Originally created 02/08/00

Projects cannot fit in budget



A proposed $130 million increase in Savannah River Site's budget still wouldn't be enough to fund a handful of important programs in fiscal year 2001, the site's chief financial officer said Monday.

Left unfunded would be needed improvements to the site's aging infrastructure and construction of a replacement for a failed $500 million plant at the federal nuclear-weapons site, John Pescosolido said.

"It's like a kid in a candy store," he told about 25 people who gathered at Aiken Technical College to watch the rollout of the site's proposed $1.6 billion fiscal 2001 budget. "You just can't get everything you ask for, especially in this period of budget constraints."

Mr. Pescosolido called the proposed budget "pretty positive" for SRS, which has faced stagnant budgets of about $1.5 billion in recent years. This year's proposal is about 8 percent more than last year's budget.

The proposed budget makes up about 8.4 percent of the U.S. Department of Energy's requested overall budget of $18.9 billion. The numbers were made public Monday as part of President Clinton's introduction of his proposed $1.84 trillion federal budget for 2001.

Energy Department officials or Congress still can raise or lower the site's proposed budget before the federal fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Although the SRS budget would increase under the proposal, some jobs still might be lost in coming months in efforts to streamline SRS activities, Mr. Pescosolido said. But any reductions in the site's work force of about 14,000 would be small, he said.

"We don't see anything significant in the cards," he said.

The proposed budget would allow SRS to meet environmental-cleanup goals agreed on with federal and South Carolina officials, Mr. Pescosolido said.

The budget would pay for closure of one of the site's 49 tanks of highly radioactive liquid waste and would fund shipments of some radioactive waste to a federal disposal facility in New Mexico.

The budget also includes about $38 million for design of three new plutonium-treatment plants, although those projects now are being handled by the Energy Department's Chicago Operations Office, rather than locally, Mr. Pescosolido said.

But the site did not receive about $104 million to fund several projects deemed important, Mr. Pescosolido said. Among those efforts were about $5.3 million in improvements to the site's general infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and sewer systems, he said.

Although the 50-year-old site can operate safely without the improvements, failure to complete them will increase the costs of operating SRS in the long run, Mr. Pescosolido said.

Also unfunded was construction money for a plant to replace the site's failed In-Tank Precipitation Facility. That plant, which treated some radioactive waste at SRS, was closed in January 1998 after scientists could not prevent flammable, carcinogenic benzene from building up in the facility's tanks.

Although construction of a new plant would not begin, the proposed budget would provide about $21.5 million for Energy Department scientists to research possible replacements for the In-Tank plant, Mr. Pescosolido said.

Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409.