SRS advocates and state agencies agree with site leaders that budget, infrastructure and employment woes are the site’s biggest challenges moving forward.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, or SCDHEC, reiterated its stance that the 37 million gallons of liquid waste stored at SRS is the “single largest environmental threat” in the state.
Under sequestration, federal facilities have taken hits over the past several years.
Funding for waste cleanup and tank closures has seen a spike in budget proposals, but the site is still scheduled to begin missing milestones as early as next year.
Shelly Wilson, the agency’s federal facilities liaison, said SCDHEC and the U.S. Department of Energy have the opportunity to continue past success through treatment of high-level waste and closure of the aging waste storage tanks per the regulatory schedule.
“The technical and regulatory way forward have been addressed; DOE needs to pursue adequate funding to reduce this risk in a timely manner,” Wilson said.
Budget restraints have also hindered others areas, said Rick McLeod, the executive director of the SRS Community Reuse Organization.
McLeod said proper funding should go toward SRS infrastructure needs, where some common infrastructure is as old as the site itself.
“Maintenance of long-term SRS viability and infrastructure is required to leverage the site’s intellectual and physical capabilities for the benefit of the region, nation and internationally,” McLeod said.
McLeod added that while liquid waste treatment is important, the processing of nuclear materials at H Canyon, construction and completion of MOX and other missions should also be at the forefront.
The MOX mission is part of a nonproliferation agreement with Russia to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium. It includes construction of the SRS Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility – a project that local leaders believe has been underfunded.
“A long-term stable budget for all SRS missions is critical,” McLeod said.
The impact of not having a stable budget is “corrosive” to the workforce, said Chuck Munns, chairman of Citizens for Nuclear Technology and Awareness, or CNTA.
Munns said the instability is inefficient because it’s impossible to plan multi-billion-dollar projects when funding is only guaranteed for a few months at a time.
His example is the current stopgap funding package Congress passed on Sept. 30.
The package only guarantees funding for SRS through Dec. 11, which is only enough to maintain work, Munns said.
“They can’t plan for January or February because the money runs out in December,” Munns said. “I hope our legislators can fix that, because it’s been going on for a decade now.”
Munns said the workforce is also a critical challenge since many employees are approaching retirement.
As a member of CNTA, Munns said his organization visits classrooms to encourage students to take interest in the nuclear field.
“Aiken Tech and USC Aiken are also working hard at that,” he said. “We need more workers, so if you’re looking for employment, this is a great place to go.”
Derrek Asberry is the SRS beat reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the paper since June 2013. He is originally from Vidalia, Ga., and a graduate of Georgia Southern University. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.