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Energy Department suspends search for next Savannah River Site management team

SRS Sign, New Ellenton, Downtown Aiken (copy)

A sign in downtown Aiken points toward New Ellenton and the Savannah River Site nearby. (Colin Demarest/Staff)

The Department of Energy on Tuesday suspended its search for the next Savannah River Site management team, throwing a massive wrench into what was a high-stakes and high-dollar acquisition process.

In a notice, the department said it needed time to reexamine a much-anticipated request for proposals, citing the National Nuclear Security Administration’s growing footprint at the Savannah River Site, where radioactive waste is processed and where work on the U.S. atomic arsenal is conducted.

The announcement – a few sentences quietly posted online – specifically mentioned the Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility, a potential $11 billion plant where nuclear weapon cores could be made for decades to come.

The decision leaves Savannah River Nuclear Solutions in charge of the Savannah River Site for an indefinite amount of time. The Fluor-led team has overseen the site, 30 minutes south of Aiken, for more than a decade now.

A draft request for proposals for the new management contract, valued at $21.5 billion, was issued in April. The potential 10-year deal included work for both the Energy Department’s nuclear cleanup office, Environmental Management, and the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The abrupt pause comes at a time of significant transition at the site and suggests Environmental Management and the semiautonomous NNSA are not on the same page.

The Savannah River National Laboratory was recently taken over by a new management team, Battelle Savannah River Alliance, and a Virginia-based outfit, Savannah River Mission Completion, last month won the next liquid-waste contract.

The search for the next management-and-operations contractor – dead, for now – was the last large cog in the local machine.

The National Nuclear Security Administration has in the past considered taking over as the Savannah River Site landlord as well as relocating its unique tritium mission, which involves handling and packaging the radioactive gas for the Department of Defense.

In a 2019 interview with the Aiken Standard, then-NNSA boss Lisa Gordon-Hagerty said an NNSA takeover of the site was not imminent. State lawmakers, though, have supported a change of hands.

“All I know is we need to be efficient, we need to be respectful of Savannah River Site, of the community, being that they have welcomed us for nearly 70 years now,” Gordon-Hagerty said in 2019. “And so, what we need to do is make sure that it’s a win-win, again, for both the Department of Energy and for the surrounding Savannah River area.”

Colin Demarest covers the Savannah River Site, the Energy Department, its NNSA, and government and politics, in general. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin.

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