Construction begins on SRS plutonium disposal facility

By: Gene Petriello Email
By: Gene Petriello Email

News 12 at 6 o'clock, August 1, 2007

AIKEN CTY, SC--Expansion is underway near Aiken, as the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration looks to beef up security.

Today marks the official start of construction on the 4.8 billion dollar Mixed Oxide Fuel Facility at the Savannah River Site. The facility will play a major role in the disposal of the United States' surplus of weapons-grade plutonium.

"It was necessary to make this material during the Cold War for our US national security, and it's now necessary to dispose of it today for US national security," said William Tobey, Deputy Administrator of the National Nuclear Administration.

By building this site, the U.S. would complete an agreement with Russia in which both countries will dispose of approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons, 8,500 of those at the SRS.

After the material is destroyed, it will be sent to commercial nuclear reactors.

"And it will provide electricity for a million homes for up to 50 years," added Tobey.

As for worries over terrorism, Tobey says, "I don't think this project in any way increased the threat of terrorism."

Supporters say not only will this project increase national security, it'll also be beneficial to the community. James Ellis from Baker Concrete Company - whose task is to build the structure to ground level - is hiring 140 local people to work on the site.

"Their helping us as much as we're helping them because they understand the site and a lot of them have already been out here."

For the complete project, Tobey expects to see 1,600 jobs at peak construction time and 800 employees during normal operation.

There has been some concern about the cost associated with the program and Tobey understands that.

"It will be expensive to dispose of this material, but its also necessary to do so to advance our nuclear proliferation."

The project is scheduled to be complete by April 2014 and begin operations by September 2016. It will consist of 600,000 square feet, which is equivalent to about 10 football fields.

James Ellis has only hired 60 of the 140 he plans, so if you would like to get involved, Ellis says you should head to the local union hall.

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