This is a critically important week for the future of the Savannah River Site. House-Senate conferees will work to resolve their differences over next year's $271 billion defense authorization bill -- named for Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., as he serves out his final year as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
One of those differences involves SRS and tritium production. Tritium, the decaying radio-active gas that boosts the explosive power of nuclear weapons, will have to be produced again after the turn of the century.
The House bill, thanks to an amendment co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., prohibits using a commercial reactor to make tritium, thus maintaining the historical separation between peaceful and military uses of nuclear energy. If the Graham ban sticks, an accelerator would have to be built at SRS to produce the tritium.
The Senate bill, on the other hand, opens up the opportunity for the Department of Energy to select a commercial reactor as a source for tritium. Perversely, it's not even a reactor that's completed yet!
The only reason the Alabama civilian reactor plant is in the running is because it's part of the Tennessee Valley Authority boondoggle.
It's frightening to think that an important national security mission could be turned over to a commercial plant not yet operational. The fact such a ridiculous notion has gained so much credence is testimony to how much muscle TVA propagandists have in Washington.
They've been especially successful in disseminating inaccurate cost comparisons -- grossly inflating the accelerator's cost while greatly understating the reactor's cost.
More accurate (but less publicized) data show the accelerator, at a about $2.5 billion, is only marginally more expensive than the reactor, and that's without figuring taxpayer costs of fighting anti-nuclear activists' lawsuits to stop any new nuclear power plant from going on line.
As House-Senate conferees hammer out their differences, it's critical that Thurmond and another important South Carolinian, House National Security Committee Chairman Floyd Spence, stay the course in getting the cost truth to their colleagues and fighting to retain the Graham amendment.
Success would not only serve the nation's national security interests, it would also be a bill Thurmond could be proud to have his name attached to -- and a fitting tribute to his decades of service.