SRNL, A Area (copy)

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's nuclear cleanup office, Environmental Management, released a draft request for proposals Thursday for the discrete management of the Savannah River National Laboratory, offering a glimpse at the lab's potential future.

The standalone management-and-operations contract for the Savannah River Site-located lab has an estimated value of $381 million per year. The contract could run for as long as a decade – 2021 through 2030 – meaning billions of dollars could be on the table.

The new contract, once consummated, would enable a wholly new and separate team to take the reins and cut a path with a focus on research and development, environmental and long-term remediation, science, national and energy security, and collaboration with universities, academia and other established research institutions.

"As a multi-program laboratory with significant contributions toward environmental cleanup and a crucial role in the nation's nuclear deterrent," the draft RFP reads, the lab "provides the department with a combination of infrastructure and capabilities in nuclear science and nuclear chemical manufacturing that is not currently provided anywhere else in the DOE complex."

Under the national security umbrella, the Savannah River National Lab would play a role in the tritium cycle and would offer technical support for plutonium pit production – the forging of nuclear weapon cores – and the related Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility project.

"We do work for everybody," Vahid Majidi, the current lab director, has said.

The lab, Environmental Management's go-to, is currently overseen by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the top contractor at the Savannah River Site, about 30 minutes south of Aiken and neighboring New Ellenton and Jackson.

The Fluor-led team was made aware of the prospective split in 2019.

Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar, who has an influential hand in the U.S.'s national labs, earlier this year said it's an "exciting time" for SRNL.

"Obviously, what we're here to do is to maximize the potential of Savannah River National Lab as a national laboratory," Dabbar said at the time, "and it is incredibly important … who our partner is."

The Energy Department first showed interest in a standalone contract late last year, when it issued a public request for information. Dozens of firms attended a related industry day in January.

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