SRS closes plutonium production facility for good

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October 2, 2006

The race for nuclear weapons ended with the Cold War. That means America doesn't needs as many nuclear weapons.

News 12 spent the day at SRS to see how they're closing the door on the past.

The demand for new weapons is down since the end of the Cold War, so hundreds of SRS employees spent recent years getting rid of the plutonium they spent decades making.

Today, they celebrated the end of an era.

Half a century's mission is changing with the times.

Hundreds of employees like Don Weathersbee spent their entire careers working with the nuclear materials used to build bombs...and now, it's time to move on.

"Because of the history and camaraderie between people, we miss most of the folks that have gone away," Don told News 12.

The group's last mission was moving the plutonium out.

News 12 got the exclusive tour of the F-Area facilities, covering hundreds of thousands of square feet.

Savannah River Company president Robert Peddee says they use to hold one third of the nation's supply.

"We're no longer producing new nuclear materials," Peddee said. "We've got plenty in stockpiles."

The stockpiles have a shelf life of thousands of years, which means, based on current demand, the site never has to produce plutonium again.

Charles Anderson from the Department of Energy says closing the F-Area saves almost $200 million a year.

"We're reducing the costs for maintaining older facilities so we can put those dollars toward new uses and better missions," he said.

"It was disappointing when we started bringing the factory down, but now that we see there's other places to help, that's fine with us," said Don.

This window to the past has been demolished for employees like Don...but the door to future opportunity is wide open.

Most of the employees have been moved to other areas. SRS is one of the largest nuclear management sites in the country, and it's also one of South Carolina's largest employers.

Plans haven't been finalized for the building that was left standing.

The nuclear materials from the F Area are now in the K Area Complex awaiting disposition in the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility.

SRS has been managing nuclear projects for 50 years.