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Guest column: DOE needs to properly fund cleanup at SRS

September 20, 2018

Last week Congress released their 2019 omnibus budget for the Department of Energy’s Environmental Management program. This is where the Savannah River Site receives its budget for nuclear cleanup. The budget is expected to be voted on and passed with bipartisan support in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate in the next seven to 10 days.

Let’s start with the bad news. The 2019 DOE Environmental Management budget for SRS was decreased by Congress 7 percent, or approximately $116 million.

The good news is that the total DOE Environmental Management budget for the entire country was raised over 10 percent from what the DOE requested, or $700 million.

At last week’s National Cleanup Workshop, House Nuclear Cleanup Caucus Chair Representative Chuck Fleishman of Tennessee trumpeted the good news. He explained all Environmental Management sites will benefit from the government’s emphasis on nuclear cleanup. Congressman Fleishman spoke about many Environmental Management sites around the country, however he failed to mention anything about SRS.

While not receiving a budget request isn’t anything new to SRS, the 2019 Budget is very unsettling for South Carolina and Georgia.

All other DOE Environmental Management sites received their budget request from Congress except SRS. Many sites received more money than what was requested.

Sites located in Hanford, Washington; Oakridge, Tennessee; Los Alamos, New Mexico; and Idaho received anywhere from a 3 percent to 58 percent increase over what was requested.

Anne White, the DOE under secretary for Environmental Management, speaking at the same National Cleanup Workshop last week many times championed SRS’s successes. Secretary White and her staff repeatedly spoke about SRS’s Salt Waste Processing Facility coming in under budget and ahead of schedule. White spoke of Storage Disposal Unit No. 6 coming in under budget and ahead of schedule. The secretary also spoke of the continued success that SRS has provided with glass vitrification, something the DOE has yet to replicate anywhere else despite billions of dollars invested.

While the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Mixed Oxide Fabricated Fuel Facility has received much attention, the continued cleanup mission of Environmental Management needs to be brought back into focus.

There is much work to be done at SRS. With over 36 million gallons of liquid waste needing to be processed, continued shipments of nuclear waste and materials coming to SRS for processing and an infrastructure that is literally crumbling, SRS Environmental Management needs our attention.

The DOE made a fair budget request for SRS and its Environmental Management program to Congress. The DOE made every conceivable attempt to educate politicians and their staffs on the need for SRS’s funding. Unfortunately, when the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate sat down, they decided that all the other DOE Environmental Management sites needed their full budget, or more, except, SRS.

The SRS Environmental Management program needs to be properly funded. The DOE has clearly shared that message to the members of Congress. What do we as a community, state and region need to do to make sure that this clean up mission continues, and continues to its fullest potential?

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