Key DOE talking points

The following issues are being discussed with the senior leadership of the U.S. Department of Energy: 

Issue: Savannah River Site (SRS) Funding and Staffing
Total SRS Funding ($ Billions)

FY 2012 - $2,274

FY 2013 - $2,225

FY 2014 - $2,011

FY 2015 - $1,92

2FY 2016 - $2,038 (President’s Request)

SRS Staffing

FY 2012 - 12,757

FY 2013 - 12,131

FY 2014 - 11,068

FY 2015 - 11,174 (1st QTR)
Community Viewpoint: The portion of EM's FY16 budget request that would go to SRS is more than $1.3 billion up slightly from last year, as is the SRS NNSA budget which is currently $700 million. This is good. This budget supports the site's liquid tank waste program along with the complete construction of the site's Salt Waste Processing Facility in 2016, which has a planned startup targeted for 2018. MOX is not projected to be placed in "cold standby" which again is good but it is only funded at a "slow build" rate of $345 million. The programs that appear to be under-supported are associated with H-Canyon. We have learned the total reduction compared to the FY15 budget is $51 million. This includes the carry over funds from previous years. This reduction in operating budgets will have major implications at the local level.  Not to mention the potential for workforce reductions of 300 plus people, this reduction in funds suspends, significantly reduces, or leaves some operations without funds.

Furthermore, SRS has facilities, resources, and the skilled workforce required to disposition nuclear materials. These assets are unique to SRS, the DOE Complex and the Nation and are vital to national security; however, the facilities and supporting common infrastructure, much of which is over 60 years old, is in need of reinvestment so that they can continue to safely support the missions. 

SRS deferred maintenance (DM) is currently estimated to be just over one billion dollars. This deteriorating infrastructure has increasingly resulted in reduced operational capability and higher repair or replacement costs. Over the past 10 years, funding for infrastructure maintenance has declined considerably as budget constraints increased and funds were needed to support direct mission activities. As a result, cannibalization of parts, costly piecemeal maintenance, temporary modifications, and in some cases workarounds has been performed in order to sustain functional performance of many facilities, equipment and systems. This has resulted in an excessive, expensive and inefficient utilization of resources and increased the cost of future capital infrastructure investment.

Downward trends in both funding and staffing leads SRS closer to a closure site status. Maintenance of long-term SRS viability and infrastructure is required to leverage the site’s intellectual and physical capabilities for the benefit of the region, nation and internationally.  All of the missions and programs at SRS are important. While it is important to be moving ahead with liquid waste cleanup and the continuation of tank closure as the 2016 budget proposes, we still, at the same time, need to keep H-Canyon fully operational to process nuclear materials and optimize funding for MOX. A long-term stable budget for all SRS missions is critical.  A stable budget at adequate (not exorbitant/excessive) levels is preferred over the recent up and down type budgets. This year, a budget “plus-up” is needed for the Nuclear Material Operation programs at SRS and a separate line item is required at approximately $30 million  (and continuing at this level for at least 5 years) for infrastructure and deferred maintenance. 

Without having SRS funding at adequate levels the following have the potential to occur:
 Every important risk reduction milestone is delayed.

 Growing corrective and preventative maintenance backlogs increasing  probability of an incident such as the recent equipment fire at WIPP

  Removal of High Level Wastes from aging underground tanks is delayed All commitments for removal of wastes from South Carolina are delayed

 Most programs of national importance will experience delays

Funding shortfalls increase the long-term cost of cleanup to the American taxpayers. 

 Without adequate  infrastructure funding, continued use of facilities past their design life increases risk Potential reduction in workforce of ~350 people - Loss of these nuclear trained/qualified personnel will take three to four years of increased funding to recover not to mention the local negative economic impacts

 Loss of institutional knowledge inhibits cleanup efficiency and increases costs.

 Building 235-F Risk Reduction activities will be suspended in contrast with DNFSB Recommendation 2012-1 commitments for the next two to three years

 DOE Surveillance Program (Standard 3013) to ensure safe plutonium storage will be suspended in K Area for two to three years

 Periodic inspections of K Area in support of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Russian Plutonium Production Reactor Agreement unfunded 

 Foreign and domestic nuclear material receipts into K and L Areas will be suspended impacting Global Threat Reduction Initiatives receipts 

Issue: Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX) 
The President’s Budget removes the possibility of MOX being placed in “cold standby”, at least for the next fiscal year. The funding ($345 million) provided has been described as a “slow build” scenario and DOE still plans a study to assess alternate plutonium disposition strategies.

Community Viewpoint: DOE has a moral and legal obligation to expeditiously remove surplus plutonium brought into South Carolina, and ensure that any other fissile material brought into the state has a disposition pathway. DOE, NNSA and the National Academies of Science have previously studied alternative plutonium disposition strategies, and determined that MOX is the best solution. We need to move MOX from a “slow build” mentality to a more aggressive construction mentality to meet DOE obligations.

Issue: SRNL – State and National Prominence 

The DOE National Laboratory system represents 17 facilities. Originally created in the late 1940s by the Atomic Energy Commission—the precursor to the modern DOE—to manage the United States’ nuclear-weapons research and development, or R&D, the labs are distinctive because of their national research mission, breadth of expertise and knowledge, unique management style, and their ability to take on research projects that may have significant value but that the private sector is unwilling to undertake.

Savannah River National Lababortary (SRNL) is a multi-program applied research and development laboratory as part of this DOE laboratory system. SRNL began as the Savannah River Laboratory, designed to lead the Savannah River Site’s part in the nuclear defense program.  It was certified as a national laboratory on May 7, 2004. The laboratory now has three main areas of focus: national security, environmental stewardship, and clean energy. SRNL is DOE’s only designated EM laboratory, touching more than 50 foreign countries, engaged with over 90 private companies and universities, and supporting more than 20 different federal agencies. It is unique in the laboratory system because it does not possess a separate line item within the SRS Budget.  

Community Viewpoint:   While SRNL is the latest of the Department’s national labs, it is the most urgently in need of upgrades of any facility within the DOE complex.  Now more than a half century old, the Lab facilities are in serious disrepair.  The facility is physically unattractive and highly unlikely to appeal to a new generation of PhDs who want to work at a national laboratory as a career path over the next 30 years. Unless steps are taken, this problem will be exacerbated in coming years as the SRNL workforce – now in their mid-50s on average – begins to retire and must be replaced by a new, younger workforce with higher expectations and more attractive options for a workplace environment.
Despite its dated infrastructure and physical challenges, SRNL is recognized as a world-class laboratory. We can only imagine the possibilities for SRNL if new facilities and appropriate funding and future support from a proactive DOE sponsor were available.

We agree with the 2013 National Academy of Public Administration’s report to Congress that the national laboratories are a national asset.  Many of the facilities and the equipment contained within are one-of-a-kind and not easily replicated. DOE needs to consider not only the labs’ current infrastructure requirements, but also the labs’ long-term needs arising from the assessment of the strategic future of the labs. Given the current budget climate, which is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, DOE needs to explore other options for maintaining and modernizing the national labs’ infrastructure. Third-party financing has been used successfully in the past by DOE and an option worth exploring.

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