AIKEN - Savannah River Site, currently run by a single private contractor that manages about 13,000 employees, likely will be divided in 2006 and run by a number of companies, a Department of Energy representative said.
"Basically, we expect the site to be different in 2006, of course, because we're pursuing an accelerated cleanup," DOE spokesman Bill Taylor said. "We envision it will be multiple tasks involving multiple contractors."
One industry expert said the anticipated breakup of site operations could have an adverse effect.
Other sites have been divided, and some evidence suggests that the change was not for the best, said Mal McKibben, the executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness.
"It will make things run less efficiently," he said.
Westinghouse Savannah River Co. has operated the site since 1989 and does so now with subcontractors Bechtel Savannah River Inc., BNFL Savannah River Corp., BWXT Savannah River Co. and CH2 Hill.
Westinghouse's contract with DOE expires in 2006. The company and its subcontractors are expected to bid on a new contract as a team, though it's not clear yet which mission the companies would be managing.
Mr. McKibben, a former manager at Westinghouse, said that if the site is divided, the company might try to maintain complete control.
"I strongly suspect that if they break it into two, Westinghouse would bid on both," he said.
Will Callicott, a Westinghouse spokesman, said the company is focused on its work until 2006.
"Certainly, we have an interest in continuing our work at the site with DOE beyond 2006," he said. "That's really all I can say."
Cleaning and decontaminating SRS is Westinghouse's central mission. The site's budget in 2003 was $1.6 billion, of which $1.16 billion was allocated to DOE's Environmental Management department, Mr. Taylor said.
Site experts say cleanup will remain a priority and will require its own contractor if SRS is divided. A logical second contractor, they say, would manage new missions, such as the mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility, , set for construction next year, and the Modern Pit Facility that SRS is still competing for.
Those missions are being managed by the National Nuclear Security Administration, an arm of DOE that handles weapons manufacturing and research, and would mean hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars for the economy.
"Perhaps, NNSA would want to negotiate their own contract with their own company," Mr. Taylor said.
The group already manages the Pantex weapons site in Texas, the Nevada Test Site near Las Vegas and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, among others.
Dividing site responsibilities between the National Nuclear Security Administration and Environmental Management wouldn't be all bad, Mr. McKibben said, though he advocates one private contractor handling both DOE missions.
"A lot of people have been pressing DOE to get another landlord besides (Environmental Management)," he said. "Their whole purpose in life is to shut things down, decontaminate, decommission and get out of town."
Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895 or firstname.lastname@example.org.