SRS Sign

An entrance to the Savannah River Site, a 310-square-mile nuclear complex.

Dozens of Savannah River Site workers are being monitored for novel coronavirus infection after exhibiting symptoms and entering self-quarantine or possibly being exposed to the virus on- or off-site.

Sixty-seven employees at the sprawling nuclear reserve south of Aiken are currently being tracked, a U.S. Department of Energy spokesperson told the Aiken Standard late Monday night. That includes eight people who were told not to come in after working closely with the first person at SRS to test positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The first confirmed case at the site was disclosed Monday afternoon. Leadership there was made aware of the positive test that morning. Exactly where or at what facility the person who tested positive works is not clear.

Some Savannah River Site workers who have shown symptoms of the virus – coughing, fever and shortness of breath, as common examples – went to their personal doctors, and it was decided a COVID-19 test was unnecessary, the spokesperson said. Others being monitored are asymptomatic.

"In an abundance of caution," the spokesperson said, "those with potential exposure have been sent home to quarantine."

Roughly 10,000 people are employed at the Savannah River Site near New Ellenton and Jackson and its namesake river. Work is sometimes done in confined spaces or in close proximity of other people.

The Energy Department spokesperson said the "health and safety of our employees and their families remains our primary concern" and the situation – a potential COVID-19 outbreak at a secure nuclear cleanup and weapons installation – is being watched closely. An infectious disease plan is already in place, as is a response team.

Over the next few days, activities at SRS are expected to wind down; the Energy Department spokesperson in a widely distributed statement Monday said activities will transition to only those "necessary to ensure the safety of the public, our workers, the environment and critical national security missions."

That doesn't mean furloughs, though. The spokesperson said there are "no plans" currently for such temporary or sustained leave.

"We are paid by taxpayers to make the world safer by protecting, processing and dispositioning nuclear materials," Savannah River Nuclear Solutions President and CEO Stuart MacVean wrote in a memo to employees March 19. "Due to the nature of what we do, we cannot just walk away and turn off the lights."

Fluor-led Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, as the management and operations contractor, oversees the site.

Check back with Aiken Standard for updates.

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