Sixty years ago, when the nation needed solutions to unprecedented Cold War challenges driven by creating and maintaining an effective nuclear deterrent, the Savannah River Site delivered. And SRS has been delivering solutions ever since.
When Dr. Ernest Moniz, the nation’s 13th Secretary of Energy, visited the Savannah River Site recently, he was quick to recognize that SRS still has unique capabilities that lend themselves to new Department of Energy, or DOE, and international missions. He singled out the Savannah River National Laboratory as a “national treasure” and H-Canyon, the only secure nuclear chemical separations plant in the U.S.
He also noted that SRS is the only site in the DOE complex to actually empty and permanently close high-level waste tanks and successfully convert high-level waste into glass – a process pioneered at SRS that no other site has been able to duplicate.
Yes, throughout its history, SRS has been a place for solutions.
• When America needed special materials like plutonium and tritium for the U.S. nuclear arsenal during the Cold War, SRS delivered.
• When scientists needed a reliable, long-term energy supply for deep-space missions, SRS delivered.
• When DOE needed to convert Cold War-era liquid radioactive waste into a solid form for safe storage, SRS delivered.
• When international treaties demanded that former world foes mutually abolish their stores of key ingredients for nuclear weapons, SRS delivered.
• When the government wanted to demonstrate that high-tech nuclear production operations could co-exist harmoniously with the environment, SRS delivered, becoming the nation’s first National Environmental Research Park.
During his visit, Moniz paid tribute to the SRS workforce that made those solutions possible. It is impressive in size, formidable in talent and has been a juggernaut in the region’s economy for six decades. With nearly 11,000 highly skilled workers, SRS by itself has nearly as many workers as the combined total of South Carolina’s two other major industries – Boeing and BMW. Both South Carolina and Georgia benefit immensely from the SRS employees residing in our two states.
While we have a strong workforce now, the dedicated workers in the nuclear industry at SRS and local power utilities are reaching retirement age. It is yet another challenge in need of a solution.
As a region, we have been working hard with DOE’s help to boost future nuclear-related job opportunities for local residents through the Nuclear Workforce Initiative, or NWI.
New training programs were created and implemented at five area colleges and universities under a Department of Energy grant, which is administered by the NWI and overseen by the SRS Community Reuse Organization.
The grant, now in its fourth year, has resulted in 300 local students being enrolled in the nuclear curricula developed under the grant. Nearly 60 have graduated and are beginning careers in the region. An additional 1,000 students have received information and training in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics programs.
This next generation workforce is ready to assume leadership roles in our important nuclear culture as the existing workforce exits in retirement.
It is important that all of us recognize the value of the immense intellectual capital working at SRS safely and securely for decades. The Site’s management and skilled labor force and its one-of-a-kind facilities are uniquely qualified to handle many of the global nuclear challenges facing us now and in the future.
SRS capabilities have been in the spotlight in recent weeks amid public discussion of plans to receive and process used fuel containing Highly Enriched Uranium from German research reactors.
Although our group – the SRS Community Reuse Organization – has taken the position that more information is needed to reach an informed decision on this particular project, we have no doubt the SRS people and facilities are up to the task.
Despite its past significant contributions to national security and the fact that it is now in a cleanup mode, as community leaders, we believe the Savannah River Site’s mission will remain relevant in the years ahead. When it comes to complex nuclear issues and potential new missions in both the Federal and private sectors, America still needs a place for solutions.
We know SRS is prepared to deliver once again. We’re glad Moniz sees the same promise we do for the Savannah River Site’s future.
Dr. Susan Winsor is president of Aiken Technical College and chair of the SRS Community Reuse Organization (SRSCRO). Sanford Loyd is a certified public accountant in Augusta and serves as Vice Chair of the SRSCRO.