SRS Sign, SRR COVID

The Savannah River Site is a 310-square-mile nuclear complex south of Aiken.

Savannah River Remediation this month issued a letter to the leadership of the Augusta Building and Construction Trades Council, in which the liquid-waste contractor warned that non-essential workers could be released without pay in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic and a prospective work slowdown at the Savannah River Site.

The letter, signed by Savannah River Remediation's labor relations manager, stated those released would be considered active employees and could come back to work after a period of time.

A spokesperson for Amentum-led SRR on Wednesday said the letter was sent prematurely: no decisions on staffing had been made, the spokesperson explained, "and this letter reflected only one potential planning scenario."

The March letter has since been rescinded, and Savannah River Remediation has locked in a paid leave approach, should there be a workforce contraction.

The Augusta Building and Construction Trades Council could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday morning. The SRR spokesperson said the council was notified of the changes.

The inadvertently sent letter was produced at a time of widespread uncertainty and unease: More than 400 cases of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the novel coronavirus) have been reported in South Carolina, including two in Aiken County, and more than 1,300 cases have been reported in nearby Georgia.

As of Wednesday, seven COVID-19-related deaths have been reported in the Palmetto State. In the Peach State, 47.

The Savannah River Site's first case of COVID-19 was reported Monday afternoon, hours after leadership there was notified of the positive test.

Dozens of employees at the 310-square-mile nuclear reserve are currently being monitored for novel coronavirus infection after exhibiting symptoms — coughing, fever, shortness of breath — and entering self-quarantine or possibly being exposed to the virus.

The Savannah River Site is transitioning to only activities that are "necessary to ensure the safety of the public, our workers, the environment and critical national security missions," according to a U.S. Department of Energy spokesperson.

The Energy Department’s nuclear cleanup office, Environmental Management, stewards the Savannah River Site.

Colin Demarest covers the Savannah River Site, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration and government in general. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin