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The Savannah River National Laboratory is located at the Savannah River Site, which is south of Aiken and near New Ellenton.

The U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday night publicized documents that signal a potentially mammoth shift for the Savannah River National Laboratory, a Savannah River Site institution.

The Energy Department issued a request for information for a prospective management contract that would splinter the lab off its current track and enable a completely separate team to take over and forge a path forward.

Savannah River National Laboratory is currently operated for the Energy Department – namely its nuclear cleanup office, Environmental Management – under an existing contract held by Fluor-led Savannah River Nuclear Solutions. That larger contract includes non-national-lab things, a tidbit the DOE acknowledges in its request.

This would change that, creating a discrete contract for the lab.

A standalone contract is expected to "enhance the ability of the laboratory to pursue its enduring mission" as well as focus on and foster research and development opportunities, according to the federal documents. The change is also expected to increase engagement and involvement with the lab, especially in the Southeast.

The lab has its hands in energy, national security, nuclear nonproliferation and environmental cleanup work, among other things. As Vahid Majidi, the lab director, has put it: "We do work for everybody."

Similarly, a preliminary statement of work, attached to the DOE request, details research and development, science and energy, national security and remediation roles for the lab. Continued cooperation with universities and other academia is also described.

The sudden contracting announcement comes at a time when the Savannah River Site as a whole is poised for growth – take plutonium pit production as an example – and at a time when the Energy Department's science office had shown growing interest in the national lab itself.

Office of Science senior personnel visited in August, according to a person familiar with the matter, and officials had been "looking at the lab and figuring out how they can get more involved in operations" and ensuring long-term work, Savannah River Site manager Michael Budney said in September.

The Energy Department, according to the documents, intends to issue a request for proposals at some point in the future. What was published Wednesday night is the first link in a much longer procurement chain. It, too, serves as a bit of market research.

The Savannah River Site, a 310-square-mile nuclear reserve, is about 30 minutes south of Aiken. Thousands of people are employed there.

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