As we celebrate our nation this week with all the patriotic traditions of Independence Day, it is a fitting time to once again recognize the important contributions this community has made through its support of the critical missions taking place at the Savannah River Site.
In 1950 when President Truman directed the Atomic Energy Commission, the precursor to today’s Department of Energy, to build the 310-square mile facility in parts of Aiken, Allendale and Barnwell Counties, the face of Aiken was forever changed. Fast forward to 2019 and our charming city of 30,000 boasts more PhDs per capita than most other places. Each day, we live in a community that is far more cosmopolitan than its size would suggest. This is because Aiken embraced the missions of SRS 70 years ago as the nation’s nuclear weapons program began developing.
To this day, approximately 60% of the workforce at this key installation dedicated to our nuclear deterrence and national defense calls the city of Aiken home. With that in mind, it has always been clear that what is best for the federal nuclear reservation is, more often than not, best for our city.
Throughout the history of SRS, there have been policy and funding debates, safety concerns and philosophical debates about the appropriateness of nuclear weapons. Through it all, City of Aiken leaders have kept abreast of the issues and advocated for the best interests of our residents at every turn.
The recent debates over interim storage of surplus plutonium, the fate of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication program and the preference for SRS as a host to the future pit production missions are no different than any that have come before.
As your mayor, I have likely spent more time in Washington, D.C. than most of my colleagues in cities and towns around South Carolina. I’ve built and maintained close relationships with officials at the Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration and our Congressional delegation on multiple key SRS priorities. Through those relationships, I have been able to assure federal officials that Aiken is a patriotic community that embraces the critical missions of SRS, has a broad understanding of the excellent safety record at the site and a broad confidence in the excellent workforce that maintains that record. While voicing that clear support, support that these agencies rarely see from other communities and regions, I also have a seat at the table that allows me to speak for our community in an educated fashion about any concerns related to funding, future missions and the ongoing environmental remediation work there.
I have confidence that the Savannah River Site will continue to be a positive force in our city and that the voice of our community is respected and heard. Whatever the outcome of any current or future policy debates, I am confident that the best interest of Aiken and its citizens will be among the most important considerations in the larger debate over national priorities.
Mayor of Aiken