Originally created 05/06/06

Funds might return to SRS



AIKEN - Savannah River Site got a jolt of good news Friday with the possible restoration of tens of millions of dollars to its pending fiscal 2007 budget.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., announced that the Senate Armed Services Committee passed an amendment to replace $150 million to the site's MOX plutonium conversion plant, and add $80 million more to its environmental management budget.

The site's proposed spending allowance for next year has been in flux recently as members of Congress pick it over.

Last week, the House proposed slashing $150 million from the MOX program, which would convert 34 metric tons of plutonium into fuel for commercial power plants as part of a U.S.-Russia nonproliferation agreement.

The proposed cut was followed Wednesday by an amendment from Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., to restore $34.7 million to the program.

That money would come out of a fund originally intended to pay for construction on Russia's MOX plant.

The U.S. and Russian plants are supposed to be built at the same time, but Mr. Wilson also has proposed separating the construction schedules.

If Mr. Graham's amendment holds up before the full Senate and the House, the MOX program would get the full $289.5 million that President Bush requested in February, in addition to $78.7 million for a separate plant that accompanies MOX.

"The MOX program is vital to our national security, and we will continue to work together to ensure it is adequately funded," Mr. Graham said in a statement.

Layoffs at SRS remain a concern because of the site's dwindling environmental management budget, its biggest source of federal funding. The president requested $1.08 billion in February, almost $100 million less than this year's budget.

Even with Mr. Graham's amendment to bolster the environmental budget by $80 million, some observers say SRS would still be short by as much as $120 million.

"Every dollar that the shortfall can be reduced will help alleviate a possible jobs situation," said Ernie Chaput, a former Energy Department deputy director at SRS who used to work on its annual budgets.

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

WHAT'S NEXT:

Construction on MOX is supposed to start this fall and will bring about 500 new employees to Savannah River Site before year's end.



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