Originally created 02/07/06

Proposal cuts funds for cleanup at SRS

AIKEN - Savannah River Site's biggest expenditure - environmental cleanup - would be slashed by 8 percent in fiscal 2007, according to President Bush's budget request to Congress released Monday.

The site's $1.18 billion budget for this fiscal year, which covers the period from October to September, would dip to $1.08 billion in fiscal 2007 under the plan.

The environmental portion of the SRS budget pays for cleanup of radioactive leftovers from decades of Cold War weapons production.

"That will have significant repercussions," Mal McKibben, the executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness and a former SRS manager, said of the proposed reduction.

Officials with the site's private contractor, Washington Savannah River Co., said Monday that they were still reviewing the president's proposal, which serves as a spending blueprint for Congress and could be radically changed before the final federal budget is approved.

Jim Giusti, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Energy, which runs SRS, had a rosier forecast.

All told, including money from other sources, the site's environmental budget should only shrink by about $60 million, he said.

"(That) funding level will continue our critical cleanup at SRS," the spokesman said.

Despite the overall decrease, Mr. Bush's proposal acknowledged the site's most serious environmental threat - 49 aging tanks that contain 36 million gallons of radioactive waste - and recommended a 6 percent increase for those cleanup efforts, from $538 million to $571 million.

At least one South Carolina lawmaker pledged to guard SRS' environmental budget.

"I will work with my colleagues to ensure adequate funding levels are maintained," said U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, a Republican ally of Mr. Bush whose district includes Aiken County.

Mr. Bush's proposal provided a brighter outlook in 2007 for SRS' mixed oxide, or MOX, factory, which will convert weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for nuclear reactors.

That project is being funded by the Defense Department.

Spending on construction, which is supposed to start in May, would grow from $193 million to $235 million next year, even though designs are incomplete.

"The funding increase is because this is the year to peak fund it and we expect to be in a position to start construction later this calendar year," said Linton Brooks, the director of the National Nuclear Security Administration, an Energy Department branch that oversees MOX operations.

Mr. Brooks held a news conference Monday to discuss Mr. Bush's budget with Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, who officially unveiled the Global Nuclear Energy Program, part of the president's push to expand nuclear energy around the world and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

The program calls for recycling nuclear reactor fuel, something the United States stopped doing in 1970 because of hazards it left behind.

Mr. Bodman said the Energy Department would spend $250 million to jump-start the program next year, but the agency did not specify where the money would go.

The department reportedly has eyed SRS for a demonstration reactor to test the use of recycled fuel.

The site is to get $13.5 million in this year's budget for the "advanced fuel cycle initiative," a facet of the recycled fuel study. But SRS is only scheduled to get $500,000 for those studies in 2007, according to the president's proposed budget.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.

Short Shrift at SRS

Funding levels at SRS have declined in recent years and would again next year under the proposed budget President Bush released Monday.

Environmental Management (the site's largest fund)

2005....................$1.3 billion

2006....................$1.18 billion

2007....................$1.08 billion*

*The president's proposal for fiscal 2007, which runs from October through September

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

The president's proposed 8 percent cut to Savannah River Site's environmental budget in 2007 could make it more difficult for officials to proceed with the cleanup of radioactive waste at the site.


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