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Savannah River Remediation suspends construction of Saltstone Disposal Unit 7

SDU Aerial, SDU 7 (copy)

Workers build the roof of Saltstone Disposal Unit 7, right. Also pictured are the construction sites for SDU 9, top, and SDU 8, left, along with the completed SDU 6, center.

The Savannah River Site liquid-waste contractor earlier this month suspended construction of Saltstone Disposal Unit 7, as the site dialed down work and shifted exclusively to essential mission-critical activities amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Amentum-led Savannah River Remediation nixed work on SDU 7 – a behemoth tank designed to permanently store millions of gallons of processed radioactive waste – on April 1, a U.S. Department of Energy spokesperson said. Construction was still halted as of Wednesday morning.

The suspension was disclosed in an April 3 weekly dispatch from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent organization that reviews and reports from the Energy Department's defense facilities.

Work on Saltstone Disposal Units 8 and 9, at different, comparably earlier stages, has also been paused.

The nearly month long shutdown – so far – has not knocked Saltstone Disposal Unit 7 off its completion track, the Energy Department spokesperson said. Spring 2022 remains the goal.

The situation is similar for Units 8 and 9: COVID-19-related delays "are not anticipated to affect the overall completion date," the spokesperson said, and Savannah River Remediation "stands ready to resume construction when the return-to-work date is set." Site preparations for SDU 8 were finished before the global coronavirus crisis.

Crews at the Savannah River Site completed the outer shell of Saltstone Disposal Unit 7 in December 2019. The milestone was announced in an Energy Department newsletter.

"We are pleased with the progress on SDU 7," a project official said at the time. "Each step completed along the way is further proof of successfully continuing DOE's waste disposition mission at the Savannah River Site."

The site, 30 minutes south of Aiken, is home to more than 30 million gallons of radioactive waste, kept in aging underground storage tanks. The waste has been described as South Carolina's single largest environmental threat.

Eleven cumulative cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, have been reported at SRS.

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