Originally created 11/05/04

Bush victory might bode well for SRS

AIKEN - President Bush's re-election was a promising outcome for Savannah River Site and provides a measure of insurance that future missions will be funded and completed as planned, political leaders and nuclear experts say.

"It means a world of difference for the Savannah River Site," U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Thursday. "The site's future was dead in the water under Kerry."

The president has supported nuclear energy and is an outspoken advocate of bolstering the country's nuclear stockpile, including the construction of a modern pit facility that would build plutonium pits for weapons. The facility could be done at SRS.

His opponent, Sen. John Kerry, on the other hand, was viewed as a skeptic of nuclear energy. He lost support from some in the industry by saying Yucca Mountain in Nevada shouldn't be used as a burial ground for nuclear waste, including more than 30 million gallons from SRS.

"In the long run, SRS is going to benefit" with Mr. Bush's re-election, said Mal McKibben, a former SRS employee who is the executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness.

Mr. Bush's win also improves the funding forecast for SRS, said Mr. Graham, who will become South Carolina's senior senator in January.

"The people we've been dealing with in the administration have been very friendly with defense and cleanup issues at SRS," he said.

Mr. Graham said he was confident the Senate could overcome recommendations in the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill to slash funding to SRS projects, including its research arm - the Savannah River National Laboratory - and a mixed-oxide nuclear fuel conversion plant, which officials want to start building in May and which would create 500 new jobs.

About $10 million needed to study the modern pit facility - which SRS is competing for with four other sites and could mean more than 2,000 jobs - also should come through, Mr. Graham said.

Right now, however, the employment situation at SRS and the need for layoffs remains unclear.

The site's fiscal budget year started in October, but Congress has yet to complete its appropriations bill and isn't expected to reconvene on the matter until mid-November.

The Department of Energy expects to receive $1.6 billion, spokeswoman Julie Petersen said, $100 million less than the site's 2004 budget.

Westinghouse Savannah River Co. planned to lay off 300 people earlier this year but delayed the action in May, when company officials said it was "very probable" a reduction would come in fiscal year 2005.

Westinghouse President Bob Pedde said earlier this week that the company consistently evaluates jobs at the site but that there was no announcement to be made.

Mr. Graham said he was optimistic the site could avoid layoffs because of $188 million earmarked for the site that was included in the Defense Authorization bill.

"The layoffs we'll have in the future will not be driven by money but mission completion," he said.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 113, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.

On the block

An appropriations bill approved by the U.S. House for fiscal year 2005 recommends no new funding to upgrade the status of the Savannah River National Laboratory, the research wing of Savannah River Site, and slashed funding for a fuel conversion plant that would create 500 jobs. On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that with help from President Bush, funding could be restored to those programs.


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