The U.S. Department of Energy has given the Savannah River Site a green light to continue as a training facility for Army soldiers and other members of the military.
Since February, about 200 soldiers have rotated through the sprawling, 310-square-mile installation in Aiken County for training in chemical, biological, radiological, explosive and nuclear defense. The details of that training are often classified, said SRS spokesman Bill Taylor.
Scientists and staff from the Savannah River National Laboratory, located at the site, often participate in that training, he said.
In addition, the Energy’s Department’s revised environmental study cleared the site for training by other branches of the service, such as aviation weapons training.
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Taylor said the site receives no financial benefit from the training mission, and no additional jobs were created.
“Our motivation is patriotism and cooperation among government agencies,” he said.
But any additional missions for the installation are a benefit in an era of federal budget cuts, boosters say.
The soldiers usually train in small groups over periods of two days to four or five days, Taylor said.
The majority of the soldiers and other military personnel that have and will train at the site are assigned through the Fort Gordon Training Command in Augusta, Fort Gordon spokesman Jay Mathews said.
“It’s not necessarily Fort Gordon soldiers,” he said. “We act as the local liaison to the site.”
The Savannah River Site was constructed during the early 1950s to produce the basic materials used in the fabrication of nuclear weapons, primarily tritium and plutonium-239, in support of U.S. defense programs, according to its website. Five reactors were built to produce the materials, as well as support facilities including two chemical separations plants, a heavy water extraction plant, a nuclear fuel and target fabrication facility, a tritium extraction facility and waste management facilities.
Most of those facilities have since been scrapped, as the nation’s manufacturing of nuclear weapon was drawn down.
In 2009, more than 1,500 new workers were hired and over 800 jobs retained when the site received $1.6 billion in federal stimulus money for the MOX facility for environmental cleanup, which should last for the next 25 years.
Soon, the site will be home to the nation’s only mixed-oxide fuel (MOX) manufacturing plant. The MOX facility will convert weapons-grade plutonium into fuel suitable for commercial power reactors. It is scheduled for completion in 2016.
The site is also in the running for the first demonstration project to build miniature nuclear reactors. The mini-nukes could be as small as a double wide trailer and power remote towns and villages or industrial plants.
For more on military issues, please go to The State’s S.C. military page at thestate.com/military.