For the first time since its Savannah River nuclear weapons plant was built in 1950, the Energy Department is offering performance bonuses and a guaranteed base fee to the plant’s operator, officials said Thursday.
William Kaspar, manager of the department’s field office at Savannah River, near Aiken, S.C., outlined the payment plan to a group of experts advising Energy Secretary James D. Watkins on safety issues involving the department’s nuclear weapons facilities.
The payment plan, which takes effect Saturday with the debut of a new contractor at Savannah River, marks a significant departure from past practice in which E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. operated the plant for 38 years without any incentives.
Kaspar said the new plan is intended to give Du Pont’s successor at Savannah River, Westinghouse Electric Corp., a financial incentive to improve operation of the plant’s three nuclear reactors, which make materials for nuclear warheads. The site also includes other facilities that support the nuclear weapons program.
The three reactors have been shut down since last spring because of safety concerns. Last week, Westinghouse submitted recommendations on how to get them running again.
Although Westinghouse’s contract is for five years, the payment plan can be changed each six months, Kaspar said. For the first 6-month period, it can earn a maximum of about $7 million in performance awards, Kaspar said.