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USC flexes workforce development muscles as member of incoming SRNL management team

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The Savannah River National Laboratory is located at the Savannah River Site, which is south of Aiken and near New Ellenton.

As a member of the incoming Savannah River National Laboratory management team, the University of South Carolina is pitching itself as a recruitment magnate, capable of using its existing contacts to drive workforce development and research.

The university on Wednesday said it would engage “faculty members at the Columbia and Aiken campuses” – USC Aiken is already intimately involved with the Savannah River Site and its contractors – “as part of its role to support the SRNL management and operations contract.”

“These faculty will collaborate with SRNL to train the next generation of national laboratory personnel and expand the economic base of South Carolina by developing technology solutions for the state and the nation’s industries,” the flagship university explained in an announcement.

USC also plans to stand up a scholarship program tied to lab work and diversity. USCA is likewise eyeing a summer camp for high school students.

“It means workforce development at all levels, specifically outreach to students at all levels, all the way to middle school or even younger,” said College of Engineering and Computing Dean Hossein Haj-Hariri. “Part of managing the lab is expanding its workforce, expertise base and unique facilities to serve more national needs.”

The Department of Energy, which oversees the Savannah River Site south of Aiken, awarded a new, standalone Savannah River National Lab management contract to Battelle Savannah River Alliance LLC in December 2020.

The Ohio-based team is led by Battelle, which is already involved with a slate of other national labs: Los Alamos in New Mexico and Oak Ridge in nearby Tennessee, as examples. Savannah River Site manager Michael Budney in late January described Battelle as “well known to DOE.”

Key subcontractors – team players or contributors – include USC, Clemson University, S.C. State University and Georgia Tech Research Corporation. Wednesday's announcement provides a preliminary peek at what USC brings to the table.

The discrete management contract, valued at $3.8 billion over a decade, marks an inflection point at the Savannah River National Lab, where hundreds of people are employed. Officials believe a dedicated management team will better position the lab for the future as well as cut a path for growth, namely in research and development, science and technology. In 2020, then-Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar likened it to “unleashing” the lab.

“So the Department of Energy itself really put together this roadmap of, generally, where we need to go,” said Michael Matthews, a senior associate dean for research and graduate programs at USC. “In our management proposal, what our team did was put together a set of specific areas and avenues to follow that the Department of Energy found very persuasive, and that’s why they chose our proposal.”

Three teams competed for the management contract, according to Environmental Management, the Energy Department's nuclear cleanup office.

A 120-day transition period to Battelle Savannah River Alliance is expected. Fluor-led Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the top contractor at the Savannah River Site, currently oversees the lab.


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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