David Deal, with Aiken Technical College’s nuclear program, said the school has used its portion of a grant that currently totals $3.8 million to build its welding program and bring newer equipment to the campus.

Four other schools – USC Aiken, USC Salkehatchie, Georgia Regents University and Augusta Technical College – have also benefitted from Advancing Nuclear Skills Regionally, a grant which is funded by the Nuclear Workforce Initiative and overseen by the SRS Community Reuse Organization, or SRSCRO.

The grant has been divided between the five schools. On Thursday, school representatives met with SRSCRO members, business partners and others at Newberry Hall to discuss their individual successes using the grant money.

“We’re an older school with older equipment, and that’s being addressed again through the generosity of this program,” Deal explained. “We’re very thankful for the support we’ve received from the community.”

Dr. Michele Harmon, a biology professor from USCA, said the school’s goal for the grant money was to address environmental remediation – a task that is heavily related to the work done at the Savannah River Site.

She explained that USCA’s five-year plan with the grant was to develop a special degree with a concentration in environmental remediation.

“We’ve also been able to use these funds to provide scholarships and hands-on research opportunities for our students. Undergrad research is a huge part of their experience,” she said.

Overall, the grant has enrolled 300 students, graduated 60 students and has indirectly benefitted more than 1,000 others.

Dr. Susan Winsor, SRSCRO chair and Aiken Tech president, said the grant stems from the belief that over the next decade, the local area will need 10,000 nuclear workers.

“I don’t believe we can overstate the importance of the nuclear sector in our region,” Winsor said. “The opportunities in this region are more robust than anywhere else in the U.S.”

Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard. He joined the paper in June 2013. He is originally from Vidalia, Ga., and a graduate of Georgia Southern University. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.