Who would ever have imagined, even a year ago, that a foreign company could be taking over nuclear operations at the formerly top-secret Savannah River Site?
It boggles the mind that a French or British firm could soon run the nuclear weapons plant, still the only U.S. defense facility capable of producing weapons grade tritium.
The specter of European management of the Site has been raised by reports that SRS' primary contractor, CBS-owned Westinghouse Electric Co., is negotiating to sell its nuclear operations contract to either a France-based or Great Britain-based firm. Is this "globalism" run amok?
Naturally, the notion that foreigners could take over what is still a precious national security asset is setting off alarm bells in Congress.
Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., whose district includes SRS, says though he's certainly opposed to having Europeans as SRS primary contractors, he's all for them being junior partners tied to a dominant American firm.
Indeed, this seems to be what's going down. French-owned nuclear giants Framatome and Cogema are partnered with Fluor Daniel, an Irvine, Calif., engineering firm. The other partnership includes nuclear conglomerate BNFL of Great Britain and Morrison Knudsen, a Boise, Idaho, engineering company..
The foreign connection is necessary, says Graham, because of U.S. hostility to its own nuclear industry. Decades of neglect has stifled development of the expertise needed to run -- with maximum safety and efficiency -- new nuclear missions being sought by SRS, such as converting plutonium into MOX fuel.
Maybe that neglect is what should really boggle the mind.
"We drove away our nuclear energy brainpower," notes Graham, "and now we're paying the price -- seeking help from the more experienced Europeans" who have kept pace with state-of-the-art nuclear energy technologies.
In fact, if the Department of Energy OKs either France's or Britain's nuclear conglomerate as a junior SRS partner, it would probably be good news -- signaling the plant will likely get the $500 million MOX contract and the 750 new jobs that go with it.