Originally created 05/06/04

SRS' status may be on agenda



AIKEN - Federal and state officials were mum Wednesday about a scheduled announcement by U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham regarding the Savannah River Technology Center, but political leaders have been pushing to have the facility named a national laboratory or center of excellence for hydrogen research.

After a major policy speech at St. Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church in Aiken on changes to the Department of Energy's security policies Friday, Mr. Abraham, accompanied by South Carolina and Georgia politicians, will appear at the Savannah River Site to disclose unspecified plans for the center.

The technology center, which has historically served as a research and development wing for the nuclear weapons plant, has branched out to do work for agencies such as the Department of Defense and the FBI.

As a national laboratory or center of excellence for hydrogen, its status with DOE would be elevated, creating more research opportunities and the increased probability of new missions at the site, said Mal McKibben, the executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, which promotes the site.

"If we can get that, it opens a whole lot of doors for us," Mr. McKibben said. "It means SRTC would get invited to the table every time DOE talks about new missions."

Although the national laboratory or center of excellence designations wouldn't immediately create jobs, the additional research they could create would, Mr. McKibben said. SRS delayed layoffs earlier this week but says it will likely let workers go next year.

U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, R-S.C., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have said in recent months that they were lobbying to win one or both of the designations for the beleaguered nuclear reservation.

They're scheduled to be at Mr. Abraham's side during his announcement, along with South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and U.S. Rep. Max Burns, R-Ga.

Spencer Abraham will speak in Aiken on Friday.