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Energy Department evaluating impact of coronavirus pandemic on SWPF, other projects

SRS Sign

An entrance to the Savannah River Site, where the Salt Waste Processing Facility is.

The U.S. Department of Energy is looking into how the novel coronavirus pandemic has affected various nuclear cleanup ventures, including the Savannah River Site's multibillion-dollar, in-the-works Salt Waste Processing Facility.

Savannah River Site officials are, further, evaluating "potential project and regulatory impacts" in the wake of the site's dramatic dialing down of work – the pivot to essential mission-critical operations – weeks ago, a spokesperson told the Aiken Standard Friday afternoon.

No regulatory milestones, the spokesperson noted, have been missed because of the site's paring back, which lined up with stay-at-home orders issued by Republican Govs. Henry McMaster of South Carolina and Brian Kemp of Georgia. Roughly one-third of the SRS workforce lives in Georgia.

Before the novel coronavirus emerged in China's Hubei province and, closer to home, swept into South Carolina, Savannah River Site officials – including site manager Michael Budney – said the Salt Waste Processing Facility would be up and running mid-fiscal year 2020. March or April, Budney estimated.

The Energy Department on Friday did not provide an updated date or timeframe for when the Salt Waste Processing Facility would be online. The spokesperson, though, said startup of the facility, key to the Savannah River Site liquid-waste mission, "is a priority for DOE."

The facility, a Parsons project, previously faced an incentivized December 2018 target. Construction finished in 2016.

The SWPF is designed as a liquid-waste workhorse: Once operational, it will handle and process millions of gallons of nuclear waste at the Savannah River Site every year. The radioactive waste kept at the site in aging, underground storage tanks has been described as South Carolina's single largest environmental threat.

Eighteen cumulative cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, had been logged at the Savannah River Site as Friday afternoon. Thirteen site workers had recovered and returned to work.

At what facilities or exactly where the 18 people work is unclear.

State health officials have confirmed more than 9,600 cases of COVID-19 in South Carolina.

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