Tue., December 15, 2009 5:04pm (EST)

DOE Concerned About Site Safety
By Mary Ellen Cheatham
Updated: 5 years ago

AUGUSTA, Ga.  —  
Federal officials are criticizing safety problems at the Savannah River Site near Augusta.  (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy)
Federal officials are criticizing safety problems at the Savannah River Site near Augusta. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy)
The managers of the Savannah River Site near Augusta are facing financial consequences for a string of safety issues.

The U.S. Department of Energy is withholding more than $4 million from Savannah River Nuclear Solutions -- criticizing the company for an unacceptable safety trend at the Savannah River Site, which processes nuclear materials.

Their action follows a string of accidents. Recent incidents include an acid spill that injured several workers, an electrical explosion that burned a mechanic and a crane accident that badly hurt another worker's hand.

"SRNS failed to adequately perform environment, safety and health requirements, allowing a number of serious, and otherwise preventable, incidents to occur at the site that represent an unacceptable safety trend," according to a memo from the energy department. " DOE expects the contractor to take immediate action to mitigate future problems and reverse this negative trend."

The company would have otherwise qualified for a $16.3 million award. The DOE, meanwhile, says it will restore part of the $4.4 million it withheld if the company improves its safety program.

Garry Flowers, the president and CEO of SRNS since August, told employees today that he's disappointed in the DOE's action. "I believe DOE failed to consider the successes we achieved since September to improve safety across the site," he said.

Flowers said the company had implemented a new safety program, which includes hazard awareness training and management field observations. DuPont Safety Resources is also consulting with the company on safety issues. DuPont managed the site years ago.

Environmental groups, meanwhile, say the DOE is not doing enough since the company is still getting the remaining $11.9 million.

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, a private contractor, took over management of the site in 2008 with a five-year $4 billion contract. The company replaced Washington Savannah River Company, which had managed the site for nearly 20 years.