Supporting the Legacy
Ever since its inception as the Savannah River Plant in the early 1950s, the Savannah River Site (SRS) has been a cornerstone of scientific innovation and employment.
Beginning with the production of plutonium and tritium for use in the nation’s Cold War nuclear arsenal and continuing through to its current role engaging in environmental cleanup, nuclear materials management, and research and development, the 310-square-mile site near Aiken, South Carolina, has captured the imagination of the area.
It’s also been a great partner for Augusta University when it comes to internships and workforce opportunities, and Dr. Joseph Newton (BS ’02), director of nuclear science in the College of Science and Mathematics, says the latest grant from the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration will continue to help recruit students into the program, which in turn helps the nation’s nuclear workforce needs.
“People are going to be retiring in droves over the next several years, and one of the things about nuclear jobs is they’re very secure, they’re very well paying, and people don’t leave them,” Newton says.
Presently, the relationship is mostly with the Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL), but Newton is working to establish ties with other areas of the site.
The current grant, attached to a Workforce Opportunities in Regional Careers (WORC II) program, is actually the second WORC grant and the third overall. Augusta University is one of six academic partners of the WORC grant program that was established by the Savannah River Site Community Reuse Organization (SRSCRO) to help assure that local citizens have the skills needed for local careers.
“It’s not common to find a nuclear track or a chance for undergraduates to take nuclear classes, but it’s very, very uncommon for them to have opportunities to learn how to use radiation detectors and associate equipment,” Newton says.
Students graduating from the program receive a Bachelor of Science in either chemistry or physics with a concentration in nuclear science, and since it began, Newton says 61 students have graduated from the program.
“We’ve reached the point where my alumni are in solid positions out there, and I can text them and say, ‘Hey — I’ve got a home run here,’” Newton says.
And that’s great for maintaining the program’s strength.
“We have a lot more students than you might think of who are interested in careers out at SRS,” he says. “There’s just a huge interest that can still be tapped into.”