It's been a week since Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz toured the Savannah River Site, but local and state leaders are hoping the significance of his visit will translate into funding current and future SRS missions.
Local leaders, members of the Legislative Delegation and local educators made up a room of more than 80 people who were able to ask him questions regarding the Site and the impact it has on the community.
The Aiken Standard reached out to several of these individuals and got their take on how the conversation covered various areas of interest.
Current SRS Missions
As expected, the Site's Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, or MOX, came up during the meeting.
S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, was in attendance and said that while Moniz's visit was appreciated, there was nothing he heard that convinced him the project would regain funding for construction.
“Regrettably, there was nothing in his words that offered any hope the Obama administration intends to change its wrong-headed strategy to defund the construction of MOX,” Taylor said.
Taylor added there was also no news on finding a permanent location for disposing of nuclear waste now stored in Aiken.
S.C. Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, agreed with Taylor on the liquid waste issue and referenced the tank closure milestones that DOE is obligated to uphold.
“We asked that the Department, under his leadership, keep the milestones for waste treatment and tank closure,” Young said.
Young added the group reminded Moniz of the used fuel rods currently stored at SRS that have no defined disposition path.
“We do not want SRS to become a permanent dumping ground for nuclear waste,” he said.
New missions and community impact
Other SRS issues that were addressed included future Site missions and employment.
David Jameson, Greater Aiken Chamber president and CEO, said he asked Moniz about future private sector and public sector missions at SRS. Moniz responded by bring up small modular reactors as a possibility and also referenced the work going on at the Savannah River National Lab.
“He was very impressed by the real time ‘new science' being created at the SRNL to solve problems around the world,” Jameson added.
Will Williams with the Economic Development Partnership also mentioned the National Lab and said he was excited to hear Moniz's interest in third-party financing for a new lab complex.
“It would be a positive game changer for Aiken if we could get SRNL in a new facility and off the Site,” he said.
Chuck Munns, chair of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, said the conversation was a frank one, but also did a great job of celebrating SRS' achievements.
“I believe events like this will help to realize SRS's full potential, will contribute to better policies, more successful projects and more efficient execution of SRS tasks,” said Munns.
Others present during the meeting with Moniz included USC Aiken Chancellor Dr. Sandra Jordan and Dr. Susan Winsor, the president of Aiken Technical College.
From an educational perspective, Winsor asked how the community could work together with DOE to fill the expanding employment opportunities at the Site with locally prepared talent.
“He acknowledged that projected retirements would open substantial opportunities for employment in scientific and technical fields across many career fields,” Winsor said.
She added Moniz was interested in deepening collaborations to prepare local citizens with the education needed to fill those positions.
Jordan also said Moniz stressed the importance of education to prepare the next workforce.
“He also pointed to the value of facilities like the Aiken County Applied Research Center to leverage the intellectual capital at the Site into innovations that can support new business ventures and economic vitality,” Jordan said.
The individuals that assembled Monday to meet Moniz all walked away with a general conclusion: They all agreed that Moniz is a knowledgeable person who is passionate about the Site.
However, many of them still question the Energy Department's funding decisions for Site projects, including waste cleanup and storage.
“(Dr. Moniz) said that he understood the concerns related to liquid waste and nuclear waste, and again challenges exist in funding even though SRS is the only place in the world to have actually successfully emptied and closed liquid waste tanks,” said Sen. Tom Young.
Jordan added, “Concern that this region not become a long term storage site for nuclear waste was clearly conveyed to the secretary and at one point, he stated that there was no intention in Washington to allow that to happen.”
Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard.