Exit strategy needed for SRS waste

  • Posted: Sunday, January 19, 2014 12:01 a.m.

The importance of providing an exit strategy for Savannah River Site’s nuclear waste was underscored by the recent discovery of a crack in one of the aging tanks that contains hundreds of thousands of gallons of highly radioactive liquid waste.

There is no imminent breach, but it’s further evidence of problems that get bigger as the tanks get older.

As Catherine Templeton, director of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control recently told The New York Times: “I don’t know what the tanks’ design life was intended to be, but it’s not for infinity.”

The former Cold War defense plant continues to handle more than its share of radioactive waste, from the millions of gallons created by weapons production on site, to plutonium from other Defense sites, to the occasional shipment of nuclear waste from across our borders. And so far, not much leaves SRS, even when prepared for storage elsewhere.

Soon there will be another addition to its deadly brew, with an incoming shipment of highly radioactive liquid waste from Canada. That material will be reprocessed at existing facilities as fuel for a commercial reactor, with existing facilities and presumably will leave the site.

A reprocessing plant for plutonium has yet to be built.

Unfortunately, all signs point to the unnerving likelihood that SRS is being viewed as the nation’s disposal site for radioactive defense waste. Federal officials are working on plans for additional storage. Two mammoth buildings already have been constructed, and a third site is being planned.

Storage areas contain reprocessed radioactive waste that was planned for permanent disposal at Yucca Mountain, Nev. At present, however, the Yucca project is in limbo.

The fact that radioactive waste from all over is being transported to South Carolina is indicative the scarcity of reprocessing and storage facilities on the continent.

Increasingly, the feds look to South Carolina to solve their high-level radioactive waste needs. Reprocessing is a legitimate mission for the former “bomb factory,” but there has to be an exit strategy for waste material, for the long-term.

SRS was built for production. It should not become a nuclear waste dump for the federal government.

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