One of the most important missions federal, state and local leaders are seeking for the Savannah River Site is a "pit" facility to replace the nation's nuclear weapons triggers.
A public hearing on a draft environmental impact statement concerning the proposed facility is at 6 p.m. July 7 at the North Augusta Community Center. We urge region residents who support the new nuclear mission to turn out in force. You can be sure that anti-nuke, anti-defense forces will turn out as many people as possible to beat back the new nuclear weapons project.
The project, costing between $2.2 billion and $4.1 billion to build, and slated to start in 2011, would create up to 1,100 high-paying construction jobs and about 1,800 high-tech science and nuclear jobs upon its completion in 2018.
Such a mission would ensure a bright future for SRS, which, for now, is mostly charged with cleaning up radioactive waste after 40 years of the Cold War.
A "pit" is a hollow sphere of plutonium material that is a critical component for nuclear weapons. The pit functions as a trigger to allow the weapon to operate properly.
Since the Rocky Flats plant in Colorado shut down pit production in 1989, the United States is the only nuclear power without the capability to manufacture the triggers.
SRS is competing with four other Department of Energy nuclear sites for the "pit" project. Certainly congressional politics will play a role in deciding which plant gets it, but practical considerations will still be critical - and on that score, SRS should have a leg up on the competition.
It has the world's most complete and modern infrastructure specifically designed for plutonium, and it has the largest, best-trained work force with extensive experience handling plutonium. Also, SRS has traditionally enjoyed a strong base of community support for its defense and nuclear missions.
Plus, if DOE does pick SRS for the "pit" project, it will return the site to its original purpose - nuclear weapons production.
With all this going for the site, public hearings like the one in North Augusta July 7 are logical places for foes of the new nuclear mission to make their stand, says Westinghouse Savannah River Co. spokesman Will Callicott, who expects demonstrators and pickets to put in an appearance, too. It could be quite a show.
Nuclear foes feel if they can discredit SRS as a site for "pit" production it would make it easier for them to discredit "pit" production anywhere. That's why it's necessary for the Central Savannah River Area to turn out three days after Independence Day celebrations to demonstrate their patriotic support for SRS.
The attitude of local communities toward new projects has a significant impact on the Energy Department's decision of where to locate them. We don't want anyone to think the anti-nuke crowd speaks for the entire area.