Originally created 02/11/99

SRS seeks millions for repairs



The Savannah River Site needs millions of dollars to complete a backlog of repairs and improvements to its facilities.

The money is not included in the U.S. Department of Energy's proposed SRS budget for fiscal year 2000, said John Pescosolido, the department's chief financial officer for the site. But if the improvements are not completed soon, they could create more work to clean up the 310-square-mile nuclear plant in later years, he said.

"It isn't at the break point or the crisis point yet, but if you had the money, it would be smart to go ahead and fix it today," Mr. Pescosolido said. "If we had the resources to fix the place up like it ought to be fixed up, it would probably save us some downstream expenses."

The backlog of improvements would cost from $60 million to $70 million to complete, Mr. Pescosolido said. The needs range from new equipment for some SRS labs to roof repairs in the site's two aging reprocessing canyons, where rainwater now leaks into some areas exposed to radiation, he said.

None of the projects creates a safety hazard for site workers or the public, Mr. Pescosolido said.

"It's a lot of nits and nats," he said. "It's a host of things, but it adds up to a considerable amount of money. If you let them keep going, they keep getting worse."

Site officials began postponing the projects in recent years, when budgets were so tight that all SRS funds were needed to maintain the site's more essential activities, Mr. Pescosolido said.

"What concerns us the most is we've done this over a period of a couple of years, and we don't see a whole lot of relief in the 2000 budget," he said. "We're trying to find out what you do. We can't let it continue to go downhill."

The proposed budget does include several million dollars for some improvements, especially for work at the site's Savannah River Technology Center, Mr. Pescosolido said. The center is a research-and-development lab where scientists develop a broad range of technologies related to environmental cleanup, nuclear energy and national defense.

"We probably are going to invest another $30 million to $40 million in critical infrastructure requirements that we cannot put off any longer," Mr. Pescosolido said.

The proposed budget must pass Congress, and local congressmen could add or subtract money from SRS funding during the process, Mr. Pescosolido said. Site officials hope lawmakers will add some money for infrastructure, he said.

"We have a strong constituency that tends to look out for us," Mr. Pescosolido said. "If we do get some plus-ups, we would like to see some of them in the infrastructure."

Some local congressmen will examine the infrastructure needs during upcoming budget sessions, their staffers said.

"We are hoping that Congressman (Lindsey) Graham can fix it first, and if not, we'll play the backstop position to try to fix it when it reaches the Senate," said Maury Lane, press secretary for U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C.

Kevin Bishop, press secretary to Mr. Graham, R-S.C., did not return a telephone message left at his Washington office.

Brandon Haddock covers energy issues for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3409 or bhaddock@augustachronicle.com.