Funding cuts at the federal level could force the Knolls Atomic Power Lab to shut down one of two nuclear reactors at its Kenneth A. Kesselring site in West Milton — a move that could affect upwards of 600 U.S. Navy personnel and roughly 100 workers.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act — a bill passed in January that funds the federal operations until October — shorted funding for Naval Reactors, a U.S. government office responsible for the safe and reliable operation of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program. Naval Reactors is now looking for an additional $262 million in this year’s bill, some of which is earmarked for adequately funding reactor maintenance at Kesselring.
But as of now, the site is short about $24 million in funding necessary to perform significant maintenance that has been postponed for years, according to one Navy commander. And without full funding, there’s a good chance one of the two reactors — the so-called Modifications and Additions to a Reactor Facility plant — will be taken off-line sometime next year.
“If additional funding is not provided, the prototype will be shut down in 2015 and remain safely shut down until operating and maintenance funds can be secured,” said Gene Terwilliger, a spokesman for KAPL, a division of Bechtel Marine Propulsion Corporation under contract with the Navy and U.S. Department of Energy.
Terwilliger said the shutdown wouldn’t affect safety at the site, since the reactor would be placed in a stable condition and would be continuously monitored. Taking the reactor off-line, however, would likely result in both KAPL and the Navy reducing its presence at the facility
“If they get that $24 million cut, [the Navy] will drop their staff size down by a third and maybe their student size down by half,” said Cmdr. Vince Garcia, commanding officer at Naval Support Activity Saratoga Springs, which is located near the Kesselring site.
The Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program provides in-depth technical training to sailors operating the 97 nuclear reactors that provide propulsion to aircraft carriers and submarines operated by the Navy. The program at Kesselring trains roughly 1,300 sailors annually and has graduated more than 50,000 operators since it was established during the mid-1950s. The two reactors also provide a test platform allowing the Navy and Energy Department to develop new technologies for nuclear-powered ships in the fleet.
Naval Reactors is attempting to pull money from other Navy accounts, though it’s unclear whether the office can legally accomplish this. If the office is unsuccessful, Terwilliger said, KAPL will try to mitigate the local impact of taking the reactor off-line.
“We are working to minimize the impact on sailors, their families and the workforce,” Terwilliger said. “The Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program continues to attempt to secure the necessary funding to avoid this shutdown.”
Area congressmen are also monitoring the situation. U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said both reactors are critical to the Capital Region and the nation as a whole.
“Our local economy and national security depend on the work done in Niskayuna and Saratoga County. That is why I will continue to work to ensure the [fiscal year 2015] funding request is met and they have access to adequate [fiscal year 2014] funding to ensure continuous operations,” Tonko said.
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, echoed that sentiment. He intends to lobby for additional funding for the site during negotiations for next year’s budget.
“The Kesselring facility is critical not only to our national security, but to the local economy. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I will work to ensure adequate funding for reactor maintenance at this important facility,” he said.