US Energy Secretary: Cybersecurity a Priority for Electrical Grid, Nuclear Facilities

During a recent tour of the Savannah River nuclear site and the Savannah River National Laboratory, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry discussed the challenges of protecting facilities and infrastructure from cyberattacks.

by Joe Hotchkiss, The Augusta Chronicle / February 5, 2018
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry in Feb. 2016 Shutterstock

(TNS) — U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry told Savannah River Site workers on Friday that cybersecurity is “the biggest challenge I’ve got” in the national security scope of his job.

Perry spent Thursday and today touring both SRS and the Savannah River National Laboratory in his first visit to the facilities since assuming office last March.

The former Texas governor and U.S. presidential candidate mentioned cybersecurity during a private question-and-answer session with more than 80 SRS and SRNL employees.

“The thing that I’m really most concerned that’s in our wheelhouse (is) cybersecurity, and our ability to protect and defend this country,” Perry said. “Statutorily, we’re the agency responsible for the electrical grid – and the protection of it, the resiliency of it, etc. Our national labs are obviously involved in concentric circles out from that, from the standpoint of cybersecurity, and working with other agencies in the government about how to defend our country against cyberattacks.”

Cybersecurity – the protection of computer networks and programs from attack or unauthorized access – is becoming a booming part of the Augusta area’s economics.

By 2020 the vast U.S. Army Cyber Command will transfer to Fort Gordon, the region’s largest employer.

Also, the $95 million Hull McKnight Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center, now under construction downtown on Reynolds Street, will be the centerpiece of Augusta University’s Cyber Campus.

The SRNL is the research and development arm of SRS, and Perry said he considers its future “very bright.” He said he has spoken with two South Carolinians in Congress – U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham – about other options for the SRNL to continue its work. Both Wilson and Graham, and U.S. Rep. Rick Allen of Georgia, accompanied Perry to SRS Friday.

Perry also praised other programs being advocated for continuation at SRS.

Area governmental support is growing to manufacture replacement plutonium pits at SRS. Plutonium pits are triggers placed in the cores of nuclear weapons, and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico wants to compete with SRS to continue their production.

Another proposed SRS project would send spent nuclear fuel from Germany to SRS for reprocessing into a form rendering it unusable for nuclear weapons.

“There’s just some really interesting things that we can do together, and we know the community is supportive of this, we know the lab and its employees are very much supportive of this,” Perry said.

Perry spent more than half an hour delivering remarks to assembled workers, and relaying President Trump’s commitment to a strong nuclear arsenal.

“That’s one of the chores he gave to me,” Perry said. “He said, ‘I want to make sure that we have the most modern, up-to-date nuclear program in the world.’ And it will be because of people like you that that occurs.”

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