it appears that receipt of this fuel will be an ideal match for SRS capabilities. SRS will be able to disposition this fuel by processing it much as they have processed other nuclear fuels for years.

IN ADDITION, highly enriched uranium will be taken out of harm’s way and placed in a safe, secure setting, making the United States and the world a safer place. This particular nuclear fuel is somewhat different in how it will be processed, and will require further research and development. The German government will be paying for the research and development and for the processing, which is anticipated to cost about $1 billion over five or six years. This provides the SRNL the added benefit of expanding its technical capabilities.

Overall, this looks like a good starting point for SRS to develop new missions. I ask the public to support SRS in developing new missions that maintain the character of the site. SRS will, in turn, continue to be the asset that we’ve always known.

(The writer holds a doctorate from Georgia Tech. He was a manager for the Department of Energy at SRS for more than 30 years; formerly chaired the SRS Citizens’ Advisory Board; and now serves as vice-chairman of the Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, based in Aiken, S.C.)

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SCEagle Eye
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SCEagle Eye 08/12/14 - 01:35 pm
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uh, no way: SRS commercial nuclear dump?!

Note the conclusion of the op-ed: dump commercial spent fuel from Germany at SRS. SRS is not a spent fuel (high-level waste) disposal site and there is little interest in turning us into a dump for foreign or domestic highly radioactive spent fuel. Is making SRS a paid nuclear dump site the best boosters can come up with? If so, the future is grim for SRS. (And, it's illegal for Germany to export commercial spent fuel so there is lots of dodging and weaving going on to get around that little problem...)

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