Originally created 11/29/00

DOE nears decision on contract for SRS



Savannah River Site's top contractor soon should discover whether it again will be tapped to operate the federal nuclear-weapons installation.

U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said Tuesday that he hoped to sign a deal with Westinghouse Savannah River Co. within weeks.

"I think in a couple of weeks, we ought to have a decision," Mr. Richardson said during his visit to recognize the site's 50th anniversary. "There are a couple of small-business issues that we have to resolve."

"I want to conclude it on my watch," said Mr. Richardson, who could leave office in January after the Clinton administration ends.

A Westinghouse spokesman said the company also looks forward to reaching an agreement.

"We've been working with the Energy Department on this for a number of months, and we're ready when he is," Westinghouse spokesman Will Callicott said. "We appreciate the fact that he has shown as much confidence in us as he has."

Westinghouse has operated the site for the U.S. Department of Energy since 1989, and employs the bulk of the site's nearly 14,000 workers. The company's current contract expires Sept. 30.

The contractor's corporate parent, Washington Group International, is building a $6 million headquarters in downtown Aiken for its government-services arm.

Besides the SRS deal, Washington Group is a finalist for a contract to operate the Energy Department's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M.

The company was selected to operate the New Mexico plant last month, only to have the Energy Department withdraw its offer after the Washington Group changed parts of its business proposal.

During his speech to local residents Tuesday, the secretary praised Westinghouse's efforts at SRS.

"We're very proud of Westinghouse," Mr. Richardson said to cheers from the crowd. "That's why we want to keep them part of our team."

Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409.