Savannah River Site is one of three nuclear-weapons sites being considered as a location for a new nuclear-power plant.
U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced Friday that the site was being evaluated in Nuclear Power 2010, a federal initiative to build a new plant by that year.
"We have set an ambitious target for this important work, but one that is achievable," Mr. Abraham said in a statement.
President Bush's budget proposal for fiscal year 2003 includes $38.5 million for the effort, the secretary said.
Besides SRS, the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory and the Portsmouth site in Ohio are in the running, Mr. Abraham said. Privately held sites also will be evaluated, he said.
Local SRS supporters lauded the announcement.
"It fits right in with the nuclear infrastructure in the area and takes full advantage of it," said Ernest S. Chaput, special-projects coordinator for the Aiken-Edgefield Economic Development Partnership.
"It's something we think is well suited for the area, as well as something that's long overdue."
But some observers said the proposal smacked of pork-barrel spending.
"Nuclear power should stand on its own two feet and not look for a government handout," said Tom Clements, the executive director of the Nuclear Control Institute in Washington, D.C.
"It's a bit shocking that the Energy Department would be paying for this," he said. "It looks like a subsidy to the nuclear-power industry that the government shouldn't be doling out."
"I would think this would be questioned in Congress by fiscal conservatives on one side and those who question nuclear power on the other."
The Energy Department has hired two nuclear utilities, Exelon and Dominion Resources, to conduct studies at the proposed sites.
Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409 or firstname.lastname@example.org.