A coal plant located at the Savannah River Site is in the process of shutting down after nearly 60 years.
Savannah River Nuclear Solutions began closing down the site’s D-Area powerhouse for good last week. The move comes as SRS convert to three new biomass plants. The entire process will take two years.
SRNS spokesman D.T. Townsend said the coal boilers were out of date and needed to be replaced.
“I mean, we’re talking almost a 60-year-old powerhouse that’s fulfilled its mission and has done so in an admirable manner,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.
The coal powerhouse was one of the first structures built by DuPont on the Savannah River Site in the early 1950s as the federal government worked to build a hydrogen bomb. The five-story building could generate 75 million watts of power in its Cold War heyday, enough to power the entire nearby city of Aiken. Its boilers required more than 35 million gallons of water to be withdrawn and returned to the Savannah River each day, SRNS officials said.
The move comes five years after the U.S. Energy Department, which runs the Savannah River Site, awarded a consulting contract to energy service firm Ameresco in 2007. After several studies, Ameresco officials recommended the biomass plants as the best way to reduce energy costs at SRS. The company has promised the Energy Department $944 million in savings over the next 19 years. From an emissions perspective, Ameresco’s projections claim the biomass facility will release 400 fewer tons of particulate matter each year and 3,500 less tons of sulfur dioxide annually.
Brad Harrelson is the facility operations manager at D-Area. He said he is a third-generation employee at the Site– his grandfather helped build the plant for DuPont and his father worked at D-Area’s Heavy Water Facility.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said, “I don’t want to say I’m happy D-Area’s closing down, but it’s reached its life expectancy. It’s time for it to go down.”
Fellow employee Ren Hatfield, the deputy operations manager, agreed. “The facility was 60 years old and the equipment… it had seen its better days,” he said. “It was still hard to let go of it.”
Harrelson said 20 employees at the coal plant will be laid off, although 12 were hired by Ameresco to work at the new biomass facilities.